Brooklyn

Popina – Wacky New Italian in WeCo

Popina PappardelleI suppose I need to explain the title first.  We dont really have an area called WeCo.  Not yet at least.  According to Google Maps the small no man’s land west of the BQE around Columbia street in Brooklyn is called Columbia Street Waterfront District for some reason.  While other Brooklyn neighborhoods nearby like Greenwood and Sunset Park include their waterfront districts, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill decided to neglect it, blaming the construction of the BQE that broke them apart.  And while it didnt work for Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen) much and other neighborhoods, the name change can definitely work here.  So might as well continue with our lazy Real Estate naming conventions and call the area WeCo (West of Cobble Hill).  Other consideration were Pok Pok City, and “That area where Pok Pok is”.  I used the latter to describe the location of Popina to my wife and friends.  No one around here heard of the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

Popina is the anti-Lilia.  Ever wonder why Lilia doesnt have a Michelin star by now?  Its simple.  Inspectors cant buy a reservation.  Ever since my meal there, its been notoriously difficult to get a table of any size.  But while the meal we had at Lilia left us very impressed, the place felt more like a neighborhood joint than one of those destinations you need to wait until midnight to reserve 30 days out.  Popina’s cooking approach and neighborhoody feel reminds me of Lilia in some ways.  But its their dedication to the neighborhood with their no reservation policy that will win the hearts of the locals WeCos (See, its catching on already)

Popina Chicken

They dont come much tinier than this.  We sat comfortably by the bar, and by 7:45 or so on a Friday night the place filled up.  By 8, the wait was more than an hour.  Other than one or two bars nearby, there’s not a whole lot to do and drink in WeCo (Industrial funk, Red Hook-like zone).  Chris McDade and James O’brien are the two Maialino and Marta veterans opening their first restaurant.  Being under the guidance of Nick Anderer and co at Maialino can make all the difference in the world, and it showed

This is my kind of menu, a picky eater worst nightmare, and classic WeCo.  Small and to the point.  Around 10 items all together, including only 2 secondis.  Starters include terrific Arancini ladened with honey with hints of saffron.  Raw Bay Scallops with soppressata and pistachio the only dish that didnt work for me.  The Bay Scallops were just too large for the rest of the ingredients to catch up and balance that scallopy sweetness.  Maybe some more acid and pink peppercorns can help.

Much has been written about Popina being a mesh-up of Italian and Southern cuisine (McDade grew up in the south and speaks fluent Southern), but I’m just not seeing it.  The menu has all the look and feel of Italian with some southern hints here and there.  You wouldnt know that you are eating in a southern establishment unless someone told you.  And much has been said, for good reason, about the spicy Chicken Milanese that suggests that southern influence.  Its essentially a Schnitzel gone wild.  But for my taste it was the Pappardelle with Ham Hock that really showcases these guys capabilities.  Perfectly cut fresh Pappardelle, slow braised goodness, with no tomato to be found.  The kind of dish you may find in the hills of Piemonte.  Chocolate dessert is that proper finish one would expect here.  This is a GO!

Popina
127 Columbia St (Kane), WeCo, Brooklyn
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Arancini, Chicken, Pappardelle, Chocolate dessert

 

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Ugly Baby Delivers Adorable Heat

Ugly BabyIt’s Michelin Star season.  When gracious winners throw parties to celebrate, while the losers and pretty much everyone else in the industry celebrate its awkwardness.  Its the behemoth that everyone enjoys hating.  In NYC two, and three stars are distributed with care while single stars are distributed like Halloween candy.  My mother turns out has one.  Some lose their hard earned stars within a year or two only to find themselves suddenly a lot more affordable (Bib Gourmet) while sporting the exact same menu that earned them the star.  Should you look at Michelin for your French, Sushi and the default “New American” menu needs?  Maybe.  Should you look for it for Italian, Thai, Russian or [Name any other cuisine] needs?  Nyet!

You would otherwise miss on places like Ugly Baby, the newest hottie in Carroll Gardens.  With elevated neighborhood joints like FOB, Lucali, Frankies Spuntino, Buttermilk Channel and the boozy Other Half Brewing, Carroll Gardens is transforming into a dining and drinking destination.  Young professionals, tourists, accountants and even parents of beautiful babies in the nearby Park Slope are noticing the development, and this newest Seinfeld-esque name.  Apparently in Thailand its more common to call babies ugly so not to attract the ugly spirit.  An important lesson the next time you give a baby a compliment.

Hence at Ugly Baby the name serves as an anti-jinx agent.  And if the ugly spirit (lets call it Michelin) cant be fooled by the name, the spices will sure block it.  BYOB in this case means Bring Your Own Bounty.  We are talking about people all over the place sweating like a hooker on a “$5 Wednesday”.  When we asked the friendly waiter what they are planning to do with the entrance when it gets cold, he said “We will just add more spices”.  An hour later, all warm and fuzzy, we concluded he was serious.

Ugly Baby Chicken Skewers

The dishes here are fittingly ugly as you can see.  Just like picking Thai establishments on 9th, the uglier the better.  The Duck Salad (Ugly Duckling?) ended any hope of easing you in slowly as they throw you straight into the fire.  Complex, addictive heat, unlike any Larb I ever had.  The closest thing to a must here.  The Chicken Thigh Skewers will make you cry a little more, and cry every time you eat chicken satay at [Name any Thai Restaurant].  More succulence without easing too much on the heat.  By this point your tingling mouth is telling you this is as far as as you can get from Pad Thai nation.

The Kha Soi, perhaps the most underrated soup in the world, features welcomed sweetness and restrain, but more pleasant heat nonetheless and outrageously delicious beef shank cubes.  At this point you start to wonder which dish you like best.  Your hand keeps poking at the ugly duckling, so maybe that’s the one.  The Snapper, swimming in ginger & tamarind broth serves as something between a cooling agent and a waste of dish, once you try everything else.  This may be the true Ugly Duckling.  The final bill at the end answered the “do they have any desserts, like something with sticky rice inside a banana leaf” question.  Dessert or not, Ugly Baby is for real and a major Go!

Ugly Baby
407 Smith St, Brooklyn (Carroll Gardens)
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kha Soi, Chicken Skewers, Duck Salad

 

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Llama Inn – The Odd Couple

Llama Inn TiraditoThe first thing I have to tell you about Llama Inn in Williamsbutg is how gorgeous it is.  Out of all the Peruvian I’ve been to in NYC, this is possibly the best looking.  Albeit oddly situated in a not so attractive location by the highway.  In fact I’m pretty sure the last time I came here this building was a gas station surrounded by other gas stations.  The space is stylish even for the hotel filled chic Williamsburg standards.  Designed by Joseph Foglia Designs, one can see how much time and effort went into this project.

The second thing I have to tell you is that we hardly saw any of this.  As soon as I saw the space I regretted not bringing my big boy camera as there was plenty of light outside.  But by the time the food start arriving I was content with my little boy phone.  It was dark!  It may sound cliche but we do like to use all of our senses while eating.  A well crafted dish doesnt need to be pretty but it needs to be seen.  Its like you get a prize for best tattooed arm in the country fair, and you decide to cover it up in the evenings.   We essentially turned into my father in law.

The third thing I have to tell you is that midway through the meal we realized something we rarely experience in NYC.  At mid 40’s we were the oldest couple in the room.  This is a place that got significant buzz and praise when it first opened, and this was totally unexpected.  We were that odd couple in need of hearing aid and glasses.  Both kinds of glasses I should add.  The staff was professional alright, even when we politely asked for ‘regular’ wine glasses to replace the stemless.

And what is it with the stemless glasses lately.  Are they trying to be cool and trendy forgetting that we are creatures of habit.  I’m all for moving forward and design that make things simpler.  But getting white wine in what looks like a regular water glass feels like a regression in dining elegance.  What will the restaurants do once wine scientists discover that plastic cups is the best way to serve your Gewurztraminer.

The food was a mixed bag.  The best sounding items on the menu were large dishes that seemed a lot more expensive ($60’s) than they should be.  A whole Branzino at $60 better be the baddest Branzino in town.  Same for the Tenderloin sit fry ($68)

Anticucho – These little skewers feel like street food one can find off the streets of Lima for 25 cents.  In Williamsburg they go for $5-8 a pop.  For about $2 per bite you do get pleasant complex flavors out of the chicken and pork belly.  But I would skip the Shrimp

Quinoa – One of the more popular dishes here for some reason.  With the occasional presence of bananas and bacon not every spoonful is the same which normally is a good thing but not here.  With her getting all the bacon and me getting all the bananas, something has to give.  Its like the Russian roulete of Quinoa

Sea Bream Tiradito –  Best dish by far.  Although the Sashimi is swimming in sauce the acidity is restrained.  And the occasional Cancha (toasted corn kernels) added a nice crunch.  The one dish that reminded me that I’m eating Peruvian

Rock Shrimp – This should not be a surprise if you do your homework.  But while the rest of the menu lists the main ingredient first, this is more of a well crafted seafood paella.  It includes rock shrimp but also mussels, squid and clams.  Some of the seafood is breaded which just didnt work for us

Short Rib.  Another meh!  Slightly overcooked meat with grilled summer beans that stole the show.

Llama Inn
50 Withers St, Williamsburg
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Tiradito

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Brooklyn Tour FAQ

After doing this for about a year now, I feel the need to write this.  This is a collection of the many questions I get often (besides the first one).  If I’m missing something, write in the comments, or shoot me an email.  This will also appear in the tours site of course

What is the Brooklyn Tour?

Its a full day driving tour of Brooklyn where we explore about 6 distinct neighborhoods not very easily reached otherwise.  While there will be plenty of interesting food involved, the tour is more of a cultural immersion experience with the goal to show visitors the “real” Brooklyn

What time does it start and finish?

9 to around 5 or 6, although an earlier finish time can be requested.  I’m usually around the pickup location 15 to 30 minutes prior.

How much does it cost?

At the time of this writing its $100 per person for 3 or more people in the tour (regardless if its the same group or not), and $125 for just 2 people.

What’s included in the price

Food and water.  As of tomorrow (August 23rd, 2107) I will finally start utilizing my super cool Trip Advisor cooler 😉

Can I come solo?

Oh Yes!  But as long as I can combine you with another group.  Many solo travelers have joined this tour over the last year, and its a great way to meet other people

When should I book?

As early as possible, and as soon as you know your dates.  As of this writing (August 22nd, 2017) much of September and October is already booked, and pretty much the entire Xmas holiday season.

How do I book?

Just send me an email with your dates, and how many people. EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

How many people can the tour include?

4 to 6, or as many as I can fit into an SUV with a folding third raw.  4 comfortably plus 1 or 2 smaller people in the back.

Where is the pickup location?

Usually the hotel.  But in some cases it makes more sense to meet at a predetermined location closer to Brooklyn, usually at 22 Warren st (outside of Gran Morsi restaurant).  The situations include hotels that are too far, and multiple groups with hotels far apart.  If you are not familiar with Google Maps, this is the time to get familiar

Where is the drop off location?

At the same location as pickup or other convenient locations.  Many prefer to be dropped in Dumbo and walk Brooklyn Bridge back, concluding a wonderful day in Brooklyn.

What neighborhoods are we going to see in Brooklyn?

Red Hook – One of NY’s most funkiest neighborhoods.
Green-Wood Cemetery – Perhaps the most beautiful and important cemetery in the US
Brighton Beach – An oceanside, Russian speaking neighborhood
Coney Island – The most iconic Brooklyn neighborhood
Prospect Park South – An historic district consisting of large homes in a park-like environment
Sunset Park – The most genuine Chinatown in the US today (Yes, I’ve said it)
Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights – Quick stops if we have time, and/if you are interested.

What are we going to eat?

A lot of good stuff.  Nothing is set in stone as some places close sometimes.  But it may include a visit to a chocolate factory, experience the best key lime pie in NYC, Portuguese egg tarts, Chinese, Uzbek, Korean, Russian, American, and more.  We will also visit some International stores and a Chinese supermarket.  Some of the places are very unique to Brooklyn and pretty much the USA

Should I make dinner plans?

No!  Unless its very late.  You will not be hungry for a while.  This may be a good day to have some late pizza and I can certainly help with that.  As of this writing I’m working on a pizza map

What about gluten-free, vegetarian, allergies?

Yes, all can be accommodated.  The only thing I cant promise is avoiding the possibility of cross contamination.  Also, many of the people working in some of these places have extremely limited English but I will do my best

My husband is a very picky.  Will he starve?

I had plenty of picky eaters so far that came back very satisfied.  If anything some of this may change your views on food.  And there’s always Nathan’s!

You are not available for my dates.  Can you recommend a similar tour?

I get this asked often.  I’m not aware of any other tours like it unfortunately.  The closest I know are the various pizza tours like A slice of Brooklyn and Scott’s Pizza Tour.  These are bigger, more organized tours that are fun no doubt, but you can get amazing pizza in Manhattan as well.  I concentrate on the things you cant.

Can I customize the tour with you?

Only if you are the only party.  If you want to see other parts or eat other food like pizza, we can.  But if I’ll feel that you will get a lesser experience as a result, I will let you know

How much walking is involved?

Between 30 to 60 minutes in each neighborhood with plenty of stops.  Sometimes during the tour we even elect to drive through some areas

What if I fall asleep in the car.  Will you drive around the drop off location for a while until I wake up, and put some easy listening in the process?

Yes, I’ve done that too.

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Adding Green-Wood Cemetery

IMG_6312The evolution of the Brooklyn tour continues.  In the next few weeks I will take some time to write more of a detail post about the current tour and what it entails, as it changed quite a bit since its inception.  But the big development is that I’m adding Green-Wood cemetery.  I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, and experimenting with Green-Wood during the last 3 tours, and frankly I dont know why I havent done it sooner

If you dont know what I’m talking about, wondering why I’m adding a cemetery to a food tour, a simple Google or Google Images browsing will answer that.  The proximity to the current route also makes sense.  If you booked a future tour and are not interested in Green-Wood, just let me know.  As it stands right now though, this is a quick 30 minute stop, unless anyone wants to spend more time there.  Simply put, this is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.  The reason you dont hear much about it is because of the difficulties for tourists to get there.

And no this is not Nicolas Cage future grave pictured below.  His Pyramid is much taller.  And if you just happened to have a Nicolas Cage fetish (seriously, who doesnt these days), we can also visit Cage’s favorite restaurant in Brighton Beach.

IMG_6294IMG_6308IMG_6309

 

 

 

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FOB – You Had Me at Halo Halo

fob-halo-halo

July 4, 2017 Update:

How is this place not packed every night.  Yet another great feast at FOB, this time with the family.  The chicken wings, overnight Chicken Adobo (with coconut milk this time), Fish Inihaw are absolute musts.  But there are a few other potential gems on the menu we didnt get to sample yet.  The type of neighborhood place every neighborhood should have.  But dont take it too literally chef Armando.  I like you in just that one place

December 9, 2016 Post:

If you close one eye and both ears, Brooklyn’s Smith Street during the holidays feels like a small town Main Street.  Xmas tree vendors hugging corners.  Colorful shops, bars, restaurants getting dressed for the holidays.  You can almost hear George Michael’s Last Christmas before the moment interrupted by a commuter.  A commuter who believes if he beeps long enough, Santa will come down to part the sea, before heading for some Sisig and a beer.

Homey Filipino F.O.B. is the latest to join the happy Smith Street Mishpucha.  And by the look of the Xmas tree dominated glassy front, it’s playing the part.  When you sit down, you immediately get the sense that if you drop your napkin, you may just have to pick it up yourself.  And that any service mishaps will be treated just like you would at a diner (Though some Yelpers clearly had other expectations from a two week old establishment).  The room is simply decorated, and the lighting is an Instagrammer wet dream.  In other words, my type of place.fob-shrimp

But I didnt come here for the tree, nor the home away from home family atmosphere.  I came for what looked and sounded like a promising menu by a Daniel alum, a menu that is lacking in that part of Brooklyn.  My extent of the cuisine stretches from visits to Lumpia Shack in West Village and recent visits to Maharlika in East Village where the Sisig became my go to dish.  The Sisig at FOB (which of course means Fresh off the {Ikea} Boat.  Thats the closest boat to the establishment I can think of) didnt sound too promising to my dining partner so we left it for another day.  Oh and did I mention that this meal was one of the best meals I’ve had in 2016?  Perhaps it would have been fair to start with that comment before losing 65% of my audience.

Corn Bibingka – A Fine semi-sweet Starter.  Rice cake with a nice layer of coconut butter that tastes like cornbread.  Reminded me of some Sweet Thai desserts like in Pure Thai Cookhouse, also cooked in Banana leaf.

Spicy Chicken Langkawas – These were quite good.  The wings are grilled, so not much of a crunch in the skin.  But the flavor is there thanks to the wonderful thick salsa of chilies, lime, and coconut milk.  The waiter learned the hard way that any sauce left on the plate is as if any chicken left.fob-chicken-wings

Peel & Eat 7-up Shrimp – The most enticing app was the most disappointing.  Some of the shrimp were limp and the sauce just didnt offer much.  I was hoping based on pictures for something closer to New Orleans style buttery BBQ shrimp

Fish Inihaw – A strong candidate for dish of the night. Delicately cooked Flounder (fish varies based on market freshness) topped with an extremely complimentary salsa.  Better than a similar fish nearby at one Michelin La Vara.

Overnight Chicken Adobo – This was surprisingly excellent (explanation to follow).  Two perfectly sized moist and deeply flavorful pieces (half a bird).  There’s another chicken on the menu that is “moms” chicken while this Abobo is “pops”.  The difference if I understand correctly is that pop doesnt like coconut, so its essentially the same thing without the coconut.  Instincts suggest going with mom, but the Adobo is getting a little buzz, coupled with the fact that Mrs Z face turns into Robert de Niro when she tastes coconut (Its quite a funny sight) means we are getting the Adobo.fob-chicken-and-sides

Sides of Garlic rice and green beans & Longanisa were fine.  Especially the Longanisa sausage which was like a delicious tease they can easily make an app from.  Better than the Longanisa at Maharlika which is a little too sweet for my buds.

Dessert – The traditional Filipino Halo Halo is bucket list worthy.  Not because its so amazing, but because its so different than anything out there.  After many attempts at Lumpia Shack where it takes the winter off, this was actually my very first.  While it didnt exactly knock my sucks off, I can see myself ordering it again.  The flan with caramel sauce on the other hand became boring after a few spoons.  Still, a solid 3 Z’s meal in Brooklyn.

FOB
271 Smith St (Degraw/Sackett), Brooklyn
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Corn Bibingka, Chicken Langkawas, Fish Inihaw, Overnight Chicken Adobo, Halo Halo, beans & Longanisafob-rice-cake fob-fish fob-adobo-chicken fob-flan fob-brooklyn

 

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Introducing EWZ Tours

img_7142-1Some tours developments for ya…

We have a name, a website, and the least attractive attractions on TripAdvisor (meaning the guide, not the experience)

The three tours are shaping up quite nicely.  I’ve made some changes to all three already and quite satisfied with all the routes.  I’m fairly booked for the holiday season, but not so much after January 3rd.  Yes, I’m doing the walking tours throughout the winter

I think the most painful part of this whole process was coming up with the name.  Eating With Ziggy Tours ultimately beat Angry Panda, Touring With Ziggy, and Hungry Penguin.  I was all set on the last one, but no one liked it.  Touring With Ziggy was the natural progression, but then the expectations of Drinking With Ziggy, and Sleeping with Ziggy would follow.  I would have already gotten a review on the last one, and I’m afraid it’s not good

It took about 6 weeks but we are finally on Trip Advisor, and Facebook.  On Instagram which I finally joined in the summer, I’m “EatingWithZiggy”, and on Twitter I’m still good ol’ Ziggy601

In order to get on TA, I had to quickly create a dedicated site which I’m still working on https://eatingwithziggytours.com/

Why East Village

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Mister Dips – A Burger With a View

mister-dips-viewA famous person once said, “I didn’t know that I was starving till I tasted you.  Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo.  By the way, by the way, you do things to my body.  I didn’t know that I was starving till I tasted you”.  Always a joy listening to this one in the car with the kids around (rolling eyes smiley goes here).  I knew that I was starving before I tasted this burger.  Well, I wasnt literally starving, but it was a solid notch above first world hunger kind of starving.  And while I didnt quite get the zoo when I visited William Vale’s second floor terrace (or is it third), I did envision butterflies roaming around there in the spring.  And yes, it did things to my body.  Wonderful things!  Followed by guilt, despair, and total loss of hope in humanity (especially after the elections).

Maybe I should have just stopped with a single patty.  Did I really need a double?  And instead of plain waffle fries, did I really need the porn name sounding “Dirty Dipper”, covered with spicy, gooey, wonderful cheddar and scallions?  Yes, I needed all those things.  Raise your hand if you are tired of your partner’s “Do you really need that?” every time you reach for a dark chocolate?  Do you REALLY need that diamond ring?

The Mister Dips burger, sold from a parked Airstream trailer, is as solid as a Shake Shack burger can get (yes Shake Shack is is now officially the “Bounty” of burgers).  The flavor profile is spot on, and the price is right.  Coupled with the dirty Waffle Fries, and.. watch out Shake Shack, there’s a new bounty in town.  You know things are going well when you forget to drink your beverage while eating.  But that’s not all.  The park, terrace, Low Line, or whatever they want to call it, is a stunner.  A “chuppah” of colorful patio furniture, overlooking lower midtown Manhattan, with grassy hills to boot.  Gorgeous views, especially once you ignore the construction in between.  Did I mention the speakers blasting gangsta rap and 80’s in the background?  So check it out, along with a well earned bathroom break at the new William Vale, before the mister shuts its Dips for the season.

Mister Dips
111 N 12th St (Williamsburg. William Vale Promenade)

mister-dips-burger mister-dips-park mister-dips

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Foodpourri

danji-big-korean-breakfastRandom EWZ food discoveries, announcements, and other nonsense…

Danji, the long time EWZ fave in the kitchen of hell is now doing brunch.  In addition to the best tofu dish in town, you can now enjoy delicacies like the Big Korean Breakfast (top picture), Kimchi bacon fried rice, and their version of the Filipino Sisig.  This medium size Jew did the big Korean Breakfast and (of course) the tofu last week, and as much as I enjoyed them, I would love to try the other offerings next time

Talking about Sisigs, I accidentally had it twice last month.  My favorite was in Maharlika in East Village.  Gorgeously fried pig ears, snout, belly with garlic, chilies on top of garlicky rice.  Just a solid combination of flavors and textures.  And while you at it, try their Lumpia rollsimg_4401

lam-zhou-handmade-noodle-dumplingsHaving trouble sleeping?  Problems in the bedroom, ever since Prosperity Dumplings closed by the health dep’t.  Before you reach for the red pill, blue pill or any pill for that matter, check out Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle in Chinatown.  Even at room temperature, you get some of the tastiest fried pork dumplings in NYC today.  8 for $3 is still quite cheaper than what all the new places charging today

In Pizza news, while I dont normally get excited about Sullivan Street Bakery‘s thin, often room temp Roman pies (I do get excited about everything else), the day I walked into a fresh Pizza Capicola changed all that.  Coppa ham, green olives, chili, fennel, Mascarpone.  A masterful combo with plenty of nice heat to keep your taste buds happy for a while.

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Discoering Los Mariscos in Chelsea Market is like discovering a secret Speakeasy, or Tom Hanks discovering a secret garden full of typewriters.  The Los Tacos #1 team leased the space that leads from the tacos hallway to 15th st where there’s a separate entrance.  The place meant to resemble a Mexican seafood shack, and the Baja style fish and shrimp tacos are as solid as they get in NYC.  And at $3 to $4, quite affordable for Chelsea Marketlos-mariscos

I’ve been eating quite a bit in Brooklyn as of late.  Some ups, some downs, with the highlight coming from the most unexpected, Olivier Bistro in Park Slope.  Homey, basic French Bistro fare done well.  Escargot, Hanger, Daurade special particular standouts.

Stop me when I start sounding like Crazy Eddy, but the new East Village Food Tour is beginning to look like a smashing success food and sightseeing wise.  I assembled a pretty nice route that includes a stop at the always fun Caracas Arepa Bar where we’ll sample some Venezuelan mini Arepas they do especially for the tour.  Not all tours will be the same, but this one is shaping to be one the most popular stops.caracas-bar-pork-shoulder-mini-arepas

img_4469In my constant pursuit of great Soup Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) in NYC that included the much hyped Drunken Dumplings, and others, The Bao in, you guessed it, East Village, makes possibly the best I’ve had in NYC.  Thin skin that holds it on, and a very fine filling of pork and crab which is what I recommend.  Love the dumplings, not so much the stuffier than it should be, $10 per person minimum, space.

Right below Bao on St Marks place is another place we’ve been obsessing with as of late, Spot Dessert Bar.  Playful, imaginary desserts like the Harvest, a plant of berries and soft cheesecake that you water with black rose milk tea.  Dont overlook however the more normal looking and sounding Green tea lava cake spot-dessert-bar

In Bakery news, I cant get enough of Breads Bakery (Jerusalem baguettes, babka, multiple locations), and Arcade Bakery in Tribeca.  Arcade is located in a lobby of an office building and the hours are office kind hours (m-f 8-4).  Go early for the sensational buttery Laminated Baguette, Whiskey-pecan Babka and call me in the morning.

Miso Cherry!  Say it with me, c’mon.  Slower.  Say it like you mean it.  Meeesooo Cherry!  Another wacky Oddfellows Ice Cream flavor that is perhaps the best ice cream/Gelato I’ve had this year.

Stay Hungry My Friends arcade-bakery oddfellows-miso-cherry-ice-cream

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

La Vara – I Rest My Case

la-vara-gurrulosPrologue:  I waited until after the Yom Kippur Tsom is over so not to offend or temp anyone.  Although I doubt any of the pictures here would make anyone break off their fast.     Apologies for the lack of decent photos as of late.  I forgot my camera (and skills) at home for this one.

Am I becoming a food brat, or turning into Mr Grumpy?  Am I on the way to joining The Joy Suck Club?  I’m only in my late 30’s (46 to be exact).  But ever since I started grading them I cant get over the one star hump.  Sure, we’ve had good meals as of late at places like Olivier Bistro in Park Slope where the poor lighting (OMG I AM joining the club) and casual neighborhoody traits dont quite make it an exciting post.  This post should have really been about Atoboy, baby Jungsik, which I had to cancel 4 times in the past two weeks.  But trying La Vara was long overdue, and frankly I expected more.

la-vara-dauradeIf La Vara feels like a place whose owners are concentrating on opening their 4th restaurant, it is.  Alex Raij practically owns Chelsea with her two tapas joints, and Tia Pol where she started before a messy divorce.  But it was La Vara getting all the accolades including the all important, coveted Michelin Star.  When I told my wife the place has a Michelin Star after the meal, I received the same look when she discovered the pissing fountain in Prague wasnt pissing.  And while I wasnt particularly hungry after the meal which included plenty of dishes, let the record show that for the first time ever, Mrs Z required a snack when we got home.  The title of this post is a result of another example that Michelin one stars in NYC is a random mishmash of names that arent very Micheliny and consistent, making the entire achievement dubious when they lose the star after one or two years.

At the end of the meal, when I looked around I noticed something I dont normally see in Michelin restaurants.  We are the youngest people in the room including the staff, a redder flag than being the youngest in my book.  Is that why they wanted to sit the 4 of us (all mid 40’s) at the awkward table for 8 right in front even though we had reservations?  Were we not cool enough for the odd communal table in the middle of the room?  But we requested to move and they happily obliged.  I’m just puzzled sometimes when we show up to a place with reservations and dont have an acceptable table reserved (I’m looking at you too Narcissa).  The service throughout was efficient, but at the same time cold, and impersonal.  Maybe, just maybe, we were simply not cool enough for La Vara.

Because if we would, perhaps the waiter would explain to us that the roasted market vegetables today were just broccoli rabe that required all of the Romesco sauce to ease the bitterness.  Perhaps the bread would not have been stale and we would have gotten it way before midway.  Its the little things that can add up.  I suppose if anyone cared to look at their website as of late, one would notice the Gurrulos, the Gnocchi like Fluffy semolina pasta is still offered with ground goat meat which they stopped offering two years ago.  Maybe at the same time they would have noticed that Gurrulos have now been autocorrected to Guerrillas.  Website false advertisement is a little pet peeve of mine.  Its either that or lack of attention.

la-vara-meatballsBut it wasnt a total disaster by any stretch.  The Daurade special arrived simply cooked, covered with a nice mild red sauce and tasted like Daurade should.  The suckling pig had a nice amount of rendered fat and cracklings, though the accompanying sauce was rather meek.  Both at $31 could have come with some vegetables to make it a little more worthwhile, especially considering you are sharing everything.  Sidenote:  I swear to the food gods that the next time a waiter tells me small dishes are meant for sharing, I will remind him that Employees Must Wash Hands.

The rest of the meal featured wrinkly basic Shishitos, the culinary Russian Roulette when you eat with someone not normally susceptible to spicy food.  One of about 10 peppers is spicy, and sure enough my friend’s first bite was ooooohhh boy.  The best thing I ate was probably the Berenjena con miel, fried eggplant sticks with honey and cheese.  Although my honey wasnt too fond of the honey.   Lamb meatballs were dense and meaty, but average when it comes to meatballs in the city.  Migas Aragonesas, a fried concoction of bread, chorizo and egg was fine.  And an almond and fig hard tart sounded much better than it was. A mostly basic biscuit.

La Vara
268 Clinton St, Brooklyn
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that

la-vara-appsla-vara-migas-aragonesas la-vara-suckling-pig

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