Monthly Archives: October 2016

NYC Slice Myths

best-pizza

Best Pizza

’twas the day before National Taco Day.  I was craving pizza, and decided to stop by at my trusted friends at Sacco in Hell’s Kitchen for a slice.  And while sitting there all lonesome, various thoughts came to mind.  “This is still a pretty darn good slice”, “What if I would start riding scooters”, “how come no one is here”, “Where would I park my scooter here”.  Only in my head I say things like “pretty darn”.  The slice is a typical NYC slice done right.  Thin, cooked just enough, with the proper cheese/tomato sauce mix and oregano.  And the crust has just the right amount of char and crunch.  I then expressed my feelings to the owner yet again, and we had a nice chat about other notable slices in NYC and what I call the Peter Luger affect.

sacco

Sacco

sacco-fold

Sacco

The Peter Luger Affect – The notion that once you make it, you make it forever.  Once you are crowned by all media as “The Best”, no matter how many steakhouses, burgers or pizza joints open since the crowning, you are never to be questioned, challenged, or replaced at the top.  Only if the king dies (closes) and doesnt produce a heir, a potential royal shift might occur.  With pizza, unlike steak, its not exactly clear who wears the crown.  But there are a few celebratory “Bests” that come up in just about every conversation, qualified for Peter Luger like glory.

One such place is Joe’s which has three locations including one on Carmine street where I grab a slice from time to time.  During my little talk with Mr Sacco (I dont know the gentleman’s real name so lets just call him that.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I call him that), I decided to pay a visit to Joe’s for a more proper comparison between the two.  Sacco, busy enough to remain open for a while, just outside of the tourist route, but totally empty at times.  Joe’s, consistently mentioned as the top or one of the top slices in NYC, and always packed with tourists and locals.  While the flavor was still there, the Joe’s slice was smaller and quite droopy this time to fully enjoy.  To be fair, I’ve had better slices at Joe’s, and worst slices at Sacco, but on this day at least, the two made the thesis too easy.  Sacco wins this round.

joes

joes

joes-fold

joes

Just like with Peter Luger, people from all over the world flock to Di Fara in Midwood, deep inside Brooklyn.  Once inside, it actually feels more like a pilgrimage than flocking.  You see tourists embracing their bible guidebook before embracing.  The first sight of 81 year old Dom DeMarco making the pies the same was he’s done for the past 50 years, brings people to tears.  The pizza has won numerous accolades from all over the world, including a”Best of the Best” tag from Anthony Bourdain.  However there’s only one tiny, little issue with this most famous pizza.  Coming from Manhattan for this may take half a day.  You may spend from 30 to 45 minutes waiting for a $5 slice (most expensive in NYC as far as I know), and much longer for a pie.  Dom the legend, doesnt let anyone else make them which is part of the appeal.  But that also means your slice may occasionally be overdone, underdone, or a little misshapen like the one on the right below.  “Sophie’s Choice” in the pizza world is when the food enthusiast husband must choose between the bigger and better slice, or smaller misshapen 30% bread slice, while there with his wife.  Obviously I chose the slice on the right, and still get to sleep in my bed.

Di fara

Di fara

A few days after the latest Di Fara episode, I paid a visit to another favorite, Best Pizza in Williamsburg, by Roberta veteran Frank Pinello.  Like Sacco, BP is not particularly well known, and is just a solid neighborhood pizza joint.  I would replace most of mine for this one.  Baked in a wood fired oven, the pies are the perfect marriage of Napoli and NY styles.  The fresh basil on each slice is like their zoro mark-like trademark.  I bike here from time to time, where the reward to pain ratio is much higher than Di Fara.  A few years ago, it beat both Di Fara and another legend, L&B Spumoni Gardens, on one of those Girls gone shopping so I’m free to roam around Brooklyn taste test

New York is a pizza town.  Its in our blood, and everyone has their favorites.  In the outer boroughs you will find a bagel shop, pizzeria, Chinese takeout, and therefore a pharmacy on every block.  And many of the 100’s of pizza out there do it well.  So while by no means, visit our “Bests” if you are in the area, you dont need to venture out too far for a proper slice.

dom-demarco

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Ristorante Sirena di Sansica in Bonagia – Meal of the Year

sirena-di-sansica-red-shrimpTo understand the notion I’ve been “preaching” here that Sicily is mainland Italy 30 years ago (I went from 20 to 30 after being corrected by actual Italians living in NYC) one must simply go to Tonnara di Bonagia on the western tip of the island where once tuna hunted and butchered in ways that are only talked about these days.  And to fully appreciate a meal at the sensational Sirena di Sansica, a 20 minute drive from Trapani, one must arrive earlier, right before sunset.  The rugged coastline leading to the rock of San Vito Lo Capo is mesmerizing.  Even with a wedding party patiently waiting their turn, you hesitate to give up the spot.  Compared to much of mainland, the area is underdeveloped and you selfishly wish that it stays like this forever.  Ancient boats lining up next to the Tonnara, overlooking the colorful port around the Albergo Tonnara Di Bonagia Resort.  A magical moment to say the least.  All to the magical sounds of… Reggaeton!!!

sirena-di-sansica-wineOne of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen on vacation.  The worlds smallest, oddest and loudest, three participant Zumba class was right by the port.  I mean, I like to listen to music loud, but this was LOUD.  I guess such things are normal here.  We danced, the wedding party danced, the seagulls danced, everybody danced.  The volume isnt deafening due to the open space, but its at the point where your booty, shoulders and other parts start to move involuntary, while you wonder what the hell is going on here.  How does one nap in this sleepy looking corner of the world

Even after recent renovations to modernize the place, Sirena di Sansica is old school.  Outside it looks like an old movie theater or a disco, while inside its like a dim sum palace meets old Brooklyn trattoria.  “Modernizing” in Sicily is like going from the 60’s to 80’s.  The restaurant is facing the water, and the sunsets here speak more volume than the Zumba.  Ok maybe not.  But its really the type of place you immediately feel at home.  Especially when the kids start making fun of their mom’s facial expressions after she had a little too much Grillo.  Sursur from Donnafugata, the smoothest, most balanced Grillo of a Grillo filled trip.sirena-di-sansica-busiate-expo

But it’s all about the food and the fresh seafood due to the special relationship they have with the local fisherman including their own boats.  You first get introduced to the lovely catch of the day and you sort of build your order based on that (along with other menu classics). This was a little more expensive ($140) than other meals but considering what we chose and ate, possibly the steal of the trip.  Fantastically fresh mussels which my oldest guessed properly from Messina.  She was probably thinking about clams but I gave her the credit anyway.  Busiate with lobster was outstanding, but another Busiate, “Expo” stole the show… eggplant, pistachio, swordfish, breadcrumbs, and more.  Rich but oh so nicely balanced and delicious. It’s called “Expo” because they made it for the Milan Expo as part of a food competition. Perhaps the best pasta of the trip.

Couscous with broth without the fish or any seafood was actually better than the other couscous we’ve had in Sicily with the fish. You can buy and add fresh fish but we saved that for the secondi.  I picked 6 lovely Gambero Rossos from the ‘Bunny Ranch’ like lineup and these were the fattest and sweetest red shrimp of the entire trip.  After realizing I prefer them slightly cooked than raw, we asked them to be grilled.  Raw they can be a little limp.  And a red scorpion fish they call cipolla (onion) made traditionally soup like, sautéed with a nice tomato based broth, specatucarly tasty dish (plate shown is one of the halfs).  One of those meals.sirena-di-sansica-cipolla sirena-di-sansica-shrimp sirena-di-sansica-busiate-lobster sirena-di-sansica img_0614 img_0615 img_0617 img_0627 img_0633

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Best Soups in Hell

Its that time of the year. Soup season in Hell’s Kitchen. Other than Mocu Mocu which is now Closed Closed nothing has changed. All these amazing soups are ready to be consumed. Check em out!

Eating With Ziggy

Akamaru Modern Ippudo Akamaru Modern Ippudo

Winter is here in beautiful Hell’s Kitchen.  The sky is blue, the birds are chirping, and the cabbies are singing “I feel pretty, oh so pretty” and other West Side Story tunes.  That’s what it feels like after you have any of those soups below on a cold NY day.  Let me put this another way… I’m not a soup person.  It rarely excites me, and I would never go out of my way for decent soup.  So for me to write about soup, it must be something special.  This post is 15 years in the making really, and none of these are your average homemade Ratatouille moment grandma soups.  For that I recommend grandma!  (although I will touch on some of those at the end)

Caldo de Bola at Nano – Perhaps I should have added to the above “Unless your Grandma is Ecuadorian”.  A tiny Eucadorian hole…

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Werkstatt – Ich Habe Gut Geschlafen

Why is this place not packed every night? Another outstanding meal at Werkstatt with friends. Add the paprika chicken to the lineup of recs, and go immediately to Ditmas Park. Come early and check out the historic Prospect Park South next door

Eating With Ziggy

Werkstatt PretzelI slept well that night.  Like a baby caressed by his mother’s bosoms while sucking on a Jack Daniels soaked pacifier.  It was that kind of night after that kind of evening at Werkstatt.  A gamble of sorts, bringing my entire family to a place I’ve never been before for a family celebration.  A high percentage gamble considering the Austrian fare, though in reality all that was required was a Schnitzel, and a fan.  Comfort food on Coney Island Ave is not so new to us (see Nargis Cafe), but comfort Austrian cuisine, boasting a former 4 NYT stars chef is like having a Michelin Star restaurant in the Staten Island mall.

Werkstatt BeerSo why did it take 9 months for me to get to Werkstatt?  Because its the lone Google Star in an area that I rarely visit.  Ditmas Park is like Family Guy.  I never seek it, but when I bump…

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More About the Tours

img_7125I’m getting a lot of questions about the tours, so want to put this out there.  I started booking tours for this month and well into January, and already have some days full.  But quite a few are still open, and with all the bookings I got so far a schedule is born, well sort of (send me your dates).

About the tours and prices:  These are not budget tours by any stretch.  Compared to what you get at some of the other tours (half a slice of pizza, half a hod dog, half a joke. I know because I took some of these tours), this one is quite gourmet.  In case you havent noticed, I’m a food snob (Ask my wife about her attempt at tacos last night –  I was being super nice).  I take you to some of my favorite places, with little regard to price.  Each place comes with a personality, and a story.  Keep in mind that a proper mid range meal in NYC is around $75 per person.  And some of the tour agencies charge you between $200 (two hours) to $600 (Full day) for a private tour.  I have to keep prices as low as I possibly can, for the time being at least.

img_3935Brooklyn Tour – I pick you up from the hotel (assuming its conveniently located) at 9:00 AM and we travel through Brooklyn like no other tour company does to my knowledge, in a comfortable car.  We hit very diverse, ethnic, and in some cases picturesque neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Flatbush – Ditmas Park, and historic Prospect Park South.  If we’ll have time we’ll get to Red Hook too.  This is the real Brooklyn.  We’ll walk and explore about 3 or 4 neighborhoods, and eat some wonderful stuff.  Other tours just drive around from one pizza place to another fooling tourists into believing they cant get better in Manhattan.  They certainly can.  I suspect we are back anywhere from 4 to 6 pm depending on how much fun we have and traffic.  During Christmas season we’ll end in Dyker Heights for the lights ($100 per.  2 person minimum for now.  Will work with families).  4 people max.

Hell’s Kitchen Food Tour –  This neighborhood has a very complex and violent history and I know it very well.  We’ll explore the area for about 4 hours, and eat at some of my favorite spots.  Plenty of photo opportunities, and interesting sights on the way with some surprises.  This is a very local experience, and you’ll have a nice understanding of the area.  $60 per.  We meet at 2 pm on the southeast corner of West 48th st and 8th ave (In front of FDNY Engine 54).  5 people max.

East Village Food Tour – Similar to the Hell’s Kitchen tour except that this is an entirely different neighborhood with its own unique history and stories.  It reminds me of Sicily in a sense that the neighborhood went through so much, with a constant flow of invasions of people and cultures.  Oh and only the best food neighborhood on the east coast.  About 4 hours.  $60 per person.  Meet at 11 am, Location TBD.  5 people max.

Hells Kitchen tour via Local Expeditions – Essentially the same as the food tour without most of the food stops.  Its a 2-3 hour area tour with just a couple of food stops.  $40 per.  We meet at 10 am on the southeast corner of West 48th st and 8th ave (In front of FDNY Engine 54).  10 people max.

For any inquiries email EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

Soon I will have a separate site for the tours, so not to make this a commercial area.  Its still a food blog first.

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La Vara – I Rest My Case

la-vara-gurrulosPrologue:  I waited until after the Yom Kippur Tsom is over so not to offend or temp anyone.  Although I doubt any of the pictures here would make anyone break off their fast.     Apologies for the lack of decent photos as of late.  I forgot my camera (and skills) at home for this one.

Am I becoming a food brat, or turning into Mr Grumpy?  Am I on the way to joining The Joy Suck Club?  I’m only in my late 30’s (46 to be exact).  But ever since I started grading them I cant get over the one star hump.  Sure, we’ve had good meals as of late at places like Olivier Bistro in Park Slope where the poor lighting (OMG I AM joining the club) and casual neighborhoody traits dont quite make it an exciting post.  This post should have really been about Atoboy, baby Jungsik, which I had to cancel 4 times in the past two weeks.  But trying La Vara was long overdue, and frankly I expected more.

la-vara-dauradeIf La Vara feels like a place whose owners are concentrating on opening their 4th restaurant, it is.  Alex Raij practically owns Chelsea with her two tapas joints, and Tia Pol where she started before a messy divorce.  But it was La Vara getting all the accolades including the all important, coveted Michelin Star.  When I told my wife the place has a Michelin Star after the meal, I received the same look when she discovered the pissing fountain in Prague wasnt pissing.  And while I wasnt particularly hungry after the meal which included plenty of dishes, let the record show that for the first time ever, Mrs Z required a snack when we got home.  The title of this post is a result of another example that Michelin one stars in NYC is a random mishmash of names that arent very Micheliny and consistent, making the entire achievement dubious when they lose the star after one or two years.

At the end of the meal, when I looked around I noticed something I dont normally see in Michelin restaurants.  We are the youngest people in the room including the staff, a redder flag than being the youngest in my book.  Is that why they wanted to sit the 4 of us (all mid 40’s) at the awkward table for 8 right in front even though we had reservations?  Were we not cool enough for the odd communal table in the middle of the room?  But we requested to move and they happily obliged.  I’m just puzzled sometimes when we show up to a place with reservations and dont have an acceptable table reserved (I’m looking at you too Narcissa).  The service throughout was efficient, but at the same time cold, and impersonal.  Maybe, just maybe, we were simply not cool enough for La Vara.

Because if we would, perhaps the waiter would explain to us that the roasted market vegetables today were just broccoli rabe that required all of the Romesco sauce to ease the bitterness.  Perhaps the bread would not have been stale and we would have gotten it way before midway.  Its the little things that can add up.  I suppose if anyone cared to look at their website as of late, one would notice the Gurrulos, the Gnocchi like Fluffy semolina pasta is still offered with ground goat meat which they stopped offering two years ago.  Maybe at the same time they would have noticed that Gurrulos have now been autocorrected to Guerrillas.  Website false advertisement is a little pet peeve of mine.  Its either that or lack of attention.

la-vara-meatballsBut it wasnt a total disaster by any stretch.  The Daurade special arrived simply cooked, covered with a nice mild red sauce and tasted like Daurade should.  The suckling pig had a nice amount of rendered fat and cracklings, though the accompanying sauce was rather meek.  Both at $31 could have come with some vegetables to make it a little more worthwhile, especially considering you are sharing everything.  Sidenote:  I swear to the food gods that the next time a waiter tells me small dishes are meant for sharing, I will remind him that Employees Must Wash Hands.

The rest of the meal featured wrinkly basic Shishitos, the culinary Russian Roulette when you eat with someone not normally susceptible to spicy food.  One of about 10 peppers is spicy, and sure enough my friend’s first bite was ooooohhh boy.  The best thing I ate was probably the Berenjena con miel, fried eggplant sticks with honey and cheese.  Although my honey wasnt too fond of the honey.   Lamb meatballs were dense and meaty, but average when it comes to meatballs in the city.  Migas Aragonesas, a fried concoction of bread, chorizo and egg was fine.  And an almond and fig hard tart sounded much better than it was. A mostly basic biscuit.

La Vara
268 Clinton St, Brooklyn
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that

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Scala dei Turchi and Valley of the Temples

img_9979Reason #42 why you need two weeks in Sicily.  The stupendous whiter than white Turkish steps, and the magnificent Valley of the Temples are 20 minutes apart near the ancient (but not so any more) city of Agrigento.  Do it in style, with fresh seafood lunch at Salmoriglio in Porto Empedocle, right between the two attractions.  Probably one of the most memorable single days I’ve had in any trip.  Staying in the surreal Ciuci’s Manor surly helped.  The way to see the temples, especially on a hot summer day, is to park at the bottom of the valley, take a taxi to the top (3 euros), and walk down.  At Scala dei Turchi you park in the parking lot off the road, and go down to the beach.  Takes about 20 minutes to reach the steps.  Bring plenty of water to both

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Hell’s Kitchen Heroes and Villains

img_4256Its that time of the year again.  When you take the bus or the ferry, and you look left and go “what the f$%^k is that”, followed by “Oh, it must be Comic Con weekend”.  Its a great weekend to bike on 9th ave, checking out the scene flocking to Javits.  I had plans to write a post about the best places to eat near Javits in anticipation, but kinda forgot got busy with all sorts of assignments.  One of which was a request by Hell’s Kitchen’s own W42ST to write about the food heroes and villains of Hell’s Kitchen.  The result… there are now 3 places requiring me to wear my Natcho Libre attire in order to come incognito.  Page 38-39.

 

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