Yes, its that time of the year again. No, not a long vacation, although that is coming soon. A major update to the all important wings page that everybody waits with bated breath. This is not a product of a wings fetish by any stretch. I never really cared for wings before. But I do admire places that turn wings into an art form, while delivering unique flavors. These are the men and women that are making Wings great again. An even if you are not into wings, you may want to take note of these places
Monthly Archives: January 2017
Just like a mom balancing work and being a mom, a tourist in NYC needs to find the right balance between being a tourist and unleashing the inner Ziggy. After meeting so many of you on the East Village and Hell’s Kitchen walks (semi-shameless self promotion) lately, and reading Trip Reports on Trip Advisor, that struggle has gotten more apparent. You are reading this because you, unlike most visitors, understand that food is one of NY’s unsung attractions, that doesnt quite play well with other attractions. In fact they really hate each other. Sometimes, something will have to give, but it can result in a much more enjoyable trip. Here are 10 rules to help you strike that balance.
1. Location Location Location. Stay in or close to a food friendly neighborhood. Pretty much anywhere below 34th is fine, Hell’s Kitchen, UWS, and other residential areas. I dont mind Times Square so much because of its proximity to Hell’s Kitchen though many make the mistake of eating in TS or walking east instead of west. I’m not a fan of the east side, close to Grand Central. Williamsburg a is fine trendy pick but not very central. The best areas are generally below 23rd, and the most central is Union Square. If I would have to pick one hotel, and I did on two occasions, it is the Hyatt Union Square. A stone throw away from NYC’s best food neighborhood, East Village, and many others
2. Read appropriately. NYC is the easiest place to research. But often that kind of convenience can lead to the most headaches due to the magnitude of choices. Besides food blogs you also have Grub Street, Eater, Chowhound, Yelp, and even Trip Advisor forum is filled with savvy tourists and locals giving sound advice. There’s no need for Guide Books, Zagat, and Trip Advisor reviews are absolutely useless here.
3. Trip Advisor reviews are absolutely useless here. So important that it needs to have its own bullet. The ranking themselves are useless everywhere, but here especially. TA reviews are written by tourists for tourists, and by following the rankings you will be essentially feeding the most touristy of places, while missing out on local spots. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. But with the TA algorithm rewarding the more heavily reviewed, often in heavily touristy midtown, you miss on some of the best NYC has to offer including newer places. The brilliant Momofuku Nishi, one of my current favorites is ranked #3,188 as of this writing
Side Note: I take it all back. Reading reviews does have some entertaining values, like this one… “the restaurant is small. the tables are shared with others there is no knife at the table there is no tablecloth. there is no bread very poor experience. the food was no bad, but not delicious. i will not recommend it.” — A recent Nishi review.
4. Love thy neighbor, but not too much. Your neighbor says you must, must visit the place where the waiters sing, and the Thai right inside the theater district is just divine. Aunt Betsy from Chattanooga makes a killa pecan pie, but what does she know about Jajangmyeon? I meet so many people who are completly comfortable taking advice from neighbors, friends, and family, not realizing the vast information available from locals. Just think about your own town, and the prospect of me coming to your place equipped with a list from my neighbor who’s been there 7 years ago
5. Make Little Italy Great Again. Little Italy continues to be in everybody’s things to do (and eat) and as long as its in the guide books I would not expect that to change. Yes, go, but not before you stretch the borders a little. Little Italy itself is a tourist trap, but the irony is that some of our best mid-range Italian like Pasquale Jones, Osteria Morini, Emporio and Rubirosa surround the area either in Soho or Nolita. Little Italy is great for strolling while you wait for a table elsewhere.
6. Google Maps is your friend. Get familiar with Google Maps and start starring those places. Get a feel on whats near what, and how how far is far. Click on directions to see distances, make routes if needed. Its not that hard
7. When in Rome, eat Ramen. No you dont have to eat Ramen here, thats not the point. But you also dont have to eat Patrami and hot dogs. Although they can be quite good at some places. Unlike Rome and much of the rest of the world, it is not exactly clear what is the cuisine of New York. Guide books need to write something, but often have a difficult time pinpointing our relatively young cuisine. A giant mishmash of world cuisines is really the best way of putting it. We eat a lot of pizza and bagels, but not so much pastrami, cheesecakes, and hot dogs. In fact we eat a lot more Ramen than pastrami. Its not even close. Best way to approach food here is to eat like a local, with a few “classics” like Pastrami mixed in.
8. The $150 rule. It has become almost automatic, like a joke really. When you are trying to figure out your budget, consider the $150 rule. That’s what you should expect to pay for two in much of Manhattan and Brooklyn for a regular full service, three course meal with a drink. Yes, there are much more expensive options, and much cheaper options all over the city. But for many of the restaurants recommended here and elsewhere, a proper meal with a drink, after tip/tax averages at $150. How many of those can you afford during your span, is entirely up to you. Cheap options will surround you just about everywhere
9. Vet Them Well. Once you select the restaurant, vet it against Yelp and Chowhound and Google to get a feel and see what dishes people enjoy. If there’s a particular dish that catches your eye on the menu, plug it in the Yelp search box to see what people say about it. Maybe its not as thrilling as it sounds. Google “[Name] food blogs” to see what bloggers say about it. Take a look at pictures of the space to make sure it matches your comfort level. I get a little nervous when I read so many tourists go to Pure Thai Cookhouse without knowing exactly what they get themselves into.
10. Meet a Local / Take a Food Tour. There he goes again with the self promotion. Ok, take any food tour, as long as its nicely paced, private or small group tours. Big Apple Greeter is another idea. The point is not so much the tour itself, but the prospect of meeting a knowledgeable local and maybe gaining a friend that can assist you well after the tour is over. I met a father and daughter earlier this week who got introduced to Halvah, among other things during the East Village walk, Later on we continued to email which resulted in trying soup dumplings for the first time, in addition to Nishi and coming home with a pound of Halvah from Seed & Mill in Chelsea Market.
Its the most eye candy Hell’s Kitchen has seen since the Jimmy Coonan days, and the glory days of 42nd street. Thanks Obama! A decor like no other in the area, and a daring menu that takes Chinese American cuisine into Mission Chinese territory. Its rare for something like this to open in this neighborhood, which is why I’m so drawn and keep coming back. And after 5 visits, you would think I would get a good handle on things, but nope. This kind of menu requires bigger group meals in order to properly gauge this one, but at least I get the idea.
The title of course refers to the Kama Sutra nature of the decor. Its like Kill Bill movie set meets sex museum smack in the middle of 9th avenue. Funky wall paper, various figurines, penises, Buddhist collectibles, and figurines doing their best dirty salt and pepper shakers impersonations, covering the walls and bathroom hall area. While I certainly have no issue with any of this, considering the proximity to Times Square I can see how some traditionalists may not want to expose their little traditionalists children to this. The wait staff I’m told, is trained to explain, and already done so on occasion, which leaves no room for disgruntled employees. “My son is asking questions about the green figures on the wall”. “Its a Dildo mam!”
That kind of family bonding is carried onto the menu as well, with pretty much everything meant for sharing. While we tend to share everything everywhere anyway, at Chaan Teng the dish sizes make it more welcoming to do so. Take their take on the NYC born classic General Tso’s Chicken ($19) which is a hefty plate of half a bird fried and smothered with a sweet and sour, and spicy sauce while retaining proper juiciness throughout. This is not your corner Chinese General Tso’s. I’ve had it by myself and shared with friends on another visit, and while solo I was wishing for more veggies to accompany the bird.
On other visits, the focus was on the promising smaller plates which were almost entree size. Some, like the excellent Chicken Skin Dumplings ($12) were nothing like I’ve had before. Chinese Lapchiong (sweet sausage) with rice, peas, dried shrimp wrapped in chicken skin instead of dough. Essentially Arancini on crack, although midway I was wishing for a crispier exterior, and the chicken skin guilt started to take over. The bed of cabbage with crispy shallots and soy was delicious in itself.
Other small plate highlights were the Chaanteng Chicken Dumplings with soy, ginger scallion sauce ($7), and their take on another Chinese American classic, Walnut Shrimp ($12). Five healthy shrimp are served with Bib lettuce with sweet mayo where you essentially use the lettuce to make shrimp tacos. And I still havent tried but curious about the Crab Rangoon, 1000 year old egg on Tofu, and something called Strange Flavor Eggplant which I guess no one is allowed to criticize.
Chaan Teng opened by a team that includes Pichet Ong of Spice Market fame. And as is it case with 95% of Hell’s Kitchen newbs there’s almost zero social media buzz other than some Instagrammers like myself posting selfies with the General Tso’s, which is being groomed as the signature dish. Besides, now that both my mom and mother in-law are on Facebook, its pretty much the end of Social Media as we know it. The other day, my mom asked me to assist her with deleting a 2 minute video she took of her forehead.
698 9th Ave (Corner of 48th), Hell’s Kitchen
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: General Tso’s Chicken, Chicken Skin Dumplings, Chaanteng Chicken Dumplings, Walnut Shrimp
Its that time of the year again. Resolution season! The slowest eating month of the year. The time of the year when Mrs Z says “Enough”, and I have to sneak out of the house Shawshank Redemption style in order to eat something that doesnt have Quinoa in it. I then find myself in a dark room in a basement, a resolution speakeasy, with other men indulging in pizza, and chicken skin dumplings. These are dumplings deep fried in chicken skin instead of dough.
If you are a well balanced individual, meaning one who can stand on one leg for more than 5 seconds without breaking a wrist, you probably poopoo the entire resolution concept. Why does one wait until January to change bad habits. But for the rest of us, who sometimes cant see our own feet in the shower (I’m being nice here with feet), we use January as an alarm clock. Its time to hibernate.
That leads to this irony. W42st, the new(ish) Hell’s Kitchen magazine responsible for banning your Ziggy from 3 places Hell’s Kitchen establishments and counting, is back at it again with a new feature. Its a foldout little zine inside the magazine, or sometimes just sitting on top of it at places. And inside you have a map of various lists like new places, cool bars, top palm readers, and something called Ziggy’s Eat List where I feature 5 places related or not to the theme that month. So my first contribution is listing 5 healthy options in Hell’s Kitchen (the irony). For those who cant get the magazine (this feature isnt available online), here are the places…
Recent update from the main Nishi post…
When you finish the year with three meals in 9 days at the same place, it becomes quite apparent.
I seriously need to learn how to cook Nishi is my favorite newcomer of 2016 and I cant get enough of it. One can very easily dismiss this place when Googling it and facing the cranky initial reviews, and that would be a grave mistake. Grave I tell ya! There’s a good place for food critics in our society, but they are often coerced to review too early, especially when faced with the buzz of a Momofuku. Buzz and brand lead to certain expectations. If Nishi opened last month with the current menu, and owned by a no-name, it would have gotten some major accolades right now.
So I’ve now tried all the pastas on the menu. Love them all except the Chili Squid. I think I prefer XO (spicy seafood sauce) on meat dishes, rather than seafood. The Butter Noodle is still a revelation. The Spicy Beef is a delicious combination of pasta shells, beef, mint, fried shallots, with a nice kick. Love the Jajangmyeon with the biggest fried egg you will ever see covering the entire plate, and more joy to the spicy lovers. But my favorite is still probably the Toasted Noodles (formerly Clams Grand Lisboa). Eating this is like listening to an entire Ariana Grande song by accident in the car. Lost in the moment, which can be dangerous when wife is giving you important weekend instructions. I think I have to drive someone to the airport, but I’m not entirely sure who and which airport.
I will update the bottom line with my favorite dishes which is getting too long, but it will include the delicate Mackerel Tataki, and the BBQ Pork Rib with sweet and sour sauce which is a spare ribs game changer. The Ko-esque Roast Pork is still quite good, but the best thing on the large section right now may be the fish. A very shareable Skate Wing with bits of toasty Cauliflower, topped with this beautiful buttery light gravy. Freakishly good stuff!
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I decided to do Chelsea Market tours through the winter. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but finally decided to do it after the third person asked me. The last one I toured with yesterday. I also noticed many people on Trip Advisor are having trouble navigating through the market, and come out very disappointed, which is a
money opportunity shame. While many New Yorkers avoid the market for its craziness (and by craziness I mean you tourist), the foodies out there, and those in the know go out of their way to eat and shop there. With all our current food halls, courts and markets all over NYC, Chelsea Market is still the most unique one offering the best eats. And unlike say, Little Italy, its touristy for good reason. But as with any such market pretty much, there’s value in going with a local
You can very well explore on your own, and I’ve written plenty here to help you out with the many options. There’s no secret to what I like, but there are a few places not so easy to find (I call one the market speakeasy). I’ve been to Chelsea Market well over 100 times, to the point that I even know what other tour groups are eating. These are big groups that can only do it at 10 am or 2 pm. With smaller groups I can afford a more proper, relaxed walk, and also customize the eats if needed
Who is the tour for: Foodies, locals, market lovers, models, anyone really. I’ve taken both locals and visitors to the market before. If we have time we can also walk on the High Line and I’ll take you to my favorite dessert in Chelsea nearby (outside the market, in addition to dessert in CM). Worse case scenario you’ll have a chance to meet a fun, energetic, good looking local, and I’ll do my very best to find that individual!
$50 per person for now. If interested, email me. Oh and remind me to tell you the story behind the picture below.
“Strange” is the first word that comes to mind. Its been a strange and sad year in pop culture, politics, and even love life. And by love life I mean food, not the other stuff which is fine thank you, and knock on.. ahem… wood. But that’s another post for another day, that I imagine wont be a free one. During 2016 we traveled a little more than usual, and so the best dishes came from overseas, especially Italy. We also didnt quite have our share of the usual haute fine dining last year, as I continue to discover more and more exciting cheap options in all 5 boroughs. But we did have our fair share of exciting eats, which made the selection difficult as usual.
Its quite the site when this Long Island Sound beauty arrives in all her glory. Head and teeth and all, without the main bone that was surgically removed. The fish is dressed with the momofuku signature ginger scallion sauce. 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 inning, you remember to try the accompanied lettuce and tortillas to make fish wraps. You experiment by adding some pickled bean sprouts, 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.
The usual challenge with these lists is going back to the earlier moths to see if anything stood out. This one did. Some of the best octopus I’ve had in a while in a year filled with glorious octopus (Avlee, Cull and Pistol, just to name a few). Nir Mesika from ZiZi Limona fame tenderizes, sous vide style, the heck out of this thing (I’m guessing by the size and bite, it was enjoying the coast of Portugal a few days prior). Then he finishes it on an open flame like the Bedouin do 200 kilometers south of Mesika’s hometown in Israel. All that smoky goodness, served with black eggplant puree, pickled cabbage and hummus, tells your brain just one thing. Taim!
Just about every other Best List out there this year features Lilia’s striking Agnolotti, which is fantastic dont get me wrong. I would order it again and just about every other thing I ate (If I can get another reservation one of these days. It’s simpler to score a shopping date with Ivanka Trump). But my nod goes to the the ‘imperfect’ Mafaldine or Malfadini that looked and tasted pretty perfect to me. Take your average Cacio e Pepe, change the pasta to something with more texture, sharper cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, and pink peppercorns, and you essentially got Cacio e Pepe on crack. Top picture
I spent much of 2016 biking to/from Chelsea Market, and wrestling with tourists. Guess who won? This guy! And much of these visits I spent at Dizengoff including two days after they opened when I met the great Michael Solomonov (turns out we have a lot in common, other than fame). Its not just about the hummus and its perfect silky smooth texture and taste, and its hard to get excited about a Hummuseria to begin with. But its much about the whole package. The insanely delicious hot off the oven pita on steroids. (Calling it pita almost sounds insulting), the pickles, the homemade S’hug and the rotating seasonal toppings that make this place so magnetic.
Chicken Wings Skewers at Biang!
Ever since I discovered the magic of Biang, it has become the dining equivalent of Netflix binge watching. I cant get enough of it. The entire menu and its noodle lineup is fantastic, but its all these skewers that you cant find in the Xi’an Famous near you that I’m most attracted. No one that I know prepares Lamb, Enoki Mushrooms and Cauliflower quite like this. But its those perfectly seasoned whole wings that are so big they need to occupy two skewers that I need to have each time, sometimes with a tour group (usually on East Village tours on Fridays). I just love a good wing. And every morsel of this thing just makes me want to run around the room with scissors, naked. Yes I’m seeing someone about that.
Two incarnations, two names, one triumph. Some of the original dish names got simplified over time for those unfamiliar with what Ceci or Grand Lisboa got to do with anything. But there’s nothing simple about the entire Nishi noodle lineup (I’ve had all of them just in the past week). The clams are dressed with Oregano based sauce, sitting on top toasted Chow Mein noodles and cabbage. Calling this Cho Mein noodles is an insult to this dish. Its cooked with apple cider that give it this sweet something, like no Chow Mein you’ve had before. And clams with oregano is like a match made in Fukuland. Fukuland is my heaven. You are on a beautiful beach, fed something unique every hour by heavily tattooed bearded men, and heavily tattooed bearded women.
Yes a pretzel somehow sneaked itself into a best of list. Pretzels are something I usually only eat when I’m about to pass out from hunger, but for this one I drive all the way to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn to have it. It the best pretzel in NYC! Well, that’s what its called on the menu. So make sure to order the right one, otherwise you may wind up with just an “Adequate Neighborhood Pretzel”. And did I mention that it comes with its own Lipitor! Or is it “Liptauer”, a buttery, cheesy, peppery, paprika infused spread that requires a German born pretzel the size of half a pretzel cart to fully enjoy. Forget the mustard and spread this beast with the Lipitor. And if the pretzel will make you thirsty, they have a cure for that too.
Its the year of the simplified dish names; “Lettuce”, “Corn”, “Fish”, “Noodles”. I see it on menus all over, and in some cases (like Nishi) menus actually change entirely to that. Is it a fad, or we just getting dumber. Dont really mind or care. But in some cases, the ingredient doesnt tell the whole story, or even close. The “Eggplant“ at this new playful Korean inspired in NoMad, on first glance looks like a Babaganoush gone horribly wrong. But the makeup of the dish and the result is a lot more revealing. You got layers of smoky eggplant, Dungeness Crab and Tomato Jelly, all easily combined in a spoonful of pure ecstasy. And yeah, reach for the spoon for dishes like this. They are not there for just soups
Sometimes the best meals come from unexpected places. The homey Filipino in Carrol Gardens surely delivered in more homey way than one. Some if not all the recipes came from the chef’s parents. And when mom and pop didnt quite agree on something, they included both versions on the menu (the two chicken dishes). But the fish here was my favorite, and there was nothing particularly outrageous about it. The day’s fresh fish (Pacific Flounder in our case) simply grilled in banana leaf, and topped with an extremely complimentary tomatoee Adobo. We’ve had quite a few such dishes last year, including in Michelin Star La Vara a few blocks from FOB, but this one left the biggest mark.
Miso Cherry ice cream at Oddfellows
Say it with me. Miiiiso Cherry…. Say it like you mean it. 2016 is the year I took a break from gelato and rediscovered the joys of ice cream, but with a scientific twist. I imagine these odd fellas in a Breaking Bad like lab in a Williamsburg warehouse experimenting on willing humans. I cant think of any ice cream out there that had such an affect on me. The Miso flavor is very evident here, and it works big time. Since I had it, I’ve been bringing tours here on a regular basis, only to see Miso Cherry missing in action. But no worries, they promise. Its coming back very soon.