Z-List Update

fob-chicken-and-sides

FOB Chicken Adobo

Its that time of the year.  Game of Thrones season.  I got my GOT beer and i’m ready to rock and roll through what seems like a terrible winter.  Or just winter!  I’m not quite sure what “terrible” means in GOT standards but it sounds like pretty bad-ass.  As in more than two months of 10 inches of snow total.

Its also time to update the legendary, ultra exclusive (according to Harvard) Z-List.  That is 50 of my favorite restaurants in the city.  If it looks rather random to some, good.  Thats the point.  Eater’s Essential List doesnt seem very Essential either.  Its simply my way of answering “what should we eat while in NYC” to 99% of those questioning.  None of these costs more than $100 or less than $10 so that eliminates a good chunk.  The changes:

In –  Pinch Chinese, Gloria, FOB, Via Carota, Hearth, Timna

Out:

Biang! – Closed (miss it terribly)

Annisa – Closed

Empellon Taqueria – Just dont care for it as much as I used to.

Mission Chinese food – A little too hit or miss for me these days

Nargis Cafe – Still great, but out of reach for most of my audience

Zizi Limona – Stopped going pretty much since Mesika left

Congratulations to the winners and the entire 2017 class.  You did it!

Click here for the complete list

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

Pinch Crab in Chinese Restaurant

 

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Stancija Kovačići – A Slow Food Gem Near Opatija

IMG_3297“Leave the coast, and wonderful things start to happen”.  A common statement that we heard from many locals, and got to experience all over the Croatia.  Not terribly surprising once you realize that much of Croatia’s tourism is tied to its coasts and islands. We are way passed “broken record” territory here in EWZ with this kind of preaching that is so true all over the world.  One of the first things I tell new visitors in NYC:  Want to eat well?  Head to residential neighborhoods.  Preferably not the wealthy ones.

Such is the case with Stancija Kovačići, a 10 minute drive from the resort town of Opatija. The curvy drive up the hilly neighborhood, through narrow streets feels slightly longer.  Especially when Google Maps makes you turn into someone’s bedroom.  But you feel it in your bones as soon as you park the car.  You reached that perfect resting spot that makes any long drive (Plitvice to Rovinj in our case) fairly easy.  Its interesting how our travel philosophies change as we get older.  When I was younger the whole concept of a leisurely 2-3 hour lunch on vacation sounded torturous.  These days I seek them every chance I get.IMG_3278

If rural Slow Fooders like this should be cherished, waiters like Hinko need to be UNESCOED.  This kind of easy going professionalism and adaptability in a modern setting (that terrace!) is a rarity.  It quickly turned into an “eating at your uncle’s house” scenario.  Except that your uncle wears a big apron and you are in a house with a Michelin caliber kitchen.  While here in NYC Michelin stars are distributed like candy (my mom has one), Croatia comically has just one, in Rovinj.  I didn’t mind this so much for selfish reasons, but you get the sense that more are deserving.

Both Hinko and chef/owner Vinko Frlan (not be confused with the law firm “Hinko, Vinko, and Stevens”) hail from the famed Kukuriku located nearby in Kastav.  As in Italy, a name like Kukuriku is perfectly acceptable in this part of the world.  In Stancija, as in much of the Slow Food type we visited in Croatia, menus are there just for emergencies.  You start with a small conversation with your waiter, decide on the items, number of courses, approximate price, and its party time.  I loved that about CroatiaIMG_3281

We started with one of those carpaccio orgies.  Thin strips of Seabass with just the right amount of their fine EVOO and Garlic Scapes (stalks or shoots that grow here for 15 days of the year).  Beef carpaccio came loaded with the same scapes and chanterelle like yellow mushrooms they call here Lisicarka.  The Grissini in both dishes was a nice touch and a reminder that we are getting close to mother Italia.

Then came the superbly chewy, squid ink coated Istrian Pasta pljukanci, with shrimp and the last asparagus of the season.  Croatians love their bitter wild asparagus and I see why.  A hearty, tender lamb ragu doing its best short rib imitation was served with herby polenta.  Croatia broke my all time record of talking, thinking, sometimes even inappropriately about Asparagus.  My previous record was 3 seconds.  Hinko even surprised us with an outstanding Asparagus and nettle soup with prosciutto crisps.

A nicely marbled lamb chop before a very proper dessert course ended this doozy of a meal.  We’ve had a number of great meals during this two week sprint, but this one topped them all.IMG_3277IMG_3280IMG_3285IMG_3288IMG_3295IMG_3292IMG_3299

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Hell’s Kitchen Summer Update

Yonekichi

Winter is coming!  July 16th to be exact.  That means time to load up on seafood, pea soups, and Japanese street snacks.  The first update in almost a year means it was quite the busy year.  I cleaned up a bit and removed some places that closed like Mooncake foods, but got a few doozies to replace it in the health department.  Big Mazal Tov to the new members…

Gloria – This neighborhood pescatarian was a no-brainer.

Yonekichi – Light and delicious Japanese Rice Burgers with great combo specials to boot

Fresh From Hell – Ingredient focused healtheria with sinful stuff like sandwiches featuring Sullivan bread.

PS.  As of this writing, Sullivan is closed for renovations.  A few more weeks they tell me

The complete Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

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FOB – You Had Me at Halo Halo

Eating With Ziggy

fob-halo-halo

July 4, 2017 Update:

How is this place not packed every night.  Yet another great feast at FOB, this time with the family.  The chicken wings, overnight Chicken Adobo (with coconut milk this time), Fish Inihaw are absolute musts.  But there are a few other potential gems on the menu we didnt get to sample yet.  The type of neighborhood place every neighborhood should have.  But dont take it too literally chef Armando.  I like you in just that one place

December 9, 2016 Post:

If you close one eye and both ears, Brooklyn’s Smith Street during the holidays feels like a small town Main Street.  Xmas tree vendors hugging corners.  Colorful shops, bars, restaurants getting dressed for the holidays.  You can almost hear George Michael’s Last Christmas before the moment interrupted by a commuter.  A commuter who believes if he beeps long enough, Santa will come down to part the sea…

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Hell’s Kitchen – Eating Outdoors

IMG_6257A new month means a new W42st edition floating all over Hell’s Kitchen.  I love doing the Hell’s Kitchen tours on launch day and seeing them everywhere.  The design and size of those babies brightens galleries, restaurants, and even those $5 fortune tellers.  This month’s theme is outdoors, and for only $5 you can probably find out next month’s exciting theme.  So pick up a copy and check out the rest of the issue including these outdoor venue picks, in color this time

Gotham West Market – Brilliantly designed, with outside bar counters and tables on both sides.  Even the occasional Lincoln Tunnel traffic is respectful

Il Baretto – Well crafted sandwiches and salads on the quiet side of the kitchen (ok, quieter).  Facing HK’s biggest park.

The Marshal – Try not to sneeze when you pass by this Farm to Sidewalk, or you may miss it.  Its like the speakeasy of outdoor dining

Otto’s Tacos – Get the Shrimp tacos with a side of Masa fries and watch the world go by.  And by world I mean tourists.

The Press Lounge – At the end of the day, this is the place to soak it all in.  Hooray for zoning laws!IMG_6256

 

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This is Plitvice Lakes

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Gloria, I Think We Got Your Number

Gloria Shrimp53rd street in Hell’s Kitchen is a street I’m well familiar with.  I used to walk by Kiran, an Indian restaurant formerly at the same space as Gloria like a Hassid in East Village.  Face covered so the super nice owner wouldnt see me walking by.  I didnt want to break his heart after years of loyalty while I was cheating with another Indian on 9th.  After Kiran it was another love hate relationship, CoBa 53.  They opened, they closed (thanks Health Dept, and Obama!), they reopened but could never find their groove.  The biggest, weirdest gripe I had with them was that this was the one place where tablecloths just seemed out of place.

So when I heard Pescatarian Gloria opening in that spot, I needed to see it and taste it to believe it.  Instead of the usual Walk of Shame or avoiding that corner of 53rd entirely, I actually coudnt wait to see what they’ve done with the space.  Nifty light fixtures replaced with niftier ones, and the tablecloths are GONE.  The irony is that after all the space anticipation I forgot to take a picture of it.  Multiple shots of every dish (Our neighbors who flat out stole our corn bread thought we are some sick food paparazzi) but nothing of the space.  Gloria Octopus

I often start posts like this one with a Jambalaya of irrelevant junk, before giving a place the proper praise it deserves.  So before I lose any more reader, I can honestly say that this was one of those meals.  A solid 3 star!  The most refreshing thing to open in Hell’s Kitchen since The Marshal introduced us to American food (we have every Thai and Mexican imaginable, but good luck finding good ribs).  Some call Gloria a mini Contra as thats the place most associated with it (GM formerly with Contra).  But its more like a mini Le Bernardin.

Corn Bread – Nothing wrong with this bread course.  Except for the fact that we got it fairly late in the game after they initially delivered ours to the next table.

Black Bass Tartare – Pretty to look at, and one of the dishes to get.  Just wonderful flavor with the watermelon radish adding nice brightness.

Jonah Crab – Simple, yet outstanding!  The sweet as lobster crab mixed with strips of Kohlrabi (like a cross between Turnip and Daikon) and aided by a thin eggy Sabayon.  Ok, maybe not that simple.

Octopus – Yet more delicious awesomeness.  Perfectly cooked Octopus slices sitting on a bed of cabbage and black rice, delivering one heck of a nasty bite.  Its rare to see a place deliver so many probable menu staples so early in the game

Shrimp – If I may briefly pause the party for just a sec.  I think this is the only one I would skip next time, which is more of a testament to the rest of the lineup.  Nothing wrong with the shrimp and their Gulf funkiness, but nothing new flavor wise with the Cortez sauce.  And the Hominy made my brain expect Peruvian corn like texture but that snap was sorely missing.

Skate Wing – This is it.  The one, the Neo, the dish to get.  There’s nothing better in the seafood universal than Skate Wing simply seared with butter with a sprinkle of magic dust.

Panna Cotta – Meh!  But no point deductions here

Go!

Gloria
401 West 53rd (off 9th), Hell’s Kitchen
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Skate Wing, Octopus, Tartare, Crab

Gloria TartareGloria Skate Wing

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Karlić Tartufi – Everybody’s Truffling

Karlić Tartufi EggsI always thought Truffle Hunts were sort of a joke.  You go to the forest with a bunch of eager puppies to look for truffles planted there the morning of.  Sort of like finding the Matzah during Passover, except for the forest, and eager part.  The only way to get my kids to look for Matzah these days is if we plant a white truffle along with it.  So after all those trips to Italy including Piedmont, I never imagined that I would get my truffle hunt certificate in Croatia.  Husband, Father, Lover of Pizza, Tour Guide, Truffle Hunter.  My tomb stone is starting to resemble the Stanley Cup.

Did they plant them?  I dont have the slightest idea.  Was it fun?  You bet ya!  Its not just about the hunt, but the entire experience.  During the hunt I was honestly more concerned about dodging dog poop than look for truffles in that terrain (they were VERY eager).  Black truffle terrain turns out is tougher to maneuver than white truffle.  And when you train those puppies to eat what they find, you have to be on your toes.  Or go with a qualified truffle hunter like Ivan Karlic, the grandson of the guy who started it all 50 years ago.  IMG_3827

We learned the ins and outs of the hunt including the difference between teaching them to eat it vs bring it to you.  And how male dogs are just too horny for this kind of work.  In addition to the main Motovun forest where licensed guides roam around, the Karlic family also owns their own groves where hazelnut trees will start producing truffles 7 years after planting.  Meanwhile today, exhausted city slickers turned hunters pick fresh cherries out of the groves and pose for selfies.

If the hunt was exhilarating, the meal before the hunt was pure ecstasy.  If humans would poses similar instincts to those dogs, I imagine it would have been very easy to train us to find truffles.  We would even carry the bonus of not eating everything we find, and clean our own poop.   They start you with truffle brandy, and end with truffle Nutella, with truffle salami and truffle cheese in between.  Along with truffle oil (real, not perfume), truffle cream and truffle honey available for you just in case you want more truffle.  And did I mention the Truffle Scrambled eggs.  Let me see.. I dont think I did.  Butter is mixed in with finely shredded black truffles and eggs before finishing with more shredded truffles.  The result is what wet dreams are made of.  If Karlic decides to use that saying in their brochure or website, I allow it.IMG_3830Karlić TartufiIMG_3848IMG_3839IMG_3825IMG_3813IMG_3806IMG_3804IMG_3802IMG_3807IMG_3858

 

 

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Adding Green-Wood Cemetery

IMG_6312The evolution of the Brooklyn tour continues.  In the next few weeks I will take some time to write more of a detail post about the current tour and what it entails, as it changed quite a bit since its inception.  But the big development is that I’m adding Green-Wood cemetery.  I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, and experimenting with Green-Wood during the last 3 tours, and frankly I dont know why I havent done it sooner

If you dont know what I’m talking about, wondering why I’m adding a cemetery to a food tour, a simple Google or Google Images browsing will answer that.  The proximity to the current route also makes sense.  If you booked a future tour and are not interested in Green-Wood, just let me know.  As it stands right now though, this is a quick 30 minute stop, unless anyone wants to spend more time there.  Simply put, this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.  The reason you dont hear much about it is because of the difficulties for tourists to get there.

And no this is not Nicolas Cage future grave pictured below.  His Pyramid is much taller.  And if you just happened to have a Nicolas Cage fetish (seriously, who doesnt these days), we can also visit Cage’s favorite restaurant in Brighton Beach.

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Nur – Adoni Hagadol

Nur EggplantWe have a Sabra invasion in full swing and no one bats and eyelid, not even Trump.  Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, Taim), Efraim Nahon (Taboon), Michael Solomonov (Dizengoff), Nir Mesika (Timna), and many more, including now Meir Adoni, an Israeli superstar opening his first in NYC.  The falafel kingdom continues to expand with chainlets like Taim, and Nish Nush leading the way.  And we even have a (sort of) Israeli bakery chain in Breads Bakery, whose owner is Adoni’s partner at Nur.  Even my new favorite French dessert spot in East Village is owned by talented Israelis.

But something is missing in NYC, and that something has something to do with the title, and real estate.  When I was in LA last time, we discovered a place called Itzik Hagadol (Big Isaac), a sprawling “fast-casual” (new phrase which I hate but use anyway) spot in Encino, serving Israeli classics like falafel, hummus, babaganoush, and things you dont normally find here like Mititei.  I was into my second Shashlik when I realized… NYC doesnt really have one of those.  If I want to take my extended family somewhere on a whim here, I wouldnt know where to go.  But if I want to take my wife to a fancy Israeli or one that requires knowing the right people who can reserve a table for you 4 weeks in adavnce, I got plenty of options.  Thats NYC for you, and the nature of Manhattan real estate.  Either things are too fast, or too expensive.  “Fast Casual” is lacking here.

NurSo if Adoni wants to open an Adoni Hagadol, I wont even take royalties.  He’s already off to a flying start, hotter than a Shakshuka in the Sinai.  We werent quite sure what to expect from Israel’s culinary idol.  And when we arrived, as often happens when we come back from an extended European trip, we are greeted with a jolt in the way of three greeters.  I think on average the employee/diners ratio is roughly 5 times higher in NYC than anywhere in Europe.  Why do we need three hosts!

 

But the good news is that almost nothing but greatness on those plates….

Honey and Garlic Challah –  I gather that the first two breads on the menu are the highlights here, but I wanted to try something else.  Besides, the Kubaneh and the Sesame Bagel, arent very unique to NYC anyway.  You can get a similar Kubaneh with S’chug and other condiments at Timna, and a fine Jerusalem sesame bagel at Bar Bolonat.  But the Challah was fine, doused with just enough honey and garlic on top, served with pickled onions, and creme fraiche.  While we liked it, I secretly cried a little at night for not getting the Kubaneh after all!

Jerusalem Sesame Bagel – Hagadol serves a bigger sesame bagel.  Nice and buttery, just like the bagels in Mahane Yehuda market, albeit 10 times pricier.  And just like in Bar Bolonat it comes with Za’atar on the side, and an exceptional tehini-like Lima Bean Messbaha.nur Sesame Bagel

Date Doughnuts – Very good and very Mediterranean. Comes in two, along with this addictive curry Citrus Vinaigrette. By the end of the night I dipped everything in this thing including forks, fingers, car keys, and wife’s finger.

Damascus Qutayef – Essentially fried Lamb Pancake.  This was fine.  If I have to pick one dish I wouldnt order again, I think this is it.  The sweet notes were a little overpowering for me.  But the sides of Marcona almonds with cucumbers, and a gazpacho like yogurt chaser at least kept this interesting

Horias – Excellent!  “Lamb Kebab in Pita” is more like mini lamb Shawarmas inside these perfectly crispy pitas with a hint of Amba (Mango condiment).  As some of the other dishes it comes on top of old newspapers for some reason with some pickled veggies.  You can munch while getting up to speed on the latest Cricket wives gossipNur Horias

Eggplant Carpaccio – Possibly the dish to get here, which is ironic considering its the only vegetarian dish outside the bread category.  Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and simply delicious.  Not every bite is the same.  The only minor quibble one might have is that the dish is listed under Big Plates but is more of an app.  Its a big plate alright, but not the content.  Possibly the eggplant to beat after Atoboy in NYC

Sea bass – Well cooked, supremely flavorful black bass, with more eggplant, Freekeh, Broccoli Rabe, and Spring Beans.  Adoni clearly likes his eggplant which he features throughout.

Lamb – Two fine skinny tender lamb loins.  Like the Seabass, all sorts of Meshugas on the plate like a Lentil salad, and what really stole the show for me, a Lamb and Bulgar filled onion.  The “Mains” here made me appreciate Timna even more.  I found a lot of similarities all over the menu but in particular the way the mains were constructed.  Complex and ingredient heavy, but truly exceptional stuff

Nur
34 E 20th St (Brway/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Sesame Bagel, Date Doughnuts, Damascus Qutayef, Eggplant Carpaccio, Sea Bass, Lamb

Nur ChallahNur Damascus QutayefNur Date doughnutsNur LambNur Sea Bass

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