Rezdora – The Good, The Bad, And The Gramigna

Eating With Ziggy

Rezdora - MozzarellaJanuary 31st, 2023 Update:

Ok, you want the good news or bad news first?  Lets start with the good.  Rezdora pastas still rank with the best of them.  The Gramigna Giallo e verde is a thing of multicolor beauty.  The kind of “white” ragu that sends you back to Italy, specifically Tuscany for me.  A lesson on how to get so much flavor from so little meat.  Another triumph is a Mozzarella di Bufala appetizer with pickled beets.  Every morsel of the oil, basil, and every other ingredient is profound.  Rezdora remains our best Emilia Romagna representative.  However…

This is not the same Rezdora since the Michelin star.  I get that sometimes we pay a hefty price for quality, but I believe we also pay for the privilege to some degree.  A Michelin tax if you will.  If you get it, they will come.  And by they I mean tourists. …

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Indigo {TCI} – A Star is Born

Fine dining in TCI? Pass. Coming from NYC, we find fine dining in the Caribbean pretentious, overly expensive, and full of hiccups. When you shell out a considerate amount, you cant help but notice all the little things that go wrong. We mostly avoid them these days after being fooled one time too many. Fool me once shame on you, fool me 15 times, I’m a glutton for punishment. But sometimes you want to take your wife somewhere new and exciting, where she can sport her Rent The Runway dress, and matching scarf. And sometimes when the stars align, you hit a homerun. Or in this case, a “Six”. If you know, you know.

Indigo is the brainchild of Australian Andrew Mirosch, the Culinary Director at Wymara. Its the old Gansevoort which recently rebranded to Wymara. Its essentially the new Stelle for those familiar. We avoided Stelle all those years, but social media chatter and early reviews suggested Indigo is the one new kid on the block worth checking out. Indigo is named after one of Mirosch’s daughters. He often flies to Australia to see them, and comes back with highly sought-after Australian Salmon and lamb. As long as he doesnt bring back Vegemite, I think this formula will work for a long time.

Our expectations at places as such lowered over the years. But Indigo is doing its best to lift that bar. The one thing I really like about Indigo happens almost as soon as you sit down. A menu intro by Mirosch himself. Instead of meeting the host at the end of the meal as happens so often, a chat at the beginning helps with the menu navigation and palate matching. Its a game changer for some. It doesnt take long to see how passionate and dedicated he is on freshness and the ingredient driven menu. As with any place on Provo, you need to satisfy a wide range of tastes (ie tourists), and by all accounts it looks like Mirosch got the tools and expertise to do so.

The rebranding to Wymara didnt mean rebranding from sexy. So we, including Mrs Z scarf immediately felt that sense of belonging. I’m pretty sure, if we didnt arrive at Provo senior hour (7), when Indigo was fairly empty, we would have gotten plenty of the usual looks, and the few patrons we saw were simply too busy with the menu. Choosing from the menu turned out to be a difficult task as there were some very interesting looking specials that night. I prefer small menus, and this was definitely not. Andrew Mirosch, the fisherman to the rescue.

We started with the two soups on the menu, including one special. Fish soup was pleasantly creamy and loaded with various chunky delicious fish. But as good as it was, the Conch Chowder special made it look pedestrian. Complex, supremely flavorful, and as good as it gets really.

Second course was a special trio of tapas called “Would it kill them to add another shrimp to make it shareable”. Lobster spring roll and Mirosch’s take on Maryland crab cake totally upstaged the lone sad coconut shrimp which needed the two terrific sauces to give it some life. A flashy but tasty app overall.

Although it was still windy, the island fishermen went fishing after a 4 day break, hence a superb local grouper special. A hefty, perfectly flaky fish, sitting on top of freshly made light fried rice. This dish worked slightly better than the buttery lobster. Indigo has an interesting dessert selection but being a sucker for sticky toffee pudding I stopped reading the rest of the menu. A tad too sweet perhaps, but still enjoyable and something I’d order again.

The service is usually understandably lacking on the islands, but it wasnt the case here. Friendly, proficient, and anticipatory. I dont recall the wine we had as I wasnt planning on writing a dedicated post while there. But this was an enjoyable meal from start to finish. A solid exception to the rule. Go!

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L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele – Eat, Pray, Love, Repeat

Opening a pizzeria in the heart of Manhattan these days requires some major Bombolone. From the West Village location of da Michele alone one can walk to a variety of pizzerias that are ranked with the best of them… Brunetti, Ribalta, Song’ E Napule, John’s of Bleecker Street, just to name a few. These few are mostly of the Neapolitan kind, the result of the new wave of Italian immigrants. Unlike their Sicilian and Neapolitan predecessors who worked with limited ingredients back in the day, the new wave has access to not only ingredients, but the proper pizza oven.

But all the ingredients in the world wont put you on the map if you are missing the main one, a capable Pizzaiolo. Thats always been the main difference between eating in NYC and Rome or Naples, for the most part. We are getting there, if not there already. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the brainchild of Francesco Zimone and Michele Rubini who are expending on the legacy of the original staple in Naples (since 1870). After two visits, needless to say, these two got pizza down to a science, mainly thanks to the all important Pizzaiolos they brought with them.

During my conversation with Michele after my first meal, I learned that these guys are no stranger to the ultra competitive NY pizza scene. More importantly perhaps they are well aware of what it takes to run a successful pizzerie in Naples, in accordance with Verace Pizza Napoletana Association which Michele Rubini is certified with. The Naples location is also famous for being featured in Julia Roberts’ Eat, Pray, Love. It has received so many accolades over the years, it has no more room on its door. Shame you wont see a “Ziggy Approved” sticker anytime soon.

Simply put, this is as good as pizza gets in NYC. The pies are larger than the typical Neapolitan found all over the city. I wrongly assumed they increase the size to please Americans, but Michele told me thats the size in Naples as well. The base is soft, light and perfectly charred. And the ingredients gel together beautifully. There’s a double cheese option for some reason, but not worth the risk of losing a perfectly balanced Fior Di Latte, Pecorino, tomato sauce combo.

Its important to keep it simple with the delicate Neapolitans, and always go with the Margherita, but I cant help but get the Diavola every time I see it. Here its superb, and the spicy salami is actually spicy. The Pesto is the only white one I tried, and its not too shabby either. Two pies can easily feed a hungry three, but not quite 4, unless you order other items. Its a fairly full menu for a pizza joint, and it will get fuller with burgers, fish and steak soon. The multi-room space is fairly spacious, with a long bar, and a third room downstairs that isnt quite ready. Its the most ambitious pizzeria that ever opened in NYC. So far so delicious.

L’antica Pizzeria da Michele
81 Greenwich Ave (West Village)

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Jeju Noodle Bar – Fortune Favors the Brave

2019 seems like centuries ago. Anything before Covid is now foggy, ancient memory. We often use “pre-pandemic” to describe certain trends and personal habits. For example before the pandemic I would only have Negronis in restaurants like Jeju Noodle Bar. Nowadays its just another Wednesday at Ziggy’s new and improved bar. We drink more at home, and spend more eating out. A full meal at a full service restaurant used to cost on average $150 for two not too long ago. These days its more like $180. Pre-Covid Jeju Noodle Bar was one of the best deals in town as I wrote in 2018. For $45 per person you got a 6 courser for the ages way back then. Then, a nasty virus struck. Michelin!

Michelin of course has its many pros. I just cant think of any at the moment ;). Oh ye, I reckon it’s a great achievement for the establishment, the ultimate accolade really. It often attracts more business, albeit a new, more demanding customer base. It definitely inspire those seeking stars, and keeps the starred chefs on guard. But the cons are too many to list here. One of which is that as a customer, you may pay dearly for the said inspiration and honor.

This is not so much a complaint, but a cool transformation story. As much as I would prefer the old Jeju, I’m genuinely happy for these guys. They reaped the rewards of smart and even brave moves early on, and created a formula that works for many. It was one of a kind back then, and even with the changes, one of a kind today. A Michelin starred semi fancy noodle joint. But its hard to ignore some of the changes, like the star dish Toro Ssam that was included in the original $45 tasting menu, is now a $55 caviar-ed triumph in itself. And the two piece fried chicken app that now includes caviar as well, comes with a $29 sticker shock.

These differences are mainly reflected in its smaller dishes. While its a “Noodle Bar” that specializes in Ramyun, Korean style Ramen, its smaller dishes are its strength and the main reason for the Michelin star. In fact it wouldnt be so wrong to only order appetizers at Jeju, and it would be a mistake to order a filling Ramyun for each person. And then you have the seemingly rotating two dry noodle dishes that are not shown on the main site menu. Last time there was an intense lobster pasta (Gajae-Myun) drenched with a fishy (in a good way) Sauce Americaine, and lobster emulsion. Its like a the pasta version of a sick lobster bisque.

The good news is that many of the small dishes are very shareable, even for four people. Take the half rack pork ribs. Plentiful, fall of the bone, and sauced to sweet and spicy perfection. But I wouldnt expect less for $30. I did expect less from the Gochujang Bokum with a comparably shocking tag of $13. But what I got was elevated comfort food in the form of beef ragu over rice topped with potato crisps, featuring flavors as explosive as the volcanos on Jeju island. The Amberjack, one of three raw fish dishes on the menu is probably the only skippable item we ever tasted here. The delicate Amberjack just got lost for me between all the sauces.

Articles, poems, and children books have been written about the Toro Ssam Bap over the years (eg “Ssam I am”, “Goodnight Toro Ssam”). I believe I even included it in one of my annual, not so anymore, Best Dishes of the year. I will probably resume it this year and pay more attention. The layers of rice, scrambled eggs, fatty tuna, and now Golden Osetra Caviar manufacture an umami filled spoonful. Or make it a freakishly good taco with the accompanied seaweed. Despite the price tag, its an absolute must signature, and such a great complement to the menu.

Its the only “Ramen” place where I would recommend to share one, or maybe even skip altogether. They are solid and worth trying, but just not as life changing as the smaller items. The often mentioned Wagyu Ramyun isnt as big of an upgrade as the price suggests ($45 vs mostly low $20’s). The high quality Wagyu brisket inside the delicious broth is good but not quite as outstanding as one would expect from Wagyu meat. The pork bone based Gochu, and the family Ramyun are well balanced, milky, and just rich enough. Sometimes Tonkotsu ramen can get too rich for my taste.

Wine list is fine. Beautiful decor, though less than ideal comfort levels if you get tables with benches instead of chairs. In the winter time, these benches dont work so well as there’s nowhere to put your coat or hang your man purse. Never sacrifice comfort for aesthetics, kids. Oddly no dessert, another change from the good ole days! Jeju is still a solid inclusion on the coveted Z-List, that some may argue more beneficial for consumers than Michelin stars. Go!

Jeju Noodle Bar
679 Greenwich St (West Village)
Recommended Dishes: Ribs, Gochujang Bokum, Toro Ssam, Gajae-Myun, Gochu Ramyun

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Chuan Tian Xia – ‘Twas the Night Before Szechuan

Unlike previous visits to CTX, we were not the only white people this time. Thats most likely because it was Christmas eve, the night when New York Jews indulge in Chinese food. Not terribly different than the monthly routine for many. The tradition started decades ago when places like CTX didnt exist much here. At least not as far as I know. Back then your main options were Cantonese American/Chinese palaces with big round tables spinning egg foo youngs and pepper steak, before the General Tso’s and chicken with broccolis took over. We still eat the latter stuff on occasion, though I secretly reheat them sometimes with chili oils and crisps to get some sort of resemblance to the flavors of a CTX.

Chuan Tian Xia is not only fun to say, but a lot of fun to experience. Its not your typical Chrismukkah Chinese establishment, but a fiery, numbing feast for all senses, especially the Jewish ones. Its located in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, home to arguably the most authentic and largest Chinatown in the US. CTX, along with Hot Space, another Sunset Park fave, stand out in a sea of Chinese establishments, perhaps since most Sunset Park immigrants came from Fujian which is known for milder fair. Even the dishes we experienced so far at Hot Space and CTX werent as fiery as Queens staples like Szechuan Mountain House and Legend of Taste.

Our last visit to CTX was more successful than prior. Maybe because this time I finally used the Szechuan magic word, “Medium”. Spice levels werent quite up to snuff before, but were more like it this time. We can handle more, but sometimes there’s that fine line between handle and joy. Mrs Z didnt even have one of her infamous coughing episodes. Usually at the beginning of a spicy BYOB (Bring your own Bounty) fest (eg Ugly Baby), she starts the meal with a prolonged cough attack where we both sort of expect it and ride it out while the staff looks in horror. After its over, its business as usual as she handles the heat like a champ.

I also love reviews that wildly rave about the spice levels, and at the same breath talk about how they couldnt finish the dish due to said spice levels. If its too spicy to eat, its too spicy to enjoy, even if you normally enjoy spicy food. I recently crossed that line at Rowdy Rooster in East Village where I opted for the next level on my fried chicken. What was wrong with the lower level I enjoyed previously? Absolutely nothing.

As soon as you sit down at CTX, delicious tea and dangerously addictive spicy peanuts arrive. Often its the little details that make a difference. The smart decor of murals of what looks like Lucha Libre masks is akin to something you find in Manhattan, not Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Service is usually friendly, efficient, and English is never an issue. In Sunset Park, particularly in the Dim Sum palaces, its often point and speak.

Cold appetizers, including cold Chengdu mung bean noodles are more popular here than hot appetizers like the Sichuan staple Dan Dan Noodles. Although there was nothing particularly wrong with the Dan Dan last time. The griddled simple veggies here are usually a must get for us. Over time we settled for the cauliflower and string beans. No matter how much I try to replicate them at home, it doesnt come close to these flavors. The string beans, unlike at other Sichuan places dont come topped with pork but quite flavor packed nonetheless. Its not on the menu but it should be.

One of my favorite Sichuan dishes is dry fried fish fillets, and the CTX version (“hot and spicy fish fillet” on the menu) didnt disappoint. The only miss last time was the Chongqing chicken, a classic I usually enjoy. The chicken was a bit overly diced, and so too small to balance the strong flavors, though the pineapple fried rice helped. The Kung Pao chicken was more like it, and a fitting dish for the occasion. Its like a nice bridge between American and Sichuan… sweet, sour, and just spicy enough to remind us where we are. Happy New Year!

Chuan Tian Xia
5502 7th Ave, Brooklyn
Recommended Dishes: Pineapple fried rice String Beans, Cauliflower, Hot and spicy fish fillet, Kung Pao chicken

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10 Best Things we Ate in Puglia

Podolica Ribeye at Soul Kitchen (Matera) – This list has the dubious distinction of being a “best thing we ate in X” list starting with an item in Y. Soul Kitchen isnt in Puglia, but the neighboring region of Basilicata. Matera is very often paired with Puglia as a major destination. But hey, I dont make these rules! Simply put, this steak was freakishly good. Expertly cooked Podolica (the southern answer to Chianina and Fassone), and ranks high up there with anything we’ve ever had in steak heaven Tuscany. So good I just had to hug the chef.

Shrimp baked in Salt at La Puritate (Gallipoli) – People come to Gallipoli to see Gallipoli, but I came to see the famous shrimp. Trattoria La Pure Joy as we coined it, dished out a shrimp dish unlike anything I ever had. They are plated table side along with delicious EVOO, and although plenty of salt used, they never cross into the too salty territory. Outstanding to say the least.

Pizza at 400 Gradi (Lecce) – Highly acclaimed Neapolitan, and arguably the finest pizza in Puglia. According to this well regarded list, one of the best in the world actually. Delicious, perfectly chewy crust, with top notch, zero km ingredients. And I suppose I reached the pivotal point in my life where I just had to finally try pizza shaped like a star and the one here, with beautiful Ricotta filled sun rays, didn’t disappoint. Its a bit outside the closest old city gate, and quite popular with the locals, so come as soon as they open or be prepared to wait.

Seppia Tagliolini with shrimp at Ristorante Blu Notte (Lecce) – Sometimes, not often, its the happy accidents that produce the most stellar results. We stumbled upon this gem by pure luck after some places I marked were closed, and it turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip. After enjoying the famous Puglia antipasti all over, the seafood spread here were quite memorable. But the pastas, especially the rich Seppia win the prize.

Tuna Carpaccio at Antiche Mura (Polignano a Mare) – I’m a sucker for a good tuna tartare or carpaccio. You can just see recent posts for evidence. This silky smooth goodness in this seafood mecca is simply divine. A lesson in freshness, quality and simplicity. The baby squid, Tagliolini with fish, not too shabby either. After the meal head to Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella, or “Super Mario” for the specialty coffee with lemon and Amaro.

Lobster Roll at SoFish (Otranto) – SoFish is the type that best exemplify the fun of travel, especially for the seafood deprived like us. A hip, “Fast Casual” joint specializing in quick seafood. Its not exactly an old concept in Puglia as it appears that it started by the great success of Pescaria in Polignano a Mare not too long ago. This roll is more like a well crafted lobster salad with huge chunks of meaty lobster and the rest of the lobster resting on top. Perhaps the most outrageous lobster roll you’ll ever encounter.

Lasagnariccia at Cibus (Ceglie Messapica) – Picking one dish from this Slow Food legend is not easy. I could have picked any of the sick antipasti spread like the Stracciatella with black truffles or the Zucchini flowers with ricotta and toasted almonds. But I think I heard the angels finally sing when I tried the Lasagnariccia, a beautifully deconstructed Lasagna with eggplant, like the best eggplant parm you will ever eat.

Puccia at La Lira Focacceiria (Alberobello) – Puccia is a sandwich made with pizza dough, and this place and its animated owner makes one heck of a Puccia. “Now wait outside until you hear Puccia! Like this… PUCCIA!!!!”. Dough, ingredients rocked big time. Same with their crafty stuffed focaccia sandwiches

Pasticciotto at Pasticceria Andrea Ascalone (Galatina) – Eating the Pasticciotto here is like eating Pasteis de Nata at Pasteis de Belem in Portugal. You can have them all over Salento and they’ll taste pedestrian next to the original where it was invented. Tour buses including week long food tours make the pilgrimage to this place. Smart to build an impressive 15th century Basilica nearby, with some of the most stunning frescoes you’ll find anywhere.

Pear, Ricotta, Rum Dessert at L’antica Locanda (Noci) – I literally heard fireworks when I ate this, but pretty sure it came from outside. It’s a simple but incredibly addictive concoction, especially if you are into boozy desserts. My dining companions thought it was a tad too strong, but to me it was perfectly balanced. Noci is where those in the know go to eat when they visit Alberobello, and L’antica Locanda is its crown jewel.

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This is Lecce

I’m almost done writing about Puglia. I got a doozy I’m saving for last. But it would feel incomplete without mentioning “Florence of the South”, even though its not exactly a secret anymore. We happened to be travelling to Florence after Lecce, and that made us appreciate Lecce even more. Even with the tour groups arriving in droves, Lecce still feels like a sleepy hilltop village when compared to Florence. Lecce’s old town is not large, but its golden sandstone streets make for pleasant walks even when you pass by the same streets and cats every morning.

Lecce is one of the strongest reasons that Puglia requires some time (at least 10 days), and it’s old town splendor compliments the Puglia itinerary beautifully. Its also a solid base to explore Salento. You got Otranto and its mesmerizing coast 30 minutes to the east. Gallipoli 30 minutes the other way, along with spectacular beaches like Punta Prosciutto that was calling my name for some bizarre reason. And lesser known jewels like Galatina and its frescoed Basilica in between.

Palazzo Massari, a comfortable bed and breakfast very near the old town ticked all the boxes especially in the parking department. We found Lecce to be easy to get in and out, even with some sneaky ZTL entrances. On your first day, a good way to get oriented with the old town and its history is a food tour with Antonella through Airbnb experiences. While there wont be a food shortage with this one, much of the focus is on history and culture.

Even if you’ve seen every church in Italy, you do not want to miss the significant Lecce handful, especially the crown jewel Basilica di Santa Croce (above). Another gem, of the hidden not so hidden kind is the Jewish museum in the ancient synagogue right next to Santa Croce. A short tour of the six or so rooms and a short video gives you a good understanding of the history of Jews in Salento.

The notion that Lecce food is meh overall (as per some well known bloggers) is a misnomer from our experience. Maybe compared to the major cities of the north, its lacking, but there doesnt appear to be a shortage of good eats. You can eat well and poorly just about anywhere in Italy. Ristorante Blu Notte and 400 Gradi for pizza were the highlights. La bottega del corso is a fun cheese/salumi/bruschetta quicky. The lone miss was an expensive meat-fest at Tabisca. More here, and more to come.

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A Day in Brighton Beach

Well, hours really these days. In the winter, Brighton Beach and its Atlantic winds can feel like a Siberian beach resort. Especially on frozen tundra days that sneak up at you without warning. You know, the days when you open the door to leave the house and before you know it, you are sliding down the stairs on your bum, and the streets are flooded with people lying on their back. Dont bother calling 911 if the person is awake since that is the first question they ask. So a fun Brighton Beach day is cut to a couple of hours in the winter where we do some quick shopping and beg restaurants to turn on the heat and invest in vestibules. Yes, new word for me too.

Rain or shine, or Sharknedo, the “Russian” neighborhood of Brighton Beach, along with Sunset Park are probably my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods to explore. The borough may not be as diverse as Queens, but it has a remarkable number of distinct neighborhoods, led by these two. I will write in more detail about Sunset Park in the future, but today I will focus on Brighton Beach. Though if you happen to be a long time follower (many thanks to both of you), there’s not a whole lot new here. Ok, maybe just enough.

A recent influx of Uzbek and Georgian immigrants helped put the quotes in “Russian”. Although Russian is still the common language, its no longer the dominant cuisine. Even the food store “Taste of Russia” changed its name but that’s another story. Its not your grandpa’s Brighton Beach, and not even your dad’s. My old favorite dollar slice, back when dollar slices was not a thing because that was the price, is now a Starbucks. Getting a Knish is pretty much impossible these days. I used to sell them at Volna on the Boardwalk which quite remarkably still exists, especially considering every other space on the Boardwalk is owned by Tatiana today.

Speaking of Tatiana, a long, lazy lunch on the Boardwalk is something we dont do enough. Or pick up an oversized Shawarma sandwich at Little Georgia around the corner on Brighton 6th, sit on the boardwalk and watch the world go by. Who knows, you may even get invited to join the Babushkas of Garden of Joy (adult daycare). Outside the winter months, we dont miss a chance to walk the boardwalk halfway to Coney Island and back. But as a tourist you may want to walk the length and end your day there (or vice versa). On many summer evenings and Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur, the boardwalk transforms into one heck of a Passeggiata.

Back to the Boulevard, just about every visit these days involves picking up frozen Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) at the Ukrainian long timer Ocean View Cafe. The pictures of Nicolas Cage on the walls are gone now, but long time patrons remember Lord of War. Over the years we switched from Siberian Pelmeni (veal, pork, beef) to chicken as the former started to taste too gamey for Mrs Z. You can obviously have them inside as well, along with a fine Borscht. Or at least as good as Borscht can get.

Ziggy’s Guide to cooking Pelmeni: The classic way: Boil for 8 minutes, add butter, a few splashes of red wine vinegar, black pepper. My way: Boil for 8 minutes, mix with a Chinese style dumpling sauce (I like this one along with Momofuku’s or better yet Fly By Jing Chili Crisp), top it with sauteed veggies like Cauliflower or Zucchini

Then its usually crossing the street for another long timer, Vintage Gourmet Specialty Food, or as we call it, “the chocolate store”. We pick up some Halvah, and chocolates that are either hard to find, or just cheaper than other gourmet markets. Back in the day the store was half the size today, although its not large by any means. My weakness is dark chocolate, preferably with pistachios, and the selection here is unmatched. But you also have a nice selection of Turkish delights (its Turkish owned after all), teas, spices, nuts, and much more.

The street crisscrossing here can be tiring as many drivers still confuse the boulevard for the French Connection chase location (It was actually filmed in Bensonhurst). That means its time for a snack. One of the things that hasnt changed much over the years is that you can still get street food off the street. The mini supermarket right next to Vintage, Gold Label sells meat and veggie filled Pirozhki from its window for as long as I remember. Its just a little tricky to time the freshness sometimes, as very few snacks are as satisfying (and cheap) as a fresh beef Pirazhok. For the similar but different Uzbek Cheburek, I would head to the corner on Brighton 5th, or better yet Kashkar Cafe on the “quiet side” of BB. More on this gem later. Golden Label is also the perfect size store to explore, especially the prepared items, and cakes. Say what you want about Russian food, they know how to make killer cakes.

From the old to the new, and a little detour. The Georgian bakeries and restaurants seem to be multiplying, not only in BB, but all over Brooklyn these days. 10 years ago, no one heard of Khatchapuri and Khinkali. These days you see these Khatchapuri love boats even in Manhattan. But the place that started it all is Tone Cofe on Neptune. Its one of the oldest if not the oldest Georgian restaurants in the city. And the first one to use a “Tone”, a Georgian oven where the dough is smacked inside by hand, and removed with a special stick. You can have a pleasant meal inside their adjacent restaurant, but these days we come to purchase their best in the hood Kharcho (Georgian beef soup), bread of course, and sometimes when we feel naughty, the regular pizza-like Khatchapuri, as opposed to Adjaruli Khatchapuri (cheese boat)

While less noticeable than Georgian and Uzbek, Brighton Beach also has a much bigger Turkish presence these days. If I have to name two things Russians love besides Russian food, its Sushi and Turkish. In some of the small supermarkets like Black Label you will often find a sushi chef doing his thing. And besides the delights of Vintage you also have the new Güllüoglu Baklava on Brighton 1st pl for more imported and homemade sweets. Vintage recently started importing artisanal Baklava from a top bakery in Turkey to intensify the BB Baklava wars. For kebabs or a more complete meal head to Beyti Turkish Kebab, one of the better lunch specials around.

Manhattan will soon get its first Tashkent Supermarket and the young professionals will soon learn about Plov, Samsa, Monti. and the consequences of going to an Uzbek super store hungry. In the original in Brighton Beach, I’ve had too many in and outs due to the crowds. On weekends they sometimes employ Japanese train pushers to move people by the Plov section. Hence I mostly shop at the less chaotic Ave Z location. They dont just have one kind of Plov (Pilaf), but a variety that covers every “Stan” kind. These days we lean toward the chicken plov, but the classic lamb and the rest are excellent.

Eater

Roughly half of my trips to Brighton involve a visit to Kashkar Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants in the entire city. Now that I no longer run food tours I can share all my secrets. One of which was a meal at Kashkar Cafe, the first Uyghur restaurant in NYC, maybe the US. Although its not much of a secret in NYC anymore, or even the world apparently. I ran into Fiona Shaw once on a tour here. Uyghur is essentially Uzbek on crack. In addition to Lagman soups (hand pulled noodles), expect a drier Geiro Lagman, and Juvova dumplings, the Uyghur answer to Pelmeni. Exceptionally fresh Cheburek (like a Pirazhok), Samsa, and really excellent kebabs. Homey, family operated places as such are increasingly hard to find in other parts of the city.

You are now in the “quiet side” of Brighton which has a much different feel since the subway is not hovering above, and businesses on only one side of the boulevard. But similar nut stores, buzzy bakeries like La Brioche, and gourmet supermarkets like Netcost are worth checking out. Or forget everything you read here, and just follow your nose and the crowds. You may bump into the same places, or maybe discover something I havent. At the end we’ll all agree that love it or not, there’s nothing like Brighton Beach in North America.

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Provo – Food for Thought 2022

Thanks to Covid, longest Providenciales hiatus since we discovered the Turks and Caicos islands roughly 15 years ago. Like Columbus, we just happened to be sailing the Atlantic, south of the Bahamas until we found these beautiful, barely manned islands one day and we never looked back. Much has changed since then especially in the food department. The weather didnt cooperate this time, but once you are there, the Provo zen kicks in, and you ignore all your problems. A plethora of great dining options help. Unlike previous visits, even some new places delivered this time. Here’s the recap…

Sweet T’s

Provo is generally expensive, even for NYC standards. But that doesnt mean you cant find cheap local eats. Even with prices pretty much doubling since we started coming to Sweet T’s, its fried chicken is still the best deal in town. You order by the dollar amount. For $5 you get about 10 full wings which is enough for two. Add $2 fries, $1.50 bottled water, $1.50 tip and you got yourself a meal for $10. This has become our usual first stop after landing since its a 2 minute drive from the airport.

Hemingway’s

One of the obligatory lunches for fish and chips and fish tacos at the Sands. While the fish and chips are still the same old flaky goodness, and perfectly seasoned fries… err.. chips, the fish tacos were just ok this time. The tortillas got soggy pretty quickly and the mango salsa sweetness was a little more prevalent this time. Wife liked them though so who cares

Mango Reef 

I haven’t been in MR in so long I forgot why I dislike it. Last visit was at the old location at the Alexandra. I figured since its still fairly popular it’s time to try again in the newer location in Turtle Cove. New verdict: Same as the old. Tuna salad was as basic as something you get in a Panera Bread. Coconut Shrimp was more like it. Appetizer lineup was somewhat lacking, forcing me to order things I don’t usually order. Grilled Snapper was serviceable if not a tad dry. The saving grace was the lobster curry. Surprisingly well balanced curry with just enough heat. I would come back just for this. Mango cheesecake was good and pretty to look at. Sexy even if I may say. Ambiance was that of a cheap wedding that didn’t pay for music. Even the drinks were wedding-like weak.

Omar’s Beach Hut

When Grace Bay misbehaves, head to the always dependable Sapodilla Bay (see below) or Taylor Bay, followed by lunch at Omar’s in Five Cays. You will pass a rough stretch on the way, but the location is superb. Omar spent many years managing Bugaloos next door so he’s no stranger to the conch scene. In almost godfather-like fashion everyone gets a chance to meet him. Well almost everyone. Waiter: “Did you see Omar”. Me: “No, I went to the bathroom, but he met my wife”. Waiter: Would you like to see Omar”. Me: “Ahhm, I think we are good, thanks”.

My lone concern was that “Island time” will take away from FIFA time, but it was quick and tasty. Conch fritters was proof that they dont necessarily need to be crispy to be supremely flavorful. Fish tacos topped with a nice tomato salsa were decent. The winner was the oxtail. You can tell a lot of love went into preparing this dish. Just wished there was more rice to accompany that sick dark gravy. And pretty much the best, freshest plantains we’ve had anywhere. Outstanding lunch.

The Almond Tree

One of the new and exciting kids on the Provo block, located in the stunning Shore Club. Pretty busy on a Sunday since many places including all my favorites pretty much closed. Open kitchen, but surprisingly ventilation issues for such an open layout. Nice looking space dominated by a large tree in the center. I’m guessing of a nut variety (almond?). The food is elevated American comfort food with an emphasis on the south.

The standout was the Pulled Braised Short Rib that comes on three little biscuits. Very nicely executed. The Gnocchi was nice and creamy. Pine nuts and sun dried tomatoes just for decor I suppose, and not much truffle essence from the truffle cream. But still enjoyed it. Old Bay Seasoned Shrimps (doubt it was named by famed executive chef Martin Davies) was good but essentially basic shrimp and grits. Maybe average if you eat it regularly in the south or high end places. Bread was stale, and service overall was lacking. Its a soft recommendation from me for now. If you are after the familiar (nothing wrong with that) go for it.

Cocovan

A quick enjoyable lunch at this popular Airstream food truck. I preferred the fried chicken sandwich over the grilled Mahi sandwich, she preferred the Mahi, and we both concluded that the Churros were the best thing we ever ate here. Fresh, light, fluffy and awesome. My lone gripe is the elevated prices even for Provo.

Le Bouchon

One of two regulars for dinner. Another flawless meal from start to finish. I think the most common complaint about LB has always been the service, but I feel more confident that kinks are mostly fixed. We’ve been coming here long enough to know what works best for us. Any type of Carpaccio. This time a silky smooth, melts in your mouth tuna. Add a touch of their excellent salt.. superb. Conch Chowder is always flavor packed with plenty of heat. Comes with this Harrisa sauce on the side in case you need even more heat and complexity. Steak Au Poivre still the bomb. You can tell it’s cooked well as soon as you touch it. Maybe a tad on the blue side for us as we prefer medium rare. The fries are like the best McDonalds fries you’ll ever have. And yet another perfectly cooked fresh snapper that makes other island Snappers pale in comparison (I’m looking at you Mango).

Indigo

New for us. A fantastic experience from start to finish that deserves a dedicated post. Will update soon.

Chinson’s

Part of our busy lunch rotation (we are the only Seven Stars guests that hardly eat at the resort). This is where we usually get our Jerk and goat curry fix. So often whether in Anguilla or here we get lesser quality fatty goat, but this one was not the case. Not as spicy as I remember but just as enjoyable. Same for the terrific Jerk chicken. That sauce! I till haven’t washed my hands properly since. The local Gon-Ta-Nort Amber is the beverage of choice throughout the week, again.

Caicos Cafe

Our first and last meal on every trip. Sometimes we even sneak one in the middle. Italian with a Caribbean twist. One of a few mid to high end spots that attract many locals. I met an Italian woman in Sapodilla who said “they are the only ones” when I asked about for her favorite Italian on the island. Well, at first she said “my kitchen”. The one gripe this time is that there were no specials on both visits which was always a rarity. Whether its a fresh Wahoo, Grouper, or a pasta of sorts, I’ve always enjoyed the specials here. But we persevered and then some.

The Tuna Carpaccio on one visit, Tuna Tartare on another were standouts, the former in particular. Just the perfect combination of silky smooth tuna with quality EVOO, salt and pink peppercorns. The Gnocchi was the same ol’ pillowy awesomeness. You won’t find more delicate gnocchi anywhere. The only app that paled in comparison to previous visits is the Octopus. Still good, but missing some of the old oomph.

During lobster season you can count on a solid Spaghettoni Lobster Fra Diavolo. We “Scarpetta’d” the heck out of that sauce with the usual quality bread. On the second night we enjoyed the pungent and meaty Orecchiette. The grilled lobster here is serviceable. I would also feel confident ordering ribs and steak here as we’ve done in the past. And you most likely wont find a better Affogato anywhere in the world. Its a mystery why no one else adds Baily’s to the mix.

Summary and Random Tidbits:

Standout meals: Le Bouchon, Caicos Cafe, Indigo, Omar’s, Chinson’s.

Standout dishes: Snapper at LB, Tuna Carpaccio at CC, Conch Chowder at Indigo, Oxtail at Omar’s, Curried goat at Chinson’s, Churros at Cocovan, short ribs app at Almond Tree, lobster curry at Mango Reef, Affogato at CC

If you are staying at the Seven Stars or even if you dont, try the Tuna Wrap and Caesar’s Salad for lunch.

Pick up some sandwiches for the flight back at Julien Deli (Le Bouchon owner). The Julien classic is good, especially according to Julien

Try picking up the new WhereWhenHow Dining Guide there or read it online. http://onlineissues.wherewhenhow.com/publication/?m=19978&l=1&p=&pn=

A couple of places I wanted to check out but ran out of time:

Sj’s Curryclub – Recommended by a few locals. Opened by a Provo veteran most recently at Graces Cottage. I’m told it’s a small place. I love Indian too much so not usually looking for it on vacation, but I was intrigued by some southern dishes like Chicken Chettinad.

Conch & Coconuts – Recently opened near Turks Kebab. That’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge about it. Would be nice to have a solid affordable local place in the hub even though that particular location can use some sprucing up

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Z-List Update – December 2022

First post pandemic update, and a complete overhaul really.  I reduced the number from 50 to 30, and now sorting by neighborhood.  30 is just easier for me to update and keep tabs on.  Still sticking to Brooklyn and Manhattan as these are the two boroughs tourists and I mostly frequent.  Only rule as usual is $10-100 per person.  Meaning nothing should cost over $100 or under $10 per person.  That eliminates cheap eats like pizza, and pretty much covers 99% of sit downs in NYC.  An affordable list for the people, by the people (Ok, by one person, but you get the idea). 

Additions: Dell’anima, Milu, Anton’s, Nish Nush

Removed: Too many to mention. Some closed, some lost their mojo, including sadly Momofuku Ssam. Yep, for the first time no Momofukus on the list. From three to zero.

The complete list

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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