Monthly Archives: August 2018

Bombay Bread Bar – Mission Possible 3

Bombay Bread BarZ-List fanatics, both of them, already well familiar with this newest incarnation from Top Chef star Floyd Cardoz.  But as with some other recent Z-List additions, I never got a chance to write a review on “Paowalla 2.0”.  Paowalla’s blog post title would have read “Oops, I did it again”, after Cardoz essentially tried to recreate another fancy Tabla to satisfy his devotees.  At BBB Cardoz is following his gut.  And it works, a lot better than the “critics” leading to believe.

Classifying Bombay Bread Bar can be tricky.  Indian chef, working with Indian ingredients must mean “Indian”, right?  Much to the chagrin of theorists and traditionalists who bulk at the prices.  Indian food should never ever cost this much, creatures of habit proclaim.  And the likes of Cardoz, and other Asian chefs forfeit the right to get creative and charge premium for it.  Not only hogwash, but on my last meal I tasted Italian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese flavors in this so called Indian.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

As for the “critics” out there, the state of affairs of Google results in NYC these days is looking a little sad.  Its dominated by marketing and Google skills, rather than knowledge.  I dont want to name the names out there, but one of them rhymes with “Infatuation”.  These are not seasoned reviewers.  They read like Yelp reviews, and often sound like they dont really know what they are talking about.  They lock in the first Google page nowadays, even prior to actual reviews, with a “Review soon to come” post.  Their BBB review is yet another example of advice that is either wrong or unnecessary.  Missing in this case, the most important aspect of the establishment, the chef, and his ability to invent and change.

The Upma Polenta, the first thing I tasted at BBB, showcases that Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever eat.  The creamy Cauliflower Makhani, not on the current menu, made great use of the Naan.  I’m a sucker for a good garlic naan, and the flat naans here are exceptional.  So is the chickpea chaat, a medley of green chickpeas sprinkled with toasted yellow chickpeas.  And while you wont find much lamb presence in lamb curry, you will certainly taste it in all its glory.

Bombay Bread Bar Donut

Another “small plate” winner is the Three Chili Chicken Fry which got the sweetness of a General Tso’s chicken along with the intense heat of Szechuan.  Follow the Chinese flavors with hints of middle eastern in the new Sea Bream.  Served whole, but deboned and stuffed with a fantastic spicy red paste reminiscent of a mild Yemeni S’chug.  It replaced another good one on the menu, a Banana leaf wrapped Halibut covered with yet another great paste.  The Chicken Tikka, not Masala is another strong consideration with the larger plates.

Perhaps the only dish I didnt care for so much after three visits was the baked Eggplant which felt heavy and unbalanced next to other dishes.  I found the rice dishes good but not necessary.  The drinks can use a better hand, but I’ve only sampled two (sticking to beer).  And how does the Indian Donut not generate Cronut like lines?  Intense sweetness with its pistachio cream, candied pistachio, and rum syrup.  Go!

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This is Salamanca

IMG_8691Salamanca, 200km west of Madrid, is much more than a University and church town.  But these two reasons alone are good enough to visit even for an old Jew like me.  I just feel old and cranky this morning, and need to think about happier places.  Salamanca was a happy place.  Watching World Cup Soccer in one of the most striking Plaza Mayors in Europe.  Having a local show us around town.  Looking for the mysterious astronaut embedded in the facade of the “new” church.  Surrounded by the red Sandstone plastered all over the old town.  And meeting the only English speaking nun we’ve ever met, selling delicious cookies from a convent (Convento de las Dueñas).

But you want to spend at least a few nights here to experience Salamanca’s magic.  Its conveniently located if you are heading north to Asturias, or west to Portugal.  In fact you are only 3 hours away from another University powerhouse, Coimbra in Portugal.   You can also reach Avila, a walled stunner, within an hour or so.

IMG_8715Read about Salamanca and the frog that became its symbol.  Look for it on the University’s famous facade, on a skull.  Its not that hard once you know what it looks like (see pic below).  If you fail to find it, you will struggle on your next exam.  If you are not a student and you fail to find it, you will get Shingles within a week!  The frog, or more likely a toad was a symbol of sexual temptations throughout Spain’s history.  There were once prostitutes roaming the area, luring the male students, and the frog reminded the students of the consequences.  The skull represents death, a possible outcome due to the many diseases the prostitutes carried.  Thanks Obama!

Salamanca doesnt strike me as a foodie paradise but there’s plenty of good eats for a short trip.  Plaza Mayor challenges the notion that main squares in Europe offer nothing but tourist traps.  A local took us to Mesón Cervantes in the plaza where we enjoyed the local specialty Farinato – fried potato, eggs, and a sweet leaning sausage hash, among other things.  Also on Plaza Mayor you got Las Tapas de Gonzalo (Best Patatas Bravas of the trip), and their finer sister El Mesón de Gonzalo not too far.

The same local took us on a mini tapas crawl starting with the ultra local Taberna Dionisos known for their Tostas (small open face sandwiches).  And we quickly got hooked on Croissantería París and their ham and cheese croissants.  Hornazo, the local savory pastry stuffed with pork, chorizo and egg I was so looking forward to try, surprisingly did not look too appealing and I never got to try it.  The fact that I was stuffed every time I saw it didnt help.  And dont forget about the nuns (most likely closed between 3-6) and their cookies.  And  make sure to visit the Convent of St. Stephen nearby.

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Chelsea Lately – 2018

Miznon CauliflowerIts that time of the year, readers.  When I dissect piece by piece this tourist trap in Chelsea we call the Chelsea Market.  Did I get your attention now?  “Tourist Trap”, a term used often when you read reviews about ultra touristy establishments.  “Migrane” is something you get when you read what others have to say about something you know and love.  “Himalayan Meditation Retreats” is what you Google three months after you open a restaurant in NYC.

But I suppose every touristy restaurant on the planet can be and will be called a Tourist Trap by visitors from all over, who fail to capitalize on the establishment’s full potential.  After all, I just called such market in Madrid, and I have a very hard time believing otherwise.  But there are two very important ingredients missing in Chelsea Market in order to quality as a Tourist Trap.  Mediocre food, and lack of local interest.  Make it knowledgeable local interest like the Chowhounds who know NYC food scene better than anyone

Food courts are popping all over the US like presidential tweets.  NYC alone has around 20 of them.  And due to that vastness you keep seeing some of the same generic names in many of them.  Like food trucks that keep multiplying, selling the same items all over the city.  They are there more for convenience rather than destinations.  What makes CM different is that its not loaded with the usual suspects, but vendors who call CM their only home.  Why?  Well, mainly due to the fame and foot traffic that comes with it.  I just dont recall CM being as culinary rich when mostly locals used to go there.

Miznon

Miznon

But Chelsea Market is soooo crowded, you say.  Well yeah!  But its really the cramped former Nabisco factory space that is the main culprit.  Its a pita smack in the face as soon as you walk in, and some cant wait to come out from the other side (10th ave).  But if you do, at least check out the pictures on the right near the 10th ave exit where you’ll see the old factory and a picture of the last west side cowboy with his flag down.  Before the High Line rails got elevated, these cowboys rode before the trains on “Death Ave” waving their flags as a signal for the coming trains.

But if you opt to stay for a while and you like to eat, deliciousness awaits… and seats!  When you start branching out of the main hall you will discover that CM is not as crowded as it seems and you can sit down.  Here’s a list of items I would target.  Its a nice mix of items for pescatarians, vegetarians, carnivores, and even pediatricians.  I would pick about 3-5 items of the list (to share with your special someone(s)), allow 90 minutes, and perhaps walk it off on the High Line after or during.

Hummus at Dizengoff – You are not there just for the Hummus, but the entire package. The hummus with the rotating toppings (right now they got a good looking Sabich – egg, eggplant, Amba combination on the board), the pita, the Salatim, and homemade Z’hug.  This is a a nice light option to share.

Dizengoff Hummus

Cauliflower at Miznon – Its a simple roasted cauliflower, but delightfully salty and quite delicious.  You can bring that to Dezengoff and start eating it there while you wait for you Hummus.  Though there’s something about eating inside Miznon.  Like stepping into a Tel Aviv fast food joint.  If you skip Dizengoff, share a pita sandwich here.  I’m partial to the veggie combos

Cumin Lamb at Very Fresh Noodles – If I have to pick one item in the entire market, this is probably it.  It doesnt get as spicy as Xi’an Famous but what it lacks in heat, it gains in flavor.  This is the only place where I struggled with seats in the past, but they now added counter seating facing the “Biang Bianging!”, and there are usually seats.  The Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is another hit

Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Saxelby Cheesemongers – A good excuse to go downstairs and escape the selfie sticks of the main hall.  While you wait for your sandwich, sample some hot sauces at the shop next door.  I’m partial to the Bronx sauce.

Double Cheeseburger at Creamline – If you are coming from another country, and have this thing called “American Burger” on your list, this is as good as it gets in NYC for this price range.  To me it beats Shake Shack, from the bun, beef, and the optional egg which you should add.  I also like the choc milk here, and Turkey burger

Creamline Burger

Hot Dog at Dickson’s Farmstand – A very solid hot dog. Or for something perhaps a bit more tangy and tingly…  Paprika or Kaese Currywurst from Berlin Currywurst.  If you never had a proper hot dog, go for the former.  If you did, do the latter (yes, add some spicy sauce, at least on the side)

Adobada Taco at Los Tacos #1 – The Shawarma of the south. Well it did come originally from Arab immigrants in Mexico.  This is a quick delicious snack you eat standing up.  Or/And get a Fish Tacos at Los Mariscos to at least earn that secret bathroom visit.  Yes, a bathroom with no lines.  When standing on that line to Los Tacos, look left for the Los Mariscos entrance.

Los Mariscos Tacos

The Splurges….

Lobster Roll at Cull & Pistol – This is one of my overall NYC faves.  Owned by the Lobster Place so everything comes from next door, the city’s top fishmongers.  Ignore confusing old reviews by Infatuation.  The lobster roll at $29, is one of the most expensive in town, though you will not find a lobster below $25 at any full service.  And yes, they are this tiny everywhere, and most not quite as good.

Sushi at Lobster Place – Its my go to place for Chirashi bowl.  I also buy Salmon burgers here to grill later.

For Dessert….

Halvah from See & Mill – Especially for those who never had Halvah.  Try it with their ice cream as well

Cherry pie at Sarabeth’s bakery.  A classic!

Gelato at L’Arte del Gelato – Or for something a little more interesting, explore the High Line and area head to Gelato Giusto on 9th.  Owner Lorenzo from Milan is like a sorbet wizard but knows his Gelato as well

Cull & Pistol Lobster

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3 Days in Madrid

A word of advice:  Lakasa!  That’s it.  Just one word as promised.  Thats the most important takeaway from this post, and if its the only takeaway, my job is kinda done here.  In other words, if you only giving this post your valuable morning bathroom break, just go straight to the Lakasa section and read the rest if you have more time.  There are other important tips here, including where not to eat, and where we planned to eat but didnt eat.  So maybe make it a longer bathroom or a work vaping break, to read the rest.

Talking about “takeaway”, my biggest struggle in Spain was requesting Coffee To Go in Spanish.  I know this is not exactly a coffee to go culture, but I needed it on occasion especially while driving.  I had to do it especially in the North where English was almost non existent.  “Para Llevar, Para Llevar, Para Llevar”.  I practiced, and listened and practiced some more.  I went from “Pull the Lever Please!” to “Para Levar” to “Para Yevar” and they would continue to nod and smile and serve it in a small coffee mug on a plate to stay.  Wife sometimes would come back from shopping to see me sipping on the coffee cup going, “couldnt pull the lever again, couldn’t you?”.  Nope!

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The most surprising thing about Madrid’s food scene was the large amount of American chains scattered all over the center.  There were moments when I was looking for something interesting to eat, and it was easier to find a Burger King then a local shop of some sorts.  But the site that surprised me the most was my first International “Five Guys”.  Turns out, there are 4 more outside the center.  Well done Guys!  All 5 of you.

Here’s a rundown of the places we ate.  You can read between the lines

El Paraguas – This was strongly recommended by our host and I can see why.  A room, make it rooms, including an outdoor patio, packed with locals, including families and grandpas who lunch.  All on a Friday afternoon.  And you need to dress up a notch for this one.  The cuisine is Asturian but the menu reads like a bible.  Madrid doesnt really have its own regional cuisine.  It draws its inspirations from all over Spain, especially the north (I can be corrected here).  The standout here was a mystery dish.  “Cocochas de Merluza con Yema de Huevo” on the Spanish menu translated to “Hake’s Barbel in green sauce and egg yolk” on the English menu.  Confusing because Barbel is a another fish, and Cocochas is the second chin or jaw of a fish which we had in Getaria some time later and it looked nothing like this.  Whatever it was, it was excellent. and I would go back just for this.IMG_8467

Cervecería Cervantes – This is where you will have that “We are finally in Spain” moment.  Surrounded by locals, and eating things we couldn’t get enough of the rest of the trip.  We came for the Galician Octopus which was good indeed, but we totally devoured the shrimp in garlic and Padron peppers.  And we started hearing angels singing when we tried the fried calamari.  Even though the singing was mostly in latin, I understood most of it… “Remember all that fried Calamari you’ve been eating in New York all your life? Lalalalalalala!  Its crap!  This is what it supposed to taste like”

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Lakasa (bottom)- Madrid is loaded with some incredible talent doing elevated traditional dishes and Avant-garde.  But its hard for me to imagine many better experiences in this price range.  This was flawless from start to finish.  From the house white to the waiter eerily popping a little device on the table where little wet wipes peep out one by one, much to our delight.  It doesnt take much to amuse us.  silky smooth Cecina (cured cow meat) from Astorga.  A mind blowing grilled Hake (better than the Alfonsino special).  Dried rice with pigeon, a house specialty, was a standout.  One of the better cooked steaks of a Spain trip loaded with great meats.  Clams in garlic, and fried eggs with truffles we couldnt get enough of.  One of the best meals we ever had in Spain

La Casa del Abuelo – Shrimp and Garlic!  We’ve been obsessing and dreaming about the shrimp in Garlic months prior to the trip.  Portugal did this to us!  Ramiro in Lisbon if I can point fingers.  In Madrid all indications pointed to the undisputed Shrimp and Garlic champ, La Casa del Abuelo.  Not to be confused with Abuela (grandma) on the same street.  You want Grandpa’s cooking, not Grandma in this case.  Really enjoyed the crustaceans here. They were plump and flavorful albeit on the softer side.  We also enjoyed the large Fideo with squid and its ink.

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Ochenta Grados – This was the only place open on Sunday night that was walking distance from our apartment.  We were surprised at how many close on Sundays here (some open for lunch).  Ochenta Grados felt like a place more for teen girls so it was sort of perfect because I came with two of those.  But at the same time it was cheap, inventive fun, and shockingly good value.  Clever “Tapas” like plates around 4 euros each.  We pretty much tried the entire menu for 70 euros.  A marginal endorsement for the foodies out there

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San Miguel Market – This is the one I dont quite get.  What exactly is the attraction here?  Is it the concept or the food?  Coming from the land of food markets (NYC) this was shockingly disappointing.  We settled initially on some overpriced, mediocre toasts with cheese.  Then we circled a few more times and nothing stood out.  Extremely crowded and expensive for Spain (11 euros for a small portion of fried calamari).  The whole thing felt like a giant tourist trap.  I cant imagine many locals go here.

A word on Tapas – One thing I learned in Madrid is that Tapas is more of a way of life, rather than a concept or simply small plates.  Its a social gathering where you move from place to place eating and drinking what the establishments specialize in, while standing.   Tapas is a lifestyle, that is not meant to be forced, and therefore difficult for visitors to mimic.  When you are spending a full day sightseeing, your planned Tapas crawl may not fit as you’ll be craving a seat and a drink somewhere relaxing instead.  But if you must, Calle del Dr. Castelo near Retiro park is loaded with some popular eateries like Laredo, La Castela, Castelados, and La Raquetista

Other places I wanted to visit but didnt have a chance:  La Manduca de Azagra, AskuaBarra, Glass Mar

 

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EV Bites – Taco Crawl

Tacos Morelos

Tacos Morelos

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

In this issue I’ll focus on Tacos.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, or in Staten Island, you are missing out on a Taco renaissance.  These are the golden years for taco lovers, and its just getting better and better.  This crawl features 4 places and an unrelated dessert that is convenient to the crawl.  The only thing to keep in mind here is that Empellon usually opens at 4 (1pm on weekends), and the dessert place may be closed in the evening.  So check the times.  Its best to do this on weekends.

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – I’ve tried every taco here over the years but I keep coming back for this deliciousness.  A good example of the so many NYC mini chains today that started in East Village.  Try the Horchata here as well

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – While I prefer the Hell’s Kitchen location, this is solid enough.  The sitting may be sparse but this is a walking crawl, not a sitting one

Break time – Check out The Museum of American Gangster, and the prohibition era speakeasy on St Marks

Beer Braised Tongue at Empellon Al Pastor –  The namesake taco is excellent, but once I discovered the Pork tongue it was no going back.  Its all in that delicious, tangy sauce they make that elevates this thing.

Cochinita Pibil at Taco Morelos – This s possibly the most authentic of the bunch, and East Village overall.  Wonderful, tender, slow roasted pork on a homemade tortilla is hard to beat.

Break time – Check out whats happening in Tompkins Square Park, my favorite NY park.

Almond Croissants at Patisserie Florentine – Finish with some of the best Almond Croissants you’ll find in NYC.  Though the Canelles arent too shabby either

One of these stops is an important stop on this world famous East Village tour

Enjoy!

 

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