Author Archives: Ziggy

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

Hell’s Kitchen Guide – Winter 2020 Update

Tulcingo Del Valle Chile RellenoA much needed update to the “Bread and Butter” of this blog.  Seven year old Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide still outperforming all other posts year after year.  The Z-List and the Turks & Caicos page complete the top three.  There are many sources for Hell’s Kitchen out there today but I truly believe this is still the most comprehensive and up to date of the bunch.  Most HK guides written by people who dont spend much time there and/or dont really understand the area well.  But enough about me…

Whats new in 2020?  Mexican, Thai, Ramen, Korean continue to dominate, so naturally three additions fall into that group.  I’m seeing more and more Chinese/NOLA style boils popping on 9th, and a slow moving shift from East Village (either opening more locations or moving).  Its good news for HK but a little sad because it means owners relying a bit more on tourists.  Still, that didnt save some of the places that closed lately like Gloria (I tell ya that location is cursed).

Dropped from the list:

Otto’s Tacos – Still like the shrimp tacos, but getting a little inconsistent.
Mentoku Ramen – Just prefer EAK and the old-guards
Benares – Closed
Gloria – Closed
Merilu Pizza – Closed

EAK RamenAdded to the list:

E.A.K. Ramen Hell’s Kitchen – My Ramen of choice these days.  First successful infiltration of IEKEI (pronounced EAK) style Ramen in NYC, albeit on tourist heavy restaurant row (46th) for some reason.

UOGASHI – This is it!  The Holy Grail in this Sushi deprived Kitchen.  An East Village import.  The space housed a different sushi place which explains why it took me 6 months to realize and try it.

Le Sia – Its one of those rare situations where I add a place to the guide before my first visit.  I’m well too familiar with Le Sia in East Village and what these guys are capable of.  Its a very fresh opening.  Expect fiery Chinese style crawfish/crab boils, BBQ skewers, and the type of authenticity the neighborhood isnt used to.

Tulcingo Del Valle – Shame on me for waiting this long to add this one.  I just never took it very seriously I suppose.  A 20 year old Pueblan feels like the last of the neighborhood bodegas.  No shortcuts, fresh or bust approach is the secret.

Alan’s Kitchen Mexican Cuisine – This one is a tentative addition as its new and I’ve only been once, but the Carnitas here so far are Mission-esque (Mission District is a Mexican paradise of sorts in SF).  The tacos are so good I hear Los Tacos nearby are changing their name to #2

Click here for the full guide

Click here for the map

Alan's Kitchen

Alan’s Kitchen

 

 

 

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brooklyn Food Tour Update

Frequently Asked Questions updated.

Most important is a new meeting point.  Due to extensive construction by Gran Morsi, I’ve been experimenting with a new location for a while, but will make it official now.  We now meet at Mattress Firm Tribecca (yes with two c’s) – 140 Church St.  Thats in Manhattan, not Brooklyn.  Its on the corner of Warren and Church, but we meet on the Warren side.

As usual please check your email prior to the tour for any changes.  Construction is spreading all over NYC like wildfire.  Its a poor analogy these days but its true and sad.  I may need to change the meeting point last minute.

The tour keeps evolving.  Less emphasis on Dumbo (due to, you guessed it, construction).  More emphasis on Brighton Beach (Added my favorite Georgian Bakery), and Green-Wood Cemetery.  Look for a blog post on the latter soon.  Dumbo was a minor stop anyway.

One of the most fun changes, for me at least, is a new game we now play.  I tell a lot of stories during the tour, and one of them is false.  At the end of the tour you will try to guess the fake story.  I started doing it mostly with Australians as a way for them to pay more attention and stop looking for squirrels 😉

Unlike the other two tours, this one is not bookable on Trip Advisor/Viator yet.  Best and only way to book is via email.  EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

Tour Details here

Reviews here

Complaints here

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

This is Rendezvous Bay

Rendezvous Bay HotelIt’s becoming increasingly difficult to write posts like this considering everything that’s going on in the world today.  Fires in Australia, mayhem in Iran, Hong Kong, impeachment, and this dude is writing about some beach in Anguilla.  But this is a place worth writing about.  And as I get older and wiser its becoming more and more clear that in this fragile world, a beach and even looking at pictures of a beach (which I dont do enough) has crazy healing powers.  Numerous recent studies suggest the same.  There’s a reason why Hawaii is the happiest state in the US year after year, an its not Poke Bowls.

There’s another reason I hesitate to post this one.  I’m not exactly anxious for the world to know about this place.  Its a cliche, I know.  But only once you spend a week here you’ll understand.  In fact I met some nice folks there who asked me in a nice half-kidding kind of way to refrain from writing about it.  With that said, sharing is caring as my mama used to say.  And I do hope, for the same selfish reasons, this place I’m about to mention (the main reason for the post) stays in business long enough.

IMG_2282Rendezvous Bay (special shutout to the person who invented copy and paste) simply put is the perfect beach.  Just like most such beaches, you may not find it at its best behavior when you first see it.  The winds can get too strong, and sometimes it may feel deserted for a reason.  When we first saw it four years ago we werent impressed.  But after spending a week at what looks like its best side, we understood.  It’s one of the most walkable, most swimmable, and most perfect size beaches we’ve seen. But most of all, its almost empty!  From my vantage point, best seat in the theater, one person walking by every 20 minutes.  It’s one of the best sheer beauty to people ratio in the Caribbean.

Just to give you an idea how empty this place is.  One day I was in the water and noticed from a distance a figure, most likely a man with absolutely no one around him for a good mile.  The man pulled down his trunks, bent over and proceeded to either shake the trunks or look for something inside them for a good minute.  It wasn’t clear what exactly he was doing, but there he was doing it.  If he was looking for his keys, there was only one place left to look for them.  His bum can be the symbol of Rendezvous Bay in billboards everywhere with the caption “You can do this here”.

Another big plus is that Rendezvous Bay has arguably the best beach shack in the Caribbean, Sunshine Shack.  Garvey and crew will not rest until you are happy.  Expertly grilled BBQ chicken, ribs, lobster and crawfish when available is pretty much the entire menu, but thats all you need (well, except if you are vegetarian).  Its colorful, inviting, with a bit of a party atmosphere for a change of pace.  Booze, games, and comfortable beach lounges allow you to hang out for as long as you want.  This is the definition of a beach shack if there was ever one.

IMG_2243One of the cool things about this bay is the lack of hotels.  You got CuisinArt in the west as the lone major resort, and a few boutique hotels.  One of which is the reason for the post. Rendezvous Bay Hotel.  Its the oldest hotel in Anguilla, and today for some mysterious reasons, shockingly underrated.  It was 😍😍😍 at first sight for us.  I think I gave the biggest tip ever for just showing me the room.  We loved everything about this place.  From the breakfast burritos, the humongous bed (forget king, more like emperor), the balcony, room size, everything.  I can’t think of another place where I wanted to spend so much time in.  I even loved that we had three keys and for the life of me I have no idea what the other two were for.

But most of all it was the proximity (20 feet) to what seemed like the best and calmest part of Rendezvous Bay.  CuisinArt got the short end of the stick looks like, perhaps because RBH was there first.  We had a safety net, a car, that would take us to any beach we want (and there are 33 of them, many of which stunning).  But every other beach we visited felt like a downgrade.  Its perfectly isolated.  You are not far from some of the best dining in Anguilla, and the public ferry.  Fantastic value (under $300) to boot especially considering what you’ll find 20 feet away.  How often do I write about a hotel.  Not very.

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

Zahav (Philly) – Almost Golden

Zahav

Courtesy of Zahav

It only took 10 years.  Pretty much everyone I know including my oldest who now lives in Philly made it to Zahav before me.  Winning the coveted Outstanding Restaurant at the 2019 James Beard awards, the Oscars of dining in America, didnt help my quest.  It doesnt seem like its mission impossible, but over the years, every time I tried, I failed to reserve a table.  So last Sunday I sent an email declaring myself available in case of a cancellation, and lo and behold, an hour later I had a table reserved for four.

The story is inspiring.  While it was Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s third restaurant when they opened Zahav in 2008, it wasnt an immediate success.  They barely made it through year one.  Judging by the number of hosts we spotted last Sunday, these guys have gone a long way.  To get the James Beard prize a restaurant must be open for 10 consecutive years.  Solomonov and Cook struck gold, or “Zahav” which means gold in Hebrew.  But Zahav in this case is more of a reference to Jerusalem, city of gold.  The food touches on Jerusalem’s street food, and the room mimics elements of its hidden courtyards.  Supposedly!  It was a little dark.

Ordering at Zahav is like a surprise math quiz that you dont want to screw up.  The much touted Tayim tasting menu works for some, but not all.  For our family, it made more sense to order a la carte.  iPhone flashlight was used to see the menu, take some god-awful shots, and on occasion make sure the people sitting across are still my children.  Gone are the days when I get embarrassed when someone uses flash at my table.  I’m now that guy.

The food for the most part lived up to the hype.  The Salatim, miniature size rotating salads of the day were all on point, with everyone reaching for different favorites.  More scrumptiousness followed with the Mezzes, where the cauliflower, the Israeli staple, and Haloumi being particular standouts.  The good news is that the signature silky smooth hummus is awesome.  The bad news is that the silky smooth hummus is awesome.  I’ll explain.

The grilled section dubbed “Al Ha’esh” (literally means “on top of fire” – my favorite kind of grilled) were well-thought-out, expertly cooked tapas size “mains”.  The Lamb merguez was good but overshadowed by the the others.  The excellent grilled eggplant reminded me of eggplant in some Chinese restaurants.  The Chicken Shishlik (Kebab in Russian, one of the many influences in Israeli cuisine) was zesty and quite juicy.  And the two bites I had of the Branzino were great.

Everything was cooked well and featured nice combination of flavors and textures.  But at the end of the day something was missing.  It could be the only large dish of the house, the signature whole-roasted lamb shoulder which is only available via the larger “Mesiba” tasting menu.  I’m pro business.  I dont usually suggest how restaurateurs should conduct their business, as they do things for a reason in order to survive the game.  But as a consumer, it would have been nice to have this dish available for us.  Some of us got smaller stomachs (mine is shrinking), and the Mesiba (party in hebrew) just meant way too much food.  I didnt want a party, but a casual get together.  Instead we watched this glorious looking plate parade all over the room, while we take small bites off our tapas.

I suppose we could have chosen more than one chicken or fish, and had our own mini Mesiba if you will.  But on your first visit, you fall into the trap of trying various dishes, and the habit of ordering a dish more than once is foreign to us.  The lack of large plates meant a couple of bites in some cases, and just when your taste buds start to warm up to a new flavor, its gone.  At the end of the meal we all agreed that our favorite was the hummus, a dish I’ve had many times at Dizengoff.  Granted, it was even more awesome here.  But on my highly anticipated first visit, I was craving a knockout dish I hadn’t had before.  Otherwise, the prices are fair, and its a true gem in center Philly that would do fairly well in NYC.

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Anguilla – Top 7 Dishes 2019

IMG_2335

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

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