Monthly Archives: October 2017

Ugly Baby Delivers Adorable Heat

Ugly BabyIt’s Michelin Star season.  When gracious winners throw parties to celebrate, while the losers and pretty much everyone else in the industry celebrate its awkwardness.  Its the behemoth that everyone enjoys hating.  In NYC two, and three stars are distributed with care while single stars are distributed like Halloween candy.  My mother turns out has one.  Some lose their hard earned stars within a year or two only to find themselves suddenly a lot more affordable (Bib Gourmet) while sporting the exact same menu that earned them the star.  Should you look at Michelin for your French, Sushi and the default “New American” menu needs?  Maybe.  Should you look for it for Italian, Thai, Russian or [Name any other cuisine] needs?  Nyet!

You would otherwise miss on places like Ugly Baby, the newest hottie in Carroll Gardens.  With elevated neighborhood joints like FOB, Lucali, Frankies Spuntino, Buttermilk Channel and the boozy Other Half Brewing, Carroll Gardens is transforming into a dining and drinking destination.  Young professionals, tourists, accountants and even parents of beautiful babies in the nearby Park Slope are noticing the development, and this newest Seinfeld-esque name.  Apparently in Thailand its more common to call babies ugly so not to attract the ugly spirit.  An important lesson the next time you give a baby a compliment.

Hence at Ugly Baby the name serves as an anti-jinx agent.  And if the ugly spirit (lets call it Michelin) cant be fooled by the name, the spices will sure block it.  BYOB in this case means Bring Your Own Bounty.  We are talking about people all over the place sweating like a hooker on a “$5 Wednesday”.  When we asked the friendly waiter what they are planning to do with the entrance when it gets cold, he said “We will just add more spices”.  An hour later, all warm and fuzzy, we concluded he was serious.

Ugly Baby Chicken Skewers

The dishes here are fittingly ugly as you can see.  Just like picking Thai establishments on 9th, the uglier the better.  The Duck Salad (Ugly Duckling?) ended any hope of easing you in slowly as they throw you straight into the fire.  Complex, addictive heat, unlike any Larb I ever had.  The closest thing to a must here.  The Chicken Thigh Skewers will make you cry a little more, and cry every time you eat chicken satay at [Name any Thai Restaurant].  More succulence without easing too much on the heat.  By this point your tingling mouth is telling you this is as far as as you can get from Pad Thai nation.

The Kha Soi, perhaps the most underrated soup in the world, features welcomed sweetness and restrain, but more pleasant heat nonetheless and outrageously delicious beef shank cubes.  At this point you start to wonder which dish you like best.  Your hand keeps poking at the ugly duckling, so maybe that’s the one.  The Snapper, swimming in ginger & tamarind broth serves as something between a cooling agent and a waste of dish, once you try everything else.  This may be the true Ugly Duckling.  The final bill at the end answered the “do they have any desserts, like something with sticky rice inside a banana leaf” question.  Dessert or not, Ugly Baby is for real and a major Go!

Ugly Baby
407 Smith St, Brooklyn (Carroll Gardens)
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kha Soi, Chicken Skewers, Duck Salad

 

Advertisements
Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Tacos in Hell

Tacuba TacosTaco Wednesday (or is it Tuesday), taco month, national taco day.  I lose track sometimes, and I never discriminate.  I once even had an Al Pastor on a Thursday, a designated personal soup day.  I did not enjoy it.  But is there a governing body that registers all these national days? Are all 365 days already taken, or can things overlap. For example, can we add a National Shakshuka day on a day that just happens to be a National Chihuahua day.  Personally I dont see why Shakshukas and Chihuahuas cant be combined, but I can see the need for a limit of some sort as eventually the list will become too tedious to maintain its usefulness.  Do Chihuahua even eat Shakshuka? I bet Sabra Chihuahuas do.

Even though this list includes some of my usual suspects, I had to work a little hard to find the 5th for the latest W42st compilation.  After revisiting some old faves, and trying some new popular places, I suddenly found myself in my longest streak of taco mediocrity.  In a neighborhood with a largish Pueblan community like Hell’s Kitchen with tacos in every corner, you start to lose hope in humanity at some point.  But with some determination, we prevailed at the end.  Its “Never Lose Hope Friday” after all.

You can pick up your free copy of W42st anywhere in Hell’s Kitchen.  The inserts are now gone, and the KTCHLST is now embedded inside the magazine

Click here for prior lists

Shrimp at Otto’s Tacos – Small but with a lot of Chutzpah. Smartly seasoned with Serrano cream and onions. The shrimp tacos to beat in the entire city me claims

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – As many things in life, it gets juicier as it gets older. Slowly cooked porkiness, almost like they do in Mission, SF

Lengua at Tehuitzingo, – I brought many visitors for these tender delicacies that are sort of life changing. Some turned into big fans, some religious, and some in therapy

Garbanzo Y Hongos at Choza – As for veggie tacos this little guy is tough to beat. Mushroom and Chickpeas with “Chana Masala” like Salsa Negra.

Carnitas at Tacuba – This is the entree (below), not the “tacos”. You make your own tacos with wonderfully greasy suckling pig and Chicharron. CHICHARRON!

Tacuba Carnitas

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

Harry & Ida’s Luncheonette – Financial Gain

Harry & Ida's luncheonette Apricot ChickenThe Financial District just got “a bisele” more interesting.  Well, a lot actually.  If you notice I dont even have a space for Financial District on the blog, which means I’ve never actually written about anything in that area.  Even the foodie desert of Staten Island outnumbers it 3-0.  Well you do have Eataly, Brookfield Place, a Nish Nush branch, some nifty food trucks and a dead rabbit.  So when its time to recommend a place after taking selfies with the Bull’s private parts, its actually fairly easy due to lack of many options.  I myself get attracted to the north, Tribeca.

So did you figure out what “Bisele” means?  I bet Will & Julia Horowitz of Harry & Ida’s know.  They are the brother and sister team of EWZ faves Harry & Ida’s, Ducks Eatery and now this Luncheonette.  Luncheonette openings, particularly the ones offering cafeteria style food dont usually excite much.  Unless they offer one of the best pastrami sandwiches in town.  As you come in, before you know it, you are chewing on that pastrami and you are hooked for life.  I became a statistic myself when I had my first.  I remember Will handing them out like candy in a Grubstreet Festival.  People especially got intrigued when he started yelling “Hey try this, its terrible”  Its like we have this skunk instinct showing its face on occasion.

Harry & Ida's luncheonette inside

The Luncheonette main focus is to serve FiDi lunch crowds healthier options in the form of a Jewish Deli, by handing out free pastrami samples!  Ok, baby steps.  If you gonna go for the meat, at least have something as delicious as this.  But then after you realize these guys can flat out cook, come back for the salmon, veggies (dont miss the carrots) and the terrific Smoked Apricot Chicken.  And to seal the Jewish stamp on this deli, they even have Kasha Varnishkes.  Talk about Ratatouille Moment.

The Jewish Deli is a dying breed in a city known for its Jewish Delis.  Visitors may not realize that today for every Jewish Deli we have roughly 100 Ramen shops, and 20 Poke places.  So when we have people like Will & Julia not only reversing the sad trend but also introducing some healthy options while at it, people need to take note.

Harry & Ida’s Luncheonette
11 Park Pl
Recommended Dishes: Pop’s Pastrami, Apricot Chicken, Carrots, Kasha

Harry & Ida's Pastrami

 

Categories: FiDi, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wildair – Lower! East Side

Wildair SkateCulinary Slowdown.  Its a real first world problem.  Its when a food enthusiast wakes up one day realizing he hasnt eaten anything noteworthy in days or weeks.  Its when a food writer suddenly experiences difficulties coming up with new ideas and writes only about pizza for two weeks!  Its when you sit in a restaurant with your spouse after a mini hiatus and the spouse gives you that “you know, we could have been anywhere” look.  I’ve been there before.

Usually during a culinary slowdown you start to ask questions.  What’s the meaning of all this?  What’s the meaning of life?  Is there a point to this blog?  When I read reviews of restaurants during my travels, I always wonder how do restaurant owners dont end up in therapy.  And then I remind myself that I myself may contribute to the therapy bill.  Who am I to tell Mr owner that his product is shit after one visit.  This is a tough business, and way too many variables involved in a good vs bad meal starting with tastes and expectations.  But it’s 2017, the age of Trip Advisor and Yelp.  And the owners need to… well, own it.  Hopefully at the very least, some look at these as constructive criticism

Wildair

It started so promising.  A little suspicious, but promising.  No waits or difficulties getting a table at a prime time of 7 pm on a Saturday.  And then there was the space under the high top table (like a drawer without the drawer) for the camera.  I suppose you can put forks, napkins and purses in there as well, but it was the big boy camera that finally, finally found its space, a home,

Another variable was the three inches separating us from the guests next to us.  You combine tables into one long commune table, separate one table by three inches, and BAM!  You got privacy.  As a result it was a tale of two hearing aids.  Loud but manageable first hour when the people next to us had a simple conversation.  But when 4 girls, who managed to only communicate by shouting showed up…  It was like passing by a busy construction site, getting whistled at by the friendly workers, and this time sticking around for a good hour.

With all these accolades, its tough to keep expectations unblemished.  Bon Apettit named Wildair the #8 new restaurant in the country in 2016.  But midway in, when the squash blossoms came in overcooked into a messy mush, it started going south.  We did enjoy the seemingly famous, clean tasting, Beef Tartare.  But presentation and flavors were short of similar tartares, some in the immediate area (Estela).  The combination of Littleneck clams, with not too fishy XO, and almond broth worked well.  But there was just not enough of it to fully enjoy between two people.Wildair Tartare

I expected more from another menu staple, the Littlegem Lettuce.  It was citrusy alright but not balanced and flavorful enough to make you forget that you are eating lettuce.  The Skate came oddly covered with the cabbage instead of the other way around.  Perhaps if they can think of a way to open that cabbage like a flower when the plate arrives.  This was one of the better dishes, especially aided by the Sorana Beans.  But a far cry from another Skate by a Contra product (alumni), Gloria in Hell’s Kitchen.

The closest to a saving grace was the crispy warm house bread.  With just about every dish we turned to the bread for comfort and satisfaction.  To me its the true must.  The Chocolate hazelnut tart was simple and fine, while the Panna cotta and green apple granita was too frozen and not so fine.  Combine some granita with the tart and you got something.

Wildair
142 Orchard St (Rivington/Delancey), Lower East Side
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Bread, Clams, Beef Tartare, Skate

 

Categories: Lower East Side, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pizza Map

Below is what I consider a map of some of the best pizza in NYC.  I will update the map from time to time without notice, and at the moment I dont have time to edit the individual listings with the proper explanations.  So its a good idea to read about the place before you go, or at the very least to make sure its still open.  While you can bet that something like Joe’s will be open a year from now, a place like Bruno pizza may not.  But I will try to update the map as I often as I can

Many of these like the Hell’s Kitchen plays will look familiar (Maybe other than Corner Slice which I had 3 hours ago perhaps for the 10th time).  But some of these like Brunetti and Tramonti are fairly recent discoveries.  Brunetti makes a gorgeous Neapolitan and one of the best clam pies I’ve had in NYC.  I already discussed Martina, and older faves like Pasquale Jones and Roberta’s.  In Chelsea I’m only including Gotham Pizza, a surprisingly delicious slice for a chain (they add bread crumbs to the crust for extra crunch), while places like Co. essentially priced themselves out

Needless to say to produce this map, I had a lot of pizza in the past few months.  But I also included two powerhouses (Lucali and Keste) that I’ve never actually tried as of this writing.  Since I’ve been frequenting Keste’s half sister Don Antonio, Keste is the just about the last thing I want to eat when I find myself stranded in West Village.  And Lucali’s legendary waits dont bode well with my legendary waits allergies, but you may get better luck.  Many consider Lucali the best pizza in NYC

Also in Brooklyn, you got the pie with the best view in Fiornino, and arguably one of the best slices in NYC in Best PizzaRoberta’s is tough to get to, which is why I added the “mini Roberta” in Urbanspace Vanderbuilt.   I didnt add any of the Brooklyn legends like Totonnos and Di Fara for various reasons.  The only long timer pie on the list is John’s on Bleeker which dishes out a truly excellent NY style.  There are also some Manhattan newcomers just about to open that I’m keeping my eyes on like Sorbillo and Joe and Pats of the famous Joe and Pats on Staten Island.  I will update the map as soon as they open and pass the Ziggy inspection

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Martina is a Game Changer

IMG_6848Its a girl!  Marta, the NoMad Roman powerhouse, and a staple of the Z-List, gave birth to 10 inch, 2 lb, Martina.  Proud papa Nick Anderer resumes the quest for a full Roman invasion of NYC.  While he has plenty of Roman competition these days, Anderer is clearly the main man when it comes to the Roman stuff with his M&M’s (Maiailino, Marta, Martina).  All part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality group, and the person that gave us Shake Shack.

Sometimes I write about a place that makes me pause and ask myself if I really want to spread the word on this one.  Its called PTCS, Pure Thai Cookhouse Syndrome.  When I was working in Hell’s Kitchen, in order to eat at Pure, we had to sneak out at exactly 12.5 minutes before noon, in order to get a table.  Four times a year I would have unannounced drills, just to make sure everyone is on their game.  Sharing is Caring is something my parents never taught me really.  It was more like Sharing or I’m Coming Over with a Belt.  I’m sharing alright, but this is the one place I will frequent often by all looks and tastes, so I would like to be able to come whenever I feel like.

But Martina is far removed from the tourist zones of Times Square, High Line and Little Fake Italy.  Its all part of the joys of eating in East Village where 90% of the tourists are at Mcsorleys, 5% are trying to locate Mcsorleys, while the rest are lost trying to figure out under Guinness influence how to get back to Times Square from Mcsorleys.  Another advantage to Martina that you dont see much these days is that they open at 11 am.  Even if you add the 6 hours to accommodate for the time difference, similar pizzerie in Rome are still closed (Most open at 8)IMG_6698

So why is baby Marta a Game Changer?  Because we dont really have anything like it in the pizza capital.  Every week or so it seems we have a new $17 Neapolitan or NY or Detroit style opening but there’s really nothing out there like Martina.  The pies are just about the same size as a Neapolitan but they are flatter all around and much cheaper ($7-$12).  Anderer essentially created a new category.  The idea was to make a more affordable version of Marta in a fast-casual environment.  Yes, I said “fast-casual”, like the big boys

Since Martina opened a month ago, I’ve essentially become their Mashgiach (Kosher inspector).  I go every now and then to check the progress, while eating some of the best new pizza in town.  In the efficient gas oven at Martina the crust loses some of the Marta crispiness but its not such a bad thing.  The thin crust retains a pleasant chew that feels more balanced.  Anderer created a pizza lineup that include Roman classics like Quattro Formaggi with tomato sauce and arugula (most NY Quattro Formaggi are white), and a Capriocciosa (artichokes, ham, mushrooms, black olives, mozzarella & egg).  Both of which he learned from his extensive Roman training.  It also includes playful combinations like Brussels Sprouts Cacio e Pepe, and a Diavola with pickled hot peppers.  It might be the lightest, most perfectly sized individual pie in NYC today, especially once you factor in the price

And if you are a Marta fan, you’ll be glad to see Suppli and meatballs on the menu among other starters and salads.  And not to mention a proper finisher like the Fior di Latte ice cream with your choice of chocolate-amaro sauce, candied hazelnuts, olive oil, and sea salt. Ready, set, Go!

Martina
198 E 11th (3rd ave), East Village

IMG_6724

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Best Pizza in Hell (Revisited)

Its the first and last pizza week here on EWZ, and that time of the month – W42nd st monthly launch.  And by pure coincidence or not, this month issue lists the best pizza in Hell’s Kitchen.  Long time readers will notice one major drop/add on the list.  Although the major drop (John’s) is still fairly popular with visitors, and the addition is pretty far out there.  So pick up a free copy of the W42st, to check out what this dysfunctional family is up to these days.

Pizza List

Prior lists

 

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

Pizza and the City

Quick, what is the pizza capital of the world?  Hint:  Its NYC

So lets spend a few moments breaking it down.  Chicago does a good Deep Dish and then some.  Boston, San Diego, LA has are making all sorts of great pizzas, and so is New Haven which spoiled clam pies for me forever.  And then there’s Naples and Rome that are really the two powerhouses outside of the country that can compete with NYC pound for pound.  These are all fantastic pizza cities.  But none of them comes close to the size and depth of the NYC pizza scene.

Yelp lists 11,000 establishments selling pizza in NYC which granted is a little high.  And it only allows checking 999 results at a time, so I cant really see how many of these are actually pizza places.  And according to the Health Dep’t there are around 1600 establishments with the word pizza or pizzeria in the name.  So there you have it. We have exactly 1600 to 11,000 pizza places in NYC!  Ok, so we dont really know.  But the number is very high.  In many neighborhoods you can’t walk a block without a pizza, bagel, Chinese takeout, and therefore a Pharmacy.

And with the numbers comes the competition.  I’ve witnessed it increase dramatically during the last few years with the advance of Roman, Neapolitan, Detroit, and even NY style all over town.  Experienced Italian Pizzaioli continue to flock the city, while local talents like Nick Anderer and Emily Hyland increase the assault.  Our healthy pizza culture hasnt changed much, but we do have a lot more interesting options nowadays.

And these days those options go far beyond the institutions like Di Fara, which many consider the best pizza in city.  So as I wrote elsewhere…

Think of Difara as the High Sparrow.  The High Septon of The Faith of the 7 pizzas (Grimaldi’s, Lombardi’s, Totonno’s, Di Fara, L&B, Patsy’s, John’s of Bleecker).  But since it was crowned as the high Septon of The Faith, the 7 pizzas became 700, and many of them are now more powerful and better looking than the High Sparrow.  If you are a believer and part of The Faith, you already know who some of them are.  But if you are an outsider, you only know the High Sparrow and your mission in life is to meet him.  But to meet him you need to take what they call “The Subway” for a long ride and wait your turn among other non believers, which may take 1-3 hours sometimes.  And when you finally meet him, the entire experience may depend on one thing.  Whether the High Sparrow is having a good hair day.  Its essentially like a job interview.

So for those readers or GOT fans that are still with us, yes, we are grateful for all those institutions that deliver quality pizza for all those decades.  But today we have a lot of other options, some of which a little bit more interesting.  Other than John’s, these guys are somewhat painful to get to, and there’s a very good chance there’s a better option near your hotel.  So for the next week or so, I’ll be working on a map of some of the best pizza in NYC, along with other articles, starting with an updates list of the best of Hell’s Kitchen.  A pizza week on EWZ if you will.  And if you are not into pizza, you are an enemy of America!

 

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.