Antiche Sere (Bevagna) – Sons of Anarchy

Antiche Sere chickpea soupIf you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick.  Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC.  I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it.  “Are you positive this is it?  From the parking lot we passed more inviting places.  Like, all of them.  And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”.  They said none of this out loud of course.  They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.

The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic.  The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos?  I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat.  Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it.  Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home.  So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent.  And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers.  And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot.  The type that know what they are and gained a following.  They type you target, and not bump into by accident.

Antiche Sere

Antiche Sere LogoThis being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive.  One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact.  As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space.  You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean.  And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.

The menu is small.  The first sign that this is gonna be good.  The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it.  I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this.  The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.

Antiche Sere mushroomStarted with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup.  Clams from Ancora and local  chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya).  This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion.  Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day.  Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms.  Eggplant parmigiana was another winner.  And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.

But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”.  A dish more common in pricey French joints.  Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor.  One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local.  All washed down with delicious local beer.

Antiche Sere RavioliAntiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

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Val d’Orcia – Blame it on Her Juice

IMG_0943One of the joys of road tripping in Italy’s countryside for us is listening to the local radio.  While we try to catch some Italian tunes that match the mood, we often find catchy American songs that we either never get at our local stations for some reason, or  they sound a little different (ie explicit to us).  It started years ago when we discovered that Bruno Mars actually wanted to be a Billionaire “So fuckin bad”.  Who knew?

And so during each trip there’s a point where a particular song emerges as the theme song of the trip.  Unlike the previous clear winner (LP – Lost on You) in Sicily, this one required some growing.  But by the time we got to our last leg in Umbria, we were all going “Gotta blame it on the Goose (the Grey kind), Gotta blame it on my juice, baby”, until we almost ran into a ditch when I (driver) got carried away a little.

Driving the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany can be dangerous.  Its shockingly beautiful.  The colors change seasonally, but the gentle rolling hills are fixed and unlike anywhere else in the world.  Driving between Pienza and San Quirico especially feels like a National Park, Cypress-Land if you will.  Baby Fiats stopping in the middle of the road, wedding shoots, drones flying everywhere.  For the landscape freaks, there’s plenty of “Juice”.  Pictures below taken with iphone, shaking hands, and deteriorating eyesight.  Heck, you can see the difference from 6 years ago.  I just dont feel like carrying the big boy camera with me anymore.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge

 

 

 

 

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Eating in Istria

We are off for a few weeks so not much blogging will be happening. But I leave you with a blast from the not so old past. Istria (Croatia) one of the most underrated foodie destinations in Europe. For more on Croatia click here…
https://eatingwithziggy.com/category/croatia/
See you soon. Ciao!

Eating With Ziggy

IMG_3785“What, no Seafood?!?  No problem, I give you Octopus!”  No, I didnt crash a Greek wedding, nor have I actually heard this said before.  It was simply the pre-trip imagination at work, anticipating yet another seafood heavy leg.  I imagined after 10 fishfull days, we stumble onto a small family Konoba somewhere on the Istrian coast, begging an English speaking baka (a Croatian Babushka) for some meat.  But luckily for us, not only we never really got tired of those Adriatic crustaceans, we wanted more.  And just like its big sister to the north and across the pond, inland here means meat.  Wonderful glorious meat! 

Istria was the one.  The most highly anticipated leg.  But what I didnt anticipate was that we would have plenty of exceptional meals going in (In this case quite literally).  Places like Amfora in Dubrovnik, Nostromo in Split, and the brilliant Konoba Pece…

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Wayan – By Cedric the Entertainer

One can live a lifetime eating the world in NYC, and still will not know a thing about Indonesian food.  The vast majority of those that do, got their knowledge from a trip to Amsterdam where as we speak, thousands are celebrating their fresh Eurovision win with a Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table consist of many side dishes).  Australia, so close!  Yet so far away (literally.  A little Eurovision humor).

Indonesian food and Rijsttafels are generally not a thing here.  The lone Indonesian in Hell’s Kitchen Bali Nusa Indah was open for may years, and closed before yours truly had a chance to try it.  The constant barrage of negative Yelpers didnt exactly push me at the time.  I remember coming back from Amsterdam myself one year, hunting for Indonesian joints after my lower lip was fully deflated (that was some seriously spicy stuff), and wasnt able to find anything to get excited about.

At French-Indo Wayan, owners Cedric and Ochi Vongerichten are not here to fill that void.  Cedric, the son of Jean-Georges Vongerichten (usually pronounced “Von something”), and his Indonesian wife already own two restaurants in Indonesia.  While they admittedly not after teaching us what authentic Indonesian food is all about, whatever they are doing at Wayan works and feels new.  The space is comfortable and smartly decorated.  A seafood leaning menu where you want to try more than you can.  And flavors that feel fresh, bold but restrained just enough to showcase the French side of the equation.

 

Wayan

Courtesy of Wayan

Chicken Satay – Five sticks of some of the best Satay I’ve had in NYC.  Ground chicken is perfectly spiced and cooked, served with a creamy, most delectable peanut sauce.

Hiramasa Sashimi – Outstanding Yellowtail Sahimi.  There was a lot going here including chili, herbs, and a shallots/lemongrass sauce that did not interfere too much with the clean flavors of the fish.  Different than most Sashimi out there today.

Clams Jimbaran Style.  Take the best Baked Clams you ever had, remove the breadcrumbs, and add soy, chili, sweet onions, coconut and you got Clams Oreganata on crack.

Yellow Chicken –  A cute name for a suburb chicken curry.  About three pieces if I remember correctly, some got the crunch reminiscent of the great Perry Street chicken where Cedric is still the chef.

 

 

Sauteed While Shrimp – Nice flavor, but probably the weakest dish of the night.  Shrimp slightly overcooked, and must be eaten fast before they harden even more.  I’m at the point where I enjoy fresh raw or slightly seared shrimp a lot more than the fully cooked ones.

Lobster Noodles – This is it.  The Piece de resistance!  Like the most amazing dry mazemen with ramen noodles, chili, butter, soy, thai basil and chunks of lobster.  A killer combination.  I still think about this dish a week later

Nasi Goreng – A well crafted rice with a perfectly cooked fried egg.  I’ve seen similar dishes in NYC listed as a main.  Here its a must get side.

Pandan Custard – Desserts dont usually excite me at places like this.  This did.  Panna Cotta purists may balk at the tartness of the Passionfruit, but I found it well balanced.

Caramelized Banana – Dont let the purple yam ice cream throw you off here.  This was a rather divine Sandae on a Sunday.

Wayan
20 Spring St (Mott/Elizabeth), Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Chicken Satay, Sashimi, Clams, Lobster Noodles, Yellow Chicken, Nasi Goreng, Pandan Custard

 

 

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EV Bites – The Dumplings Belt

Mimi Cheg's - Mopu TofuEvidence of the “Pierogies/Vareniki Belt” can still be found on 2nd ave in East Village, dating back to the late 19th century when Ukrainian and Polish immigrants started flocking the area.  Less than a quarter of the 100,000 at the peak, still remain, and the percentage of the Pierogi shops dwindled even more.  We are down to Little Poland near east 12th, the Pierogi speakeasy of Streecha on 7th, and the Pierogi kingdom of Veselka, arguably the most famous and popular Ukrainian in the country.  I may be forgetting one or three.

But these days for every Pierogi joint there seems to be 5 dumpling shops popping up on or off 2nd.  While it may be premature to rename it the Dumplings Belt, there are various articles out there calling East Village our newest and hippest Chinatown.  If it is, its a Chinatown that looks like Little Moldova just as much.

With that said, here’s where you can find some of the best Dumplings on/off 2nd ave these days.

Silky Kitchen – Its not a question whether there’s any legit Hunanese joints in this area, but how many are out there now.  Silky’s dry noodle dishes pack a punch, but its the delicious beef and daikan dumplings that makes me keep coming back.  137 E 13th (3/4)

Silky Kitchen

Mimi Cheng’s (top) – The story of the two sisters (Mimi’s daughters) is inspiring, and the ultra-fresh ingredient driven dumplings in a way reflect that.  While all the dumplings are good, locals flock for the unique monthly specials and collaborations like Foie Gras, black truffle, chicken a la NoMad Chicken, and the explosive Mapo Tofu dumplings available this month.  179 2nd Ave (11/12)

Dian Kitchen – Off off 2nd ave, Husband and wife team dishing out silky Yunanese style noodles based on family recipes.  The pan fried dumplings feature your basic pork/chive/cabbage filling and they are just about perfect.  Well balanced, crispy and delicious.  435 E 9th St (1st/A)

Dian Kitchen Dumplings

 

The Bao – These guys are so serious about their soup dumplings that they stopped making them once they realized they lost their touch.  They were on a break (“Friends” style.  Btw, to learn which member of Friends lives near the Bao, you need to take the East Village tour.  Sorry, papa needs to pay the bills!).  They took their time to relearn how to do it right and these little bundles of joy are now back.  And its worth mentioning the awesome Spot Dessert Bar downstairs.  13 St Marks Pl (3rd/2nd)

Xi’an Famous Foods – Chain or not, the Lamb dumplings at Xi’an is a thing of beauty.  They are the size of large meatballs, boiled and carefully ladened with a killer combination of vinegar, soy, chili paste, and chili oil.  The sauce is so potent, that I wouldnt hesitate to order the spinach dumplings here instead on my healthy every first Monday of the month.  81 St Marks Pl (off 1st)

Xi'an Famous Foods

 

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Fiaschetteria Pistoia – Under the Alphabet Sun

s

May 6th, 2019 Update:

It was a rough start.  Last time at Pistoia, we were greeted by the first Pistoia we met that didnt have a heavy Italian accent.  No, its not like myself or Mrs Z have a Fish Called Wanda Syndrome (you need to remember the movie well to understand).  Its just that over the past few years we got accustomed to a certain atmosphere at this ultra Tuscan.  But rest assured, our waitress quickly explained and fixed the situation, switching to fluent Italian.  And then we never saw her again, which we appreciated in a strange way.  This is why…

One of the biggest differences between eating in NYC and Italy is the number of front of the house workers you see.  For a typical mid-range establishment here you may witness a manager, a host or two, 4 servers, 2 busboys, and one or two bartenders.  Its roughly more than double the amount of workers you find in a similar size place in Italy.  Last time at Pistoia (original East Village location always.  Since the last update, another West Village location added), we counted a total of four people handling a packed house, and a sidewalk.  That hustle meant waiting 15 minutes more for my bill, but that also meant a lighter bill, and a different atmosphere.  At Pasquale Jones last week, we saw twice as many employees and half the customers.

Its worth coming here for the creamy Zucchini flan alone, or for some of the silkiest, sweetest prosciutto you’ll find in the city.  Not much changed in the all fresh pasta department.  The square Maccheroni now features a fine and very Tuscan Cinghiale (wild boar) ragu.  The Pappardelle with the beef ragu still rocks.  And although the Picci lost some of its roundness, its the most peppery, creamiest Cacio e peppe out there.  The biggest discovery this time was probably the splendid Chocolate Panna cotta, but you cant forget about the Tiramisu here.  Upping Pistoia to three stars, as this is slowly becoming a family fave.

Pistoia

April 2nd, 2018 Update:

Turns out Pistoia handles family style like they do with their families in Tuscany.  A feast for the ages for $55, house wine included.  Highlights:  The oh so silky prosciutto I cant get enough here.  The tiny but potent Zucchini flan.  One of the best simple Spaghetti with red sauce I’ve had in a while.  Perfectly cut and cooked Pappardelle topped with hearty slow braised meat ragu.  And delicate veal cutlets braised with Tuscan wine.

I rarely get this much satisfaction from a group.  The big reason is the people running the place.  You are not dealing with a corporation and an expensive super fixed menu.  You are dealing with owner Emanuelle who will not nickle and dime you and will make sure everyone leaves satisfied.  One of my favorite new Italian in NYC.

September 26th, 2017 post:

There’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: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Any of the Prosciuttos, Zucchini flan, Pappa al Pomodoro, Crostone Fagiolino, Spaghetti, Pappardelle, Maccheroni (any), Picci Cacio e peppe, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta

 

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Pasquale Jones – Downtown Funk

Pasquale Jones Diavola

May 3rd, 2019 Update:

Its been 977 days since the last update but who’s counting.  Not me.  There’s an online date calculator out there in Google land.  I use it to sometimes to count days between vacations, colonoscopies, etc.  But there’s not much to report here really, except to remind you that PJ is awesome, albeit a bit more touristy these days.  It seems that the borders of Little Italy have expended and every time I’m here, I’m surrounded by savvy tourists.  The last time, we overheard from the next table… “according to my research this is one of the best Italian restaurants in NYC”.  That followed a “Dont you dare dad” by my oldest, which meant: please dont strike a conversation with them, we are having a nice family lunch, and you are like 0 for 40 (tourists we met who read the blog).  Ok, fine!

More tourists, in addition to more restaurants by the group (Legacy Records) can very easily lead to loss of focus, but I’m not seeing any evidence of that.  Pastas like the Tagliatelle with lamb (when they are out of rabbit), fennel, Pecorino, always solid.  Its an ever-changing pasta lineup.  The great Agnolotti or Guinea Hen Cappellacci with lobster mushrooms, that’s not really a mushroom, I had once, are long gone.

The pizzas are still fantastic but I cant make myself try something other than the Diavola or clam pie whenever I’m here.  The Braised Leeks have been on the menu since day one pretty much, and its indeed good.  And on the last visit, the proximity to Little Italy made us try the Veal and Ricotta meatballs which were exceptional, tho the family was not too keen on the too bitter accompanied Broccoli Rabe.  Still a go!

August 29, 2016 Update:

The great Pasquale Jones is now experimenting with a new concept.  They offer on weekends something called “Lunch”.  Yes, its not a typo… lunch on weekends!  No Mimosa, no French Toast, not even an eggs Benedict pizza.  Just lunch.  Last weekend after a quick egg sandwich and a Mimosa at home, I decided to check it out for myself and the results may shock you.

It was great!  Sure, I was dreaming of bacon and eggs on occasion, but a small price to pay when the pizza is this good.  And by pizza, I mean I’m essentially stuck with the Diavola and the now city wide famous LittleNeck Clam pie that is growing on me.  While I much preferred the spicy Diavola last time, the clam pie with a little drizzle of the accompanied Calabrian Chili is creamy and satisfying enough to continue ordering it.

IMG_3898

But I really come here for the pastas.  Hard to pass on the pizza especially when you bring new people here, but the pastas and the whole package is why I’m adding PJ to the Z-List on the next big update (as soon as this month).  What attracted me to this very experimental lunch was the Tajarin with corn and summer truffles.  Knowing that Tim Caspare who spent some time in Piedmont, knows how to handle those Piedmont(ish) classics.  Sweet pastas dont particularly sound very sexy to me, but this one may have changed that notion.  Rich, creamy, but at the same time very summery.  The “Mezze Rigatoni”, their slightly heavier version of the Cacio e Pepe was good as well.  And I’m still yet to have the Pork Shank for 2 (or 3) that everyone’s talking about

If you go for lunch (or dinner), check out the new soft serve and Poke window at Seamore’s next door.  They are serving now coconut lemongrass ice cream from Oddfellows which is fantastic.  And/or if its open, get the chocolate chip cookie and coffee at Maman.  Strong candidate for best cookie in NYC! IMG_3895

March 20, 2016 original post:

I rarely get them this young.  As tempting as it is to move up the food blog ladder, I prefer to wait for the growth and maturation that comes at the other guinea pigs expense.  After some time, they figure out where the holes are, what works, what doesnt, and suddenly the world is a better place.  This is one reason that one can not simply go by early opinions from first respondents who care only about being on that elusive first Google page (I’m looking at you Infatuation).  But sometimes, something jumps at you, and you feel a little anxious.  In this case it wasnt so much the team of Charlie Bird behind this thing, but the third wheel, a dude from Cotogna from San Francisco that got my attention

Cotogna was the mistake from last summer.  Instead of sticking to the initial plan, I substituted Cotogna with the very attractive Piedmont heavy menu of Perbacco.  The kind of menu sorely missing in NYC.  The result was a less than stellar meal that featured Piedmontese classics that deviated the wrong way from tradition.  Irony and Redemption came seven months later when Tim Caspare of Cotogna, now at Pasquale Jones, whips a perfectly executed Agnolotti dal Plin that would make any Langhe nonna blush.

Pasquale Jones KitchenWhen she said “It will be around 90 minute”, Unlce Boons, Bar Goto started creeping into my head, as its about 85 minutes longer than I normally like to wait for a table in NYC.  But my dining partner, aka first wife, was still 60 minutes away.  And besides, I’m right by my favorite area in NYC… Little Italy!  By the way, a little free tip to restaurants out there:  When you say “It will be around 90 minute”, smiling is the wrong way of going about it when delivering the sad news.  While smiling is generally a good idea, and the #1 rule of fight club, this is not one of those moments.  Just like “your grandma died”, or “the vasectomy didnt go as expected sir”, dont underestimate the sadness of the news.  Smiling while saying it, makes you look like TAO

I wont keep you in suspense.  This was one of the best meals in recent memory (I started eating cashews religiously which extended “recent memory” to about a month).  Pasquale Jones is essentially a more comfortable, more ambitious, better pasta, slightly less creative Bruno Pizza.  The counter facing the action is the way to go, but you dont have choices here.  You get what becomes available.  Attention to detail starts with those super comfortable counter seats.  The ones you can lean back comfortably when you feel the need to unzip.  Reservations through Resy – Forget it.  Only about 20% are out there.  On to the food…Pasquale Jones Cauliflower

Charred Cauliflower – This is one those simple dishes where you get pretty much what you order.  Sure there was blood orange, and some heat to go along, but the star was simple cauliflower that was still raw enough to maintain that crunchy texture.  Although the dish was fine, I did have some serious small dish envy, like the Braised Leeks which looked like the sexiest grilled calamari.

Clam Pie – Good.  I get the sense that this is their early signature pie.  I’m not the biggest white pie lover unless its something like Marta’s Potato Carbonara where the ingredients talk back to you (I should probably see someone about this).  This is not one of those, but satisfying nonetheless.  Perfectly charred, chewy, flavorful dough.Pasquale Jones Clam Pie

Diavola – More like it, but I’m more of a Diavola fan overall.  I wasnt about to order two pies but couldnt decide here.  A bit more heat than the average city Diavola.  Neapolitanish, very similar to Motorino which is a compliment.  Some may expect more refined pizza (a la Bruno) in a place like this, so its important to adjust those expectations.  Its about the total package.

Agnolotti – I already touched on this beautiful dish.  This is a good example of pasta that stays true to its origin, unlike the rest of the Agnolottis out there in town.  This is buttery, explosive, pillowy Agnolotti dal Plin packed with Guinea hen, sage and Pancetta.  PANCETTA!

Rigatoni – Another simple but very solid dish.  Perfectly cooked dry rigatoni, with sausage ragu carrying a nice depth.  Get this!Pasquale Jones Agnolotti

Pear dessert – Proper finish.  They only offer one dessert, different each night I believe.  Baked pear with Vanilla ice cream, olive oil and candied hazelnuts.  The two brick ovens are utilized heavily here.

Zoe Amber Ale – Maine Beer Company.  Solid hoppy, aromatic, complex Amber.  Highly recommend this one

But Ziggy, in Paragraph #4 you used the word “Ambitious”.  What’s so ambitious about Rigatoni, Diavola, and pear.  Good question Timmy.  This is where the steaks and fish come in.  And by steaks I mean those huge $125 dry aged rib eyes that you can hang in your basement and practice on them like Rocky.  They also offer a beautiful pork shoulder, and a Verdure section to boot.  Watching them handle all that meat for two hours, gave me all sorts of impure thoughts.

Cementing the belief even more that pound for pound, Nolita is the best eating neighborhood on the east coast.  This is also another no-topping establishment.  I failed to talk about it, because its really a non-issue until you are reminded about it when you you get the bill.  Its like Santa suddenly shows up to kiss you softly on the cheek

Pasquale Jones
187 Mulberry St (Kenmare) – Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Diavola, Clam Pie, Meatballs, Leeks, any pasta

Pasquale Jones Rigatoni Pasquale Jones Pork Shoulder Pasquale Jones Dessert Pasquale JonesIMG_3897

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Krok – A Viable Pok Pok Replacement

Krok - Pad Kra-PraoThis is more of an important public announcement, rather than a full restaurant review.  Pok Pok, as expected by some, ran its course and closed around a year ago.  I never want to see restaurants close, but admittedly, I havent visited Pok Pok in the final year or so.  The fact that it was never open for lunch (weekdays), and other serious Northern Thai joints like Ugly Baby popping up in Brooklyn had something to do with it.  But with Krok, opening up in its place there are reasons to celebrate, and visit.

You might as well call it Krok Krok, as its not awfully different than the previous tenant.  Krok’s menu is street food and Isan leaning, which means BYOB, Bring Your Own Bounty.  While they may tone it down a bit for the white boys, toning it down here still means plenty of nice, bold flavors.  After just one sit down, and a takeout order on another evening, I can tell you that this is some serious strong stuff.  And being within six degrees of Pure Thai Cookhouse helps.  Chef/partner Krit Ploysomboon cooked at Land Thai Kitchen, Pure’s UWS sister.  Another partner owns a Thai restaurant in Queens.

KrokEvery dish I’ve had so far was outstanding.  The Pad Kra-Prao, minced chicken (you can get pork instead), stir fried with garlic, chili and a vibrant basil sauce is especially superb.  Another great chicken dish is the Gai Yang Bu-ri-ram, herb marinated and grilled with garlic, lemongrass, pepper, served with spicy sweet & sour and tamarind chili dipping sauces which you may or may not feel the need to use.

The fiery Moo Num Tok leads the grilled entrees column for a reason.  Marinated Pork with herbs, lime and chili.  It’s quite fragrant, and addictive just like the rest of them.  The rice helps spell relief and so is the cabbage and cucumbers combo that comes with some of the dishes.  If you are not getting them, ask.  The lone green curry with chicken I’ve had so far was spot on.  Looking forward to getting more intimate with this menu.

Krok
117 Columbia St (Kane), Columbia Street Waterfront District, Brooklyn
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Pad Kra-Prao, Gai Yang Bu-ri-ram, Moo Num Tok

Krok - Curry

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Berber Street Food – By Mother of Dragons

Berber Stree Food - Berber FeastNow that I got your attention…

The story is all too familiar, but the outcome in this case has a GOT type twist.  Girl starts working as a waitress at some of our higher ends.  She then graduates from the French Culinary Institute, before working at names like Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Daniel.  She then leaves to travel around the world to collect more inspiration before opening her first establishment.  The girl becomes chef.

But the big twist in this story is in the type of establishment.  Every time I sit in one of the four tables at tiny Berber Street Food in West Village, I wonder if there’s another place remotely like it in NYC.  “Afro-fusion” is one way to describe it, but in order to understand what it means one needs to have a few meals here and meet Diana.  She is as fierce, and confident as they come, with unrivaled talent and passion to boot.  As the New Yorker put it, Diana “has the West Village wrapped around her finger”

Berber Stree Food

This is not the case where I was blown away by the first bite.  The Jerk wings had this  familiar and pleasant fruity tone, but not quite as sharp or spicy as the Caribbean style jerk I’m accustomed to.  Dont get me wrong here.  I smothered these babies, licked every finger, and didnt wash my hands that afternoon, or evening.  I just wasnt in a rush to come back, but oh so glad I did.

The love affair started with visit #2 when I had a bowl of rice, Black Eye Peas, seasonal green beans, and jerk chicken that came in a stew-like form this time.  It had this addictive sweetness, and spicy enough to leave a nice tingle.  Although if you want more spice, the intense Habanero sauce that accommodates the dish (if not, ask) will do.  Enjoy it with the terrific homemade Ginger Lemongrass juice.  Although on another visit the scent of the Morrocan mint tea next to me was hypnotizing.

But the dish to get here might be the Djolof Fried Rice with chicken.  It may just rival the best Biryani you ever had and then some.  The same chicken is used as a wrap in the Shawarma sandwich.  Plenty of Middle Eastern dishes here due to the North Adrican connection.  There’s also Koftas, Moorish Kebabs, and her own falafel interpretation on the menu.  Diana is like Einat Admony reborn in a way.

Berber Stree Food - Pudding

 

Every time I come here I see the team grow a little bit.  Yesterday the cook (not Diana) felt especially generous with the “Berber Feast”, slowly roasted chopped leg of lamb that is marinated for a few days with Harissa and cumin.  You get more Harissa on the side, along with other spreads, a couple of nifty salads, and couscous.  A taste of a Berber (North Africa ethnic group.  Diana’s father side) wedding feast where they serve whole pigs as such.  This has potential as a house specialty.  On another day Diana was experimenting with an off menu North African pudding that tasted like something you may get at one of her old employers, like Per Se.

Half a block away, visitors from around the world, flock to Joe’s for its above average NY slice (I get mine at Sacco and elsewhere).  While at Berber, you’ll find returning locals including students going for the cheap bowls and sandwiches to go.  Berber is slowly becoming a little local hangout, where Diana knows everyone and you end up making new friends.  This is possibly the best thing to pop in West Village in years.Berber Stree Food - Wings

Berber Stree Food - Chicken BowlBerber Stree Food - Djolof Fried Rice

 

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Kāwi – At the Cutting Edge of NYC Dining

Kawi TunaI will start this one the same way I started the previous post.  It took me some time to warm up to Hudson Yards.  After all, it represents everything that is wrong with NYC dining today.  Higher rents and a surging mouth shift from the mom and pop to the corporate.  One doesnt need to walk too far to find available space, and the rate of closures seems to be accelerating.  There’s a street on 3rd Ave between St Marks and Stuyvesant where every single retails space is available.  They were all taken not too long ago.  With Hudson Yards we got a little closer to Vegas.

With that said, its hard to curb the Hudson Yards enthusiasm.  A mega public art piece dedicated to the Shawarma (aka Vessel).  Little Spain with its big names, and little balls.  Jose Andres is from Asturias, so why not serve Asturian dishes that are hard to impossible to get here like Fabada and Arroz con Pitu instead of more Paella which is really just a Valencian specialty.  And then there are the new Momofukus to save the day.  Peach Mart,  a new Fuku branch, and Kāwi – perhaps the #1 reason to go to Hudson Yards today.  

Kawi

Eater NY

This is another Momofuku outpost where the cuisine is hard to describe to out of towners.  Executive Chef Eunjo Park describes it as “playful” and thats pretty much how you can describe the rest of the Momofukus.  Inventive, Asian (mostly Korean) influenced lab recipes.  I call it Momofunk.  While this one feels more Korean than the others, the Kitchen, for the time being at least, consists of Fuku All Star Avengers, like Josh Pinsky, bringing in some of their own influences.  The sweet and sour ribs, the clams – I’ve seen clips of this movie before.  But while Park is getting some temporary help, this is entirely her baby.

As of this writing, Kawi is open for lunch only.  I cant think of any such place that started as such, but considering the location it makes sense in this case.  Rumors are that dinner will include more stews and much of the same.  The space is spacious and quite striking.  Some of it overlooking the very open, action packed kitchen.  On my fist visit, while sitting facing that kitchen, I witnessed a team of five chefs and managers closely, and somewhat nervously following a health inspector.  At some point me and the inspector briefly exchanged smiles and nods, so I would like to believe I had something to do with the earned “A”.  This place is cleaner than my house after cleaning.

Here’s the food rundown at Kawi which means scissors in Korean, hence the brilliant cutting edge title…

White Pepper Wings – The prototypical wings at a higher dining establishment.  There’s a curious Yelp review out there urging to skip this item – “The wings are not crispy and the chicken meat is not juicy”.  That could be so at that time, but what I got was pretty much the opposite.  Crispy, peppery, and juicy alright.  These are three whole wings, and a must get for the wing lovers of the world.

Kawi Wings

Fried Cod – In a strange way, this glorified mini fish and chips without the chips might be the most memorable dish here for me.  You will be hard pressed to find a flakier, more fresh-tasting, lightly battered fish.  But its the gentle Yuzu spray that elevates it to the point of thinking about it many days later.

Kawi Fried Cod

Sweet & Sour Ribs – No surprise here as I’ve had and touted similar ribs at Nishi before.  While its a slightly different flavor profile, this is the same fall of the bone, succulent goodness.

Kawi Ribs

Madai Tartare – One can live here a lifetime and not realize the importance of raw seafood (Hwe or Hoe) in Korean cuisine.  Kawi has a column devoted to it.  Called a Snapper but technically a prized Sea Bream, this is a firm, delicious fish treated properly at Kawi.  I would opt for at least one “HWE” here.

Kawi Madai

 

Spicy Yellowfin Tuna Kimbap (top)- If you like spicy tuna rolls, you may want to avoid this at all costs as you may not be able to enjoy them the same way again.  Love that crunch from the fried Myoga (ginger) bits especially.

Spicy Roasted Rice Cakes – Just like at Ssam Bar, this is yet another brilliant use of rice cakes, that come with scissors.  Its topped with a good amount of crispy puffed rice, chili jam and ham that blends in nicely.  While interesting, this is more of a large side dish, suited for larger groups as its big and can be a bit heavy.

Kawi Rice Cake

Dry-Aged Striploin Set – Just what dry-aged beef should taste like.  Served with a Miso-like soup, an assortment of fried veggies, and delicious rice with more beef fat.

BTS – One of the cocktails we tried.  I wouldnt list a cocktail unless its good.  Its good!  Soju, honey, strega, lemon.  On the sweeter side, but nicely balanced.

Kakigōri – This is their version of the Japanese ice dessert.  Ultra light, not too frozen shaved ice with whipped cream, ginger syrup, and pear.  Like a perfected Halo-Halo.

Kāwi
20 Hudson Yards
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: All of the above

Categories: Hudson Yards, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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