Monthly Archives: April 2016

Provo – Food for Thought 2015

Leaving on yet another eating assignment. Here’s a clue…

Eating With Ziggy

Caicos Cafe - Grilled Calamari Caicos Cafe – Grilled Calamari

Another fun eating trip on the island we call Providenciales.  The weather was a mixed bag of sun, clouds, wind and seaweed.  An island version of Guess is in the works, where you try to guess which hotel got the seaweed this morning.  February may not be the best month to experience Grace Bay at her best, but its the best month to escape the Gotham frozen tundra, among many other reasons.  We are back rejuvenated, even if a little bruised.  The seas were angry for much of the week, and the palapas were just standing there.  “Why the scar?  Did you belong to a gang?  Tough childhood? ”  “Nope.  Ran into a  a palapa”.

As I stated in the past I dont write negative reviews for various reasons.  One of which is the increased cost of Krav Maga trained body guards these days (my depandant duo unexpectedly…

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Ssam Bar Earns 3 More


Ssam Bar - Skate

January 18th, 2018 Update: 

Michelin season came and went, generating the usual fanfare and excitement, essential preventing most from noticing the more important stars being distributed.  Around the same time, Momofuku Ssam Bar received 3 New Your Times Stars from Pete Wells, and only those in the restaurant industry got the memo.  In fact I was told about it a few months ago by another chef when we talked about the all important subject of Skate (fish).  The conversation led to Ssam Bar whose Skate helped earn the coveted stars.

The Skate is perhaps the biggest addition to the menu by Singapore born Max Ng who took over the helm last year.  Its essentially a revolving door of Momofukus graduating from Ko to run the babies, Ssam, Nishi, Ma Peche, before moving on to other ventures around the world.  You also get a sense of maturation these days, as the chief Fuku Mr Chang swaying from the idea of “if the food is good, they will come no matter what”, making Nishi and Ssam a lot more comfortable these days.  Gone are the days of sharing a cramped communal table while studying the latest techniques in dish washing through a mountain of napkins.

Ssam Bar - Ham

And the food is of course the same old inventive awesomeness.  Good enough in fact to earn three more hard earned stars from the chief editor of EWZ.  Not sure what took me so long to finally try their Country Ham.  Benton’s ham from Madisonville, TN was silky and salty alright, but the accompanied gravy with hints of espresso is enough reason to order a plate of Ham at Ssam Bar.  Max’s additions like “Curry & Potatoes” with burrata, spinach, and Garam Marsala seasoning was more restrained for a Fuku establishment but still pleasant to the palate.  When you finish it, you wish for some naan to properly scoop the leftovers.  Roasted Cauliflower came surprisingly whole and flaky covered with just enough porky and lardo vinaigrette to keep it interesting.  The Fried Sunchokes with eggs was a little bit more dull in comparison.

And then came the main events.  The off menu rice cakes with the spicy ragu.  The rice cakes got crunchier, and the ragu less spicy over the years, but this is still a must order.  The grilled Flatiron was cooked to medium rare perfection, and probably the star with the family.  They liked it more than the Skate.  It arrived sitting on a banana leaf covered with shrimp Belacan, a funky fermented Malaysian shrimp paste.  A little too much funk for my women, so I was enjoying most of it by myself.  The smell, unlike from similar pastes like XO, is slightly off-putting, but the flavors are there.  Although I found better results when combining the Skate meat with the porky ragu from the rice cakes.  I’m ready for my Ko internship.

No dessert on this one since we are eating with the girls a mile within Spot Dessert Bar.

Ssam Bar Porgy

April 19, 2016 Post:

Servers have a tough job.  We learn more and more the more we dine.  For example, ever wonder when servers are asked “what’s good here”, they often stumble or tell you to get the most expensive dish.  The correct answer is actually the stumble, usually indicative of the “if its not good, it wouldnt be on the menu”.  But often enough, the best dish is in fact its most expensive.  Whether its the use of expensive ingredients, popularity, labor intensive, the reasons are numerous.  Servers are not stupid.  They already know all about the “Oh, he’s probably saying that to get a bigger tip”, and all the rest of them.  Which is yet another reason for the hesitations

At the last meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar I didnt ask the server “what’s good here” because I already had a good idea from previous visits, and Chowhound chatter.  The only questions I asked the server centered around the most expensive dish, the whole boneless Porgy.  “How were the bones removed”, “What’s in the green sauce”, “where did the Porgy come from”, “What was his name”.  An instant classic that blew us away like no other whole fish before.

This Long Island sound Porgy shows up in all her glory, with head and teeth and all.  Except for the main bone that was surgically removed.  The fish is dressed with the momofuku signature ginger scallion sauce which made Mrs Z take note.  One bite, and you can tell this is not your average grilled branzino.  Another bite and its an entire Havah Nagilla rendition in your mouth.  By the 5th bite, you want to run around with scissors, naked.  And then at around the 5th inning, you feel you must try the accompanied lettuce, and tortillas to make fish wraps.  You experiment by adding some pickled bean sprouts, some cabbage, and creme fraiche, and you are suddenly the world’s greatest fish taco maker.  The fish comes with all these goodies in “Ssam” style (“Ssam” essentially means everything  you need to make wraps)Ssam Bar Buns

The Porgy and the rest of the meal help cement this one, not only as part the Z-List, but as one of my favorite restaurants in NYC.  Maybe top 5.   The signature steamed buns are perhaps better then Ippudo’s me thinks now (making a historic change of mind).  The spicy sausage with rice cakes is another signature that continues to please.  The spring menu featuring the scrumptious Broccolini with thinly sliced beef tongue and egg is adds more joy.  The Porgy is $42 but can easily feed two.  Add the rice cakes, pork buns, Broccolini, and you got yourself a great meal for under $150.  The only forgettable dish this time was the Octopus salad.  No much wrong there, just average octopus

The only thing I have to mention here is that Ssam Bar will not win any comfort awards, especially if you are two people.  You will sit at a long communal table either facing workers cleaning glasses or facing each other next to other diners.  And oooh boy the place can get loud.  But we are in it for the food, and as long as no one is poking me or runs around naked with scissors, we’ll keep coming for that Porgy

Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave (East Village)
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Country Ham, Max’s Curry & Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower, Pork Buns, Flatiron, Skate, Whole Roasted Fish Ssam, Rice Cakes

Ssam Bar - Flatiron
Ssam Bar

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fair Weather Bushwick – Breaking Bad

Fair Weather Bushwick bay scallopsNo, we didnt get lost trying to get back to Roberta’s, Bushwick’s proud Z-List representative.  And no, we dont have a new-found graffiti fetish, although dont mind it so much if striking enough.  On average we visit Florida more often than this up and coming hipsterhood, but we are finding more and more reasons to change that.  This time, the reason was to check out a little Coffee shop that’s not so little and not so coffee shop anymore.  A full transformation from hipster coffee and wifi, to a full blown mature dining spot with weekly tasting, supper club style.  Instead of staring at their laptop, locals will now converse with other humans.  An experimental concept that is so Bushwick.

Fair Weather Bushwick, making that unflinching transition at the beginning of the year, is like a breath of fresh air to a neighborhood in dire need of such spots.  Led by John Creger, fresh from cheese mecca Artisanal, FWB (sounds like a radio station) offers brunch, dinner seven days a week, and the weekly $65 ten courser I will tell you about shortly.  I believe this is the first time I wasnt quite sure about what to wear to a restaurant in NYC.  A pricey tasting menu, in Bushwick!  Talking about getting caught between a rock and a hard place.  Like when you feel the need to go take a leak at 9 pm, an hour or two before bed time.  You missed your 8 pm, and you are too early for the pre-bedtime stop, strategically trying to avoid the dreadful 3 am wake up call.  Do you hold it in for another hour, or risk it?

John CregerWith that said, even a proper schedule didnt stop a 2 am wakeup call this time, after John Creger’s crafty beer pairing that night.  The beer just kept flowing and flowing.  John Creger has been around.  I’m not so sure I grabbed the most desirable picture of him (like the brainchild of Marilyn Manson and Hitler).  Quite possibly just an off hair day, or just another day at the offices at Sleep No More where he was head chef.  After stints at Le Cirque, Gradisca, Artisanal, and a cameo on Food Network’s Chopped, Creger is now turning heads in little, obscure Fair Weather Bushwick.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in is a smiling happy chef.  Happy chef normally translates to happy Ziggy.  Normally.

This was the first tasting of the new spring menu (Spring is here apparently.  Never got the memo).  The atmosphere was that of a supper club dinner, featuring a communal table and an open kitchen.  Creger came out 15 times to explain every beer, and every dish in Slow Food style (“The ramps came from an upstate farm ran by runaway Russian brides”).  All 10 dishes were plated Ko-esque style so you I couldnt help but compare this one to much pricier tastings.  An early highlight, a beet course with spiced pumpkin seeds and dehydrated beets set the tone.  There were carrots, slow roasted, sitting on Zatar spiced yogurt, and Fenugreek seeds.  “The carrots taste very different than carrots at home” she said.  “Thats because these taste like carrots”.  And there wouldnt be spring tasting without spring peas.  Here, Creger serves a crispy Prosciutto decorated chilled soup that delivers an initial spring pea punch and then settles down nicely.Fair Weather Bushwick Beets

The vegetable heavy menu featured vegetables (duh!) that came alive by use of mild exotic spices, and herb purees.  Creger is like a free bird now, dishing out playful, bright plates, that are attractive to the camera eye, but does not leave the other senses in the dark.  Although my taste sense could have used a few more bay scallops in one of the only protein plates.  The two dessert courses, in particular a Matcha Creme Brulee with ginger and chocolate mint was a very solid finisher.

Without offending our close friends, I have a new-found appreciation for dining with strangers.  We sat next to a fun, young doctor couple who had stories to tell, and Achilles Tendon advice to share.  At some point, toward the end of the meal (I would never do it at the beginning), I felt the urge to put my left foot on the table for a free (presumably) checkup, but it didnt seem appropriate at that moment.  A fun evening to say the least, and perhaps now we’ll have to make it to Bushwick more often than Florida

Fair Weather Bushwick carrots Fair Weather Bushwick cheese Fair Weather Bushwick pea soup Fair Weather Bushwick Mushrooms Fair Weather Bushwick clam Fair Weather Bushwick brulee Fair Weather Bushwick inside Fair Weather Bushwick yard Fair Weather Bushwick

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Only Three Food Courts You Need to Know About

Gotham West Market - Ivan

Gotham West Market

Pretty much overnight, food courts in NYC went from a concept to “What, another one?  We need another food court like I need a pimple in my tuches”.  Food courts, food halls, semi-annual festivals like Madison Square Eats have become part of us, like bagels, and pizza rats.  It almost seems like a new one opens every week, and one can easily lose track of openings just like with new restaurants these days.  At some point you just stop and ask yourself, how many more Luke Lobsters and Mighty Quinn’s does this city really needs.  Some of them start to look the same, and one of them even invited me for a free tour and tasting.  I get such invites on a weekly basis and its either something I’m not interested in, or in Staten Island.  Ziggy will not be bought.  PERIOD!  Unless you invite me to one of these three.

Chelsea Market

CM is busy, touristy, perhaps the most crowded food hall out there, and I cant get enough of it.  I bike there for lunch more often than some of the places by my work I can walk to.  And, yeah, you guessed it, I dont go there for its history.  The vendor list is incredibly impressive, and for the most part unique to Chelsea Market.  A high quality butcher, An “A” List Taco joint, fresh seafood, top notch gelato, Halvah, and the soon to be best hummus in NYC, Dizengoff, which will open any day now, are just some examples.  Its unlike any market in the world, so comparing it to something like Venice, Barcelona, Mahane Yehuda markets is silly.  Some may even suggest its not much of a market, but a collection of high quality food purveyors, but there’s definitely enough market in it.  In fact one of the things I love about CM is that some of the vendors source their stuff directly from next door.  Cull & Pistol gets their seafood from sister Lobster Place, while Creamline (great turkey burger) gets their meat from Dickson’s Farmstand next door.  If you are a food enthusiast (well. you are reading this blog post) you owe it to yourself to stop by.  But dont do it when you tired or stuffed.  Many tourists just walk the main isle, leave the other door and then ask whats the big deal about this place.  Stay for a little bit, explore, and meet some of the vendors, like Rachel from Seed + Mill.  Tell her Ziggy sent ya.Chelsea Market Los Tacos


Yeah, nothing shocking about any of these picks.  Long time readers already know that Ziggy hearts Eataly.  Unlike, say Little Italy, Eataly is super touristy for good reason.  And like Chelsea Market, yes, there’s a good chance that a large Polish man will step on your foot when you least expect.  But do you know who especially likes Eataly, that may come as a surprise?  Italians.  Italians who appreciate quality, and can even find items that are not easily available back home.  Whether we go for a little shopping, Nutella Bar, or have a snack at one of its restaurants, we cant get enough of it.  I usually have a small mental laundry list of stuff that we “need” like Italian craft beer, Venchi chocolates, fresh pasta like the Agnolotti dal Plin, sauces, cookies, and whatever else catches my eye on each visit.  Yes, the stuff is expensive, and I dont shop there on a monthly basis.  But cheaper than this is, well, essentially “Stop and Shop”.  Quality and imports come with a price tag.  Another reason for tourists to come to Eataly is the location.  Your attraction heavy guide book may not tell you that Madison Square Park and its surroundings is a must see, especially during squirrel season.Eataly

Gotham West Market

While I was waiting for my Steak Barbacao bowl at Choza the other day, I bumped into something I dont see very often at GWM… Tourists.  The process of ordering anything at Choza for tourists can be as complicated as our current presidential race, so I was happy to put my Matt Murdock mask on and step in to help.  GWM, simply put, is one of the best things to ever happen in Hell’s Kitchen, and one of its main advantages and what separates it from the pack is that its out of the main tourist route.  Other than the Intrepid nearby I cant think of any reasons why tourists would come here.  Maybe check out our incredible lineup of auto dealerships?  GWM is also a very different food court.  Its compact, with only 8 or so vendors, and it has more of a neighborhood feel than other food courts.  Think of it as one large restaurant with 8 different menus to choose from, where your kids and husbands can run around freely.  You can order something at one vendor and eat it at the counter of the next.  The funky Avroko design of the place may be reason enough to stop by for some, but I personally go for, you know, the food.

Gotham West Market 3

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

Momofuku Ko – Son of David

In preparation for Passover, a not quite oldie, but goodie

Eating With Ziggy

Momofuku Ko huckeberryOn this fine second Seder eve, the beginning of Nutella week (I only eat Nutella with Matzah), I’ll start with a question I’ve been asked many time.  How can Jesus be the son of David!  Jesus was born 1000 years after David, and yet he is repeatedly described in the new testament as the Son of David.  Was David the first ever sperm donor?  I didn’t think so.  Mmm, a moment of silence as I reflect on the fact that I haven’t and most likely never will produce sons.  I get this moment every now and then, bare with me.  But the answer to our questions is that its just a Messianic title, like “Son of god”.  Jesus, born in the city of David, Bethlehem, was the long awaited Messiah, deliverer, the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

Momofuku KoCoincidentally (or not) “Ko” means “Son of” in Japanese, and Momofuku Ko is the son of David Chang, the long awaited Messiah that came…

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The Truth About Tipping – And Why it Needs to Go

Pasquale Jones

Tip Free Pasquale Jones

From EWZ Editorial:

Yes, I actually have nothing to write about.  Other than a great meal at Biang! with new Chowhound friends, it was sort of a meh week that included lunch at the hottest restaurant in NYC at the moment (High Street on Hudson).  I do have various post ideas at the moment, but not about individual restaurants.  And I will need another visit to Biang! to write about it.

Tipping in NYC can be not only confusing, but a highly debated subject even among locals.  This is gonna be short and painless, but I will start by offering a quick guide to tipping in NYC, which I mentioned before

1.  If the service has been exceptional – Tip 20% (on top of the tax, before tax, is up to you.  We tip on top)

2.  If the service has been a little less than stellar.  Decent, but room for improvement – Tip 20%

3.  If your water hasn’t been filled, your food hasn’t arrived on a timely basis, your burger temperature was not up to par, and no one asked you if you like your food – Tip 20%

4.  If your server made numerous errors with your order, hasn’t smiled the entire time, and looks rather stressed out  – Tip 20%

5.  If the server along with another server collaborate to follow you to the bathroom, blindfold and kidnap you via the back alley, lock you in an apartment for 15 days and let you watch nothing but Full House reruns before leaving you in the middle of a bear infested forest naked and afraid – Tip 15%.  Yes, this is where I draw the line

The truth about tipping is that over the years it has become way too automatic to maintain its usefulness.  Good service, bad service, decent service, there’s no such thing anymore.  There used to be a time when you dealt with only one staff member who wasnt extremely busy, and your enjoyment of the meal was essentially determined by what that waiter had for breakfast that morning.  In today’s world of Yelp, and meshugenah high rents, in order to survive, restaurants have evolved into a highly efficient well oiled machines.  By the end of your meal you either pretty much have met the entire staff, or your single waiter had a ton of help.  I once walked into Annabel, a pizza joint in Hell’s Kitchen, just when they opened.  The two owners sat in the front quietly playing on their phones, while a staff of about 10 had an intense meeting in the back led by a very intense manager.  When the meeting ended, I quickly became the center of attention.  Smiles, and friendliness galore even at a casual neighborhood bar/pizza.  The owners expect efficiency, and the employees expected to respond.  Otherwise, Yelp, Trip Advisor, high rents will make you pay dearly.  The incentive nowadays is to keep your job, not the tip.

Many of those factors over the years contributed to the tip becoming automatic, but none of them contribute as much as experience.  When you dine out often, you eventually get to understand restaurants – how they operate, and what should be expected where.  You eventually begin to understand that the waiter is not the one to blame for much of the things that go wrong, even when it clearly looks like his/her fault.  At the Spotted Pig, service was noticeably off one day, until I realized the waitress was working her ass off, covering for someone who was coming late.  In addition, after some time, you eventually begin to stop analyzing things, shrug it off, and file errors under “human nature”.  If you make a mistake at your line of work, does your salary get reduced?  And did I mention that tips are essentially the waiter’s salary?  Minimum wage for tipped workers in NYC will increase to $7.50 by next year.  Every tipping argument should start with this.

This automatic tipping culture, coupled with our tipping laws and regulations has also greatly tipped the balance between cooks and waiters.  Its not that waiters are making too much money.  Its that cooks are not making enough.  Now that its gotten much harder to find good cooks as a result, Danny Meyer and many more are finally waking up and getting rid of tipping altogether.  Not that the imbalance made any sense before the problems started kicking in.  Imagine an airline where the flight attendants make more than the pilots.

Coincidentally, Biang! where I just dined with new Chowhound friends, is the latest to go tip free.  If not for our tipping culture, after dining there, one could wonder why tips were needed there in the first place.  I doubt any will notice a difference in service at a place like this, with a line out the door in tourist free East Village.  I also had zero service issues at Bruno Pizza (20% admin charge), Nishi, and Pasquale Jones, all three opened with a no tipping policy in the past year.  At long timer Annisa, I cant fathom a different experience after they’ve gone tip free.  Danny Meyer, much loved and respected by his employees is moving all his establishments to this system.

So remember kids, tip 20% no matter what for the time being.  But The Times They are a Changin’, and its time to join the rest of the world, and eliminate tipping.

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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