53rd street in Hell’s Kitchen is a street I’m well familiar with. I used to walk by Kiran, an Indian restaurant formerly at the same space as Gloria like a Hassid in East Village. Face covered so the super nice owner wouldnt see me walking by. I didnt want to break his heart after years of loyalty while I was cheating with another Indian on 9th. After Kiran it was another love hate relationship, CoBa 53. They opened, they closed (thanks Health Dept, and Obama!), they reopened but could never find their groove. The biggest, weirdest gripe I had with them was that this was the one place where tablecloths just seemed out of place.
So when I heard Pescatarian Gloria opening in that spot, I needed to see it and taste it to believe it. Instead of the usual Walk of Shame or avoiding that corner of 53rd entirely, I actually coudnt wait to see what they’ve done with the space. Nifty light fixtures replaced with niftier ones, and the tablecloths are GONE. The irony is that after all the space anticipation I forgot to take a picture of it. Multiple shots of every dish (Our neighbors who flat out stole our corn bread thought we are some sick food paparazzi) but nothing of the space.
I often start posts like this one with a Jambalaya of irrelevant junk, before giving a place the proper praise it deserves. So before I lose any more reader, I can honestly say that this was one of those meals. A solid 3 star! The most refreshing thing to open in Hell’s Kitchen since The Marshal introduced us to American food (we have every Thai and Mexican imaginable, but good luck finding good ribs). Some call Gloria a mini Contra as thats the place most associated with it (GM formerly with Contra). But its more like a mini Le Bernardin.
Corn Bread – Nothing wrong with this bread course. Except for the fact that we got it fairly late in the game after they initially delivered ours to the next table.
Black Bass Tartare – Pretty to look at, and one of the dishes to get. Just wonderful flavor with the watermelon radish adding nice brightness.
Jonah Crab – Simple, yet outstanding! The sweet as lobster crab mixed with strips of Kohlrabi (like a cross between Turnip and Daikon) and aided by a thin eggy Sabayon. Ok, maybe not that simple.
Octopus – Yet more delicious awesomeness. Perfectly cooked Octopus slices sitting on a bed of cabbage and black rice, delivering one heck of a nasty bite. Its rare to see a place deliver so many probable menu staples so early in the game
Shrimp – If I may briefly pause the party for just a sec. I think this is the only one I would skip next time, which is more of a testament to the rest of the lineup. Nothing wrong with the shrimp and their Gulf funkiness, but nothing new flavor wise with the Cortez sauce. And the Hominy made my brain expect Peruvian corn like texture but that snap was sorely missing.
Skate Wing – This is it. The one, the Neo, the dish to get. There’s nothing better in the seafood universal than Skate Wing simply seared with butter with a sprinkle of magic dust.
Panna Cotta – Meh! But no point deductions here
401 West 53rd (off 9th), Hell’s Kitchen
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Skate Wing, Octopus, Tartare, Crab
I always thought Truffle Hunts were sort of a joke. You go to the forest with a bunch of eager puppies to look for truffles planted there the morning of. Sort of like finding the Matzah during Passover, except for the forest, and eager part. The only way to get my kids to look for Matzah these days is if we plant a white truffle along with it. So after all those trips to Italy including Piedmont, I never imagined that I would get my truffle hunt certificate in Croatia. Husband, Father, Lover of Pizza, Tour Guide, Truffle Hunter. My tomb stone is starting to resemble the Stanley Cup.
Did they plant them? I dont have the slightest idea. Was it fun? You bet ya! Its not just about the hunt, but the entire experience. During the hunt I was honestly more concerned about dodging dog poop than look for truffles in that terrain (they were VERY eager). Black truffle terrain turns out is tougher to maneuver than white truffle. And when you train those puppies to eat what they find, you have to be on your toes. Or go with a qualified truffle hunter like Ivan Karlic, the grandson of the guy who started it all 50 years ago.
We learned the ins and outs of the hunt including the difference between teaching them to eat it vs bring it to you. And how male dogs are just too horny for this kind of work. In addition to the main Motovun forest where licensed guides roam around, the Karlic family also owns their own groves where hazelnut trees will start producing truffles 7 years after planting. Meanwhile today, exhausted city slickers turned hunters pick fresh cherries out of the groves and pose for selfies.
If the hunt was exhilarating, the meal before the hunt was pure ecstasy. If humans would poses similar instincts to those dogs, I imagine it would have been very easy to train us to find truffles. We would even carry the bonus of not eating everything we find, and clean our own poop. They start you with truffle brandy, and end with truffle Nutella, with truffle salami and truffle cheese in between. Along with truffle oil (real, not perfume), truffle cream and truffle honey available for you just in case you want more truffle. And did I mention the Truffle Scrambled eggs. Let me see.. I dont think I did. Butter is mixed in with finely shredded black truffles and eggs before finishing with more shredded truffles. The result is what wet dreams are made of. If Karlic decides to use that saying in their brochure or website, I allow it.
The evolution of the Brooklyn tour continues. In the next few weeks I will take some time to write more of a detail post about the current tour and what it entails, as it changed quite a bit since its inception. But the big development is that I’m adding Green-Wood cemetery. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, and experimenting with Green-Wood during the last 3 tours, and frankly I dont know why I havent done it sooner
If you dont know what I’m talking about, wondering why I’m adding a cemetery to a food tour, a simple Google or Google Images browsing will answer that. The proximity to the current route also makes sense. If you booked a future tour and are not interested in Green-Wood, just let me know. As it stands right now though, this is a quick 30 minute stop, unless anyone wants to spend more time there. Simply put, this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The reason you dont hear much about it is because of the difficulties for tourists to get there.
And no this is not Nicolas Cage future grave pictured below. His Pyramid is much taller. And if you just happened to have a Nicolas Cage fetish (seriously, who doesnt these days), we can also visit Cage’s favorite restaurant in Brighton Beach.
We have a Sabra invasion in full swing and no one bats and eyelid, not even Trump. Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, Taim), Efraim Nahon (Taboon), Michael Solomonov (Dizengoff), Nir Mesika (Timna), and many more, including now Meir Adoni, an Israeli superstar opening his first in NYC. The falafel kingdom continues to expand with chainlets like Taim, and Nish Nush leading the way. And we even have a (sort of) Israeli bakery chain in Breads Bakery, whose owner is Adoni’s partner at Nur. Even my new favorite French dessert spot in East Village is owned by talented Israelis.
But something is missing in NYC, and that something has something to do with the title, and real estate. When I was in LA last time, we discovered a place called Itzik Hagadol (Big Isaac), a sprawling “fast-casual” (new phrase which I hate but use anyway) spot in Encino, serving Israeli classics like falafel, hummus, babaganoush, and things you dont normally find here like Mititei. I was into my second Shashlik when I realized… NYC doesnt really have one of those. If I want to take my extended family somewhere on a whim here, I wouldnt know where to go. But if I want to take my wife to a fancy Israeli or one that requires knowing the right people who can reserve a table for you 4 weeks in adavnce, I got plenty of options. Thats NYC for you, and the nature of Manhattan real estate. Either things are too fast, or too expensive. “Fast Casual” is lacking here.
So if Adoni wants to open an Adoni Hagadol, I wont even take royalties. He’s already off to a flying start, hotter than a Shakshuka in the Sinai. We werent quite sure what to expect from Israel’s culinary idol. And when we arrived, as often happens when we come back from an extended European trip, we are greeted with a jolt in the way of three greeters. I think on average the employee/diners ratio is roughly 5 times higher in NYC than anywhere in Europe. Why do we need three hosts!
But the good news is that almost nothing but greatness on those plates….
Honey and Garlic Challah – I gather that the first two breads on the menu are the highlights here, but I wanted to try something else. Besides, the Kubaneh and the Sesame Bagel, arent very unique to NYC anyway. You can get a similar Kubaneh with S’chug and other condiments at Timna, and a fine Jerusalem sesame bagel at Bar Bolonat. But the Challah was fine, doused with just enough honey and garlic on top, served with pickled onions, and creme fraiche. While we liked it, I secretly cried a little at night for not getting the Kubaneh after all!
Jerusalem Sesame Bagel – Hagadol serves a bigger sesame bagel. Nice and buttery, just like the bagels in Mahane Yehuda market, albeit 10 times pricier. And just like in Bar Bolonat it comes with Za’atar on the side, and an exceptional tehini-like Lima Bean Messbaha.
Date Doughnuts – Very good and very Mediterranean. Comes in two, along with this addictive curry Citrus Vinaigrette. By the end of the night I dipped everything in this thing including forks, fingers, car keys, and wife’s finger.
Damascus Qutayef – Essentially fried Lamb Pancake. This was fine. If I have to pick one dish I wouldnt order again, I think this is it. The sweet notes were a little overpowering for me. But the sides of Marcona almonds with cucumbers, and a gazpacho like yogurt chaser at least kept this interesting
Horias – Excellent! “Lamb Kebab in Pita” is more like mini lamb Shawarmas inside these perfectly crispy pitas with a hint of Amba (Mango condiment). As some of the other dishes it comes on top of old newspapers for some reason with some pickled veggies. You can munch while getting up to speed on the latest Cricket wives gossip
Eggplant Carpaccio – Possibly the dish to get here, which is ironic considering its the only vegetarian dish outside the bread category. Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and simply delicious. Not every bite is the same. The only minor quibble one might have is that the dish is listed under Big Plates but is more of an app. Its a big plate alright, but not the content. Possibly the eggplant to beat after Atoboy in NYC
Sea bass – Well cooked, supremely flavorful black bass, with more eggplant, Freekeh, Broccoli Rabe, and Spring Beans. Adoni clearly likes his eggplant which he features throughout.
Lamb – Two fine skinny tender lamb loins. Like the Seabass, all sorts of Meshugas on the plate like a Lentil salad, and what really stole the show for me, a Lamb and Bulgar filled onion. The “Mains” here made me appreciate Timna even more. I found a lot of similarities all over the menu but in particular the way the mains were constructed. Complex and ingredient heavy, but truly exceptional stuff
34 E 20th St (Brway/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Sesame Bagel, Date Doughnuts, Damascus Qutayef, Eggplant Carpaccio, Sea Bass, Lamb
Warning: The following post is more about the Show rather than Tell. There are a handful of very strong candidates to write the first post about after this adventure, but I cant think of anything more deserving. Its a rare Location Location Location situation, and not so much about the food. Although there was nothing really wrong with the food. We just didnt give it much of a chance to prove itself beyond the one wonderful course that we thoroughly enjoyed. It could have been the meal of a century, if not perhaps for a group of 40 German tourists occupying the place before us. Leaving us just enough time for a short meal before rushing for another highlight, the famous Zadar sunset.
The owner of Konoba Pece has two hobbies… grilling and stone work. They go hand in hand here, as in order to enjoy this one properly, one needs to create a fine looking deck. I rarely look for dining options with a view, but sometimes you find places that just grab you like nothing else. There are stars you put on the map, some of which are “would like to”, while some are “just in case we are in the area”, and some you arrange the entire day around. Its the type of place that wants you be a better photographer. Or a photographer
Our meal included a perfectly grilled octopus stuffed with Pag Cheese and Prosciutto which added much delectable richness. There was the option of having the Octopus stuffed with nothing, which seemed rather boring in this foreign country, compared to the alternative. How often do we get to eat Cheese from the island of Pag inside of an octopus. And then there was what became a semi obsession in Croatia, Scampi in Buzaru sauce. This is a down and dirty dish, not for the faint of clean shirt. In Dubrovnik they gave us a bib for a saucy pasta roughly 100 times safer. Buzaru is a simple sauce of tomato, garlic, herbs and wine, making those sweet scampi (Langoustine) most succulent.
The drive alone to Vinjerac from Zadar is part of the experience. And yet there’s another reason to head there, the red bridge, Maslenicki Most. This little Most is like the Hostess with the Mostess. Just cross it and park on the left for some spectacular shots. Then take the highway back if you are driving to Zadar, or drive to the restaurant (10 minutes away).
The latest issue of W42st has a proud theme. Inside there’s a mini zine where you’ll find 5 Asian dishes I’m mostly proud of
Oxtail Fried Rice at Blue Ribbon Sushi – Bone Marrow added for exceptional richness, while fluffy omelette makes it exceptionally good looking. Sauteed Squid is a close runner-up
Tofu at Danji – The only tofu I consistently order in NYC. A Hell’s Kitchen classic
Pad Ped Moo Krob at Larb Ubol– Its like the “Best of Thai” in one dish. Beautiful crispy pork belly, Thai eggplant, peppercorns, curry paste, and plenty of chili heat
Shredded Beef w/Asian Spicy Green Chili at Gourmet Szechuan 56 – Its so good, it makes you put the phone away. Besides, I cant catch a signal here anyway.
Pork and Crab Soup Dumplings at Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen – I’ve ordered them so many times, they’ve stopped asking what I want. My picture should be on that wall in no time, next to Andrew Zimmern
In order to properly enjoy the following, you need to scroll down very slowly, while listening to this.
Dubrovnik – Now I get it. It feels like a movie set when you are there, and a dream after you leave. You feel like Paparazzi the entire time you see her. There’s nothing like it, and you clearly see why Game of Thrones chose it. If you are a fan of the show, you will like this town. Big props to Rooms Raic for delivering quite possibly the best views we’ve seen from any hotel. Its truly a magical town. It makes you want to be a better photographer
Off to Croatia. Tours will resume after June 4th. Forgive me if I don’t answer your email right away but will check periodically and answer as soon as I can. Meanwhile I’ll leave you with a blast from the near past
16 days in Sicily in July means you are still writing about it in November. Couple that with a trip to Montreal and you essentially got The Summer of Ziggy! It’s the kind of trip I dont believe I can mimic anytime soon, but you the reader can! These 15 items alone should give you plenty of ideas if you researching but I strongly recommend checking out the rest of the Sicily Page. I can easily spend another 3 months writing about this, but wife now wants me to concentrate on Croatia. She’s just a tiny bit
spoiled eager. So, pull up our trip theme song one last time, and lets get lost together…
Yet another sharp reminder kids. Leave the center, and wonderful things start coming your way. I’m talking unicorns, and puppies, and Octopuses. In this case you need…
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It feels somewhat odd for such a place to open smack in the middle of Soho these days, due to…
- I haven’t written about anything new in Soho in years (back to back posts now)
- Lately I try to avoid the area as much as I can.
- When I bike through it these days, I find myself pedaling a little faster.
- Its normally packed with people, beautiful people
- So why do I pedal faster
- I dont know. Maybe to impress them?
As the wise Yogi once said… “Its so crowded, nobody goes there anymore”. Have you been to Soho lately? Spring and Price are giving Times Square a run for its money. I wonder whats the rent like these days. On the flip side, I was picking up visitors from Sixty Soho on back to back mornings for a Brooklyn Tour, and I couldnt believe how charming and quiet that area can be in the morning. I heard cab drivers singing and birds making mating calls (or is it the other way around). Even Dominique Ansel had no no queue! It was as shocking as your spouse telling you out of the blue, “I didnt know the Bee Gees were all male”.
Pinch Chinese is sticking out of Prince Street like a zebra in a nudist colony. There’s nothing like it in the area, serving solid elevated Chinese in a comfortable setting. One of the partners is a veteran of the famed Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, known for their soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao). Inside, once you look passed the seriously focused crew behind the glass, its quirkiness galore. From the menu, quoting Yelp reviewers, to the bathroom, warning employees about the consequences of not washing hands. A lot of effort into the decor. We ate…
Seafood/Pork Dumplings – Smaller than your average soup dumplings, but more concentrated and potent. Wife was wishing for bigger (what else is new) but I thought they carries enough spark. Something I would definitely order again
House Special Shrimp – Fine! No issues with the perfectly cooked tiger shrimp and sauce, just nothing new and exciting flavor wise.
Niman Ranch Cumin Ribs – “tender, fall-off-the-bone – jocelyn on yelp” menu description is spot on. But to me its all about the dressing of these babies that made us eat the leftovers with a spoon. One of those rare awkward “Are you done with that” moments. And it just goes to show you how flavorful Chinese Cumin lamb or pork can be without the numbing heat
Dan Dan Noodles – Yet more pinches of brilliance. And more Niman Ranch pork, with heat this time, and hints of star anise. Its a peanuty sauce a la Han Dynasty.
Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant – A dish of the year nominee. Something Jocelyn and all her Yelp colleagues missed out on (I didnt see any mentions of it when I ate there). Glass noodles with heaps of crab, dressed with an outrageously delicious fermented bean sauce with chilies and scallions. The crab was plentiful and delicious, but it almost plays second fiddle to the noodles with sauce. I would even order this without the crab
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce – Exactly what it says. A regular, but solid, Chinese style eggplant in garlic sauce
177 Prince St (Sullivan/Thompson), Soho
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Seafood/Pork Dumplings, Cumin Ribs, Dan Dan Noodles, Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant