Wildair – Lower! East Side

Wildair SkateCulinary Slowdown.  Its a real first world problem.  Its when a food enthusiast wakes up one day realizing he hasnt eaten anything noteworthy in days or weeks.  Its when a food writer suddenly experiences difficulties coming up with new ideas and writes only about pizza for two weeks!  Its when you sit in a restaurant with your spouse after a mini hiatus and the spouse gives you that “you know, we could have been anywhere” look.  I’ve been there before.

Usually during a culinary slowdown you start to ask questions.  What’s the meaning of all this?  What’s the meaning of life?  Is there a point to this blog?  When I read reviews of restaurants during my travels, I always wonder how do restaurant owners dont end up in therapy.  And then I remind myself that I myself may contribute to the therapy bill.  Who am I to tell Mr owner that his product is shit after one visit.  This is a tough business, and way too many variables involved in a good vs bad meal starting with tastes and expectations.  But it’s 2017, the age of Trip Advisor and Yelp.  And the owners need to… well, own it.  Hopefully at the very least, some look at these as constructive criticism

Wildair

It started so promising.  A little suspicious, but promising.  No waits or difficulties getting a table at a prime time of 7 pm on a Saturday.  And then there was the space under the high top table (like a drawer without the drawer) for the camera.  I suppose you can put forks, napkins and purses in there as well, but it was the big boy camera that finally, finally found its space, a home,

Another variable was the three inches separating us from the guests next to us.  You combine tables into one long commune table, separate one table by three inches, and BAM!  You got privacy.  As a result it was a tale of two hearing aids.  Loud but manageable first hour when the people next to us had a simple conversation.  But when 4 girls, who managed to only communicate by shouting showed up…  It was like passing by a busy construction site, getting whistled at by the friendly workers, and this time sticking around for a good hour.

With all these accolades, its tough to keep expectations unblemished.  Bon Apettit named Wildair the #8 new restaurant in the country in 2016.  But midway in, when the squash blossoms came in overcooked into a messy mush, it started going south.  We did enjoy the seemingly famous, clean tasting, Beef Tartare.  But presentation and flavors were short of similar tartares, some in the immediate area (Estela).  The combination of Littleneck clams, with not too fishy XO, and almond broth worked well.  But there was just not enough of it to fully enjoy between two people.Wildair Tartare

I expected more from another menu staple, the Littlegem Lettuce.  It was citrusy alright but not balanced and flavorful enough to make you forget that you are eating lettuce.  The Skate came oddly covered with the cabbage instead of the other way around.  Perhaps if they can think of a way to open that cabbage like a flower when the plate arrives.  This was one of the better dishes, especially aided by the Sorana Beans.  But a far cry from another Skate by a Contra product (alumni), Gloria in Hell’s Kitchen.

The closest to a saving grace was the crispy warm house bread.  With just about every dish we turned to the bread for comfort and satisfaction.  To me its the true must.  The Chocolate hazelnut tart was simple and fine, while the Panna cotta and green apple granita was too frozen and not so fine.  Combine some granita with the tart and you got something.

Wildair
142 Orchard St (Rivington/Delancey), Lower East Side
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Bread, Clams, Beef Tartare, Skate

 

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The Pizza Map

Below is what I consider a map of some of the best pizza in NYC.  I will update the map from time to time without notice, and at the moment I dont have time to edit the individual listings with the proper explanations.  So its a good idea to read about the place before you go, or at the very least to make sure its still open.  While you can bet that something like Joe’s will be open a year from now, a place like Bruno pizza may not.  But I will try to update the map as I often as I can

Many of these like the Hell’s Kitchen plays will look familiar (Maybe other than Corner Slice which I had 3 hours ago perhaps for the 10th time).  But some of these like Brunetti and Tramonti are fairly recent discoveries.  Brunetti makes a gorgeous Neapolitan and one of the best clam pies I’ve had in NYC.  I already discussed Martina, and older faves like Pasquale Jones and Roberta’s.  In Chelsea I’m only including Gotham Pizza, a surprisingly delicious slice for a chain (they add bread crumbs to the crust for extra crunch), while places like Co. essentially priced themselves out

Needless to say to produce this map, I had a lot of pizza in the past few months.  But I also included two powerhouses (Lucali and Keste) that I’ve never actually tried as of this writing.  Since I’ve been frequenting Keste’s half sister Don Antonio, Keste is the just about the last thing I want to eat when I find myself stranded in West Village.  And Lucali’s legendary waits dont bode well with my legendary waits allergies, but you may get better luck.  Many consider Lucali the best pizza in NYC

Also in Brooklyn, you got the pie with the best view in Fiornino, and arguably one of the best slices in NYC in Best PizzaRoberta’s is tough to get to, which is why I added the “mini Roberta” in Urbanspace Vanderbuilt.   I didnt add any of the Brooklyn legends like Totonnos and Di Fara for various reasons.  The only long timer pie on the list is John’s on Bleeker which dishes out a truly excellent NY style.  There are also some Manhattan newcomers just about to open that I’m keeping my eyes on like Sorbillo and Joe and Pats of the famous Joe and Pats on Staten Island.  I will update the map as soon as they open and pass the Ziggy inspection

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Martina is a Game Changer

IMG_6848Its a girl!  Marta, the NoMad Roman powerhouse, and a staple of the Z-List, gave birth to 10 inch, 2 lb, Martina.  Proud papa Nick Anderer resumes the quest for a full Roman invasion of NYC.  While he has plenty of Roman competition these days, Anderer is clearly the main man when it comes to the Roman stuff with his M&M’s (Maiailino, Marta, Martina).  All part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality group, and the person that gave us Shake Shack.

Sometimes I write about a place that makes me pause and ask myself if I really want to spread the word on this one.  Its called PTCS, Pure Thai Cookhouse Syndrome.  When I was working in Hell’s Kitchen, in order to eat at Pure, we had to sneak out at exactly 12.5 minutes before noon, in order to get a table.  Four times a year I would have unannounced drills, just to make sure everyone is on their game.  Sharing is Caring is something my parents never taught me really.  It was more like Sharing or I’m Coming Over with a Belt.  I’m sharing alright, but this is the one place I will frequent often by all looks and tastes, so I would like to be able to come whenever I feel like.

But Martina is far removed from the tourist zones of Times Square, High Line and Little Fake Italy.  Its all part of the joys of eating in East Village where 90% of the tourists are at Mcsorleys, 5% are trying to locate Mcsorleys, while the rest are lost trying to figure out under Guinness influence how to get back to Times Square from Mcsorleys.  Another advantage to Martina that you dont see much these days is that they open at 11 am.  Even if you add the 6 hours to accommodate for the time difference, similar pizzerie in Rome are still closed (Most open at 8)IMG_6698

So why is baby Marta a Game Changer?  Because we dont really have anything like it in the pizza capital.  Every week or so it seems we have a new $17 Neapolitan or NY or Detroit style opening but there’s really nothing out there like Martina.  The pies are just about the same size as a Neapolitan but they are flatter all around and much cheaper ($7-$12).  Anderer essentially created a new category.  The idea was to make a more affordable version of Marta in a fast-casual environment.  Yes, I said “fast-casual”, like the big boys

Since Martina opened a month ago, I’ve essentially become their Mashgiach (Kosher inspector).  I go every now and then to check the progress, while eating some of the best new pizza in town.  In the efficient gas oven at Martina the crust loses some of the Marta crispiness but its not such a bad thing.  The thin crust retains a pleasant chew that feels more balanced.  Anderer created a pizza lineup that include Roman classics like Quattro Formaggi with tomato sauce and arugula (most NY Quattro Formaggi are white), and a Capriocciosa (artichokes, ham, mushrooms, black olives, mozzarella & egg).  Both of which he learned from his extensive Roman training.  It also includes playful combinations like Brussels Sprouts Cacio e Pepe, and a Diavola with pickled hot peppers.  It might be the lightest, most perfectly sized individual pie in NYC today, especially once you factor in the price

And if you are a Marta fan, you’ll be glad to see Suppli and meatballs on the menu among other starters and salads.  And not to mention a proper finisher like the Fior di Latte ice cream with your choice of chocolate-amaro sauce, candied hazelnuts, olive oil, and sea salt. Ready, set, Go!

Martina
198 E 11th (3rd ave), East Village

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Best Pizza in Hell (Revisited)

Its the first and last pizza week here on EWZ, and that time of the month – W42nd st monthly launch.  And by pure coincidence or not, this month issue lists the best pizza in Hell’s Kitchen.  Long time readers will notice one major drop/add on the list.  Although the major drop (John’s) is still fairly popular with visitors, and the addition is pretty far out there.  So pick up a free copy of the W42st, to check out what this dysfunctional family is up to these days.

Pizza List

Prior lists

 

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Pizza and the City

Quick, what is the pizza capital of the world?  Hint:  Its NYC

So lets spend a few moments breaking it down.  Chicago does a good Deep Dish and then some.  Boston, San Diego, LA has are making all sorts of great pizzas, and so is New Haven which spoiled clam pies for me forever.  And then there’s Naples and Rome that are really the two powerhouses outside of the country that can compete with NYC pound for pound.  These are all fantastic pizza cities.  But none of them comes close to the size and depth of the NYC pizza scene.

Yelp lists 11,000 establishments selling pizza in NYC which granted is a little high.  And it only allows checking 999 results at a time, so I cant really see how many of these are actually pizza places.  And according to the Health Dep’t there are around 1600 establishments with the word pizza or pizzeria in the name.  So there you have it. We have exactly 1600 to 11,000 pizza places in NYC!  Ok, so we dont really know.  But the number is very high.  In many neighborhoods you can’t walk a block without a pizza, bagel, Chinese takeout, and therefore a Pharmacy.

And with the numbers comes the competition.  I’ve witnessed it increase dramatically during the last few years with the advance of Roman, Neapolitan, Detroit, and even NY style all over town.  Experienced Italian Pizzaioli continue to flock the city, while local talents like Nick Anderer and Emily Hyland increase the assault.  Our healthy pizza culture hasnt changed much, but we do have a lot more interesting options nowadays.

And these days those options go far beyond the institutions like Di Fara, which many consider the best pizza in city.  So as I wrote elsewhere…

Think of Difara as the High Sparrow.  The High Septon of The Faith of the 7 pizzas (Grimaldi’s, Lombardi’s, Totonno’s, Di Fara, L&B, Patsy’s, John’s of Bleecker).  But since it was crowned as the high Septon of The Faith, the 7 pizzas became 700, and many of them are now more powerful and better looking than the High Sparrow.  If you are a believer and part of The Faith, you already know who some of them are.  But if you are an outsider, you only know the High Sparrow and your mission in life is to meet him.  But to meet him you need to take what they call “The Subway” for a long ride and wait your turn among other non believers, which may take 1-3 hours sometimes.  And when you finally meet him, the entire experience may depend on one thing.  Whether the High Sparrow is having a good hair day.  Its essentially like a job interview.

So for those readers or GOT fans that are still with us, yes, we are grateful for all those institutions that deliver quality pizza for all those decades.  But today we have a lot of other options, some of which a little bit more interesting.  Other than John’s, these guys are somewhat painful to get to, and there’s a very good chance there’s a better option near your hotel.  So for the next week or so, I’ll be working on a map of some of the best pizza in NYC, along with other articles, starting with an updates list of the best of Hell’s Kitchen.  A pizza week on EWZ if you will.  And if you are not into pizza, you are an enemy of America!

 

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Unanswered Tour Requests

If you requested a tour and didnt hear from me, its because the email you put on the form is not correct or isnt working.  If you did not hear from me by now, send another request directly to EatingWithZiggy@Gmail.com.  This week I got two such requests

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Fiaschetteria Pistoia – Under the Alphabet Sun

sThere’s Off the Beaten Path, and then there’s Avenue C.  When I first heard of Fiaschetteria Pistoia about 6 months ago, I had to see it to believe it.  You hear about places open in Alphabet City, but rarely so far east.  Its a good news, bad news situation for residents and the many students who call East Village and Alphabet City their home.  It’s great to see businesses open and thrive, but at the same time we may be looking at a rent squeeze.  On the bright side, I’m now able to sit outside on Avenue C.  Something I wasnt able to do not too long ago during the more violent days of the Alphabet (I’m using Marvel lingo here.  As in “we need to defend our [Hell’s] kitchen)

You almost assume that any town just outside of Florence would be sleepy when compared to the tourist mecca nearby.  But Pistoia, just west of Florence on the road to Lucca (another gem) is filled with culture and nightlife.  And in the middle of that nightlife is Fiaschetteria La Pace, the big brother of Fiaschetteria Pistoia.  Fiaschetteria, in the more traditional sense means a small wine bar, more associated with Florence.  Back in the day, Tuscan wine was brought in from the vineyards in straw-bottomed bottles called Fiasche and sold in these tiny open wine bars, like street food.  A dying breed just like the Lower East Side Jewish delis that once roamed around the area where Pistoia calls home

Pistoia is as far removed from Italian/American as a place can be in NYC.  Much of the staff including the cooks, a family and friends affair, from you guessed it, Pistoia.  A human pasta machine in full display busy making the Picci, a rarity in NYC because its slightly more labor intensive.  Limited but adequate English throughout adds to the charm.  Even the wine “menu” may seem strange to some.  A basket with 8 house wines, dropped on a table or chair near you to explore and sniff.

There’s only one thing that sings Tuscany more than Picci.  Pappa can you hear me?? Pappa al Pomodoro a rustic dish not so easily found in NYC.  Mainly because tomato mush (“Pappa”) with stale saltless Tuscan bread doesn’t usually scream fine dining.  But this is indeed a good one.  Many may also bulk at the idea of Picci served Cacio e Pepe style.  But in south Tuscany this kind of Roman influence is common, and Picci got a bit more of a bite.  And yes, you even have a Cinghiale (wild boar) sighting here.  Here it is served with Maccheroni, a pasta that is a little more generic than I’m usually led to believe.  I was expecting tube shape, but got flat noodles that you can use to make little tacos with that meat Fiaschetteria Pistoia Pappa al Pomodoro

In Pistoia, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra (slowly cooked duck ragu) is usually served on an annual July festival.  In Alphabet city I can get it any day now.  This regular (I’m told) special became my favorite pasta here after three visits.  On the last visit, I also enjoyed Crostone Fagiolino, another Pistoia specialty of bread topped with cooked prosciutto, chicken liver and Mushrooms.  Eating this requires a little work, but it pays off overtime.  Standards like Prosciutto and Tiramisu are top notch here.  Tiramisu is so good in fact that I havent tried any other desserts here.

Fiaschetteria Pistoia
647 E 11th (Off C), East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Any of the Prosciuttos, Pappa al Pomodoro, Crostone Fagiolino, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra, Picci Cacio e peppe, Tiramisu

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Ivan Firing on All Cylinders

Ivan Ramen Chicken PaitanI dont usually update a place this soon, but this is kinda important after yet another fine meal at Ivan Ramen LES.  Weather is getting chillier (or seemed to be a few weeks ago at least), and I cant think of a better way to start Ramen season.  The Chicken Paitan at Ivan is not the Ramen dish that made Ivan famous, but to me it’s right up there with NYC’s best at the moment.  As I described 6 months ago when it came out, “the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness”.

A corn on a cob dish always gets my attention, and this one proved to be a wowzer.   Its Miso roasted with bonito flakes and some sort of Japanese magic dust sprinkled.  The fried chicken, brined perhaps, is another exceptional one.  The Coney Island Tofu with that miso mushroom chili has made it’s triumphant return to the menu.  Magnifique as always.  As is the Triple pork, triple garlic Mazemen (brothless ramen) which has been on the menu since day 1 but somehow eluded me all this time.  Being featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table hasnt made it easy, but reservations are doable.  Go!

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36 Hours in Zagreb

IMG_4157Its easy to overlook the capital once you look at the rest of Croatia, but you need to fly home from somewhere.  Two nights, one full day is a good amount of time to see the sights, most of which from a compact center.  By this stage of the trip, food research fatigue took over.  But we still managed to sneak in a good final meal

The main cathedral is striking as expected.  As was St Mark’s church and its unique tiled roof.  The Museum of Broken Relationship was intriguing but I got bored quickly.  Fortunately Mrs Ziggy was as well, so no museum donations were in store for us!  I did spend more time in the Dolac market than I’d like to admit.  Those European markets just never cease to amaze.

We didnt think we’ll have the time for Mirogoj Cemetery, but we managed.  It turned out to be the highlight, especially once I found Drazen Petrovic’s grave (that was a tough one).  But the most moving moment came from the scene at Stone Gate.  Back in the day a painting of Virgin Mary with baby Jesus survived a devastating fire and major damage to the gate.  So an odd looking shrine build inside the gate, where many locals go to pray and light candles.

The best and only meal worthy of mention came from a place called Kod Pere, which happened to be right next door to our apartment (Feels Like Home Apartments).   The environment is that of a comfortable, seemingly popular, regular restaurant.  But there’s nothing regular about its menu (according to locals).  You essentially eat traditional specialties grandma and her family assistants are cooking that day.  The Last of this kind I’m told.  Everything was done with care and quite delicious, especially the crepes for dessert.

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Chelsea Lately Mini Update

Cull and Pistol CounterThe burning question.  In the midst of all that madness, what exactly should I look for in this Zombie infested former Nabisco factory.  I added a couple of names for 2017 without feeling the need to change anything else.  This is just mostly a fresh reminder since I’m constantly being asked by people.  What should I target in Chelsea Market…

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