Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

Hell FoodUpdated: August 11th, 2016

“One more block” is what I normally say to tourists who come to NYC to experience one of the best NY attractions (Broadway shows) along with one of the saddest NY attractions (Theater District Dining).  One more block and you are in the middle of ethnic galore 9th avenue.  To experience eating in NYC, one of the greatest food cities in the world, one should take advantage of one of its greatest strengths, ethnic dining.  From amazing Sri Lankan food to fiery Thai.  Most visitors don’t realize that you wont find any Theater District Restaurants on any “Best of” lists, but you WILL find some of the following.  And if you insist on fine dining, why not go to something like Ma Peche, Lincoln, Marea, Betony or The Nomad which are not in the district but a short cab ride away or a nice stroll on Broadway.  You already paid $300 to see Muppets having sex on stage, surely you can afford a $5 cab ride to make the night complete and eat at some of New York’s finest.

With that said, here’s the best food in Hell…

New:  Food Tours of Hell’s Kitchen, East Village and Brooklyn

Top Dishes – Round 1

Top Dishes – Round 2

Top Dishes – Round 3

Top Dishes – Round 4

Top Pre-Theater Options

Best Burgers

Best Pizza

Best Thai

Best Soups

The Sandwich Awards

Gotham West Market Top Eats

Ivan Ramen Whitefish Donburi

Food Halls

Gotham West Market –  Perhaps the coolest thing ever to open in Hell’s Kitchen.  In a city suddenly flooded with all sorts of food halls, this is one of the more intimate, and less visited ones.  Main reason being the tourist free zone of 11th and 45th, making it more of a neighborhood stop.  Only about 9 high quality vendors, and a bicycle shop.  Ramen, tapas, burgers, Mexican, health food, sushi burritos, meat purveyor, high end coffee, and to top it all, some of the best ice cream in town.

Middle Eastern

Falafel – Azuri Cafe.  Soup Nazi meets Oscar from the odd couple.  Ezra’s grouchiness is well documented, even on his menu.  A couple of weeks ago I saw him smile but I’m pretty sure it was gas.  But the falafel here is a piece of art.  Skip the 3 ball recession platter and go for the sandwich, or the excellent chicken Shawarma.

Middle Eastern – Gazala’s Place.  Fabulous Druze cooking.  Some of the best Hummus in town (I spent plenty of time in Israel including the druze village where Gazala came from so I know my Hummus).  The place is slightly larger than a shoe box.  More like a hers and hers closet (in my house at least.  I count my blessings to have 2 shelves left).  The only complaint is I wish for better bread than the paper thin lafa to scoop the stuff.  I’m not big of the Bourekas overall, but the cheese and sun dried tomato Bourekas here is solid.  For more of a takeout middle eastern you may want to consider The Hummus Kitchen on 52nd.  Surprisingly all kinds of great hummus in the area.

Gourmet Middle Eastern – Taboon.  One of the most successful, hidden gems in the area.  A creative menu created by a top Israeli chef coining the term Middleterranean.  Try any of their bread specialties baked in their Taboon oven, and the Silan (below), one of my favorites desserts in the city.Taboon Silan

Doner Kebab/Turkish – Turco.   This is perhaps the closest thing we have to the German Doner Kebab (Turkish immigrants in Germany made it the most popular fast food snack since the invention of the Speckpfannkuchen and Zwiebelkuchen).  The main culprit is that thick, crispy tasty pita bread that holds its own for the most part.  I slightly prefer the chicken over the lamb but you should try both.

Asian

Korean – Danji.  The best Korean Tapas in the area by far.  Ok, probably the only one but its still quite good, and not quite tapas.  You will be hard pressed to find better chicken wings in the area, and the sliders aren’t too shabby.  Michelin people agreed (initially), rewarding it a star soon after opening

Ramen -Totto Ramen.  Shoe box setting and potential long waits adds to the charm at the original.  Just write your name on the board outside (Not Seymore Butts – already done) and wait.  Order the spicy Ramen, add the egg and you are all set.  Newer, bigger Totto located a block away 464 West 51st.  Less wait if any than the original

Ramen – Ippudo Westside.  Perhaps the most exciting HK opening in 2013.  One block away from Totto and others making HK a NYC Ramen powerhouse.  Just like Totto, this is an experience, but a little different.  Its bustling, noisy, energetic, and that’s just the wait inside and out.  Clearly my favorite here so far is the Akamaru Modern, but you must add the egg, and for a little more spice the spicy miso paste.  Highly recommend this one

Ramen – Mentoku.  Three is a crowd you say?  I disagree!  The other two are now well known oldtimers, and these days you will most likely find me at this relaxing no-line, no hassle, newcomer.  Start with the simple but the delicious fried chicken and finish with the spicy Yuzu-Kosho.

Japanese – Blue Ribbon Sushi.  Not all chains are created equally.  This is far from Applebee’s.  And depending on who you ask, and the day of the week, this is not exactly in Hell’s Kitchen but close enough (Yelp thinks that it is).  Its located in the SIXTY Hotel on Columbus Circle (on 58th st).  Whether you are a sushi lover is irrelevant in this case.  Good fried chicken, steaks, and the sick oxtail fried rice alone is worth the price of admission.  And other goodies such as the excellent Ika Shoga (sautéed squid), and Kanpachi Usuzukuri (amberjack sushimi) worth detouring.

Japanese – Mocu Mocu (closed).  More Japanese goodies in the hood, though there’s really nothing like this one.  Artsy, nifty but very casual spot that is still trying to find its bearings.   Essentially all sorts of Japanese street food and snacks.  Takoyaki (octopus balls), Oshinko (homemade pickles), soups like the terrific white bean and Sausage Miso, Okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), Obanyaki (dessert pastries), decent wings.  This project is a collaboration of two sisters with the help of Hiroko Shimbo, an acclaimed Japanese cookbook author.  Unlike the atrocity across the street El Original, this place hasn’t spent a day on any hot list, while flying under everyone’s radar.  Its all in the marketing.

Thai – Pure Thai Cookhouse.  Not your average NYC Thai food among a plethora of all kinds of great Thai on 9th.  No drunken noodles,  no red curry, no green curry and not even purple curry on the menu.  What you do get is something a bit more authentic with all sorts of complex flavors and extra heat.  Read the post for what to order.  Update 12/3/13:  These days I really enjoy the ribs, Curry Paste with Pork, Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles, and the pumkin custard with coconut sticky rice off the board (not on the menu)

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Thai – Larb Ubol.  An offshoot of Zabb Elee in the East Village, specializing in authentic Isan cooking.  Like Pure, some of these dishes not for the faint of heart.  Even more so here actually.  If you want your typical American Thai dishes this is not the place.  Go to something like Kare Thai on 10th or Wondee Siam 2 instead.  In Larb Ubol what you get is complex flavors like you never experienced before (unless you did!).  Try the Pad Ped Moo Crob – Crispy pork, thai eggplant, basil, peppercorn, ginger, and spicy curry paste, and the duck larb.

Thai – Pam Real Thai.  I was hesitant to add this one for too long, partly due to having two Thai places on the list already.  But.. a) Many EWZ readers have already been to Pure and/or Larb Ubol, b) The Oxtail Soup, and c) Just about everything else I’ve had here is pretty darn good.  Setting redefines minimalistic, and the place could use some refreshing, but I dont go there for the decor.  Try the Pad Kra Prow (w/shrimp), Pad Prik Khing, Khao Soi, best Kee Mao Seafood in the hood, and the Oxtail Soup which is just about my favorite soup on the planet.

Sushi – Han Sushi.  Newcomer on 10th and 56th trounces all area sushi with its freshness and flavor.  Once you overlook the heart shaped rice on the Chirashi plate, you will see the best raw value in the area

Chinese – Gourmet Szechuan 56.  By far the best Chinese in the area.  Like Pure Thai, Spice level significantly higher.  Loving the  Shredded Beef w/ Asian Spicy Green Chili especially

Chinese – Chaan Teng.  One of the newest kids on the block (9th ave).  American Chinese with a twist… as in dildos.  Yes, its decorated in a way that forces fathers to have that talk with son while sharing Chaan Teng’s take on General Tso’s Chicken.  Perhaps the most inventive and daring (Chicken Skin Dumplings) menu and decor on the block

Chinese/Dumplings – Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen.  A little piece of Chinatown on the border of Hell’s Kitchen, steps away from Times Square.  Contrary to what the name suggests, this place isnt known for its ramen, but for its soup dumplings. The place is tiny, and at peak hours there could be a line but it moves quickly.  Communal tables add to the fun, but try not to squirt that dumpling soup juice on your neighbor.  Unless its a Broadway actor

Pork Buns

Indian – Basera Indian Bistro.  I tried every single Indian in the area, and keep going back to this one.  Friendly, big, and best lunch specials by far.  This is your average American Indian, but done right.  Good Tikka masala, lamb Biryani, but its just about a Chicken Chettinad fest for me as of late.

Indian Lunch Buffet – Benares.  I’m not normally into lunch buffets these days, but this is one that my co-workers and I enjoy lately.  What I like about it is that they dont offer the usual conventional Tikka and Chana Masalas, but various shrimp and lamb dishes with proper Unamerican degrees of heat and flavor

Italian

Italian – Mercato.  This is quickly becoming not only my favorite Italian in the area but my favorite restaurant in the area.  Truly flavorful, mostly authentic southern Italian (from south Italy, not south Staten Island) dishes like the excellent homemade Trenette (below) with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil.  A cozy Trattoria, with an all Italian staff.  Check out the simple spaghetti, the meaty gnocchi, Sardinian specialties, and look for any specials like the excellent Cavatelli

Mercato Trenette

Italian – Il Melograno.  A lot of mediocre Italian in the area.  This is not one of them.  No frills, small, cheap(er) Trattoria sitting in a location where its almost impossible to survive unless you are doing something right.  Owner from Brescia, no stranger to Northern Italian cooking.  Try the Pappardelle with sausage and truffle oil.  In the warmer months locals flock to their sidewalk wine bar Il Baretto on 11th.

American

Wine and Cheese bar – Casellula. Great wine and.. you guessed it.. Pork Ass sandwiches.  Small, not the prettiest bar but the food more than makes up for it.  Just leave it to them to make you a cheese and meat assortment with some vino and enjoy those asses

Bar/Gastropub – Brickyard.  “Bout bloody time” says a random Irish site visitor.  Dont know why it took me so long to add this to the list.  To me this is more of a true Gastropub than the Spotted Pig, the mother of the NYC Gastropub scene.  A bar first, restaurant second.  Claire, the perky (I mean personality wise, not…) bartender will take good care of your drinking and Sports needs.  Over 20 craft beers on tap, wall to wall screens, and food that is pretty darn good for a bar.  Build your own burger, includes a leaner but deadly Bison patty.  And the truffle fries here are more addictive than at the popular Umami downtown

Bar/Gastropub – Shorty’s.  Calling this a Gastropub may be a stretch, but you do come here for the Philly Cheesesteak.  I’ve had it in Philadelphia, and I can assure you that this is the real deal.  Same bread (arrives daily from “Le Bus” in Philly and finish baked in house), same steaks, same Whiz, same style, same everything.  Owner apparently was part owner of the great Tony Luke’s in Philly.  If you never had one, you are in for a messy treat.

Burger – Island Burger and shakes. Great burger, and you guessed it… Churrascos (chicken breast sandwiches).  I tried many burgers in the area and took many bad ones for the team, but those guys always do it right.  There’s a huge menu of different combinations.  I like the Barzel’s but your best bet is to try what looks good to you, or ask the waiter.

Farm to Table – The Marshal.  One of the most exciting additions to the neighborhood in recent years.  They have a relationship with 14 local farms whose ingredients fill much of the seasonal menu.  Just about everything they do, they do well.  From the terrific french loaf, to the meatloaf and roast chicken, to the ice cream sundae. Ditch the diner and go to this neighborhood spot to experience American cuisine at its finestThe Marshal - Meatloaf

Pizza

NY Slice – Sacco.  An old timer.  No 99 cent slices here (more like $2.50), but a NY slice as good as it gets

Slices – Merilu.  My kind of family.  Merilu from Torino dishes out great thin slices along with her kids while the dad just eats the stuff.  Come on Friday or Saturday to try Merilu’s excellent meatballs

Neapolitan Pizza – Don Antonio.  Opened by two Naples veterans who know a thing or 3 about pizza.  One of them also owns the popular Keste in the village.  Try the slightly fried Montanara that no one else does, and my fave Diavola boasting the best sopressata in town.

Pies – Capizzi.  A solid alternative to the Don Antonio, John’s craziness and perhaps the closest thing to a pizza parlor you can only find in the outer boroughs.  The ingredients speak for themselves, like the bright, fresh tomato sauce and the extra meaty pepperoni and sausagesCapizzi

Latin

Empanadas – Empanada Mama (Closed for now due to fire) – Empanadas are like little patties, and should be on everyone’s area walking tour.  Try the spicy chicken, the meaty Brazil, and before you try the Viagra make sure there’s ample space between you and the person in front of you.  Hmmm, this sounded much funnier in my head.

Ecuadorian – Nano.  This hole in the wall on 10th has some serious “nona” action going for it.  An “I cant believe this is not Peruvian” Ecuadorian has joined Lali and the rest of the growing latin gang in the immediate area.  Try the homey Caldo de Bola soup which made the Best Soups in HK cut.  For lunch you got various deals that include the Seco de Pollo, chicken strips in a mild but pleasant gravy, and Sango de Res, beef in a soup like green plantain sauce, among all kinds of other surprises

Peruvian – Inti.  10th ave is the new 9th ave.  Can someone go here please? Anyone?  Bueller?  Its always empty during lunch for some reason and it would be a real shame if it closes.  A Pio Pio alumni with a twist.  And the twist being empty ceviche.  Great looking and tasting Ceviche Mixto (below), Fresh fish chunks, shrimp, octopus and calamari with red onions, cilantro and rocoto hot pepper.  Add sweet potatoes for much needed contrast and the traditional baby corn and you got yourself a winner.  Or try the always reliable Rotisserie chicken

Inti Ceviche

Peruvian/Large Groups – Pio Pio.   Ok, I give up.  Pio Pio is a chain.  In fact I think the official name for this one is Pio Pio 8, or something like that.  It’s also not the best Peruvian in the area (Inti gets my vote), and it wont win any James Beard or Z-List awards any time soon.  But whenever I’m asked the question I loath the most by my employer.  A last minute place for a large group that is not only affordable but will make everyone happy, this is the first place that comes to mind.  Good drinks, rotisserie chickens, and much more.

Dominican – Lali.    Read this while listening to this.  Ready? Lets go.  Home cooking cant get any more homey than this.  Small, Diner-ish, Reggaeton music blasting in the background to help you chew and move, and the two lovely nonnas serving including Mrs Lali herself.  You get what’s available today which will normally include some sort of stew, chicken, or ribs.  Go for the braised chicken if available, or the beef stew, with rice and beans of course.  Breakfast and lunch only

Mexican – Tacuba.  I realize that there’s a better chance seeing Lindsay Lohan win an Oscar than seeing tourists (without guides) in one of those last remaining bodegas/hole in the walls deeper in the area.  This is the latest from Julian Medina of Toloache fame. And everything I’ve tried so far from the octopus sandwich for lunch to the Carnitas for dinner suggests GO!

Tacos – Tehuitzingo.  Skip the fine dining Mexican here and try a Bodega, a Mexican deli that also happen to serve some nasty stuff.  Some of the best bodegas in town just happened to be in Hell’s Kitchen.  Try tacos like the Al Pastor and tortas from any of the two convenient Tehuitzingo locations.  Update:  Recent renovations has made this one less bodegaish

Tacos – Otto’s Tacos.  The first addition I didn’t even need to try.  I’m well too familiar with their East Village spot, and those shrimp tacos (hmmm, how you doing!).  But I did of course had my fix on day two of this most important Hell’s Kitchen opening since Gotham West.

Miscellaneous

Ethiopian – Meske.  This is a fun place for groups.  Just order a bunch of plates and watch them create the plate of dreams.  Use the spongy Injera bread below to scoop up all those goodies.  Queen of Sheba practically next door also worth consideringMeske

BBQ – Daisy Mays.  After a 5 year hiatus I’ve decided to check it out again to see if its HKSG worthy and looks like it is.  Well, barely.  Not so much of an endorsement I know but if you are looking for delicious ribs, while its not the best BBQ in town, its satisfying.  And as is the case with everything in life, Dry Rub over Wet.

Chicken Over Rice Guy – 11th and 51st (Northwest corner).  Every neighborhood has a favorite chicken over rice guy.  This one is mine.  Try the chicken over rice!

Farmer’s Markets – Stiles on 52nd is a tiny market with a big heart and Outer Boroughs prices.  You also have the 57th st Greenmarket on 57th and 9th open Wednesdays and Saturdays from about mid April to December.  What fantastic timing on my part, eh?

Diners.  Westway is the classic, Georgio’s Country Grill the not so classic, and Renaissance is somewhere in between.  All 3 offer your no frill basic diner fare.

Bakeries/Cafes/Sandwiches

Sandwiches – City Sandwich.  Sorry I have to use that “one of the city’s best” again.  From Naples to Lisbon to the huge Portuguese community in Jersey, comes some of the best bread in the area, with some of the most unusual ingredients like blood pudding, sandwiches worthy of a run-on sentence.  Just try to study the huge menu ahead of time so you dont feel pressured or confused once there.  I like some of the egg sandwiches (egg based sandwiches got its own section) like Bench Girl, and of course the only on Tuesday, porky Roberto

Bakery – Sullivan Street Bakery.  Talking about no brainers. Another “One of the best in town” and the source to many top restaurant’s bread baskets like Scarpetta and Maialino.  Try some of the bread, the spectacular Canottos (the sweet ones), Bombolonis (donuts on crack), and the chocolate almond croissants.  Many love their pizzas but its the other stuff that makes me go there almost weekly these daysSullivan Street Bakery

Café/BakeryBibble & Sip.  One of the new kids on the wrong side of the block.  Technically just outside of HK but deliciousness sees no borders!  A place where you can unwind and BS all you want (it says so right on their logo).  The Earl Grey Banana Bread is quickly gaining neighborhood fame.  Add the Earl Grey Panna Cotta (notice a theme?), Matcha Cream puffs, scones, the morning egg sliders and all sorts of rotating daily goodies.

Café – Café Ole.  Click on the Reggaeton link for this one as well.  This hole in the wall has been here for some time now and the place I probably frequent the most for quick simple lunch.  Delicious sandwiches, paninis, soups and my go to place for fresh salads.  And then you have Anna the owner who will teach you how to salsa by the time your order is ready.

Café – Rex.  The new kid on the block and by kid I mean Rex, the hardest working baker in HK.  And only 3 years old!  Ok, not really, he’s 4 now!  Ok, not really again, his father helps out a little but still.  Great coffee, scones, and muffins like the Morning Glory.

Bagels – Pick-A-Bagel.  Ess got nothing on these guys.  This is by far my favorite bagel place in the area, and trust me I’ve looked.  A good place to try the walnut raisin spread but I normally go for a simple bagel with butter.  Muffins are great in size and taste, and the only place that has Ziggy’s fave banana nut.  Its a great concept:  You say “Bagel” and they pick one for you.  🙄

Sweets

Chocolates – Kee’s.  What happens when you leave your corporate job to follow your dream and open what eventually becomes one of NY’s finest chocolate shops?  You open another one, and another one, and on 39th st in Hell’s Kitchen.  Creamy explosion, the words that come to mind once you chew on one of the 50 or so truffles and chocolates.  Top notch craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap.  But still, a good option after lunch at Mercato, Larb Ubol, or Capizzi.  Or before dinner, whatever takes.

Pies – Little Pie Company.  While everyone is obsessing with cheesecakes, those in the know come here for the insane Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie.  When I was walking home on my birthday earlier this year, guess what I picked up on the way.  Laundry!  But then…

Healthy

Healthy Fast Food – Reviver.  Delicious seasonal, low calorie items in a fast food setting.Reviver Mahi

Healthy – Mooncake Foods – The Asian version of Reviver, and more.  Exceptional sandwiches, bowls, and soups like the award winning Shanghai Pork & Shrimp Wonton

Just a Bit Outside

Best HK dining that’s not actually in HK – A new category for theater goers and those who want to experience some of NY’s finest that happened to be just outside the area.  Consider Lincoln, Ma Peche, Marea, The NoMad, Betony

There are more slightly less desirable options which I will not include but there you have it.  Stay hungry my friends!Mercato

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Moldova – Mamaliga Bliss in Brooklyn

MoldovaWhile you are Googling Mamaliga, some facts about its origin and mine.  The Republic of Moldova is nicely nestled between behemoths Ukraine and Romania.  According to National Geographic the people of Moldova are the saddest people in the world.  Coincidentally, the happiest people are supposedly ex-Moldovans.  Well, something both of you readers may not have realized but according to my bio, I, Ziggy, am one of those proud ex-Moldovans.

I was born in Kishinev, the capital but only because the city we lived in, Argeyev (aka the second saddest city in the world) didn’t have much of a hospital.  Sadly (dah!) I dont really have many food memories, so whenever I talk about Ratatouille Moments they are definitely not from childhood.  We were lucky to just get essentials like toilet paper and vodka.   All my fondest memories were about getting in trouble.  When I was about 5 years old, I discovered what every normal Moldovan child discovers at this age..  Nicotine!  So I started smoking (this is a true story btw) mainly socially, never at home, and never more than a pack a day (ok, although true I’m exaggerating just a bit).  I was smoking until the day I decided to smoke one at home in the balcony (in the saddest country in the world, kids are left home alone at a very early age).  To make a long story short, my grandma came home, found the cigarette, told my dad, I peed a little when he called my name but all he did was tell me not to do it again (he may have been proud of me).  Well, I havent smoked since.  Besides wearing a patch to day care (aka the second saddest day care in the world.  Our daily highlight was to go outside and look at the giant factory pipes) for the first month as a 6 year old, quitting was surprisingly easy.  So whenever my friend Joel boasts about how he’s cigarette-free for 14 months or whatever that number is now, I always say the same thing… “36 YEARS!!”

With that said, I may be more familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine than Moldovan, I think.  I never really thought about what Moldovan food really is as I always assumed its pretty much like Russian (with some Romanian influence) food and I still sort of do to an extent.

I went to Moldova the newish restaurant in Brooklyn with a large group last week.  Everything ordered was family style so I didn’t even look at the menu.  In true Russian form, they start you off with a large array of salads where a nice Babaganoush-like eggplant salad was one of the standouts. But the most memorable app was the Fasolita, a yummy mashed bean paste with roasted onions and oil.  I never heard of it and pretty sure they invented the name.

Moldova - MamaligaBut you come here for the Mamaliga.  Polenta on steroids!  Our family style version was a massive piece of cornmeal, but what you would normally get is a smaller piece of Mamaliga in the middle of a plate surrounded by an assortment of meat, cheese, sour cream, and egg. In our case it was more like a glorified side dish to compliment the mixed grill consisting mainly of 2 things.  Mititei is something I grill at home on occasion. It’s a mix of ground beef, pork, lamb with herbs and spices rolled into a hotdog size kebabs.  Unless you overcook them it comes out really nice and juicy and this was cooked right.  And so was the Costita, basically a nicely spiced pork chop and this one was very flavorful.  Very often with large groups those things come out dry but here it was nice and moist.
Dessert of cherry and prunes with nuts blintses was a nice finish although missing some ice cream perhaps.  A terrific meal overall.  Although the cuisine doesn’t deviate much from the regular Russian fair, everything was prepared well and tasted great.  And the lively environment is a nice reminder that you are not in Moldova anywhere.  Although I do hope things are different there nowadays, and 5 year olds have a tougher time finding cigarettesMoldova - Mixed grill Moldova - dessert Moldova Moldova1
Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

The NoMad – Chronicles of a Chicken

NoMad ChickenThe war is still ongoing.  Hours before our dinner reservations at the NoMad I asked the trusted folks at the Chowhound forum the simple question: “To Chicken or not to Chicken”.  Meaning, should I order their famous chicken dish considering…

a) It costs $79 (its for 2)

b) Its Chicken

Well, the overwhelming response was Yes, with a few Nos (including a resounding No 2 weeks after I already had it), and 1 “order what you feel like”.  Considering chicken is not exactly something I’m ever in the mood for, I needed a little help with this one.NoMad Chicken white

The NoMad, not to be confused with Nomad (you see the difference?  These are in fact 2 different restaurants in NYC) is a 1 year old Daniel Humm and Will Guidara venture at the NoMad hotel.  Eleven Madison Park light if you will (same duo behind that).   Once inside there’s no mistaking that you are dining in a hotel.  Your look most likely will determine the room they will sit you at.  Apparently we look like ladies who lunch!  Since it was sort of early (5:30 mind you, before Vanya, Pasha, Boris..er whatever its called.  I don’t subscribe to the “you must eat in the theater district before a show” policy), there was plenty of light out, and with that glass ceiling this room was very well lit.  For a while it felt like we were moved from one waiting room to a fancier waiting room.  But I didn’t mind it so much.  Within 30 minutes or so were suddenly surrounded with tourists, so I guess they confused us for ” tourist ladies who lunch” or something like that.NoMad bread

But the food was quite good.  They start you off with their terrific freshly baked Focaccia-like flatbread with rosemary, sage, and a little bit of salt.  Toppings change seasonally.  This is perhaps as good as it gets as far as restaurant bread goes.  Tagliatelle with king crab, lemon and black pepper was savory, with plenty of meaty crab to go around.  But the egg stole the app show.  Poached with asparagus, brown butter and quinoa, holy smokes it was good!  The asparagus alone is worth the price of admission, and that grainy quinoa really tied everything together beautifully.  Fantastic dish, as I say to the swedes to the right.NoMad Tagliatelle

And then came the main event.  They first present you the whole cooked chicken like a fine bottle of wine.  I sniff it from both sides and enthusiastically approve.  They take the bird away and bring it back carved for 2, with a nice plate of dark meat with garlic espuma (foamy light garlic goodness) to share.  The chicken was divine.  Perfectly crispy skin, moist juicy white meat, along with some foie gras and black truffles (all cooked) nicely tucked beneath the skin.  Each bite of that combination together was a Tour de Force.  French couple on the left agrees.  With that kind of hoopla over an expensive dish as such, nothing less than the best chicken ever was expected, and it was.  Well done NoMad people!

Desserts were fine as well.  Although the famous Milk and Honey was the only underwhelming of the evening.  The chocolate dessert was more like it.  A spectacular meal overall.  Weird setting but food prevailed to save the day.NoMad Egg NoMad chicken dark NoMad Milk and Honey NoMad Chocolate NoMad Cappuccino

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Best Thai in Hell – Pure Thai Cookhouse

Pure Thai - Beef Pad Prik KhingThis is the first of a series of posts about the best food in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood in Midtown West, NYC.  I already posted about the Best Pizza in the area, but this is the first individual restaurant posting out of many to come.

A quick stroll on 9th avenue, the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, brings up 2 questions.  Why am I craving for Bourekas, and why are there so many Thai places around.  There must be at least 100 of them, not to mention all the ones on 10th avenue nearby.  Ant to top it you also have entire franchises nestled in there.  Wondee Siam 2 is almost across from the original (I prefer the newer space and food).  Yum Yum 1, Yum Yum 2, and Yum Yum 3 are all right next to each other.  Yum Yum 2 recently represented the Yum Yums in the 9th avenue food festival and I’m not sure why Yum Yum 1 and Yum Yum 3 were absent from the event or the reason Yum Yum 2 was representing instead of Yum Yum 1.  But I digress

I tried many of the Thai spots over the years, but since I discovered Pure, the “trying” part shifted to trying every item on Pure’s menu.  Pure to me is purer Thai than the rest.  Not only it feels you are in a foreign country once you enter (its slightly bigger than a shoe box, a hers and hers closet f you will.  Yes thats what we call it in our house.  I recently lost 2 more shelves to her shoes. I’m lucky I got something left), but the menu doesn’t boast the regular American Thai dishes you see everywhere else.  You don’t see the usual green/red curry, drunken noodles, pad dishes that just about every single spot on 9th got (although I enjoy them from time to time like the excellent Kee Mao in Kare Thai on 10th).  What you do get in Pure is all sorts of complex flavors leading to a Pure culinary ecstasy.   Here are some of my favorites…

Pure ThaiBeef Pad Prik Khing & Crab Meat Omelette (top picture) – This is my a new favorite discovered on a recent visit with my friend Alex.  Its not on the menu but often appears on the board as a special.  Tender, limey, juicy, super flavorful beef cubes with long bean, and sugar snap peas, with this beautiful crab and scallion omelette sitting on a bed of Jasmine rice which was absolutely perfect with the light curry sauce.  Fantastic dish all around and worthy of a run-on sentence!

Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles.  These guys are serious about their homemade noodles, and this is one dish to sample it.

All kinds of fabulous Wok action:

Curry Paste with Pork,  Chili Pepper with Chicken, Cashew Nuts with Shrimp, Chili Turmeric with Beef (Below. Very tasty with plenty of heat)

One particular rice/noodle dish I like is the Jungle Curry fried rice with Chicken – fairly spicy so use caution.

Many of the dishes especially with 3 stars next to the names are not for the faint of heart but you can also ask them to reduce the heat level.  Remember what I said about authentic?  Authentic translates to Thai spicy (vs American Thai spicy).  Its BYOM – Bring Your Own Milk spicy so watch out with those starred attractions., and enjoy Pure Thai Cookhouse in Hell’s Kitchen  Pure - Beef Turmeric

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why I dont write negative reviews

photo (38)Have you ever played “Find the Falafel”? No?  Here’s how the game goes…  You buy a falafel sandwich from the new kid on the block for an amazingly low price of $3.50 (about half the price of a competitor), and then while eating the falafel, you… you guessed it… try to find the falafel.  How many bites of seeing “green” (as in leaves) you go through until you see brown (as in Falafel).  The $3.50 Falafel I had a few months ago won easily with an astonishing 5 bites of seeing nothing but spinach.

The game is actually less excising than it sounds. While I was shaving one day I thought about writing a post called “Find The Falafel” where I chronicle this eating event and name this new neighborhood gem.  But then I figured whats the point really, and I didn’t take any pictures anyway.  Maybe this was the cooks first day on the job.  Maybe the real cook is out on maternity leave (this actually happened to me), maybe they are having a falafel shortage crisis at the moment.  Maybe the real cook just collapsed after enduring a long week of sleepless nights after a gang of the 17 year cicadas invaded his neighborhood.  Who knows really

But that’s not all.  This site to me is all about providing food ideas for readers.  Not food ideas to avoid in a city with over 30,000 restaurants.  Anges from Little Rock reading this blog before her first visit to NYC is looking for food ideas. I don’t think she needs to know that “Famous Falafel” in the East Village (Not a real place) needs to be avoided.  BTW how do they get away with injecting the word “Famous” in a brand new place.  Isnt that an oxy-moron?  There are a lot of “Famous Falafels”, “Famous Pizza”, and “Famous Pharmacy” in NYC

photo (37)This burger was the latest “taking one for the team” mishap while trying something new in Hells Kitchen, and the main motivation behind this post.  “Would you like it medium sir?”  “YES!” sensing that they know what medium is, being a French influenced establishment with a French accent cook/server.  And everyone knows that the French tend to undercook and I will most likely get medium rare which is how I really want it.  The result:  WELL DONE!  Oh well.  Its probably the Cicadas.

BTW, not to go off topic… well actually this is not a particularly exciting topic… so do go off topic.  The Cicadas I see are now dying.  What a difference a week makes.  One week you hear them singing, or sirening, or whatever their sound is called.  It sounds like a weird siren.  You see them walking around together, not flying, simply walking every evening, a cicada Passeggiata if you will (Italian nightly stroll).  They fly into people, really acting as if they own the place.  And now you see them dead on the ground or dying, like this poor fellow pictured above, who was on his back before I turned him around.  He was found right in front of my kid’s school.  The entire scene looked like a scene from Saving Private Ryan with dying cicadas everywhere.  See you in 17 years guys!

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

Ziggy does West Village

Dominique Ansel“Its 10:00 PM do you know where your children are?”  One of the perks of living in America.  Television, not only brings us great entertainment and news, and Kardashians, but it also helps us with the daily challenges we as parents face.  Laundry, food shopping, making sure you didn’t forget the kids somewhere, work, cooking, remembering that you have kids, bills, Facebook politics, are just some of things we need to constantly worry about.  So thank goodness we have our broadcasting system to remind us that a) We didn’t forget our kids in Home Depot,  and/or  b) We have kids, and at this moment we have no idea where the hell they are and its for our benefit as a family to find out where they are at this late hour.  Maybe call them or something?

“Its 10:00 PM and you have just decided to take a day off tomorrow to spend the entire day in the city with the family.  Do you know where you will eat?”.  Sleepless night follows.  If only my kids were missing instead!  Woke up next morning and had about 90 minutes to come up with some sort of a plan that involves eating, drinking, site seeing, and walking (a lot of walking – sort of a test drive before the big Italy trip.  Test drive failed.  With all the current cool inventions we get these days you would think they would invent comfortable shoes for women by now).  Hence, the second annual Father’s Day Eating With Ziggy in a NY neighborhood.  Last year it was the East Village.  This time we move cross town, all the way to the West Village and Soho.  And since we cant do it on Fathers Day this year, we did it a few days earlier.

We started with the one place just outside of the area, The Anne Frank Center.  It feels sort of odd to mention this place in this post and context but it was indeed the first stop.  Although we were somewhat underwhelmed by the small center since we visited Yad Vashem, and the actual house in Amsterdam, we were impressed by the amount of history packed here.  It seams like the focus here is on bullying and discrimination, things kids today can relate to.  There’s a 25 minute video which we missed.  If you cant make it to Amsterdam and you have kids, it may be a good idea to pay a visit

We moved on to the Soho area and the first food stop, Dean And Deluca, one of New Yorks premier food stores.  Really a pioneer in its industry.  We sampled some delicious spicy Gumbo, and a lentil soup.

Dutch - BurgerWe then visited The Dutch, a 2 year old with a menu that falls neither here nor there hence “American” but since it deviates from your normal “neither here nor there” its “New American”.  From the team that owns Locanda Verde, the Library at the Public, and the newly opened Lafayette who’s generating all kinds of buzz now.  The food was good.  The Dutch is known for some of the best Fried Chicken in town and it did not disappoint.  Lightly fried, not greasy whatsoever, perfectly crispy exterior and a  juicy delicious interior.  Ducth - PastaThe burger with the 28 day aged beef from the legendary Pat LaFrieda (Minetta Tavern’s Black Label) was perfectly cooked, flavorful, and their tangy secret sauce provided even more palate excitement.  Not as thrilling as the Black Label, but not bad at all.  Malfatti pasta was ok.  Sort of a cross between open faced ravioli and broken lasagna sheets with spring peas, bacon and pesto sauce.  Although the pesto was mostly at the bottom and wasnt very evident at first, so perhaps a bad mixing job.  Although Malfatti basically means “badly made” so I guess it was a success?

Dutch - Chicken

UPDATE:  Yesterday I saw this feature on the cooking channel about the Dutch.  http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/videos/the-dutch-roots-cooking.html

Before lunch we enjoyed the walk toward D&C, especially some of the architecture on Greene street.  We passed the site of the “Massacre of the Butchers” where in 1854 the Butcher housing complex on Greene street was targeted by an angry mob of NYU students demanding better cuts for lunch (look I’m not a tour guide and my history of the area ranges from shaky to none existent so I had to make stuff up and make it sound interesting and slightly terrifying.  They bought most of it, especially the little one)

Dominique AnselMore stuffed than I was hoping we move a couple of blocks south to Dominique Ansel.  If DA wasnt the most famous bakery in NYC before, perhaps now it is after their latest invention, the Cronut.  Ansel, formerly with Daniel keeps coming up with sugary inventions from time to time but I dont recall every seeing a craze like with this Croissant/Donut thing.  It takes them 3 days and a lot of man power to make the Cronut.  The batch went from 30 items to 300 in a relatively short time, and you may have a better chance getting one of the oh so many copycats than the real thing   Dominique AnselThe lines start forming at around 7 am, an hour before open, and so if you count 150 people standing on line, you are not guaranteed to get one with the 2 Cronuts per person maximum rule.  I fully expected them to be out of the Cronut when we showed up around 2, but I didnt expect them to be out of so many other items they are known for, i.e., the DKA and the Paris-NY.  But we still enjoyed a chocolate croissant, a chocolate mousse cake and some mango/coconut tart thingy – I think that’s what its called.Dominique AnselDominique Ansel

ArchWe proceeded to walk on Thompson street toward Washington Square Park.  Thompson street is known to me at least for its chess shops/clubs although I learned that the oldest one, the chess forum has closed doors 6 months ago after being open for 40 years.  It looks like there’s only one chess club left.  One of those NYC nostalgic things going extinct.  The park was buzzing with life as usual with many musicians and youngsters.  One of New York’s icons, the Washing Square Arch standing there in all its glory, built of course in honor of Horace Washington, the lone surviving butcher who triumphly (is this a word.  oh well.. see tagline on top) escaped to this area riding a NY pedicab

While eating at The Dutch I got a return call from the Forbes Galleries that they are open today (Officially on Thursdays they are open only for private tours).  To be honest I had forgotten that this free hidden gem is not as gem filled as it used to be.  During the economic downturn the Forbes family has sold a big chunk of its collection including the Faberge eggs.  For the most part now the gallery features the great cartoonist Ronald Searle, who spent about 4 years in a Japanese prison during WWII.  Some rooms included Searle’s drawings along with poems by Robert Forbes.  Another room had “Space Jewelry” which was interesting.  But the highlight for me was seeing an old friend who still works for Forbes who came down to see us (I used to work for Forbes.com).  The realization that it was working hours and I’m at a place I used to work for resulted in a very quick exit.

Jefferson Market LibraryWe then moved on to the Jefferson Market Library, a courthouse in the 1800’s, and a public library today.  This is one of New York’s least known and underrated landmarks.  The tower of course is known as the site where Horace Washington leaped to his death after accumulating a large gambling debt and losing a fortune during the market crash (last one I promise)

TaimA few blocks away we reach another underrated historic NY landmark, Taim Falafel.  Pronounced Ta-eem which means “tasty” in Hebrew, this is one of the best and certainly most popular falafels in the city.  I have been here a few times before.  While there are some falafels in town like Azuri in midtown that may give Taim a run for its money for their sandwiches,  there’s no question in my mind that Taim’s platter is more impressive than Azuri and many others.  Pita with Za’atar (nice touch) and 9 (small) falafel balls along with hummus, tabbouleh and fresh Israeli salad.  However, I again voiced my objection to the way they spell S’hug, a Yemenite hot spread that I love.  For some reason they spell it S’rug with an R.  The English language is complicated enough.  Why make more unnecessary complications.  Mayor Bloomberg, are you reading?Taim falafel

FriendsWalking toward downtown we pass the “Friend’s Apartment“.  Just the building they used to show before each Friend’s episode.  Or was it???  The girls were not interested in the Fire House Museum I had planned (women schwomen, you know what I’m saying..)but were extremely interested in “one of the best chocolate chip cookies” in the city courtesy of Jacques Torres.  My youngest, the cookie monster of the family was not impressed, and certainly not impressed by the hot chocolate.  I drank some and it was so rich almost to the point of being undrinkable.  Not rich in a good way.

I had a few more ideas like RedFarm as another snack but everyone got fairly tired and so we opted for a terrifying cab ride back to the car.  So there you have it.  Perhaps not exactly as planned, but it was nice to be out with the family… a well fed one…  well for another 2 hours or so until I had to order sushi

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Costata – Fiamma Part Deux

Costata - Ribeye10 years ago if you were to ask me what are my favorite NY restaurants, I would probably mention Union Square Cafe, Blue Water Grill, Gotham, Gramercy Tavern, and my neighborhood Chili’s (Yes thats right Chili’s.  In the burbs those ribs are the best thing you can get).  Now, although those places are still alive and kicking, I’ve moved on and havent been since.  But one place in particular could have become more of a regular for us if it hadnt closed so prematurely, Michael White’s first restaurant, Fiamma.  I don’t recall why they closed it.  It only got a Michelin star and perhaps more importantly 3 New York Times stars.

10 years later, the boy is now a man.  I’m talking about sir Michael White, not Ziggy (I still on occasion cry during Family Guy).  White, is now an owner.  An owner of 5 restaurants including Ai Fiori and the amazing Marea. (Seriously have you seen the episode where stewy and Brian are stuck in the bank?  That was pure emotion).  Michael White’s 5th restaurant is 3 week old Costata at the same space as former Fiamma.  Naturally, I couldn’t wait much and the result was a glorious meal of the year, and one of the most memorable meals we’ve had in NYCMe and Michael

Inside right away it felt like being in the old Fiamma.  But one of the first things we noticed was the number of employees around us.  It felt like a factory.  Perhaps they don’t want to take any chances in the first few weeks with all the newspaper critics and (ahem) Ziggys visiting.  In fact the main manager came over to us mentioning that she saw me taking pictures outside with my fancy new camera, and at first I though I was in trouble, but she assured me that its more than ok and I can take all the pictures I want.  So I got a little carried away taking pictures everywhere including with my new best friend Michael White (we bonded while exchanging Hummus recipes)

Costata is as if Marea, Scarpetta and Minetta Tavern got together and made a beautiful baby boy named Tommy.  Like Minetta, its a steakhouse with a twist.  The twist being great crudo and pastas.

And we started with that amazing Crudo.  The scallops with truffle vinaigrette in particular was a stunner and a dish of the year nominee.  Buttery, melt in your mouth goodness, and with that amazing but not overpowering truffle sauce was a thing of beauty.  Picture perfect razor clams were great as well.  With bits of sopressata (wow) and fennel mixed in with the ceviched clams.  Brought us back to the awesome razor clams in Venice a few years back.  Great startCostata - ScallopsCostata - Razor Clams

Pastas were more than satisfying.  The Lumache Carbonara was probably the winner for me.  Although the pasta didn’t have that Lumache “snail” shape.  Like Orecchiette (shape like baby ear) and other pastas the Italians call it as they see it.  Though, I’m not quite sure about their motivation behind the Strozzapreti which means priest stranglers!  Did someone envision a pasta shape while watching a poor priest being strangled?  The Cavatelli with tender juicy oxtail was another winner. The Old favorite Garganelli Alla Fiamma with light truffle cream, the only remaining dish from Fiamma, was still good but I preferred the others a  bit more.Costata - lumache Costata - Cavatelli Costata - garganelli

Then came the main event.  One of the most flavorful steaks I ever had. A mammoth 44oz $120 Tomahawk Ribeye cooked to perfection.  We asked for medium (wife demands) so I was a little worried that they would overcook the beast but it came out perfect medium rare for the most part (or “real” medium in high end dining).  Black truffle butter was the choice (extra $3) and sides of fries and asparagus ($10 each) complimented nicely.  But the steak, OMG the steak, basted beautifully with a rosemary brush was so addictively delicious that I kept getting lost in the moment forgetting the sides.  Its almost a cliché but this is probably the best steak we ever had

Desserts were great as well.  Enjoyed the Meringa (another Kodak moment) but the Semifreddo with the Rum Raisin stole the show.  Kids loved the chocolate tart.Costata - Meringa Costata - Rum Raisin Costata - Chocolate

As expected the service was top notch and very knowledgeable (some veterans from Minetta Tavern and Lincoln) as you would expect in a place like this.  Jokingly I offered to pay with my Minetta tavern gift card I got from friends for our 20th anniversary (thanks guys if you reading, and even if you are not).  I could have really used a card here as this turned out much pricier than anticipated (just north of $400 with tip, including 2 drinks)

So yes, meal of the year and highly recommend Costata.  Now if you excuse me, Family Guy is on.  Where are the tissues.

Costata Costata

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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