Monthly Archives: May 2019

EV Bites – The Dumplings Belt

Mimi Cheg's - Mopu TofuEvidence of the “Pierogies/Vareniki Belt” can still be found on 2nd ave in East Village, dating back to the late 19th century when Ukrainian and Polish immigrants started flocking the area.  Less than a quarter of the 100,000 at the peak, still remain, and the percentage of the Pierogi shops dwindled even more.  We are down to Little Poland near east 12th, the Pierogi speakeasy of Streecha on 7th, and the Pierogi kingdom of Veselka, arguably the most famous and popular Ukrainian in the country.  I may be forgetting one or three.

But these days for every Pierogi joint there seems to be 5 dumpling shops popping up on or off 2nd.  While it may be premature to rename it the Dumplings Belt, there are various articles out there calling East Village our newest and hippest Chinatown.  If it is, its a Chinatown that looks like Little Moldova just as much.

With that said, here’s where you can find some of the best Dumplings on/off 2nd ave these days.

Silky Kitchen – Its not a question whether there’s any legit Hunanese joints in this area, but how many are out there now.  Silky’s dry noodle dishes pack a punch, but its the delicious beef and daikan dumplings that makes me keep coming back.  137 E 13th (3/4)

Silky Kitchen

Mimi Cheng’s (top) – The story of the two sisters (Mimi’s daughters) is inspiring, and the ultra-fresh ingredient driven dumplings in a way reflect that.  While all the dumplings are good, locals flock for the unique monthly specials and collaborations like Foie Gras, black truffle, chicken a la NoMad Chicken, and the explosive Mapo Tofu dumplings available this month.  179 2nd Ave (11/12)

Dian Kitchen – Off off 2nd ave, Husband and wife team dishing out silky Yunanese style noodles based on family recipes.  The pan fried dumplings feature your basic pork/chive/cabbage filling and they are just about perfect.  Well balanced, crispy and delicious.  435 E 9th St (1st/A)

Dian Kitchen Dumplings

 

The Bao – These guys are so serious about their soup dumplings that they stopped making them once they realized they lost their touch.  They were on a break (“Friends” style.  Btw, to learn which member of Friends lives near the Bao, you need to take the East Village tour.  Sorry, papa needs to pay the bills!).  They took their time to relearn how to do it right and these little bundles of joy are now back.  And its worth mentioning the awesome Spot Dessert Bar downstairs.  13 St Marks Pl (3rd/2nd)

Xi’an Famous Foods – Chain or not, the Lamb dumplings at Xi’an is a thing of beauty.  They are the size of large meatballs, boiled and carefully ladened with a killer combination of vinegar, soy, chili paste, and chili oil.  The sauce is so potent, that I wouldnt hesitate to order the spinach dumplings here instead on my healthy every first Monday of the month.  81 St Marks Pl (off 1st)

Xi'an Famous Foods

 

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Fiaschetteria Pistoia – Under the Alphabet Sun

s

May 6th, 2019 Update:

It was a rough start.  Last time at Pistoia, we were greeted by the first Pistoia we met that didnt have a heavy Italian accent.  No, its not like myself or Mrs Z have a Fish Called Wanda Syndrome (you need to remember the movie well to understand).  Its just that over the past few years we got accustomed to a certain atmosphere at this ultra Tuscan.  But rest assured, our waitress quickly explained and fixed the situation, switching to fluent Italian.  And then we never saw her again, which we appreciated in a strange way.  This is why…

One of the biggest differences between eating in NYC and Italy is the number of front of the house workers you see.  For a typical mid-range establishment here you may witness a manager, a host or two, 4 servers, 2 busboys, and one or two bartenders.  Its roughly more than double the amount of workers you find in a similar size place in Italy.  Last time at Pistoia (original East Village location always.  Since the last update, another West Village location added), we counted a total of four people handling a packed house, and a sidewalk.  That hustle meant waiting 15 minutes more for my bill, but that also meant a lighter bill, and a different atmosphere.  At Pasquale Jones last week, we saw twice as many employees and half the customers.

Its worth coming here for the creamy Zucchini flan alone, or for some of the silkiest, sweetest prosciutto you’ll find in the city.  Not much changed in the all fresh pasta department.  The square Maccheroni now features a fine and very Tuscan Cinghiale (wild boar) ragu.  The Pappardelle with the beef ragu still rocks.  And although the Picci lost some of its roundness, its the most peppery, creamiest Cacio e peppe out there.  The biggest discovery this time was probably the splendid Chocolate Panna cotta, but you cant forget about the Tiramisu here.  Upping Pistoia to three stars, as this is slowly becoming a family fave.

Pistoia

April 2nd, 2018 Update:

Turns out Pistoia handles family style like they do with their families in Tuscany.  A feast for the ages for $55, house wine included.  Highlights:  The oh so silky prosciutto I cant get enough here.  The tiny but potent Zucchini flan.  One of the best simple Spaghetti with red sauce I’ve had in a while.  Perfectly cut and cooked Pappardelle topped with hearty slow braised meat ragu.  And delicate veal cutlets braised with Tuscan wine.

I rarely get this much satisfaction from a group.  The big reason is the people running the place.  You are not dealing with a corporation and an expensive super fixed menu.  You are dealing with owner Emanuelle who will not nickle and dime you and will make sure everyone leaves satisfied.  One of my favorite new Italian in NYC.

September 26th, 2017 post:

There’s Off the Beaten Path, and then there’s Avenue C.  When I first heard of Fiaschetteria Pistoia about 6 months ago, I had to see it to believe it.  You hear about places open in Alphabet City, but rarely so far east.  Its a good news, bad news situation for residents and the many students who call East Village and Alphabet City their home.  It’s great to see businesses open and thrive, but at the same time we may be looking at a rent squeeze.  On the bright side, I’m now able to sit outside on Avenue C.  Something I wasnt able to do not too long ago during the more violent days of the Alphabet (I’m using Marvel lingo here.  As in “we need to defend our [Hell’s] kitchen)

You almost assume that any town just outside of Florence would be sleepy when compared to the tourist mecca nearby.  But Pistoia, just west of Florence on the road to Lucca (another gem) is filled with culture and nightlife.  And in the middle of that nightlife is Fiaschetteria La Pace, the big brother of Fiaschetteria Pistoia.  Fiaschetteria, in the more traditional sense means a small wine bar, more associated with Florence.  Back in the day, Tuscan wine was brought in from the vineyards in straw-bottomed bottles called Fiasche and sold in these tiny open wine bars, like street food.  A dying breed just like the Lower East Side Jewish delis that once roamed around the area where Pistoia calls home

 

Pistoia is as far removed from Italian/American as a place can be in NYC.  Much of the staff including the cooks, a family and friends affair, from you guessed it, Pistoia.  A human pasta machine in full display busy making the Picci, a rarity in NYC because its slightly more labor intensive.  Limited but adequate English throughout adds to the charm.  Even the wine “menu” may seem strange to some.  A basket with 8 house wines, dropped on a table or chair near you to explore and sniff.

There’s only one thing that sings Tuscany more than Picci.  Pappa can you hear me?? Pappa al Pomodoro a rustic dish not so easily found in NYC.  Mainly because tomato mush (“Pappa”) with stale saltless Tuscan bread doesn’t usually scream fine dining.  But this is indeed a good one.  Many may also bulk at the idea of Picci served Cacio e Pepe style.  But in south Tuscany this kind of Roman influence is common, and Picci got a bit more of a bite.  And yes, you even have a Cinghiale (wild boar) sighting here.  Here it is served with Maccheroni, a pasta that is a little more generic than I’m usually led to believe.  I was expecting tube shape, but got flat noodles that you can use to make little tacos with that meat Fiaschetteria Pistoia Pappa al Pomodoro

In Pistoia, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra (slowly cooked duck ragu) is usually served on an annual July festival.  In Alphabet city I can get it any day now.  This regular (I’m told) special became my favorite pasta here after three visits.  On the last visit, I also enjoyed Crostone Fagiolino, another Pistoia specialty of bread topped with cooked prosciutto, chicken liver and Mushrooms.  Eating this requires a little work, but it pays off overtime.  Standards like Prosciutto and Tiramisu are top notch here.  Tiramisu is so good in fact that I havent tried any other desserts here.

Fiaschetteria Pistoia
647 E 11th (Off C), East Village
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Any of the Prosciuttos, Zucchini flan, Pappa al Pomodoro, Crostone Fagiolino, Spaghetti, Pappardelle, Maccheroni (any), Picci Cacio e peppe, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta

 

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

Pasquale Jones – Downtown Funk

Pasquale Jones Diavola

May 3rd, 2019 Update:

Its been 977 days since the last update but who’s counting.  Not me.  There’s an online date calculator out there in Google land.  I use it to sometimes to count days between vacations, colonoscopies, etc.  But there’s not much to report here really, except to remind you that PJ is awesome, albeit a bit more touristy these days.  It seems that the borders of Little Italy have expended and every time I’m here, I’m surrounded by savvy tourists.  The last time, we overheard from the next table… “according to my research this is one of the best Italian restaurants in NYC”.  That followed a “Dont you dare dad” by my oldest, which meant: please dont strike a conversation with them, we are having a nice family lunch, and you are like 0 for 40 (tourists we met who read the blog).  Ok, fine!

More tourists, in addition to more restaurants by the group (Legacy Records) can very easily lead to loss of focus, but I’m not seeing any evidence of that.  Pastas like the Tagliatelle with lamb (when they are out of rabbit), fennel, Pecorino, always solid.  Its an ever-changing pasta lineup.  The great Agnolotti or Guinea Hen Cappellacci with lobster mushrooms, that’s not really a mushroom, I had once, are long gone.

The pizzas are still fantastic but I cant make myself try something other than the Diavola or clam pie whenever I’m here.  The Braised Leeks have been on the menu since day one pretty much, and its indeed good.  And on the last visit, the proximity to Little Italy made us try the Veal and Ricotta meatballs which were exceptional, tho the family was not too keen on the too bitter accompanied Broccoli Rabe.  Still a go!

August 29, 2016 Update:

The great Pasquale Jones is now experimenting with a new concept.  They offer on weekends something called “Lunch”.  Yes, its not a typo… lunch on weekends!  No Mimosa, no French Toast, not even an eggs Benedict pizza.  Just lunch.  Last weekend after a quick egg sandwich and a Mimosa at home, I decided to check it out for myself and the results may shock you.

It was great!  Sure, I was dreaming of bacon and eggs on occasion, but a small price to pay when the pizza is this good.  And by pizza, I mean I’m essentially stuck with the Diavola and the now city wide famous LittleNeck Clam pie that is growing on me.  While I much preferred the spicy Diavola last time, the clam pie with a little drizzle of the accompanied Calabrian Chili is creamy and satisfying enough to continue ordering it.

IMG_3898

But I really come here for the pastas.  Hard to pass on the pizza especially when you bring new people here, but the pastas and the whole package is why I’m adding PJ to the Z-List on the next big update (as soon as this month).  What attracted me to this very experimental lunch was the Tajarin with corn and summer truffles.  Knowing that Tim Caspare who spent some time in Piedmont, knows how to handle those Piedmont(ish) classics.  Sweet pastas dont particularly sound very sexy to me, but this one may have changed that notion.  Rich, creamy, but at the same time very summery.  The “Mezze Rigatoni”, their slightly heavier version of the Cacio e Pepe was good as well.  And I’m still yet to have the Pork Shank for 2 (or 3) that everyone’s talking about

If you go for lunch (or dinner), check out the new soft serve and Poke window at Seamore’s next door.  They are serving now coconut lemongrass ice cream from Oddfellows which is fantastic.  And/or if its open, get the chocolate chip cookie and coffee at Maman.  Strong candidate for best cookie in NYC! IMG_3895

March 20, 2016 original post:

I rarely get them this young.  As tempting as it is to move up the food blog ladder, I prefer to wait for the growth and maturation that comes at the other guinea pigs expense.  After some time, they figure out where the holes are, what works, what doesnt, and suddenly the world is a better place.  This is one reason that one can not simply go by early opinions from first respondents who care only about being on that elusive first Google page (I’m looking at you Infatuation).  But sometimes, something jumps at you, and you feel a little anxious.  In this case it wasnt so much the team of Charlie Bird behind this thing, but the third wheel, a dude from Cotogna from San Francisco that got my attention

Cotogna was the mistake from last summer.  Instead of sticking to the initial plan, I substituted Cotogna with the very attractive Piedmont heavy menu of Perbacco.  The kind of menu sorely missing in NYC.  The result was a less than stellar meal that featured Piedmontese classics that deviated the wrong way from tradition.  Irony and Redemption came seven months later when Tim Caspare of Cotogna, now at Pasquale Jones, whips a perfectly executed Agnolotti dal Plin that would make any Langhe nonna blush.

Pasquale Jones KitchenWhen she said “It will be around 90 minute”, Unlce Boons, Bar Goto started creeping into my head, as its about 85 minutes longer than I normally like to wait for a table in NYC.  But my dining partner, aka first wife, was still 60 minutes away.  And besides, I’m right by my favorite area in NYC… Little Italy!  By the way, a little free tip to restaurants out there:  When you say “It will be around 90 minute”, smiling is the wrong way of going about it when delivering the sad news.  While smiling is generally a good idea, and the #1 rule of fight club, this is not one of those moments.  Just like “your grandma died”, or “the vasectomy didnt go as expected sir”, dont underestimate the sadness of the news.  Smiling while saying it, makes you look like TAO

I wont keep you in suspense.  This was one of the best meals in recent memory (I started eating cashews religiously which extended “recent memory” to about a month).  Pasquale Jones is essentially a more comfortable, more ambitious, better pasta, slightly less creative Bruno Pizza.  The counter facing the action is the way to go, but you dont have choices here.  You get what becomes available.  Attention to detail starts with those super comfortable counter seats.  The ones you can lean back comfortably when you feel the need to unzip.  Reservations through Resy – Forget it.  Only about 20% are out there.  On to the food…Pasquale Jones Cauliflower

Charred Cauliflower – This is one those simple dishes where you get pretty much what you order.  Sure there was blood orange, and some heat to go along, but the star was simple cauliflower that was still raw enough to maintain that crunchy texture.  Although the dish was fine, I did have some serious small dish envy, like the Braised Leeks which looked like the sexiest grilled calamari.

Clam Pie – Good.  I get the sense that this is their early signature pie.  I’m not the biggest white pie lover unless its something like Marta’s Potato Carbonara where the ingredients talk back to you (I should probably see someone about this).  This is not one of those, but satisfying nonetheless.  Perfectly charred, chewy, flavorful dough.Pasquale Jones Clam Pie

Diavola – More like it, but I’m more of a Diavola fan overall.  I wasnt about to order two pies but couldnt decide here.  A bit more heat than the average city Diavola.  Neapolitanish, very similar to Motorino which is a compliment.  Some may expect more refined pizza (a la Bruno) in a place like this, so its important to adjust those expectations.  Its about the total package.

Agnolotti – I already touched on this beautiful dish.  This is a good example of pasta that stays true to its origin, unlike the rest of the Agnolottis out there in town.  This is buttery, explosive, pillowy Agnolotti dal Plin packed with Guinea hen, sage and Pancetta.  PANCETTA!

Rigatoni – Another simple but very solid dish.  Perfectly cooked dry rigatoni, with sausage ragu carrying a nice depth.  Get this!Pasquale Jones Agnolotti

Pear dessert – Proper finish.  They only offer one dessert, different each night I believe.  Baked pear with Vanilla ice cream, olive oil and candied hazelnuts.  The two brick ovens are utilized heavily here.

Zoe Amber Ale – Maine Beer Company.  Solid hoppy, aromatic, complex Amber.  Highly recommend this one

But Ziggy, in Paragraph #4 you used the word “Ambitious”.  What’s so ambitious about Rigatoni, Diavola, and pear.  Good question Timmy.  This is where the steaks and fish come in.  And by steaks I mean those huge $125 dry aged rib eyes that you can hang in your basement and practice on them like Rocky.  They also offer a beautiful pork shoulder, and a Verdure section to boot.  Watching them handle all that meat for two hours, gave me all sorts of impure thoughts.

Cementing the belief even more that pound for pound, Nolita is the best eating neighborhood on the east coast.  This is also another no-topping establishment.  I failed to talk about it, because its really a non-issue until you are reminded about it when you you get the bill.  Its like Santa suddenly shows up to kiss you softly on the cheek

Pasquale Jones
187 Mulberry St (Kenmare) – Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Diavola, Clam Pie, Meatballs, Leeks, any pasta

Pasquale Jones Rigatoni Pasquale Jones Pork Shoulder Pasquale Jones Dessert Pasquale JonesIMG_3897

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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