Author Archives: Ziggy

Chelsea Lately – 2018

Miznon CauliflowerIts that time of the year, readers.  When I dissect piece by piece this tourist trap in Chelsea we call the Chelsea Market.  Did I get your attention now?  “Tourist Trap”, a term used often when you read reviews about ultra touristy establishments.  “Migrane” is something you get when you read what others have to say about something you know and love.  “Himalayan Meditation Retreats” is what you Google three months after you open a restaurant in NYC.

But I suppose every touristy restaurant on the planet can be and will be called a Tourist Trap by visitors from all over, who fail to capitalize on the establishment’s full potential.  After all, I just called such market in Madrid, and I have a very hard time believing otherwise.  But there are two very important ingredients missing in Chelsea Market in order to quality as a Tourist Trap.  Mediocre food, and lack of local interest.  Make it knowledgeable local interest like the Chowhounds who know NYC food scene better than anyone

Food courts are popping all over the US like presidential tweets.  NYC alone has around 20 of them.  And due to that vastness you keep seeing some of the same generic names in many of them.  Like food trucks that keep multiplying, selling the same items all over the city.  They are there more for convenience rather than destinations.  What makes CM different is that its not loaded with the usual suspects, but vendors who call CM their only home.  Why?  Well, mainly due to the fame and foot traffic that comes with it.  I just dont recall CM being as culinary rich when mostly locals used to go there.

Miznon

Miznon

But Chelsea Market is soooo crowded, you say.  Well yeah!  But its really the cramped former Nabisco factory space that is the main culprit.  Its a pita smack in the face as soon as you walk in, and some cant wait to come out from the other side (10th ave).  But if you do, at least check out the pictures on the right near the 10th ave exit where you’ll see the old factory and a picture of the last west side cowboy with his flag down.  Before the High Line rails got elevated, these cowboys rode before the trains on “Death Ave” waving their flags as a signal for the coming trains.

But if you opt to stay for a while and you like to eat, deliciousness awaits… and seats!  When you start branching out of the main hall you will discover that CM is not as crowded as it seems and you can sit down.  Here’s a list of items I would target.  Its a nice mix of items for pescatarians, vegetarians, carnivores, and even pediatricians.  I would pick about 3-5 items of the list (to share with your special someone(s)), allow 90 minutes, and perhaps walk it off on the High Line after or during.

Hummus at Dizengoff – You are not there just for the Hummus, but the entire package. The hummus with the rotating toppings (right now they got a good looking Sabich – egg, eggplant, Amba combination on the board), the pita, the Salatim, and homemade Z’hug.  This is a a nice light option to share.

Dizengoff Hummus

Cauliflower at Miznon – Its a simple roasted cauliflower, but delightfully salty and quite delicious.  You can bring that to Dezengoff and start eating it there while you wait for you Hummus.  Though there’s something about eating inside Miznon.  Like stepping into a Tel Aviv fast food joint.  If you skip Dizengoff, share a pita sandwich here.  I’m partial to the veggie combos

Cumin Lamb at Very Fresh Noodles – If I have to pick one item in the entire market, this is probably it.  It doesnt get as spicy as Xi’an Famous but what it lacks in heat, it gains in flavor.  This is the only place where I struggled with seats in the past, but they now added counter seating facing the “Biang Bianging!”, and there are usually seats.  The Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup is another hit

Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Saxelby Cheesemongers – A good excuse to go downstairs and escape the selfie sticks of the main hall.  While you wait for your sandwich, sample some hot sauces at the shop next door.  I’m partial to the Bronx sauce.

Double Cheeseburger at Creamline – If you are coming from another country, and have this thing called “American Burger” on your list, this is as good as it gets in NYC for this price range.  To me it beats Shake Shack, from the bun, beef, and the optional egg which you should add.  I also like the choc milk here, and Turkey burger

Creamline Burger

Hot Dog at Dickson’s Farmstand – A very solid hot dog. Or for something perhaps a bit more tangy and tingly…  Paprika or Kaese Currywurst from Berlin Currywurst.  If you never had a proper hot dog, go for the former.  If you did, do the latter (yes, add some spicy sauce, at least on the side)

Adobada Taco at Los Tacos #1 – The Shawarma of the south. Well it did come originally from Arab immigrants in Mexico.  This is a quick delicious snack you eat standing up.  Or/And get a Fish Tacos at Los Mariscos to at least earn that secret bathroom visit.  Yes, a bathroom with no lines.  When standing on that line to Los Tacos, look left for the Los Mariscos entrance.

Los Mariscos Tacos

The Splurges….

Lobster Roll at Cull & Pistol – This is one of my overall NYC faves.  Owned by the Lobster Place so everything comes from next door, the city’s top fishmongers.  Ignore confusing old reviews by Infatuation.  The lobster roll at $29, is one of the most expensive in town, though you will not find a lobster below $25 at any full service.  And yes, they are this tiny everywhere, and most not quite as good.

Sushi at Lobster Place – Its my go to place for Chirashi bowl.  I also buy Salmon burgers here to grill later.

For Dessert….

Halvah from See & Mill – Especially for those who never had Halvah.  Try it with their ice cream as well

Cherry pie at Sarabeth’s bakery.  A classic!

Gelato at L’Arte del Gelato – Or for something a little more interesting, explore the High Line and area head to Gelato Giusto on 9th.  Owner Lorenzo from Milan is like a sorbet wizard but knows his Gelato as well

Cull & Pistol Lobster

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3 Days in Madrid

A word of advice:  Lakasa!  That’s it.  Just one word as promised.  Thats the most important takeaway from this post, and if its the only takeaway, my job is kinda done here.  In other words, if you only giving this post your valuable morning bathroom break, just go straight to the Lakasa section and read the rest if you have more time.  There are other important tips here, including where not to eat, and where we planned to eat but didnt eat.  So maybe make it a longer bathroom or a work vaping break, to read the rest.

Talking about “takeaway”, my biggest struggle in Spain was requesting Coffee To Go in Spanish.  I know this is not exactly a coffee to go culture, but I needed it on occasion especially while driving.  I had to do it especially in the North where English was almost non existent.  “Para Llevar, Para Llevar, Para Llevar”.  I practiced, and listened and practiced some more.  I went from “Pull the Lever Please!” to “Para Levar” to “Para Yevar” and they would continue to nod and smile and serve it in a small coffee mug on a plate to stay.  Wife sometimes would come back from shopping to see me sipping on the coffee cup going, “couldnt pull the lever again, couldn’t you?”.  Nope!

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The most surprising thing about Madrid’s food scene was the large amount of American chains scattered all over the center.  There were moments when I was looking for something interesting to eat, and it was easier to find a Burger King then a local shop of some sorts.  But the site that surprised me the most was my first International “Five Guys”.  Turns out, there are 4 more outside the center.  Well done Guys!  All 5 of you.

Here’s a rundown of the places we ate.  You can read between the lines

El Paraguas – This was strongly recommended by our host and I can see why.  A room, make it rooms, including an outdoor patio, packed with locals, including families and grandpas who lunch.  All on a Friday afternoon.  And you need to dress up a notch for this one.  The cuisine is Asturian but the menu reads like a bible.  Madrid doesnt really have its own regional cuisine.  It draws its inspirations from all over Spain, especially the north (I can be corrected here).  The standout here was a mystery dish.  “Cocochas de Merluza con Yema de Huevo” on the Spanish menu translated to “Hake’s Barbel in green sauce and egg yolk” on the English menu.  Confusing because Barbel is a another fish, and Cocochas is the second chin or jaw of a fish which we had in Getaria some time later and it looked nothing like this.  Whatever it was, it was excellent. and I would go back just for this.IMG_8467

Cervecería Cervantes – This is where you will have that “We are finally in Spain” moment.  Surrounded by locals, and eating things we couldn’t get enough of the rest of the trip.  We came for the Galician Octopus which was good indeed, but we totally devoured the shrimp in garlic and Padron peppers.  And we started hearing angels singing when we tried the fried calamari.  Even though the singing was mostly in latin, I understood most of it… “Remember all that fried Calamari you’ve been eating in New York all your life? Lalalalalalala!  Its crap!  This is what it supposed to taste like”

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Lakasa (bottom)- Madrid is loaded with some incredible talent doing elevated traditional dishes and Avant-garde.  But its hard for me to imagine many better experiences in this price range.  This was flawless from start to finish.  From the house white to the waiter eerily popping a little device on the table where little wet wipes peep out one by one, much to our delight.  It doesnt take much to amuse us.  silky smooth Cecina (cured cow meat) from Astorga.  A mind blowing grilled Hake (better than the Alfonsino special).  Dried rice with pigeon, a house specialty, was a standout.  One of the better cooked steaks of a Spain trip loaded with great meats.  Clams in garlic, and fried eggs with truffles we couldnt get enough of.  One of the best meals we ever had in Spain

La Casa del Abuelo – Shrimp and Garlic!  We’ve been obsessing and dreaming about the shrimp in Garlic months prior to the trip.  Portugal did this to us!  Ramiro in Lisbon if I can point fingers.  In Madrid all indications pointed to the undisputed Shrimp and Garlic champ, La Casa del Abuelo.  Not to be confused with Abuela (grandma) on the same street.  You want Grandpa’s cooking, not Grandma in this case.  Really enjoyed the crustaceans here. They were plump and flavorful albeit on the softer side.  We also enjoyed the large Fideo with squid and its ink.

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Ochenta Grados – This was the only place open on Sunday night that was walking distance from our apartment.  We were surprised at how many close on Sundays here (some open for lunch).  Ochenta Grados felt like a place more for teen girls so it was sort of perfect because I came with two of those.  But at the same time it was cheap, inventive fun, and shockingly good value.  Clever “Tapas” like plates around 4 euros each.  We pretty much tried the entire menu for 70 euros.  A marginal endorsement for the foodies out there

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San Miguel Market – This is the one I dont quite get.  What exactly is the attraction here?  Is it the concept or the food?  Coming from the land of food markets (NYC) this was shockingly disappointing.  We settled initially on some overpriced, mediocre toasts with cheese.  Then we circled a few more times and nothing stood out.  Extremely crowded and expensive for Spain (11 euros for a small portion of fried calamari).  The whole thing felt like a giant tourist trap.  I cant imagine many locals go here.

A word on Tapas – One thing I learned in Madrid is that Tapas is more of a way of life, rather than a concept or simply small plates.  Its a social gathering where you move from place to place eating and drinking what the establishments specialize in, while standing.   Tapas is a lifestyle, that is not meant to be forced, and therefore difficult for visitors to mimic.  When you are spending a full day sightseeing, your planned Tapas crawl may not fit as you’ll be craving a seat and a drink somewhere relaxing instead.  But if you must, Calle del Dr. Castelo near Retiro park is loaded with some popular eateries like Laredo, La Castela, Castelados, and La Raquetista

Other places I wanted to visit but didnt have a chance:  La Manduca de Azagra, AskuaBarra, Glass Mar

 

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EV Bites – Taco Crawl

Tacos Morelos

Tacos Morelos

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

In this issue I’ll focus on Tacos.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, or in Staten Island, you are missing out on a Taco renaissance.  These are the golden years for taco lovers, and its just getting better and better.  This crawl features 4 places and an unrelated dessert that is convenient to the crawl.  The only thing to keep in mind here is that Empellon usually opens at 4 (1pm on weekends), and the dessert place may be closed in the evening.  So check the times.  Its best to do this on weekends.

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – I’ve tried every taco here over the years but I keep coming back for this deliciousness.  A good example of the so many NYC mini chains today that started in East Village.  Try the Horchata here as well

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – While I prefer the Hell’s Kitchen location, this is solid enough.  The sitting may be sparse but this is a walking crawl, not a sitting one

Break time – Check out The Museum of American Gangster, and the prohibition era speakeasy on St Marks

Beer Braised Tongue at Empellon Al Pastor –  The namesake taco is excellent, but once I discovered the Pork tongue it was no going back.  Its all in that delicious, tangy sauce they make that elevates this thing.

Cochinita Pibil at Taco Morelos – This s possibly the most authentic of the bunch, and East Village overall.  Wonderful, tender, slow roasted pork on a homemade tortilla is hard to beat.

Break time – Check out whats happening in Tompkins Square Park, my favorite NY park.

Almond Croissants at Patisserie Florentine – Finish with some of the best Almond Croissants you’ll find in NYC.  Though the Canelles arent too shabby either

One of these stops is an important stop on this world famous East Village tour

Enjoy!

 

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This Soho Chicken With a Pinch of Sand is Outstanding

Pinch Chinese Wind Sand ChickenSometimes in order to find the best dishes, you need come back with friends.  Not only you can try more, but you can finally order some of the larger dishes, like the chicken for 2 to 6.  Such was the case the other day when we introduced our friends to one of our Soho faves, Pinch Chinese.  An invitation that became a little suspicious when I walked in three hours prior to our reservations to reserve the bird while friends waited outside.  I should have played it more subtle.  As in “Hey, you guys want to try the chicken? I hear its fantastic!”

The Wind Sand Chicken is a Hong Kong classic.  It doesnt look whole and not particularly large, but the 4 of us couldnt finish the $51 dish.  By trying to leave the best for last (dark meat) we left it on the table.  When you taste the flash you taste the labor.  The bird is cooked like Peking duck.  Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, repeating.  The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist.  Garnished with fried garlic, like sand that the wind brought (Ahhhhh!).  Maybe if they closed the door, they wouldnt have this problem

Oh and there were pork soup dumplings of course and terrific spicy Wontons (new to us).  And the “Snow Crab in a Chinese Restaurant” with fermented black bean and glass noodles we order each time.  And there was a side of porky Sichuan String Beans that is now our favorite side.  Not to mention those sick Cumin Pork Ribs.  If there was a Fantasy Niman Ranch Pork league, Pinch Chinese would win by three snouts.

More on Pinch Chinese here

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

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10 Tips for Asturias

IMG_8939Heard of Asturias?  The forgotten Spanish region of Asturias is an absolute stunner and a culinary paradise.  We came primarily to get a glimpse of the magnificent Picos de Europa, but turns out it’s so much more than that.

10.  Check the Covadonga Webcam.   Before going up to the lakes of Covadonga, check the webcam.  It may be clear down below, but heavy fog on top.  Ideally stay in or near Cangas de Onis for at least 3 days and go up on a sunny day.  Webcam:  http://webcamsdeasturias.com/webcam.php?id=159

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9.  Sunday is Fungus Day at Cangas de Onís.  Its not a big market, but a very important one, in front of the main church in Cangas de Onís.  This is where you can taste the funky local Cabrales cheese among many other products.  And if you speak Spanish, maybe make a friend and get invited to see a cave where Cabrales is aged.

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8.  Read up and look for “Indianos”.  Back in the day Spaniards who lived close to the sea in the north, sailed to South America to seek better fortune.  At the turn of the 20th century, feeling homesick, many of those who accumulated wealth came back.  And to show their legacy, they built these lavish colorful homes (“Indianos”).  They would even typically have palm trees as a symbol of their previous tropical homes.  You can visit the chief Indiano at Colombres (Indiano Archive Foundation) and see them in Ribadesella and pretty much all over.

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7.  Visit a Sidreria or 5.  This is perhaps obvious to some, but its importance needs to be stressed.  We travel for “Different”.  And your visit will be incomplete if you dont spend the proper time practically bathing in cider in a cider house.  Read about the proper way to drink it, its not just about the pouring.  Visit Plaza De Requejo in Mieres.  Check out Sidrería Carroceu in Ribadesella (try shrimp in garlic, and mussels topped with tomato sauce, a local specialty)

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6.  Try a Cachopo.  This item can be criminally overlooked when researching this region.  The Asturias answer to, ok, there’s nothing quite like this out there.  Two mammoth fried veal fillets sandwiching ham, cheese, and anything else they opt to stuff in there.  And one the best places to try it is Chigre El Antoju Sidrería in Llanes

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5.  Take your time at Sanctuary of Covadonga.  Dont confuse this for just a church hence a quick attraction.  You may need to walk a little from your parking spot.  You’ll want to take pictures of it every time you look from every angle.  You must visit the Holy Cave across where you may get the best shot of the church.  And most importantly, dont even think about missing this.

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4.  Follow the Oviedo Escultura trail.  Oviedo and its unique statues is a free open air museum.  Well at least on a Sunday when you can park for free.  You’ll see a statue with a story in every park, square, or in front of important monuments including one of Woody Allen (Much of Vicky Cristina Barcelona was filmed in Oviedo).  But the most famous of the bunch is a little girl wearing a red dress sitting on a bench in the park.  Read about Mafalda to see why she’s larger than life 

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3.  Have a leisurely lunch at El Molín de Mingo.  In Asturias, you have these 7 feet chickens roaming around answering to the name Pitu.  Pitu de Caleya is one of the many delicious local specialties and this is where you try it.  Packed places this hidden are packed for a reason.  Always busy therefore reservations are essential, and sometimes only open on weekends.  A little easier to get to via Arriondas as opposed to Cangas de Onis

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2.  Mix it up at Casa Marcial and Guernica.  The location and setting of Marcial is worth the schlep alone to this two Michelin in the mountains.  The fixed menu options will allow you to mix crafty ingredient driven starters (like the best mussel you’ll ever have) with elevated local specialties like Fabada and Pitu de Caleya.  For seafood head to Luanco for the great rice dishes of Guernica

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1.  Read Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding.  A full chapter on Asturias, Basque and other regions you may come across.

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Nishi is Now Italian, But Still Momofuku

Nishi Scallops

Eating With Ziggy

July 23, 2018 Update:

This is your annual reminder to check out this gem in Chelsea that continues to fire on all Bucatinis.  Three visits this year alone and about a dozen overall, making Momofuku Nishi my most frequented fine dining destination these days.  Its the only place with a four Z rating in the EWZ NYC universe.  But as with any establishment, its important to keep expectations in check.  The menus constantly change and sometimes those crazy Fuku chefs like to experiment on us.  So allow me to decipher the current menu to uncover some gems for you.  Well, you really have no choice.

To Start – Here I go for the market veggies mostly.  Endive with walnut Bagna Cauda, the classic Piedmontese dish that serves as the perfect counter for the sharp Endives. The various Gem Lettuce renditions always work, and last time the Romano Beans and Burrata with Spring Onions…

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Jose Maria {Segovia} – The Suckling King

Jose Maria in ActionSegovia, the perfect tourist town.  How often do you come across places with such sheer beauty and plenty of unique attractions to boot.  Its rich history plays an important global role, and its essentially one giant lesson in Spanish history.  Which is why its best viewed with a guide.  Its monuments are not only important and UNESCOd for good reason, but they are a feast to the eyes.  The aqueduct alone is worthy of the train ticket from Madrid, even if you’ve seen such aqueducts before.  And then you have the Cochinillo (Suckling Pig).

No one knows how it all started, but everyone knows who popularized it.  In the 1930’s Don Candido started carving Cochinillo with a plate while everyone else watched with Love Eye Emojis followed by Cash Eye Emojis.  Today Meson de Candido is still going strong, while many others all over Segovia are now doing the same thing.  And gastrofreaks from all over flock here not for the Aqueduct or the castles, but for the baby pig.  The whole scene is a little disturbing in a way.  Baby pigs featured on window displays, sometimes provocatively, akin to the red light district in Amsterdam.  I figured if my kids ever become vegan, this would be the reason.

But if Don Candido put the Cochinillo on the map, Jose Maria put it on the Google Map.  Today, Jose Maria is the Taj Mahal of the pig pilgrimage and you can feel it when you are 50 feet away from the 5 room restaurant.  It doesn take much Google searching to see videos of Mr Maria plate carving that thing while proudly wearing his medal.  In 2002 Maria, who owns his own breeding farm, founded PROCOSE, an association devoted to the promotion of the Suckling Pig of Segovia.  He converted the pig into a cultural icon.

The mural behind us serves as a reminder for all the plates Jose Maria used to break in the past.  But it wasn’t clear whether it was accidental or did he throw them Greek style when he was done.  But today the carving is so theatrical that everything including time pauses for that 10 seconds.  He cuts and plates it with the plate.  The flesh maintains much of the juiciness.  The skin is crispier than crisp but still chewy.  And its all rather simple.  You expect something more complicated from such fame, but its really just a suckling pig simply seasoned with salt and pepper.  The reason it works so well, is the quality of the main ingredient.  These guys got this thing down to a science.  From the weight of the pig, to the timing of the kill and what it had for breakfast days 4 to 6.

But there were other surprises contributing to this most memorable meal, starting with the Iberico meat and cheese platter.  While we liked the Jamon and Chorizo alright, it was the dryer more textured Lomo (cured tenderloin) that won.  And then came the Judiones, some of the most massive, creamiest white beans you will ever eat.  Part of a stew of course, a relative of the Asturian Fabada we couldnt get enough.

And I dont normally get excited or even remember house wines, but this house red had the Aroma and complexity of a pungent full bodied aged red.  Even Mrs Z couldnt help herself and had a glass too many.  After the meal while we were walking, she suddenly paused, and turned to me frantically “Did you find the Chorizo?!?”  Translation (after 25 years of marriage):  We didnt have dessert.  Did you find a nice Churros place?

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This is Getaria

IMG_6219Getaria is a tiny fishing village in Basque Country, about 30 minute drive from San Sebastian.  Torbotville, (a town in Pennsylvania) perhaps a more appropriate name due to the widely available fish that became the new symbol of Getaria.  This was the tail end of a 16 day road trip from Madrid, where we spent 6 nights using Getaria as our Basque base.  Some of these pictures came practically from the back yard of our accommodation, Gaintza, a local Txikoli (young but potent local dry white) producer.  Staying in the middle of a vineyard, with a 5 minute walk to the beach, an old town, and world class seafood was not exactly what I imagined.  I will have more on Getaria and its very unique food scene when I get a chance.  Click on any image below to browse through all

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Z-List Update – 2018

2nd ave Deli Pastrami

2nd ave Deli Pastrami

This is it.  The most important update to date to the legendary, ultra exclusive (according to Harvard) Z-List.  This is a list of 50 of my favorite restaurants in New York City.  If it looks rather random to some, good.  That’s the point.  Its simply my way of answering “what should we eat while in NYC” to 99% of those asking.  All under $100 per person (hence 99%).  The 2018 update features more Italian, Asian, Jewish, and Jews doing Asian:

In:

Pig and Khao, Fiaschetteria “Pistoia”, Ugly Baby, Werkstatt, Faro, Cote, Bombay Bread Bar, Ducks Eatery, 2nd Ave Deli.  Congratulations to the winners!

Out:

Bruno pizza – Not much has changed here as far as I know.  Just like other options more.

Blue Ribbon Sushi – I still like to bring large groups here, but prefer other options overall.

Root and Bone – During a recent meal the signature chicken paled in comparison to its former glory.

Pok Pok – Just cant bring myself to go these days especially since Ugly Baby opened not too far.  A plethora of negative reviews as of late dont help

Distilled – A meh meal last time.  Go to Ducks Eatery for the American stuff

Roberta’s – This (along with pok Pok and Root and Bone) might be the shocker here.  Still love the pizza.  But after a recent meal, you get the sense the pizza is the only reason for the schlep.  Faro is the better choice in the hood

Malai marke – Replacing this Indian with Bombay Bread Bar.

Gotham West Market – Many of the vendors changed over the past year.  It may be even better today.  But its a food court and shouldnt really be on the list

Click here for the complete list

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Pistoia

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A Ducky in East Village Dishes out Killer Goat

Eating With Ziggy

Ducks Eatery logoJune 17, 2018 Update

The annual much anticipated Z-List update is coming up soon so I figured I’ll give you a little preview.  Much anticipated in my household that is.  Something tells me Jean-Georges Vongerichten is not exactly losing sleep on this.  But who knows, I may be wrong

You gotta love places with a signature dish.  And then you really gotta love places with so many “classics” on the menu, you dont even need to order the signature dish.  I was having dinner at at Vietnamese place the other day, my second time there, and I came out as puzzled as ever about its must order dishes.  While at Ducks Eatery, you salivate at the usual suspects… ribs, wings, goat neck, and after the latest mini feast, smoked duck salad, and just about the most outrageous “Rice and Beans” you’ll find in NYC. Not many do the American classics…

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