Brooklyn

Village Cafe – Once Upon a Time in Azerbaijan

Village Cafe - Guru HingalThis is not your father’s Coney Island Ave.  When I lived in that part of Brooklyn in the 80-90s, Turkish places like Sahara dominated.  Turkish, car washes, ice cream, and affordable divorce lawyers to be exact.  Nowadays, the business hub, that doesnt quite lead to Coney Island, features even better Turkish (Taci’s Beyti), respectable Moldovan (Moldova), Uzbek royalty (Nargis), swanky Russian nightclubs like Chinar, and a plethora of Pakistani joints between Foster and H.  And when I want to kick it up a notch, there’s always Z-List fave Werkstatt (I’m overdue).  Coney Island Avenue is a foodie paradise.  And the divorce lawyers now speak 17 languages.

With that said, you can drive the entire length of Coney Island 100 times, and miss one of its biggest gems, Village Cafe.  The restaurant is hidden inside a parking lot of a liquor shop (yes you can park inside).  Its like one of those Staten Island mini malls where you pick your laundry.  You’ll see a “Village” sign in what looks like an oversized temporary tiki hut.  Its a strange name for an Azerbaijani restaurant considering almost all other Azerbaijani restaurant names contain Baku or Azerbaijan.  But I’m sure “Village Cafe” just rolls off the tongue for the Azerbaijani.Village Cafe - Kutaby

What is Azerbaijani food you ask?  Its not too different than some of its neighbors like Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkey.  Kebabs and Plov (rice pilaf) dominate, although the latter is sweetened with dried fruits so quite different than the Uzbek version.  Soups, meat filled flatbreads, kebabs wrapped in flatbread, kebabs in soup, and something called Guru Hingal (more on that later).  Just please dont call it Russian food.  Yes, you will get your Russian classics at Village like Borscht and Pilmeni, considering the location of the place and this is a former soviet republic after all.

The bread (they call it Turkish bread) is good, but who needs that when you have Kutaby, Azerbaijani flatbread filled with minced chicken, lamb or greens.  Its a must order.  The salads are your typical central Asian/Russian (Ok, only this one time) tomato, avocado, and the Georgian Lobio among many more.  I’m intrigued by “Unexpected Guests”, and “Simple & Delicious”.  I believe the former is only for walk-ins.  The soups get a bit more foreign sounding, though the only one I tried is the familiar Kharcho, which isnt quite as potent as Tone Cafe’s version 2 miles south, but good enough.

Village Cafe - DessertMeats in a form of kebabs and lamb chops dominate the menu.  Lulya kebab (minced meat) here is thick and juicy.  But what sets them apart here is they are wrapped with thin dough.  Get the lamb over chicken.  Guru Hingal is a thin pappardelle like noodles topped with a “ragu” of onions, and lamb cooked in its own fat.  You wont find better tasting pasta in south Brooklyn.

The village people (staff) are friendly and efficient.  No alcohol or pork as its Muslim, but as with many such places in south Brooklyn, you can bring your own alcohol.  You just cant bring your own pork.  The desserts here are good.  The Napoleon is fresh and huge.  But try the “Pakhlava”, denser, nuttier, not as sweet and better than your average Baklava.  Looking forward to try more here, especially when I arrive unannounced.

Village Cafe
1968 Coney Island Ave (Ave P/Quentin, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kutaby, Lamb Lulya Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Guru Hingal, Pakhlava

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Three to Consider in Brooklyn

Hometown BBQ PastramiEvery time I sneeze a new restaurant opens in Brooklyn.  Every time Mrs Z sneezes, a dove commits suicide.  Its the loudest sneeze on the planet, that comes without warning.  Think a samurai shout or a mother giving birth to triplets.  Some of the new restaurants generate hours long waits or impossible to reserve, but thankfully plenty of solid oldies around.  Today you get three for the price one.

Xixa – I dont know what took me so long to get to this Mexican fusion.  Maybe the inner Jewish guilt.  Xixa after all, and its sister Traif (where we ate before), are situated just outside of Hasidic Williamsburg.  Xixa, pronounced Shiksa, means gentile woman (not Jewish).  Traif means not Kosher.  Its like two bullies laughing while pointing fingers at a kid eating Gefilte Fish off a can.  But Xixa has been around for a while now, and still packs young folks nightly.  Its hard to pick favorites from the many small and large plates.  But give the Elote (corn or carrots), beets, duck or short rib Carnitas a try.  Playful menu, with playful drinks to match.  241 S 4th St (Williamsburg)

XixaOlivier Bistro – Its beginning to sound like another cliche, but Olivier Bistro is the type of place every neighborhood needs.  I’ve been frequenting Olivier for a few years now but for some reason never wrote about it.  Talented French born Olivier Verdier is constantly on his toes, offering a mix of specials and a plethora of French classics for the steady regulars.  Its the closest you’ll get to an authentic French Bistro in Brooklyn.  The burger is always solid.  As are the Shishito peppers, Cassoulet, Moules Frites, Hanger Steak, and make sure to ask about today’s poison! (fish).  I’ve never had a bad dish here.  469 4th Ave (Gowanus)

Hometown BBQ Industry City – I havent written much about Industry City because, well, I can never find parking.  And I havent had truly compelling reasons to keep going.  Until now.  The ultra flaky pastrami sandwich at this new Hometown branch may be as good as it gets in NYC today.  It borders too salty on the first few bites, but settles in beautifully.  Its a nice homage to the classic Jewish deli pastrami on rye.  Industry City (Sunset Park)

And talking about pastrami, I inform you with heavy heart and slightly elevated cholesterol that EWZ fave Harry and Ida’s in the East Village is closing this weekend.  I wish nothing but the best to Will and Julie.  There will never be anything like Harry and Ida’s.

Hometown BBQ

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Cremini’s – From Le Marche With Love

Cremini's CresciaIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may or may not have noticed a slow moving shift.  A shift in the type of establishments I frequent, and write about.  Gone are the days of the almost weekly expensive meals.  Hooray fast-casual!  There was a time when I would enthusiastically read the power rankings and hot lists on a regular basis, but these days it feels more like a monthly chore.  Among my other usual sources, I now concentrate on random openings instead.  Places that open with or without any buzz, offering something that gets my attention, in convenient areas.  

The shift began a few years ago when I finally understood what “buzz” and “hot” means.  I started to talk to owners and chefs about artificial hype, and the various techniques to achieve it.  The shift continued when we started to experience disappointing meals by some of the buzz elite, some of which I’ve never written about.  But the turning point may have been when a well respected hot list I follow included a restaurant that belonged to someone I know.  That restaurant was most definitely not hot, and most definitely shut three months later.  What made it hot?  Around 3k to a marketing firm.

Enter tiny Cremini in Carroll Gardens.  The type of mom/pop that wouldnt normally make much social media noise, and is more of a neighborhood hangout.  Although Eater’s Robert Sietsema did discover its Crescia flatbread (more on that soon).  Cremini’s opened a few months ago by a young couple offering specialties of their home region, Le Marche, the lost region of Italy.  While we dont have any other Le Marche dining options as far as I know, Cremini’s is also the type of place every neighborhood needs.

Cremini'sOwners Riccardo and Elena live upstairs, and the only thing missing in their little place on Court Street is a bell.  “Like eating in someones house” is a cliche these days, but there’s no better way to describe this one.  Perhaps one day they’ll get busy enough to hire more staff and function more like a regular restaurant.  But for the time being, its like walking into your neighbor’s house, grabbing a newspaper, pretending you can read Italian.  And after chatting about politics, and 80’s Eurotrash with the owners, about an hour later, maybe eat something.

The menu is unconventional but not too foreign.  There’s even a burger, and its a good one.  But its important to keep an open mind and not expect a full menu as so many restaurants all over Italy.  Although Cremini’s may refer to Elena’s fried cream custards, you get the sense that its the stuffed Ascolana olives that are closer to a specialty here.  There are six varieties, from classic, spicy, veggie and more.  Best plan of attack is mix and match the 9 pieces, 3 x 3.

Not too far from Cremini’s, people wait one hour for the “hottest” pizza at the moment, F&F Pizzeria (its good!).  And a bit further out some wait three hours for a red hot burger at Red Hook Tavern.  Meanwhile there’s zero wait at the moment for Elena’s steakhouse quality burger where she mixes three meats, and counters with Provolone, sweet caramelized onions, and.. bacon.  The only other main is Le March style “meatballs” of fried pasta with ragu.  You’ll enjoy them as long as you can convince the inner New Yorker in you not to expect, well, meatballs.

Cremini's MeatballsThe Crescia is like a cross between a Piadina and Laffa flatbread where you can mix and match various meats and cheeses.  The Mortadella and Gorgonzola settle nicely once the taste buds get over the initial Gorgonzola funkiness.  One thing about the new Italian immigrants is they dont mess around with the raw materials.  No need to bastardize much these days like the old Sicilian immigrants did.  Another such example here is the excellent Tiramisu.

Cremini’s is not the type you expect perfection.  Its the type you want to root for.  When you talk to restaurant owners these days you get the sense that its a brutal, survival of the fittest market.  A real estate market that erased virtually all such places in some neighborhoods across the river.  One just needs to step inside Cremini’s to remind ourselves why they are still needed.

Cremini’s
521 Court St, Carroll Garden
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Fried Olives, Burger, Crescia, Meatballs, Tiramisu

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Brooklyn December Tours Almost Sold Out

IMG_9992 (1)This is not a drill, nor a sales pitch.  Just a friendly heads-up.  Last year during the last few months of the year, I answered so many requests starting with the word “Unfortunately” that my smart phone started completing “Unfortunately” every time I started a sentence.  This year its happening much earlier.  I got plenty of availability between now and then, but the month of December is looking mighty busy already, especially with Brooklyn tours.

At the moment, there are a handful of open dates left.  The rest are mostly sold out Brooklyn tours, holidays (Christmas, Festivus…), and some time off.  There are a handful of mostly weekend walking tours (East Village, Hell’s Kitchen) with availability.  I imagine Dyker Heights Xmas lights is one of the culprits for the December tour spike as I get many queries about it.  A late Thanksgiving means a later Dyker Heights season this year.  Meaning I dont expect a full light show during the first week but I’ll know better when December starts.

Anywho, just want to give some readers the benefit.  Any questions or if you want to book a tour, email me at EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

IMG_9881

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Casa Vieja – The Anti-Yelp

Casa Vieja - Tingas and TacosSocial Media is a wonderful, powerful thing.  Until its not.  I dont recall how I first learned about Casa Vieja in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Perhaps I read about it on Chowhound or the excellent Eat The World.  But it was most certainly not via Yelp.  In fact after the first time I took Mrs Z to Casa Vieja and posted about it on Instagram, my friends were curious about taking my culinary spoiled wife to a place ranked so low on Yelp (three stars).  Thats because the type of people that visit Casa Viaja dont review on Yelp.  A whopping 15 reviews for one of the three oldest Mexican in Sunset Park (Tacos Matamoros, Tacos El Bronco are the others).

Like some of the Arab eateries of the neighboring Bay Ridge, and the Chinese neighbors in the East, it helps to know the language in this part of 5th Avenue.  I think I’m getting to the point that its a little too late in the game to tell my regular waitress that I dont really speak Spanish.  I’ve given her many clues, like not speaking a word of Spanish, and even accidentally uttering a Buonasera once or twice in the few attempts we tried.  We are not only the only non-Spanish speakers in this casa, but in the entire block sometimes.  If you measure authenticity by a foreign country like environment, Casa Vieja is as genuine as it gets.

Casa Vieja

Eat The World

However very often “authentic” doesnt translate well due to poor ingredients, execution, or cultural differences.  Sometimes in order to appreciate a dish, it helps to grow up with it.  Thankfully this is not the case here.  Everything I’ve had here so far has been fresh tasting and pleasing to the palate.  Flavors I dont expect in cheap Mexican restaurants.  I usually start with the Tingas these days.  Mini crispy tacos loaded with delicious shredded chicken with chopped tomato, lettuce, crumbled cheese and some tangy aioli.  The corn on the cob is always solid although oddly overpriced.

Tacos, even on 5th ave can sometimes be bland and uninspiring.  Not the case here, at least with the Al Pastor and Chorizo.  The Mole here is superb.  Try it on Enchiladas with steak.  But the one dish I must have every single time, that usually follows me to the car is the excellent Lomo de Puerco Adobado.  Beautifully marinated Pork Loin, with zucchini, corn, and dressed with sauce that got some seriously sneaky heat that even the Szechuan loving neighbors to the east can appreciate.

Casa Vieja
6007 5th Ave (60th), Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lomo de Puerco Adobado, Tingas, Enchiladas with mole, Tacos

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Krok – A Viable Pok Pok Replacement

Krok - Pad Kra-PraoThis is more of an important public announcement, rather than a full restaurant review.  Pok Pok, as expected by some, ran its course and closed around a year ago.  I never want to see restaurants close, but admittedly, I havent visited Pok Pok in the final year or so.  The fact that it was never open for lunch (weekdays), and other serious Northern Thai joints like Ugly Baby popping up in Brooklyn had something to do with it.  But with Krok, opening up in its place there are reasons to celebrate, and visit.

You might as well call it Krok Krok, as its not awfully different than the previous tenant.  Krok’s menu is street food and Isan leaning, which means BYOB, Bring Your Own Bounty.  While they may tone it down a bit for the white boys, toning it down here still means plenty of nice, bold flavors.  After just one sit down, and a takeout order on another evening, I can tell you that this is some serious strong stuff.  And being within six degrees of Pure Thai Cookhouse helps.  Chef/partner Krit Ploysomboon cooked at Land Thai Kitchen, Pure’s UWS sister.  Another partner owns a Thai restaurant in Queens.

KrokEvery dish I’ve had so far was outstanding.  The Pad Kra-Prao, minced chicken (you can get pork instead), stir fried with garlic, chili and a vibrant basil sauce is especially superb.  Another great chicken dish is the Gai Yang Bu-ri-ram, herb marinated and grilled with garlic, lemongrass, pepper, served with spicy sweet & sour and tamarind chili dipping sauces which you may or may not feel the need to use.

The fiery Moo Num Tok leads the grilled entrees column for a reason.  Marinated Pork with herbs, lime and chili.  It’s quite fragrant, and addictive just like the rest of them.  The rice helps spell relief and so is the cabbage and cucumbers combo that comes with some of the dishes.  If you are not getting them, ask.  The lone green curry with chicken I’ve had so far was spot on.  Looking forward to getting more intimate with this menu.

Krok
117 Columbia St (Kane), Columbia Street Waterfront District, Brooklyn
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Pad Kra-Prao, Gai Yang Bu-ri-ram, Moo Num Tok

Krok - Curry

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Sofreh – FOMO Strikes Again in Brooklyn

sofreh - chickenWhen I was very young, like around age one, I was really really handsome.  And I dont mean how all young babies and toddlers are beautiful in a way.  I’m talking stunning beauty, almost girlish like. My nickname in daycare was Kendall.  I had this ravishing hot blonde (I think that’s the correct color name) hair, and I was extremely pleasing to the eye.  So pleasing that my parents were constantly worried of the ‘Ugly Baby‘ jinxing syndrome, where someone out there would successfully give me the evil eye one day.  And sure enough it happened.

We were on a long train ride one day, and I cried hysterically the entire ride.  Well, much of it at least.  A woman then approached my parents and told them that I was obviously under a spell, which my parents already suspected.  There was no way I suppose I was teething, hungry, or suffering from an ache of some sort.  I was obviously cursed!  And the only way to get rid of this curse according to the stranger was to wash my face with a cloth that was soaked in some… urine.  Now, lets skip the part of whose urine it was or supposed to be, and go straight to the disturbing punch line.  It worked!  The fact that it worked that one time meant that I was essentially bathing in urine pretty much my entire baby/toddler life.

sofreh

Eater

Back in the day people blindly followed old rituals the same way we struggle today with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  Back then when people didnt have access to information, they rarely questioned things.  The fear of being wrong, or the consequences of going against the grain were too real.  You just went with the flow, and popular belief.  While FOMO is not nearly as serious, it follows similar human nature traits.  If we are not going to go to this hot new Persian restaurant in Prospect Heights, we are not living life to the fullest.

I am talking about one of the hottest openings last year.  A restaurant that was reviewed by everyone and their mothers (My mom gave it 3 cloths!).  Trying to reserve a table on a weekend these days proving more difficult than building a wall.  We had to resort to a Thursday 6 pm slot.  A new Persian restaurant in NYC offering seemingly well crafted, ultra instagrammable dishes that most New Yorkers never experienced.  Whats not to get excited about.

sofreh - kofteh

First the good news.  The space is chic, smartly decorated, and well lit.  Well, until 7 pm at least, when they decided to dim the lights for some reason.  But you got the sense that they thought of every single detail.  I even thought the bathroom featuring wall to wall vintage Iranian movie posters was pretty cool.  I especially liked the movie featuring Popeye knocking down a beautiful potentially unfaithful woman with his big bat, with Burt Reynolds, her lover coming to the rescue, too late.

Our first bite, the Kofteh was superb!  Beef meatballs with rice and split peas that put most Italian meatballs to shame.  Our second bite, grilled cauliflower was less successful but pleasant enough.  Things were working early on, and life is looking full again.  Unfortunately however, that was the end of the hit list

The “Ash”, a thick Persian herb and noodle stew delivered nice complex flavors the first few spoonfuls, but quickly became too heavy to eat on its own for all three of us.  This was a dish recommended by a few critics, and I wonder how much of it they really ate while trying to sample the various dishes.  It would have worked better with meat, in a soup form or on top of rice (which we got later with the mains) or pasta.  The whole wheat noodles as part of the stew wasnt nearly enough to save the dish.

A similar fate plagued the chicken and fish, two of the menu “classics”.  Interesting first few bites that quickly turned to “how do we salvage this”.  The chicken’s Plum and Saffron sauce with the tart Barberries became too sharp-tasting fairly quickly.  For relief I was picking on just the bird at some point.  But you couldnt do that with the “Catch of the day” striped bass.  “Catch of the day” is a funny concept in NYC, but thats another post/rant for another time.  The sauce was overpowering alright,  but the fish was too bland on its own.  The Persian Ice cream was good, but flavors not much different than at other middle eastern spots.

Looking at the mirror these days, that curse 45 years ago seemed to work.  But at least I’m living life to the fullest.  I’m Glad I tried Sofreh, but its probably a one and done deal for me.

Sofreh
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kofteh, Cauliflower

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Tone Cafe – The Republic of Khachapuri

tone cafe - khinkaliIn the black sea of Uzbek and Ukrainian eateries on Brighton Beach Ave, one can easily forget the avenue two blocks up, Neptune.  Like 10th ave in Hell’s Kitchen, 7th avenue in Sunset Park, these are the forgotten practical blocks.  As a visitor you tend to gravitate towards the hubs.  But when you live in the hood, this is where you fix your chipped tooth, visit your favorite tarot card reader, or get that pastrami sub from the deli guy that knows exactly how you like it.

These blocks often give birth to destination places that cant strictly survive on the people living nearby.  Whether its the elderly in Brighton Beach or the poor students in East Village, these are often not the demographics that can sustain such businesses alone.  The young professionals and actors that dominate Hell’s Kitchen for example call the entire city their neighborhood and rarely stay put.  Such are the challenges for places like Nano, Taboon, Hearth and Tone Cafe on Neptune Ave.

tone cafe - chanakhi

 

Tone Cafe is one of a plethora of Georgian eateries popping up all over the city in the past 5-10 years.  And just about all serve the formidable Adjaruli Khachapuri, a boat shaped bread filled with salty farmers cheese and egg.  The eggier and bigger the boat, the more Instagrammable the dish.  In Williamsburg a Cheese boat theme restaurant opened not too long ago called, you guessed it, Cheeseboat.  But what’s hip and cool in Williamsburg, in Brighton Beach its called Wednesday.

The Cheese boat in Tone is not only a feast for the eyes but a succulent combination of salty, rich, crispy, and gooey.  If you are a bread and cheese lover, you need to add this to the bucket list.  Right after Machu Pichu.  The Khinkali, the mammoth Georgian dumplings is another popular dish here.  But I’m finding them too doughy for my taste these days and would pass in favor of …

The Kharcho – A tart tomato based soup with rice, walnuts, lamb or beef, and spices.  You may not look at Borscht the same way again.  Its something you can find all over Brighton, but Tone’s version is cleaner tasting and pairs very well with winter.  Another popular starter is the red bean Lobio, cooked with herbs and spices, and  usually served with walnuts, and pomegranate.  Georgian food in a “nutshell”:  walnuts, pomegranate, red beans, a lot of meat and bread

Tone Cafe - Georgian Bread

If you are not quite up to the gigantic cheeseboats task, you also got the other Khatchapuris like the Imeruli, which literally translates to “Khatchapuri for whimps” or something like that.  Its a simpler cheese filled soft bread.  Or try the Chanakhi, lamb cubes slowly cooked in clay pot with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and spices.  Pomegranade can also be found inside their terrific sausages (Kupati) I discovered on a recent visit (about 3 hours ago).  The Kupatis are thick and juicy and can rival with some of the best German franks.  A similar but differently spiced meat is the Kababi which comes wrapped in thin Lavash bread.

Tone Cafe is a little out of the way for most of my readers, but Brighton Beach, one of the most unique areas in NYC, and miles more interesting than neighboring Coney Island should not be overlooked.  Remember kids, we travel to see different, and this is definitely different.  Same applies to the kind of service you’ll encounter at places like Tone Cafe.  You may see a 10% service charge instead of a smile.  You may need to wait 30 minutes for your food for no good reason.  You may need to Google how to refill your own water.  And chances are that you’ll hear this “Hi my name is Randy, I will be your waiter today.  Do you have any allergies today?” is zilch.  Because that part of town has no Randys!

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Hot Space – Big Fish, Bigger Fish

Hot Space FishApologies for the blurry photo.  I start to shake in front of deliciousness.  My posts will be smaller and to the point beginning… well it began actually.  Too much going on in my life at the moment, so I dont have as much time to blog these days.  But this is actually a good, refreshing change that will allow me to write about more places.  More places, more usefulness, less mambo jumbo, same grammar.

Hot Space is a Chinese Restaurant in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown.  Its unfortunately not on 8th ave so it may need my help.  The number eight is the Chinese lucky number because in Mandarin eight sounds like the word wealth.  The meaning is one of the main driving forces behind the creation of the now largest Chinatown in NYC.  Popular 90’s rumor was to take the N train to the “Sky Stop” (when the train comes up) and you will find success on 8th avenue.

This makes it easy to incorporate the number into the business name.  Lucky 8, Great 8, mister 8, and the brilliantly named Restaurant on 58th st, are some examples.  Although some of the ones without the number 8 can use some spelling luck like me.  “Wash and Flod Laundromat” – sounds daring and flat out dangerous

This is a one dish post really, but its a doozy.  A big tray of fish.  After the servers take your coats and puts them in a large plastic bag so the coats wont attract any of the smells that come with the dishes (I wish my in-laws would do the same), they explain the menu and how to “build” your big boy tray of fish.  You got your choices of fish – usually Sea Bass, Big Mouth Bass, Buffalo Bass, Idaho Bass, and anything and everything ending in Bass.  You add your choice of veggies, sauce, and spice level and off you wait.

And while you wait you stare at the giant screen for Chinese entertainment while your significant other is not looking. The entire scene matches that of this particular Chinatown.  Like stepping into another country.  It helps when you are the only Caucasians in the entire room.  You also have instructions on the table on how to handle the fish once it arrives, like “wait until it stops flapping before eating”.

The fish then arrives and it’s magnificent.  Its not that different looking than the huge trays you see in Fei Long Market’s food court.  Its understandably costlier – about $70 once you add all the ingredients, and it can easily feed 3.  I ordered the Sea Bass in a medium spiced garlicky sauce and it was the perfect amount of heat on a fish whose flavors just pop.  We also added grilled BBQ squid which was nice and cajuny but not really necessary.

Hot Space Squid

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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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