Brooklyn

Brooklyn Tour FAQ

Updated: Feb 4th, 2019

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” New York

What time does it start and finish?

9 to around 4-5 although an earlier finish time can be requested.  I’m usually around the pickup location 15 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 per person for just 2 people.

Is Food included?

Yes.  In all three tours (East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn) food is always included

Can I come solo?

Yes!  But as long as I can combine you with another group.  Many solo travelers have joined this tour, and its a great way to meet other people.  But I need at least two people for the tour.  If I dont have any tours scheduled on your dates, I would dot your name/email and contact you as soon as I schedule a tour

When should I book?

As early as possible, and as soon as you know your dates.  Considering the size of the tours, these book fast

How do I book?

Just send me an email with your dates, and the number of people. EatingWithZiggy@gmail.com

How many people can the tour include?

4 to 5, or as many as I can fit into an SUV with a folding third raw.  4 comfortably plus 1 smaller person in the back.

Where is the pickup location?

22 Warren st (outside of Gran Morsi restaurant) in downtown Manhattan.  Its very convenient to most subway lines and our purpose.  The goal is to leave Manhattan asap and have as much time as possible in Brooklyn.  I may on occasion, depending on the situation pick from convenient locations in Brooklyn (most Brooklyn locations like Williamsburg are not very convenient for this tour)

Where is the drop off location?

Just across the river in or near Brooklyn Heights.  Traffic patterns in the afternoon often make it very difficult to drive to/from Manhattan, but I will make it as convenient as I possibly can for you.  Many prefer to be dropped in Dumbo and walk Brooklyn Bridge back, concluding a wonderful day in Brooklyn.  Some prefer to be dropped at the most convenient subway station.  Its just one quick subway stop from the pickup location.

What neighborhoods are we going to see in Brooklyn?

Dumbo – Brooklyn’s most scenic, Instagrammable hood
Red Hook – One of NY’s most trendiest, up and coming neighborhoods.
Green-Wood Cemetery – Possibly the most beautiful and important cemetery in the US.  Once the number one attraction in the city.
Brighton Beach –  The nations biggest Russian speaking neighborhood.
Coney Island – Perhaps the most iconic Brooklyn neighborhood.
Sunset Park – Home to the most genuine Chinatown in the US today.
Brooklyn Heights – Brooklyn’s richest and most historic neighborhood.

If we have time:  Prospect Park South – An historic district consisting of large homes in a park-like environment

What are we going to eat?

All sorts of good stuff.  Nothing is set in stone as some places close sometimes and the tour does change on occasion (it gets better).  But it may include a visit to a chocolate factory, experience the best key lime pie in NYC, Portuguese egg tarts, Chinese, Uzbek, Uyghur, Texas style BBQ.  We will also visit some International stores and supermarkets.

Should I make dinner plans?

No!  Unless its late, after 8:30 or so.  You will probably not be hungry for a while.  This may be a good day to have some late pizza and I can certainly help with that.

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 anything remotely close to this tour 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 bus 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 people in the tour.  If you want to see other parts or eat other foods like pizza, we can.

How much walking is involved?

Not much.  Between 15 to 30 minutes in each neighborhood with plenty of stops to rest

What about rain, hurricanes, sharknedo?

I normally never cancel unless its severe weather… snow storm or 100% heavy rain throughout the day.  Most of the time this can only be predicted the morning of, or the night before.

What movies can I watch before the tour?

Moonstruck
Saturday Night Fever
Mister Robot (TV show)
Brooklyn
The Warriors
Lord of War
Sophie’s Choice (Let me know if you watched it as I may need to take a detour)

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.

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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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Avlee – My Big Fat Greek Dinner

avlee-branzinoGreek food has become all Greek to me over the years.  I used to frequent the Greek kitchens of Hell’s Kitchen like Uncle Nick’s and the aptly named The Greek Kitchen for many years.  But a combination of newer, more exciting neighborhood offerings, along with their inability to cook meats to the proper temperature consistently, contributed to an abrupt stop.  Then there was Elia in Bay Ridge, a family favorite for years, that generally delivered, albeit with a heftier cost and a bigger Mediterranean emphasis.  And since we go to Europe more often than Astoria, there’s a better chance for us to eat octopus in Santorini than Queens.  Avlee Greek Kitchen, a little dinette in Carroll Gardens felt like a taste of Astoria in Brooklyn

It starts and ends with the boss.  As with any household I suppose.  I just finished all my chores for today, and I’m given the green light to watch first week of Football and write to you fine folks about Avlee.  Multi-tasking.  Well I still have to take out the garbage and take out the dishes from the dishwasher but its too soon for that.  Thankfully I havent quite graduated from putting the dishes inside the dishwasher.  Apparently I’m doing it all wrongavlee

Andrew Poulos who runs the show at Avlee was practically born with a spatula inside a Greek kitchen.  Andrew grew up in Bay Ridge where the closest thing to Greek food in the 70’s, and 80’s was the Greek Diner.  I know because I was there as well for much of that, visiting the same Greek diners.  Nowadays we just call them diners.  Andrew spent much of his youth in Brooklyn Heights in his father’s restaurant.  One thing that separates people like Andrew from the more famous chefs out there who went to culinary schools and worked in the trendiest kitchens, is a lifetime of experience in how to connect to the customer.  You can tell much from talking to him, and you can tell even more from talking to his relaxed and happy staff.

The comfortable room is small and simply decorated, with the open kitchen spreading on one side.  The menu reads like a typical Greek eatery with all the usual suspects.  Except that in this case everything is prepared with special care and the absolute best ingredients they can get.  Avlee after all, means “Garden”, and much of the ingredients come from Andrew’s own garden.  Avlee doesnt have a freezer.avlee-apps

We started with the classic spreads.  A trio of Tzatziki, Hummus, and Tirokafteri (feta, bell peppers, jalapeno, cayenne) which stole the show with its wonderful front-end heat.  The Greek chunky hummus made me momentarily forget that I belong to creamy camp (sounds like a summer camp for fat kids).  We liked the Tiropita, like mini flaky “bourekases” filled with feta and eggs.  One of my favorite Mediterranean staples is stuff (figs, olives, dates) wrapped with cured meats, and here the figs stuffed with feta and wrapped with prosciutto delivered an enticing sweet and savory combination.  The prosciutto gave it a nice oomph.

avlee-octopusThe octopus should tell you everything you need to know about this place.  Instead of dressing it with heavy dose of romesco, chorizo, greens and/or potatoes as so many do, what you got here is the bare bones in its purest form.  A gorgeously thick tentacle, perfectly tenderized and charred with a light dressing of olive oil, capers, and mustard seeds.  Fresh as if hours before it was swimming near the coast of Portugal minding its own business.  One of the better Octopuses as of late (bested more popular spots like Aurora a few days prior).  Click on the picture for the full affect.

No complaints about the main course either.  A whole grilled Branzini I couldnt cook better myself (I try and try).  It was accompanied by two sides not pictured.  A Kale and Chickpeas salad which I liked more than Mrs Z.  And Gigande, those tender large beans baked with onion and tomato, tasted like a distant dry cousin of the sickest borscht on the planet.  Finished off with a a fine Baklava.  I’m not Baklava’s biggest fan even though I love everything nuts and honey but this one was satisfying.

In full disclosure, the circumstances of this review are different than my regular posts.  I was invited to Avlee by Andrew for a comped meal in exchange for a review.  As I mentioned back via email, a review would follow only if the meal is good and worthwhile to write about, as I seldom write negative reviews.  Thankfully, any unpleasantness was easily avoided after a very enjoyable meal.  Everything I wrote is true, including my chores.

Avlee Greek Kitchen
349 Smith St (2nd/Carroll), Brooklyn

avlee-figs avlee-wine

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Werkstatt – Ich Habe Gut Geschlafen

Werkstatt PretzelI slept well that night.  Like a baby caressed by his mother’s bosoms while sucking on a Jack Daniels soaked pacifier.  It was that kind of night after that kind of evening at Werkstatt.  A gamble of sorts, bringing my entire family to a place I’ve never been before for a family celebration.  A high percentage gamble considering the Austrian fare, though in reality all that was required was a Schnitzel, and a fan.  Comfort food on Coney Island Ave is not so new to us (see Nargis Cafe), but comfort Austrian cuisine, boasting a former 4 NYT stars chef is like having a Michelin Star restaurant in the Staten Island mall.

Werkstatt BeerSo why did it take 9 months for me to get to Werkstatt?  Because its the lone Google Star in an area that I rarely visit.  Ditmas Park is like Family Guy.  I never seek it, but when I bump into it, I stick around and delight in its offerings.  Though something tells me I will be back sooner than later.  Not so much for the other places in Ditmas Park, but this particular one.  Where the German beer just keeps flowing, and the pretzels keep coming.  Well, one pretzel really, which comes with its own Lipitor.

Or is it “Liptauer”, a buttery, cheesy, peppery, paprika infused mixture that requires a German born pretzel the size of half a pretzel cart to enjoy.  Forget the mustard, dip this beast in the Lipitor.  That pretzel was pretzel perfection, and it was making me thirsty!  A silky smooth, light Belgian Witbier (white beer), a perfect match to the humid day.  The smoky pan fried Brussels Sprouts with lemon habanero aioli was more like a side dish but a required order nonetheless considering how satisfying.  But the winner early on was a sauteed Calamari and Kielbasa blend, a gorgeous combination I’ve never seen before.

Werkstatt CalamariEveryone was more than satisfied with their Chicken and Wiener (pork) Schnitzels including my buds from the one bite.  A fine, juicy, homemade Bratwurst came with sauerkraut and potatoes.  And an exceptionally tender slices of goulash-like beef shoulder with bread dumplings that took me straight to Salzburg.  This was a special, which in Werkstatt require paying attention, or you may miss the world famous Viennese Sacher Torte.

As much as I love my sweets, chocolate cakes rarely excite, and the one here (Sacher) wasnt an exception (nor in Vienna).  But if there’s anything the Austrians are good at, is desserts, and boy oh boy there were good at Werkstatt.  The crepes, the nutty Linzer, the creamy hazelnut torte, they just kept coming, and wowing.

This was also an especially fun evening for Thomas Ferlesch and family (wife and daughter).  Not only visited by a world famous blogger, but also by Mimi Sheraton, a former influential NYT ciritic who handed the then young Ferlesch 4 stars back in 1981 when he worked for Vienna ’79 (UES).  A happy, sentimental Ferlesch was running around all over the homey multi room place like a 24 year old again.  Or perhaps he’s always like that, who knows.  The best compliment I can give any such place is that if I would have had this meal in the cuisine country of origin, it would still be considered a good meal.  Something I can not say with the vast majority of the places we go to.  Go!

Werkstatt
509 Coney Island Ave
$$$
Recommended Dishes: Pretzel, calamari, Brussels Sprouts, Beef shoulder (special), Goulash, Sausage Dessert

Werkstatt Brussels SproutsWerkstatt beef shoulder Werkstatt Spatzle Werkstatt Schnitzel Werkstatt Sausage Werkstatt Dessert Werkstatt Werkstatt Out

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

Lilia – Cacio e Perfect!

Lilia Agnolotti

February 23rd, 2018 Update:

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned.  Its been 643 days since my last meal at Lilia.  Its just that it continues to be one of the toughest tables in Brooklyn.  You either need to have friends in high places, or low places.  Or just call at 10 am when they open 30 days out.  Thats the biggest tip I can give you on this update.  10 am!  Not 10:01, not 9:58.  10!  Its imperative that you try the simple brilliance of Missy Robbins, and do it soon.

Add the Fettuccine to the list of classics.  Robbins uses a thin but potent Tomato Passato with spicy lamb sausage and Fennel seeds.  After the initial palate shock, it settles down into one heck of a “Red Sauce” dish.  Another new hit for me is a starter of Roasted Trumpet Mushrooms, rocket, balsamic, and Sicilian almonds (the best almonds on the planet).  Rocket?  Yes, I said, Rocket.  We are apparently the only country in the world that calls it Arugula.  Lilia gets 3 very solid Z’s.

May 24th, 2016 Post:

This burg has changed.  30 years ago, when I was a young shy boy-man growing in Brooklyn, Williamsburg was the place I used to go to fix my car.  The immediate area around Lilia, including the building that houses Lilia, was like one giant Auto Shop extravaganza.  Since I grew up poor, my first cars used to break often, and so were my visits to North Williamsburg.  Sometimes I would even need a little push on the BQE to make it to my destination.  Oh the good ol’ days.  There was no other reason to go to the area until we discovered Sea, the cheap, clubby Thai temple that is still going strong today.  My Thai preferences shifted as I got older, but Sea was the place where we could have fun as a group, and still save for those car mechanics.

Fast forward to 2016, my auto shop is now a bank, and the area overall has clearly, how do you say, gentrified? (a little Top Secret humor).  Gentrification, a term every New Yorker learns at some point.  Like when you discover the last remaining $1 dumplings place in your neighborhood has closed, or when grandpa announces during Thanksgiving dinner that he can no longer receive happy ending at his salon.  Now we travel to North Williamsburg as a family for pizza, Maine seafood, and Cacio e Pepe renditions that puts some of the neighboring borough great Cacios to shame.Lilia Cauliflower

Lilia delivered the type of meal that almost makes you want to move to Williamsburg (Parking, and lack of reliable auto shops stand in the way).  Although my team of critics and I had to wait a month to score a table (damn you Hot Lists and all your informative wisdom), the initial feeling upon enetering is that of a comfortable neighborhood spot where you just want to hang on a Sunday night.  Roomy, bright, high beam ceilings, and did I mention roomy?  A luxury these days in North Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Even when you consider the number of employees almost match the number of diners, no one is on top of you, and the space makes you want to get up and run around, with scissors, naked (I’m seeing someone about that)

Lilia Bagna càudaThe menu reads like a beautiful mashup of Italian and Dr. Seuss.  There was pasta, meat, veggies, little fish, big fish.  Or perhaps the ultra talented Missy Robbins is a PJ Harvey fan (She wasnt there to ask).  The punchy Cacio e Pepe Fritelle, from the cocktail snack section, is a must get starter.  Little fried balls of awesomeness.  The Bagna Cauda, a Piedmont specialty of veggies you dip in an anchovy garlic sauce was like the Best of Union Square Market album.  I would order this just for Robbins’ ability to pick the finest of the bunch.  Then there was this perfectly cooked Cauliflower with hints of Spicy Soppressata, Sicilian Pesto.  If there are trends all over town these days, Cauliflower and Cacio e Pepe are right up there.

The pastas here are so good, that by the end of the meal you find yourself playing “lets rank the pastas” with your neighbors.  I won!  The yellowest, longest, most beautiful, straight from an orthopedic pillow infomercial, Agnolotti, filled with Sheeps Milk cheese, and finished with butter, saffron, honey, and much needed acid from dried tomato that completes the dish.  At most places this would be #1.  Here its #3 from the three we tried.  The ‘imperfect’ Malfadini looked and tasted pretty perfect to me.  Take your average Cacio e Pepe, change the pasta to something with more texture, sharper cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, and pink peppercorns, and you essentially got Cacio e Pepe on crack cocaine.  And then comes the tomato-less Pappardelle with veal and porcini ragu.  Quite a contrast and an upgrade over other such ragus all over town, one of which by Via Carota I’ve had days earlier.  What a difference.  Its all about the slow braised meat and its juices, reminiscent of the Ostera Morini meatless Stracci with mushrooms.

Lilia MalfadiniNormally after a start like this, secondis rarely wow.  They wowed here, but not without some quibbling.  A veal steak, far from your average veal, was cooked to pink perfection with plenty of flavor to boot from the Serrano peppers, herbs, lime and the rest of it.  The size was certainly there, but what was missing considering the previous dishes, and the price (almost $30, forget exactly) was at least one more vegetable.  The magnificent Black Bass with Salsa Verde, on the other hand, came on top a roasted potato, but was missing more bass.  Minor quibbles when considering the entire meal.

Missy Robbins was Barack Obama’s favorite chef in Chicago before he became president.  With a name like that its surprising to learn that Lilia is her first owned restaurant.  While I need another visit or two to make it official, Lilia is a top 3 Italian, and a shoe in for the Z-List.  Mazal Tov 😉

Lilia
567 Union Ave, Brooklyn
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Fritelle, Bagna Cauda, Mushroom, All pastas, Veal, BassLilia Frittelle Lilia Pappardelle Lilia Veal Lilia Black BassLilia

 

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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