Monthly Archives: January 2020

Anguilla – Top 7 Dishes 2019

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First order of business of this trip was to mimic some of the previous experiences including eating the top dishes.  So I’ll start with that.  This is the list I made for Anguilla-Beaches in 2016.  Sarjais has sadly closed since then.  We didnt make it to Straw Hat this time, and Mango’s snapper wasnt a special.  But as for the rest… Chicken at Jacala, Steamed Red Snapper at Johnno’s, Fish Salad at Tasty’s, and the Smoked Fish Trio at Hibernia, all still outstanding.

Partly due to craving the above, it was a little tougher finding excellence this time around.  It was a slightly shorter trip (6 days), and some clunkers at the beginning of the trip didnt help.  And really, most of the stellar dishes came at three places, Hibernia, Ember, and Jacala.  No surprise the three amigos are on the list again this year…

Wahoo Carpaccio at Mango’s

Leave it to the fish experts at Mango’s to take care of your seafood needs.  Perhaps a handful of pink peppercorns shy from being spectacular, this Wahoo was silky smooth, with just the right amount of ‘salsa’ to elevate.  These guys just know how to get the freshest stuff.  Sunday however, is a conundrum.  Like going to a museum on a rainy day.  Many places are closed which means Mango’s is packed much more than usual, and the fish sizes were noticeably smaller than last time.  Mango's - Wahoo

Seafood Pasta at Falcon Nest

We travel for pasta (Italy), and we travel for seafood (more Italy).  So naturally when I see pasta with seafood on the menu, I start unbuckling that belt. Its not a particularly complex dish.  Just loads of fresh chunky fresh fish and shellfish that was flash fried before mixed with the creamy goodness and plenty of veggies.  The good news, not overly creamy.  You may want to toy with their hot sauces midway if you get bored.

Falcon Nest Seafood PastaSpaghetti alle Vongole at Trattoria Tramonto

See above for the pasta/seafood love affair.  But this was a tip I got from iron chef Marc Forgione who owns three restaurants in NYC.  Its a simple dish, but not so simple to pull off.  I can think of only one Spaghetti with clams in Taormina that topped this.  Its well balanced, garlicky, and plenty of delectable clams hidden under that mountain.  Perfect pairing to a hot summer afternoon facing the empty but mesmerizing Shoal Bay West.

IMG_2317Tuna Tartare at Jacala

I didnt think anything can top that Chicken but turns out chef Alain Laurent (the “ala” in Jacala) got more goodies up his sleeve.  Its quite possibly the best Tuna Tartare I ever had.  It may have been because they just received the fish a day prior (Tuesday).  But this is superb stuff, with every morsel resulting in slightly different flavors and texture, with angels singing in the background.  I eventually asked them to lower the volume as there’s just so much this Jew can take.Jacala Tuna Tartare

Foie Gras at Hibernia

This hidden gem called Hibernia is like a dream.  The setting makes familiar flavors taste unfamiliar.  But the homemade Foie Gras was uncharted territory for this Foie lover (soon to be Foie desperate seeker as it becomes illegal in NY).  It comes with this fresh mango & old rum chutney, a syringe that gently sprays Cognac (I can use that during Hockey season), and home-made toasted walnut bread.  Pure ecstasy with every bite.  Top picture.

Pizza at Artisan

I love pizza!  I eat a lot of pizza.  This is good pizza.  Maybe the best in Caribbean in fact.  But its not for everyone.  This is extreme Neapolitan.  Ultra thin and spongy in the middle, not meant to slice but eaten with a knife and fork.  The more ingredients you add the more the dough simply blends in with the rest of them without showing any texture.  The menu features an impressive arsenal of imported ingredients like ‘nduja, a particular Calabrian spicy sausage spread.  All that’s needed is a certificate Pizzaiolo, and a world class pizza oven.  Check!Artisan Pizza Anguilla

White Chocolate Bread Pudding at Ember

I could have easily chosen the excellent roasted beets, or the Foie Gras here, but lets go with the Bread Pudding to finish on a sweet note.  NYC, the food capital of the world is sort of bread pudding deprived, and we have to get our fix at NOLA sometimes.  This was Bread Pudding perfection with just the right texture/flavor combination.  Not much white chocolate flavor which is a good thing.  Desserts often satisfy, but rarely excite.  This one did.  Problem is I dont have a good picture of it.  Natalie, help 😉IMG_2304

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Village Cafe – Once Upon a Time in Azerbaijan

Village Cafe - Guru HingalThis is not your father’s Coney Island Ave.  When I lived in that part of Brooklyn in the 80-90s, Turkish places like Sahara dominated.  Turkish, car washes, ice cream, and affordable divorce lawyers to be exact.  Nowadays, the business hub, that doesnt quite lead to Coney Island, features even better Turkish (Taci’s Beyti), respectable Moldovan (Moldova), Uzbek royalty (Nargis), swanky Russian nightclubs like Chinar, and a plethora of Pakistani joints between Foster and H.  And when I want to kick it up a notch, there’s always Z-List fave Werkstatt (I’m overdue).  Coney Island Avenue is a foodie paradise.  And the divorce lawyers now speak 17 languages.

With that said, you can drive the entire length of Coney Island 100 times, and miss one of its biggest gems, Village Cafe.  The restaurant is hidden inside a parking lot of a liquor shop (yes you can park inside).  Its like one of those Staten Island mini malls where you pick your laundry.  You’ll see a “Village” sign in what looks like an oversized temporary tiki hut.  Its a strange name for an Azerbaijani restaurant considering almost all other Azerbaijani restaurant names contain Baku or Azerbaijan.  But I’m sure “Village Cafe” just rolls off the tongue for the Azerbaijani.Village Cafe - Kutaby

What is Azerbaijani food you ask?  Its not too different than some of its neighbors like Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkey.  Kebabs and Plov (rice pilaf) dominate, although the latter is sweetened with dried fruits so quite different than the Uzbek version.  Soups, meat filled flatbreads, kebabs wrapped in flatbread, kebabs in soup, and something called Guru Hingal (more on that later).  Just please dont call it Russian food.  Yes, you will get your Russian classics at Village like Borscht and Pilmeni, considering the location of the place and this is a former soviet republic after all.

The bread (they call it Turkish bread) is good, but who needs that when you have Kutaby, Azerbaijani flatbread filled with minced chicken, lamb or greens.  Its a must order.  The salads are your typical central Asian/Russian (Ok, only this one time) tomato, avocado, and the Georgian Lobio among many more.  I’m intrigued by “Unexpected Guests”, and “Simple & Delicious”.  I believe the former is only for walk-ins.  The soups get a bit more foreign sounding, though the only one I tried is the familiar Kharcho, which isnt quite as potent as Tone Cafe’s version 2 miles south, but good enough.

Village Cafe - DessertMeats in a form of kebabs and lamb chops dominate the menu.  Lulya kebab (minced meat) here is thick and juicy.  But what sets them apart here is they are wrapped with thin dough.  Get the lamb over chicken.  Guru Hingal is a thin pappardelle like noodles topped with a “ragu” of onions, and lamb cooked in its own fat.  You wont find better tasting pasta in south Brooklyn.

The village people (staff) are friendly and efficient.  No alcohol or pork as its Muslim, but as with many such places in south Brooklyn, you can bring your own alcohol.  You just cant bring your own pork.  The desserts here are good.  The Napoleon is fresh and huge.  But try the “Pakhlava”, denser, nuttier, not as sweet and better than your average Baklava.  Looking forward to try more here, especially when I arrive unannounced.

Village Cafe
1968 Coney Island Ave (Ave P/Quentin, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kutaby, Lamb Lulya Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Guru Hingal, Pakhlava

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

Bowery Meat Company – Come for the Meat, Stay for Lasagna

Bowery Meat Company - TomahawkSometimes I cringe when I read my old posts.  Ever so often it starts with the title.  Why did I call BMC, a “Croatian Seafood Delight” in 2014.  I remember BMC had broiled oysters which were popularized by Croatian immigrants in New Orleans, but still, what was I thinking.  Turns out, after reading the post (more chills), I see that I was simply making fun of the confusion of what type of restaurant is BMC.  Many dismissed it as a steakhouse.  On Yelp at that time it was listed as “Salad, Italian, Seafood”.  And the owners didnt really like the “Steakhouse” tag, calling it stale, uncool, and touristy.  Hence… Croatian!

The owners are still correct today.  I dont know of too many young New Yorkers that go to traditional steakhouse these days.  But in 2020 Justin Bieber’s fave BMC feels like a steakhouse whether the owners like it or not.  Just not the classic steakhouse most tourists, or older New Yorkers usually consider.  In fact BMC may be the best example of a modern steakhouse in NYC today.  Unlike other such meat specialists like Minetta Tavern, and 4 Charles Prime Rib, meat and more meat reign supreme at BMC.  I imagine not that many go to BMC for their Oysters, or Duck Lasagna.  But they should…

The Duck Lasagna actually dictates the ordering game plan.  If you get it ($58, for 2-8 ppl), you may want to take it easy with the meat.  And if you skip it, knock yourself out.  Or if you are like me, do the lasagna and the knocking.  Its magnificent, and much meatier than I remember.  A fine combination of duck, mushrooms, creamy Caciocavallo, Parmesan, and plenty of noodle texture.Bowery Meat Company -Cauliflower

The meat selection at BMC is always impressive.  Its perhaps the only steakhouse offering the Ribeye cap that comes rolled into a hockey puck shape.  Its arguably the best piece of the cow and thats why its $68 for what looks like about 6 oz of meat.  Its still one of the best steaks I ever had.  But on this night, we “settled” for the 40 oz Tomahawk Ribeye.  As expected it was perfectly cooked, though I wished for a bit more flavor from the crust.  While a sauce with this cut is not normally necessary, the house sauce is worth using.  It made the fries taste that much better, and we even took some home.

Another discovery this time was the roasted cauliflower steak.  Its topped with quite the pungent Pumpkin Seed Pesto.  The very shareable, Lasagna size, bread pudding is a smashing finisher.  It contains apples, lots of Candied Pecans, Caramel Chocolate, and Vanilla Ice Cream.  Its yet another must.  The one beef I got with BMC is the lack of affordable wine.  I understand we are at an expensive steakhouse, but still.  Impressive list but not much under $100.  2017 Nebbiolo for example is not exactly a bargain at $95.

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Bowery Meat Company
9 E 1st St (2nd/3rd, East Village)
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Duck Lasagna, Bowery Steak, Broiled Oysters, Cauliflower Steak, Bread Pudding

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Ember – Anguilla’s Newest Epicurean Jewel

EmberI’ve come to realize that I’m not much of a beach reader these days.  The heat, the glare, the turquoise water, way too many distractions out there.  But what’s my excuse at home?  Dont know.  But at the beach I prefer long walks, listening to music, and sometimes just aimless staring while getting lost in random thoughts.  Albert Einstein got much of his ideas from aimless wandering.  I’m getting there.  The best I came up with in 6 days is “What the heck is a Post Malone”, and “How do you spell Rendezvous, anyway”.  Silent Zs just seem so annoyingly wasteful, especially these days for some New Yorkers (Verrazzano is missing a Z in all 96 road signs and business names).

Another thought that popped was how such a small island where a human walks every 20 minutes from my vantage point has such great dining depth.  In busier Providenciales (Turks and Caicos) where its now about 20 humans per 20 minutes from my favorite spot, I can think of only two very solid sure bets for dinner.  Ember in Anguilla now makes it three, joining Jacala, and Hibernia.  And there are island old timers I still havent tried, like Blanchards.Ember Beets

One year old Ember is the dream of Marc Alvarez who is sort of an island legend.  If you are not aware of that by the time you get there, his long time friend and manager(?) Michelle will make sure you are.  This kind of confidence can backfire if not followed by matching results.  It did.  And its always good to know who’s at the helm, what’s his/er story, and most importantly is that person in the kitchen every night.  Its a yes for Ember.

The space is comfortable and inviting.  There’s a wood burning oven in the kitchen that looks like a pizzaiolo wet dream.  The menu features a New York-like “Snacks” column that makes ordering more interesting here.  Alvarez did spend some time with Union Square Hospitality in NYC.  A smaller plate section is also a risk as one can spend much less for a full meal.  It took a while to come up with a game plan here.  I had to interview 27% of the very full staff to finalize my order.  Nice French leaning wine menu, just like the rest of the island pretty much.  I lean Italian, but managed.

Started with the Snap Peas, the only miss for me as the spices too mild to make any sort of impact.  But the buttery Pretzel, perhaps his homage to NY, was a nice kickstarter in more ways than one.  It comes with sharp Dijon that brushes against your sinuses, but can do more damage if not too careful.  Like hockey players sniffing ammonia-laced salt in order to wake up.  Perhaps that’s the idea here.

The roasted beets was the first sign of that Alvarez brilliance.  They looked like tomatoes, and tasted like meat.  We are the rare breed of beet haters who like to order beets at places like this.  The Foie gras terrine & duck prosciutto was the second sign and perhaps dish of the trip nominee.  Prosciutto was more like Jamon or lardo that melts in the mouth without the chewiness.  The combination of the Foie with port cherry on toast was like ecstasy in your mouth.

The red snapper fillet dish was a beautiful chaos of various ingredients, and perhaps best piece of fish on this trip.  And the baked gnocchi was rich and spot on.  Large fresh gnocchi as such tend to get all mushy sometimes but these were sturdy and spectacular, with bright, tangy tomato sauce and just enough cheese.  The white chocolate bread pudding to finish was NOLA-ish bread pudding perfection.  Not much white choc flavor which is a good thing.

There are meals (like the night before Ember) where I politely say no to dessert and ready to leave.  And then there are the self inflicted marathon meals where I want to stay longer, visit the kitchen and kiss the chef on the lips!  In this case I settled for a hand shake (I think he’s from the Bronx!).  An epic meal from start to finish.

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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