New York City

Via Carota – The Road More Travelled

Via Carota FunghiWhen I’m wrong, I’m wrong.  When I make a mistake, its usually a big one.  After all, I am human, and I need to be loved just like everyone else (as the great Morrisey once put it).  Its a rarity for me to come back to a place I didnt love initially, and thankfully it was only a year in this case.  Thanks to the power of social media, and foodies whose opinions speak much more volume than the rest of the media, we can now make New York Italian great again.

Another rarity:  I’m writing about a place I’ve only dined at solo.  When an Italian restaurant with this caliber opens in NYC offering the same great menu all day long, one needs to take advantage during the day.  One of the biggest differences between eating in Italy and the US is the disparity between lunches.  In Italy, lunch is taken almost as seriously as dinner and in many cases there are no separate menus between lunch and dinner.  Since I eat mostly out during lunch, you get extra brownie points for this kind of menu.

But something tells me Rita Sodi and Jody Williams know a lot more about Brownies than I do.  Even prior to this at I Sodi and Buvette, they proved they can flat out cook.  Mario Batali is a fan.  At Via Catota they created the type of corner eatery where you meet your friend for lunch after a long trip in Thailand.  The initial hype stemmed from the names involved, was probably unfair for a place like this, but many Villagers took advantage early on.  Today, dont be surprised to see the place full during lunch.Via Carota Cacio e Pepe

Its worth coming back here just for the Funghi.  I love a good Mushroom dish, but very rarely I get a dish that speaks to me in this kind of language, Yiddish.  Oyster, Maitake, Trumpet and one more I didn’t recognize perfectly grilled with all that wonderful earthiness, on top of smoked grilled Scamorza, with shallot, garlic, and olive oil vinaigrette.  A mishegas combination that works oh so beautifully.  It could be NYC’s mushroom dish to beat.

Yesterday the Rabbit tasted like a mighty fine fried chicken, with wonderful herby notes throughout.  Nicely done, but with the caveat that it may taste very much like chicken when its fried like that.  The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe here is as legit as it gets west of Rome.  I preferred it over the popular Pappardelle with wild boar ragu which tasted very average to me on the first visit. Another interesting dish is the fagioli all’ucceletto, a tomatoee stew of beans and sausages.Via Carota Rabbit

The rest of the menu is a a vegetarian delight, ranging from the very Tuscan Ribolita to what seems like “best of market” veggies.  Regulars pay attention to the rotating array of specials which doesnt leave much room for menu criticism (pasta offerings may seem light at first glance).  The most famous dish here is perhaps the Svizzerina, a cross between steak tartare and a rare bunless burger.  Will be back with family or friends to this one sooner than later

Via Carota
51 Grove St
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Funghi, Rabbit, Tonnarelli, Fagioli, SvizzerinaVia Carota

 

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

What’s Cooking in Hell

IMG_5546Corner Slice, the Ivan Ramen backed, much anticipated pizza quicky in Gotham West Market taking over the Blue Bottle Coffee space finally opened.  The thin square pizza slices are cooked in fancy electric ovens, as I imagine the only allowable method in the building. Dough ferments for a long time, and just about every ingredient made in house.  My first slice was a simple mozzarella, tomato, basil.  Slightly on the greasy side, but nice and pungent tomato sauce.  But the other day my Sopressata was a little overcooked and overpriced.  They have their reasons I’m sure but one measly Soppressata slice the size of pepperoni doesnt warrant $4.  Another nice addition to GWM, though I would have loved to see something a little more interesting

Ippudo added more deliciousness to the menu.  This time vegetarian Sesame based Ramen that even non vegetarians like yours truly can appreciate.  The Karaka Spicy New York I tried is simply outstanding.  Rich, wonderfully complex broth, without the heaviness that follows sometimes from Tonkotsu. Its been a weird Ramen season for me as I’ve been frequenting the heavyweights (Ivan, Totto, Ippudo) instead of the small guys like Mentoku which I really like.  And I find myself more and more slurping non-pork based ramen like vegetarian and chicken.  Whats happening to me!IMG_5576

Chaan Teng is being added to the Survival Guide, even though not everything I tried there was a slam dunk.  Even for family dining, sharing dishes like their take on General Tso’s Chicken, far more interesting than something like Carmines.  Just try to avoid all the figurines in the back wall and by the bathroom, unless you think its time to have that talk with your son.

Removing Poulette from the guide.  Last experience was way too Boston Markety for me.  Where did all the Herbes de Provence and juiciness go?

Nano Ecuadorian still great

Puff Cha Ramen still sucks!

The other day on the Hell’s Kitchen Tour we bumped into Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cake at Gotham West Market.  I briefly spoke to Luke (I just called him Luke, no idea what his real name is.  Its like calling Tom Cruise, Ethan) who told me they were shooting The Defenders starring all three superheroes.  I imagine The Defenders will defend the Kitchen from all evil, like Ezra, the Azuri Cafe Falafel Nazi.  I welcome this development

Last week the tour bumped into Ivan Ramen as I mentioned on another post.  I met him before many times but always fun when we cross paths during the tour.  This time while my guests, a family from Toronto were enjoying his Pastrami buns.  Check him out in the current season of Chef’s Table.  On the same day we bumped into a crew from Univision doing a special on Tehuitzingo coming sometime in April.  I will post a link when I find out

Stay hungry my Amigos!IMG_5578

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Babbo – The Taj Mahal of NYC Italian

Kinda busy with tours as of late, so just reblogging another oldie and a goodie. But something (weather man) tells me I may finally have time to write this Tuesday…

Eating With Ziggy

Babbo Black SpaghettiTo fully appreciate Babbo, one should arrive 15 minutes early.  Stand outside, check out the menu listed that includes today’s specials, and pretend that you are waiting for someone.  But more importantly, check out the people arriving.  There will be the boring arrivals – the locals and those who have eaten at Babbo before.  And then there are those with that special sparkle in their eyes.  The same sparkle you get when you finally reach Machu Picchu.  I saw a grandma with her well dressed family, pausing in front of the sign, exhale a huge sigh, followed by a smile (unless it was gas).  I watched a family of four taking their time, taking it all in, with a particularly thrilled dad who asked me to take a picture of the happy with family.  I happily obliged, and charged them $20 (the Times Square Elmo going rate at the moment).  The…

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Ivan the Formidable

Eating With Ziggy

Ivan Ramen Salmon Donburi

March 5th, 2017 Update:

All sorts of major developments with the Ivan.  The Ramen Junkie keeps reinventing himself, and has even given us some bedtime entertainment.  Yes, Ivan Orkin is featured in the latest season of Netflix’s highly acclaimed Chef’s Table which I highly recommend.  Its refreshing to see someone on the show who you actually know and talk to from time to time.  Naturally the show helped revive his Lower East Side flagship in a big way.  And so if you havent been in a while, or never, prepare for a possible 2 hour shock on some evenings.  Yesterday I heard quotes ranging from 1 to 3 hours, albeit on a Saturday night.

Coincidentally, or not, the menus in both NYC spots have gotten a facelift as of late.  At the Slurp Shop however, at the moment looks more like a botched botox job.  The great Donburis (rice dishes including top) are…

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Hell’s Kitchen on St Patty’s Day – Best Bars for Grub

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Hearth – The Booze Megillah

Eating With Ziggy

Hearth

February 20, 2017 Update:

This is not your ex’s Hearth.  The 13 year old East Village staple got a makeover, Marco Canora seems happier and healthier, and the menu essentially turned upside down.  Some of the remains like the terrific Gnocchi, the Spatchcock chicken, and the light but pungent Rigatoni with pork ragu are now the classics, but much of the menu has changed.  The emphasis continues to be on highest quality raw material.  In fact you can even say some of this stuff, like the bone broth is life changing.  Although I’m almost ashamed to say I only had it once, from the Brodo window.  While it was great, its hard for this non-resident to go for bone broth in arguably the best food neighborhood on the east coast.

But I’m more convinced now that this may be New York’s best Gnocchi dish.  The texture of these melty pillows cant get much better…

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Legend of Taste – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

legend-of-tasteThis one is for the 1%.  No, not that 1%.  But the 1% of the readers that can make it to this one.  The location is, well, let me put it this way.  When you sit around with 5 hounds (as in Chowhounds), and one of the topics of conversation is where the F are we and what do you call this area, you know we are way out there.  And when you find yourself in an area in Queens with so much parking wealth that you dont know what to do with it, you start questioning if you are still in city proper.  But, its close to someone out there.  And if I can convince one person for this one, preferably a local, its well worth it.

Simply put Legend of Taste is some of the best Chinese food I’ve had in NYC, and probably the best Sichuan.  You almost find yourself expecting an old grungy looking place, but instead I found a clean and comfortable room that looks more like your mainstream New York Chinese establishment.  The entire window front is completely bare except for one very important note.  More important than “Zagat Rated” or “We are on Trip Advisor”, or most of the crap you see on windows nowadays.  Its a copy of this original post.

Even the menu on first glance looks like your corner Chinese takeout.  You have to dig in and dig well into this one.  The waitresses speak English, which is important not only with ordering the right items, but the right heat level.  And it was, naturally, completely empty as Mr Leff put it, at least by the time we left.  There were two or three other tables occupied when the six of us (Including this gentleman) came to this gem.  At no point things went south, but I will try to make it easier by ranking the food from best to worst

Chengdu Fish Fillet With Pickle Vegetable– Easily shareable between six and simply outstanding. It has some sneaky heat that with soups one needs to be a little careful.  Plenty of delicious flaky flounder, and I especially enjoyed all the Enoki Mushroom action that sent me straight to Fei Long supermarket in Sunset Park a couple of days later.  Even good when it was cold an hour laterlegend-of-taste-chengdu-fish

Szechuan Style Crispy Eggplant – This was an obvious order coming in and the talk of the town coming out.  Everything about this was great, from the crunchy bell peppers (looks like chili ) to the light fried eggplant, to the peanuts.

legend-of-taste-crispy-eggplant

Double Cooked Sliced Pork – This was probably the surprise of the meal.  By now you got this wonderful taste sensation going, and this had this welcoming sweetness. Almost paper thin slices of pork with Leeks almost as delicious.

legend-of-taste-double-cooked-pork

Cumin Lamb– Another winner. Fragrant, thin tender slices of lamb with cumin you can smell from across the the round table

legend-of-taste-cumin-lamb

Beef with Long Horn Pepper – A simpler version of something similar I enjoy at Szechuan Gourmet 56 on occasion. Missing perhaps garlic chips that could have made it better. But still very solid, and again, tender wonderfully cooked meat which is the theme throughout it seems

legend-of-taste-beef-with-peppers

Smoke Ribs app – Tastier than they look. Smoky, dry but delicious.

Szechuan Pork Dumplings – A little doughy and flat, but with great pungant filling.  Aided much by the excellent sauce

Bok Choy with Mushrooms – Maybe the only dish I didnt care for, but only because I had better versions of it (Han Dynasty). If this would have been my first crack at it, it would have been amazing!

Coparing the joy/cost ratio to the great Indian Accent (the previous post) is almost comical, and somewhat reflected in my score below.  All this for $23 per person.   It felt like I just stole a little boy’s lunch money, while kicking his pet monkey in the gut in the process, before taking the monkey too

Legend of Taste
2002 Utopia Pkwy, Whitestone
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Chengdu Fish, Crispy Eggplant, Double Cooked Sliced Pork, Cumin Lamb, Beef with Long Horn Pepper

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Indian Accent Delights, Stutters

indian-accent-soy-keemaBoy meets girl on Jdate.  They quickly fall for each other, get married and live together for 7 years until the eventual breakup due to rent increase.  Or, boy meets girl, and within 20 minutes they cant stand each other and know this is not gonna work.  Or, boy meets girl, and he is simply not sure.  She seems attractive, potential is definitely there.  She got this sexy British Indian accent but the personality is just not a slam dunk match.  Perhaps more suited for a friends with benefits role.  Indian Accent, the Melania Trump of Indian dining in NYC today, falls closer to that last category.  But instead of meeting Melania, you meet Bernadette from Big Bang Theory.  There’s potential, but false advertised.

Indian Accent is sprawling but cozy, comfortable, and most importantly quiet.  Plenty of room between tables for you server to stand right beside you, with his behind pointing to the other table, without sitting on it.  A rarity in NYC these days.  It has all the elegant traits from the decor to the furniture, with the service properly restrained and relaxed. Well, until we opened the menu.indian-accent-beer

By the time I finalized my order, about 20 minutes, three waiter trips later, it felt like I just survived a flight with Harrison Ford.  I landed somewhere, I’m not sure where, but I made it.  The main culprit is that when you order from the three or 4 course menu, you can order anything you want from any category.  Four mains, four apps, four desserts if you want, anything.  This flexibility sounds good on paper but it creates a certain level of stress since with this kind of menu you really have no idea how anything is really prepared and tastes like.  Just about everything sounds like something interesting you are willing to try.  And to add fuel to the fire, while Mrs Z was looking at a new menu, I got a very old one somehow.  Mine had a very fine sounding Snapper in it, while hers had scallops.

Just like the name suggests the food is gourmet with an Indian Accent.  The free starter of a couple of blue cheese ‘naanlettes’, and a pumpkin soup infused with garam masala was a nice preview of things to come.  But the first course of sweet potato shakarkandi and  potato sphere chaat was a quick let down.  The shakarkandi especially felt a little too heavy on the tongue without enough of a counter.  The chaat was more like it but forgettable.  BTW, after much deliberation with the great looking cocktails, once I saw they have Hitachino Nest, the old Japanese fave light beer, decision made.  While she really liked her Tiki Johnny.

One of the issues I find here is that unless you order uniformly (one app each, one middle course each, etc), the dishes will arrive sort of all over the place including potentially three at once.  Hard to fully enjoy the dishes with the thought of a stranded Malcolm in the Middle there still cooking.  With that said, the middle course produced the top results by far.  Before you get the finger licking awesome crab claws, you are presented with equipment that can be used to search each other’s cavities.  I wish there were more than a handful of cauliflower florets though.  The pathar beef kebab with bone marrow, although  fully cooked had the consistency of foie gras. Very good.  And then we attacked Malcolm in The Middle, aka the soy keema with quail egg (top).  Like a sick Bolognese ragu with no meat in sight.  Perhaps the dish of the night.  Bravo we said, that’s more like it.  Only to come back to earth.

You get to choose a Kulcha, stuffed bread, filling.  The NY Jew in me chose the pastrami with mustard.  But after a few bites the jew went “You meshugenah, should have gone with your jewish gut and chose the mushrooms, or just gone with her selection of Chicken butter”  One of the joys of marrying a jewish woman is that you dont need to make a decision for the rest of your life.  So why start now.   The pastrami stuffed naan thing just didnt work for both of us.  It works better at Ivan Ramen, a mile away in Gotham West, in the form of pork buns.

For mains we went nuts and got the ghee roast lamb, a deconstructed roti, or make your own Indian tacos if you will.  It comes with 4 different chutneys and pickled veggies.  The lamb stew was delicious no doubt, and the tacos I experimented with ranged from good to very good.  But at the end we couldnt help but wonder if this is just an excellent version of something you can find in the lex/28th vicinity.  Her Chicken Kofta was like a cooked flaky ground chicken meatball that didnt wow nor disappointed.

It was a difficult decision to pass on the more talked about makhan malai in favor of the doda barfi treacle tart but one bite out of that and I was like “yeah, still got it!  I think”

Indian Accent
123 W 56th St (6/7) Midtown West
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: crab claws, pathar beef kebab, soy keema, ghee roast lambindian-accent-doda-barfiindian-accent-butter-chicken

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

Museum Hack – The Evolution of Museum Exploration

img_5343While EWZ historians scrambling to find a post about museums, let me tell you what I did yesterday at the American Museum of Natural History at around 4:45.  I was playing the part of a beautiful desert male Bird attempting to woo a female bird.  I snuck up and faced her directly, and then started moving side Mick Jagger style, stretching my hands to each side while waving them up and down with my set of feathers in full display.  At some point I paused to gauge her level of interest, only to resume in furious mode while making various sounds this time.  Exhilarating!  But it didnt work.

It was all part of a special Valentine’s Day tour I was invited to, The Mating Game by Museum Hack.  Stories about rituals, genitals, accidental pregnancies, and animal foreplay.  The tour was conducted by a couple of Hackers, Zack and Kelly from the Saved by the Bell fame who did a masterful job.  Two hours of pure, interactive, strange fun.  We even got wine.  We had to drink it in the cafeteria, but we got wine!  Studies show that wine loosens you up to the point where you do things in museums you’ve never done before, not to mention with complete strangers.

Zach and Kelly were energetic, as you would expect in a tour like this, and full of surprises. Some stops were a little too close for comfort near a child or a grandma while we talk about penis sizes, but it all sort of worked at the end.  We learned some new words that make me look forward to the next cocktail party.  Or the first one.  We learned about evolution and listened to stories behind some of the items, a la “Mysteries of the Museum”.  But it was the interactive fun that made this experience something to write about.

Museum Hack sells experiences.  Just like visiting an attraction or a neighborhood, you can see it by yourself and try get something out of it, or you can experience it this way.  Big museums like the Met and AMNH can often be stressful.  You want to accomplish as much as you can with the little time and knowledge that you have, navigating through lines, crowds and the vastness of the buildings.  A tour like this, where you simply follow someone removes the stress entirely, and puts a fun spin into it.  As I keep preaching here, its experiences like food tours (there he goes again with the self promotion), and tours as such that will be remembered most at the end of the day.  Or 2 years later.

https://museumhack.com/tickets/new-york-city/

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Sugarfish – 15 Shades of Grey

sugarfish-sushi‘Twas the night before Sushi.  I was shaving.  That’s when I  usually do most of my deep thinking.  Like when was my last pizza.  Where did I park the car.  And how does Sugarfish handle the huge service demands of an Omakase for an entire house.  How do they serve a house full of people, an 8 course meal and/or whatever else people ordered.  30 minutes into my meal in the Iphone section (aka counter area) of this new Sushi sensation, I found my answer.  They manage to do it by making a lot of mistakes.

My neighbor to the right was the first one, and the luckiest of all.  She got an entire plate of something she ordered and already ate.  Six mouthwatering pieces of Albacore, Salmon, and something else I didnt recognize, to which she asked if she can take it to go (they could not take it back in this case and give it to someone else).  My neighbors on the other side meanwhile kept getting free fish to the point where they got tired rejecting them.  And after I finished the final dish I whispered to the lucky female neighbor, “I’m just not gonna ask for the check until I get lucky”.  I hope she understood I was talking about food, and that this was not just a terrible pickup line.sugarfish

But I didnt get lucky.  Not in that way or the other.  Instead all I got is delicious fish, and the experience of NY’s first affordable Omakase, or so they say.  For Sushi purists Omakase is not Omakase without the masters behind the counter doing there thing, but I’m not a Sushi purist or even a snob.  Instead I was sitting near the Organic Edamame dispenser where everyone’s first course comes from.  A snack that is a small salty upgrade over your corner sushi.  The kitchen looked crowded, and the frenzy was all around me.  It was all exhilarating and comical at the same time.

Sugarfish was conceptualized by Kazunori Nozawa who converted the name into an empire on the west coast (10 locations as of this writing).  The name refers to the melt-in-your-mouth nature of the fish, mimicking that of a child eating sugar cubes.  Which raises another important question.  Am I a bad parent?  I never gave such delicacies to my children, and I’m pretty sure this was not mentioned in Parenting for Foodies.  Mine leapfrogged straight to sushi and aged beef.  But I’m not taking any chances, oh no.  And so before they find themselves on a couch somewhere telling stories about their abusive dad, I’m serving brown sugar cubes as a first course this entire week.sugarfish-tuna-sashimi

The sushi is indeed good at Sugarfish, but your chopsticks and proper skills may not.  One of the first things you will notice is the loose warm rice which is done on purpose, but a difference maker in more ways than one.  In order to apply the right amount of sauce on the fish, and not the rice, you’ll need an MBA in Chopsticks.  So on my next visit, I plan to go the unconventional way of applying sauce, using other methods

At Sugarfish, just about all first timers order one of the “Trust Me” menu sets, which in a way is mislabeled.  It suggests an element of surprise, but really means “Trust Me, you’ll get the same thing everyone else gets since we opened”.  I ordered the middle Trust Me which sounded adequate and it was.  By far the Albacore, a tuna relative, and a nicely marbled Salmon from Scotland were the stars.  The tuna Sashimi early on elevated by the terrific sauce.  While the Sea Bass and Yellowtail bland in comparison to the previous set (the stars) but good enough.  And the handrolls to wrap it up, featured the same beautiful  marriage between cool and warm, but also fine Nori that tasted like the sea and had a nice snap.  And just like that, you can trust them to bring you the check when its all over.

Sugarfish
33 E 20th St (5th/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: One of the Trust Me sets

 

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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