Monthly Archives: January 2019

Sofreh – FOMO Strikes Again in Brooklyn

sofreh - chickenWhen I was very young, like around age one, I was really really handsome.  And I dont mean how all young babies and toddlers are beautiful in a way.  I’m talking stunning beauty, almost girlish like. My nickname in daycare was Kendall.  I had this ravishing hot blonde (I think that’s the correct color name) hair, and I was extremely pleasing to the eye.  So pleasing that my parents were constantly worried of the ‘Ugly Baby‘ jinxing syndrome, where someone out there would successfully give me the evil eye one day.  And sure enough it happened.

We were on a long train ride one day, and I cried hysterically the entire ride.  Well, much of it at least.  A woman then approached my parents and told them that I was obviously under a spell, which my parents already suspected.  There was no way I suppose I was teething, hungry, or suffering from an ache of some sort.  I was obviously cursed!  And the only way to get rid of this curse according to the stranger was to wash my face with a cloth that was soaked in some… urine.  Now, lets skip the part of whose urine it was or supposed to be, and go straight to the disturbing punch line.  It worked!  The fact that it worked that one time meant that I was essentially bathing in urine pretty much my entire baby/toddler life.

sofreh

Eater

Back in the day people blindly followed old rituals the same way we struggle today with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  Back then when people didnt have access to information, they rarely questioned things.  The fear of being wrong, or the consequences of going against the grain were too real.  You just went with the flow, and popular belief.  While FOMO is not nearly as serious, it follows similar human nature traits.  If we are not going to go to this hot new Persian restaurant in Prospect Heights, we are not living life to the fullest.

I am talking about one of the hottest openings last year.  A restaurant that was reviewed by everyone and their mothers (My mom gave it 3 cloths!).  Trying to reserve a table on a weekend these days proving more difficult than building a wall.  We had to resort to a Thursday 6 pm slot.  A new Persian restaurant in NYC offering seemingly well crafted, ultra instagrammable dishes that most New Yorkers never experienced.  Whats not to get excited about.

sofreh - kofteh

First the good news.  The space is chic, smartly decorated, and well lit.  Well, until 7 pm at least, when they decided to dim the lights for some reason.  But you got the sense that they thought of every single detail.  I even thought the bathroom featuring wall to wall vintage Iranian movie posters was pretty cool.  I especially liked the movie featuring Popeye knocking down a beautiful potentially unfaithful woman with his big bat, with Burt Reynolds, her lover coming to the rescue, too late.

Our first bite, the Kofteh was superb!  Beef meatballs with rice and split peas that put most Italian meatballs to shame.  Our second bite, grilled cauliflower was less successful but pleasant enough.  Things were working early on, and life is looking full again.  Unfortunately however, that was the end of the hit list

The “Ash”, a thick Persian herb and noodle stew delivered nice complex flavors the first few spoonfuls, but quickly became too heavy to eat on its own for all three of us.  This was a dish recommended by a few critics, and I wonder how much of it they really ate while trying to sample the various dishes.  It would have worked better with meat, in a soup form or on top of rice (which we got later with the mains) or pasta.  The whole wheat noodles as part of the stew wasnt nearly enough to save the dish.

A similar fate plagued the chicken and fish, two of the menu “classics”.  Interesting first few bites that quickly turned to “how do we salvage this”.  The chicken’s Plum and Saffron sauce with the tart Barberries became too sharp-tasting fairly quickly.  For relief I was picking on just the bird at some point.  But you couldnt do that with the “Catch of the day” striped bass.  “Catch of the day” is a funny concept in NYC, but thats another post/rant for another time.  The sauce was overpowering alright,  but the fish was too bland on its own.  The Persian Ice cream was good, but flavors not much different than at other middle eastern spots.

Looking at the mirror these days, that curse 45 years ago seemed to work.  But at least I’m living life to the fullest.  I’m Glad I tried Sofreh, but its probably a one and done deal for me.

Sofreh
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kofteh, Cauliflower

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The Richmond – A Star is Born

the richmond - tartareAsk 100 Staten Islanders what is good to eat on the island and the answers will be roughly as follows:  50 will say pizza.  25 will swear by the Eyetalian.  10 will say nothing, as in time will expire until they can come up with something.  10 will say Mexican. 4 may surprise with Spanish.  And 1 will mention Sri Lankan, followed by ding ding ding.  Mexican is in fact getting better.  But Sri Lankan is still the correct answer if we are talking about reasons to come to the island for food.  Coincidentally 1 is also the percentage of my readers that will make the trek to the island for food (or live there).  But last time I checked this is an equal borough opportunity blog.

So considering the above, its not so far fetched to consider The Richmond one of the island’s best.  The menu and location on Bay Street near other island greats like Lakruwana and Vida gives it a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ if you will.  The Richmond bills itself as the default New American which begs the question; WTF is New American anyway?  And what ever happened to old American?  Did we miss it?  Its very simple actually.  New American is a menu that can not be categorized.  Its not French, not Italian, Russian?  Nyet.  Its essentially an eclectic, random bunch of stuff in a semi expensive restaurant in America.

The room is spacious, inviting and just elegant enough, without crossing over to the pretentious side (ie no tablecloths).  One of the main differences between dining in Manhattan and SI is real estate.  In SI, you dont need to say gezuntheit every time one of your neighbors sneezes.  There’s usually ample separation between tables, but at the Richmond the layout and the various sections take it to another level.  Noise levels in SI usually can only be hindered by music (I’m looking at you Enoteca Maria)

the richmond - octopus carpaccio

The menu is quite far from your typical SI joint.  Items like Octopus Carpaccio, French style Charcuterie, and hand cut steak tartare are not something you can find on the island.  And the execution is there.  While the Octopus Carpaccio lacks much Octopus flavor, the dish including the chick pea salad on top still manages to work.  The Kobe Beef hand chopped Tartare reminded me of the beefy Tartares of Piedmont.  It is that good.  But the star early on was the superb spicy seafood bisque.  I would come back just for that

And there is a burger of course, and its a good one.  The Wagyu patties cooked to medium perfection dont need much else.  Instead of asking you how you want it cooked, they print how its cooked on the menu. I suppose you can request a different temperature but I wouldnt dare.  There’s also some gourmet Mac n Cheese.  We tried the Seafood (the other is Beef short rib) that featured wagon wheel pasta, and a smart combination of Gruyere, Raclet and sharp cheddar.  It is relatively light, creamy and satisfying.  The only dishes that felt short were the mussels, and the below average creme brulee.   Verdict:  If you live in Brooklyn, Go!  If you live on SI: Run!

The Richmond
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Burger, Octopus Carpaccio, Tartare, Seafood Bisque, Mac n Cheese

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Taladwat – The New Thai Sensation on 9th

taladwat - pompanoWhen a new Thai opens in Hell’s Kitchen, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?  Not so much these days in the closest thing we have to Thai-Town where over 40 Thais dominate 9th ave and beyond.  But what happens when the owners of the most important Thai in Hell open something?  You get a tsunami in comparison.  Such is the case with the new baby sister of Pure Thai Cookhouse a few blocks down called Taladwat

I didnt realize the connection when I first walked by Taladwat from Kinky Boots (meh!).  But I was intrigued by the menu that looked very different than the usual bunch.  There’s not much in common with Pure Thai here except perhaps for originality and some key ingredients.  Communal wooden tables dominate the rustic spacious room that looks more like a little Thai beer garden.

taladwat dishes

Over 20 dishes with prices next to them that most likely wont mean much to you.  Thats because most select the Pick and Mix option; 2 for $16 for lunch, or $18 for dinner for the smaller tapas like versions of the dishes.  I’ve taken advantage of the deal in all of my five visits so far.  Two dishes per person is a good amount.  I will update this post from time to time but out of the dishes I tried so far here are my current favorites…

Vegetable Green Curry – The curries here, whether in paste or creamy form are all solid.  This has just enough kick to remind you that you are not in one of the ordinary Thais on 9th

Crabmeat Tom Turmeric – Just like at Pure, crab reigns supreme with some key dishes.  This is just a well balanced milky goodness.

Pad Prik Khing Pork – Similar but not the same as one of my favorite pork dishes at Pure.  It comes with green Thai long beans they love so much, and a more complex, potent curry paste

taladwat - crab

Pork Stew – A mild but delicious stew that is not as shareable as other dishes, but there’s just enough meat for two.  It comes with some tofu and a hard boiled, hence “stew”

Turmeric Curry Chicken – Another outstanding curry.  Juicy, succulent dark meat ladened with a curry paste with some serious depth

Steamed Pompano – This is a small white fish that doesnt offer a lot of flesh, but whatever you can extract is quite delicious especially once you add the green chili sauce that comes with the dish.  Pompano can only be served whole due to its size and bonyness (I may have swallowed a few but hey what can I say, I’m living on the edge.  Yesterday I let my phone’s battery go down to 10%!)

taladwat beeftaladwat

 

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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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