Author Archives: Ziggy

Piccola Trattoria Guastini – Meal Of The Year

Eating With Ziggy

Guastini - Caprese

August 21st, 2019 Update

Allora, so which is my favorite restaurant in Tuscany? A question I get asked often.  Its actually easier for me to answer this than naming my favorite NY restaurant these days.  The answer is Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the little hamlet I call Torrita di Siena, because thats what its called.  The post I’m bumping is also to announce a location change.  Emanuela and Davide Guastini moved the restaurant from close to home in Valiano to the other side of the Autostrada, 12 km north of Montepulciano.

The title refers to the meal we had here in 2013.  But this one was not too shabby either.  New location, same family, new atmospheric terrace with some of the best views in town.  Although Davide seemed to age a little so I dont know if I can wait another 6 years to visit this gem.  His wife Emanueala…

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Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Leave a comment

Best Dining in Sabra Village!

19 Cleveland

Courtesy of 19 Cleveland

East village, Greenwich Village, West Village.  These are some of the most famous village neighborhoods in the world.  So famous, other major cities following suit.  Calgary now got a quirky East Village as well.  But have you heard of Sabra Village, the smallest of the four villages?  My guess is that you never heard of it, because it doesnt exist.  Yet!  But we are in the early stages of what looks like an Israeli invasion of Nolita, a made-up real estate name which stands for North of Little Italy.  Little Italy is slowly vanishing and is now essentially one block.  Its a matter of time.

I often said that NYC lacks casual, no frills, but smart Israeli food.  A place I can bring a group of 4 to 10 on a whim.  They are either too refined (Taboon, Nur, Miss Ada), or not refined at all (Nish Nush, Ba’al, Taim), without much in between.  Our real estate market has something to do with it, but deep in the outer boroughs there’s no excuse.  There’s a place on Avenue P in Brooklyn called “Pita Off the Corner” serving awful Falafel, and barely eatable Shawarma.  But the sprawling space serves as a constant tease to what could have been.  Brooklyn is home to half a million Jews, half of NYC’s Jews.  I’m certain that not all are kitchen challenged.

But in Manhattan at least, it looks like the newest Sabra are on a mission to change all that.  Two of the three I’ll focus on below feel like you are transported to Dizengoff.  Not Philly, but Tel Aviv.  Sabra btw, has nothing to do with hummus.  Its an old term that essentially means Israeli born.  “Sabres” is the Hebrew name for prickly pear, a fruit that is rough on the outside, but soft on the inside.  And by rough I dont mean Harvey Weinstein, but as in direct, to the point.

Here are some of the early settlers of Sabra Village…

Taim – Yes, Taim is now a local chain, but a very important one.  Perhaps after X’ian Famous, the most important, and a good representation of fast food in NYC today.  Owner Einat Admony certainly knows her Hummus and Falafel.  And while I give the nod to Nish Nush as far as Falafel sandwiches go, Taim’s platter is as good as it gets.  And dont be the lame one that pronounces Taim like “lame”.  Its Tah-eem.

Taim

Shoo Shoo – If there’s anything these places need to work on is the names.  Its not clear to me what Shoo Shoo means exactly, other the sound my wife makes when the blind neighborhood cat mistakenly comes to our door instead of the next one where he normally gets his food.  The name may not sound inviting but the bright decor is, and the menu brings much freshness to the area.  Very solid hummus even when topped with boiled chickpeas that can use some texture (minor quibble).  And a legit sesame ladened Tel Aviv style chicken Schnitzel.

19 Cleveland – Continuing the questionable name theme with probably the most important Sabra on the block.  This is the first serious brick and mortar by the EWZ fave Nish Nush team.  A menu that respects tradition but at the same time playful, and elevated.  We already know they can dish out killer hummus and unmatched Falafel sandwiches.  But at 19 Cleveland (also the address) you can also find a nifty, well balanced Falafel burger, along with fish and vegan Shawarma, and a slew of other healthy eats.  Looking forward to checking out the rest of this menu.

You know what they say.  Two is a crowd, three is a village!  Nolita is a very small area, and the sudden Israeli pop is noticeable.  I’ve seen some call it Little Israel, and some call it Little Tel Aviv.   Less than a year ago there were five actually.  There’s also a branch of Cava, a kinda Israeli, fast-casual national health focused chain.  And then there’s Dez which shuttered a year after opening.  Did we reach saturation?

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

Random Banff

Peyto LakeAnother incomplete North America National Park visit in the books.  Still, no bears.  Just like with the elusive sea turtle after hundreds of snorkeling sessions (ok, more like 15), this is starting to feel personal.  We even got stuck on two “Bear Jams” between Yosemite and Banff and nada.  A Bear Jam is when traffic builds up on a road because bears were spotted.  Its the National Park version of a NYC accident on the other side of the highway.

Since I live close to Jersey, I might as well try to spot them there since they are everywhere apparently.  Bear population is so high in Jersey, hunters can now hunt for bears in December, a la The Purge:  The Jersey bears addition.  Thats why in Yosemite we were confused at first about the “Speeding Kills Bears” signs randomly placed on the main roads.  Are we supposed to slow down, or speed?

Here are some pics.  Click to view

 

Categories: Banff | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Cappun Magru {Manarola} – What’s in a Name? Everything

Cappun Magru - the dishTo say that Cappun Magru offers the best Cappun Magru in Cinque Terre is a fair assessment.  Its the only one making it.  This old Ligurian specialty is slowly disappearing from Ligurian menus, even in Genoa where its most associated.  Cappun Magru is an elaborate seafood and veggie salad to put in the simplest of forms.  Its most common spelling is Cappon Magro, but here at the headquarters of EWZ, with the tagline “Eating Well, Spelling Pourly” we dont care about spelling all that much.  My guess is that Cappun Magru is the more ancient spelling.  Sort of like Giovanni da Verrazzano ancient spelling had only one Z.  If only NYC would have known about it before spending millions to change the name.

When you talk to Christina, the owner of Cappun Magru, you can easily forget that you are in Cinque Terre.  This is not a place I expected to easily find Slow Food.  Two hours prior I was elbowing my way through a sea of tourists, pizzas, and Limoncelos in a boot in Vernazza.  Since Rick Steves discovered this corner of Italy, restaurants dont need to go through great lengths to please us tourists.  But Christina and husband who moved Cappun Magru from the mountains, closer to the sea, continue to march on, trying to preserve whatever tradition left.

There’s no one universal way to prepare this monster.  But its often involved shrimp, mussels, oysters, fresh fish, and a Parsley led complex green sauce that involves eggs, anchovies and a slew of other ingredients.  Its not a simple dish by any means, but the reward is a feast to all senses.  Even the non photographers on the table will reach for their phones.  It a rich poor people’s food.  It goes back to the days when fishermen would indulge in the leftovers of their bosses rich feasts.  It then became a feast in itself, and a popular lent preparation in Liguria.  There’s no meat involved of course but the name sort of means “light fat chicken” (Capon is a type of fatty chicken).  Like.. “I’m a vegetarian”.  “Oh, in that case here’s a little lamb”.

And did I mention that its delicious?  So are the smartly crafted sandwiches like the shrimp with fish roe, Zucchini, and Egg.  And while Cappun Magru does have a good wine selection (Its more of a wine bar), this is a good place to take a break from wine, and indulge in some beer.  Italy’s craft beer is some of the most underrated in the world.

Cappun Magru is ideal after a long hike.  But dont come too late as they close at around 7:30 (in the summer at least).  A light early dinner at 6 is perfect because you are after all in Monorola, and you dont want to miss sunset.  Thats the reason you are here.

Manarola

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Essex Market’s Best Bites

IMG_1435I won’t lie to you people.  I rarely do.  When I first saw the new Essex Market, it felt like I just discovered a new Foodie paradise as the NY Post put it.  A mini Chelsea Market without the crowds, was the first thing that came to mind.  A striking contrast to the old Essex Market which felt sad and unwelcoming at times.  But around 10 visits, a few hits and too many misses later I come back crawling to the Chelsea Market zoo asking for forgiveness, and a Currywurst.

It turned into a strange love hate relationship.  I keep gravitating to Essex Market, so there’s something definitely there.  Mad kudos to the designers of the space.  Its pleasing to the eye, comfortable, and the sitting area on top is just pure joy when compared to other food courts.  Its part of a new complex that also includes a swanky new Regal with reclined seats and giant food trays. I never understood movie theaters that serve food or food friendly theaters like this.  My enjoyment of watching a movie while eating somehow never transferred to watching a movie while sitting next to a total stranger munching on chicken wings and almost spilling his coke on me three times.

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But while the Essex Market vendors wouldnt really fair well at Chelsea Market, there’s definitely a very interesting variety of eats.  Some of the old vendors are back, and some new ones joined, and still joining (Another section will eventually open looks like).  Here are some of the best bites I tried so far.

Bourekas at Zerza – I’ll give them a pass for serving it a little cool in the middle.  The flavors are there and its what you normally would expect from a well crafted Bourekas.  Loaded with Spinach, raisins, feta, and pine nuts.  A sound competitor to the Bourekas queen in Hell’s Kitchen, Gazalas.

Fried Chicken at Eat Gai – Come for Gai, stay for fried chicken.  Its known for Khao Man Gai which is a Hainaese chicken and rice dish that is popular in Thailand as well.  Might be an acquired taste or a cultural thing as it just didnt do it for me.  The fried chicken on the other hand, marinated with Turmeric was more like it, especially the first time I had it.

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The Nordic Sandwich at Nordic Preserves – One of the old guards from the old Essex Street Market (Note they dropped the “Street” at the new place).  Its a Scandinavian cured and smoked fish specialist that also crafts a couple of sandwiches like the outstanding The Nordic with Creme Fraiche, Lumpfish Caviar, Pico de Gallo in a Pain D’avignon olive Baguette.  Or better yet, buy their Pastrami lox, and enjoy it with a fresh bagel with cream cheese.

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Croissant Bread Pudding w/ Crème Anglaise at Pain D’avignon – Bread Puddings in NYC rarely come close to something you can find in every corner in New Orleans.  Its often too dry, too bready or just missing any zing.   Leave it to baking legend Pain D’avignon to correct that with a perfectly balanced, apple filled (on this occasion) bread pudding that comes with a creamy Crème Anglaise on the side.  So you can pour as much of it as you want (suggested amount:  all of it)

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Banana Ice Cream at LES Ice Cream Factory – Not sure if its the best way to build a brand, but the folks from The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory opted to give themselves a different name here.  I suppose, and this is just a crazy guess, that the reason is that this is not in Chinatown.  That didnt stop many other businesses however.  Not every flavor works (had better Horchata in NYC) here, but the banana does.

Also Consider:  Chicken Shawarma at Samesa, Arancini at Arancini Bros, Empanadas at Dominican Cravings, Salted Caramel Panna Cotta at Mille Nonne.

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

This is Scheggino (and Osteria Baciafemmine)

IMG_1380This was supposed to be a post about Osteria Baciafemmine, one of Umbria’s most hidden (quite literally here) gems.  But something happened during this visit.  A twist.  The kind I only see in South Korean movies.  As good as this meal was, the little village of Scheggino, with a population of 463 (we counted) upstaged the meal.  To the point that we changed plans on the last day to visit the village again.

Scheggino is a village nestled vertically at the foot of a mountain.  From the outside it may look like something you may have seen before.  But once you start climbing those narrow pedestrian streets, its like a fairy tale village.  One without tourists which is a rarity nowadays.  But that’s Umbria for you.  The unappreciated belly of Italy.  No wonder there was a wedding during our second visit.  When you visit a place this small, and there’s a wedding going on, you essentially become part of it.  We wished them a big Mazal-Tov, and sent them off with a fondue set.  I always carry one in the car in case of emergencies.

Scheggino, simply put is the most charming little village I’ve ever seen.  But there are more reasons to visit.  Scheggino is also home to Urbani, the truffle tsar, whose products can be found all over NYC.  You can visit its headquarters just outside the entrance to the village.  But even more accessible is “Truffleland” inside the village where you can participate in several rides like the “Its a Fungus after all” train ride through the mountain.  Ok, not really.  Its just a small museum and store, where you can sample the best “truffle truffles” (a marketing nightmare I imagine) you’ll ever have.

 

IMG_1321Cutting through at the foot of Scheggino is the Nera River producing one of the only seafood items found in Umbria, trout.  You can have it at Osteria Baciafemmine as is, or crusted with crunchy breadcrumbs and parsley.  Osteria Baciafemmine is a local legend, Slow Food fixture, and the reason we came to this village in the first place.  Rustic, all in the family Osteria, dishing out local specialties and meat raised in their own farm.  Mother, father, daughter, cat, all hard at work at a space decorated head to toe with food and drink stuff, almost museum like.  Toto, we are not in Staten Island anymore.

Not much English spoken at the Osteria, but the international language of food is sometimes more powerful than words.  Out of the soup offerings, the pureed chickpea soup was a standout, but the local lentils were not too shabby.  A fragrant and delicious gnocchetti with sheep meat ragu and tomato sauce worked better than the Strangozzi with truffles.  Excellent pork cooked with beer, apple and honey.  Two perfectly cooked and well crafted sausages comes with polenta topped with, what else, truffle spread.  A most memorable meal at a photographer’s dream setting.

 

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tomiño Taberna Gallega – A Galician Jewel in where else, Little Italy

Tomino - PrawnsWhile I was sitting out on a bench on Grand and Mulberry playing candy crush answering emails, a woman approached me to ask directions to Little Italy.  All I had to do is point to the street 10 feet from us and say “this is it”.  She followed with a disappointed “This is it?”, and I followed with the third “This is it”, with the facial expression of a “sorry you made it all the way to NY from Singapore for this”.  I spared her the clarification that she is technically inside Little Italy already even though it looks more like a Chinatown.

But you know, for someone who spends a lot of time poopooing Little Italy, I spend a lot of time on it.  The reason is twofold.  There’s ironically a wealth of great dining surrounding it.  And Little Italy is, maybe even more ironically, one of the best passeggiatas in NYC.  I do enjoy walking around on Mulberry after a meal saying Ciao to the community of restaurant salesman and selfie sticks, and watching people from all over the world dress up for no good reason.  But there’s one restaurant on Mulberry that did get my attention this time and that is Gelso & Grand.  Buzzy with no salesman, checkered tablecloth, and not even an accordion player.  Gelso means Mulberry in Italian (its on the corner of Grant hence the name), Ziggy’s favorite Granita flavor.  There, now you know more about me.

Tomino

Tomiño Taberna Gallega which opened in Little Italy (technically. Its on Grand, not on Gelso) a few years ago, is far removed from the usual checkered, red sauce neighbors.  Its a smart, elegant Spanish offering some of the most authentic Galician this side of, well, Tomiño.  A statement not so far fetched once you look at a map.  And it got the Cojones to to call itself Tomiño Taberna Gallega.  A three word monster is as close as it gets to a slamdunk.  Lets break down the other potential names shall we.  One word, Tomiño – Cute, trendy sounding, but pressure is still on to deliver.  Two words, Tomiño Taberna – Pass.  Three words, Tomiño Taberna Gallega – Strong, ethnic, if something doesnt taste right its probably due to cultural differences sounding.

The owners of Tomiño also own the popular Trattoria Trecolori in the theater district. Which is surprising considering this ambitious Galician menu designed by Lucía Freitas, one of the leading chefs in Galicia.  Our waiter tried to explain the owner’s Galician connection, but besides the noise I was too fixated on the tables next to us.  One table over was dipping their Chorizo in the “sauce” at the bottom of the plate which was the Orujo, the Galician liquor that helped flambeed the meat on arrival.  Another table opted not to touch their Empanadillas until they were the same temperature as their Cava.  I’m talking a good 40 minutes here.

And yes, those Empanadillas with tuna were quite good and need to be eaten immediately.  So was the homey Huevos Roto Con Zorza, a nice breakfasty blend of spiced pork, fried potatoes and egg that grows on you with every bite.  It feels almost criminal to order this instead of the more popular Tortilla de Betanzos, a hefty potato omelet with a runny egg in the middle, but I wasnt feeling it.  Next time.

Tomino - Mushroom salad

The Paprika dusted Galician style Pulpo is famous throughout Spain, but not very easy to find in NY.  Here its called by the actual name, Pulpo a Feira, and its as tender and satisfying as they get.  No complaints about the Arroz Negro topped with a well cooked Snapper, except maybe its missing the oomph and complexity of what you’ll find at a Tia Pol for example.  But I can still taste the prized red prawns, Carabineros, and the sweet Langoustines.

The salads here should not be discounted.  In North Spain, you can eat simply prepared  tomatoes and tuna, but rarely together like the Ensalata San Simon which also comes with figs, pickled onion and apple cider vinaigrette that ties everything together.  Even better however is the mushroom salad, Parrillada de Setas.  Not often in NYC you get a combo of Enoki, King Oyster, Maitake, with goat cheese, garlic and honey.  A sweet and addictive medley.  And I dont normally get excited about almond cake, but the Tarta de Santiago deserves its own pilgrimage.  This is a major go!

Tomiño Taberna Gallega
192 Grand St (Mulberry/Mott), Little Italy
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Empanadillas, Huevos Roto Con Zorza, Pulpo, Carabineros/Langoustines, Ensalata San Simon, Parrillada de Setas

 

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

10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

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Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

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Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

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Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

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Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

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Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

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Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

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Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

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Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

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Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

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Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Cavour 21 – Unadulterated in Genoa

Cavour 21 - Trofie PestoThere’s a common belief in the travel community that vacations should be all about you, and what you like to do.  Stay in the type of accommodations you like.  Do the things that interest you.  Eat the things you enjoy the most in the setting you feel most comfortable in. “What type of food do you like?” is a common response to someone seeking dining advice on the travel boards.  It rarely makes sense to me.  But knowing exactly what you want and getting it when you want it, doesnt sound so wrong.  Some may argue its living life to the fullest.  In fact I’m often jealous of people who travel with their favorite cigars, coffee, rum, prunes.  Yes, prunes.  Prunes give people comfort.

But then there’s the camp that believes that vacation is all about experiencing different.  The camp that enjoys adventure, stepping outside the comfort zone, and generating memories.  The camp that leaves their prunes behind.  If you are in that camp, you most likely enjoy places like Cavour 21.  Oy, I didnt mean to go all over-dramatic on you.  I’m just talking about a super casual restaurant in Genoa.  Watching too much Jessica Jones lately, and all that narration is beginning to get to me.

Although we’ve been to local institutions as such (one is Coimbra, Portugal comes to mind) Cavour is as genuine as they come.  Traditional Genoa food, in a rustic, no nonsense environment, with too good to be true prices.  Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.  For us at least.  For the locals it may feel like Wednesday.

Cavour 21 - Lobster pastaYou start this adventure before you even enter the place.  About 15-30 minutes before in fact.  To ensure a table its recommended to come before they open, otherwise you get an approx time slot, or risk missing out.  If its lunch time, and they run out of space and time, they can put you on a list for dinner.  Once they open (may not be on time), everyone surrounds the list reader like he is about to read the chosen names in a high school play, and about to give them free Focaccia.  Then he goes “Prego” and bam, a mad rush inside.  You are shown to your table or table that you’ll share with others.

While you wait outside, its hard to miss the “Pesto World Championship” proudly displayed on their front.  And unless you just spent a week in Genoa, its hard to pass on it.  It comes with the traditional Trofie, along with potato, green beans, and it’s outstanding.  But as good as it was, the Pansoti, Ligurian Ravioli with walnut sauce was the real revelation.  It’s a local specialty and unlike anything I’ve had before.  Stuffed with wild herbs, its creamy and ultra nutty.  Delicious even though the “Pansa” which means belly wasn’t super evident here.  They suppose to look like Ravioli with fat beer bellies.

We were on a mission to eat as much seafood as possible in Luguria before moving inland for over a week.  Lobster with Taglierini and tomato sauce was sufficiently flavorful, or divine once you factor the price (I dont remember the exact cost but trust me on this).  Fried and grilled fresh seafood was all good, with the standouts being the shrimp and Langoustines.  They get a pass for the forgettable desserts however.  This is one of two particularly memorable meals in Genoa.  The other being the great Rosmarino.

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kāwi – At the Cutting Edge of NYC Dining

Eating With Ziggy

Kawi TunaJuly 20, 2019 Update:

Its a new record me thinks.  The quickest update in the history of Eating With me.  While the EWZ statisticians check the validity of these claims, let me tell you how awesome Kawi is.  Kawi is awesome!  Its scary how easy it is to get a table for 4 on a Saturday night.  They keep a big chunk of the space for walk-ins it seems, and its just a little unnerving to get in so easily when you account the quality here.  Lets call it mild Ma Peche Syndrome.  The location in Hudson Yards may have something to do with it.

But in three months, Kawi got even better.  Shortly after the first report, they started to offer dinner, and essentially unleashing phase two.  Stews, specifically Yesterday’s Stinky Soybean Stew that is generating a lot of attention but absent on our last visit.  Instead we settled for…

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