New York City

EV Bites: The Hanukkah Edition

Tatsu RamenEV Bites is a monthly(ish) 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.  The East Village neighborhood, in case you’ve been living under a rock, or Staten Island is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Silky Kitchen – I cant keep up with all the new Chinese in the area.  The depth and the range of the different kinds of cuisines and types of establishments is overwhelming.  Silky is another Hunanese noodle quicky.  The dry noodle plates pack plenty of flavor, with the noodles being a tad too silky and soft for my taste, but still good.  The dish to get so far is the beef and Daikan dumplings.  Very close to dumpling Perfection.

Silky Kitchen Dumplings

Tatsu Ramen (top)- Its Ramen season here.  But when is it Ramen season in LA exactly?  Tatsu is an LA based Tonkotsu Ramen shop that operates like some shops in Tokyo.  Walk in, order your food and drinks (even if it means free water) from the iPad on the wall, slide your card, and bring the printed receipt to the host who will sit you.  On your table you are presented with all sorts of condiments including fresh garlic for your annual fresh garlic press.  My “Bold Ramen” wasnt quite bold but above average, not too rich porkiness.  The pork belly was sliced thin which I prefer, and the egg was a soft boiled whole which I also like.  Another great fast casual option on 1st

Vish – I mentioned Vish in a recent Hummus feature.  But after a few more visits its becoming more and more evident that this may be the best Hummus in the city.  Its not a question of whether they make Hummus daily but how many times each day.  The result is silky smooth, as creamy as it gets without being watery, with fantastic flavor to boot.

Vish Hummus

Vish

Martina – The super competitive environment in East Village sometimes produces mysterious results.  Places open with “success” written all over them, sometimes unexpectedly close or change.  Martina abandoned the Roman fast casual concept, and as of last week its a full service restaurant, inching a bit closer to big sister Marta.  While the concept is different, the value is pretty much the same.  The pizzas are more expensive, but two inch larger, the beans and the rest of the hits are still on the menu, and there are some new additions.

Hi-Collar – There are a few guarantees in the East Village.  Veselka and Cafe Mogador will be packed for Brunch.  You will find black Squirrels in Tompkins Park.  And Hi-Collar will have a line outside mid afternoon.  Its a Japanese coffeehouse by day, sake bar by night, owned by a guy (Bon Yagi) that owns quite a few establishments in “Little Japan” (East 9th, 10th).  Come for the Omurice (fluffy omelette over rice), stay for the Mentai Pasta – like the Japanese Cacio e pepe

Hi-Collar Mentai Pasta

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Hell’s Kitchen Guide – 2018 Update

TaladwatYou may have been wondering why I havent updated the Hell’s Kitchen Guide in a while.  Maybe I dont hang out there nearly as much anymore.  Or watch too much Daredevil?  One is true.  I still hang out there often, especially before or after the Hell’s Kitchen tour.  But I do watch Daredevil.  I even saw the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen himself in action, slurping on Ivan Ramen noodles in Gotham West Market. No joke.  I asked his buddy Luke Cage what they were up to and he said they were filming The Defenders.  Jessica Jones was eating elsewhere, obviously not a fan of the just updated Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide.

But thanks to Daredevil, the neighborhood is much better and safer today.  You can walk around the kitchen after 8.  Thai joints continue to make babies, without protection and protection money concerns.  And there’s even a Momofuku now.  Two of them actually.  One of which, Bang Bar, which I wrote about last week, is in the guide.

Pure Thai Cookhouse is a well oiled machine that is perhaps the most important Thai among dozens in the area.  It was just a matter of time until the husband and wife team open Taladwat, dishing out small plates a few blocks down.  So far so delicious, and an obvious addition to the guide.  Another exciting addition is Saar Indian Bistro (below) from another master, Hemant Mathur, bridging Indian fine dining and typical curry houses ever so smoothly.  And about time I added Corner Slice at the constantly changing Gotham West Market.

I removed some dead skin and closings like Tehuitzingo and Larb Ubol which were the most shocking ones.  But on a more personal note, the closing of the neighborhoody Cafe Ole hurts the most.  I spent countless of hours there eating sandwiches and soups, while talking to Ana.  She will be missed.

The Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

 

 

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Momofuku’s Latest is a Bang for Your Buck

Bang BarI rarely stand on lines for food.  It took me four years to try the Cronut.  I happened to pass by Dominique Ansel one early morning and there it was.  A Cronut staring at me in the face, with no lines.  So I picked it off the ground, brushed it off, and took a few bites.  It was adequate!  In the city that never sleeps, where the food options can be exhausting, lines are usually for FOMO (fear of missing out) sufferers.  Perhaps if you are in the city for a short time, and you have your mind set on something, I get it.  But for the rest of us, its like going to the Statue of Liberty.  We have a lifetime of opportunities and endless possibilities.

But then there’s Momofuku.  Over the years, I’ve waited and sometimes even elbowed my way to Ssam Bar and Nishi.  And with the new Shawarma-esque Bang Bar opening at the Time Warner Center, a 40 minutes wait for a snack seemed very doable.  5 minutes answering email, 5 minutes on Trip Advisor forum, 20 minutes playing “Woody”, 10 minutes looking for new knife set (can knives be gifts to a spouse considering they can be used as a weapon?).  And before you know it, you are in the delivery waiting room, having a conversation with David Chang.  Ok, it was more like him saying “how is it going”, and me just staring at him.

This is not one of those posts where I woo you with food porn.  Instead I woo with… lines I suppose.  Simply leave it to Momofuku to make waiting fun.  The line is broken down into three sections.  Like a special exhibit in a museum, or in a way, a hospital delivery room

Bang Bar Meats

Eater

First section:  A roped line near, but not directly in front of the entrance.  Employees will chat with you, hand out menus, suggestions, knock knock jokes, and explain how the process works.  The anticipation builds partly because you cant see anything.  When time comes someone takes a small group to…

Second line:  The lucky few get to stand by the wall watching the action through the glass.  Anticipation continue to build, and so are second thoughts about what you want.

Third room:  You now enter a small open waiting room where you place your order and just hang out, talking to the staff or other patrons.  You may be given some freebies like rice pudding with kimchi stew, or a potato, mortadella casserole.  Both almost as delicious as the main event.

The Bang (bread) like a soft middle eastern Laffa filled and rolled with spicy gochujang marinated pork or chicken, along with the accompanied sauces and pickled veggies.  Looks like something you may get from a halal cart but undeniably Korean and delicious.  The pork was packed with enough heat and flavor so no sauces required.  But if you must you have the Ssam and the rest of them by the wall.  There are also two “Dips” that come with the bread like the herby eggplant which is more of a salad.  There are two communal tables.

But here’s the best part.  The price!  In this entire EWZ universe, I dare you to find a NYC post where I’ve said this.  But $5.79 for a Momofuku product in the high end Columbus Shops, is what you would expect to pay at a Halal cart.  Card only

Bang Bar Spicy Pork

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Five Gems in Brooklyn

Kashkar lagmanAs the great Manhattan rent squeeze continues, Brooklyn’s dining scene is getting more and more interesting.  Years ago, you would never hear of notable places opening in neighborhoods like Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, Stuyvesant Heights. or any neighborhood with Stuy in it.  Brooklyn is getting the same media coverage as Manhattan these days.  Couple that with the ethnic food wonderland in the less gentrified areas of Brooklyn.  Here are five very diverse spots I’ve been enjoying lately.  A small sample showcasing what Brooklyn is all about these days.

Hometown BBQ – If I have to pick one destination in Brooklyn, or a reason to leave Manhattan, Hometown is it.  I wasnt sold at first, but boy oh boy I am now.  This is pure, legendary, finger licking stuff.  The brisket is perhaps their pride and joy, but the spare ribs are second to none.  The Italian sausage with smoked provolone and peppers is awesome.  And while other BBQ joints treat chicken like second class citizens, here they marinade it with Oaxacan spices for two days, grill it over wood, and dress it with salsa verde.  The result is a juicy triumph.

Claro – The Gowanus area is not exactly the first neighborhood I think about when it comes to food in Brooklyn, but as I said above, things are changing all over.  Claro is where you go for authentic Oaxacan flavors.  Its small, almost always fully booked, but we manage to get seats at the bar even in the busiest times.  The menu is loaded with essentially enlarged taco-like stuff on dough (pretty sure “stuff on dough” is a foodie term).  Like the toasty Tostada-like Memelas which come either loaded with juicy pork rib or wild mushrooms.  And then you have the sensational Mole Negro, where you’ll be pulling that shortrib in subsequent dreams.Claro Sabina Memela

Kashkar Cafe –  Although the city of “Kashgar” is technically in China, it makes more sense for “Kashkar” to be in Russian Brighton Beach instead of a Chinatown.  I’ve written plenty about this Uyghur/Uzbek before, and I dont include places so out of the way on the Z-List unless I have a very good reason. Off the beaten path takes on a new meaning here, but I do hear more and more people speaking English inside, as its becoming more popular.  Try the Geiro Lagman (hand pulled noodles), Juvova dumplings, any of the kebabs, and Langsai salad along with their bread and you’ll see why its worth the schlep.Kashkar Cafe

Tacos Matamoros – If you think this pick makes this list look suddenly super random, you are correct.  Thats sort of the point.  And even though, there’s a Mexican place already mentioned on the list, they couldnt be more different.  In fact this what really highlights what Brooklyn is all about, and the difference today between the gentrified halves of the borough.  A meal here will cost you about 1/5 of the bill at Claro.  Although on my Brooklyn tour we concentrate on the Chinatown portion of Sunset Park, I’ve been spending some time at Matamoros as of late.  And while the tacos are good and cheap, I prefer just about everything else here, especially the Tamales, and egg dishes (Huevos Rancheros, Huevos con Chorizo)Tacos Matamoros- eggs and chorizo

Werkstatt – I’ve written plenty about this eclectic gem in… ok, I still dont know what neighborhood they are in..  Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Prospect Park South, NoDi (North of Ditmas Park which I totally just made up).  It doesnt matter.  It looks, feels and acts like a neighborhood gem, making a lot of area customers happy.  Its technically Austrian/German.  And while you cant go wrong with the fine pretzel, schnitzels, and goulash, there’s really no cuisine the owner/chef cant do.  Thai, Italian, Thai Italian.  I just look at the specials board and pick whatever sounds good.  On a recent visit I had a perfectly cooked Skate with brown butter and capers.

Other random gemsFOB Filipino, Lilia, Nargis Cafe, Popina, Olmsted, Sofreh, Ugly Baby, Hummus Market, Traif, Fei Long Supermarket food court

Werkstatt Pretzel

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Tia Pol – Just Basque a Move

Tia Pol Shrimp“If you want it, you got it.  You want it, baby you got it.  Just Basque a Move.  Yeah!” – Its been a while but pretty sure thats how that one goes.  Thats how I sing it it my head at least.  But the moves I’m busting these days are more like Elaine from Seinfeld-esqe.  Its more like a cross between twerking and wild prayer sways.  Still much work to be done, but I’m getting better at it.  There’s even a video circulating out there of me dancing, but there’s zero chance I’m sharing it here.  I got bullied enough as a kid.

The moves, the sways, and subsequent 911 calls get usually wilder after a fun meal.  And we had another one of those at Z-List darling Tia Pol the other day.  Its the most Spanish place I know.  Even if Rita Hayworth rolls in her grave every time someone orders a Gilda.  She rolls twice because it comes in twos (or at least everyone orders at least two).  But the fact that they even have Gilda, and things like green Gernika peppers on the menu says a lot about the place.  It may not be correct to call it Basque, as NYMag does, as it covers Catalan, Galician and other regions of Spain.  But its Basque enough, and perhaps one Galician Octopus, or Spanish style fried calamari (yep, best fried calamari is in Spain, not Italy) from covering the North of Spain rather nicely.

Tia Pol peppers

Tia Pol is tiny, and buzzy even on a lazy Saturday afternoon.  It subscribes to “If its not broke, why fix it formula”, serving pretty much the same menu since 2004.  The dishes to get today are still some of the same dishes we enjoyed 10 years ago.  New Orleans native Mani Dawes, who spent years happy munching in Madrid, knows a thing or two about Spanish food.  Madrid doesnt really have much of a cuisine, and draws much of its influences from the North, which is reflected all over the menu at Tia Pol.  Here’s a rundown of what we ate

Gilda – I’ll start with a mini (pun) rant.  Its hard to criticize a $2 snack but I’ll do it anyway.  Gilda is a popular pintxo eaten in Basque Country consisting of a single skewer of chili pepper, olive, anchovy, and pickles, usually served on a piece of bread.  The Basque people called it Gilda because its tall and skinny just like Rita Hayworth in their beloved Gilda that captured the nation back in the day.  Its not something that can be easily done here because we dont have fresh Spanish anchovies easily available, and for $2 a pop you just cant expect anything remotely close to the real thing.  But c’mon now.  This is not a Gilda, but a skinny Danny de Vito at best.  I suppose this might the best version we can come up with, but if you serve it to homesick Spaniards, they might start to weep, for the wrong reasons

Tia Pol Gilda

Pimientos Estilo Gernika – One of the more nonsensical comments that reviewers often make – “I can probably do this at home”.  Even if its true, is the point of eating out only to eat things you can not possibly make at home?  You are in full control of what you order.  But I love simple dishes, like the Miznon Cauliflower for example, that make you talk about possibly duplicating, and enhancing your life as a result.  The Gernika peppers that come blistered and simply sprinkled with sea salt, is such a dish.

Pinchos Morunos – Lamb skewers with Moorish spices, which means Cumin, Coriander, and all the goodies.  Gorgeously marinated and seasoned.  Get this!

Patatas Bravas – as solid as Bravas get in NYC

Tia Pol Patatas

Chorizo al Jerez – chorizo cooked in sherry and rosemary.  Chorizo, like Olives, is one of those things I like less than I think I do.  I keep ordering it, like olives, to see if maybe this is it, the grand chorizo, only to be mildly disappointed.  No exception here

Txipirones en su Tinta – This is it.  The dish I must get every time I’m here.  Squid cooked with its ink and a small hockey puck of rice.  It has that palatable inky sweetness, and the squid is never fishy.  Just wish that hockey puck was a little bigger.

Gambas al Ajillo – This is another dish I get all the time.  Its not going to win any shrimp in garlic awards, but its very garlicky and satisfying

Octopus Salad – Enjoyed in previous visits

Go!

Tia Pol
205 10th Ave (22/23), Chelsea
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Patatas Bravas, Pimientos Estilo Gernika, Pinchos Morunos, Txipirones en su Tinta, Gambas al Ajillo

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

Hummus and the City

Hummus Market

Hummus Market

This was supposed to be a big post about Hummus and Hummus withdrawals (RIP Dizengoff) on my first full day off of the month.  A full day dedicated to Hummus.  But alas Mrs Ziggy was home as well, which means…  Home Depot, Mall, something called Chick-fil-A in a mall, and changing 7 light bulbs.  Seven!  I think thats a record in Casa de Ziggy.  Maybe a record in any Casa, who knows.  And no, its not an especially large Casa.  I’m a tour guide.  Ever had a tour guide show you mansions of other tour guides?  And we are talking about 4 different kinds of light bulbs, one of which in the hard to reach hers and hers closet.

So I will make this one short and creamy, not chunky.  If you are in the chunky camp, you might as well be enemy of America, stop reading now.  Now that Dizengoff is gone where is the best hummus in NYC?  Of course its likely that there’s better Hummus out there, but these are some of the best.

Hummus Market (Williamsburg) – When you come from Naharia, Israel, close to the Hummus capital of the world (Akko), you are a Hummus pro by default.  Creamy, smooth, subtle flavored hummus in a comfy 100% vegetarian with a nice back yard.  The pitas come warm and fluffy, and so is the hummus.  Try it with sauteed Mushroom, and slowly add their green S’chug (Peppery Yememi paste) to the mix.

Vish (Greenwich Village) – Dizengoff coined the term Hummuseria.  The new Vish just outside East Village is the closest thing to a Hummuseria today.  An offshoot of the popular Hummus chain in Israel called Eliyahoo.  The hummus is creamy, to the point of almost liquidy.  As if it was whisked by a French chef for hours.  They dont make it just daily, but every few hours.  The only thing missing was a fresh, warm, fluffy pita.  But the Hummus arrives warm and glorious.

Gazala's Hummus

Gazala’s

Gazala’s Place (Hell’s Kitchen, and UWS) – The only Druze restaurant in the country has been whipping out fresh zesty hummus for many years now.  Now Gazala is back in UWS.  A full blown column on the menu is the dedicated to hummus, which you can taste in all its glory with the paper thin Druze bread.  Pair it with the underrated Falafel.

Holy Land Market (East Village) – The only Israeli market in Manhattan (stop laughing Bridge and Tunnel people) is also making their own Hummus, which is pretty darn good.  Sometimes you just want to pick up some hummus from a store (not called Sabra), along with some Bamba, Halvah, none alcoholic Israeli black beer, and its party time at Casa de Ziggy (Note: the Casa is BYOB)

Hummus Kitchen (Multiple Locations) – Yes, its a mini NYC chain. Yes, the hummus is very good.  I’m partial to the one topped with chicken Shawarma.

Vish Hummus

Vish

 

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Scampi is the Bomba!

Scampi Mafaldini

I will start this one with the definitions…

Scampi – Langoustines, or small lobsters the size of a large crayfish found throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean.  They are an expensive delicacy in the Mediterranean, and even more expensive here

Shrimp Scampi – A dish made of Shrimp, garlic, white wine poured over pasta.  At least thats the classic way.  There are many other variations out there

Bomba –  Calabrian Chili paste consisting of.. you guessed it… Calabrian chili, EVOO, and pickled veggies in some variations

Scampi the Restaurant – PJ Calapa’s (Costata, Ai Fiori) dream restaurant in Flatiron heavily featuring the three above

The Infatuation – Still clueless!

Scampi

The state of Italian dining in NYC is getting more interesting by the day.  From Scampi alone I can walk a few blocks to Maialino for the Roman classics (another outstanding meal a few weeks ago).  I can crawl to 13th street for the neighborhoody Da Andrea (I’m due).  I can walk to Ulivo, Mercato’s more mature sister, for some Southen Italian (I’m due there too).  Or I can just walk to Nishi (insert smiley with heart eyes here).  There has never been a better time for Italian in the city.  The wealth and depth of it makes everyone question, what is Italian food anyway.

But in order to stand out in NYC these days, you need to be creative.  Whether that creativity comes from childhood memories, working at three Michelin stars, or whatever.  PJ Calapa started in Texas, and worked his way through the ranks of NYC via Bouley, Nobu, and Michael White’s AltaMarea group.  For me it was Costata (RIP) that solidified him on the culinary map.  But Scampi feels like that dream restaurant.

The space is like a lesson in restaurant decoration and design.  It can get loud at dinner times and very quiet and airy during lunch.  The lunch bar seat closer to the front is my favorite seat in the house.  One on night we endured the two seater next to the busy kitchen door where we felt the restaurant’s pulse.  Our waiter, although clearly overworked, was ‘futuristic friendly’.  The type you only see in Sci-fi movies.

Scampi Beef Tartare

The food rundown:

Bomba – This will be on your table when you come in.  Its not meant to be for the bouquet of Grissini (bread sticks – nice touch), but to be combined with the dishes, especially the pastas.  I was eating this stuff with the spoon.  There are rotating pickled veggies mixed in (last time mushrooms).

Razor Clams – Reminiscent of a similar dish he created in Costata. Chopped clams mixed with chives and prosciutto.  Unlike similar dishes we had lately like in Frenchette, this one worked, again.

Scampi Razor Clams

Beef Tartare – Not particularly beefy, but nicely balanced and flavorful. There are quite a few ingredients here to make it happen including Parmesan, chives and the Bomba.

Mafaldini Scampi – This is their signature dish, featured on every table and every review (including sadly Infatuation.  These guys rush to review every restaurant before hitting puberty).  The Mafaldini has that wonderful chew and is a serious contender with Lilia as the best Mafaldini in NYC.  But what makes the dish work is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more) featured in other pastas.  The best way to eat this however is mix some of that Bomba midway.  This is a must get

Langoustines – These better be perfect for $14 a pop and they are.  As usual they come butterflied, and while there’s not a lot of it, the meat is glorious sea butter

Delicata Squash – One of the newest fall dishes.  Nice and heavy, in a good way

Scampi Squash

Octopus – The lone meh!  Slightly overcooked and forgettable when compared to the other dishes

Lumache – This is a hearty pasta dish.  Its a snail shaped pasta (like elbows on crack) mixed with Tarragon pesto, clams, and those crunchy Filone crumbs I can eat with a spoon.

Cassata – If you like semifreddo, get this.  If you dont like semifreddo, get this

Grillo by the glass – Its a bland, but a rare sighting of the Sicilian white.  Its delicious.

Go!

Scampi
30 W 18th St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Razor Clams, Mafaldini, Langoustines, Lumache, Cassata

Scampi LumacheScampi Cassata

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The 16 Dishes that Define Hell’s Kitchen Today

Nano Ecuadorian

Nano

15 years behind a desk deep inside Hell’s Kitchen introduced me to the wonderful world of car dealerships, construction machinery, and gay bars. I watched the neighborhood develop, grow and become one of the least appreciated food areas in NYC today.  It is a NYC neighborhood, full of personalities and stories.  9th ave has morphed into a little foodie paradise over the years, while 10th ave is full of destination gems.

Today I sit behind another desk, my own.  But I still visit Hell’s Kitchen about twice a week for work (so subtle) and research, and it still feels like a second home.  As with just about any Manhattan neighborhood, its nice to explore the area on your own.  But to bring some of these stories to life and understand what this neighborhood is all about, I recommend taking a tour (ok, not so subtle).  These are the dishes that define Hell’s Kitchen today in no particular order.  A combination of classics, personal faves, with some fresh meat mixed in between

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop – Its easy to fall for the classics at Ivan, but this latest invention is my favorite today.  It got the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu bowl without the heaviness.  Its also the first dish to break the rule and appear in both Ivan restaurants (besides the classics)

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen

Seco de Pollo at Nano – Although I’ve known about Nano for a while and enjoyed it in the past, its only in the last year or so that I’ve really discovered this true gem.  Chicken strips cooked with Naranjilla, a sour fruit grown in Ecuador.  Abel, the owner is one of those Hell’s Kitchen personalities you want to meet.  But if you want to see the last time he came to work dressed up, you will need to look at this.

Pepperoni Pizza at Capizzi – The Sacco slice, and the Diavola at Don Antonio are pretty darn great as well, but my gut usually leans toward Capizzi.  The pepperoni is cut thick, giving it more oomph.  And the pizza parlor look and feel takes you to another place and time: Staten Island circa 2016

Capizzi

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – Otto graduated from a mom and pop to a corporation (often the end result of finding success in East Village).  But their signature shrimp tacos are still some of the best in a sea of Taquerias.  They come smartly seasoned, with a tangy homemade serrano cream, fresh herbs and onions.  Wash them down with the homemade Horchata

Silan at Taboon – Vanilla ice cream layered with puffed rice and date honey sprinkled with caramelized pistachios and topped with shredded halva.  Need I say more?  I probably should.  This is one of the most popular big boy desserts in Hell, and its been on the menu since day one.

Taboon Silan

Canotto at Sullivan Street Bakery – You wont find this addictive pastry anywhere else because it was invented and patented by Jim Lahey.  The dinghy shape gives it the name (not to be confused with dinghy shaped pizza terrorizing Napoli purists).  You can find both savory and sweet Canottos but I always go for the Dolce (seasonal fruits, mascarpone, nuts).

Jonah Crab at Gloria – Simple, yet outstanding.  The sweet as lobster crab mixed with strips of Kohlrabi (like a cross between Turnip and Daikon), aided by a thin eggy Sabayon.  Ok, maybe not that simple, but so satisfying.  This mini Le Bernardin is possibly the most underappreciated fine dining in HK.

Gloria Crab

Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse – Confession time.  I dont really order this anymore, as I usually go for for the specials these days.  But its clearly the most important dish at the most important Hell’s Kitchen Thai.  Mix it all in including the Yu Choy (like chinese Chinese Broccoli), and the small amount of broth and you got magic

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Carnitas at Tacuba – The only Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) I tasted in NYC featuring that Mission District slow roasted nastiness.  It comes with Chicharron (Cracklings), four little tortillas for you to master your taco skills, but thats not all… A beautiful, tangy tamarind habanero salsa that will make you want to dip your credit cards into.

Tacuba Carnitas

Ika Shoga (Squid) at Blue Ribbon Sushi – EWZ old timers may be surprised by this pick instead of the oxtail fried rice.  They are both quite exceptional.  But while you can get some incredible fried rice dishes all over NYC, I havent seen anyone treat squid quite like this.  Sauteed with ginger and garlic.

Blue Ribbon Sushi Squid

Murg Kesar Kebab at Saar Indian Bistro – Its only been open for a few months as of this writing.  But when someone like Hemant Mathur (Malai Marke, Chote Nawab) opening his first Hell’s Kitchen location it automatically becomes the best Indian in the Kitchen.  I got a feeling that once I taste the much hyped Cauliflower Latkes (they didnt have them last time), I may sub it here.  But these Saffron, lemon and ginger infused chicken strips are melt in your fork exceptional

Chicken Kebab at Saar Indian Bistro

Tofu at Danji – Let me just say this.  I dont really eat much tofu.  But as soon as I get inside Danji, I smell the soy vinaigrette and order this dish even when I dont plan.  The four rectangles are flash fried, and topped with ginger scallion dressing, and that wonderful soy vinaigrette.  The result is crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and incredibly delicious throughout.

Danji Tofu

 

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – The Khao Soi is equally terrific.  But If there was ever a dish that helped me through the last 5 NYC winters, this is it.  Pam is like my Thai Jewish mother making me chicken soups when I’m under the weather.  But instead of boring chicken, you got three marvelous bony oxtails, with a complex fiery broth.  It cures flu like symptoms and summertime sadness.

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai

Soup Dumplings at Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns – Ive seen many moms and many pops getting squeezed out of high rent 8th ave over the years.  But as long as these guys continue to deliver high quality XLB (soup dumplings), they can make it anywhere.  Well, maybe not Staten Island

Trenette at Mercato – I have to list the best Italian in the hood, I just have to.  I dont believe you can go wrong with any of the pastas here.  But I always go for the light Trenette al Pesto Trapanese (almond, garlic, tomato), especially in the warmer months.

Mercato TrenetteBourekas at Gazala’s – Although a bigger and potentially better Gazala’s just opened in UWS, the little Hell’s Kitchen institution feels like the flagship.  And 9th ave wouldnt be the same without these warm flaky, outrageously delicious pastries lining up the window front.

Gazala'a Place Bourekas

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

EV Bites: Why East Village

 

Instead of the usual monthly EV Bites, I figured I’ll spend a few minutes talking about the dynamics that makes East Village the best food neighborhood in NYC, therefore North America.  It will be quick, and painless, and delicious.  And I will offer a few names as exhibits A, B, C, D (a little Alphabet City humor.  Though I’m a little tired as I’m writing this and not entirely sure how funny it is, and whether I’m making sense at all).  But here it goes.  There are enough names here to cover at least two EV Bites posts

A few weeks ago I was talking to another young entrepreneur like myself (stop laughing!), the owner of Dian Kitchen, a Yunnan fast casual just opened in East Village (rice noodles, cold chicken salad, fiery sweet potato fries – Go!).  Not surprisingly she said that East Village was the only area she was able to find affordable space in Manhattan.  This is something I hear often, and is sad and scary in a way.  But the unfortunate reality is generating a lot of fortune for the NYU residents, and young professionals living in the east

Due to that “affordable” rent and availability, East Village has slowly morphed into an incubator for up and coming talents like Alex Stupak, Marco Canora, David Chang and even Bobby Flay started his career in EV.  It breeds corporations.  Its ultra competitive environment these days helped generate mini chains like Mighty Quinn’s, Otto’s Tacos, and Luke’s Lobster.  As the saying goes, “If you can make it in East Village, you can make it anywhere”.  Ok no one really says that, but its true.  When the opposite occurs, a successful establishment in another neighborhood opening a location in East Village, success doesnt come nearly as quick, as evident by the cricket sounds at Frisson Espresso (really good coffee but so empty).

This competitive, survival of the fittest environment helped generate an incredibly diverse selection of cuisines and establishments that are really good at what they do.  If you are simply an above average Szechuan or Isan, chances are you wont see your one year anniversary.  On my tours I often use Filipino food as an example.  While you will be hard pressed to find a Filipino restaurant in [Name any other Manhattan neighborhood], in East Village you have a quiet Sislig Sisig war.  Same goes for Venezuelan.  You can even find International stores, spice stores, and more obscure cuisines like Georgian, Jamaican, and even something called American food (Ducks Eatery).

And you get the sense that there’s something in the East Village air that keeps the owners on their toes.  Whether its Marco Canora reinventing Hearth, Nick Anderer perfecting Roman pies, or Will Horowitz inventing new foods.  These guys are not exactly counting on tourists, office workers, or local residents to simply walk by, but become destinations to New Yorkers looking for the best.  They dont rest because they cant afford to.

But it wasnt always a great food neighborhood.  For a while it was simply the place to get Pierogies.  You still can do that at Streecha (They are back after summer break) and of course Veselka that still boast hefty brunch lines.  But the Pierogy belt is now surrounded by Little Japan.  And Little Japan is now surrounded by quite possibly, our richest (culinary wise) Chinatown.  This is more of a fresh phenomenon where Queens establishments like Szechuan Mountain House and Dun Huang are now testing EV palates.  They are joining the likes of first timers like Le Sia and Dian Kitchen, and the more established Xi’an, the Bao, and Han Dynasty.  Dozens of new Chinese opened in the past few years and most of the survivors are excellent.

And then there’s exhibit M.  It is easier for me to find a McDonald’s and other American chains in Madrid than East Village.  EV is down to one sad looking McDonald’s on 1st ave.  The last time a Starbucks opened, there was a quiet protest by the local residents.  EV boasts the highest percentage of coffee shops per capita on the east coast.  And the vast availability of cheap foods like tacos, Arepas, and Japanese noodles can be head spinning at times.  There’s a good reason why I chose East Village to run food tours.

 

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

Bombay Bread Bar – Mission Possible 3

Bombay Bread BarZ-List fanatics, both of them, already well familiar with this newest incarnation from Top Chef star Floyd Cardoz.  But as with some other recent Z-List additions, I never got a chance to write a review on “Paowalla 2.0”.  Paowalla’s blog post title would have read “Oops, I did it again”, after Cardoz essentially tried to recreate another fancy Tabla to satisfy his devotees.  At BBB Cardoz is following his gut.  And it works, a lot better than the “critics” leading to believe.

Classifying Bombay Bread Bar can be tricky.  Indian chef, working with Indian ingredients must mean “Indian”, right?  Much to the chagrin of theorists and traditionalists who bulk at the prices.  Indian food should never ever cost this much, creatures of habit proclaim.  And the likes of Cardoz, and other Asian chefs forfeit the right to get creative and charge premium for it.  Not only hogwash, but on my last meal I tasted Italian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese flavors in this so called Indian.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

As for the “critics” out there, the state of affairs of Google results in NYC these days is looking a little sad.  Its dominated by marketing and Google skills, rather than knowledge.  I dont want to name the names out there, but one of them rhymes with “Infatuation”.  These are not seasoned reviewers.  They read like Yelp reviews, and often sound like they dont really know what they are talking about.  They lock in the first Google page nowadays, even prior to actual reviews, with a “Review soon to come” post.  Their BBB review is yet another example of advice that is either wrong or unnecessary.  Missing in this case, the most important aspect of the establishment, the chef, and his ability to invent and change.

The Upma Polenta, the first thing I tasted at BBB, showcases that Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever eat.  The creamy Cauliflower Makhani, not on the current menu, made great use of the Naan.  I’m a sucker for a good garlic naan, and the flat naans here are exceptional.  So is the chickpea chaat, a medley of green chickpeas sprinkled with toasted yellow chickpeas.  And while you wont find much lamb presence in lamb curry, you will certainly taste it in all its glory.

Bombay Bread Bar Donut

Another “small plate” winner is the Three Chili Chicken Fry which got the sweetness of a General Tso’s chicken along with the intense heat of Szechuan.  Follow the Chinese flavors with hints of middle eastern in the new Sea Bream.  Served whole, but deboned and stuffed with a fantastic spicy red paste reminiscent of a mild Yemeni S’chug.  It replaced another good one on the menu, a Banana leaf wrapped Halibut covered with yet another great paste.  The Chicken Tikka, not Masala is another strong consideration with the larger plates.

Perhaps the only dish I didnt care for so much after three visits was the baked Eggplant which felt heavy and unbalanced next to other dishes.  I found the rice dishes good but not necessary.  The drinks can use a better hand, but I’ve only sampled two (sticking to beer).  And how does the Indian Donut not generate Cronut like lines?  Intense sweetness with its pistachio cream, candied pistachio, and rum syrup.  Go!

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

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