Z-List Changes Explained

NoMad Tagliatelle

The NoMad

Hey, even Michelin will not give an explanation when they take away your star.  I’m better than that.  So lets stop the hate mail, and threats, and allow me to explain the absentees

The NoMad – Last meal including the shaky service was simply not up to par.  The place feels a lot more touristy these days perhaps due to the fame and/or location becoming a major hotel zone.  When you eat there, there’s no denying that you are eating inside a hotel no matter what room you choose.  And higher prices making it more challenging to stay under the $100 mark unless you are a vegetarian.  I do like what they do at the NoMad Bar however and I prefer to go there

Ma Peche  – A slow, steady decline for me since chef Paul got shipped to Sydney.  It gotten too hit or miss while my favorite dishes were getting erased one at a time.  The last straw was the inexcusable disappearance of the Cajun wings.  I miss that Carribean element chef Paul introduced.  Much prefer Nishi, but Ma Peche in that area is still a decent choice

Le Philosophe – Closed.  Coincidentally ate the new tenant Fish Cheeks last night.  Review to come

Babbo – My reasoning for excluding this one is not as solid as the other ones.  Babbo is like the grandaddy, the Peter Luger of NYC Italian scene, and in some ways it has something to do with it.  I just find places like Pasquale Jones, Lilia and even something like Osteria Morini a little bit more interesting today.  The menu is way too big, the place is very touristy, but for the most part they do everything well

Golden Unicorn – I still think this is a good option for weekend dim sum but there are other places I rather go for Chinese.  Like Biang!

Pam Real Thai –  Still love Pam, nothing changed.  In fact nothing seemed to change in the past 15 years.  They have the same specials on the board for as long as I remember, and on their menu they simply cross out stuff they dont have anymore with a pen.  But with the addition of Uncle Boons I felt like I needed to remove one of the many Thai and this was a no brainer.  In Hell’s Kitchen I do prefer Pure Thai Cookhouse these days, and as much as I love Pam, I never felt entirely comfortable recommending the space

The Z-List

Babbo Black Spaghetti

Babbo

 

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The Z-List

Big Update to the Z-List…

Out: Le Philosophe, The NoMad, Pam Real Thai, Ma Peche – Fuku+, Babbo, Golden Unicorn

In: Lilia, American Cut, Pasquale Jones, Nishi, Biang, Uncle Boons

Eating With Ziggy

Annisa SquidThe motivation behind this post can be found here so I wont go over it again.  Its essentially just another top 50 list, except that its unlike any other.  Only rule as explained in the previous post is $10-100 per.  Meaning nothing that would cost over $100 or under $10 per person.  An affordable list for the people, by the people (Ok, by one person, but you get the idea).  Here we go, in no particular order.  Big Mazal Tov to the winners!

Taboon

The granddaddy of New York’s haute Israeli/Mediterranean, or “MiddleTerranean” as they coin it.  Located on a lonely corner of Hell’s Kitchen, close enough to the theaters, but far enough from the theaters!  Taboon means oven in Arabic, and that striking Taboon oven is the main greeter on arrival.  A fine Focaccia, Sambusak (bread stuffed with feta) just some of the goodies coming out of that magic oven.  Try the specials or classics such…

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This is Ortygia

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The island of Ortygia or Ortigia in Siracusa or Syracuse has a lot going for it, including even an orange lady (for the Syracuse Orange fans).  A fine, pure, baroque duomo in one of the most picturesque piazzas in Italy.  Old traditions like the still functioning puppet theater.  One of the only places in the world where you can still find papyrus plant (to make special paper and sandals.  picture below).  Europe’s oldest Mikvah which we inexcusably missed (wait till my rabbi finds out about this).  A plethora of caves and beautiful scenery surrounding the island, allowing for fun boat trips where the guides only speak three English words.. “Small Port, Large Port”.   The cool limestone cave known as the Ear of Dionysius (name given by Caravaggio) that feels like a religious experience when you approach it due to the guides chanting inside the cave.  One of the liveliest and best markets I’ve seen (see my walk with a local chef in case you missed it).  And truly fantastic dining like Sveva and Macalle offering sensational local mussels, and more.

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Best Wings in NYC

Time to update the all important Wings post…

Eating With Ziggy

Kolkovna Olympia wings

Updated 9/19/16

Ok, so we are all adults here.  We all know perfectly well that these are NOT the best wings in the city.  In the city that never sleeps, and never runs out of wings, there are hundreds of wings out there, not counting the simple bar wings you can find in every corner.  But I’m just one Ziggy, with different taste sensitivities than many readers, and I cant taste them all.  “Decent wings” or “favorite wings” doesnt sound as convincing, or Google friendly.  With that said, there’s only one certainty:  The competition is rather fierce.  And any new joint offering wings has to be creative, and deliver something more than palatable.

Since the average wings researcher has shorter attention than other researchers (eg Ramen), I’m only listing my favorite five, with more solid options at the end

Ma Peche – Jerk Wings. (Upate 9/19/16:  Havent seen them on the menu in a while due to rotating chefs.  Shame shame shame…).  If I have to…

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L’Arco Dei Cappuccini – Hidden Gem in Taormina

img_8838As is the case with just about any super touristy city, our best meal in Taormina was outside of the tourist path.  Not only did it best the much more famous, highly anticipated dinner at Tischi Toschi (which wasnt even known by our hosts), but special Brownie Points are given for flat out curing me out of my misery.  Ok, lets rewind this one to one of the biggest mistakes of the trip with this very important tip…

If you head to Taormina and wish to climb to Santuario Madonna della Rocca, which will seem fairly short according to Google, make sure its a) Not over 90 degrees, and b) The church is open!  The only thing this tiring shadeless climb accomplished was slightly increase the radius of my bald spot.  And no one warned me that the views from the top were not a whole lot more dramatic than the views from the quarter way up.  An hour later, before munching on the excellent Da Cristina Arancini, the heat started to get to me.  I even remember hallucinating, seeing a bar named Ziggy in the area, though my family still claims it was a real place.  Do I cancel lunch plans?  Never!  The show must go on.img_8841

Taormina, for much of its recent history was a popular playground for the English aristocrats.  Today, its still a major British hub, some of which make it their yearly summer destination.  At L’Arco we had a nice chat with a British gentleman who vacations in Taormina every year for the past 17 years.  He told us that L’Arco Dei Cappuccini, is one of his favorite seafood restaurants in Europe.  That statement started to show more merit after he told us about his travels, and after the first few bites of that Octopus Carpaccio.

Its most likely the finest Octopus Carpaccio I ever had.  They press octopus into this huge cube (the waiter brought one from the kitchen to show us), smoke it and slice it into this thin silky smooth mortadella like slices and drizzle with olive oil.  Simply phenomenal!  Fresh langoustine, crumbed with deliciousness and baked was sweet and succulent.  More awesomeness from the Primis.  Fresh tagliatelle with zucchini flowers and grouper tasted so light and heavenly.  And more tagliatelle with tuna that tasted almost like sausage.  An extremely enjoyable light lunch

And yes, felt much better after that.  Maybe I needed a break, who knows, but this meal saved an otherwise lackluster afternoon.  Until we got to Ortigia at least.img_8839 img_8843 img_8844

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Chelsea {Market} Lately – 2016

6 visits in three months to Dizengoff, and needless to say I cant get enough of that hummus, and the eggplant, and the pita, and the homemade s’chug, and the…

Eating With Ziggy

Chelsea MarketTime to update the old what to eat at Chelsea Market post.  But instead of simply updating it, I will just make a fresh one.  As fresh as the Hummus at Dizengoff, the latest sensation to hit the market.  You can say what you want about the market.  Its increasingly busy, packed with tourists, and theres a decent chance a large polish gentleman will step on your feet.  But largely due to that foot traffic, the market also attracts vendors like no other market or food court in NYC.  For every Amy’s Bread, and Num Pang that you can find all over town, there are 10 vendors and purveyors that are unique to the market.  And besides, the traffic doesnt hamper my movement much.  I come, I eat, I go, juts like anywhere else.  Since I’ve been to the market around 20 times this year alone, I will only post…

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Avlee – My Big Fat Greek Dinner

avlee-branzinoGreek food has become all Greek to me over the years.  I used to frequent the Greek kitchens of Hell’s Kitchen like Uncle Nick’s and the aptly named The Greek Kitchen for many years.  But a combination of newer, more exciting neighborhood offerings, along with their inability to cook meats to the proper temperature consistently, contributed to an abrupt stop.  Then there was Elia in Bay Ridge, a family favorite for years, that generally delivered, albeit with a heftier cost and a bigger Mediterranean emphasis.  And since we go to Europe more often than Astoria, there’s a better chance for us to eat octopus in Santorini than Queens.  Avlee Greek Kitchen, a little dinette in Carroll Gardens felt like a taste of Astoria in Brooklyn

It starts and ends with the boss.  As with any household I suppose.  I just finished all my chores for today, and I’m given the green light to watch first week of Football and write to you fine folks about Avlee.  Multi-tasking.  Well I still have to take out the garbage and take out the dishes from the dishwasher but its too soon for that.  Thankfully I havent quite graduated from putting the dishes inside the dishwasher.  Apparently I’m doing it all wrongavlee

Andrew Poulos who runs the show at Avlee was practically born with a spatula inside a Greek kitchen.  Andrew grew up in Bay Ridge where the closest thing to Greek food in the 70’s, and 80’s was the Greek Diner.  I know because I was there as well for much of that, visiting the same Greek diners.  Nowadays we just call them diners.  Andrew spent much of his youth in Brooklyn Heights in his father’s restaurant.  One thing that separates people like Andrew from the more famous chefs out there who went to culinary schools and worked in the trendiest kitchens, is a lifetime of experience in how to connect to the customer.  You can tell much from talking to him, and you can tell even more from talking to his relaxed and happy staff.

The comfortable room is small and simply decorated, with the open kitchen spreading on one side.  The menu reads like a typical Greek eatery with all the usual suspects.  Except that in this case everything is prepared with special care and the absolute best ingredients they can get.  Avlee after all, means “Garden”, and much of the ingredients come from Andrew’s own garden.  Avlee doesnt have a freezer.avlee-apps

We started with the classic spreads.  A trio of Tzatziki, Hummus, and Tirokafteri (feta, bell peppers, jalapeno, cayenne) which stole the show with its wonderful front-end heat.  The Greek chunky hummus made me momentarily forget that I belong to creamy camp (sounds like a summer camp for fat kids).  We liked the Tiropita, like mini flaky “bourekases” filled with feta and eggs.  One of my favorite Mediterranean staples is stuff (figs, olives, dates) wrapped with cured meats, and here the figs stuffed with feta and wrapped with prosciutto delivered an enticing sweet and savory combination.  The prosciutto gave it a nice oomph.

avlee-octopusThe octopus should tell you everything you need to know about this place.  Instead of dressing it with heavy dose of romesco, chorizo, greens and/or potatoes as so many do, what you got here is the bare bones in its purest form.  A gorgeously thick tentacle, perfectly tenderized and charred with a light dressing of olive oil, capers, and mustard seeds.  Fresh as if hours before it was swimming near the coast of Portugal minding its own business.  One of the better Octopuses as of late (bested more popular spots like Aurora a few days prior).  Click on the picture for the full affect.

No complaints about the main course either.  A whole grilled Branzini I couldnt cook better myself (I try and try).  It was accompanied by two sides not pictured.  A Kale and Chickpeas salad which I liked more than Mrs Z.  And Gigande, those tender large beans baked with onion and tomato, tasted like a distant dry cousin of the sickest borscht on the planet.  Finished off with a a fine Baklava.  I’m not Baklava’s biggest fan even though I love everything nuts and honey but this one was satisfying.

In full disclosure, the circumstances of this review are different than my regular posts.  I was invited to Avlee by Andrew for a comped meal in exchange for a review.  As I mentioned back via email, a review would follow only if the meal is good and worthwhile to write about, as I seldom write negative reviews.  Thankfully, any unpleasantness was easily avoided after a very enjoyable meal.  Everything I wrote is true, including my chores.

Avlee Greek Kitchen
349 Smith St (2nd/Carroll), Brooklyn

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This is Segesta (And Erice)

img_0435The picture of my daughters and I laboring up an Erice alley is exactly what it looks like.  We are not checking for dog poop.  This was the tail end of a brutally hot day that involved hiking to the majestic Segesta temple.  I thought I could handle the Sicilian July heat everybody warned me about, but this was hot.  To give you an indication, when it was time to take a food break in Erice, we had no other choice but go to a tourist trap.  We were seated on a touristy terrace with other tourists, given overpriced tourist menus (Caprese salad!), and then gave them our money and soul.

But this was still a good day.  Segesta blew us away with its beauty and setting.  Once a Greek powerhouse, one of many in Sicily, whose pride and overconfidence left it badly defeated.  Now whats left is a roofless temple, and a Greek theater with that classic Greek theater style setting.  The best I’ve seen.

Meanwhile Erice, perched on a mountain, not a hill, was surprisingly quiet for such a major tourist attraction.  Its home to the famous Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, Sicily’s sweets jewel founded by a nun who grew up in an orphanage in Erice.  Nuns are responsible for much of the desserts found all over Sicily.   img_0411 img_0416 img_0440 img_0442 img_0444 img_0446 img_0450 img_0456 img_0460 img_0495 img_0506 img_0508 img_0511 img_0521 img_0526 img_0545 img_0552 img_0553 img_0559 img_0461

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Flavor of the Month – Gelato Giusto

img_3883This is a new monthly feature on EWZ that simply features a NYC establishment that I like right now.  Not a full blown post as I will spare you the unnecessary details and jokes and simply say GO, and why.  And yes, I’m changing the meaning of the conventional usage of “Flavor of the Month” and making it my own.

I will pre-phase this one by saying that I dont know any other place like it.  EWZ historians must be scratching their heads wondering if I’ve ever written about an ice cream place before.  But ever since I first set foot here, I’m attracted to this place like Anthony Weiner to selfies.  You wont find Instagrammers lining up around the block.  And you wont find crazy flavors like Bacon infused mocha beet swirl, with vegemite.  But what you will find is simplicity at its absolute finest form, by someone who not only knows the craft well, but matches it perfectly with the neighborhood

img_4016I hate sounding overly cliche sometimes but there’s no other way to say this.  Lorenzo Franchetti is a walking and talking example of someone who followed his dream.  An insurance broker in Milan, turned master gelato maker.  Lorenzo inspiration came from a gelato shop in Milan where he learned the craft under the supervision of galato and chocolate wizzard Vittoria Bortolazzo.  And with this relationship with Vittoria, the mild mannered Loreznzo opened a second outpost of Gelato Giusto in January, 2015.  We all can use a Vittoria at one point in our lives

Gelato Giusto is not just about gelato.  Various confectioneries, sandwiches, great coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice are offered as well.  Lorenzo’s goal is to mimic a typical Milanese quick stop but also adjust to the neighborhood.  If this place was in the middle of Times Square it would have been very different most likely, but smack in the middle of Chelsea, an emphasis on the healthier side of things is necessary.  Which is why half of his small offerings are sorbets which are given the same exact attention as the gelato.  In fact when you taste his hazelnut (from Piedmont) sorbet, the first thing that comes to mind is “is this a mistake, this tastes like gelato”.  With the same kind of richness he narrows the gap.  As with the super refreshing concord grape sorbet, and the sick Sicilian pistachio gelato, the ingredients talk loud and clear.

This place is slowly turning me, a glato lover, into a sorbet junky, but the gelato cant be overlooked.  What is also hard to overlook is how inviting the place is.  Is it chic, modern, comfortable, and very appealing to the eye.  A place that makes you feel good as soon as you walk in on a hot day, where everyone knows your name the second time around.  A place that every neighborhood needs, but sadly the vast majority dont have.  In fat I cant think of any other gelato shop like it.

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4 Days in Montreal

FullSizeRenderThis is essentially a copy and paste from the report I did on Chowhound, with visuals.  Three couple celebrating my friend’s 50th.  Everything we ate in order of appearance

Olive et Gourmando – Enjoyed the grilled cheese sandwich and the vibe.  Vowed to return for breakfast but they only open at 9 which I find a little strange.

Le Serpent – Started with a bang.  Menu right up my alley, with exceptional execution.  Industrial space and feel in the old city, though way out of the tourist trail.  Started with a fine sliced Octopus covered by a thin layer of potato mousseline.  A very nice Foie gras looking like two pigs in a blanket without the blanket, with blackcurrant, quinoa, and macadamia nuts.  The pastas here are absolutely sensational and so difficult to pick.  The best for me was probably the Bucatini with pork flank confit, black garlic, soy – a pungent, punch to the face on every bite.  Close second was the the Linguine, speck, almonds, cauliflower, truffle brunoise.  Garganelli, pistachio, nordic shrimp, asparagus, mint was good, while the lobster risotto had a nice minty flavor but forgettable.  The risotto is the most popular dish here for some reason, but with all those pastas around I would skip it.  From the mains, the branzino was great, but the Pork jowl with that melt in your mouth porky awesomeness stole the show.  Maple pudding easily won the dessert round.  Tremendous mealIMG_1450 IMG_1447

Schwartz – Enjoyed this Katz’s of the north.  Dont know if I prefer over Katz’s or something more obscure like Harry & Ida’s in NYC, but I enjoyed the whole experience.  Our options were fatty, medium or lean.  Not sure if I could have asked for “medium-fat” instead of just “medium”, but mine could have used more fat.  My wife’s “medium” was a little more peppery than mine which could have used a little more seasoning, but it was fine.  I like the the thickness and the way its sliced.  A notch above Mile End, our Montreal style smoked meat in NYC.  At Schwartz we also had our only classic poutine of the trip.  It was good, but no idea how it compares.IMG_1496

Ma Poule Mouillée – Out of everything Montreal has to offer, bagels, poutine, smoked meat, etc, to me the Portuguese stuff was the most interesting.  Birds spinning everywhere you turn.  This place certainly didnt disappoint, and judging by the line by the time we were leaving, it felt like we came to the right place.  Shared the #2 for two, a huge plate of half chicken and fries.  Since piri piri can be quite spicy in Lisbon and I was sharing it, I asked for “medium”.  Could have used a little more heat but the flavor was definitely there.  The chicken was juicy, and the fries once mixed with the chicken sauces and spices turned out better than the Poutine at lunch time.  They also have above average Pastel de Nata (egg custards)IMG_1554 IMG_1553

Jean Talon Market – Perhaps the finest collection of produce I’ve ever seen anywhere, and an absolutely spectacular market.  Beets with colors I never knew exist.  Great tasting berries, and ground cherries.  Spicy peanut butter from something called Mamba or something.  Marmite su’l feu served us a place of traditional delicasies from the island of Réunion, like a mix between creole and Indian.  The falafel-like beet based fried ball was my favorite there.  Across from them, we got a very nice plate of jerk potato plate but forgot the name.  All sorts of nice artisanal action on that particular isle.  But the ground cherries and the corn were the highlights for me.  Peaches and Cream corn was perhaps the sweetest corn I ever tasted.  Picked up some baguettes at Joe la Croûte (good), and later excellent coffee at Café Larue & fils.  Though passing by Le Pain dans les Voiles, I regretted not going there for pastry and coffee.  I suspected they were just a bakery like Joe la Croûte but looked more than thatIMG_1623

Bier Markt – Spotted this fancy bar for a break on our way to the hotel.  The place looked very inviting and “happening”.  They walked us to the second floor which looked like fun as well.  Pretty people, large screens everywhere, nice looking sprawling bar.  The anticipation started to grow… which table are we getting, this place looks awesome, this is gonna be great.  Then they lead us to another floor up, to an empty hall that now resembles an empty Chinese palace with round tables.  We were too tired to complain, and convinced ourselves that we can use the quiet.  A huge beer selection that looked more impressive than it actually is.  I got a nice local IPA, pretzel, wings (not bad at all), and more poutine.

L’Express – So this was our only disappointing experience.  All signs pointed to this being one of Montreal’s most popular traditional bistros if not the most popular.  Although I visted Paris a few times, and these types of bistros before, I wasnt entirely sure what to expect in Montreal.  Looked and felt very old school.  Menu translated in three languages.  The waiter suggested a Bordeaux which we liked.  Chicken liver pate was fine but came without anything else, just pate to be used with the table bread they served.  Octopus covering lentils like a hockey puck didnt have any distinct flavor.  The waiter enthusiastically talked about the tartare.  He asked whether I want it spicy and I said yes.  I liked it, but got tired of it in a hurry, and hardly detected any heat or much flavor.  Unlike many tartares I’ve had it also didnt look very appealing.  My wife’s steak with fries looked and tasted fairly pedestrian.  Desserts here were more interesting.  Got the last ‘floating island’ French classic which we enjoyed (thanks for the tip), and the coffee creme brulee special was pretty unique and excellent.  The saving grace here was that out of the six of us, my wife and I were the only people disappointed with our meal.IMG_1640 IMG_1649

Bagels – I wind up trying both of the institutions.  Hard to fall in love with these coming from our NYC bagel culture as these felt a little bland, and sweet, but I appreciated the light and airy texture.  My sesame bagel with cream cheese at Fairmont was fine.  At St-Viateur I ordered just a plain one and got it fresh out of the oven.IMG_1659

Salmigondis – Enjoyed this brunch in Little Italy.  Nothing too unusual or unique about this place (that I can see) but no complaints about anything.  “Fried Rabbit” is their take on Chicken with waffles.  Nicely cooked rabbit loin with rye waffles, Lapsang tea marinated soft boiled egg, and watercress.  The watercress is a good example of how greens can elevate a dish, while the egg added nothing.  I rather have a freshly boiled egg.  French Toast with peach, oat granola, and lemon curd was nice and rich, like any higher end French Toast.  Everyone else enjoyed their meal.  IMG_3771

Bouillon Bilk – For my friend’s 50th I felt like I scored a home run with this one. More like a Delino Deshields inside the park grand slam on a bum knee (ok, that was the first expo that came to mind).  A sensational meal to say the least.  Very plain but smart decor, unassuming looking on a somewhat weird location.  You can easily walk by without noticing it, tho you will notice all the gentleman clubs nearby.  Their tasting menu card means all the items that arent on the menu are also todays specials along with other specials they may have (a Guinea hen on this night).  That meant something like the first course, an Amuse Bouche special ($6) of bay scallops with corn and potato was available.  Great little amuse to set the tone.  The starters, Hamachi, yuzu kosho, grapefruit, fennel, cucumber, and the Cavatelli with truffle, almonds, quail egg, parsley were flawless.  Australian shaved truffles needed a lit more truffle lift from truffle cream but the end result was great.  The halibut, gnocchi, nordic shrimps, artichoke, seaweed butter dish my wife ordered was excellent, but mine was better.  Scallops, cauliflower, shiitake, pear, watercress, beurre noisette (brown butter).  The scallops are perfectly cooked and seasoned and are fine as is, but once dipped in that light greenish brown butter, heavenly.  And those shiitake, confited with awesomeness, pure joy with every morsel.  The Perfect dish.  The ricotta cream won the dessert round.  One of those meals.IMG_1727 IMG_1734 IMG_1735 IMG_1736 IMG_1682

 

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