Monthly Archives: January 2019

Tone Cafe – The Republic of Khachapuri

tone cafe - khinkaliIn the black sea of Uzbek and Ukrainian eateries on Brighton Beach Ave, one can easily forget the avenue two blocks up, Neptune.  Like 10th ave in Hell’s Kitchen, 7th avenue in Sunset Park, these are the forgotten practical blocks.  As a visitor you tend to gravitate towards the hubs.  But when you live in the hood, this is where you fix your chipped tooth, visit your favorite tarot card reader, or get that pastrami sub from the deli guy that knows exactly how you like it.

These blocks often give birth to destination places that cant strictly survive on the people living nearby.  Whether its the elderly in Brighton Beach or the poor students in East Village, these are often not the demographics that can sustain such businesses alone.  The young professionals and actors that dominate Hell’s Kitchen for example call the entire city their neighborhood and rarely stay put.  Such are the challenges for places like Nano, Taboon, Hearth and Tone Cafe on Neptune Ave.

tone cafe - chanakhi

 

Tone Cafe is one of a plethora of Georgian eateries popping up all over the city in the past 5-10 years.  And just about all serve the formidable Adjaruli Khachapuri, a boat shaped bread filled with salty farmers cheese and egg.  The eggier and bigger the boat, the more Instagrammable the dish.  In Williamsburg a Cheese boat theme restaurant opened not too long ago called, you guessed it, Cheeseboat.  But what’s hip and cool in Williamsburg, in Brighton Beach its called Wednesday.

The Cheese boat in Tone is not only a feast for the eyes but a succulent combination of salty, rich, crispy, and gooey.  If you are a bread and cheese lover, you need to add this to the bucket list.  Right after Machu Pichu.  The Khinkali, the mammoth Georgian dumplings is another popular dish here.  But I’m finding them too doughy for my taste these days and would pass in favor of …

The Kharcho – A tart tomato based soup with rice, walnuts, lamb or beef, and spices.  You may not look at Borscht the same way again.  Its something you can find all over Brighton, but Tone’s version is cleaner tasting and pairs very well with winter.  Another popular starter is the red bean Lobio, cooked with herbs and spices, and  usually served with walnuts, and pomegranate.  Georgian food in a “nutshell”:  walnuts, pomegranate, red beans, a lot of meat and bread

Tone Cafe - Georgian Bread

If you are not quite up to the gigantic cheeseboats task, you also got the other Khatchapuris like the Imeruli, which literally translates to “Khatchapuri for whimps” or something like that.  Its a simpler cheese filled soft bread.  Or try the Chanakhi, lamb cubes slowly cooked in clay pot with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and spices.  Pomegranade can also be found inside their terrific sausages (Kupati) I discovered on a recent visit (about 3 hours ago).  The Kupatis are thick and juicy and can rival with some of the best German franks.  A similar but differently spiced meat is the Kababi which comes wrapped in thin Lavash bread.

Tone Cafe is a little out of the way for most of my readers, but Brighton Beach, one of the most unique areas in NYC, and miles more interesting than neighboring Coney Island should not be overlooked.  Remember kids, we travel to see different, and this is definitely different.  Same applies to the kind of service you’ll encounter at places like Tone Cafe.  You may see a 10% service charge instead of a smile.  You may need to wait 30 minutes for your food for no good reason.  You may need to Google how to refill your own water.  And chances are that you’ll hear this “Hi my name is Randy, I will be your waiter today.  Do you have any allergies today?” is zilch.  Because that part of town has no Randys!

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Top 10 Dishes of 2018

Mushroom salad at Pig and Khao – One of two places making their second appearance on the Top 10 (the other is Pinch Chinese).  Once you start veering off the classics at some of them, only then you start to realize how good they really are.  And at the moment to me, this wild Mushroom with sliced shrimp, coconut, and chili salad is the unsung hero of P&K.  Its also one of the spiciest dishes here, so pair it with the most coconutty coconut rice out there.

Pig and Khao Mushroom Salad

Hummus at Vish – I often say that in this city we eat the world.  And its a wonderful thing.  But for better or for worse we rarely eat something that resembles its origin.  Tuscan food is not really the same as in Tuscany.  Uzbeki is not the same as in Uzebkistan.  And Lobster is not exactly the same as in Maine even though its the same lobster.  But the silky smooth, almost watery Hummus at Vish was one of those rarities, “Ratatouille Moment” if you will.  This hummus strongly resembles hummus in Israel.  Thats because Vish is an offshoot of an Israeli chain, and they make it the only way they know, multiple times a day.

Vish Hummus

Vish

Mafaldini at Scampi – To go to Scampi and not get the Mafaldini is like going to Katz’s and not getting the Pastrami.  Its a riff on the traditional Scampi and a serious contender with Lilia for the best Mafaldini in NYC.  Chef/owner PJ Calapa (Ai Fiori, Costata) Chooses Mafaldini for more chew, and tosses it with fresh shrimp, white wine, garlic and chili flakes.  But what makes the dish work wonders is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more).  The best way to eat this however is mix in some of their homemade Bomba dip midway.

Scampi Mafaldini

Seco de Pollo at Nano Ecuadorian Kitchen – If you are looking for the Avant-garde, the new and exciting, the hummus mention already hinted that this is not that list.  I tend to gravitate toward the Robert Sietsema kind.  Seco de Pollo is a hearty Ecuadorian chicken stew and Nano is one of the only places in the city to make it.  Its cooked with Naranjilla, a sour citrusy fruit grown in Ecuador.  Its a dish I eat every week.  Hint hint

Nano

Upma Polenta at Bombay Bread Bar – Upma, Oprah, Upma, Oprah.  I feel like saying it every time I mention it.  The first thing I tasted at BBB was the best thing, and showcases that Floyd Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever encounter.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

Cauliflower at Miznon – Once in a while you come across a dish that dare I say, changes your life.  Ok, slightly.  A dish that makes you replicate it at home over and over again.  The eggs at Gato is one such example.  While people flock to Miznon for the fluffy pita sandwiches, rightfully so, they miss out if they skip this seemingly simple whole cauliflower.  Its delightfully salty and absolutely addictive.

Miznon Cauliflower

Wind Sand Chicken at Pinch Chinese – This is a Hong Kong classic that I havent seen on any other menu in NYC, but variations exist.  Its a $51 bird (as of now) that is cooked like Peking duck (which they also have).  Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, and repeating.  The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist.  Garnished with fried garlic flakes, like the “sand” that the wind brought, hence the name.  Maybe if they closed the door once in a while, they wouldn’t have this problem.

Pinch Chinese - Wind Sand Chicken

Porcini Flan at Bouley at Home – A staple at this house, and the previous Bouley residence.  Why reinvent all the wheels if some work so well.  The “Porcini Flan” is more like a superb earthy soup featuring Alaskan Dungeness Crab, and a Black Truffle Dashi that I can drink all day long.

Bouley at Home - Porcini Flan

Gnocchi Alla Romana at Faro – Bushwick produced one of the best meals and sadly one of the worst (Roberta’s) last year.  All the pastas at Faro were outstanding but this one particularly stood out.  This is semolina based Gnocchi that tastes more like fried polenta. Served with slow braised rabbit.  The playful pastas keep rotating and changing and so this is not on the current menu, but Faro still worth checking out.

faro gnocchi

Tacos at Taqueria el gallo azteca – I never thought the day would come.  Staten Island appearing on a Best list.  The most exciting thing to open in SI last year was Dave and Busters, followed by Shake Shack, and the lines are forming at the new Chick-fil-A in the mall as we speak.  But El Gallo Azteca in St George not far from the ferry served the best tacos I ever had in NYC.  Heaps of juicy steak and chorizo goodness, reminiscent of Mission District.

taqueria el gallo azteca tacos

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Via Carota – The Road More Traveled

Eating With Ziggy

Via Carota FunghiDecember 30th, 2018 Update:

Happy New Year!

How did Via Carota become the most perfect restaurant in nyc? Very simple.  They stick to their guns and they deliver.  Their menu hasn’t changed much over the years and may even seem boring to some.  But its well balanced, and the execution is consistently flawless.  It slowly developed into one of my safest recommendations.  And the fact that they don’t take reservations made it into an approachable but busy neighborhood darling.  Otherwise it could easily turn into another Lilia.

It’s almost fitting that it’s signature dish is something so widely available below 14th, the Cacio e Pepe.  It’s amazing how such a simple dish can generate this level of craving.  I get asked about it often on my tours.  To avoid World War Z last time with the family, I ordered two of them.  But for a while it looked like the signature…

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