Monthly Archives: October 2018

Five Gems in Brooklyn

Kashkar lagmanAs the great Manhattan rent squeeze continues, Brooklyn’s dining scene is getting more and more interesting.  Years ago, you would never hear of notable places opening in neighborhoods like Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, Stuyvesant Heights. or any neighborhood with Stuy in it.  Brooklyn is getting the same media coverage as Manhattan these days.  Couple that with the ethnic food wonderland in the less gentrified areas of Brooklyn.  Here are five very diverse spots I’ve been enjoying lately.  A small sample showcasing what Brooklyn is all about these days.

Hometown BBQ – If I have to pick one destination in Brooklyn, or a reason to leave Manhattan, Hometown is it.  I wasnt sold at first, but boy oh boy I am now.  This is pure, legendary, finger licking stuff.  The brisket is perhaps their pride and joy, but the spare ribs are second to none.  The Italian sausage with smoked provolone and peppers is awesome.  And while other BBQ joints treat chicken like second class citizens, here they marinade it with Oaxacan spices for two days, grill it over wood, and dress it with salsa verde.  The result is a juicy triumph.

Claro – The Gowanus area is not exactly the first neighborhood I think about when it comes to food in Brooklyn, but as I said above, things are changing all over.  Claro is where you go for authentic Oaxacan flavors.  Its small, almost always fully booked, but we manage to get seats at the bar even in the busiest times.  The menu is loaded with essentially enlarged taco-like stuff on dough (pretty sure “stuff on dough” is a foodie term).  Like the toasty Tostada-like Memelas which come either loaded with juicy pork rib or wild mushrooms.  And then you have the sensational Mole Negro, where you’ll be pulling that shortrib in subsequent dreams.Claro Sabina Memela

Kashkar Cafe –  Although the city of “Kashgar” is technically in China, it makes more sense for “Kashkar” to be in Russian Brighton Beach instead of a Chinatown.  I’ve written plenty about this Uyghur/Uzbek before, and I dont include places so out of the way on the Z-List unless I have a very good reason. Off the beaten path takes on a new meaning here, but I do hear more and more people speaking English inside, as its becoming more popular.  Try the Geiro Lagman (hand pulled noodles), Juvova dumplings, any of the kebabs, and Langsai salad along with their bread and you’ll see why its worth the schlep.Kashkar Cafe

Tacos Matamoros – If you think this pick makes this list look suddenly super random, you are correct.  Thats sort of the point.  And even though, there’s a Mexican place already mentioned on the list, they couldnt be more different.  In fact this what really highlights what Brooklyn is all about, and the difference today between the gentrified halves of the borough.  A meal here will cost you about 1/5 of the bill at Claro.  Although on my Brooklyn tour we concentrate on the Chinatown portion of Sunset Park, I’ve been spending some time at Matamoros as of late.  And while the tacos are good and cheap, I prefer just about everything else here, especially the Tamales, and egg dishes (Huevos Rancheros, Huevos con Chorizo)Tacos Matamoros- eggs and chorizo

Werkstatt – I’ve written plenty about this eclectic gem in… ok, I still dont know what neighborhood they are in..  Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Prospect Park South, NoDi (North of Ditmas Park which I totally just made up).  It doesnt matter.  It looks, feels and acts like a neighborhood gem, making a lot of area customers happy.  Its technically Austrian/German.  And while you cant go wrong with the fine pretzel, schnitzels, and goulash, there’s really no cuisine the owner/chef cant do.  Thai, Italian, Thai Italian.  I just look at the specials board and pick whatever sounds good.  On a recent visit I had a perfectly cooked Skate with brown butter and capers.

Other random gemsFOB Filipino, Lilia, Nargis Cafe, Popina, Olmsted, Sofreh, Ugly Baby, Hummus Market, Traif, Fei Long Supermarket food court

Werkstatt Pretzel

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El Molín de Mingo {Asturias} – Pitu Nation

El Molín de Mingo PituWhen Mrs Ziggy asked me what we are going to eat in Asturias three months before the trip, I just took a deep breath and smiled.  Where do I start?  We initially picked Asturias for its sheer beauty and the mesmerizing Picos de Europa.  The plan was to hike and explore and hope for some good Asturian food.  Food I didnt know much about a year ago.  I didnt realize we picked one of the most desirable, and respected cuisines in Spain.  José Andrés and many of the most famous Spanish chefs agree.  Andrés after all took Anthony Bourdain there on the final episodes of Parts Unknown.  And an entire chapter is devoted on Asturias in the excellent Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture.  The pressure was on, to produce some memorable meals.

El Molín de Mingo at the foot of the Picos, became the first booking priority.  The seemingly middle of nowhere location, and the drive to it, meant you are not exactly going to a tourist trap.  The slightly terrified family, especially the kids in the back know the drill.  They’ve been there before.  Stay quiet, something good is coming.  On the drive back, we wondered if we ever took leftovers back on vacation.

El Molín de Mingo outside

If you think the portions are large in NYC, you should come to Asturias.  The notion that the bigger the plate the worst the quality is challenged here big time.  As usual our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered too much.  Leaving those plates there was criminal.  After the meal I spent many moments thinking about that Pitu in the hotel fridge, while driving the Asturias countryside.  Calculating and managing.  Thats how my mind works

We started with a local specialty I didnt know much about, Tortos de maiz.  A variety of fried tortilla-like flatbreads topped with either bacalao, chorizo, blood sausage, egg and ham, and cheese and caramelized onions.  All very good.  The mixed salad, we couldnt finish even though we ordered half, was especially fresh, and with roughly 17 different ingredients.  Since we already indulged in the Fabada a few times, we tried the Pote Asturiano this time.  Yet another delectable bean stew with collard greens and a variety of sausages on the side.

El Molín de Mingo Tortos

We didnt witness it but apparently there are these giant 7 feet chickens roaming around the area answering to the name Pitu.  Pitu Caleya Con Arroz, a rice dish made with those chickens is a local specialty and locals swear by El Molin de Mingo’s version.  Even local Michelin heavyweights try to replicate it.  Its unlike any stew you will ever eat. Nice depth, and simply addictive. You can almost taste the history and love that goes into the dish.   With that said, the Jabali Estofado, a slow roasted, super juicy wild boar with fried potato, was just as exceptional.  We took both home.

Reservations are a must.  English is limited so let your host make the reservations if you dont speak the language.  They are only open for 4 days a week.  Try to go for lunch since its tricky to get to.  This is a major Go!

El Molín de Mingo BeansEl Molín de Mingo Dessert

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Tia Pol – Just Basque a Move

Tia Pol Shrimp“If you want it, you got it.  You want it, baby you got it.  Just Basque a Move.  Yeah!” – Its been a while but pretty sure thats how that one goes.  Thats how I sing it it my head at least.  But the moves I’m busting these days are more like Elaine from Seinfeld-esqe.  Its more like a cross between twerking and wild prayer sways.  Still much work to be done, but I’m getting better at it.  There’s even a video circulating out there of me dancing, but there’s zero chance I’m sharing it here.  I got bullied enough as a kid.

The moves, the sways, and subsequent 911 calls get usually wilder after a fun meal.  And we had another one of those at Z-List darling Tia Pol the other day.  Its the most Spanish place I know.  Even if Rita Hayworth rolls in her grave every time someone orders a Gilda.  She rolls twice because it comes in twos (or at least everyone orders at least two).  But the fact that they even have Gilda, and things like green Gernika peppers on the menu says a lot about the place.  It may not be correct to call it Basque, as NYMag does, as it covers Catalan, Galician and other regions of Spain.  But its Basque enough, and perhaps one Galician Octopus, or Spanish style fried calamari (yep, best fried calamari is in Spain, not Italy) from covering the North of Spain rather nicely.

Tia Pol peppers

Tia Pol is tiny, and buzzy even on a lazy Saturday afternoon.  It subscribes to “If its not broke, why fix it formula”, serving pretty much the same menu since 2004.  The dishes to get today are still some of the same dishes we enjoyed 10 years ago.  New Orleans native Mani Dawes, who spent years happy munching in Madrid, knows a thing or two about Spanish food.  Madrid doesnt really have much of a cuisine, and draws much of its influences from the North, which is reflected all over the menu at Tia Pol.  Here’s a rundown of what we ate

Gilda – I’ll start with a mini (pun) rant.  Its hard to criticize a $2 snack but I’ll do it anyway.  Gilda is a popular pintxo eaten in Basque Country consisting of a single skewer of chili pepper, olive, anchovy, and pickles, usually served on a piece of bread.  The Basque people called it Gilda because its tall and skinny just like Rita Hayworth in their beloved Gilda that captured the nation back in the day.  Its not something that can be easily done here because we dont have fresh Spanish anchovies easily available, and for $2 a pop you just cant expect anything remotely close to the real thing.  But c’mon now.  This is not a Gilda, but a skinny Danny de Vito at best.  I suppose this might the best version we can come up with, but if you serve it to homesick Spaniards, they might start to weep, for the wrong reasons

Tia Pol Gilda

Pimientos Estilo Gernika – One of the more nonsensical comments that reviewers often make – “I can probably do this at home”.  Even if its true, is the point of eating out only to eat things you can not possibly make at home?  You are in full control of what you order.  But I love simple dishes, like the Miznon Cauliflower for example, that make you talk about possibly duplicating, and enhancing your life as a result.  The Gernika peppers that come blistered and simply sprinkled with sea salt, is such a dish.

Pinchos Morunos – Lamb skewers with Moorish spices, which means Cumin, Coriander, and all the goodies.  Gorgeously marinated and seasoned.  Get this!

Patatas Bravas – as solid as Bravas get in NYC

Tia Pol Patatas

Chorizo al Jerez – chorizo cooked in sherry and rosemary.  Chorizo, like Olives, is one of those things I like less than I think I do.  I keep ordering it, like olives, to see if maybe this is it, the grand chorizo, only to be mildly disappointed.  No exception here

Txipirones en su Tinta – This is it.  The dish I must get every time I’m here.  Squid cooked with its ink and a small hockey puck of rice.  It has that palatable inky sweetness, and the squid is never fishy.  Just wish that hockey puck was a little bigger.

Gambas al Ajillo – This is another dish I get all the time.  Its not going to win any shrimp in garlic awards, but its very garlicky and satisfying

Octopus Salad – Enjoyed in previous visits

Go!

Tia Pol
205 10th Ave (22/23), Chelsea
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Patatas Bravas, Pimientos Estilo Gernika, Pinchos Morunos, Txipirones en su Tinta, Gambas al Ajillo

Categories: Chelsea, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hummus and the City

Hummus Market

Hummus Market

This was supposed to be a big post about Hummus and Hummus withdrawals (RIP Dizengoff) on my first full day off of the month.  A full day dedicated to Hummus.  But alas Mrs Ziggy was home as well, which means…  Home Depot, Mall, something called Chick-fil-A in a mall, and changing 7 light bulbs.  Seven!  I think thats a record in Casa de Ziggy.  Maybe a record in any Casa, who knows.  And no, its not an especially large Casa.  I’m a tour guide.  Ever had a tour guide show you mansions of other tour guides?  And we are talking about 4 different kinds of light bulbs, one of which in the hard to reach hers and hers closet.

So I will make this one short and creamy, not chunky.  If you are in the chunky camp, you might as well be enemy of America, stop reading now.  Now that Dizengoff is gone where is the best hummus in NYC?  Of course its likely that there’s better Hummus out there, but these are some of the best.

Hummus Market (Williamsburg) – When you come from Naharia, Israel, close to the Hummus capital of the world (Akko), you are a Hummus pro by default.  Creamy, smooth, subtle flavored hummus in a comfy 100% vegetarian with a nice back yard.  The pitas come warm and fluffy, and so is the hummus.  Try it with sauteed Mushroom, and slowly add their green S’chug (Peppery Yememi paste) to the mix.

Vish (Greenwich Village) – Dizengoff coined the term Hummuseria.  The new Vish just outside East Village is the closest thing to a Hummuseria today.  An offshoot of the popular Hummus chain in Israel called Eliyahoo.  The hummus is creamy, to the point of almost liquidy.  As if it was whisked by a French chef for hours.  They dont make it just daily, but every few hours.  The only thing missing was a fresh, warm, fluffy pita.  But the Hummus arrives warm and glorious.

Gazala's Hummus

Gazala’s

Gazala’s Place (Hell’s Kitchen, and UWS) – The only Druze restaurant in the country has been whipping out fresh zesty hummus for many years now.  Now Gazala is back in UWS.  A full blown column on the menu is the dedicated to hummus, which you can taste in all its glory with the paper thin Druze bread.  Pair it with the underrated Falafel.

Holy Land Market (East Village) – The only Israeli market in Manhattan (stop laughing Bridge and Tunnel people) is also making their own Hummus, which is pretty darn good.  Sometimes you just want to pick up some hummus from a store (not called Sabra), along with some Bamba, Halvah, none alcoholic Israeli black beer, and its party time at Casa de Ziggy (Note: the Casa is BYOB)

Hummus Kitchen (Multiple Locations) – Yes, its a mini NYC chain. Yes, the hummus is very good.  I’m partial to the one topped with chicken Shawarma.

Vish Hummus

Vish

 

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Bilbao, Gaztelugatxe, and Guernica

IMG_9241What you need to know about Bilbao… Tours By Basques.  Thats it.  Let Mikel take your hand and show you around his city.  No amount of research can replace meeting a local guide and spending half a day with him.  Without a tour, we could be passing by a Pintxos bar, seeing napkins all over the floor, going “Feh! this is disgusting. Lets find another one”.  When in fact it is not only perfectly alright but advisable to throw your napkins on the floor.  So a mountain of dirty napkins on the floor is actually a sign of a good local bar.

What you need to know about Gaztelugatxe…  Just go!  Its one of the more exciting reasons to visit North Spain.  Give it about 3 hours, and try to arrive as early as possible on a weekday preferred.  It got a lot more popular lately after Game of Thrones (Gaztelugatxe is Dragonstone).

What you need to know about Guernica…  A couple of hours in this sleepy town will not be enough to fully understand its importance.  But its a good place to pair with Gaztelugatxe.  Have lunch at Boliña (There are two different Bolinas close to each other and both are good), see the “Guernica” mural, and of course Casa de Juntas

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Scampi is the Bomba!

Scampi Mafaldini

I will start this one with the definitions…

Scampi – Langoustines, or small lobsters the size of a large crayfish found throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean.  They are an expensive delicacy in the Mediterranean, and even more expensive here

Shrimp Scampi – A dish made of Shrimp, garlic, white wine poured over pasta.  At least thats the classic way.  There are many other variations out there

Bomba –  Calabrian Chili paste consisting of.. you guessed it… Calabrian chili, EVOO, and pickled veggies in some variations

Scampi the Restaurant – PJ Calapa’s (Costata, Ai Fiori) dream restaurant in Flatiron heavily featuring the three above

The Infatuation – Still clueless!

Scampi

The state of Italian dining in NYC is getting more interesting by the day.  From Scampi alone I can walk a few blocks to Maialino for the Roman classics (another outstanding meal a few weeks ago).  I can crawl to 13th street for the neighborhoody Da Andrea (I’m due).  I can walk to Ulivo, Mercato’s more mature sister, for some Southen Italian (I’m due there too).  Or I can just walk to Nishi (insert smiley with heart eyes here).  There has never been a better time for Italian in the city.  The wealth and depth of it makes everyone question, what is Italian food anyway.

But in order to stand out in NYC these days, you need to be creative.  Whether that creativity comes from childhood memories, working at three Michelin stars, or whatever.  PJ Calapa started in Texas, and worked his way through the ranks of NYC via Bouley, Nobu, and Michael White’s AltaMarea group.  For me it was Costata (RIP) that solidified him on the culinary map.  But Scampi feels like that dream restaurant.

The space is like a lesson in restaurant decoration and design.  It can get loud at dinner times and very quiet and airy during lunch.  The lunch bar seat closer to the front is my favorite seat in the house.  One on night we endured the two seater next to the busy kitchen door where we felt the restaurant’s pulse.  Our waiter, although clearly overworked, was ‘futuristic friendly’.  The type you only see in Sci-fi movies.

Scampi Beef Tartare

The food rundown:

Bomba – This will be on your table when you come in.  Its not meant to be for the bouquet of Grissini (bread sticks – nice touch), but to be combined with the dishes, especially the pastas.  I was eating this stuff with the spoon.  There are rotating pickled veggies mixed in (last time mushrooms).

Razor Clams – Reminiscent of a similar dish he created in Costata. Chopped clams mixed with chives and prosciutto.  Unlike similar dishes we had lately like in Frenchette, this one worked, again.

Scampi Razor Clams

Beef Tartare – Not particularly beefy, but nicely balanced and flavorful. There are quite a few ingredients here to make it happen including Parmesan, chives and the Bomba.

Mafaldini Scampi – This is their signature dish, featured on every table and every review (including sadly Infatuation.  These guys rush to review every restaurant before hitting puberty).  The Mafaldini has that wonderful chew and is a serious contender with Lilia as the best Mafaldini in NYC.  But what makes the dish work is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more) featured in other pastas.  The best way to eat this however is mix some of that Bomba midway.  This is a must get

Langoustines – These better be perfect for $14 a pop and they are.  As usual they come butterflied, and while there’s not a lot of it, the meat is glorious sea butter

Delicata Squash – One of the newest fall dishes.  Nice and heavy, in a good way

Scampi Squash

Octopus – The lone meh!  Slightly overcooked and forgettable when compared to the other dishes

Lumache – This is a hearty pasta dish.  Its a snail shaped pasta (like elbows on crack) mixed with Tarragon pesto, clams, and those crunchy Filone crumbs I can eat with a spoon.

Cassata – If you like semifreddo, get this.  If you dont like semifreddo, get this

Grillo by the glass – Its a bland, but a rare sighting of the Sicilian white.  Its delicious.

Go!

Scampi
30 W 18th St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Razor Clams, Mafaldini, Langoustines, Lumache, Cassata

Scampi LumacheScampi Cassata

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