East Village

EV Bites – Of Foxes, Pizza, and Smores in Paradise

Smor - Potato SaladEV Bites is a [whenever I feel like it] feature that showcases five places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to surrounding hoods and maybe even mention a name more than once.  The neighborhood of East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Previously on EV Bites:  The Dumplings Belt

Smør –  Want to see the saddest looking McDonalds in the city?  Head to East Village.  No matter how many places like Smør open in this area, you never have enough fast food, or fast casual spots around.  Smør specializes in exactly that, Smørrebrød, Nordic open faced toasts.  It starts and ends with the high quality bread from Union Square market.  The Potato salad will just about be the best potato salad you’ll ever have.  Fantastic Smoked Salmon is a given.  But the best item on the menu might be the Hangover (Roast Beef) Sandwich, best enjoyed with a light headache or morning after guilt.

Mister Paradise – I only write about bars if they happen to have exceptional burger food.  Mister Paradise has at the very least, some of the best bar burgers in the city.  The patty is of good quality, perfectly cooked meat, topped with bacon-infused american cheese and caramelized onions.  And for $12 good value to boot (fries are separate and good).  Add a not too shabby, if slightly on the dry side, fried chicken that comes with truffle and Habanero honey duo.  For drinks, for something refreshing try the Party Lobster – blanco tequila, mezcal, campari, watermelon, lime, fermented habanero, garlic

Mister Paradise Burger886 – Sometimes new places “expire” in my head, and I forget all about them, before they resurface somehow out of their hiding.  This Taiwanese was hiding in plain sight right on the busy, glitzy side of St Marks.  886 offers one of the better lunch specials in the area where you can choose dishes like the visually pleasing sweet Taiwanese Sausage and Fried Rice, and the absolute best Popcorn Chicken I’ve ever had.

886 - Taiwanese Sausage and riceVillage Square Pizza – Pizza joints in all shapes and sizes come and go in that part of the island.  The intense competition in the area created a survival of the fittest environment, except that its almost impossible to determine the fittest.  Sometimes I try new pizza and can pretty much pinpoint the month they’ll close (Rolio Pizza), but then there’s the curious case of Martina.  Village Square is run by former employees of the famed Prince Street pizza in Soho.  This is where you can get the famous Pepperoni Sicilian (square) without the hoopla (meaning tourists), and their signature white (fresh ricotta, garlic, mozzarella, honey).

Village Square PizzaFoxface – I told you about this ‘Hers and Hers Closet’ sandwich gem inside the William Barnacle speakeasy.  Well now that the NYT discovered it as well, you’ll need to take a number and wait for your sandwich just a little longer.  But its well worth it.

Foxface

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Jiang Diner – Forming the EV Silk Road

Jiang Diner - Big Plate of ChickenJust when you thought the East Village Chinese food scene can not possibly get any better, or lacking in any area, comes Jiang Diner representing Xinjiang province.  Its beginning to look a lot like a Chinese geography lesson, and the formation of the East Village silk road that strongly resembles the real thing.  Roughly between 5th and 12th street, one can now visit Xinjiang, dose on lamb and cumin in Xi’an, and bath in the silky noodles of Dunhuang.  I may be missing a place or three in the plethora of Chinese eateries in the area, but this pilgrimage alone should keep your belly happy for a few hours.

Its geographically fitting that Jiang on 5th st is the first stop.  The province of Xinjiang after all, was one of the first stops on the silk road.  Specifically the westernmost (or one of) city of Kashgar which is home to the Turkic Uyghur minority.  Long time EWZ readers and those that took my Brooklyn tour know my fascination with Kashkar Cafe in Brighton Beach, our truest representation of the Uyghur cuisine.  But while you can taste some of that muslim influence at Jiang, its quite different than the Brighton legend.  Kashkar leans toward the cuisine of Uzbekistan where its owners moved like many others, while Jiang is undoubtedly Chinese.

Jiang Diner

Jiang is far removed from a “diner”.  No parm, no bacon, lacking a waitress named Louise who works there for 47 years, and as far as I know no coffee refills.  Well, there’s no coffee, period.  But this being East Village, you can get a decent espresso with a side of risotto next door at Risotteria Melotti (I forget that this place exists).  Jiang is bright, colorful, and so far on all my visits, fairly empty.  Judging by the food however, that may change.  Or not.  It doesnt have much in the way of looks, sex appeal or trendsetting dishes.  Its signature dish is the “Big Plate Chicken With Bone”, and its second signature dish is “Big Plate Chicken Without Bone”.

Always, always go “with bone”, whether its chicken, fish, or anything in life really.  A block away east at Hunan Slurp, one can get an outrageous bony fish plate.  The only time I’ve seen The Big Plate of Chicken in NYC is at Spicy Village in Chinatown.  Heaps of delicious chopped dark meat over thin soft noodles, potatoes, and a sauce you want to secretly pour into your empty water bottle and ask for more.  But this is not even the first sauce I’d steal here.

 

The Big Plate of Chicken comes in two sizes, small and large.  I’ve had both.  The small can easily feed two, and the large 3-5.  The three of us still working on it after I brought it home yesterday.  Ordering the big plate in the small size is like ordering the small size of the “Medium roast of the day” at some coffee shops.  When I said “medium small please” at the Porto Rico Coffee Company at the new Essex Market, I inadvertently created an Elvis and Costello routine and ended up getting a “medium medium”.

Try the Lamb Shumai.  Thats where that Uyghur influence comes through.  While it doesnt look anything like the Uzbek Manti, the flavors reminded me of those large steamed dumplings.  Jiang’s version are easier to eat.  The Steamed eggplant may be even better.  It comes almost pureed, and its garlicky scallion dressing reminded me of Danji’s famous tofu dish.  The stewed lamb ribs seem expensive when compared to the rest of the menu, and at first taste even bland.  But once you sprinkle some of the accompanied cumin seeds and homemade chili paste, its quite good, albeit fatty.  The chili paste reminds me of some of the better Israeli S’hugs (yemeni hot spread) out there.  I can, and did, eat this stuff with my chopsticks.  Next time I’m bringing a small jar.  This is a Go!

Jiang Diner
309 E 5th St (1/2), East Village
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Big Plate of Chicken, eggplant, lamb shumai

Jiang Diner- Shumai

 

 

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EV Bites – The Dumplings Belt

Mimi Cheg's - Mopu TofuEvidence of the “Pierogies/Vareniki Belt” can still be found on 2nd ave in East Village, dating back to the late 19th century when Ukrainian and Polish immigrants started flocking the area.  Less than a quarter of the 100,000 at the peak, still remain, and the percentage of the Pierogi shops dwindled even more.  We are down to Little Poland near east 12th, the Pierogi speakeasy of Streecha on 7th, and the Pierogi kingdom of Veselka, arguably the most famous and popular Ukrainian in the country.  I may be forgetting one or three.

But these days for every Pierogi joint there seems to be 5 dumpling shops popping up on or off 2nd.  While it may be premature to rename it the Dumplings Belt, there are various articles out there calling East Village our newest and hippest Chinatown.  If it is, its a Chinatown that looks like Little Moldova just as much.

With that said, here’s where you can find some of the best Dumplings on/off 2nd ave these days.

Silky Kitchen – Its not a question whether there’s any legit Hunanese joints in this area, but how many are out there now.  Silky’s dry noodle dishes pack a punch, but its the delicious beef and daikan dumplings that makes me keep coming back.  137 E 13th (3/4)

Silky Kitchen

Mimi Cheng’s (top) – The story of the two sisters (Mimi’s daughters) is inspiring, and the ultra-fresh ingredient driven dumplings in a way reflect that.  While all the dumplings are good, locals flock for the unique monthly specials and collaborations like Foie Gras, black truffle, chicken a la NoMad Chicken, and the explosive Mapo Tofu dumplings available this month.  179 2nd Ave (11/12)

Dian Kitchen – Off off 2nd ave, Husband and wife team dishing out silky Yunanese style noodles based on family recipes.  The pan fried dumplings feature your basic pork/chive/cabbage filling and they are just about perfect.  Well balanced, crispy and delicious.  435 E 9th St (1st/A)

Dian Kitchen Dumplings

 

The Bao – These guys are so serious about their soup dumplings that they stopped making them once they realized they lost their touch.  They were on a break (“Friends” style.  Btw, to learn which member of Friends lives near the Bao, you need to take the East Village tour.  Sorry, papa needs to pay the bills!).  They took their time to relearn how to do it right and these little bundles of joy are now back.  And its worth mentioning the awesome Spot Dessert Bar downstairs.  13 St Marks Pl (3rd/2nd)

Xi’an Famous Foods – Chain or not, the Lamb dumplings at Xi’an is a thing of beauty.  They are the size of large meatballs, boiled and carefully ladened with a killer combination of vinegar, soy, chili paste, and chili oil.  The sauce is so potent, that I wouldnt hesitate to order the spinach dumplings here instead on my healthy every first Monday of the month.  81 St Marks Pl (off 1st)

Xi'an Famous Foods

 

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Fiaschetteria Pistoia – Under the Alphabet Sun

s

May 6th, 2019 Update:

It was a rough start.  Last time at Pistoia, we were greeted by the first Pistoia we met that didnt have a heavy Italian accent.  No, its not like myself or Mrs Z have a Fish Called Wanda Syndrome (you need to remember the movie well to understand).  Its just that over the past few years we got accustomed to a certain atmosphere at this ultra Tuscan.  But rest assured, our waitress quickly explained and fixed the situation, switching to fluent Italian.  And then we never saw her again, which we appreciated in a strange way.  This is why…

One of the biggest differences between eating in NYC and Italy is the number of front of the house workers you see.  For a typical mid-range establishment here you may witness a manager, a host or two, 4 servers, 2 busboys, and one or two bartenders.  Its roughly more than double the amount of workers you find in a similar size place in Italy.  Last time at Pistoia (original East Village location always.  Since the last update, another West Village location added), we counted a total of four people handling a packed house, and a sidewalk.  That hustle meant waiting 15 minutes more for my bill, but that also meant a lighter bill, and a different atmosphere.  At Pasquale Jones last week, we saw twice as many employees and half the customers.

Its worth coming here for the creamy Zucchini flan alone, or for some of the silkiest, sweetest prosciutto you’ll find in the city.  Not much changed in the all fresh pasta department.  The square Maccheroni now features a fine and very Tuscan Cinghiale (wild boar) ragu.  The Pappardelle with the beef ragu still rocks.  And although the Picci lost some of its roundness, its the most peppery, creamiest Cacio e peppe out there.  The biggest discovery this time was probably the splendid Chocolate Panna cotta, but you cant forget about the Tiramisu here.  Upping Pistoia to three stars, as this is slowly becoming a family fave.

Pistoia

April 2nd, 2018 Update:

Turns out Pistoia handles family style like they do with their families in Tuscany.  A feast for the ages for $55, house wine included.  Highlights:  The oh so silky prosciutto I cant get enough here.  The tiny but potent Zucchini flan.  One of the best simple Spaghetti with red sauce I’ve had in a while.  Perfectly cut and cooked Pappardelle topped with hearty slow braised meat ragu.  And delicate veal cutlets braised with Tuscan wine.

I rarely get this much satisfaction from a group.  The big reason is the people running the place.  You are not dealing with a corporation and an expensive super fixed menu.  You are dealing with owner Emanuelle who will not nickle and dime you and will make sure everyone leaves satisfied.  One of my favorite new Italian in NYC.

September 26th, 2017 post:

There’s Off the Beaten Path, and then there’s Avenue C.  When I first heard of Fiaschetteria Pistoia about 6 months ago, I had to see it to believe it.  You hear about places open in Alphabet City, but rarely so far east.  Its a good news, bad news situation for residents and the many students who call East Village and Alphabet City their home.  It’s great to see businesses open and thrive, but at the same time we may be looking at a rent squeeze.  On the bright side, I’m now able to sit outside on Avenue C.  Something I wasnt able to do not too long ago during the more violent days of the Alphabet (I’m using Marvel lingo here.  As in “we need to defend our [Hell’s] kitchen)

You almost assume that any town just outside of Florence would be sleepy when compared to the tourist mecca nearby.  But Pistoia, just west of Florence on the road to Lucca (another gem) is filled with culture and nightlife.  And in the middle of that nightlife is Fiaschetteria La Pace, the big brother of Fiaschetteria Pistoia.  Fiaschetteria, in the more traditional sense means a small wine bar, more associated with Florence.  Back in the day, Tuscan wine was brought in from the vineyards in straw-bottomed bottles called Fiasche and sold in these tiny open wine bars, like street food.  A dying breed just like the Lower East Side Jewish delis that once roamed around the area where Pistoia calls home

 

Pistoia is as far removed from Italian/American as a place can be in NYC.  Much of the staff including the cooks, a family and friends affair, from you guessed it, Pistoia.  A human pasta machine in full display busy making the Picci, a rarity in NYC because its slightly more labor intensive.  Limited but adequate English throughout adds to the charm.  Even the wine “menu” may seem strange to some.  A basket with 8 house wines, dropped on a table or chair near you to explore and sniff.

There’s only one thing that sings Tuscany more than Picci.  Pappa can you hear me?? Pappa al Pomodoro a rustic dish not so easily found in NYC.  Mainly because tomato mush (“Pappa”) with stale saltless Tuscan bread doesn’t usually scream fine dining.  But this is indeed a good one.  Many may also bulk at the idea of Picci served Cacio e Pepe style.  But in south Tuscany this kind of Roman influence is common, and Picci got a bit more of a bite.  And yes, you even have a Cinghiale (wild boar) sighting here.  Here it is served with Maccheroni, a pasta that is a little more generic than I’m usually led to believe.  I was expecting tube shape, but got flat noodles that you can use to make little tacos with that meat Fiaschetteria Pistoia Pappa al Pomodoro

In Pistoia, Maccheroni Sull’Anatra (slowly cooked duck ragu) is usually served on an annual July festival.  In Alphabet city I can get it any day now.  This regular (I’m told) special became my favorite pasta here after three visits.  On the last visit, I also enjoyed Crostone Fagiolino, another Pistoia specialty of bread topped with cooked prosciutto, chicken liver and Mushrooms.  Eating this requires a little work, but it pays off overtime.  Standards like Prosciutto and Tiramisu are top notch here.  Tiramisu is so good in fact that I havent tried any other desserts here.

Fiaschetteria Pistoia
647 E 11th (Off C), East Village
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Any of the Prosciuttos, Zucchini flan, Pappa al Pomodoro, Crostone Fagiolino, Spaghetti, Pappardelle, Maccheroni (any), Picci Cacio e peppe, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta

 

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Foxface – Sandwich Academy

It took me a while to warm up to this one.  After all, I was a fan of the previous tenant, Feltman’s of Coney Island, a hot dog joint with a story.  The reincarnation of the original Coney Island Red Hots, invented by Charles Feltman in 1867.  Owner Michael Quinn, packed and left about 6 months ago, and a sandwich shop now occupies the space inside the William Barnacle Tavern (a former prohibition era speakeasy) on St Marks.  My level of enthusiasm needed some time to get going on this one.  What can they possibly do in this tiny ‘hers and hers’ closet size kitchen?  Magic apparently.

The available space was ideal for Ori and Sivan who live in the same building.  According to EV Grieve, they grow some of the ingredients in the garden behind the building.  A Zero Kilometer Slow Food destination if you will.  Maybe they even have a few black pigs roaming around the back munching on East Village acorns.  How else would you explain the hard to get Culatello (Prosciutto so prized, it has its own name) that was featured one week.  The rotating ingredient driven, whimsical sandwiches keeps Sivan and Ori on their toes, and fun to follow on Instagram.  And their brief stint in Tokyo taught them a few tricks.

It starts with the high quality bread from Pain D’Avignon which they also sell separately.  The sandwiches rotate based on availability of carefully selected ingredients and to some degree… Sivan’s dreams.  When she dreamt about camels, camel meat made it to the menu.  When she dreamt about being attacked by angry Bisons, there was revenge in the form of Bison Heart with Tehini, pickled onions, and greens.  On occasion, You may see the cleverly light “Oh Boy”, wild Argentinian jumbo Red Shrimp with homemade shrimp sauce and pickled tomato.

Some sandwiches include their orange based spicy sauce that elevated Mrs Ziggy’s already fantastic chicken cutlets back at home.  They sell the bottles now for $5.  No matter what sandwich you select, the three to five ingredients dance together in harmony, producing a well balanced combination.  But if I have to pick one sandwich its the signature Smoking Fox – Smoked Boneless Rib, Coleslaw, pickles and that zesty hot sauce.

EWZ historians claim that this is the first post about a place with less than two Yelp reviews (one as of this writing).  This is some strong stuff, and a lesson to us all.  When you come across a seemingly low overhead business, dont dismiss it quickly.  There could be a creative team behind it, that likes to dream.

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Hunan Slurp – Substance Over Style

Hunan Slurp - Pepper and PorkIts 14:30, I just finished another East Village tour, and I’m hungry.  An inside peek into my head… “I still have time for Hunan Slurp before the kitchen closes for a smoke break.  Or should I just get another sick sandwich from Foxface?  Where exactly did I park my car?  If I sprint to the car with the sandwich, will it make it or get all soggy.  How do you spell mausoleum anyway?  Its cold and I really feel like noodles, preferably swimming in something spicy.  Ok, Tatsu Ramen it is!”.

I did end up having one of the better bowls of Ramen this winter at Tatsu, called “Bold Ramen”.  But the Hunanese noodle joint on the same block is where my thoughts are these days.  I picked Tatsu because I’ve been to Hunan Slurp so many times lately, I’m having my Amazon mail forwarded there (yes I switched from Dell’anima after a complaint was issued).

Hunan Slurp - Hunan Salad

Hunan Slurp, along with Le Sia, Szechuan Mountain House and some others is leading the charge in what is dubbed by some as “Chinatown North”.  A most important Chinatown that looks nothing like a Chinatown.  The past five years saw an explosion of young entrepreneurs opening shops covering a variety of regional Chinese cuisines.  While they are young, the kitchens are staffed with very capable, experienced cooks.  And a more recent phenomenon is popular Flushing and Sunset Park joints like 99 Favor Taste, and Szechuan Mountain House testing the waters of the more glamorous East Village.

Contrary to the what the title may suggest Hunan Slurp is stylish alright.  In fact its one of the most tastefully decorated restaurants in the area.  A lesson in restaurant design. Thats because owner Chao Wang who grew up in Hunan’s second largest city, is a former artist.  But in a city where style over substance is much too common, its always refreshing to see stylish spaces where the food is the real attraction.  Its a first date for foodies kinda place.  Here’s the food rundown…

Hunan Slurp

Hunan Salad – This is a thing of beauty and not really “Salad” by any means.  Preserved eggs wrapped in eggplant topped with pepper and dressed in soy and sesame oil.  Like Baba Ganoush with makeup.  A must get.

Cabbage – Sounds awful.  Looks even worse.  Who wants to eat a plate titled cabbage?  Me!  After my first introduction to Chinese style cabbage at the Fei Long Market in Sunset Park I never looked back.  When done right its addictive.  And this one ladened with garlic, chili and soy, was one of those.

Fresh Whole Fish – Possibly the best thing I’ve eaten all year.  The whole fish is chopped so it looks like fillets with bones.  Covered with garlic, ginger, and a supremely flavorful homemade chili sauce

Hunan Slurp - Fish

Chicken – The closest dish to American Chinese, and still a good get.  Stir fried chicken with young ginger.  The hot plates here can seem pricey (this is $25) but they are very shareable.

Hometown Lu Fen – Probably the closest thing on the menu to a signature dish.  Sliced Beef, Char Su, Peanut, Cucumber, Bean Curd, Crispy Soy Bean and plenty of silky thick rice noodles that sucked all the little amount of broth.  Pretty sure I sat next to Terri Hatcher while eating this.  I didn’t ask, but she did ask me if I’m Ziggy, and I said no.  Don’t like to be bothered while eating

Pepper & Pork – Mifen (rice noodles) is the specialty here.  There are all sorts of nifty combinations on the menu, and this is just one of them.  Its like soup topped with a delicious juicy stir fry.

A rare 3 Z’s!

Hunan Slurp
112 1st Avenue (6/7), East Village
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: All of the above

Hunan Slurp - ChickenHunan Slurp - Hometown Lu Fen

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EV Bites – Goodnight Almond Croissant

Patisserie Florentine - CroissantsEV Bites is a monthly feature (well sort of.  I may have skipped a few), that showcases five places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to surrounding hoods and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Foxface –  The smallest kitchen in the village keeps attracting the most interesting stuff.  Inside the William Barnacle Tavern/Theater 80, out goes Feltman’s Hot dogs, the rebirth of the inventor of the hot dog (or Coney Island red hots) and the best hot dog in NY.  In goes Foxface, the little Sandwich shop that could.  It took me a couple of months to try it, because that’s how long it takes me to get excited about a sandwich shop, but man was it good.  One bite of the well crafted, balanced Smoking Fox (smoked boneless rib, coleslaw, pickles, homemade spicy sauce) is all you need to understand.  Its owned by a duo that used to own a cafe in Tokyo.  Quite the ingredient driven little place, starting with the bread they get from NYC’s elite like Pain D’Avignon and Fat Witch.

Hunan Slurp – Possibly the most important opening out of the countless of Chinese openings over the last few years.  Half of my meals in the area as of late are here.  A fresh Z-list addition.  Cant say enough.  The incredible whole fish, the cabbage, stir fried chicken, Hunan Salad, and the signature Hometown Lu fen.  I will have a dedicated post when the time comes.

Hunan Slurp

Hunan Slurp

La Rossa – Hate the generic sounding name, love the pizza.  This is from yet another Italian pizza legend, Stefano Callegari who owns some of Roma’s best and the inventor of the Trapizzino.  We are just missing Bonci (Interestingly he owns two in Chicago).  I like to start my pizza relationships with a light no frill meal which means a basic Margherita, and this one did not disappoint.  Although from Rome, its more Neapolitan-style featuring a light and airy dough with great ingredients all around.  But the pizzas to get are most likely the Roman inspired Carbonara and Cacio e pepe baked with ice in order to “glue” the ingredients better.  Technically just inside Soho on Lafayette.

Dunhuang Noodles – Its getting to the point where its hard to limit this feature to just one Chinese, but they are all so very different.  Dunhuang specializes in Northwestern Chinese food, and is growing a la Xi’an Famous.  In the winter I usually crave spicy noodle soups, and very few in the area beat Dunhuang’s Braised Beef Noodles and Lanzhou Beef Noodles these days.

Patisserie Florentine – Is no more!  That group from Canada that makes the semi-annual pilgrimage to Patisserie Florentine after pre-ordering ALL their Almond Croissants will soon get the painful truth just like I did.  Only in East Village a place with a perfect Yelp score offering a legend-esque product can still close.  I’ve watched these Almond Croissants make countless of people smile over the years on my tours.  But hey, its East Village.  There’s plenty of fish in this sea.

La Rossa Pizza

La Rossa

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EV Bites: The Hanukkah Edition

Tatsu RamenEV Bites is a monthly(ish) feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  The East Village neighborhood, in case you’ve been living under a rock, or Staten Island is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Silky Kitchen – I cant keep up with all the new Chinese in the area.  The depth and the range of the different kinds of cuisines and types of establishments is overwhelming.  Silky is another Hunanese noodle quicky.  The dry noodle plates pack plenty of flavor, with the noodles being a tad too silky and soft for my taste, but still good.  The dish to get so far is the beef and Daikan dumplings.  Very close to dumpling Perfection.

Silky Kitchen Dumplings

Tatsu Ramen (top)- Its Ramen season here.  But when is it Ramen season in LA exactly?  Tatsu is an LA based Tonkotsu Ramen shop that operates like some shops in Tokyo.  Walk in, order your food and drinks (even if it means free water) from the iPad on the wall, slide your card, and bring the printed receipt to the host who will sit you.  On your table you are presented with all sorts of condiments including fresh garlic for your annual fresh garlic press.  My “Bold Ramen” wasnt quite bold but above average, not too rich porkiness.  The pork belly was sliced thin which I prefer, and the egg was a soft boiled whole which I also like.  Another great fast casual option on 1st

Vish – I mentioned Vish in a recent Hummus feature.  But after a few more visits its becoming more and more evident that this may be the best Hummus in the city.  Its not a question of whether they make Hummus daily but how many times each day.  The result is silky smooth, as creamy as it gets without being watery, with fantastic flavor to boot.

Vish Hummus

Vish

Martina – The super competitive environment in East Village sometimes produces mysterious results.  Places open with “success” written all over them, sometimes unexpectedly close or change.  Martina abandoned the Roman fast casual concept, and as of last week its a full service restaurant, inching a bit closer to big sister Marta.  While the concept is different, the value is pretty much the same.  The pizzas are more expensive, but two inch larger, the beans and the rest of the hits are still on the menu, and there are some new additions.

Hi-Collar – There are a few guarantees in the East Village.  Veselka and Cafe Mogador will be packed for Brunch.  You will find black Squirrels in Tompkins Park.  And Hi-Collar will have a line outside mid afternoon.  Its a Japanese coffeehouse by day, sake bar by night, owned by a guy (Bon Yagi) that owns quite a few establishments in “Little Japan” (East 9th, 10th).  Come for the Omurice (fluffy omelette over rice), stay for the Mentai Pasta – like the Japanese Cacio e pepe

Hi-Collar Mentai Pasta

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EV Bites: Why East Village

 

Instead of the usual monthly EV Bites, I figured I’ll spend a few minutes talking about the dynamics that makes East Village the best food neighborhood in NYC, therefore North America.  It will be quick, and painless, and delicious.  And I will offer a few names as exhibits A, B, C, D (a little Alphabet City humor.  Though I’m a little tired as I’m writing this and not entirely sure how funny it is, and whether I’m making sense at all).  But here it goes.  There are enough names here to cover at least two EV Bites posts

A few weeks ago I was talking to another young entrepreneur like myself (stop laughing!), the owner of Dian Kitchen, a Yunnan fast casual just opened in East Village (rice noodles, cold chicken salad, fiery sweet potato fries – Go!).  Not surprisingly she said that East Village was the only area she was able to find affordable space in Manhattan.  This is something I hear often, and is sad and scary in a way.  But the unfortunate reality is generating a lot of fortune for the NYU residents, and young professionals living in the east

Due to that “affordable” rent and availability, East Village has slowly morphed into an incubator for up and coming talents like Alex Stupak, Marco Canora, David Chang and even Bobby Flay started his career in EV.  It breeds corporations.  Its ultra competitive environment these days helped generate mini chains like Mighty Quinn’s, Otto’s Tacos, and Luke’s Lobster.  As the saying goes, “If you can make it in East Village, you can make it anywhere”.  Ok no one really says that, but its true.  When the opposite occurs, a successful establishment in another neighborhood opening a location in East Village, success doesnt come nearly as quick, as evident by the cricket sounds at Frisson Espresso (really good coffee but so empty).

This competitive, survival of the fittest environment helped generate an incredibly diverse selection of cuisines and establishments that are really good at what they do.  If you are simply an above average Szechuan or Isan, chances are you wont see your one year anniversary.  On my tours I often use Filipino food as an example.  While you will be hard pressed to find a Filipino restaurant in [Name any other Manhattan neighborhood], in East Village you have a quiet Sislig Sisig war.  Same goes for Venezuelan.  You can even find International stores, spice stores, and more obscure cuisines like Georgian, Jamaican, and even something called American food (Ducks Eatery).

And you get the sense that there’s something in the East Village air that keeps the owners on their toes.  Whether its Marco Canora reinventing Hearth, Nick Anderer perfecting Roman pies, or Will Horowitz inventing new foods.  These guys are not exactly counting on tourists, office workers, or local residents to simply walk by, but become destinations to New Yorkers looking for the best.  They dont rest because they cant afford to.

But it wasnt always a great food neighborhood.  For a while it was simply the place to get Pierogies.  You still can do that at Streecha (They are back after summer break) and of course Veselka that still boast hefty brunch lines.  But the Pierogy belt is now surrounded by Little Japan.  And Little Japan is now surrounded by quite possibly, our richest (culinary wise) Chinatown.  This is more of a fresh phenomenon where Queens establishments like Szechuan Mountain House and Dun Huang are now testing EV palates.  They are joining the likes of first timers like Le Sia and Dian Kitchen, and the more established Xi’an, the Bao, and Han Dynasty.  Dozens of new Chinese opened in the past few years and most of the survivors are excellent.

And then there’s exhibit M.  It is easier for me to find a McDonald’s and other American chains in Madrid than East Village.  EV is down to one sad looking McDonald’s on 1st ave.  The last time a Starbucks opened, there was a quiet protest by the local residents.  EV boasts the highest percentage of coffee shops per capita on the east coast.  And the vast availability of cheap foods like tacos, Arepas, and Japanese noodles can be head spinning at times.  There’s a good reason why I chose East Village to run food tours.

 

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EV Bites – Taco Crawl

Tacos Morelos

Tacos Morelos

EV Bites is a new monthly feature, showcasing 5 places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to Nolita and LES, and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisines.

In this issue I’ll focus on Tacos.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, or in Staten Island, you are missing out on a Taco renaissance.  These are the golden years for taco lovers, and its just getting better and better.  This crawl features 4 places and an unrelated dessert that is convenient to the crawl.  The only thing to keep in mind here is that Empellon usually opens at 4 (1pm on weekends), and the dessert place may be closed in the evening.  So check the times.  Its best to do this on weekends.

Shrimp Tacos at Otto’s Tacos – I’ve tried every taco here over the years but I keep coming back for this deliciousness.  A good example of the so many NYC mini chains today that started in East Village.  Try the Horchata here as well

Carnitas at Taqueria Diana – While I prefer the Hell’s Kitchen location, this is solid enough.  The sitting may be sparse but this is a walking crawl, not a sitting one

Break time – Check out The Museum of American Gangster, and the prohibition era speakeasy on St Marks

Beer Braised Tongue at Empellon Al Pastor –  The namesake taco is excellent, but once I discovered the Pork tongue it was no going back.  Its all in that delicious, tangy sauce they make that elevates this thing.

Cochinita Pibil at Taco Morelos – This s possibly the most authentic of the bunch, and East Village overall.  Wonderful, tender, slow roasted pork on a homemade tortilla is hard to beat.

Break time – Check out whats happening in Tompkins Square Park, my favorite NY park.

Almond Croissants at Patisserie Florentine – Finish with some of the best Almond Croissants you’ll find in NYC.  Though the Canelles arent too shabby either

One of these stops is an important stop on this world famous East Village tour

Enjoy!

 

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