Gramercy, Flatiron

Upland – Make American Great Again

Notice the all important extra letter. This is not a political post. Quite the opposite actually. Its a celebration of our great uniter, American cuisine. Whatever that means. Since USA is relatively young compared to the rest of the world, its a bit complicated to define, even though you have enough examples of it (burgers, pastrami, bagels…). The label is often used more as a default when you cant call it anything else, except Italian in some cases. But we often categorize restaurants simply based on the origin of the owner/chef, as is the case with Upland.

Upland menu is as American or Italian as it gets in NYC, but it bills itself as Californian. Chef Justin Smillie who since left to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, named it after his hometown in California. Maybe its my software engineering background, as I like things to be orderly for search purposes among other reasons in this case, but is it really necessary to break down the American tag into states? I can only imagine the poor Google or Yelp engineers trying to figure out the impact of adding a new category or subcategory. Upland is the only restaurant in NYC currently labeled as such. Does the signature burger, a creative riff on In-N-Out has something to do with it? Is it the grilled peaches?

Perhaps its the seasonality. Though we do have a label for upmarket seasonal American: “New American”. An Italian visiting NYC for the first time, will feel more at home at the pizza and pasta dominated Upland than a Californian. Sometimes restaurateurs try to be cute, and differentiate themselves in a crowded field, but more often than not, its best to keep it simple. Be bold, but be proud. Its American. This is not a rant by the way, but an observation. Its a celebration, remember?

Upland is a bright star in the Philly based Starr group’s huge portfolio that includes names like Buddakan, Pastis, and of course, the shiniest of the stars, Jackass Burrito. Upland got everything going for it. A prime Flatiron location. A deep American and Italian greatest hits menu. A striking, high ceiling, trendy looking space. And unlike many of its peers, it survived the pandemic. Its the type of place you can bring a date, new coworker, or host a 70th birthday celebration. On a recent visit, we witnessed suits, and gym attire.

Whether you come for Brunch, lunch or dinner you will face a very full menu. Though for some reason the much hyped Burger is not available for dinner. The Pizza is exactly what you’d expect from a place like this, except in the case of Breakfast pizza at least you get double the listed ingredients. In addition to bacon, cheddar, egg you get Broccoli, Sausage, Onions and more. It worked just fine for us, but could be misleading for others.

The Shakshuka-like “Eggs in Hell” had a nice flavor but missing something like sausages, or potatoes. The reason that shakshuka works on its own is that you usually get a nice fluffy pita and the eggs are more prevalent. While a dining companion was not looking I borrowed one of her breakfast sausages that made a big difference. Desperate times, desperate measures. This is the only miss from the two recent visits.

In some ways Upland reminds me of Via Carota. A jack of all trades, master of all. Solid pizzas, solid pastas, solid everything else. I couldnt fault anything with the Pappardelle with spicy sausages. And the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe were the best I’ve had in NYC since, well, Via Carota. Maybe even better since not quite as salty.

There are very few starters as satisfying as a nice Stracciatella with honey and grilled peaches. The combination here works so well, making the added Shishito peppers (both turned out spicy) unnecessary. The Duck Wings is a trend setter. I started seeing them more and more since Upland opened. The skin is crispy, well seasoned, while the dark flesh easily falls apart. You know its good as soon as you start operating.

But the best dish on the menu might be surprisingly the cod, and that may not have anything to do with the cod. The flaky fish, while mildly discolored, is expertly cooked. But the mixture of Fregula (Californian for Israeli Couscous), calamari and bits of chorizo really elevate the dish.

Extra brownie points for serving delicious fluffy bread with butter without charge. Refreshing to see these days. Solid drinks, nice atmosphere. In super competitive Flatiron, Upland is still a solid choice for American (with subtle Idaho hints). Its a Go!

Upland
345 Park Ave S (26th), Flatiron
Recommended Dishes: Pappardelle, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Duck Wings, Stracciatella, Cod, Budino

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lamalo – Here’s Why

LamaloBefore I visit a new place I like to spend some time perusing their website.  It paints a picture, and often tells the story.  I love a good story, but they are getting increasingly rare in corporate NYC.  Lamalo site looks like that of a typical modern restaurant in New York, with colorful images of their food, menu, and press galore.  Its always interesting to see what makes the press cut.  In Lamalo’s case, it’s seemingly every possible mention, with the majority about the anticipation and announcement of its much hyped opening. Which really means “our marketing dollars went to good use y’all”.  Not one review.  The only person benefiting from this press barrage is Jeff Bezos.

Also missing is the story.  There’s an ‘About’ section with no mention of Gadi Peleg and his accomplishments with Breads Bakery.  Instead you see a generic “modern Middle Eastern gem nestled in the heart of NoMad”.  Not sure what makes it modern other than higher prices and being inside a hotel.  Or maybe its because there’s no sign.  The concept of Mezzes served as such may be new to NYC but its been around for 1000’s of years.

Lamalo means “why not” in Hebrew, but its often used, almost like slang.  As in “What if we offer a ridiculous amount of all you can eat spreads, dips, and bread for a set price, say $25 per person?  Lamalo?!?”.  Its essentially a glorified all you can eat buffet of tiny plates like hummus, babaganoush, button mushrooms, pickles, and more.  The most memorable was Skordalia, a potato spread infused with garlic and almonds to the point that it tastes more like beans than potato.  The plates surround a “smaller than I thought” laffa that comes fresh out of the oven but dries quickly, and surprisingly not particularly great.  I’d take the Dizengoff/Zahav pita any day of the week.  Except shabbos.

The spreads for the most part are cleverly executed, and diverse enough to keep things interesting.  There’s a certain pleasant flow here.  The problem is, in a way similar to my issue with Zahav, that the fun stops there.  Unlike Zahav, here you do have variety of large dishes to choose from, but the two we ordered left much to be desired.  A Cabbage “Shank” that was braised overnight with a sweet glaze was interesting at first, but quickly got too sweet and boring.  Its a play on Borscht that doesnt work.

Shabtai-Style Fish featured various kinds of unevenly cooked fried filets is essentially a good mother-in-law fried fish.  Its interesting that they call it Shabtai style considering there’s really no such thing, at least not globally that I’m aware.  As for the sides, the Mejadara worked a lot better than the odd tasting Ful (Fava beans) which I normally love.  But perhaps the best dish at Lamalo is the lone dessert.  A perfectly semi frozen Halva Parfait that really hit the spot.  Like a semifredo covered with shredded Halvah.

But there’s simply not enough here to make me want to come back.  Yes, its a playful concept that can be fun for groups, couples, and heck even accountants.  But tiny plates of mostly spreads and dips can only thrill so much.  You spend some time fishing for your favorites before declaring the winners, but still find yourself munching on the undesirable, because someone has to.  Like a polygamist, who got his favorites, but needs to take the others to the zoo sometimes.  But worse of all, he cant add anymore wives.

Lamalo
11 E 31st St (Madison/5th, Nomad)
Rating: 1 Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Mezzes (included), Halva ParfaitLamalo Halvah Parfait

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Rezdora – Grandma Power!

WDid I ever tell you the story of my mysterious volume spike?  A few years ago, I looked at my site and noticed the number of page views suddenly skyrocketed.  Mainly due to the post on Hosteria Giusti in Modena I wrote a few years prior that suddenly went viral.  And there was no indication why.  There was no referral site like Trip Advisor or Facebook which was the culprit for similar spikes in the past, like the Top NOLA bites that went viral on Facebook.  It appeared that people were sent there from simply googling “Hosteria Giusti”.  But why so many Googling?

The answer came about four months later.  Heard of Netflix and Chill?  If not, and you are a parent, you may or may not want to Google it.  But in my house, its more like Netflix and Sleep, with almost zero chance of Chill.  One day we started watching Master of None, Season 2, set in, you guessed it, Modena, a sort of Foodie paradise in Emilia Romagna.  But it was only when Aziz Ansari celebrated his birthday in Hosteria Giusti, that little light in my head finally turned on.  The next morning I googled it, and sure enough, my story is on the first page.  The spike started the day the season was released.

“So what the fuck does all this have to do with Rezdora, Ziggy”.  Great question Timmy. I’m getting there.  And why so angry today?  Hosteria Giusti is a 400 year old deli in Modena that takes a stupendously long lunch break and transforms into one of the north’s toughest tables.  Unless you have the adorable looking face of an Aziz Ansari, reservations required many months in advance.  For me it was easy because I do happen to have the adorable face of an Aziz Ansari.  More like a cross between Aziz and Tom Branson from Downton Abbey.

Tom

Anywho, this requires some more investigating, but chef Stefano Secchi the owner of Rezdora, might have been at the helm at Giusti during our lunch.  Although he grew up in some Italian city called Dallas, Secchi got much of his inspiration at Giusti and Osteria Francescana, one of the only restaurants in the world where you book the restaurant first, and THEN book flights.  Rezdora is an homage, not only to Modena, arguably the best food city in Europe, but also to the Nonnas that make it happen.  Its not entirely clear to me if Rezdora means head of household or Grandma in Modenese dialect.  It depends on who you ask.  Maybe in Modena, the grandma is usually in charge.  Not so much in NYC.

While we have plenty of restaurants that call themselves North Italian, or offer cuisine from Emilia-Romagna, none are nearly as representative or daring as Rezdora.  This is Modena cooking.  There’s a certain level of Chutzpah required to introduce this level of authenticity by way of dishes that may seem odd to the natives.  Like a Raviolo, which by definition means one Ravioli (and its a good one).  New Yorkers may know Ravioli, but not Raviolo.  Still, this is the right city to do this.  You may not get the same results in Boise.

Reservations are tough to get as of now.  But we showed up a few minutes before opening (5) and were able to get sits at the bar on a Saturday night.  When we left two hours later, there were sits available.  The best thing I can say about the service, and any service, is the staff seemed happy, genuinely enjoying what they do.  Here’s the food rundown…

Rezdora

Eater

Cherry season in Vignola – Vignola is a town near Modena known for its intense cherries.  Here its paired with creamy Stracciatella and almonds.  It is meant to eat with bread that doesnt exist unless you order the Fett’unta, an oily, garlicky toast.  It paired well initially or at least until the garlic from the bread took over the mic.

Gnocco Fritto – This is a classic Modenese specialty of fried dough balloons that pop when you bite into.  The Gnoccos vary from town to town between Parma and Bologna, but this is pretty much what you get at Hosteria Giusti.  Each one is topped with either Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella or Finocchiona.  If you are sharing and feeling selfish, go for the Mortadella.  If you are on a first date, go for the Prosciutto.  Then Mortadella.

Tagliolini al Ragu – If you ever had the ultra eggy Tajarin in Piedmont, or Tagliolini in ER, this is as close as it gets in NYC today.  Its an explosion of flavors.  What we call here Bolognese is essentially a poor attempt to mimic this, the original.

Uovo Raviolo di Nino Bergese – One large ravioli, and a brilliant combination of Ricotta, runny egg, Chanterelles, and fragrant summer black truffles shaved on top for good measure.

Cow grazing in Emilia Romagna – The names of some of the dishes alone show that Massimo Bottura influence.  This is pretty much what you expect from a sirloin in a high end restaurant.  Perfectly cooked quality beef with three delicate sauces.  The meat is so good on its own, you hesitate to try the sauces.  But they dont do any harm.  Mix and match for best results.

Chocolate Tart – This is were things just fell a little flat for me.  There was a Tiramisu and another dessert, but this one looked most interesting.  A not so inspiring dark choc tart with hazelnut mousse.

Poor lighting translated to some horrible iphone pictures this time, so borrowing some from Eater.  Read Eater!

Rezdora
27 E 20th St (Brwy/Park), Flatiron
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: All of the above except dessert

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Simon & The Whale – Not your Grandpas Hotel Dining

Simon & The Whale - CrudoWhile we were dining at Simon & The Whale the other day, we noticed something thats becoming less and less peculiar these days.  We were the oldest people in the room by what looked like quite the margin.  That includes the wait staff.  Our waiter could have been the son I was never given (even though he confused Dorade for a Sea bass, something my son would never ever do).  But didnt all these kids get the memo that hotel restaurants are horrible tourist traps?  They may not have lived long enough when it actually was.  In NYC at least.

And so where is the “mature” hanging out these days anyway?  We were also the oldest at Broken Shaker, the rooftop bar at the same hotel (Freehand).  Some kind Millennials asked us if we were lost and offered help.  Did the entire Generation X move to Staten Island?  Oh never mind.  Found them in the Upper East Side.  But are we getting closer to Young Pro City that just got accelerated with the introduction of Hudson Yards.  I’m a soon to be 49, frontal balding Tour Guide middle aged professional.  Where do I belong?

Simon & The Whale

Courtesy of Freehand

But these days, hotel dining in NYC is not only perfectly acceptable, but trendy.  Just look at The NoMad, The William Vale, The Freehand, and any other hotel that begins with “The” these days.  They all offer a plethora of creative chef driven dining options.  And your ears perk a bit higher at the sound of “At [hotel name]” these days.  For example: “The Magician at Mikes Pub” vs “The Magician at The NoMad Hotel”.  There’s no question which magician I just have to see.  The competitive dining and real estate environment today means you can no longer afford to have a hotel restaurant that sucks.  Is that all good news? No, not really.  But let’s leave that for another gloomy day post.

Simon & The Whale along with The Studio and George Washington Bar at The Freehand is run by Happy Cooking Hospitality founded by Gabriel Stullman and his wife.  With the hotel launch, HCH essentially transformed into a dining empire, adding to a resume that includes Fedora, Bar Sardine, Joseph Leonard and other places I dont really frequent.  Matt Griffin, the Fedora and Bar Sardine chef, is now at the helm at Simon & The Whale, named I believe after Stullman’s son who likes to play with whales.  A practice we dont endorse here on EWZ.  Its a seafood focused New American menu.  Which really means fancy food that can not be called Italian or French.  Although it’s one or two pastas shy from Italian.

Simon & The Whale - Whole Fish

Black Bass Crudo – If I have to pick one dish, this might be it.  Mrs Z said the sauce reminded her of her childhood. A ratatouille moment if you will.  But I think she was just under a major Spritz  influence by that point.  It was just a nice spiced miso.  Along with the sliced radishes (daikon I believe) and the crunch of the puffed rice, this was a very pleasant bite

Smoked mussels – Fine but skippable. You fish them from a small jar and spread on wheat crackers.  Not overly flavorful or smoked.

Squid ink Tagliatelle – Very nice, albeit there’s really no squid ink mixed here as the name may suggest (to some).  Its simply black pasta (made with squid ink) mixed with fresh seafood, with a little heat.

Simon Burger – Had this on another visit and as expected just a solid burger from the team that got burger fame at Bar Sardine.  Well cooked meat, and top notch craftsmanship.  And the crunch from the crispy shallots tricking your brain to believe there’s an especially nice sear here.Simon & The Whale - Burger

Whole Fish for Two – Expertly cooked Dorade.  For two really means for two in this case. Very often dishes for two can be for 3 or 4.  Served on top a thin, delicate Madras curry, and creamy white butter beans (fava).  Delicious but a bit overpriced at $60.

Cauliflower (side) – Listed as a side, but closer to an appetizer we sometimes see in middle eastern places.  Its good.

Almond Milk Panna Cotta – Possibly the best Panna Cotta I’ve had in NYC.  I find that chefs often mess around with Panna Cottas way too much, but this was just perfect.  The combination of the cream, tangerine, and the crunch from the caramelized cocoa nibs worked beautifully.

For drinks she enjoyed the Crazy Charlie, a Spritz-like with Mezcal and grapefruit. My Negroni was a little off but manageable.  The great wine list didnt have many glass options, but there was a rare Grillo (Sicilian white) sighting so I had to take advantage. This is a Go!

Simon & The Whale
23 Lexington Ave (23/24 at the Freehand Hotel), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Crudo, Burger, Squid ink Tagliatelle, Whole Fish, Cauliflower, Panna Cotta

Simon & The Whale - MusselsSimon & The Whale - Squid ink Tagliatelle

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Scampi is the Bomba!

Scampi Mafaldini

I will start this one with the definitions…

Scampi – Langoustines, or small lobsters the size of a large crayfish found throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean.  They are an expensive delicacy in the Mediterranean, and even more expensive here

Shrimp Scampi – A dish made of Shrimp, garlic, white wine poured over pasta.  At least thats the classic way.  There are many other variations out there

Bomba –  Calabrian Chili paste consisting of.. you guessed it… Calabrian chili, EVOO, and pickled veggies in some variations

Scampi the Restaurant – PJ Calapa’s (Costata, Ai Fiori) dream restaurant in Flatiron heavily featuring the three above

The Infatuation – Still clueless!

Scampi

The state of Italian dining in NYC is getting more interesting by the day.  From Scampi alone I can walk a few blocks to Maialino for the Roman classics (another outstanding meal a few weeks ago).  I can crawl to 13th street for the neighborhoody Da Andrea (I’m due).  I can walk to Ulivo, Mercato’s more mature sister, for some Southen Italian (I’m due there too).  Or I can just walk to Nishi (insert smiley with heart eyes here).  There has never been a better time for Italian in the city.  The wealth and depth of it makes everyone question, what is Italian food anyway.

But in order to stand out in NYC these days, you need to be creative.  Whether that creativity comes from childhood memories, working at three Michelin stars, or whatever.  PJ Calapa started in Texas, and worked his way through the ranks of NYC via Bouley, Nobu, and Michael White’s AltaMarea group.  For me it was Costata (RIP) that solidified him on the culinary map.  But Scampi feels like that dream restaurant.

The space is like a lesson in restaurant decoration and design.  It can get loud at dinner times and very quiet and airy during lunch.  The lunch bar seat closer to the front is my favorite seat in the house.  One on night we endured the two seater next to the busy kitchen door where we felt the restaurant’s pulse.  Our waiter, although clearly overworked, was ‘futuristic friendly’.  The type you only see in Sci-fi movies.

Scampi Beef Tartare

The food rundown:

Bomba – This will be on your table when you come in.  Its not meant to be for the bouquet of Grissini (bread sticks – nice touch), but to be combined with the dishes, especially the pastas.  I was eating this stuff with the spoon.  There are rotating pickled veggies mixed in (last time mushrooms).

Razor Clams – Reminiscent of a similar dish he created in Costata. Chopped clams mixed with chives and prosciutto.  Unlike similar dishes we had lately like in Frenchette, this one worked, again.

Scampi Razor Clams

Beef Tartare – Not particularly beefy, but nicely balanced and flavorful. There are quite a few ingredients here to make it happen including Parmesan, chives and the Bomba.

Mafaldini Scampi – This is their signature dish, featured on every table and every review (including sadly Infatuation.  These guys rush to review every restaurant before hitting puberty).  The Mafaldini has that wonderful chew and is a serious contender with Lilia as the best Mafaldini in NYC.  But what makes the dish work is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more) featured in other pastas.  The best way to eat this however is mix some of that Bomba midway.  This is a must get

Langoustines – These better be perfect for $14 a pop and they are.  As usual they come butterflied, and while there’s not a lot of it, the meat is glorious sea butter

Delicata Squash – One of the newest fall dishes.  Nice and heavy, in a good way

Scampi Squash

Octopus – The lone meh!  Slightly overcooked and forgettable when compared to the other dishes

Lumache – This is a hearty pasta dish.  Its a snail shaped pasta (like elbows on crack) mixed with Tarragon pesto, clams, and those crunchy Filone crumbs I can eat with a spoon.

Cassata – If you like semifreddo, get this.  If you dont like semifreddo, get this

Grillo by the glass – Its a bland, but a rare sighting of the Sicilian white.  Its delicious.

Go!

Scampi
30 W 18th St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Razor Clams, Mafaldini, Langoustines, Lumache, Cassata

Scampi LumacheScampi Cassata

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bouley at Home – The Sound of Silence

Bouley at Home5 hours after the meal

We went to a high school award show where about 100 students receive various awards and scholarships.  Behind me was a rather large burly fella, I think, I never actually got a good look but tried very hard.  For the first 15 minutes I was oblivious to the applause in the auditorium until I realized that the person behind me was clapping a little too hard.  At first I tried not pay attention, but things only got worse.  First came the hope, that his hands will hurt and tire eventually.  He never did.  Then came the interviews, where I asked both my neighbors, who I know, if it bothers them.  I figured maybe its just me getting old, adding yet another sound to the growing list of annoyances like bones cracking, or the bird doing the Hava Nagila-like mating call every morning.  Someone needs to either fu@%$k or kill that thing soon.  But both my neighbors agreed that the clapping was loud.

There were about 100 students getting awards that night.  Each student received two sets of applause (when he/she gets on stage, and comes out).  And some receive special awards, adding to a total of 300 applause moments during the two hour ceremony.  At some point I thought I could perhaps ease the pain by envisioning a Seinfeld episode about this.  George experiences the same thing twice with the same dude sitting behind him in two different events.  It bothered George.  He then discusses the mad clapper with Seinfeld and crew, getting blisters while trying to demonstrate.  George then spots the Mad Clapper randomly walking, then proceeds to follow him to wherever he was walking, which turns out to be his granddaughter’s kindergarten play.  He then makes sure to sit behind him clapping so hard, the blisters pop and he starts to bleed and separates his shoulder, much to the horror of some of the kids who started to cry and went to their parents.  At the end he realizes the Mad Clapper is deaf

Two hours before the meal

“David Bowie Is” at the Brooklyn Museum – Crowded!  Silent but crowded.

The Meal

It was hard to imagine while walking on 21st st that somewhere inside all of this craziness awaits tranquility.  But there it was, a spacious multi room ‘Home’ to Bouley’s latest concept.  We sat in the room on the right, which I can only describe as a large library room without the library.  There was peace and there was quiet, rarely seen or heard in NYC.  Bouley himself was my closest neighbor sharing a table with a reporter, and I couldnt hear him, or even clearly see him (I was told that was him).  There were the occasion gentle kitchen sounds and chatter from the test kitchen behind me (I think our room is called the Test Kitchen room, not Library without a Library room.  Although I sort of like the latter and I dont like to feel like I’m part of an experiment).

I wont go into much detail about the 5 course lunch except to say that it was very good.  However I liked the whole experience more than Mrs Z who expected more refined service and food for the price (after tax/tip $100 per).  The standouts came early with the outstanding Oysters, and Porcini Flan.  Three Oysters dressed with lemony mousse like “cloud”, salmon roe and caviar delivering exquisite flavors when combined.  “Porcini Flan” was a delicious earthy soup featuring Alaskan Dungeness Crab, and Black Truffle Dashi.  Mrs Z’s Eggplant Terrine, and egg, ham, polenta dish werent as exciting but very good nonetheless.  Eggs and black truffles heavily featured on the menu.  For mains we both preferred the slowly braised Beef Cheeks with Black Kale Gnocchi over the chicken.  Desserts were lite, serviceable but forgettable compared to the rest.

5 days after the meal – The doctor recommended a white noise device to combat the ringing in the ear to help me sleep.  I think he was secretly taking notes while I recited the Seinfeld episode so let this post serve as legal proof.

Bouley at Home
31 W 21st St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Zs (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Porcini flan, Oysters, Beef Cheeks

 

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Cote – Korean Meat Erotica in the Flatiron

Cote FeastWhat do you give a girl that has everything?  What do you give a city that has everything?  The answer to both is Steak!  Its hard to go wrong with steak.  But Simon Kim of the Michelin Starred Italianish Piora just upped the ante.  Instead of opening just another steakhouse or just another Korean, or Korean BBQ, he created a new concept, a Korean Steakhouse.  Elevated Korean BBQ in a modern, sexy setting in Flatiron.

Its food porn, with a slight emphasis on the latter in this case, “porn”.  It starts as soon as you walk in and settle in the bar, and kicks up a notch when you go down to the basement.  You cant help but stare at the aging steak hanging in the red lit room behind the glass while listening to the soft porn jazz in the background.  Its the meat lover red light district.  The theme continues upstairs where you are presented with the said meat by a team of sharp looking Chippendales.

The bottom line in this post (recommended dishes) is a single item: Butcher’s Feast.  Four very different cuts cooked right in front of you, accompanied by a plethora of Banchan – side dishes.  I would like to meet the people that reported leaving hungry after ordering the feast.  The waiter starts us off with the aged Ribeye that comes with its cap dangling.  The cap, the Ron Jeremy of meats, the least appetizing meat out there, which is why you rarely see it anywhere.  But its arguably the best tasting part of the cow.  Bowery Meat Company in the Bowery uses only cap to for its infamous Bowery Steak, one of the most expensive hockey puck meats in NYC.Cote Meat

The feast continues with the Hanger, followed by a well marbled Wagyu Flatiron (when in Flatiron..), and Galbi, as the “meat dessert”.  Galbi is short rib marinated with soy and sugar.  A curious but logical finisher to the meat course.  By that point of the meal, the entire family flipping those meats like the pros that we are.  Three days later, the oldest makes her first egg over easy.  A week later, our kitchen is in desperate need of a paint job.

It was difficult to keep track of the accompanied sides in this one.  The egg souffle was a particular winner, along with the funky preserved Korean Perilla Leaves.  And I could happily dip my car keys in that spicy Ssamjang sauce if they let me, once we are done with the meat.  Then came the stews, the lettuce, the rice, and the question…  Did I really need to order that Kimchi Wagyu “Paella”.  A fine $28 dish that can easily lose itself in the shuffle, and not all that necessary if you get the Feast.  The feast ends with soft serve which I estimated will please 98.4% of patrons

Simon created something trendy and cool that even the trendy and cool haters can appreciate.  I suppose some traditional steak lovers may find fault with the execution.  And I suppose Korean BBQ aficionados may find issues with the delivery or pricing.  But for the rest of us, this is culinary entertainment at its finest.

Cote
16 W 22nd St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Butcher’s FeastCote Meat room

Cote

Eater

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Nur – Adoni Hagadol

Nur EggplantWe have a Sabra invasion in full swing and no one bats and eyelid, not even Trump.  Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, Taim), Efraim Nahon (Taboon), Michael Solomonov (Dizengoff), Nir Mesika (Timna), and many more, including now Meir Adoni, an Israeli superstar opening his first in NYC.  The falafel kingdom continues to expand with chainlets like Taim, and Nish Nush leading the way.  And we even have a (sort of) Israeli bakery chain in Breads Bakery, whose owner is Adoni’s partner at Nur.  Even my new favorite French dessert spot in East Village is owned by talented Israelis.

But something is missing in NYC, and that something has something to do with the title, and real estate.  When I was in LA last time, we discovered a place called Itzik Hagadol (Big Isaac), a sprawling “fast-casual” (new phrase which I hate but use anyway) spot in Encino, serving Israeli classics like falafel, hummus, babaganoush, and things you dont normally find here like Mititei.  I was into my second Shashlik when I realized… NYC doesnt really have one of those.  If I want to take my extended family somewhere on a whim here, I wouldnt know where to go.  But if I want to take my wife to a fancy Israeli or one that requires knowing the right people who can reserve a table for you 4 weeks in adavnce, I got plenty of options.  Thats NYC for you, and the nature of Manhattan real estate.  Either things are too fast, or too expensive.  “Fast Casual” is lacking here.

NurSo if Adoni wants to open an Adoni Hagadol, I wont even take royalties.  He’s already off to a flying start, hotter than a Shakshuka in the Sinai.  We werent quite sure what to expect from Israel’s culinary idol.  And when we arrived, as often happens when we come back from an extended European trip, we are greeted with a jolt in the way of three greeters.  I think on average the employee/diners ratio is roughly 5 times higher in NYC than anywhere in Europe.  Why do we need three hosts!

 

But the good news is that almost nothing but greatness on those plates….

Honey and Garlic Challah –  I gather that the first two breads on the menu are the highlights here, but I wanted to try something else.  Besides, the Kubaneh and the Sesame Bagel, arent very unique to NYC anyway.  You can get a similar Kubaneh with S’chug and other condiments at Timna, and a fine Jerusalem sesame bagel at Bar Bolonat.  But the Challah was fine, doused with just enough honey and garlic on top, served with pickled onions, and creme fraiche.  While we liked it, I secretly cried a little at night for not getting the Kubaneh after all!

Jerusalem Sesame Bagel – Hagadol serves a bigger sesame bagel.  Nice and buttery, just like the bagels in Mahane Yehuda market, albeit 10 times pricier.  And just like in Bar Bolonat it comes with Za’atar on the side, and an exceptional tehini-like Lima Bean Messbaha.nur Sesame Bagel

Date Doughnuts – Very good and very Mediterranean. Comes in two, along with this addictive curry Citrus Vinaigrette. By the end of the night I dipped everything in this thing including forks, fingers, car keys, and wife’s finger.

Damascus Qutayef – Essentially fried Lamb Pancake.  This was fine.  If I have to pick one dish I wouldnt order again, I think this is it.  The sweet notes were a little overpowering for me.  But the sides of Marcona almonds with cucumbers, and a gazpacho like yogurt chaser at least kept this interesting

Horias – Excellent!  “Lamb Kebab in Pita” is more like mini lamb Shawarmas inside these perfectly crispy pitas with a hint of Amba (Mango condiment).  As some of the other dishes it comes on top of old newspapers for some reason with some pickled veggies.  You can munch while getting up to speed on the latest Cricket wives gossipNur Horias

Eggplant Carpaccio – Possibly the dish to get here, which is ironic considering its the only vegetarian dish outside the bread category.  Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and simply delicious.  Not every bite is the same.  The only minor quibble one might have is that the dish is listed under Big Plates but is more of an app.  Its a big plate alright, but not the content.  Possibly the eggplant to beat after Atoboy in NYC

Sea bass – Well cooked, supremely flavorful black bass, with more eggplant, Freekeh, Broccoli Rabe, and Spring Beans.  Adoni clearly likes his eggplant which he features throughout.

Lamb – Two fine skinny tender lamb loins.  Like the Seabass, all sorts of Meshugas on the plate like a Lentil salad, and what really stole the show for me, a Lamb and Bulgar filled onion.  The “Mains” here made me appreciate Timna even more.  I found a lot of similarities all over the menu but in particular the way the mains were constructed.  Complex and ingredient heavy, but truly exceptional stuff

Nur
34 E 20th St (Brway/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Sesame Bagel, Date Doughnuts, Damascus Qutayef, Eggplant Carpaccio, Sea Bass, Lamb

Nur ChallahNur Damascus QutayefNur Date doughnutsNur LambNur Sea Bass

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Sugarfish – 15 Shades of Grey

sugarfish-sushi‘Twas the night before Sushi.  I was shaving.  That’s when I  usually do most of my deep thinking.  Like when was my last pizza.  Where did I park the car.  And how does Sugarfish handle the huge service demands of an Omakase for an entire house.  How do they serve a house full of people, an 8 course meal and/or whatever else people ordered.  30 minutes into my meal in the Iphone section (aka counter area) of this new Sushi sensation, I found my answer.  They manage to do it by making a lot of mistakes.

My neighbor to the right was the first one, and the luckiest of all.  She got an entire plate of something she ordered and already ate.  Six mouthwatering pieces of Albacore, Salmon, and something else I didnt recognize, to which she asked if she can take it to go (they could not take it back in this case and give it to someone else).  My neighbors on the other side meanwhile kept getting free fish to the point where they got tired rejecting them.  And after I finished the final dish I whispered to the lucky female neighbor, “I’m just not gonna ask for the check until I get lucky”.  I hope she understood I was talking about food, and that this was not just a terrible pickup line.sugarfish

But I didnt get lucky.  Not in that way or the other.  Instead all I got is delicious fish, and the experience of NY’s first affordable Omakase, or so they say.  For Sushi purists Omakase is not Omakase without the masters behind the counter doing there thing, but I’m not a Sushi purist or even a snob.  Instead I was sitting near the Organic Edamame dispenser where everyone’s first course comes from.  A snack that is a small salty upgrade over your corner sushi.  The kitchen looked crowded, and the frenzy was all around me.  It was all exhilarating and comical at the same time.

Sugarfish was conceptualized by Kazunori Nozawa who converted the name into an empire on the west coast (10 locations as of this writing).  The name refers to the melt-in-your-mouth nature of the fish, mimicking that of a child eating sugar cubes.  Which raises another important question.  Am I a bad parent?  I never gave such delicacies to my children, and I’m pretty sure this was not mentioned in Parenting for Foodies.  Mine leapfrogged straight to sushi and aged beef.  But I’m not taking any chances, oh no.  And so before they find themselves on a couch somewhere telling stories about their abusive dad, I’m serving brown sugar cubes as a first course this entire week.sugarfish-tuna-sashimi

The sushi is indeed good at Sugarfish, but your chopsticks and proper skills may not.  One of the first things you will notice is the loose warm rice which is done on purpose, but a difference maker in more ways than one.  In order to apply the right amount of sauce on the fish, and not the rice, you’ll need an MBA in Chopsticks.  So on my next visit, I plan to go the unconventional way of applying sauce, using other methods

At Sugarfish, just about all first timers order one of the “Trust Me” menu sets, which in a way is mislabeled.  It suggests an element of surprise, but really means “Trust Me, you’ll get the same thing everyone else gets since we opened”.  I ordered the middle Trust Me which sounded adequate and it was.  By far the Albacore, a tuna relative, and a nicely marbled Salmon from Scotland were the stars.  The tuna Sashimi early on elevated by the terrific sauce.  While the Sea Bass and Yellowtail bland in comparison to the previous set (the stars) but good enough.  And the handrolls to wrap it up, featured the same beautiful  marriage between cool and warm, but also fine Nori that tasted like the sea and had a nice snap.  And just like that, you can trust them to bring you the check when its all over.

Sugarfish
33 E 20th St (5th/Park), Flatiron
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: One of the Trust Me sets

 

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