New York City

East Village Street Art

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In my next life I want to live in the East Village.  Preferably between the ages of 17-24, before I move back to my wealthy family home in Croatia, and eventually settling down in the outskirts of Hell’s Kitchen or Upper West Side as a commercial pilot that flies to Italy every other time.  Its in the contract!  I will retire early again, giving food tours in Puglia, and on occasion visit my three daughters, all living in the East Village.  One of them is called Tamar (inside joke)

But until then, I will enjoy the area as a frequent visitor.  The food drew me at first, way before I started exploring it as a registered tour guide.  But I quickly realized there’s a lot more to it than food.  There’s a level of quirkiness not seen anywhere.  There’s a store on St Marks entirely devoted to Marshmallows!  So last October it took me and my big boy camera three visits to take pictures of all the art I could find.  These are just some of the results…

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Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Traif – Hold the Gefilte

Traif - Foie GrasIn order to understand the name, one first needs to understand the location.  One block over to the south is Hasidic Williamsburg, the most ultra-Jewish neighborhood in a borough loaded with Jewish neighborhoods (around 5).  Once inside Hasidic Williamsburg you are not mistaken where you are.  This is the one place in Brooklyn I’m not comfortable touring with visitors and I declined such requests in the past.  Traif simply means “non-kosher”, a term not really used much even with Jews.  Practically next door is sister restaurant Xixa, the Mexican version of small plate Traif.  Xixa is pronounced Shiksa which means gentile girl, especially one that attracted a Jewish boy.

The Jewish husband cooks in Traif, while the Shiksa in Xixa.  This type of Chuzpah would normally attract a visit from the local Rabi.  Perhaps the logo of the pig with a heart in the middle on the Traif door legally prevents it from happening.  And the Shiksa in the other place complicates things further.  A third venture called Kish Mein Touchess would essentially entice a riot but thats just a rumor (which I’m starting here).  Traif is a pork-centric establishment after-all.  But you get the sense that even if you remove all the porkiness like the bacon around my drink rim Rude Little Pig (meh), this will still be a very good restaurant.

Traif

This is the type of place that expires on me over time.  Its 8 years old, generating nothing but praise and a steady young local crowd.  But at some point, due to the location you move on and forget all about it.  Its easy to get lost in the shuffle in this town that produces at least 20 new good ones every month it seems.  The menu reads Spanish tapas-like, but once you take a closer look, its tapas meets New American.  And while there’s always a risk attached to a tasting menu as such, the $55 chefs tasting at Traif is build to impress.

We started with a glorious welcome, a cup of creamy chickpea soup.   Then came perfectly seared scallops on a bed of mushroom risotto.  The intense mushroom perfume especially elevated those scallops nicely.  Its an odd one to start a tasting menu, but the heck with rules.  Simpler but tasty combinations followed like King Salmon with avocado, and Squash with cheese toasts.  Spicy tuna tartare over eggplant tempura was one of the more memorable early on.  If you are not a fan of Sweetbread, the riff on General Tso’s here may convert you.  Another hit was a gorgeously seared duck sporting a nice outer crisp.Traif - Scallops

Perhaps the most impressive dish of the night however was a seared foie gras with yukon potatoes, bacon, and sunny side up egg.  A tangy sauce and proper spices tying everything together and its Siman Tov ve Mazel Tov in your mouth.  Would love to come back to this.. alone.  On the other hand, the worst dish was the orange ribs.  Its tender!  Thats the only thing I can say about it.  Gnocchi with mushrooms and shaved black truffles – cant go wrong with that.  Finishing, in your face style, with bacon donuts with coffee ice cream beating the weak Panna Cotta.  All in all this is another GO folks!

Traif
229 S 4th (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Tasting Menu

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The 100!

EWZ

Thank You!

Its been a fun ride to 100.  I met so many cool people from all over the world.  From the Maori family from New Zealand who decided to buy a Durian and eat it in a parking lot in Brooklyn’s Chinatown.  To the Italian barber from England who keeps sending me clients.  Needless to say first full year has been a story filled blast.  Thanks to everyone who took the time to review me on Tripadvisor, and to the extensive Tripadvisor forum community.  Your support means a lot and keeps me from losing weight going.  Special thanks to the nation of Australia!  Good luck in the next Eurovision thing

The Brooklyn, East Village, and Hell’s Kitchen tours took a life of their own.  They are like my children and therefore very difficult for me to choose.  There’s not a day that goes by without me thinking on how to improve them.  And sometimes, on occasion I even do something about it ;).  Like adding Green-Wood Cemetery to the Brooklyn tour, or the city’s best Almond Croissants to the East Village tour.  Thanks to all the awesome vendors that make this possible.

Here’s to the next 900!

Cheers,

Ziggy

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The Curious Case of Gino Sorbillo, Pizza Legend

Sorbillo MargheritaAnticipating a famous Pizzaiolo grand opening in NYC is like anticipating flu season.  You hear about it in the media long before it arrives.  You wonder if you should do something about it this time, because you kinda like this life thing.  Then you end up forgetting all about it and doing nothing.  I dont recall ever standing in line for pizza, and I dont recall ever taking a flu shot.  Perhaps you can get the flu while standing in line in this brutal cold?  Not really sure, and not about to take any chances in what seems like the worst flu season in recent memory.  My family needs me.  I think.

If I could fit a longer title it would have said something like this, “Gino Sorbillo – love at first bite, hate at last”.  Ok, that sounded much longer in my head.  But it was really a tale of two visits for me at this highly anticipating pizza opening.  I should really do a third visit, but my wallet has other ideas in mind these days (Uncle Boons Sister, Madame Vo, Martina, etc etc).  More about the wallet thing later.  But we are talking about a pizza legend from Napoli opening his third location after Napoli and Milan.  NYC is certainly the right place to flaunt this kind of skill.  But we are talking about New York Pizza city after all.

If you read this blog longer than a few months or took my East Village tour, you know that New Yorkers live and breath pizza.  We have Neapolitan, Roman, NY style pie and slice joints, Detroit, Chicago, Staten Island, State Island bar, grandma, grandpa, and baby pizza at our finger tips.  Ok, I made the last one up but you get the idea.  New Yorkers are surrounded by pizza, and many of them are really really good.  That includes Neapolitans like Keste, Don Antonio, Eataly, and even some obscure places like Brunetti and Pasquale Jones dishing out well crafted awesomeness.  Opening a pizza place in NYC, and especially East Village requires some major chaloopas, but we New Yorkers welcome any such thing with open mouths.  Perhaps if the place was a little more unique like offer free flu shots with the pizza, New Yorkers would pay more attention

On both visits the place was almost empty.  Granted it was on my after touring hour of 3pm, but I still expected bigger crowds considering the hype.  The first thing I noticed is how large the pizzas are.  At around 13-14 inch they seem to be an inch or two larger than your average city Neapolitan.  That makes it even more of a challenge to fold these babies as the Neapolitans are naturally soggy in the middle.  We should be lucky that these imports are even cutting them for us.  Curious if they cut it for mayor De Blasio who visited both NY and Naples locations.

The first pizza I tried, Margherita with Buffalo mozzarella was outstanding.  Ingredients really popping, with a soft, airy crust that was folded almost like a calzone due to the size of the slices.  Even though the slices didnt hold their own, the flavors were there.  By my second visit I was ready for the Nduja which is becoming one of the more popular pies here.  The first few bites were promising but I got bored fairly quickly with this one.  The spicy salami spread (Nduja) was alright, but couldnt save the rest of the pie that includes uneven crust with Roman-like crunchiness at times.  This time each slice was totally falling apart when you lifted them to the point of (chills) fork and knife consideration.  And at almost $30 after tip/tax the cost/flavor ratio really took off for my liking.  A few blocks out at Martina, that ratio comes back to earth with individual pies costing a third of this, while still filling.

So while not a strong recommendation, I do encourage you to try this pizza legend and form your own opinion.  At the very least, you may get a Ratatouille moment reminiscing about your time in Napoli where you wanted to try the famous Sorbillo pizza, but just couldnt cross the street!

Sorbillo Nduja

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Ssam Bar Earns 3 More

Eating With Ziggy

Ssam Bar - SkateJanuary 18th, 2018 Update: 

Michelin season came and went, generating the usual fanfare and excitement, essential preventing most from noticing the more important stars being distributed.  Around the same time, Momofuku Ssam Bar received 3 New Your Times Stars from Pete Wells, and only those in the restaurant industry got the memo.  In fact I was told about it a few months ago by another chef when we talked about the all important subject of Skate (fish).  The conversation led to Ssam Bar whose Skate helped earn the coveted stars.

The Skate is perhaps the biggest addition to the menu by Singapore born Max Ng who took over the helm last year.  Its essentially a revolving door of Momofukus graduating from Ko to run the babies, Ssam, Nishi, Ma Peche, before moving on to other ventures around the world.  You also get a sense of maturation these days, as the chief…

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The Pure Thai Cookhouse Survival Guide

Pure Thai RatchaburiI started this blog in 2012, about 2 years after Pure Thai Shophouse opened on 9th ave.  Yes, it was called Shophouse back then, until two lawyers from Chipotle walked inside demanding a name change.  Little Pure Thai was apparently a threat to Chipotle’s brand spanking new Asian Kitchen Shophouse brand.  And what do you know, the threat was apparently real.  Long time readers of this blog know the story.  The initial idea was to create a sense of a Thai street Shophouse-like environment inside.  The place is after-all “if you sneeze you may miss it” tiny, cramped, slightly uncomfortable, and sometimes even smells a little.  My type of place.  But if not your type, this post may help.

It feels like Pure has been open a while longer considering how many times I’ve been there (somewhere between 50-100).  I used to go there with co-workers whenever I felt like it, until it got so popular that we would need to leave the office at 11:45, 15 minutes before opening.  We would sometimes even have practice drills and those who’d fail would be on a three month lunch probation.  Over the years, I’ve seen it become a lot more popular with tourists.  When I get emails from visitors (tour inquiries, hate mail, marriage proposals, etc), Pure is mentioned more than any other place.  But not only I’m glad its successful, I couldnt keep it a secret if I wanted to.  In the great sea of 9th ave Thai, there’s really nothing like it.  And while establishments next door are adjusting to mass tourism with increased prices and smaller portions, Pure continues to do it the only way they know how

Pure Thai Pork

Pure Thai Pork

There’s a reason why Pure has been on the Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide from day one.  If you are simply after rainbow colored curries, and the basic Pad, Pure may not be the right place.  But as I will mention again soon, if there’s a curry dish on that board in the back, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th.  Pure’s specialty is noodles, soups and old family, and regional recipes from all over Thailand.  Here’s a little noob guide to help you take advantage of this little gem

When to come:  As I mentioned this place has gotten very popular over the years.  If I’m solo I come whenever I want.  Two people can try as well with a solid backup option in mind (Danji).  They will call you when your table is ready if theres a long wait (plenty of bars on 9th).  But most convenient time is right when they open (noon), or 2:30 to 4:30 pm

What to expect:  You can look at the pictures to get a sense of the type of space.  Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in NYC.  The staff functions like a family, some of which have been there for a while.  Sometimes they close for a few days for a retreat in a house they own upstate NY.  While I never felt totally uncomfortable there, this is as far as it gets from Michelin comfort.  You may sit on tiny stools, sharing a tiny table, staring at your partner or an old Thai action movie poster.  And then there’s the 80’s Thai disco to complete the moodPure Thai

What to order:  The reason for this post….

Green Papaya Salad – This is a classic Thai dish that you can get everywhere including all over 9th ave.  But Pure’s version is… well, pure, loaded with addictive heat and dried shrimp.  If you never had a Papaya Salad before, you came to the right place.

Roasted Baby Back Ribs – These ribs wont win the coveted Crazy Roscoe BBQ championship any time soon (Ok, I totally made that up), but this is finger licking magic, loaded with bean paste, oyster sauce, sesame, sitting on top of the luckiest lettuce on the planetPure Thai Ribs

Jungle Curry Fried Rice With Chicken – Some of the best simple looking fried rice dishes you’ll find in the city.  Fragrant, and spicy (notice a trend?  It ends soon).  Serves as a great side dish or main.

Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles – This is the Oprah Winfrey of the Pure dishes.  A dish liked by everyone.  A specialty of Ratchaburi region, where one of the owners (wife) hails from.  Its very mild and so a safe dish for the heat challenged, but satisfying enough for those seeking bolder flavors.  Scoop up the broth to the top and mix this baby well.

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Wok Curry Paste With Pork (second from top)- More delicious heat.  Loaded with the best of Thai… string beans, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, green peppercorn, basil, and kaffir lime curry sauce.  One of my favorite Wok dishes here, along with the Chili Turmeric With Beef, and Roasted Chili With Shrimp

Sukhothai Pork Noodles Soup – One of my favorite soups in Hell’s Kitchen.  It got the depth, the aroma and all kinds of pork action.  Three different textures of pork in fact including craklings.Pure Thai Sukhothai

Special – When you come in, treasure awaits on the board in the back.  The mains are more exciting.  Often beef or shrimp sauteed with some kind of spicy paste, market fresh veggies, Jasmine rice, and a fried egg.  And as I mentioned before, if its curry, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th.

Mango or Pumpkin Sticky Rice – Possibly the most important tip here since you can easily miss it.  Its the lone dessert, always on the board as a special.  Sometimes its Mango, Pumpkin and sometimes both.  Served on top of sticky rice, with sesame and coconut milk on banana leaf.  Its warm, with just enough sweetness, and simply heavenly.

Thai Iced Tea – Goes without saying.  This is a good one

Pure Thai Pumpkin

Pure Thai Cookhouse - Curry Special

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Best Ramen Dishes in Hell’s Kitchen

Ivan Ramen - Chicken PaitanYes, I know, I’m about 24 hours late on this.  Its beginning to feel a lot like spring here compared to what we experienced the previous 4 days.  Today I can finally wear just enough layers and headgear to be recognizable and to comfortably go to the bathroom during tours.  And I dont need to inspect the mummies I’m with every 30 minutes to make sure these are the people I’m touring with

Although during this cold spell I’ve been craving mostly Thai and Vietnamese soups, Ramen is usually the more common medicine.  So for the latest issue of W42st, that colorful magazine you see all over Hell’s Kitchen, I wrote about my favorite Ramen dishes in a neighborhood that is perhaps most Ramen heavy in NYC today.  Remember the four pillars of Hell’s Kitchen:  Ramen, Mexican, Thai and Gay bars.  Come to think of it, Gay bars is the only one I didnt write about.  I’m on it.

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop (top)- While the average folk go for the classic dishes that made Ivan famous, savvy W42st readers should opt for the latest and greatest.  The richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness.

Yuzu-Kosho Ramen at Mentoku – Solid Ramen with no wait in Hell’s Kitchen is like finding a parking spot within 30 minutes.  Love the way they cut that Chasu so thin, and that spicy, zesty Yuzu paste carries some serious depth.

Spicy Ramen at Totto (bottom)- Its that complex spicy sesame oil that transforms this thing into an umami of flavors.  On a really cold day, it doesnt get much better than this.  Ok, maybe Turks and Caicos.

Akamaru Modern at Ippudo – Its a good time to catch up with your virtual friends while waiting for your table.  Two hours later you can return the favor by posting this sumptuousness.

Tonkatsu with Spicy Black Garlic Sauce at Hide-Chan Ramen – If you like it ultra rich and porky, it doesn’t get much richer than this. Get the fried chicken too while you’re at it.

totto-spicy-ramen

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Top 10 Dishes of 2017

Nur Eggplant

Lobster Fra Diavolo at Nishi.  A beautiful mammoth mess consisting of 1.5 lb flash fried salt and pepper coated lobster on a bed of garlic, chili and XO infused spaghettoni (emphasis on the chili).  Lobster comes cracked and ready to easily fish out perfectly cooked meat, while the escaped crunchy Tempura flakes adds some texture to the pasta.  Its a $62 triumph.

Nishi - Lobster Fra Diavolo

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen – Not the Ramen that made Ivan famous, but the one that may convert the nonfans.  The richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness that follows sometimes.  The only dish other than the classics that broke the rule and became available in both Ivan Ramen locations.

ivan-ramen-chicken-paitan

Chengdu Fish Fillet With Pickle Vegetable at Legend of Taste – A spice loving family of 4 can easily share this outrageously delicious Szechuan soup.  I shared it with 6 and 4 in different visits.  Plenty of flaky flounder and chewy Enoki Mushroom.  Pleasant heat sneak up at you.  Even good an hour later when it cools down.  Only problem with this legend is that its in Whitestone, Queens.

legend-of-taste-chengdu-fish

Smoked Goat Neck at Ducks Eatery – A revelation of sorts.  Dont know why it took me so long to try it.  It may sound like something that is not everyone’s cup of goat, but once you see what goes into this dish, it may be hard to resist.  It redefines tenderness, succulence, and simply outstanding all around.  The only restaurant in NYC that serves this dish.

Ducks Eatery Goat Neck

Skate Wing at Gloria – Very few things in life can be as satisfying as a well cooked Skate.  Seems like once a year or so these days I score a good one.  At Gloria the skate is simply seared with butter and sprinkled with magic dust.  Opened by two Contra alumni, Gloria is the best thing that opened in Hell’s Kitchen since Gotham West Market.

Gloria Skate Wing

Eggplant Carpaccio at Nur (top)– Maybe the best looking dish out of the bunch, and the only vegetarian this time.  Like a Baba Ganoush gone wild.  Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and something you just want to “Scarpetta” the heck out of.  Not every spoonful is the same.  Chef Meir Adoni is sort of a legend in Israel opening his first in NYC, and just knows how to handle those veggies.

Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant at Pinch Chinese – This is one of those dishes that you continue to think about months later, sometimes even at inappropriate moments.  Glass noodles with heaps of crab, dressed with an outrageously delicious fermented bean sauce with chilies and scallions.  The crab was plentiful but almost plays second fiddle to the noodles with sauce.  Pinch is an underrated gem in Soho

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

Sizzling Sisig at Pig and Khao – East Village and Lower East Side is slowly transforming into Sisigville (pig’s face parts come sizzling and topped with egg yolk).  And the best Sisig I had is at this Filipino inspired celebrity chef Leah Cohen’s flagship.  Very nice depth, flavor packed, and not as strong tasting as other Sisigs.  No additional sauce needed for this one.

Pig and Khao Sisig

Laab Ped Udon at Ugly Baby – Maybe the best thing to open this year is this fiery Brooklyn Thai from an old Brooklyn friend.  And this larby Duck Salad is one of the classics early on.  Complex, addictive heat, and unlike any Larb or larb-like salad you will ever have.  Spice level is fairly high in all dishes here, but in particular in those that have words like “Spicy” in the description.

Ugly Baby Duck Salad

Fromage Blanc Island “Cheese Cake” at Chikalicious Dessert Bar – Best dessert I’ve had this year came from an oldie but goodie.  Its delicate, elegant, and super light.  Like delicious fresh cheese mixed with cloud.  Its worth just going in order to meet the master Chika Tillman herself.  But if this dessert scene is a little foofoo for you, try the faster Dessert Club across the street and go for the Nutty Professor ice cream.

Chikalicious Cheese Cake

Other Noteables:  Soy Keema at Indian Accent, Goi Hed at Somtum Der, Spicy Lemongrass soup at Ginger and Lemongrass (new Lower East Side location)

Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers and all the fun people I met over the year.  Thanks for a great 2017!

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Somtum Der – For Babies Who Lunch

Somtum Der - Goi HedIts time to bump up this Z-Lister and one of my favorite Thai in NYC.  All these recent Thai posts can only mean one thing.  Its getting freakin cold!  And when its cold I like to eat spicy things.  And we are also just about outta here to escape this cold front.  But this time we are trying something new.  We are leaving for something colder instead of warmer (no TCI).  The idea is that by the time we come back, we can enjoy better weather.  At least thats what we are convincing ourselves.

A few weeks after dining at Ugly Baby I found myself surrounded by them at the most unexpected of places.  It was like a Thai mommy and me and Papaya salad event at Somtum Der on a weekday afternoon.  And I suddenly felt this urge I never felt before… calling random babies ugly.  No, its not me losing my marbles, but really it felt more of a Mitsvah.  As I mentioned before, in Thailand apparently you call random babies ugly in order not to attract the ugly spirit.  I even asked the waitress while chewing on their fried chicken (good as usual) and she confirmed.  She then remarked how they always say the opposite in regards to many other things for this reason.  But when I mentioned how awful their food was she gave me a look and said this doesnt apply to food.

Not much has changed at Somtum Der since they opened 4 years ago.  Its usually fairly empty when I’m there but thats because I’m usually there between lunch and dinner (after a tour).  The funky looking room that is not quite East Villagy is bright and colorful hence well received by ugly babies and bloggers.  And there’s a side of me that loves menus with pictures, huge colorful pictures.  Thats how I pick travel books.

When in Rome… I der you not to start with the Somtum (Papaya salad).  You see what I did there?  Any of the pictured salads will do, but I’m partial to the ones with the salted eggs.  But every meal at Somtum usually starts and ends with Moo Rong Hai Der, the house special grilled marinated pork.  Its playful and delicious.  I love sucking on those coconut rice sticks and dipping everything in that fish sauce including car keys.  The fried chicken as mentioned is Thigh meat which can be tough and stringy at times but always delicious.

But perhaps the best thing I’ve eaten at Somtum Der as of late was a mushroom special called Goi hed.  Name perhaps was invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises (get it?).  It has all the elements of a nice and spicy Larb but without those chewy beeches losing that command.  A very well balanced dish that was perhaps part of a November mushroom celebration, but it could still be around if you hurry.  Love me a good mushroom dish

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (East Village)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lemongrass Juice, Goi hed, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der, Moo Ping Kati Sod, Moo Rong Hai Der, Tum Thai Kai Kem

 

 

 

 

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Best Thai Dishes in Hell

Pure Thai RatchaburiIn East Village, during my tour we discuss the 4 pillars or principles of the Temperance movement when we visit a Temperance fountain: Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Charity.  While in Hell’s Kitchen we discuss the 4 pillars of Hell’s Kitchen: Thai, Mexican, Ramen, and Gay Bars.  Temperance supporters would obviously disapprove of this neighborhood today.  Until they taste any of the items below that is.

My 5 favorite Thai dishes that appear in the latest W42st, come from 3 places, the only Thai I go to these days in Hell’s Kitchen.  (There must be around 30 in the area).  Rule of thumb for Thai in HK and anywhere pretty much, the dingier the place, the better the food.  If you see chandeliers, run.  If it smells a little, and you see a menu that looks like hasnt changed in 15 years with items crossed out with a pen, stay.

Pick up your free copy of W42st anywhere in Hell

Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse – Its all in the name. Mix in the broth from the bottom of the bowl and you get magic. A good introduction to the outrageous 9th avenue Thai scene for the rookies

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – One of my favorite winter dishes. Chunks of tender, juicy Oxtail in a beautiful Vinegary broth that packs a punch (heat!). Its BYOB! Bring Your Own Bounty.Pam Real Oxtail Soup

Duck Larb at Larb Ubol – When in Larb, you have to eat, well, Larb. An Isan specialty of liberally seasoned minced meat with chili, lime and other addictive goodies served in room temperature. I’m partial to the ducky

Larb Ubol larb

Seafood Kee Mao at Pam Real Thai – And the Dandruff award goes to… Over the years I tried this guilty pleasure all over Hell’s Kitchen. This is head and shoulders above everyone else.

Pumpkin Custard at Pure Thai Cookhouse – When a place has only one dessert, well, you have no choice. Because its only one. A not too sweet custard with coconut sticky rice inside a banana leaf is pure diviness.

Pure Thai Pumpkin

 

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