The 16 Dishes that Define Hell’s Kitchen Today

Nano Ecuadorian

Nano

15 years behind a desk deep inside Hell’s Kitchen introduced me to the wonderful world of car dealerships, construction machinery, and gay bars. I watched the neighborhood develop, grow and become one of the least appreciated food areas in NYC today.  It is a NYC neighborhood, full of personalities and stories.  9th ave has morphed into a little foodie paradise over the years, while 10th ave is full of destination gems.

Today I sit behind another desk, my own.  But I still visit Hell’s Kitchen about twice a week for work (so subtle) and research, and it still feels like a second home.  As with just about any Manhattan neighborhood, its nice to explore the area on your own.  But to bring some of these stories to life and understand what this neighborhood is all about, I recommend taking a tour (ok, not so subtle).  These are the dishes that define Hell’s Kitchen today in no particular order.  A combination of classics, personal faves, with some fresh meat mixed in between

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop – Its easy to fall for the classics at Ivan, but this latest invention is my favorite today.  It got the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu bowl without the heaviness.  Its also the first dish to break the rule and appear in both Ivan restaurants (besides the classics)

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen

Seco de Pollo at Nano – Although I’ve known about Nano for a while and enjoyed it in the past, its only in the last year or so that I’ve really discovered this true gem.  Chicken strips cooked with Naranjilla, a sour fruit grown in Ecuador.  Abel, the owner is one of those Hell’s Kitchen personalities you want to meet.  But if you want to see the last time he came to work dressed up, you will need to look at this.

Pepperoni Pizza at Capizzi – The Sacco slice, and the Diavola at Don Antonio are pretty darn great as well, but my gut usually leans toward Capizzi.  The pepperoni is cut thick, giving it more oomph.  And the pizza parlor look and feel takes you to another place and time: Staten Island circa 2016

Capizzi

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – Otto graduated from a mom and pop to a corporation (often the end result of finding success in East Village).  But their signature shrimp tacos are still some of the best in a sea of Taquerias.  They come smartly seasoned, with a tangy homemade serrano cream, fresh herbs and onions.  Wash them down with the homemade Horchata

Silan at Taboon – Vanilla ice cream layered with puffed rice and date honey sprinkled with caramelized pistachios and topped with shredded halva.  Need I say more?  I probably should.  This is one of the most popular big boy desserts in Hell, and its been on the menu since day one.

Taboon Silan

Canotto at Sullivan Street Bakery – You wont find this addictive pastry anywhere else because it was invented and patented by Jim Lahey.  The dinghy shape gives it the name (not to be confused with dinghy shaped pizza terrorizing Napoli purists).  You can find both savory and sweet Canottos but I always go for the Dolce (seasonal fruits, mascarpone, nuts).

Jonah Crab at Gloria – Simple, yet outstanding.  The sweet as lobster crab mixed with strips of Kohlrabi (like a cross between Turnip and Daikon), aided by a thin eggy Sabayon.  Ok, maybe not that simple, but so satisfying.  This mini Le Bernardin is possibly the most underappreciated fine dining in HK.

Gloria Crab

Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse – Confession time.  I dont really order this anymore, as I usually go for for the specials these days.  But its clearly the most important dish at the most important Hell’s Kitchen Thai.  Mix it all in including the Yu Choy (like chinese Chinese Broccoli), and the small amount of broth and you got magic

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Carnitas at Tacuba – The only Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) I tasted in NYC featuring that Mission District slow roasted nastiness.  It comes with Chicharron (Cracklings), four little tortillas for you to master your taco skills, but thats not all… A beautiful, tangy tamarind habanero salsa that will make you want to dip your credit cards into.

Tacuba Carnitas

Ika Shoga (Squid) at Blue Ribbon Sushi – EWZ old timers may be surprised by this pick instead of the oxtail fried rice.  They are both quite exceptional.  But while you can get some incredible fried rice dishes all over NYC, I havent seen anyone treat squid quite like this.  Sauteed with ginger and garlic.

Blue Ribbon Sushi Squid

Murg Kesar Kebab at Saar Indian Bistro – Its only been open for a few months as of this writing.  But when someone like Hemant Mathur (Malai Marke, Chote Nawab) opening his first Hell’s Kitchen location it automatically becomes the best Indian in the Kitchen.  I got a feeling that once I taste the much hyped Cauliflower Latkes (they didnt have them last time), I may sub it here.  But these Saffron, lemon and ginger infused chicken strips are melt in your fork exceptional

Chicken Kebab at Saar Indian Bistro

Tofu at Danji – Let me just say this.  I dont really eat much tofu.  But as soon as I get inside Danji, I smell the soy vinaigrette and order this dish even when I dont plan.  The four rectangles are flash fried, and topped with ginger scallion dressing, and that wonderful soy vinaigrette.  The result is crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and incredibly delicious throughout.

Danji Tofu

 

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – The Khao Soi is equally terrific.  But If there was ever a dish that helped me through the last 5 NYC winters, this is it.  Pam is like my Thai Jewish mother making me chicken soups when I’m under the weather.  But instead of boring chicken, you got three marvelous bony oxtails, with a complex fiery broth.  It cures flu like symptoms and summertime sadness.

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai

Soup Dumplings at Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns – Ive seen many moms and many pops getting squeezed out of high rent 8th ave over the years.  But as long as these guys continue to deliver high quality XLB (soup dumplings), they can make it anywhere.  Well, maybe not Staten Island

Trenette at Mercato – I have to list the best Italian in the hood, I just have to.  I dont believe you can go wrong with any of the pastas here.  But I always go for the light Trenette al Pesto Trapanese (almond, garlic, tomato), especially in the warmer months.

Mercato TrenetteBourekas at Gazala’s – Although a bigger and potentially better Gazala’s just opened in UWS, the little Hell’s Kitchen institution feels like the flagship.  And 9th ave wouldnt be the same without these warm flaky, outrageously delicious pastries lining up the window front.

Gazala'a Place Bourekas

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Colorado Random

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Maroon Bells near Aspen

I’m working on one of those epic Hell’s Kitchen posts that needs a bit more chewing and time, so its a rare back to back lazy post.  We just came back from Glenwood springs, supposedly home to the largest hot springs pool in the world.  Hiking and pooling pretty much summarizes this quicky.  And surprisingly good food to boot, even though I exceeded my burger quota for the month.  Read the captions for the names of places.

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Maroon Bells

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Vail

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Aspen Trees

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Maroon Bells

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Glenwood Springs pool

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Maroon Bells

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Hanging Lake

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Hanging Lake

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Ooookay!

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Ziggy reflecting on Dillon Reservoir

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Jimmy’s Bodega Crabcake

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The Pullman Chicken

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Jimmy’s Bodega Tacos

 

 

 

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This is Segovia

IMG_8534Simply put, Segovia is the perfect tourist town.  It took me a while to understand what it means when others said it, but I think I get it now.  Its traits may vary between individuals, but not by much.  To me it needs to be very different than where I come from.  It should be pleasing to the eyes and offer enough interesting, spectacular, or important attractions.  She needs to have a personality or known for something.   Hmm, notice how I went from “It” to “She” after finishing my beverage.  Fascinating!  And most importantly, she needs to know how to cook

I dont know if Lola from Castellum knows how to cook, but what I do know is that this guide knows her stuff.  And she will set up your blind date with the suckling pig of your choice if needed.  Its important to see places like this with a guide if you want to get the full experience.

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Royal Palace of La Granja of San Ildefonso

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San Lorenzo de El Escorial

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EV Bites: Why East Village

 

Instead of the usual monthly EV Bites, I figured I’ll spend a few minutes talking about the dynamics that makes East Village the best food neighborhood in NYC, therefore North America.  It will be quick, and painless, and delicious.  And I will offer a few names as exhibits A, B, C, D (a little Alphabet City humor.  Though I’m a little tired as I’m writing this and not entirely sure how funny it is, and whether I’m making sense at all).  But here it goes.  There are enough names here to cover at least two EV Bites posts

A few weeks ago I was talking to another young entrepreneur like myself (stop laughing!), the owner of Dian Kitchen, a Yunnan fast casual just opened in East Village (rice noodles, cold chicken salad, fiery sweet potato fries – Go!).  Not surprisingly she said that East Village was the only area she was able to find affordable space in Manhattan.  This is something I hear often, and is sad and scary in a way.  But the unfortunate reality is generating a lot of fortune for the NYU residents, and young professionals living in the east

Due to that “affordable” rent and availability, East Village has slowly morphed into an incubator for up and coming talents like Alex Stupak, Marco Canora, David Chang and even Bobby Flay started his career in EV.  It breeds corporations.  Its ultra competitive environment these days helped generate mini chains like Mighty Quinn’s, Otto’s Tacos, and Luke’s Lobster.  As the saying goes, “If you can make it in East Village, you can make it anywhere”.  Ok no one really says that, but its true.  When the opposite occurs, a successful establishment in another neighborhood opening a location in East Village, success doesnt come nearly as quick, as evident by the cricket sounds at Frisson Espresso (really good coffee but so empty).

This competitive, survival of the fittest environment helped generate an incredibly diverse selection of cuisines and establishments that are really good at what they do.  If you are simply an above average Szechuan or Isan, chances are you wont see your one year anniversary.  On my tours I often use Filipino food as an example.  While you will be hard pressed to find a Filipino restaurant in [Name any other Manhattan neighborhood], in East Village you have a quiet Sislig Sisig war.  Same goes for Venezuelan.  You can even find International stores, spice stores, and more obscure cuisines like Georgian, Jamaican, and even something called American food (Ducks Eatery).

And you get the sense that there’s something in the East Village air that keeps the owners on their toes.  Whether its Marco Canora reinventing Hearth, Nick Anderer perfecting Roman pies, or Will Horowitz inventing new foods.  These guys are not exactly counting on tourists, office workers, or local residents to simply walk by, but become destinations to New Yorkers looking for the best.  They dont rest because they cant afford to.

But it wasnt always a great food neighborhood.  For a while it was simply the place to get Pierogies.  You still can do that at Streecha (They are back after summer break) and of course Veselka that still boast hefty brunch lines.  But the Pierogy belt is now surrounded by Little Japan.  And Little Japan is now surrounded by quite possibly, our richest (culinary wise) Chinatown.  This is more of a fresh phenomenon where Queens establishments like Szechuan Mountain House and Dun Huang are now testing EV palates.  They are joining the likes of first timers like Le Sia and Dian Kitchen, and the more established Xi’an, the Bao, and Han Dynasty.  Dozens of new Chinese opened in the past few years and most of the survivors are excellent.

And then there’s exhibit M.  It is easier for me to find a McDonald’s and other American chains in Madrid than East Village.  EV is down to one sad looking McDonald’s on 1st ave.  The last time a Starbucks opened, there was a quiet protest by the local residents.  EV boasts the highest percentage of coffee shops per capita on the east coast.  And the vast availability of cheap foods like tacos, Arepas, and Japanese noodles can be head spinning at times.  There’s a good reason why I chose East Village to run food tours.

 

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Pinching San Sebastian’s Old Town

Néstor Bar SteakDid you know that the act of moving one’s finger and thumb apart to zoom on a map on a screen is called Pinching?  Figured I should probably explain the title right of the bat.  But after so many years dreaming, sometimes inappropriately, about the food mecca of San Sebastian, I’ve finally, finally made it to…… Getaria.  After all that, that’s where we ended up staying for a week, and San Sebastian became a day trip.  Regrets?  None whatsoever.  But did I wish to spend more time in San Sebastian.  Well, kinda.  I wanted more, but turns out so do a lot of other people.

Turns out the San Sebastian Pintxos (“peen-chos”) crawl is the worlds worst secret.  Yes, I suppose if you are planning your first trip to Spain, a Tapas crawl in Madrid, or a Pintxos crawl in San Sebastian or Bilbao is a good way to connect with local cultures.  But its not so easy to do for tourists.  Pintxos and Tapas crawls are not just about the food, but more of a way of life.  Its a way to relax and socialize with your friends before lunch or dinner.  Its not something you force and its never meant to be done after a full day of sightseeing.  Maybe by just reading this and planning your Pintxos crawl three months in advance you are breaking the cardinal rule of Pintxo crawling.  But researching is part of the fun, right?

Néstor Bar

So research away, but keep things flexible, dont stress, and do enough explorations on your own.  Look at these as ideas and suggestions to pick from.  There’s another list of places I didnt get a chance to visit, just as long as this one.  On one of them, Borda Berri, I spent a good 7 minutes by the counter, waiting for some acknowledgement that I’m there and “what would you like sir”, but it never happened and we just left shamefully.  This place gave “packed” a new meaning.  Imagine around 40 people including food tours bigger than mine spilling into the sidewalk in a small bar that fits perhaps 15.  A NY fire Marshal wet dream

Out of 7 or so places I tried, I picked 5 that I can comfortably recommend.  Some of these are well known, some not so much.  And some suggested by our trusted guide Mikel from Tours by Basque

Ordizia – No lines, no crowds, no hoopla in this tiny hole in the wall.  You can even have a conversation with the server/bartender.  All the goodies displayed on the board.  Try the grilled squid with shrimp and ham and “Brotxeta Chuleta”, steak with peppers and potato.

Ordizia Pintxos

La Cuchara de San Telmo – Seems popular with tourists but very manageable for lunch.  Get a table outside which you may share with some new friends.  Try the signature extra large Octopus that comes butterflied and grilled to perfection.  Some of the meatiest, most delicious razor clams you’ll encounter.  And if you never had proper stewed Veal Cheeks, this one will do.

Casa Urola – An old-timer serving traditional and seasonal fare in the dining room, and haute leaning pintxos in the bar.  Try the “Urola” with lobster, the delicious squid, scallop.  And this is a good spot to try the Gilda, a skewer of anchovies (keep reading…), olives and pickled peppers, named after Rita Hayworth, who was similarly “spicy and salty”.  Gilda the movie was extremely popular in Spain.  And if you are not a big fan of anchovies, try this anyway.
Casa Urola - Squid
Néstor Bar – How to describe Néstor Bar?  Imagine a quiet, comfortable table in the corner, soothing easy listening in the background, with the occasional laughter of a young loving couple celebrating their 5th anniversary, and a waiter that makes you feel comfortable and welcomed.  Now imagine the opposite of that and you have Néstor Bar.  Wait for your “table” in chaos, until you get standing room counter for the 4 of you, but can only fit two and half.  But once you taste the steak (top), with tomato salad, and green peppers, you go “F$&ck comfort”
La Vina – Its almost unfair to make it the cheesecake stop because everything else looked so good, but the Tarta de Queso here is quite exceptional.  La Vina is world renowned for this light, addictive goodness so many come to experience.  I didnt know that we will be eating so many cheesecakes in north Spain, but this one easily topped them all.
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Bombay Bread Bar – Mission Possible 3

Bombay Bread BarZ-List fanatics, both of them, already well familiar with this newest incarnation from Top Chef star Floyd Cardoz.  But as with some other recent Z-List additions, I never got a chance to write a review on “Paowalla 2.0”.  Paowalla’s blog post title would have read “Oops, I did it again”, after Cardoz essentially tried to recreate another fancy Tabla to satisfy his devotees.  At BBB Cardoz is following his gut.  And it works, a lot better than the “critics” leading to believe.

Classifying Bombay Bread Bar can be tricky.  Indian chef, working with Indian ingredients must mean “Indian”, right?  Much to the chagrin of theorists and traditionalists who bulk at the prices.  Indian food should never ever cost this much, creatures of habit proclaim.  And the likes of Cardoz, and other Asian chefs forfeit the right to get creative and charge premium for it.  Not only hogwash, but on my last meal I tasted Italian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese flavors in this so called Indian.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

As for the “critics” out there, the state of affairs of Google results in NYC these days is looking a little sad.  Its dominated by marketing and Google skills, rather than knowledge.  I dont want to name the names out there, but one of them rhymes with “Infatuation”.  These are not seasoned reviewers.  They read like Yelp reviews, and often sound like they dont really know what they are talking about.  They lock in the first Google page nowadays, even prior to actual reviews, with a “Review soon to come” post.  Their BBB review is yet another example of advice that is either wrong or unnecessary.  Missing in this case, the most important aspect of the establishment, the chef, and his ability to invent and change.

The Upma Polenta, the first thing I tasted at BBB, showcases that Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever eat.  The creamy Cauliflower Makhani, not on the current menu, made great use of the Naan.  I’m a sucker for a good garlic naan, and the flat naans here are exceptional.  So is the chickpea chaat, a medley of green chickpeas sprinkled with toasted yellow chickpeas.  And while you wont find much lamb presence in lamb curry, you will certainly taste it in all its glory.

Bombay Bread Bar Donut

Another “small plate” winner is the Three Chili Chicken Fry which got the sweetness of a General Tso’s chicken along with the intense heat of Szechuan.  Follow the Chinese flavors with hints of middle eastern in the new Sea Bream.  Served whole, but deboned and stuffed with a fantastic spicy red paste reminiscent of a mild Yemeni S’chug.  It replaced another good one on the menu, a Banana leaf wrapped Halibut covered with yet another great paste.  The Chicken Tikka, not Masala is another strong consideration with the larger plates.

Perhaps the only dish I didnt care for so much after three visits was the baked Eggplant which felt heavy and unbalanced next to other dishes.  I found the rice dishes good but not necessary.  The drinks can use a better hand, but I’ve only sampled two (sticking to beer).  And how does the Indian Donut not generate Cronut like lines?  Intense sweetness with its pistachio cream, candied pistachio, and rum syrup.  Go!

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This is Salamanca

IMG_8691Salamanca, 200km west of Madrid, is much more than a University and church town.  But these two reasons alone are good enough to visit even for an old Jew like me.  I just feel old and cranky this morning, and need to think about happier places.  Salamanca was a happy place.  Watching World Cup Soccer in one of the most striking Plaza Mayors in Europe.  Having a local show us around town.  Looking for the mysterious astronaut embedded in the facade of the “new” church.  Surrounded by the red Sandstone plastered all over the old town.  And meeting the only English speaking nun we’ve ever met, selling delicious cookies from a convent (Convento de las Dueñas).

But you want to spend at least a few nights here to experience Salamanca’s magic.  Its conveniently located if you are heading north to Asturias, or west to Portugal.  In fact you are only 3 hours away from another University powerhouse, Coimbra in Portugal.   You can also reach Avila, a walled stunner, within an hour or so.

IMG_8715Read about Salamanca and the frog that became its symbol.  Look for it on the University’s famous facade, on a skull.  Its not that hard once you know what it looks like (see pic below).  If you fail to find it, you will struggle on your next exam.  If you are not a student and you fail to find it, you will get Shingles within a week!  The frog, or more likely a toad was a symbol of sexual temptations throughout Spain’s history.  There were once prostitutes roaming the area, luring the male students, and the frog reminded the students of the consequences.  The skull represents death, a possible outcome due to the many diseases the prostitutes carried.  Thanks Obama!

Salamanca doesnt strike me as a foodie paradise but there’s plenty of good eats for a short trip.  Plaza Mayor challenges the notion that main squares in Europe offer nothing but tourist traps.  A local took us to Mesón Cervantes in the plaza where we enjoyed the local specialty Farinato – fried potato, eggs, and a sweet leaning sausage hash, among other things.  Also on Plaza Mayor you got Las Tapas de Gonzalo (Best Patatas Bravas of the trip), and their finer sister El Mesón de Gonzalo not too far.

The same local took us on a mini tapas crawl starting with the ultra local Taberna Dionisos known for their Tostas (small open face sandwiches).  And we quickly got hooked on Croissantería París and their ham and cheese croissants.  Hornazo, the local savory pastry stuffed with pork, chorizo and egg I was so looking forward to try, surprisingly did not look too appealing and I never got to try it.  The fact that I was stuffed every time I saw it didnt help.  And dont forget about the nuns (most likely closed between 3-6) and their cookies.  And  make sure to visit the Convent of St. Stephen nearby.

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Chelsea Lately – 2018

Miznon CauliflowerIts that time of the year, readers.  When I dissect piece by piece this tourist trap in Chelsea we call the Chelsea Market.  Did I get your attention now?  “Tourist Trap”, a term used often when you read reviews about ultra touristy establishments.  “Migrane” is something you get when you read what others have to say about something you know and love.  “Himalayan Meditation Retreats” is what you Google three months after you open a restaurant in NYC.

But I suppose every touristy restaurant on the planet can be and will be called a Tourist Trap by visitors from all over, who fail to capitalize on the establishment’s full potential.  After all, I just called such market in Madrid, and I have a very hard time believing otherwise.  But there are two very important ingredients missing in Chelsea Market in order to quality as a Tourist Trap.  Mediocre food, and lack of local interest.  Make it knowledgeable local interest like the Chowhounds who know NYC food scene better than anyone

Food courts are popping all over the US like presidential tweets.  NYC alone has around 20 of them.  And due to that vastness you keep seeing some of the same generic names in many of them.  Like food trucks that keep multiplying, selling the same items all over the city.  They are there more for convenience rather than destinations.  What makes CM different is that its not loaded with the usual suspects, but vendors who call CM their only home.  Why?  Well, mainly due to the fame and foot traffic that comes with it.  I just dont recall CM being as culinary rich when mostly locals used to go there.

Miznon

Miznon

But Chelsea Market is soooo crowded, you say.  Well yeah!  But its really the cramped former Nabisco factory space that is the main culprit.  Its a pita smack in the face as soon as you walk in, and some cant wait to come out from the other side (10th ave).  But if you do, at least check out the pictures on the right near the 10th ave exit where you’ll see the old factory and a picture of the last west side cowboy with his flag down.  Before the High Line rails got elevated, these cowboys rode before the trains on “Death Ave” waving their flags as a signal for the coming trains.

But if you opt to stay for a while and you like to eat, deliciousness awaits… and seats!  When you start branching out of the main hall you will discover that CM is not as crowded as it seems and you can sit down.  Here’s a list of items I would target.  Its a nice mix of items for pescatarians, vegetarians, carnivores, and even pediatricians.  I would pick about 3-5 items of the list (to share with your special someone(s)), allow 90 minutes, and perhaps walk it off on the High Line after or during.

Hummus at Dizengoff – You are not there just for the Hummus, but the entire package. The hummus with the rotating toppings (right now they got a good looking Sabich – egg, eggplant, Amba combination on the board), the pita, the Salatim, and homemade Z’hug.  This is a a nice light option to share.

Dizengoff Hummus

Cauliflower at Miznon – Its a simple roasted cauliflower, but delightfully salty and quite delicious.  You can bring that to Dezengoff and start eating it there while you wait for you Hummus.  Though there’s something about eating inside Miznon.  Like stepping into a Tel Aviv fast food joint.  If you skip Dizengoff, share a pita sandwich here.  I’m partial to the veggie combos

Cumin Lamb at Very Fresh Noodles – If I have to pick one item in the entire market, this is probably it.  It doesnt get as spicy as Xi’an Famous but what it lacks in heat, it gains in flavor.  This is the only place where I struggled with seats in the past, but they now added counter seating facing the “Biang Bianging!”, and there are usually seats.  The Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is another hit

Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Saxelby Cheesemongers – A good excuse to go downstairs and escape the selfie sticks of the main hall.  While you wait for your sandwich, sample some hot sauces at the shop next door.  I’m partial to the Bronx sauce.

Double Cheeseburger at Creamline – If you are coming from another country, and have this thing called “American Burger” on your list, this is as good as it gets in NYC for this price range.  To me it beats Shake Shack, from the bun, beef, and the optional egg which you should add.  I also like the choc milk here, and Turkey burger

Creamline Burger

Hot Dog at Dickson’s Farmstand – A very solid hot dog. Or for something perhaps a bit more tangy and tingly…  Paprika or Kaese Currywurst from Berlin Currywurst.  If you never had a proper hot dog, go for the former.  If you did, do the latter (yes, add some spicy sauce, at least on the side)

Adobada Taco at Los Tacos #1 – The Shawarma of the south. Well it did come originally from Arab immigrants in Mexico.  This is a quick delicious snack you eat standing up.  Or/And get a Fish Tacos at Los Mariscos to at least earn that secret bathroom visit.  Yes, a bathroom with no lines.  When standing on that line to Los Tacos, look left for the Los Mariscos entrance.

Los Mariscos Tacos

The Splurges….

Lobster Roll at Cull & Pistol – This is one of my overall NYC faves.  Owned by the Lobster Place so everything comes from next door, the city’s top fishmongers.  Ignore confusing old reviews by Infatuation.  The lobster roll at $29, is one of the most expensive in town, though you will not find a lobster below $25 at any full service.  And yes, they are this tiny everywhere, and most not quite as good.

Sushi at Lobster Place – Its my go to place for Chirashi bowl.  I also buy Salmon burgers here to grill later.

For Dessert….

Halvah from See & Mill – Especially for those who never had Halvah.  Try it with their ice cream as well

Cherry pie at Sarabeth’s bakery.  A classic!

Gelato at L’Arte del Gelato – Or for something a little more interesting, explore the High Line and area head to Gelato Giusto on 9th.  Owner Lorenzo from Milan is like a sorbet wizard but knows his Gelato as well

Cull & Pistol Lobster

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3 Days in Madrid

A word of advice:  Lakasa!  That’s it.  Just one word as promised.  Thats the most important takeaway from this post, and if its the only takeaway, my job is kinda done here.  In other words, if you only giving this post your valuable morning bathroom break, just go straight to the Lakasa section and read the rest if you have more time.  There are other important tips here, including where not to eat, and where we planned to eat but didnt eat.  So maybe make it a longer bathroom or a work vaping break, to read the rest.

Talking about “takeaway”, my biggest struggle in Spain was requesting Coffee To Go in Spanish.  I know this is not exactly a coffee to go culture, but I needed it on occasion especially while driving.  I had to do it especially in the North where English was almost non existent.  “Para Llevar, Para Llevar, Para Llevar”.  I practiced, and listened and practiced some more.  I went from “Pull the Lever Please!” to “Para Levar” to “Para Yevar” and they would continue to nod and smile and serve it in a small coffee mug on a plate to stay.  Wife sometimes would come back from shopping to see me sipping on the coffee cup going, “couldnt pull the lever again, couldn’t you?”.  Nope!

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The most surprising thing about Madrid’s food scene was the large amount of American chains scattered all over the center.  There were moments when I was looking for something interesting to eat, and it was easier to find a Burger King then a local shop of some sorts.  But the site that surprised me the most was my first International “Five Guys”.  Turns out, there are 4 more outside the center.  Well done Guys!  All 5 of you.

Here’s a rundown of the places we ate.  You can read between the lines

El Paraguas – This was strongly recommended by our host and I can see why.  A room, make it rooms, including an outdoor patio, packed with locals, including families and grandpas who lunch.  All on a Friday afternoon.  And you need to dress up a notch for this one.  The cuisine is Asturian but the menu reads like a bible.  Madrid doesnt really have its own regional cuisine.  It draws its inspirations from all over Spain, especially the north (I can be corrected here).  The standout here was a mystery dish.  “Cocochas de Merluza con Yema de Huevo” on the Spanish menu translated to “Hake’s Barbel in green sauce and egg yolk” on the English menu.  Confusing because Barbel is a another fish, and Cocochas is the second chin or jaw of a fish which we had in Getaria some time later and it looked nothing like this.  Whatever it was, it was excellent. and I would go back just for this.IMG_8467

Cervecería Cervantes – This is where you will have that “We are finally in Spain” moment.  Surrounded by locals, and eating things we couldn’t get enough of the rest of the trip.  We came for the Galician Octopus which was good indeed, but we totally devoured the shrimp in garlic and Padron peppers.  And we started hearing angels singing when we tried the fried calamari.  Even though the singing was mostly in latin, I understood most of it… “Remember all that fried Calamari you’ve been eating in New York all your life? Lalalalalalala!  Its crap!  This is what it supposed to taste like”

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Lakasa (bottom)- Madrid is loaded with some incredible talent doing elevated traditional dishes and Avant-garde.  But its hard for me to imagine many better experiences in this price range.  This was flawless from start to finish.  From the house white to the waiter eerily popping a little device on the table where little wet wipes peep out one by one, much to our delight.  It doesnt take much to amuse us.  silky smooth Cecina (cured cow meat) from Astorga.  A mind blowing grilled Hake (better than the Alfonsino special).  Dried rice with pigeon, a house specialty, was a standout.  One of the better cooked steaks of a Spain trip loaded with great meats.  Clams in garlic, and fried eggs with truffles we couldnt get enough of.  One of the best meals we ever had in Spain

La Casa del Abuelo – Shrimp and Garlic!  We’ve been obsessing and dreaming about the shrimp in Garlic months prior to the trip.  Portugal did this to us!  Ramiro in Lisbon if I can point fingers.  In Madrid all indications pointed to the undisputed Shrimp and Garlic champ, La Casa del Abuelo.  Not to be confused with Abuela (grandma) on the same street.  You want Grandpa’s cooking, not Grandma in this case.  Really enjoyed the crustaceans here. They were plump and flavorful albeit on the softer side.  We also enjoyed the large Fideo with squid and its ink.

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Ochenta Grados – This was the only place open on Sunday night that was walking distance from our apartment.  We were surprised at how many close on Sundays here (some open for lunch).  Ochenta Grados felt like a place more for teen girls so it was sort of perfect because I came with two of those.  But at the same time it was cheap, inventive fun, and shockingly good value.  Clever “Tapas” like plates around 4 euros each.  We pretty much tried the entire menu for 70 euros.  A marginal endorsement for the foodies out there

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San Miguel Market – This is the one I dont quite get.  What exactly is the attraction here?  Is it the concept or the food?  Coming from the land of food markets (NYC) this was shockingly disappointing.  We settled initially on some overpriced, mediocre toasts with cheese.  Then we circled a few more times and nothing stood out.  Extremely crowded and expensive for Spain (11 euros for a small portion of fried calamari).  The whole thing felt like a giant tourist trap.  I cant imagine many locals go here.

A word on Tapas – One thing I learned in Madrid is that Tapas is more of a way of life, rather than a concept or simply small plates.  Its a social gathering where you move from place to place eating and drinking what the establishments specialize in, while standing.   Tapas is a lifestyle, that is not meant to be forced, and therefore difficult for visitors to mimic.  When you are spending a full day sightseeing, your planned Tapas crawl may not fit as you’ll be craving a seat and a drink somewhere relaxing instead.  But if you must, Calle del Dr. Castelo near Retiro park is loaded with some popular eateries like Laredo, La Castela, Castelados, and La Raquetista

Other places I wanted to visit but didnt have a chance:  La Manduca de Azagra, AskuaBarra, Glass Mar

 

Categories: Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EV Bites – Taco Crawl

Tacos Morelos

Tacos Morelos

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

In this issue I’ll focus on Tacos.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, or in Staten Island, you are missing out on a Taco renaissance.  These are the golden years for taco lovers, and its just getting better and better.  This crawl features 4 places and an unrelated dessert that is convenient to the crawl.  The only thing to keep in mind here is that Empellon usually opens at 4 (1pm on weekends), and the dessert place may be closed in the evening.  So check the times.  Its best to do this on weekends.

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – I’ve tried every taco here over the years but I keep coming back for this deliciousness.  A good example of the so many NYC mini chains today that started in East Village.  Try the Horchata here as well

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – While I prefer the Hell’s Kitchen location, this is solid enough.  The sitting may be sparse but this is a walking crawl, not a sitting one

Break time – Check out The Museum of American Gangster, and the prohibition era speakeasy on St Marks

Beer Braised Tongue at Empellon Al Pastor –  The namesake taco is excellent, but once I discovered the Pork tongue it was no going back.  Its all in that delicious, tangy sauce they make that elevates this thing.

Cochinita Pibil at Taco Morelos – This s possibly the most authentic of the bunch, and East Village overall.  Wonderful, tender, slow roasted pork on a homemade tortilla is hard to beat.

Break time – Check out whats happening in Tompkins Square Park, my favorite NY park.

Almond Croissants at Patisserie Florentine – Finish with some of the best Almond Croissants you’ll find in NYC.  Though the Canelles arent too shabby either

One of these stops is an important stop on this world famous East Village tour

Enjoy!

 

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