Midtown West

HK Guide Update

capizziA few additions to the guide

Dessert (about time eh?) –  Kee’s Chocolates, Little Pie Company

Doner/Turkish –  Adding Turco (needed some convincing) over Hansi (need more convincing but lunch deal is good)

Farm to Table – The Marshal.  A solid Addition to the neighborhood

Pizza – Capizzi.  A nice alternative to Don Antonio

Best HK dining that’s not actually in HK – A new category for theater goers and those who want to experience some of NY’s finest just outside the area.

Tried other candidates which fell short.  Spent a lot of time at Gotham West which saw its first casualty already (Little Chef).  “An exciting replacement” according to a GWM rep will be announced soon.  In case you missed the recent post on Gotham, here it is.  Also added links to the recent “top dishes” posts.

Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

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Best Dishes in Hell’s Kitchen- Round 2

Pure Thai Ratchaburi Continuing the best of hell series where I feature 5 dishes from Hell’s Kitchen.  Round one can be found here.  Will try to make it a monthly feature pending approval from my gastroenterologist

Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse (above)- The neighborhood’s dry(er) noodle offerings are intensifying as of late, but this is perhaps the original and still the one to beat.  The noodles are handmade in house in the Thai shophouse-like setting (in fact originally Pure’s name was Pure Thai Shophouse until Chipotle made them change its name – long story).  That dry but tender bright delicious pork, the wonderfully chewy tasty egg noodles, the sweetness of the crab, and nuttiness of the “I cant believe its not Broccoli Rabe” Yo Choy.  Add some of the citrusy broth from the bottom for added flavor.  Easily one of my faves, named after the Ratchaburi region in Central Thailand where one of the owners (the wife) came from.  BONUS:  For an app get the Ribs (below)Pure Thai Ribs

Chicken Shawarma at Azuri Café – I hear disturbing reports lately that Ezra from Azuri is cracking smiles at tourists.  I’m not sure if it means a change in attitude, trouble with Mrs Ezra, or?  This is simply not the neighborhood Ezra we know and love to hate.  With that said, the falafel is still the best in the area.  But you can get good falafel all over town, and lately its the Shawarma that’s winning me over.  After a good amount of shaving from the turning spit, he cooks it a little longer on the griddle with secret sauce and spices.  Then he stuffs the goodies in the whole wheat pita with the fresh salads in the same careful technique that made his falafel a neighborhood icon.  And in true Israeli style adds some Amba sauce (Mango based condiment), pickles, and if you want… spicy “Harif” S’chug.  You have to say “HaRIF” with the jewish spitting Chhhh if you want it though.  The result is a glorious mess of flavors thats worth the extra Shekels.Azuri Cafe - Chicken Shawarma

Trenette at Mercato.  There are quite a few excellent pastas at my favorite casual Italian in Hell’s Kitchen, but if I have to pick one, its the simple but addictive homemade Trenette.  Almonds and garlic used liberally, tomato and basil contribute to the flavor explosion of this $12 dish (yes, a $12 pasta in NYC).  Save some of the bread for this one and I dare you to leave anything on the plateMercato Trenette

Empanada mamma Spicy ChickenSpicy Chicken Empanada at Empanada Mama – Ok, I keep trying various empanadas and every time I go, I must order at least one Spicy Chicken to enjoy last.  I especially need one good one to cool me down after the Viagra Empanada, perhaps my second favorite of the bunch but for different reasons.  Hey, I don’t name them.  Chunks of tender, mouthwatering chicken slowly cooked in Mama’s special picante sauce creating this super pleasant heat.  Just like mama used to make!  Well, its just an expression, my mom has no idea what Empanadas are?

Silan at Taboon – Vanilla ice cream with puffed rice and date honey sprinkled with caramelized pistachios and topped with shredded halva, SHREDDED HALVA!  Need I say more.  I probably should.  But I’m tired!  Laila Tov!

Stay hungry Amigos!Taboon Silan

 

 

 

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Lincoln – Orange is the New Crack

Lincoln Strozzapreti
I never had crack cocaine!  Its a well documented fact that I was smoking cigarettes at the young age of 5 and wearing a patch 9 months later, but I never had crack cocaine nor do I have any idea how it tastes like.  Does it taste like Strozzapreti made with lobster coral (egg sac)?  Does it taste like lobster and scallop sausage with the look and texture of loose chicken skin?  Or does it taste like sweet lobster meat gently floating in a delicate sauce with lemony hints?  Is it like all of the above put together smelling like the sea as soon as it arrives?  If the answer is yes to any of the above, where do I sign up?

Lincoln RestaurantIs it too early to name the dish of the year? Probably.  But a few more like this bright Strozzapreti (most likely named after someone envisioned a pasta shape while witnessing a priest being strangled) this year and I will be a very happy Ziggy.  The chicken skin-like lobster/scallop “sausages” especially gave me a ratatouille moment that almost made me drop my iPhone.  Other dishes I enjoyed between two meals in order of deliciousness….

The Spongata, a superb honey and nut cake came with a satsuma sherbet that was so heavenly it could probably thrive on the dessert menu alone.  Reginette, curly ribbony pasta was perfectly cooked and topped with a chunky veal, pork and beef, would most likely satisfy any Bolognese Ragu craving.  A mild creamy Burrata with fava beans, peas, spring onions and a light minty sauce got a tremendous boost from the sensational prosciutto-like cured pork shoulder.  The only dish I didnt quite know what to make of was a trio of Mortadella, prosciutto, and a thin head cheese slice sitting on top of a puffy fried dough on some fruity sweet sauce.  Do I like it together? Separate? without the sauce?  I found myself experimenting just like the chef was.Lincoln Burrata

Every few months the menu changes to include dishes from a particular Italian region, although you could arrive in between regions as I did yesterday and still enjoy well crafted food.  As is the case with most fine Italian in town, the strength in Lincoln is with the pasta.  And long time Per Se and French laundry alumni Jonathan Benno is widely considered a pasta virtuoso.   Lincoln Ristorante is of course part of the Lincoln Center complex.  A 20 million design triumph includes floor to ceiling windows, 3 dining rooms, and a spectacular open kitchen.  The service ranges from friendly to cold depending on the day of the week.  And the open kitchen may also mean you could hear what they plan to do with you depending on where you sit…

Server just picked up first course from your table:  “Number 37 is done with the first course”

Chef:  “Lets give him a minute to gather himself and pick up his phone.  Give him some more bread”

Lincoln Ristorante
142 W 65th St
$$$$
Recommended Dishes: Strozzapreti, Reginette, Burrata, Spongata

Lincoln Ristorante Lincoln Trio Lincoln Reginette Lincoln Spongata Lincoln

 

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Ma Peche – I Luh Ya PaPi

Ma PecheI have to make this one short and sweet and to the point before the wife comes home (which means I will need to stop writing and talk to her do something around the house most likely).  The point is that Ma Peche is quickly becoming one of my midtown faves, and in true Momofuku fashion keeps reinventing itself with new formats.

On what should really be a national holiday, Baseballs opening day, I took 3 of my least pickiest co-workers for a special lunch that’s becoming a Monday norm.  One doesn’t do spicy, one doesn’t do mayo and seafood, and one doesn’t do anything that is yellowish.  A perfect group for Ma Peche’s new “Passed Plates” sort of like Dim Sum cart ladies format.  Except instead of dumplings and cart ladies you get razor clam ceviche, foie gras, and hipsters.  You can see today’s potential passed items on a piece of paper on the table, and your waiter will put a check next to each item you order (can I come with an eraser in case I eat something I don’t like?).  In addition to that you still have a handful of a la carte “Chef’s Specials” like the awesome fried chicken and the awesomer Brussels Sprouts.Ma Peche - Brussels sprouts

For what amounted to $23 per person, you simply can not get better value in NYC.  While the salad carts were circling, the Habanero Fried Chicken (half chicken $24) and Brussels Sprouts quickly arrived.  The softer, saucier than the usual sprouts with ginger-scallion, cherry, and calabrian chili surpassed Alta as the city Brussels Sprouts to beat.  Is there a restaurant in town that does not have a Brussels Sprouts dish, or kale?

Ma Peche - Pork BunsThe pork buns were the first items we picked from the passed plates and I was slightly disappointed by the overall size and taste compared to buns you get at Ippudo for the same price.  I still gobbled the heck out of this one though.  The spicy rice cakes then followed.  Ok, let me tell you something about those rice cakes.  Similar to Ssam Bar’s spicy sausage dish these pillowy “Korean Gnocchi” with just enough meat ragu and pleasant lingering heat were simply outstanding.  I may be addicted to the Momofuku rice cakes.

Then we sort of waited for the chicken wings to pass by but they never did.  The waiter asked if we would like anything else, we said “wings” and voila.. 5 minutes later we get 8 wings that tasted so much better than they looked (kinda burned).  These wings were tender, perfectly seasoned, and really some of the best wings in recent memory.

Ma Peche
At the Chambers Hotel
15 w. 56th street
$$$
Reccommended Dishes:  Fried Chicken, Brussels Sprouts, wings, rice cakes

Ma Peche - Fried ChickenMa Peche - Rice Cakes Ma Peche - Wings Ma Peche from above

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Gotham West Market Top Eats

Gotham West Market - Ivan Ramen6 Vendors and a Funeral

“In a world… where soups and salads reign lunch supreme.. and halal carts are routine… one man will rise… and change lunch!”  “A story about love, betrayal, and Ramen”  “The rise and fall of a food blogger, battling food addiction” (who finally saw his demise when a little food court consisting mostly of 6 food vendors opened on the far west side, right near the rehab clinic).  In theaters near you.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been to Gotham West Market a lot, about once, sometimes twice a week since it opened about 4 months ago.  I brought family, friends, enemies, co-workers and even my rabbi to the market.  As I said before, Gotham West is the most thrilling thing to happen to Hell’s Kitchen since Ezra the Falafel Nazi cracked a smile 4 years ago.

But lets get down to business.  There are actually more than 6 vendors at Gotham West.  There’s also a kitchen supply store, a Coffee shop, and you guessed it, a bicycle shop.  But for the purpose of this post I will focus on the 6 hand picked, artisanal vendors that can… well.. pretty much kill you.

Gotham West Market 2

Buttermilk Battered Chicken Sandwich at Genuine Roadside – One bite of this Chicken Sandwich and you’ll understand why its in this space.  While its not gonna be on Man vs. Food any time soon for its size, this is a very satisfying sandwich, and combined with the Shake Shack-upgrade fries, very filling.  The fried Chicken as everything else here, is made to order and the result is one heck of a juicy and flavorful sandwich.  The mayo, slaw with apples – addition by addition.   And while the tourists wait in line for the Shake Shack revelation, only to find out they need to fight another tourist for standing room eating, have a burger here that is just as good if not better, in a comfortable environment.  Owner Avroko, the firm who designed Gotham West have done a great job with Genuine Roadside, the only original vendor in the marketGenuine Roadside- Chicken Sandwich

Smoked Whitefish Donburi at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop - Not exactly a shocker here after including the Donburi in the best of 2013 list.  Ok, confession time, Out of 8 or so visits I believe I tried everything on the menu and more, except for one little thing… the Ramen.  Thats more of a testament to the rest of the dishes here, and to a ramen filled neighborhood.  The whitefish Donburi was love at first smell with its smokiness, sweet soy dashi, cucumber,  scallion, over this delicious white rice.  Perfection in a bowl.  And a reminder that Jewish food can mesh with any cuisine.  Well, except for Gefilte Fish.. FEH!

Not a fan of whitefish?  Try the pork Donburi, or any of the Mazemens (slightly partial to the garlic), or well… the Ramen.  Let me know how it isIvan Ramen Whitefish Donburi

Pig’s Head Cuban Sandwich at The Cannibal – This may very well be the Cuban to beat in NYC.  Delicious super tender slow roasted funky pork, Vermont Ham, semi melted cheese and pickles, served warm with perfectly crispy bread.  Not to be confused with another neighborhood fave, Casellula’s fine Pig’s Ass Sandwich.  One tastes like head, while the other tastes like ass.  And while you at it, try the “Shrimp Roll” as well at the Cannibal.  Like the hotdog and lobster roll had a baby.  A beautiful healthy, delicious baby, called Shmuel, after uncle Shmuel.  Even though he was a big drunk, he would always send moneyThe Cannibal - Pig's Head

Egg Bowl at Little Chef – I’m writing this one with great difficulties after taking a glance at the pictures of this dish.  My stomach is suddenly talking to me in Armenian.  As with her popular Williamsburg sandwich shop Saltie, freshness is key with Caroline Fidanza.  In the fall the egg bowl featured fresh greens, assorted roasted veggies like broccoli and potatoes and just about the tastiest bread crumbs you will ever have.  The same breadcrumbs are featured in the winter version along with porky cranberry beans, salsa rojas (roasted red salsa).  And its another proof that everything looks and tastes that much better with a fried eggLittle Chef Egg Bowl Winter Little Chef - Egg Bowl

Bacon Wrapped Dates at El Colmado - Explosive come to mind.  This is a common Spanish tapas dish that is often uneventful for us but not here.  Its larger than usual and stuffed better with Almond and Valdeon cheese.  A classic dish from the classic team of Seamus Mullen and Gil Avital of West Village hotspot Tertullia.  Welcome to the neighborhood guys.  The dates are pictures here on the rightEl Colmado - Eel Croquettes, Date

Pork Shoulder at Court Street Grocers – Pork Shoulder, Mayo, Provolone, Broccoli Rabe, Red Peppers for much needed acidity, Pecorino Romano, on a Hero Roll.  Need I say more?  Simply Outstanding.  And if you ever in the mood for an Italian, the Mortadella, Salami, Hot Coppa, Swiss, Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Arugula, Red Onion, Mayo, “CSG” Hoagie Spread, Red Wine Vinaigrette, on Hero Roll as good as Italian gets in NYCCourt Street Grocers - Pork Shoulder

Gotham West Market - Ivan

 

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The Marshal – Farm to Hell’s Kitchen

 

Courtesy of The Marshal

Courtesy of The Marshal

Adventurous diners, ready for some Pig’s Blood Flatbread with Smoked Salmon Roe? Perhaps a decadent Mugwort Foie Gras, or how about the good ol’ Geoduck?  Well, you will find none of that at the Marshal in Hell’s Kitchen.  Not even close.  In fact chances are that you will have a hard time bragging about your meal to your girlfriends and making it sound remotely sexy.  “OMG so we had this thing called Meatloaf that was like the most amazing thing ever.  Here’s a selfie of me and the meatloaf”  Meatloaf, Pot Roast, Salmon.. there’s no conceivable way to make them sound sexy these days.  But this 6 month old 10th avenue “Farm to Table” comes as close as you can get

Processed with VSCOcam with s5 preset

Courtesy of The Marshal

Adventurous Foie seekers should still be able to appreciate the flavors and attention to detail here.  Although the menu reads like “American (Old)”, just about every item is listed almost like a paragraph describing the origin of the ingredients.  The back of the menu features 14 local farms where they source much of those items.  Almost like eating at Da Roberto in the village of Montisi, Tuscany.  Almost!  “Slow Food” models such as Roberto, and other Farm to Table places in Italy are simply called restaurants, or Trattorias. While in the US, its a concept.  But it is what it is.  And in ethnic happy Hell’s Kitchen, Solid “American” may seem like a concept in itself.

The Marshal - BreadRule of thumb – when you see bread on the menu in NYC as opposed to your typical free basket, get it.  The warm French Loaf is crunchy and soft in all the right places and will make your taste buds believe it was baked seconds ago especially for you.  Bread and butter bliss.

Chicken Liver Pate was solid.  Refreshingly fresh Caprese included sizeable sweet tomatoes, with handmade mozzarella, fresh Shushan Valley basil and balsamic reduction.  But the early highlight came in the form of the meaty, scrumptious Newfoundland Mussels.  Its creamy, garlicky white sauce is so appetizing you want to dip anything in it…bread, fingers, metrocards, anything!The Marshal  -Mussels

And then there was that meatloaf which was just like at grandmas.  That’s after grandma graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute followed by a 2 year stint with the Canadian navy.  Similarly, the goat cheese and herb stuffed chicken just doesn’t get much more tender and juicy than this.  The wood oven Mac and Cheese with bacon hit the spot.  On another visit I enjoyed a perfectly cooked and juicy burger which is only available for lunch.The Marshal - Meatloaf

The sides here require a PHD in sides.  We opted for a fine bacon wrapped wedge of white cabbage, simple roasted potatoes, and a sweet potato and kale au gratin which took the gold.  And don’t leave home without trying the mammoth hot fudge, walnuts, cherry, vanilla ice cream, or any of the other two desserts featuring ice cream from the nearby Je & Jo.  Welcome to the hood Marshal.The Marshal - Mac n Cheese The Marshal - Caprese The Marshal - Sundae

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Best Dishes in Hell – Round One

Little Chef - Egg BowlDear readers, it is with extreme pleasure and slight gastro discomfort that I welcome you to the first installment of Best Dishes in Hell, where we feature 5 dishes to target in this little foodie heaven I like to call Hell’s Kitchen.  Each of these bites is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and put all your troubles behind.  Or not!

Bourekas at Gazala’s Place – Bourekas, or Bourek is something I ate often as a child, but not really by choice.  I hated it!  So if I list a Bourekas in this space, it can only mean that this is not your ordinary Bourekas.  Your choices are normally Feta with spinach or Feta with sun-dried tomatoes.  I prefer the latter.  One bite of that beast to feel that explosive, rich, flaky goodness and you’ll understand why.  And did I mention that it comes with a side of my favorite Hummus in the city.

Gazala'a Place BourekasEgg Bowl at Little Chef – The winter version below, while the regular version is pictured on top.  Health food that I would gladly go out of my way for, but luckily I dont need to as I work 12.3 minutes from Gotham West Market (I timed it).  The current version features porky cranberry beans, salsa rojas (roasted red salsa), and just about the sickest breadcrumbs on the planet.  Same breadcrumbs featured in the non-wintery bowl which includes fresh greens and assorted roasted veggies like broccoli and potatoes.  Glorious stuff my friends

Little Chef Egg Bowl WinterSausage Pizza at Capizzi – Avid readers of EWZ already know that there’s no reason to cross bridges and tunnels for pizza.  However, very few places in the city (Manhattan) have that homey pizza parlor feel that is very common in Brooklyn and Staten Island.  Capizzi tucked away in “Downtown Hell’s Kitchen” got it and more.  This pie is a sausage fest of deep flavors made from fresh ingredients cooked in a wood fired oven.  Not quite NY style pizza, and not quite Naples style, but very NYC

CapizziAkamaru Modern at Ippudo – A recent article by the NYT reaffirms the belief that Hell’s Kitchen is a ramen force to be reckon with.  And in the middle of this ramen revolution is this super popular Ippudo branch.  Start with their terrific smooth pork buns and move on to the Akamaru, a complex porky broth and just about as addictive as Ramen gets in NYC

Ippudo - AkamaruCanotto at Sullivan Street Bakery – Love at first bite.  Sometimes its slightly off, but for the most part its pastry perfection.  Brioche filled with mascarpone, berries, topped with crumbs and some salt.  What I love about this is that every bite is different.  On one bite you taste chewy, cheesy, salty, next is crunchy, fruity, and so on

Sullivan St Canotto Sullivan St - Canotto

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Taboon – Magic Oven

Courtesy of Taboon

Courtesy of Taboon

10th avenue is the new 9th avenue.  Thats what I tell visitors when I bring them to 10th ave in ethnic rich Hell’s Kitchen.  That line either prompts a smile, confusion, or in one particular instance, gas.  Among the various new eateries that popped over the last few years, which includes Peruvian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, farm-to-belly (yes The Marshall, I see you), Korean Chicken Wings, “Middle-terranean” Taboon stands as the grand ol’ daddy in this rejuvenated, gentrified, stretch of Hell’s Kitchen.  You could not open a place like Taboon 18 years earlier (Taboon opened in 2004) in that neighborhood without having a Shepherd’s Pie in the menu, or other classics from the Irish mob cookbook.
I was given a task by a group of hard to please New Jerseyans to pick a nice Israeli place in the city for a group dinner, and I immediately thought of Taboon and Balaboosta for a slightly cheaper fare.  Balaboosta’s somewhat limited group menu, and my two year absence from Taboon made the choice clearer.  A coin flip! Ok, not really.  The choice was clear and needless to say the South Jerseyans who miraculously arrived on time after carefully planning a route via Chris Christie supported towns, seamed pleased with the end results.

Courtesy of Taboon

Courtesy of Taboon

Taboon means oven in Arabic, and your host for the evening is the domed wood burning, brick oven which greets you as soon as you arrive.  This is the stuff that dreams are made off.  And pizza!  And once seated it didnt take long to get a taste of the that oven.  Focaccia that would make Italian gourmands proud.  Perfect depth, golden crispy exterior, brushed with just enough olive oil, with a touch of rosemary and salt.  But the bread doesnt just stop there.  A splendid Sambusak stuffed with feta cheese, jalapeño and onion follows.Taboon Foccacia Taboon mezzes

Along with the bread, came an army of mezzes.  Well, an army for NYC standards at least.  In any Arab restaurant in Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem this would be called “Closed till further notice”.  An acceptable Hummus, tzaziki, taramosalata (roe spread – the older I get the less I like it), baba ghanoush, green schoog (the older I get the more I like it, but I prefer it like my wine, red), red pepper spread (the older I get the more I like cookies.  Nothing to do with red pepper spread [which was lovely btw] but I thought this is as good as a time to mention it).  The lovely mezze parade then continued with a refreshing avocado salad, and salmon ceviche (I believe it was salmon, it says red snapper on the site).  But the mezze war was won by the fantastic falafel balls with an all too familiar taste (Amba – that mango condiment we enjoyed so much in Israel last year), and the crowd favorite Zucchini cakes with sauteed snow peas, cipollini onions, fresh herbs topped with yogurt/garlic/mint sauceTaboon Zucchini Cake Taboon ceviche

As for main, I enjoyed my perfectly cooked Hanger with potatos, Brussels sprouts, and garlic.  But I quickly realized that I had this steak here twice before, and a quick look to my right gave me some serious and extremely rare chicken envy.  Yes, the first time New Jerseyan ordered better than me.  The mighty fine looking Chicken Taboon was featuring my true love, Israeli couscous.

A note about Israeli couscous.  Israeli  couscous is not like the couscous you know and love and really only called Israeli couscous in America.  In Israel, its called “Ptitim”, and its essentially tiny oven toasted “Pasta balls” invented when Israel’s first prime minister asked Osem to develop a rice substitute.  For a while it was nicknamed Ben-Gurion’s rice.

Taboon steakBack to the mains.  Two fish dishes that have been on the menu for as long as I remember are particularly popular.  The whole baked Branzino, and the Heraime –  wild striped bass, baked in the taboon oven in a ragout of roasted pepper, tomato, cilantro, mild Moroccan spices, artichokes and hot paprika oil served with regular couscous (booo, but I get it).  If you like meaty white fish with red sauce, get this.  Did I mention that a top Israeli chef who happened to be owner Ayala’s uncle (I think) was brought in to help generate the menu?

Normally in Middle Eastern/Mediterranean I find my refuge in all the apps/mezzes, and the desserts, and any greatness in the middle is a bonus.  Bonus!  The desserts here are just fantastic.  The Silan in particular is a thing of beauty – Vanilla ice cream with puffed rice and date honey sprinkled with caramelized pistachios and topped with shredded halva,  I’ve had this on every single visit.  The Lava Cake however was this crowd’s fave, and the Knaffe capped another great meal at Taboon.

Taboon

773 10th Ave, 52nd Street

$$$$

Recommended Dishes:  Focaccia, Sambusak, Falafel, Zucchini cakes, Chicken, Heraime, Silan, Lava Cake

Taboon Taboon chicken Taboon lamb Taboon lava cake Taboon Silan Taboon inside

 

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Dude, You Are Researching NYC Food All Wrong

002Dear Tourist,

So you’ve decided finally to go on a “Holiday” to New York City.  Mazal Tov!  You probably read by now in your guide books that NYC is the greatest food city in the world.  And you are probably waking up every morning thanking god for the gift that keeps on giving, the TripAdvisor Rankings.  Between the rankings, the guidebooks, and all the great recommendations by your neighbor’s house sitter Betty (you must go to bubba gump you must) who eloped to NYC last year with 75 of her closest friends, you are all set.  Right?  Not exactly.  Lets take a moment and examine what is wrong with the above plan, and come up with a new one.

Whats wrong with the TA rankings:  Everything, and nothing.  Its just totally meaningless, especially in NYC.  TA is a great traveling tool, but pretty much totally useless in NYC as far as restaurants are concerned.  The main reason for its uselessness is that there are much better research tools in NYC. (more on that later).  But lets discuss the rankings for a second shall we.  They are so flawed and so out of tune with reality that’s not even funny.  The top 50 at the moment is a bizarre mishmash of classics and places I never even heard of.  First of all the TA algorithm puts some major weight on the number of reviews.  So older establishments may be higher than better reviewed younger ones.  And then there are those that have 27 remarkably high reviews that made it all the way to the top 20.  And not to mention that 25 of them may be coming from all their employees and families.  I always recall this one particular place in Milan where the owner single-handedly put his place #1 with a bunch of obvious fake reviews.  At some point he mistakenly gave himself one star, and that followed with 4 quick glorious reviews with a similar language.  And once real reviews started coming in, he found himself arguing with every reviewer

But fake reviews don’t have much of a bearing on the busy NYC listings.  Tourists do.  TripAdvisor is predominately used by tourists, and its especially true in NYC.  While you may see locals contribute in other towns and countries where there’s not much of a choice other than TA, in NYC locals use other sites like Yelp.  Now, couple the tourist factor with the high volume factor I mentioned above and you can see why something like Basso56 will be near the top as its heavily reviewed by tourists thanks to its location near Times Square.  Besides Basso, at the top of the Italian chain on TA at the moment you can find other Italian behemoths like Rafele, Piccola Cucina, Via Della Pace – places I never even heard of.  But if you need more convincing than “Ziggy never heard of”, why not just go to Chowhound where all the NY foodies hang out and pull threads that discuss the best Italian in town.  You will not find any of those places mentioned.  What you will see mentioned are places like Maialino (#95), Babbo (#602), Marea (#194), Lincoln (#882), or even Ziggy fave Costata (#2605).  TA numbers are all over the place as you can see, well outside of the top range for the unsuspecting tourist.  So while you are eating a Carbonara with cream and bacon at a high ranked theater district place near you, locals out there enjoy the real thing with Guanciale and egg at Maialino.

Same applies to using the rankings everywhere else in the world.  My favorite restaurant in our adapted home of Turks and Caicos is Caicos Cafe, rated #20 at the moment, pretty low in T&C standards.

Now, its time to ditch the guide book.  Ok, wait.. pick it up.. its actually quite useful for many things.  But not so much for food.  Yes, you will get some good tips on some NY icons like Katz’s and Russ and Daughters that I recommend.  But then you have something like pizza (namely Grimaldi’s) and bagels that NYC is so famous for.  While you will not easily find better pastrami than Katz’s, you will easily find better pizza than Grimaldi’s.  Actually, all you need to do while standing on line at Grimaldi’s with the rest of the tourists is look to you left at Juliana’s window to see where the real Grimaldi is doing his thing nowadays.  But you dont even have to leave your neighborhood in Manhattan to get great pizza that is arguably better than Grimaldi’s.

Besides pizza, your guide book will mislead you in other areas.  E.g.  Hell’s Kitchen is not a safe area, the place for Italian is Little Italy, and Times Square is a foodie paradise.  Your guide book may be up to date as far as facts are concerned (MoMA hours) but not concepts.  Little Italy is now a block inside Chinatown riding one of those concepts.  There are no Italians living there.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the food contributors to the guides may not be necessarily “foodies”.  Rick Steves for example does not strike me a foodie, and to follow his advice in Italy or anywhere else is Europe in this day and age is pretty silly.  Eating at guidebook recommended establishments and high ranked TA spots also means eating with other tourists who are doing exactly the same thing.  Some may find comfort with that, but if you are reading this blog chances are you want to eat where the locals eat.

And as for your neighbor Betty recommendations go, treat them like meeting your dentist at the supermarket.  Smile, and move on.  Unless Betty, is an avid Eating With Ziggy reader and/or does any of the following…

Read Chowhound – as I mentioned, this is where many of the NYC foodies hang out, and where I get many ideas.  Chowhound is probably my wallet’s single worst offender.

Read Yelp Reviews instead of TA reviews.  I already touched on this, and its fairly simple.  Locals use Yelp, tourists use TA.

Read or Subscribe to Grub Street – You can get all sorts of interesting ideas there, especially from the power rankings.  Same idea applies to Eater, or Serious Eats.

Hang out in the TripAdvisor NYC Forum.  You dont even have to participate.  Its amazing how much knowledge you can get just by reading the forum for a month or two.  There are plenty of locals who contribute on a daily basis, and you can also find many discussions on dining by using the search feature

And the most important tip…

Read EatingWithZiggy.  Whats so funny.  Where do you think I derive my ideas from.

Happy eating, and happy planning!

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Staten Island, TriBeCa, West Village | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Mercato – a Diamante in the Rough

Mercato Trenette

I was never so eager to write a “Next Post” after that last one.  But work, and a vigorous Sexual Harassment training were in the way.

What do Hell’s Kitchen, Staten Island, and Brooklyn have in common? A mafia filled history, and a lot of mediocre Italian food.  Coincidentally, these are the 3 places I spend the most time in due to work and marriage constraints!  But as Bob Dylan taught us “Times They are a-Changin”  That’s right, changin without a “g” at the end.  In the case of Hell’s Kitchen, there’s still a lot of mediocre Italian food to entertain the theater goers.  But the last few years a few diamond in the rough spots emerged, biggest being Mercato on 9th and 39th.

Mercato NYCAvid followers of EWZ (both of them) already know all about this Hell’s Kitchen treasure.  Mercato (means Market in Italian) is as authentic as it gets in NYC.  Here’s why…

1) Owners from Puglia, chef from day one is Sardinian, and every waiter is Italian.  Yes, every single one.  And if I may say, all being Italian, fairly good looking bunch as well.  I dont go here for this particular reason, but perhaps a sense of belonging got something to do with it!

2) The menu is jam packed with Sardinian, Sicilian, Pugliese specialties (more on that later)

3) Italians love coming here.  I’ve heard Italian spoken here by diners on every single visit.

4) Inside it just feels like a rustic Trattoria in Florence (and Ive been to plenty of those)

5) One of these is usually parked next door

Mercato - Bread

I’ve been to Mercato about 10 times since my first time 6 months ago.  I’ve taken friends, co-workers, family, family of co-workers (not an affair, just fooling around!) and I feel very comfortable recommending it on the boards.  There’s nothing really outrageous about the food.  Its simple, honest, and true to the regions of South Italy.  While there are all sorts of goodies on the menu I come here primarily for the Primis (pasta/gnocchi)…

Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, garlic & basil – Like on a first date, before meeting the parents and answering “am I fat” questions 20 years later, you may want to take the core product for a spin.  This is a very passable basic Spaghetti dish with profound freshness all around.  As with many of the dishes on the menu, everything is homemade

spaghetti

Homemade Trenette with almonds, garlic, tomato and basil (top picture) – Possibly my favorite pasta here. Simple, intense flavors, and at $12 the best price/taste ratio.  You will simply not find this anywhere else

Gnocchi in beef and pork ragu – Another one of my favorites.  The gnocchi are wonderfully chewy, pillowy, and on the small side.  It looks like its swimming in sauce but its firm enough to soak in just the right amount of the meat ragu.  And what meat ragu it is!

Gnocchi

Orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe, anchovies, bread crumbs, garlic and olive oil – A Pugliesi without an Orecchiette dish is like Roman without Carbonara.  Its very simple, if you like anchovies get it.  If you dont, dont.

Orechiette

Fave E Cicoria – Its the Pugliesi Hummus.  Popular especially in the winter months.  Purée of fava beans, chicory, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Deliciously salty and quite good

Mercato - Fave

Pay special attention to the pasta specials here.  Yesterday I had a terrific Cavatelli with spicy short rib ragu.  Same goes for the Fusilli (below) with slow braised pork ragu I’ve enjoyed in the past

Mercato - Fusilli

The one dish I really want to try but always get disrupted by a special is the Malloreddus which is homemade Sardinian cavatelli-like “Gnocchetti” with braised wild boar ragu

I’ve had plenty of other dishes here like the Octopus, Sardines, Tagliata (sliced steak), but chose to highlight the selective ones

Mercato

$$

352 west 39th st

Recommended Dishes: Spaghetti, Trenette, Gnocchi, Fave E Cicoria, Pasta Specials

Mercato - Octopus Mercato

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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