New York City

Upland – Make American Great Again

Notice the all important extra letter. This is not a political post. Quite the opposite actually. Its a celebration of our great uniter, American cuisine. Whatever that means. Since USA is relatively young compared to the rest of the world, its a bit complicated to define, even though you have enough examples of it (burgers, pastrami, bagels…). The label is often used more as a default when you cant call it anything else, except Italian in some cases. But we often categorize restaurants simply based on the origin of the owner/chef, as is the case with Upland.

Upland menu is as American or Italian as it gets in NYC, but it bills itself as Californian. Chef Justin Smillie who since left to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, named it after his hometown in California. Maybe its my software engineering background, as I like things to be orderly for search purposes among other reasons in this case, but is it really necessary to break down the American tag into states? I can only imagine the poor Google or Yelp engineers trying to figure out the impact of adding a new category or subcategory. Upland is the only restaurant in NYC currently labeled as such. Does the signature burger, a creative riff on In-N-Out has something to do with it? Is it the grilled peaches?

Perhaps its the seasonality. Though we do have a label for upmarket seasonal American: “New American”. An Italian visiting NYC for the first time, will feel more at home at the pizza and pasta dominated Upland than a Californian. Sometimes restaurateurs try to be cute, and differentiate themselves in a crowded field, but more often than not, its best to keep it simple. Be bold, but be proud. Its American. This is not a rant by the way, but an observation. Its a celebration, remember?

Upland is a bright star in the Philly based Starr group’s huge portfolio that includes names like Buddakan, Pastis, and of course, the shiniest of the stars, Jackass Burrito. Upland got everything going for it. A prime Flatiron location. A deep American and Italian greatest hits menu. A striking, high ceiling, trendy looking space. And unlike many of its peers, it survived the pandemic. Its the type of place you can bring a date, new coworker, or host a 70th birthday celebration. On a recent visit, we witnessed suits, and gym attire.

Whether you come for Brunch, lunch or dinner you will face a very full menu. Though for some reason the much hyped Burger is not available for dinner. The Pizza is exactly what you’d expect from a place like this, except in the case of Breakfast pizza at least you get double the listed ingredients. In addition to bacon, cheddar, egg you get Broccoli, Sausage, Onions and more. It worked just fine for us, but could be misleading for others.

The Shakshuka-like “Eggs in Hell” had a nice flavor but missing something like sausages, or potatoes. The reason that shakshuka works on its own is that you usually get a nice fluffy pita and the eggs are more prevalent. While a dining companion was not looking I borrowed one of her breakfast sausages that made a big difference. Desperate times, desperate measures. This is the only miss from the two recent visits.

In some ways Upland reminds me of Via Carota. A jack of all trades, master of all. Solid pizzas, solid pastas, solid everything else. I couldnt fault anything with the Pappardelle with spicy sausages. And the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe were the best I’ve had in NYC since, well, Via Carota. Maybe even better since not quite as salty.

There are very few starters as satisfying as a nice Stracciatella with honey and grilled peaches. The combination here works so well, making the added Shishito peppers (both turned out spicy) unnecessary. The Duck Wings is a trend setter. I started seeing them more and more since Upland opened. The skin is crispy, well seasoned, while the dark flesh easily falls apart. You know its good as soon as you start operating.

But the best dish on the menu might be surprisingly the cod, and that may not have anything to do with the cod. The flaky fish, while mildly discolored, is expertly cooked. But the mixture of Fregula (Californian for Israeli Couscous), calamari and bits of chorizo really elevate the dish.

Extra brownie points for serving delicious fluffy bread with butter without charge. Refreshing to see these days. Solid drinks, nice atmosphere. In super competitive Flatiron, Upland is still a solid choice for American (with subtle Idaho hints). Its a Go!

Upland
345 Park Ave S (26th), Flatiron
Recommended Dishes: Pappardelle, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Duck Wings, Stracciatella, Cod, Budino

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

5 Underrated Italian

Dell’anima Tajarin

In NYC of course. This is not a Puglia blog yet as the last three posts suggest, although much more on Puglia coming soon. I’ve been living in NYC for 36 years now, and I dont remember a more exciting time for Italian dining. Even though The prices are moving in the opposite direction. A full meal at a mid price, full service restaurant now averages $175 for two (source: EWZ Stats), up from $150 not too long ago. But the competitive environment has never seen levels like these before. A glut of new Italian immigrants has turned the Italian scene upside down where Italian/Italian is the new American/Italian especially in Manhattan and north Brooklyn. Cacio e Pepe is the new Chicken Alfredo, and Neapolitan pizza joints are opening at faster pace than NY style it seems. Its a pizza revolution of sorts, although a complete pizza transition wont happen in my lifetime.

The title of this post is oxymoronic in a way since there are literally 100’s of underrated Italian in NYC today. But I’ll focus on five places that are much easier to reserve (unlike Don Angie, Lilia, Ci Siamo, Rezdora, and so many), and may bring you similar levels of joy.

Dell’anima (Hell’s Kitchen) – The easiest pick of the bunch. Best Italian in Hell’s Kitchen historically has been a mystery, just like the glut of Thai restaurants in HK. Mercato held that claim for some time IMO, but ever since Dell’anima moved to Gotham West Market (conquered really as there’s not much left there these days. Even Ivan Ramen is no more) it established itself as the one to beat. While tourists continue to flock to places like Becco for the quantity, locals line up chef Andrew’s counter for the quality. I dont recall ever having a less than stellar dish here. You cant go wrong with menu staples like Tajarin Alla Carbonara, and Pollo al Diavolo, but I wouldnt hesitate ordering new additions and specials. The location, and being inside a food hall of course has something to do with the underrated tag.

Pollo al Diavolo

Ulivo (NoMad) – Talking about Mercato, long time readers should not be surprised to see it’s little sister here. With that said, somehow Ulivo managed to outgrow it’s sister, and establish itself as a solid choice in an extremely competitive area. That’s partly due to the talents of Sardinian born Emanuel Concas who figured out the right formula after years at Mercato and six years now at Ulivo. What you get is top notch ingredients, solid pizza, and a plethora of fresh pasta dishes, their bread and butter. You’ll find some hard to find Sardinian and Sicilian autocorrect specialties like Malloreddus with sausage ragu, and the simple but outstanding Busiate with almonds, fresh tomato, basil and garlic. No Secondis here. Instead, order another drink from the award winning bartender.

Busiate

Faro (Bushwick) – This is another no brainer. A Michelin star recipient (yay Michelin!) only to lose it a few years later (oh who cares about Michelin!). Faro is being too modest when it bills itself as a simple neighborhood Italian. Neighborhood Italian dont do Cappelletti stuffed with sweet corn purée, topped with a slow cooked short rib ragu. I could have just ended the previous sentence after Cappelletti. This is one example of a rotating, masterfully executed seasonal pastas. I believe only the Bucatini with confit chicken has been on the menu longer than a year. And they ought to bring the sick Gnocchi Alla Romana back. Its more of a destination Italian. The problem with Faro is the most likely reason its on this list. Its kind of Faro, as in deep in the heart of Bushwick. But Bushwick, thanks to the growing list of mega clubs like Avant Gardner is slowly becoming a nightlife mecca.

Cappelletti

Popina (Columbia Street Waterfront District) – It was fun seeing Popina grow over the years, and somehow remain true to itself. On my first visit. I expected the short menu to change and expand at some point to accommodate the masses, but thankfully it never did. Chris Mcdade’s stints with places like Maialino and Marta, his southern roots, and unconditional love for anchovies help create a fun, concentrated menu. Items rotate frequently but if they ever remove the signature spicy Chicken Milanese, expect local strikes. On a recent visit one particular Monkfish dish really showcased the tiny kitchen’s range. The team is opening Gus’s Chop House in nearby Carroll Gardens, sort of a gastropub.

Monkfish

Song’E Napule (Greenwich Village) – You can skim through 120 best pizza in NYC lists and you wont find anyone singing the praises of Song’E Napule. You will need to look at an Italian publication like Gambero Rosso which we probably should be doing anyway when it comes to pizza. The name has nothing to do with singing. It just means “from Napoli” in Neapolitan dialect. But if you are a fan of the Neapolitan style you’ll be belting out romantic tunes to your neighbor, Napoli great Diego Maradona on the wall. Legit oven, proper ingredients, and a capable pizzaiolo results in light and airy awesomeness. As genuine as it gets in NYC.

Categories: Brooklyn, Gramercy, Flatiron, Midtown West, New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wayan – By Cedric the Entertainer

Wayan CauliflowerReblogging one of my faves from last year after my visit today. Yes Wayan is open for business (outdoor dining for now). Adding the cauliflower to the growing must list.

Eating With Ziggy

One can live a lifetime eating the world in NYC, and still will not know a thing about Indonesian food.  The vast majority of those that do, got their knowledge from a trip to Amsterdam where as we speak, thousands are celebrating their fresh Eurovision win with a Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table consist of many side dishes).  Australia, so close!  Yet so far away (literally.  A little Eurovision humor).

Indonesian food and Rijsttafels are generally not a thing here.  The lone Indonesian in Hell’s Kitchen Bali Nusa Indah was open for may years, and closed before yours truly had a chance to try it.  The constant barrage of negative Yelpers didnt exactly push me at the time.  I remember coming back from Amsterdam myself one year, hunting for Indonesian joints after my lower lip was fully deflated (that was some seriously spicy stuff), and wasnt able to find anything to…

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Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | 2 Comments

Hello World!

Capizzi

Capizzi

Howdy everybody!  Figured its time for a post to those anxiously waiting.  Both of you.  First things first tho.  We are fine.  Thank you to those asking via email and social media.  I’ve been pretty much holed up in my house in Staten Island with my family for over 6 weeks.  But with the spouse being a health worker its been quite the hectic ride.  To reduce risk we severely limited our interaction with the outside world even before the stay at home order was issued.  I dont get scared easily, but this has become a strange probabilities game we couldnt afford losing.

As for food, your answer whether I’ve been eating well lies in the previous paragraph.  Not only its been tough to get ingredients, but Staten Island is a food desert compared to the rest of the city.  In fact I’m considering changing the site tagline to “Spelling Well, Eating Pourly”.  Yes, pourly is misspelled on purpose here, as is “Tho” in the previous paragraph.  I just dont care much for the rest of the letters.  When everyone knows what you mean, whats the point of spelling the rest. Like que vs queue.

Last Saturday we finally ordered food after about 6 weeks.  While I never cared for the newer Joe and Pats in East Village, the original in Staten Island is still possibly the best thing you can eat on the island.  Normally getting pizza delivered or picked up in NYC is as routine as doing your laundry.  But bringing this pie home this time was like bringing your first born home from the hospital (sorry second born).  I cried a little, ran two red lights, and reduced our deer population in the process.  SI has a deer a problem and its massive vasectomy effort didnt do much as the deer simply started cheating with New Jersey deer.  Since we dont have sports anymore, at the very least let New Yorkers go out there and hunt for deer.  Win win!

I do have an idea though (oops) that I thought about this morning.  You know who can use a slice of pizza right about now?  The elderly.  While the young(er) are in a position to move around freely, or get pizza delivered to us, many elderly simply cant or dont do this for many reasons.  In the case of my in-laws for example, the better pizzerias dont deliver to them, nor would they even know where to get the good stuff.  I dont know if its going to work or not as I dont have the kind of reach as some of the other influencers but how about this #PiesForSeniors plan:

This Monday, bring your favorite pizza to your favorite elder.  Even if your elder is perfectly capable of ordering pizza him/herself, this should bring a smile  #PiesForSeniors

Pass it around.

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Quarantining With Ziggy

ReasonDear readers, both of you, or whoever is left.  Not many according to my stat team.  I hope this blog post finds you well wherever you are in this crazy world.  Much has changed since my last post two weeks ago.  Its fitting that it was about Green-Wood Cemetery in more ways than you may think.  In NYC at the moment Green-Wood is the safest place to be outside of your residence.  Imagine Central Park without the crowds (I was there last Friday).  Its a world that even days ago none of us could imagine.  Something as simple as a quick milk run to the deli requires careful planning.

I also want to take this opportunity to inform you that Food Tour guides, and restaurant bloggers turns out considered non-essential personnel in NYC.  While some professions like barbers and sex workers are in sort of a gray area right now, my occupation is in what the city calls “Oh, God No” group.  I even got a certificate that I must carry with me at all times while outside and it just has a giant red cross on it.  It basically means that I can get heavily fined, and anyone with a proper certificate (without a red cross) is allowed to use physical violence on me and confiscate all my toilet paper and baby wipes.  There’s a list of what they can take in the back.

In other words, no food tours for a while.  I’ve been home on and off pretty much for two weeks now.  No symptoms for any of us, but this has been quite an adjustment for my family (as for pretty much any family).  The whole experience feels like a super long flight.  You are just sitting there, waiting for the next meh meal, while looking aimlessly at the screen in front of you.  And the people next to you are starting to get annoying.  You are forced to do things you never do like watch CNBC, look at old shutterfly albums, and have conversations with your spouse.

Anywho, unless you’ve been on an isolated, disconnected retreat for the past two weeks with Jared Leto, you probably know that our NYC restaurant universe is in shambles at the moment.  Restaurants essentially turned into charities overnight, and some are doing things they’ve never done before, like deliveries.  Hard to imagine Rezdora, a tough table a month ago turn into a glorified Domino’s.  Its a weird time to ask for help.  So many people are hurting right now, and there’s so much uncertainty at the moment that restaurants and their employees are on the back-burner for most Americans.  We are all trying to survive right now.

But restaurants, not airlines, are the backbone of our economy.  Some New Yorkers are hurting more than others.  While most still have jobs and many even can work from home, restaurant workers in NYC are scrambling.  The way it often works in the food business is this.  Food workers meet other food workers.  They make babies.  And now both parents are unemployed.  Food workers often work paycheck to paycheck and dont save much.  Ever met a wealthy waiter, or even a restaurant owner.  Its a tough business to begin with.

Anyway, these are just a few ways you can help right now besides the obvious (deliveries, ask the gov’t for help, etc).  But feel free to list more.

  1. Buy a gift card.  Its a win-win for everyone.  Some, like Pig and Khao are offering gift cards at a discount. ie $100 for $75.  I purchased one yesterday
  2. Donate to an employee relief fund like Momofuku who employ(ed) hundreds of workers.
  3. Buy online from distributors and stores like Despana.  While we focus on our stressful supermarket and Costco visits, there’s a lot of goodies out there available.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll have more soon.  Stay in, stay safe, stay strong.

Quarantine Supplies

Picnic Supplies

 

Categories: New York City | Tags: | 6 Comments

This is Green-Wood

IMG_2481Charlotte Canda was a young high society debutante in the 1840’s.  On February 3rd, 1845 while coming back from her 17th birthday bash, she was flipped from the horse carriage and died.  Her death, and its circumstances shook New York.  Charlotte herself designed some of the features of her own tomb in Green-Wood.  Her father, who served under Napoleon, utilized some of Charlotte’s elements from the memorial of her aunt which Charlotte helped design a year earlier.  Her grave is 17 feet high, 17 feet long, and her statue wearing 17 rose petals circling her head.  Her fiance (I know, 17) Charles Albert Jarrett de la Marie killed himself a year later, and buried a few feet away.  Not as close as he’d like because it was a suicide. 

It’s one of the many stories that visitors came to see at Green-Wood around that time.  I hesitate to write “cemetery” because this doesn’t feel like one.  But the more I learn about this place the more I understand why it was once NYC’s number one attraction for over 100 years.  Before NYC was a tourist friendly city, people came to see destinations like Niagara Falls, and Green-Wood.  It was our first major park that inspired the creation of Central and Prospect Park.W

Yep, its now officially the strangest food blog in the world.  And my Brooklyn tour where we spend about 45 minutes in the cemetery is the oddest food tour out of 206 in NYC (rank #7 but who’s counting).  NOLA did this!  If you’ve been with me since the beginning, you’d understand my obsession with cemeteries.  Important cemeteries around the world like Zagreb, Genoa, Arlington, and even tiny ones like in Getaria, Spain are a good way to connect to local culture, and history.  Just like food in a way.

Out of all the famous cemeteries I’ve seen, Green-Wood is still the most striking, and approachable.  While its hilly, and massive, it doesnt require a great effort especially if you have a vehicle.  But yet, many New Yorkers still havent been or dont even know about it.  When I was a kid living in Brooklyn, no one took me there or told me about it.  Today its lost in the shuffle of the many attractions NYC has to offer.  Considering the lack of crowds, its arguably NYC greatest hidden gem, and the best free museum.IMG_5655

Some of the notable sights at Green-Wood:

Battle Hill – Highest natural point in Brooklyn with striking views, Leonard Bernstein’s grave, and Minerva the roman goddess waving to her cousin Libertas (Statue of Liberty)

Inventors like Steinway, Peter Cooper, Elias Howe (Sewing Machine), Samuel Morse (Telegraph, Morse code), and perhaps the most important inventor of them all, Charles Feltman (Hot Dog)

Controversial statues like Civic Virtue, and James Marion Sims (currently in storage) – gynecology pioneer who experimented on slaves.  Green-Wood is where unwelcomed statues go to die.IMG_5666

Henry Chadwick – “Father of Baseball”.  Grave adorned with a baseball theme

Statue of 12 yo Drummer Boy – first Brooklyn casualty in the Civil War

Artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Louis Comfort Tiffany.  I toured with Tiffany’s relatives once.

Bill the Butcher and William Tweed (Gangs of New York)

Notable pets like the infamous Rex and Fannie Howe.  Read about them before visiting.

The grand Nicholas Cage-like Van Ness-Parsons Pyramid.  Nick Cage has a similar tomb in Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.  As of this writing, he’s still alive.IMG_2483

The odd looking bear sitting on top William Beard who painted the famous Bulls and Bears in The Market.

DeWitt Clinton grave and statue that once served as the main advertisement for Green-Wood when it stood in front of City Hall.

Four lakes including the mesmerizing Sylvan that make you forget you are in a cemetery.

The church and dramatic main entrance.  The nest on top of the gate is home to Argentinian Monk Parrots.  One of many bird species residing in Green-Wood.

Charlotte Canda

Click anywhere below to see the images

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Wayla – The Good, The Bad, and the Branzino

Wayla lobster pad thaiWayla, Wayan, Wayo.  Confusing times for Google these days.  Most confusing since Ilili, Leyla, Lilia, and Laila.  I’m not making any of this up.  These are all names of restaurants in NYC that sound and spell alike, and some of them opened around the same time.  Naming your restaurant is as important as naming your child.  I remember spending countless of bathroom hours looking at baby names before finally finding the one that clicked.  Its such a great feeling!  Until she says no and puts you in your place.  “Ugly Baby” should be a lesson to all future owners as that perfect name that is both meaningful, and easy to remember.

Restaurant owners should get into the habit of Googling the names before settling.  Wayla opened close to a year ago, yet when I Google it I still get “did you mean Wayan”.  Maybe Google simply figured me out, and tried to warn me.  Its not far fetched AI to build an algorithm that will match you with the correct restaurants.  But there’s not much AI can do to stop them from over-frying the noodles.  For now.

Wayla, considered by some one of the best Thai in the city, still feels super buzzy today.  Hence difficult to reserve, even though their website hints the opposite.  “We accept a limited amount of reservations each evening and welcome walk-ins”.  What that really means is.. “you see those two at the uncomfortable bar that looked like they havnt seen each other in decades and have much to talk about?  As soon as they are done, we’ll text you.  Meanwhile, go to REI and buy something you dont need”.  I was surprised to learn that all tables are reserved, not just a select amount.Wayla Moo Sarong

Much as been said and written about the Moo Sarong, fried noodle-wrapped meatballs that requires a unique set of skills possessed by only one person in the city.  His name is Liam John Neeson.  Its essentially one noodle wrapped around a pork meatball and if the noodle breaks in the process, you need to start all over.  In Thailand this forgotten dish got a life boost after it was featured on a soap opera, but only the wealthy can afford to have this labor intensive dish.  And here we are, eating it in a Lower East Side basement for 9 bucks.  Spoiler alert:  Its not good.

Its tough to criticize an appetizer that costs $9, but I’ll do my best.  The balls are fried to such a crisp that none of the ingredients shine.  It doesnt taste like anything really.  After the meal, I looked at Insta to see if the colors matched my darker than expected, and saw 50 shades of brown.  I can only guess ours spent an extra 30 seconds in the fryer.  Its $1.50 a pop (you get 6 balls).  For $1.50 you can get a nice plate of dumplings in every corner nearby.  The Chicken Satay ($15) special however was more like it.  Bulky, meaty skewers with an abundant, nicely balanced peanut sauce.Wayla Branzino

The crab fried rice ($24) is one of the better ones I’ve had.  Heaps of chunky crab, albeit as expected for the price of a main course.  The problem with this dish is that there are other attractive noodle/rice dishes on the menu forcing a carb fest.  But I’ll make it easier for you.  Skip the other signature, Lobster Pad Thai ($36) .  The sweet, peanuty flavor of the noodles just doesnt play well with the other dishes and its just an ok use of expensive lobster.  Its a far cry from Wayan’s terrific lobster noodles a couple of blocks away.  Should have listened to Google I suppose.

The saving grace was a fried Branzino ($31).  Normally I wouldnt order fried Branzino in any restaurant but the preparation here was intriguing.  The fish is deboned, flash fried, and cut into cubes.  While I found it much more aromatic than Mrs Z (meaning the fish, not her.  She smelled like Orchids and white Alba truffles).  The fresh herbs and spices was more like the best of Thai on a plate.  The Mango Mousse Sticky Rice was good but could have used some cowbell.  By that I mean something like coconut milk to give it another layer.

Wayla
100 Forsyth St (Basement, Grand/Broome), Lower East Side
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Branzino, Chicken Satay

Categories: Lower East Side, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Tito Rad’s Grill- Filipino Power Chow

Tito Rad's Grill SisigI’m starting to get the hang of this.  Rediscovering the borough of Queens.  My friend Howard moving to Jackson Heights was just the excuse I didnt know I needed.  It really feels like a different world out there.  Or 160 different worlds to be exact.  From the price, warm hospitality, to dishes I’ve never heard of.  Its a foodie wonderland.  Highlights so far include a standout crab Ramen at the new Japan Corner, a grocery store in Woodside hosting rotating chefs from Japan.  And Thai Cook at iCook, or “iCook Thai Cook” according to Google, sort of a restaurant within a restaurant.  I’ve been plotting a return trip to that one ever since.

Last week I met a group of Chowhounds at Tito Rad’s, a Filipino grill I’ve wanted to try for a long time.  Filipino food seems to have grown exponentially over the last 20 years in NYC.  I must have had 20 different variations of Sisig during that time (with about half coming from the excellent Mama Fina in East Village).  But in the underground foodie community it seems pretty clear that as far as old school Filipino comfort food goes, Tito Rad’s Grill is the Mothership.  Or the Grandmaship if you will according to their site.

Since 2006 TRG has been serving the community from a seemingly strange looking location, at least when you approach it.  In that corner of Queens Blvd, you might expect to find a place that can renew your license before finding some of the best Filipino food in the city.  Its right next to a Calvary cemetery that has more graves (3 million) than the entire population of Queens.  I dare you to find a food blog that also gives you up to the minute cemetery stats.  Go ahead, I’m waiting.

IMG_2670Considering I eat mostly in Manhattan, I’m all inspired to include prices here, like other not nearly as lazy successful bloggers.  The Sizzling Sisig ($12) oddly listed as an appetizer here is outstanding.  Its chunkier, not as crispy, and milder than most Sisigs I’ve had, but still perfect in a way.  Another winner early on was the Tokwa’t Baboy ($9), deep fried bean curds (Tofu) with braised pork ears.  It worked better for me than the one-note fresh (not fried) Lumpia.  

I though I was back in Prague when we got the Crispy Pata ($14), pork knuckles deep fried to extreme but manageable crispiness.  I found myself reaching for this more than one of their signatures, Inihaw na Panga, grilled tuna jaw.  Good flavor, but slightly off-putting funky aroma prevented me from fully enjoying this.  It comes in s,m,l sizes, but for us, and for me especially, small was plenty.  We were pleasantly surprised however by the Pancit Bam-I ($9), sautéed egg and rice noodles with vegetables, pork, shrimp and Chinese sausage.  Delightfully salty and pungent. 

Its a relatively small sample compared to the rest of the meat heavy menu.  And while not totally hooked, I’m looking forward to returning and chowing through the rest of the menu.

Tito Rad’s Grill
49-10 Queens Blvd, Woodside (Queens)
Rating: 2 Zs (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Sisig, Tokwa’t Baboy, Crispy Pata, Pancit Bam-I

Categories: New York City, Queens | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Mercato – a Diamante in the Rough

Eating With Ziggy

Mercato Trenette

February 24th, 2020 Update:

Time to update this oldie but goodie.  Its only been 6 years, though I’ve been doing surprise inspections on and off during that time.  Why did it take me so long you may ask.  Its very simple.  Not much has changed.  Same owners, same menu, same lentil dip they give you at the beginning of each meal, same layout I know like the back of my hand, same everything.  In a city where chefs constantly feel the need to reinvent themselves every now and then, Mercato is pretty much the same its been since it opened a decade ago.  BTW, does anyone really know the back of their hand well?

The location of Mercato has a lot to do with why it stays the same.  In that corner of Hell’s Kitchen, they get their fare share of tourists, and theater goers, which also enables them to…

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Toro – The Once Remembered One

ToroNext month I’m turning 50, and this one feels different.  It almost feels like I need to make some lifestyle changes, or at least make a list of things I need to accomplish.  Do I need to take a pottery class or something?  Is there a manual for this?  Age is just a number, until its not.  At 50, you start remembering hockey player’s dads.  At 50, if you go to Toro on Valentine’s Day, everyone around you including the staff will be half your age.  At 50, you are the only one at Toro who doesnt get a bread basket.  Smart!  No bread for you!

When Toro first opened it was the hottest table in the city.  Sometimes places in NYC simply expire in ones mind, and you forget that they exist.  But I needed to be relatively close to Budakkan on this day (debutante’s 18th bash) so Toro was the obvious choice.  After Nishi, Salinas, and others were solidly booked that is, and Cull and Pistol turns out is not romantic anymore.  Who knew?

Toro for the most part delivered.  The space is more smart repurposing of the old Nabisco complex.  In fact I’m pretty sure I was sitting in the exact same spot where the Oreo cookie was first conceived.  Sort of like the Chelsea version of the “I’ll have what she’s having” table.  Toro went from a hot table to the perfect first date spot.  It got that cool factor, and just enough going for it food wise to impress seasoned foodies.

Toro Corn

Courtesy of Open Table

Tapas, you order them and there’s no rhyme or reason to the order they come.  At least  not here.  When the waitress brought the Gambas Al Ajillo, she came back 5 seconds later to ask if we ordered them.  I said “yep, but I wasnt expecting it to arrive so soon (5 minutes after we ordered)”.  That followed by a look of “the answer is yes, Boomer”.  This was closer to a buttery NOLA style BBQ shrimp rather than shrimp swimming in garlic and olive oil.  Thats a good thing.

The Octopus was spanked just enough for a perfect texture, with some squid ink sauce and a Harrisa-like sauce to play with.  Another highlight, perhaps the biggest, was the Maiz Asado, like a Mexican corn on the cob without the cob.  Simple and brilliant.  More simple and almost always brilliant were the Pimientos de Padrón.  I wouldnt dare ask on VD why mrs Z Shishito’s dont come out like this.  The Patatas Bravas were standard but probably an unnecessary order in our case.  If there’s any fault to the random arrivals is that the Patatas should never come last.

Not everything worked though.  The Bocadillo de Erizos, a pressed sandwich of sea urchin, miso butter & mustard seed tasted like two married greasy diner toasts with a hint of sea urchin.  The Rabbit Empanada sounded good on paper, but required much of the accompanied salsa to make an impact.  Same with the fat churros that needed cups full of chocolate gold instead of a drizzle.  And the bread looked ravishing.

Toro is a solid two Z.  Good enough to recommend, not strong enough to return, and in my mind at least, will go back to the dining abyss in about two and a half months.  Too dark for quality pictures

Toro
85 10th Avenue (Entrance on 15th St and, 11th Ave)
Rating: 2 Zs (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Gambas Al Ajillo, Octopus, Maiz Asado, Pimientos de PadrónToro Octopus

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