Monthly Archives: February 2020

Lamalo – Here’s Why

LamaloBefore I visit a new place I like to spend some time perusing their website.  It paints a picture, and often tells the story.  I love a good story, but they are getting increasingly rare in corporate NYC.  Lamalo site looks like that of a typical modern restaurant in New York, with colorful images of their food, menu, and press galore.  Its always interesting to see what makes the press cut.  In Lamalo’s case, it’s seemingly every possible mention, with the majority about the anticipation and announcement of its much hyped opening. Which really means “our marketing dollars went to good use y’all”.  Not one review.  The only person benefiting from this press barrage is Jeff Bezos.

Also missing is the story.  There’s an ‘About’ section with no mention of Gadi Peleg and his accomplishments with Breads Bakery.  Instead you see a generic “modern Middle Eastern gem nestled in the heart of NoMad”.  Not sure what makes it modern other than higher prices and being inside a hotel.  Or maybe its because there’s no sign.  The concept of Mezzes served as such may be new to NYC but its been around for 1000’s of years.

Lamalo means “why not” in Hebrew, but its often used, almost like slang.  As in “What if we offer a ridiculous amount of all you can eat spreads, dips, and bread for a set price, say $25 per person?  Lamalo?!?”.  Its essentially a glorified all you can eat buffet of tiny plates like hummus, babaganoush, button mushrooms, pickles, and more.  The most memorable was Skordalia, a potato spread infused with garlic and almonds to the point that it tastes more like beans than potato.  The plates surround a “smaller than I thought” laffa that comes fresh out of the oven but dries quickly, and surprisingly not particularly great.  I’d take the Dizengoff/Zahav pita any day of the week.  Except shabbos.

The spreads for the most part are cleverly executed, and diverse enough to keep things interesting.  There’s a certain pleasant flow here.  The problem is, in a way similar to my issue with Zahav, that the fun stops there.  Unlike Zahav, here you do have variety of large dishes to choose from, but the two we ordered left much to be desired.  A Cabbage “Shank” that was braised overnight with a sweet glaze was interesting at first, but quickly got too sweet and boring.  Its a play on Borscht that doesnt work.

Shabtai-Style Fish featured various kinds of unevenly cooked fried filets is essentially a good mother-in-law fried fish.  Its interesting that they call it Shabtai style considering there’s really no such thing, at least not globally that I’m aware.  As for the sides, the Mejadara worked a lot better than the odd tasting Ful (Fava beans) which I normally love.  But perhaps the best dish at Lamalo is the lone dessert.  A perfectly semi frozen Halva Parfait that really hit the spot.  Like a semifredo covered with shredded Halvah.

But there’s simply not enough here to make me want to come back.  Yes, its a playful concept that can be fun for groups, couples, and heck even accountants.  But tiny plates of mostly spreads and dips can only thrill so much.  You spend some time fishing for your favorites before declaring the winners, but still find yourself munching on the undesirable, because someone has to.  Like a polygamist, who got his favorites, but needs to take the others to the zoo sometimes.  But worse of all, he cant add anymore wives.

Lamalo
11 E 31st St (Madison/5th, Nomad)
Rating: 1 Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Mezzes (included), Halva ParfaitLamalo Halvah Parfait

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Jacala – Anguilla’s Crème de la Crème

Jacala ChickenMy last Anguilla post of the season.  Although I seem to discuss Jacala often on various social media sites including this blog, it occurred to me that I never actually wrote a post about it.  Its only arguably Anguilla’s best.  While Hibernia may be the best overall experience, Ember the most well rounded destination, Jacala has the best food.  I can see many island regulars nodding in approval while reading this, while some shaking profusely.  Dont worry latter group, I got you covered too, albeit with a thin layer of sugar.

Owners Jacques and Alain go way back.  Before opening Jacala 10 years ago, they worked at a famed restaurant at the nearby Malliouhana resort helmed by a Michelin crowned chef for 20 years.  For the past 10 years they created quite the following that can be felt pretty much on every visit (air kisses galore).  The name is a combination of their first names, though if you ask me it sounds like the act of a cat going haywire.  As in “Remember when Mittens went all Jacala on us for no reason?”

Jacala - tuna tartareOn paper, these are my favorite kind of owners.  The fully present ones.  They oversee every aspect of the operation the entire time they are there.  Shmoozing with a customer for 30 minutes is not fully present.  While Alain is busy in the kitchen, Jacques is running the front, taking every order, and even has time to prepare Martha Stewart’s favorite steak tartare, table side.  He will also tell you if you order items that dont exactly mesh.  Its a level of service you just dont see very often.

Some island regulars however, will argue that the title of the post should come at the very least with an asterisk.  Lets just say Jacques can be a bit gruff sometimes, and may not always handle stress well.  Its not quite Soup Nazi territory but its important to come a little prepared as cultural and language differences can lead to uncomfortable situations.  You may need to assess and possibly adjust.  Perhaps refrain from asking too many questions, request alterations, and interrupt when he tells you the specials.  If your idea of service is an overly friendly chap who will invite you to his daughter’s Bat Mizvah before your evening is over, you may want to skip this one.  But if you are after some top notch grub, you came to the right price.

Jacala Lobster RisottoSimply put, every single dish we’ve had at Jacala ever was outstanding.  That creates all sorts of challenges when you order, choosing between the proven and the new.  Its hard to pass on the magnificently fresh, and expertly crafted Tuna Tartare for example.  Or the stupendously moist and flavorful chicken breast rolled around lobster, chicken mousse, and served over lobster sauce.  The latter has been pretty much on the menu since day one.

Then you have the specials like the Lobster Risotto, far from your typical risotto.  Chunks of sweet lobster, green onion, and just the right amount of heat.  Previously we enjoyed the Calamari Risotto as well.  Lobster dishes in general shine, including the salad, and especially the Bisque.  I already mentioned the steak tartare that I vowed to get last time, but, see previous paragraph.  It will need to wait another year (at least).  And dont discount desserts here either, like the Papaya Panna Cotta.  Sometimes fruits in Panna Cottas overwhelm but Papaya isnt acidy enough and compliments beautifully.  The wine list obviously french leaning (as is the rest of the island).

Jacala fits my taste like a favorite pair of shoes that you can only wear once or twice a week.  Otherwise you risk losing its efficiency or they become stinky.Jacala - Panna Cotta

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Usual – I’ll Have what Everyone Else is Having

The Usual - BurgerAs we get older, mental lists get less and less effective.  We start to forget things, and sometimes get in trouble as a result, especially with the spouse.  The saving grace is an equally forgetful spouse, but not when she has different habits and writes everything down.  Consider my agenda on my day off today:  Write a post, check the tire in my car, call cable, watch Almodovar’s Pain and Glory, take the dishes out (still not allowed to put them in but in the midst of a mandatory online course), and…  I know I had more, including something important that she asked me to do.  But at the moment I dont have the slightest idea what it is.  I suppose I can ask her, but that’s risky in itself.  

Successful people write shit down.  The great Jerry Seinfend said that as you get older you lose your creativity, and the way to combat that is to sit down and write.  He writes for two hours every day.  It’s sort of what I’m doing right now.  I should be writing something about The Usual but instead I’m writing about, well, nothing really.  Like Seinfend, its a blog about nothing.  I wasnt planning to write about nothing when I started writing a few minutes ago.  I definitely planned to write about something.

So as a result of accelerated fading mental lists, about a year ago, I started making a list of new restaurants I’d like to try.  And pretty much ever since then I’ve been staring at The Usual on top of that list.  It wasnt that I ever put it on top.  Its just the oldest name on the list that I kept bumping down in favor of others.  Burger joints still gets your attention, but with so many good ones out there, its hard to get overly enthusiastic.

I first heard of Alvin Cailan when he opened Eggslut, a popup at the Chef Club Counter, offering his famous (in LA at least) egg sandwich.  Eggslut now has locations in LA and the Cosmopolitan hotel in Vegas.  The Cosmo shaping up to be a foodie paradise, attracting the crème de la Crème seems like.  The Filipino-American Cailan is also famous for hosting The Burger Show on Youtube.  And burgers and fried chicken are the focus in NYC, instead of egg sandwiches and Filipino food.  Although rumors are that Cailan will open a Filipino restaurant here soon enough.The Usual - Sprouts

I think Cailan and team figured at some point that at a place called “The Usual”, an online menu is almost useless.  Its not there as of this writing.  People generally come for one or two items, the burger or fried chicken.  We ordered the former as the main, and the latter as the first course.  When we come back, that and only that would be my order.  Among the other dishes we tried were Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts that were cooked well but needed a bit more flair.  And a baked cookie and ice cream that was too sweet and uninspiring.

But the burger was inspiring alright.  Not a designer, fancy one that you’ll find in say NoMad Bar.  Just a solid, well crafted burger.  Two quality smashed patties with American Cheese, garlic aioli, and just enough onions.  Its beefy, well balanced, and just the right size.  And for $20 as you’d expect, served with excellent fries that came with ketchup and a curry aioli.  Combine the two for maximum oomphness.

I’ve heard much about Cailan’s fried chicken.  But oddly, a Korean fried chicken instead on the menu these days.  Not so odd once you try it.  It got all the elements of perfect fried chicken.  Its clean tasting, supremely moist, with just the right amount of crunch and flavor from the thinner than it looks skin.  Perhaps the best KFC (Korean) I’ve ever had.  Looking forward to trying the rest of the menu.  Not really.  I’ll just have the usual.

The Usual
30 Kenmare St (Mott/Elizabeth)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Burger, Fried ChickenThe Usual - Koren Fried Chicken

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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