Brooklyn

Chuan Tian Xia – ‘Twas the Night Before Szechuan

Unlike previous visits to CTX, we were not the only white people this time. Thats most likely because it was Christmas eve, the night when New York Jews indulge in Chinese food. Not terribly different than the monthly routine for many. The tradition started decades ago when places like CTX didnt exist much here. At least not as far as I know. Back then your main options were Cantonese American/Chinese palaces with big round tables spinning egg foo youngs and pepper steak, before the General Tso’s and chicken with broccolis took over. We still eat the latter stuff on occasion, though I secretly reheat them sometimes with chili oils and crisps to get some sort of resemblance to the flavors of a CTX.

Chuan Tian Xia is not only fun to say, but a lot of fun to experience. Its not your typical Chrismukkah Chinese establishment, but a fiery, numbing feast for all senses, especially the Jewish ones. Its located in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, home to arguably the most authentic and largest Chinatown in the US. CTX, along with Hot Space, another Sunset Park fave, stand out in a sea of Chinese establishments, perhaps since most Sunset Park immigrants came from Fujian which is known for milder fair. Even the dishes we experienced so far at Hot Space and CTX werent as fiery as Queens staples like Szechuan Mountain House and Legend of Taste.

Our last visit to CTX was more successful than prior. Maybe because this time I finally used the Szechuan magic word, “Medium”. Spice levels werent quite up to snuff before, but were more like it this time. We can handle more, but sometimes there’s that fine line between handle and joy. Mrs Z didnt even have one of her infamous coughing episodes. Usually at the beginning of a spicy BYOB (Bring your own Bounty) fest (eg Ugly Baby), she starts the meal with a prolonged cough attack where we both sort of expect it and ride it out while the staff looks in horror. After its over, its business as usual as she handles the heat like a champ.

I also love reviews that wildly rave about the spice levels, and at the same breath talk about how they couldnt finish the dish due to said spice levels. If its too spicy to eat, its too spicy to enjoy, even if you normally enjoy spicy food. I recently crossed that line at Rowdy Rooster in East Village where I opted for the next level on my fried chicken. What was wrong with the lower level I enjoyed previously? Absolutely nothing.

As soon as you sit down at CTX, delicious tea and dangerously addictive spicy peanuts arrive. Often its the little details that make a difference. The smart decor of murals of what looks like Lucha Libre masks is akin to something you find in Manhattan, not Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Service is usually friendly, efficient, and English is never an issue. In Sunset Park, particularly in the Dim Sum palaces, its often point and speak.

Cold appetizers, including cold Chengdu mung bean noodles are more popular here than hot appetizers like the Sichuan staple Dan Dan Noodles. Although there was nothing particularly wrong with the Dan Dan last time. The griddled simple veggies here are usually a must get for us. Over time we settled for the cauliflower and string beans. No matter how much I try to replicate them at home, it doesnt come close to these flavors. The string beans, unlike at other Sichuan places dont come topped with pork but quite flavor packed nonetheless. Its not on the menu but it should be.

One of my favorite Sichuan dishes is dry fried fish fillets, and the CTX version (“hot and spicy fish fillet” on the menu) didnt disappoint. The only miss last time was the Chongqing chicken, a classic I usually enjoy. The chicken was a bit overly diced, and so too small to balance the strong flavors, though the pineapple fried rice helped. The Kung Pao chicken was more like it, and a fitting dish for the occasion. Its like a nice bridge between American and Sichuan… sweet, sour, and just spicy enough to remind us where we are. Happy New Year!

Chuan Tian Xia
5502 7th Ave, Brooklyn
Recommended Dishes: Pineapple fried rice String Beans, Cauliflower, Hot and spicy fish fillet, Kung Pao chicken

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A Day in Brighton Beach

Well, hours really these days. In the winter, Brighton Beach and its Atlantic winds can feel like a Siberian beach resort. Especially on frozen tundra days that sneak up at you without warning. You know, the days when you open the door to leave the house and before you know it, you are sliding down the stairs on your bum, and the streets are flooded with people lying on their back. Dont bother calling 911 if the person is awake since that is the first question they ask. So a fun Brighton Beach day is cut to a couple of hours in the winter where we do some quick shopping and beg restaurants to turn on the heat and invest in vestibules. Yes, new word for me too.

Rain or shine, or Sharknedo, the “Russian” neighborhood of Brighton Beach, along with Sunset Park are probably my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods to explore. The borough may not be as diverse as Queens, but it has a remarkable number of distinct neighborhoods, led by these two. I will write in more detail about Sunset Park in the future, but today I will focus on Brighton Beach. Though if you happen to be a long time follower (many thanks to both of you), there’s not a whole lot new here. Ok, maybe just enough.

A recent influx of Uzbek and Georgian immigrants helped put the quotes in “Russian”. Although Russian is still the common language, its no longer the dominant cuisine. Even the food store “Taste of Russia” changed its name but that’s another story. Its not your grandpa’s Brighton Beach, and not even your dad’s. My old favorite dollar slice, back when dollar slices was not a thing because that was the price, is now a Starbucks. Getting a Knish is pretty much impossible these days. I used to sell them at Volna on the Boardwalk which quite remarkably still exists, especially considering every other space on the Boardwalk is owned by Tatiana today.

Speaking of Tatiana, a long, lazy lunch on the Boardwalk is something we dont do enough. Or pick up an oversized Shawarma sandwich at Little Georgia around the corner on Brighton 6th, sit on the boardwalk and watch the world go by. Who knows, you may even get invited to join the Babushkas of Garden of Joy (adult daycare). Outside the winter months, we dont miss a chance to walk the boardwalk halfway to Coney Island and back. But as a tourist you may want to walk the length and end your day there (or vice versa). On many summer evenings and Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur, the boardwalk transforms into one heck of a Passeggiata.

Back to the Boulevard, just about every visit these days involves picking up frozen Pelmeni (Russian dumplings) at the Ukrainian long timer Ocean View Cafe. The pictures of Nicolas Cage on the walls are gone now, but long time patrons remember Lord of War. Over the years we switched from Siberian Pelmeni (veal, pork, beef) to chicken as the former started to taste too gamey for Mrs Z. You can obviously have them inside as well, along with a fine Borscht. Or at least as good as Borscht can get.

Ziggy’s Guide to cooking Pelmeni: The classic way: Boil for 8 minutes, add butter, a few splashes of red wine vinegar, black pepper. My way: Boil for 8 minutes, mix with a Chinese style dumpling sauce (I like this one along with Momofuku’s or better yet Fly By Jing Chili Crisp), top it with sauteed veggies like Cauliflower or Zucchini

Then its usually crossing the street for another long timer, Vintage Gourmet Specialty Food, or as we call it, “the chocolate store”. We pick up some Halvah, and chocolates that are either hard to find, or just cheaper than other gourmet markets. Back in the day the store was half the size today, although its not large by any means. My weakness is dark chocolate, preferably with pistachios, and the selection here is unmatched. But you also have a nice selection of Turkish delights (its Turkish owned after all), teas, spices, nuts, and much more.

The street crisscrossing here can be tiring as many drivers still confuse the boulevard for the French Connection chase location (It was actually filmed in Bensonhurst). That means its time for a snack. One of the things that hasnt changed much over the years is that you can still get street food off the street. The mini supermarket right next to Vintage, Gold Label sells meat and veggie filled Pirozhki from its window for as long as I remember. Its just a little tricky to time the freshness sometimes, as very few snacks are as satisfying (and cheap) as a fresh beef Pirazhok. For the similar but different Uzbek Cheburek, I would head to the corner on Brighton 5th, or better yet Kashkar Cafe on the “quiet side” of BB. More on this gem later. Golden Label is also the perfect size store to explore, especially the prepared items, and cakes. Say what you want about Russian food, they know how to make killer cakes.

From the old to the new, and a little detour. The Georgian bakeries and restaurants seem to be multiplying, not only in BB, but all over Brooklyn these days. 10 years ago, no one heard of Khatchapuri and Khinkali. These days you see these Khatchapuri love boats even in Manhattan. But the place that started it all is Tone Cofe on Neptune. Its one of the oldest if not the oldest Georgian restaurants in the city. And the first one to use a “Tone”, a Georgian oven where the dough is smacked inside by hand, and removed with a special stick. You can have a pleasant meal inside their adjacent restaurant, but these days we come to purchase their best in the hood Kharcho (Georgian beef soup), bread of course, and sometimes when we feel naughty, the regular pizza-like Khatchapuri, as opposed to Adjaruli Khatchapuri (cheese boat)

While less noticeable than Georgian and Uzbek, Brighton Beach also has a much bigger Turkish presence these days. If I have to name two things Russians love besides Russian food, its Sushi and Turkish. In some of the small supermarkets like Black Label you will often find a sushi chef doing his thing. And besides the delights of Vintage you also have the new Güllüoglu Baklava on Brighton 1st pl for more imported and homemade sweets. Vintage recently started importing artisanal Baklava from a top bakery in Turkey to intensify the BB Baklava wars. For kebabs or a more complete meal head to Beyti Turkish Kebab, one of the better lunch specials around.

Manhattan will soon get its first Tashkent Supermarket and the young professionals will soon learn about Plov, Samsa, Monti. and the consequences of going to an Uzbek super store hungry. In the original in Brighton Beach, I’ve had too many in and outs due to the crowds. On weekends they sometimes employ Japanese train pushers to move people by the Plov section. Hence I mostly shop at the less chaotic Ave Z location. They dont just have one kind of Plov (Pilaf), but a variety that covers every “Stan” kind. These days we lean toward the chicken plov, but the classic lamb and the rest are excellent.

Eater

Roughly half of my trips to Brighton involve a visit to Kashkar Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants in the entire city. Now that I no longer run food tours I can share all my secrets. One of which was a meal at Kashkar Cafe, the first Uyghur restaurant in NYC, maybe the US. Although its not much of a secret in NYC anymore, or even the world apparently. I ran into Fiona Shaw once on a tour here. Uyghur is essentially Uzbek on crack. In addition to Lagman soups (hand pulled noodles), expect a drier Geiro Lagman, and Juvova dumplings, the Uyghur answer to Pelmeni. Exceptionally fresh Cheburek (like a Pirazhok), Samsa, and really excellent kebabs. Homey, family operated places as such are increasingly hard to find in other parts of the city.

You are now in the “quiet side” of Brighton which has a much different feel since the subway is not hovering above, and businesses on only one side of the boulevard. But similar nut stores, buzzy bakeries like La Brioche, and gourmet supermarkets like Netcost are worth checking out. Or forget everything you read here, and just follow your nose and the crowds. You may bump into the same places, or maybe discover something I havent. At the end we’ll all agree that love it or not, there’s nothing like Brighton Beach in North America.

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Pecking House – Birds of Paradise

I feel like sharing with you something very few know about me. You may want to sit down for this one. In 36 years of living in NYC I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. Tried once off the NJ side, saw the line and turned around. I figured since I live here I have all the time in the world to do it and she and I are not going anywhere. For the same reason it took me three years to try the Cronut. I was just passing by one day, saw no line, popped in and just bought one.

The FOMO thing just doesnt really work for me in NYC. Hype is often just that, a product of a marketing collaboration very few can afford. Maybe if I had lived in Bologna, I could see myself getting anxious to try a new Sichuan joint, and maybe miss an intimate Tortellini in Brodo filled evening. But NYC is the city of a million options, no matter the Borough. Yes dear friends, even on the island of Staten, I can now have decent Thai, Ramen, Filipino, best Sri Lankan, and maybe even the best Taquerias in NYC.

Pecking House, yet another product from an Eleven Madison Park alumni (see Milu) has spent three years as a pop-up in three boroughs before finding a permanent home in Park Slope. By that point the chili coated fried chicken already reached legendary status in NYC. A pop-up in this case doesnt mean the traditional kind. You had to add your name on a waiting list that meant waiting weeks sometimes. At some point there were close to 10,000 waiting for a crack at the bird. When your turn came you were assigned a day and time where you could pick up your order.

Pecking House

After one too many “Best Fried Chicken in NYC” calls, I’ll be lying if there wasnt any FOMO at all in this rare case. After a few years of hearing about it, I finally put my name on the list. But when my lovebird was ready I didnt make the effort to cancel all my plans for this. Over time FOMO evaporated and I forgot all about it. Even when the news of a permanent brick and mortar opening in Park Slope, I figured I’ll wait a few months and let the lines subside. But since Winter is Coming I couldnt wait too long.

It was almost disappointing when there was no line at all last Sunday, and I was able to easily snatch a table for two. Like at Milu you order up front, take a number and wait a few minutes that feel like hours for your order. The best way I can describe the chicken is this. They offer it naked (lightly seasoned, not spicy at all), Salted egg, and Chili flavor. The Chili was so satisfying, I may never try the other two, ever. It matches my taste like your old Nike shoes you still wear even though they have holes in them. Crispy without being too crispy, spicy without being too spicy, and just juicy enough.

Pecking House essentially perfected what the former colleagues at Milu do best. But that’s not all. Take the sides of a fast food place like Popeyes and see what Eleven Madison Park cooks can do with them. Most order the Dirty Fried Rice (dirty due to the rich chicken liver bits), and Mashed Potatoes with Duck Heart Gravy, rightfully so. But dont underestimate the Butter Bean Salad with an addictive sesame vinaigrette. The perfect order here for two is two two piece orders (one side each) and an extra side. Even the drinks here are elevated like the Elderflower Soda. If you enjoy putting Elderflower liquor on anything (good with bud light lime) you will enjoy this.

Pecking House
244 Flatbush Ave (Park Slope, Brooklyn)

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5 Underrated Italian

Dell’anima Tajarin

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

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

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

Pollo al Diavolo

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

Busiate

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

Cappelletti

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

Monkfish

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

Categories: Brooklyn, Gramercy, Flatiron, Midtown West, New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

This is Green-Wood

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

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

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

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

Some of the notable sights at Green-Wood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Canda

Click anywhere below to see the images

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Brooklyn Food Tour Update

Frequently Asked Questions updated.

Most important is a new meeting point.  Due to extensive construction by Gran Morsi, I’ve been experimenting with a new location for a while, but will make it official now.  We now meet at Mattress Firm Tribecca (yes with two c’s) – 140 Church St.  Thats in Manhattan, not Brooklyn.  Its on the corner of Warren and Church, but we meet on the Warren side.

As usual please check your email prior to the tour for any changes.  Construction is spreading all over NYC like wildfire.  Its a poor analogy these days but its true and sad.  I may need to change the meeting point last minute.

The tour keeps evolving.  Less emphasis on Dumbo (due to, you guessed it, construction).  More emphasis on Brighton Beach (Added my favorite Georgian Bakery), and Green-Wood Cemetery.  Look for a blog post on the latter soon.  Dumbo was a minor stop anyway.

One of the most fun changes, for me at least, is a new game we now play.  I tell a lot of stories during the tour, and one of them is false.  At the end of the tour you will try to guess the fake story.  I started doing it mostly with Australians as a way for them to pay more attention and stop looking for squirrels 😉

Unlike the other two tours, this one is not bookable on Trip Advisor/Viator yet.  Best and only way to book is via email.  EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

Tour Details here

Reviews here

Complaints here

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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

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