Lower East Side

Wildair – Lower! East Side

Wildair SkateCulinary Slowdown.  Its a real first world problem.  Its when a food enthusiast wakes up one day realizing he hasnt eaten anything noteworthy in days or weeks.  Its when a food writer suddenly experiences difficulties coming up with new ideas and writes only about pizza for two weeks!  Its when you sit in a restaurant with your spouse after a mini hiatus and the spouse gives you that “you know, we could have been anywhere” look.  I’ve been there before.

Usually during a culinary slowdown you start to ask questions.  What’s the meaning of all this?  What’s the meaning of life?  Is there a point to this blog?  When I read reviews of restaurants during my travels, I always wonder how do restaurant owners dont end up in therapy.  And then I remind myself that I myself may contribute to the therapy bill.  Who am I to tell Mr owner that his product is shit after one visit.  This is a tough business, and way too many variables involved in a good vs bad meal starting with tastes and expectations.  But it’s 2017, the age of Trip Advisor and Yelp.  And the owners need to… well, own it.  Hopefully at the very least, some look at these as constructive criticism

Wildair

It started so promising.  A little suspicious, but promising.  No waits or difficulties getting a table at a prime time of 7 pm on a Saturday.  And then there was the space under the high top table (like a drawer without the drawer) for the camera.  I suppose you can put forks, napkins and purses in there as well, but it was the big boy camera that finally, finally found its space, a home,

Another variable was the three inches separating us from the guests next to us.  You combine tables into one long commune table, separate one table by three inches, and BAM!  You got privacy.  As a result it was a tale of two hearing aids.  Loud but manageable first hour when the people next to us had a simple conversation.  But when 4 girls, who managed to only communicate by shouting showed up…  It was like passing by a busy construction site, getting whistled at by the friendly workers, and this time sticking around for a good hour.

With all these accolades, its tough to keep expectations unblemished.  Bon Apettit named Wildair the #8 new restaurant in the country in 2016.  But midway in, when the squash blossoms came in overcooked into a messy mush, it started going south.  We did enjoy the seemingly famous, clean tasting, Beef Tartare.  But presentation and flavors were short of similar tartares, some in the immediate area (Estela).  The combination of Littleneck clams, with not too fishy XO, and almond broth worked well.  But there was just not enough of it to fully enjoy between two people.Wildair Tartare

I expected more from another menu staple, the Littlegem Lettuce.  It was citrusy alright but not balanced and flavorful enough to make you forget that you are eating lettuce.  The Skate came oddly covered with the cabbage instead of the other way around.  Perhaps if they can think of a way to open that cabbage like a flower when the plate arrives.  This was one of the better dishes, especially aided by the Sorana Beans.  But a far cry from another Skate by a Contra product (alumni), Gloria in Hell’s Kitchen.

The closest to a saving grace was the crispy warm house bread.  With just about every dish we turned to the bread for comfort and satisfaction.  To me its the true must.  The Chocolate hazelnut tart was simple and fine, while the Panna cotta and green apple granita was too frozen and not so fine.  Combine some granita with the tart and you got something.

Wildair
142 Orchard St (Rivington/Delancey), Lower East Side
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Bread, Clams, Beef Tartare, Skate

 

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Ivan Firing on All Cylinders

Ivan Ramen Chicken PaitanI dont usually update a place this soon, but this is kinda important after yet another fine meal at Ivan Ramen LES.  Weather is getting chillier (or seemed to be a few weeks ago at least), and I cant think of a better way to start Ramen season.  The Chicken Paitan at Ivan is not the Ramen dish that made Ivan famous, but to me it’s right up there with NYC’s best at the moment.  As I described 6 months ago when it came out, “the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness”.

A corn on a cob dish always gets my attention, and this one proved to be a wowzer.   Its Miso roasted with bonito flakes and some sort of Japanese magic dust sprinkled.  The fried chicken, brined perhaps, is another exceptional one.  The Coney Island Tofu with that miso mushroom chili has made it’s triumphant return to the menu.  Magnifique as always.  As is the Triple pork, triple garlic Mazemen (brothless ramen) which has been on the menu since day 1 but somehow eluded me all this time.  Being featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table hasnt made it easy, but reservations are doable.  Go!

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The NYC Trip Report that Left Me Speechless

Annisa SquidAnd starving.  Like, literally starving to death.  There was a point where I realized that the safest time to read Aynat’s (Trip Advisor handle) daily accounts of her NY adventure is between 6 and 6:45, before my stomach wakes up from its beauty rest.  This was not Aynat’s first trip to NYC, and she already logged countless of great meals under her belt.  But this time it became apparent after day two (out of 27) that included a marathon meal at Ko (the best marathon there is), that Aynat picked up her game to almost unreachable levels.  From my vantage point (living room, transferring to kitchen soon) this is the Michael Jordan of trip reports.  The basketball player, not the chef.  Although the chef is pretty darn good too (miss Rosemary’s in Vegas dearly).

I read trip reports on various boards like Chowhound and Trip Advisor on occasion, and it usually doesn’t take long to get a sense of the due diligence involved.  Aynat on the other hand, essentially has redefined food research, and is probably already planning her next trip to NYC (best medicine to post vacation blues..  Alcohol.  Second best.. rebook).  This was 27 days of eating bliss and blissful eating.  After her trip was over, I figured it would be criminal not to write something about this on EWZ, but the challenge was how.  So I asked Aynat to compile a list of her favorite dishes of the trip and here are the results.  Top 20 dishes (comments are mine) with pictures whenever I could find them

Momofuku Ko – Chef’s Multi Course Tasting Menu.  Its impossible to pick one dish from this 18 dish ecstasy.  Its like asking Evander Holyfield which Illegitimate child is his favorite.  Perhaps the best eating experience NYC has to offer at the momenyMomofuku Ko Razor clams

Bowery Meat Company – Bowery Steak with Salsa Verde, Whipped Potato.  The ribeye cap, arguably the cows most delicious part is rolled into this hockey puck of dreams. One of the most delicious steaks I ever ate.  Aynat agrees.Bowery Meat Company Bowery Steak

Marta – Carbonara Pizza with Potato, Guanciale, Black Pepper and Egg.  I’ve watched Nick Anderer try to perfect this Roman beaut over the first few months, until he settled on arguably the best white pie NY has to offer.   Aynat also liked the Rabbit meatballs very much.Marta Patate alla Carbonara

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Bistro –  Oxtail Fried Rice with daikon, Shiitake & Bone marrow. Aynat hesitated at first with this one.  “Why is he suggesting Fried Rice, in a hotel no less.”  Easily made the top dishes mark, along with the brilliantly simple sautéed squid (Ika shuga)Blue Ribbon Sushi Oxtail Fried Rice

The Marshal – Wood Oven Roasted Meatloaf stuffed with Mozzarella, Squash Carrots and Kale.  Sometimes a man just wants to eat meatloaf. Apparently same rules apply for women.  One of Hell’s Kitchen’s hidden gems, dishing out proper farm to belly American classics.The Marshal - Meatloaf

Annisa – Barbecue Squid with Thai Basil and Fresh Peanuts (top picture).  Aynat asked me about some of my favorite squid/octopus dishes in town and I directed her to one of Anita Lo’s best sellers.  Needless to say she liked it.

Ivan Ramen – Pork Meatballs with Buttermilk Dressing, Bulldog Sauce, Bonito.  Perhaps it’s the hypnotizing dancing bonito flakes, the tangy Bulldog sauce, or those tender juicy meatballs. Whatever that is, hope this LES Ivan branch keeps it on the menu for a while.Ivan Ramen Pork Meatballs

Alta – Shrimp and Chorizo Skewer with Avocado, Garlic and Sherry Vinegar.  Another winner at this old tapas staple.  Aynat also praised the Brussel Sprouts with apple, Creme Fraiche and pistachios.  The dish that essentially made us start cook Brussel sprouts.  And many chefs around town followed.

Balaboosta – Crispy Cauliflower With Lemon, Currants and Pine Nuts.  It’s not an Israeli meal without a cauliflower dish. (Hmmm, I knew something was missing from my meal in LA last night).  This is one Balaboosta mustBalaboosta - cauliflower

Nougatine at Jean Georges – Fried Calamari with Basil Salt and Citrus Chilli Dip.  Never been to Nougatine so never had it.  But I can just taste it…

Root and Bone – Crispy Free Range Fried Chicken, Tea Brined and Lemon Dusted.  Perhaps the NYC fried chicken to beat, along with Ma Peche’s Habanero infused bird.  The brine and the magic dusting gives it a deeper, lasting flavor. Aynat also really admired the Charred Asparagus with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Crunchy Peanuts. And talking about deeper and lasting, Root and Bone apparently means something else entirely down under (where half of the owners are from.  Coincidence?)root and bone chicken

Santina – Guanciale e Pepe.  Aynat also hit some of the new kids on the block, and enjoyed Santina’s Cecina as well.  I’ve personally been to Santina three times now, so ye.. I’m a fan too.Santina Guanciale e pepe

Rounding the top 20…

The NoMad Restaurant – Suckling Pig with Ramps, Potatoes and Salsa Verde.  Been twice, never had it

ABC Cocina – Spring Pea Guacamole with Warm Tortillas

Timna -Lamb Saddle with Persian Lemon Dust, Black Garlic Mousse, English Pea Purée.  Along with Fried Cauliflower (doh!) with Homemade Labane, Curried Tahini and Sumac.  Top of my to do list

Inti – Ceviche Mixto.  Love this dish.  They make great ceviche hereInti Ceviche

Mercato – Gnocchi in Beef and Pork Ragu.  Havent had this in a while and got tomorrow free.  m..u..s..t r..e..s..i..s..t…

Kati Roll Company – Unda chicken roll.  Never had it.

Gazala’s – Sun dried tomato Bourekas with Hummus, salad and olives.  Still best hummus in town

Ample Hills Creamery – Salted Crack Caramel.  Seriously addictive ice cream (like seriously!) .  Aynat also gives major props to the Sullivan Street Bakery Bomboloni and Amorino gelato.

So there you have it.  There were many other great dishes Aynat enjoyed in this one, but these are the highlights.  This is a great starting point for those researching their next trip.  Thanks Aynat for this glorious report

Categories: East Village, Lower East Side, Midtown West, New York City, NoHo, Nolita, SoHo, West Village | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Mission Chinese 2.0: Possible

Mission Chinese Dumplings

December 20th, 2016 Update:

Mission Chinese Food continues to tickle and tackle my taste buds.  But at the same time its becoming more and more apparent that not all dishes work for everyone, and my ability to properly select from this menu is shaky at best.  It almost seems like its strength and claim to fame, the ultra fiery stuff, is also its weakness.  People either love the numbing heat or hate it, while the hate is strong enough to keep its Yelp score shockingly low for a place with such profile.  But even much of the love..  “The wings were KILLA, but I couldnt finish more than 3” is questionable.  In a normal world, you dont recommend a dish you personally gave up after eating laboring a quarter of it.

To me the strength lies in the more subdued plates.  Like the Green Tea Noodles, and the simple but proper fried chicken.  A less subdued solid discovery is the addictive spicy noodles with peanuts, and cold shrimp that dont bring much to the table.  But the shocker the other day was the expensive, great sounding Fragrant Crab Rice that turned out to be bland and uneventful.  It was essentially a bucket full of dry rice, with crab that is totally lost, and no scent to speak of.  Here, such dish can quickly turn into an expensive side dish to balance the heat from other dishes.  This is also where the Tom Khallins drink comes in handy.  Go, still, but not as enthused as before.

March 28, 2015:

Yesterday I got a disturbing text from my barber.  It wasnt so much about the content of the text, but rather the fact that I got a text from my barber that was alarming.  Initially I concluded wrong number, but then I remembered that my barber was the only person I know that calls me by the wrong name.  I gave up correcting him 5 years ago and simply play along.  “Terry, I moved to the other side of the mall, by Macy’s.  Please confirm that you received this text”.  After confirmation, he was very delighted that I showed understanding, and opted to stick with him!?!  Well, why on earth wouldn’t I.  Should I consider perhaps that the other side of the mall is further away from my house?  Maybe he’s implying lack of parking?  I’ve only been with him for 16 years.  Should I drop him because the other side of the mall doesnt have an Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel stand, and simply hire one of the old schmucks taking a nap at 10 am?  I always show up to a Bunny Ranch-like lineup of sleeping barbers to choose from.

Mission ChineseIn similar fashion Mission Chinese Food moved from the LES to Chinatown, pretty much the same distance as my barber.  Danny Bowien, and MCF opened with a bang initially, even winning in a rather shocking fashion the coveted Best New Restaurant of 2013 from the New York Times.  Not too long after, it was closed by the Health Dep’t, reopened shortly after, only to close for good shortly after that.  For its fans this unfolding was difficult to watch.  As difficult as watching a baby seal getting clobbered to death.  If I would only have a nickle for every favorite Chinese restaurant closed at some point by the Health Dep’t, I would have a Quarter by now. Who cares if there’s evidence of mice.  As long as the mice and I are not there at the same time.

The new space, compared to the old, is comically stunning.  Like a bizarre cross between a fancy diner, a steakhouse, and a Lucky Cheng’s.  It kept some of the furniture from previous tenant Rosette, including a pizza oven which they utilize for pizza and bread.  Comfortable booths, chandeliers, and Lazy Susans unlike the Lazy Susans at my Doctor’s office where you just got lazy women named Susan.  When you add this all up, including the many mild additions to the menu, you get something you can bring your family, or even your in-laws.  But contrary to the way it looks inside, and the sign outside, it is very far from your average Chinese joint. Mission Chinese Tom Khallins

Started with one of the most unique drinks in recent memory (about a week give or take).  Tom Khallins – Old Tom gin, coconut milk, kaffir lime, lemongrass, ginger, chile, and sesame oil served in a small tea bowl.  After this and Pok Pok I’m really starting to get into those coconuty drinks.

The “Bread Service” is essentially a delicious smoky round Laffa with kefir butter spread.  It comes with a price tag ($7) that will make any Israeli or Arab shiver, a la the Jerusalem Bagel at Bar Bolonat.  Although the great free cilantro and scrambled eggs dumplings leave less room to complain.  One good reason NOT to get the bread is that it takes a lot of space on the table that you will struggle for very soon.

Mission Chinese Bread ServiceThe Cumin Lamb Ribs while on the fatty and chewy side were somehow more satisfying that the previous version.  The Dates in this dish alone are worth the price of admission.  On the other hand, the Kung Pao Pastrami went from my favorite to least favorite of the night.  The pastrami this time was much more charred, with texture closer to the potatoes it came with rather than that great pastrami of 1.0.  It wasn’t bad overall, but the rest of the lineup was just better.

Like the great Beef Jerky Fried Rice with Beech Mushrooms.  Wildly flavorful, but only the second best fried rice dish of the day (oxtail fried rice @ Blue Ribbon near Columbus Circle for lunch).  And if I would have to pick a favorite this night, it would probably be the Green Tea Noodles with ginger scallion, hoisin, and the great matcha flavor which makes the dish.  The only issue with this one is that the noodles are so stuck together (not so much in a bad way), that its difficult to remove a portion if you are sharing.  Eat this like Chinese eating rice.

Mission Chinese Food
171 E Broadway
$$$
Recommended Dishes: Tom Khallins, Beef Jerky Fried Rice, Green Tea Noodles, Cumin Lamb Ribs

Mission Chinese Pastrami

Mission Chinese Green Tea Noodles Mission Chinese Cumin Lamb Mission Chinese

Categories: Lower East Side, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

What to Eat in NYC – The Ethnic Plays

Taim falafelContinuing the What to Eat in NYC miniseries.  Part 1 is here.  Ethnic food is a big part of our daily diet hence it requires its own page.  What should you target in NYC of course depends on where you are coming from, but these are generally the areas of excellence in NYC…

Eat Thai – NYC has a thriving Thai food scene, and for reasons unknown to me the area known as Hell’s Kitchen is leading the Pad pack.  New Thai restaurants keep opening and existing ones keep multiplying right next to each other.  Yum Yum 1,2,3 all on the same block, and Wondee Siam with its three locations is another example.  But my favorites are Pure Thai Cookhouse with its vibrant menu, and fun vibe, and Larb Ubol specializing in Isan (North Thailand) cooking.  Lately however I’ve been cheating on those two with an old timer, Pam Real Thai.  Outside of HK, you got the great Somtum Der in East Village, and the popular Uncle Boons not too far.  Zabb Elee is another excellent Isan, and if you can somehow make it to Pok Pok in Brooklyn, you are in for a treat.  While not exactly Thai, the Laos inspired Khe-Yo is quite unique in itself and deserves a mention

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Eat Indian – We eat a lot of Indian food, and the scene overall is fairly competitive.  Between Curry Hill and Curry Row in the East Village alone you have a slew of very good options.  In the East Village, guidebooks and TV shows may direct you to the Gimmicky Bricklane Curry House, but I suggest heading to Malai Marke around the corner.  In Curry Hill you have Chote Nawab, the vegetarian Vatan, and the southern flavors of Kokum and Anjappar.  Moving uptown, Moti Mahal Delux is part of a worldwide chain known for their butter chicken, and newcomer Awadh across in the west.  But if you are mesmerized by the Times Square lights and cant leave, Basara on 9th may do the trick

Moti Mahal Cauliflower

Moti Mahal Cauliflower

 

Eat Middle Eastern -Middle Eastern plays a big part in our Mediterranean diet.  You got a few mini empires fighting for the top rights.  Einat Admony with Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat and Taim is perhaps the biggest Israeli name at the moment.  While Taboon continues to be a strong option in midtown, especially now with its original chef coming back.  Baby sister Taboonette dishes out unique healthy[ier] street food in Union Square.  Modern Lebanese hot spot Ilili has been around for some time now.  Gazala showcases her Druze specialties in two location, Gazala’s and Gazala’s Place.  And Zizi Limona in Williamsburg is a product of three veterans who know how to treat the classics well.  Speaking of which…

Bar Bolonat - Creme Brulee

Bar Bolonat – Creme Brulee

Eat Falafel – While visitors seek that perfect New York Cheesecake, keep in mind that we New Yorkers argue more on who has the best Falafel.  Is it Taim  in the village?  Is it Azuri in midtown where watching Ezra make it is like watching Picasso paint.  Or is it the nostalgically cheap Mamoun’s.  None of the above.  Top marks go to Nish Nush which is yet to be discovered by many locals, and those who did will certainty not appreciate me touting it.  But the others, especially Taim’s marvelous platter, and Azuri’s sandwich and Shawarma will do you just fine.

Nish Nush - Falafel

Eat Ramen – We are in the midst of a ramen revolution in NYC, and I dont hear anyone complaining.  Except for Mrs Z perhaps who wants to go to Ippudo now on a regular basis including Jewish holidays.  In Hell’s Kitchen alone you can feel that craze.  Even former none ramen establishments are joining the fun.  The delicious Akamaru Modern at Ippudo is leading the pack, while the Spicy Ramen at Totto is not far behind.  Ivan Ramen in Gotham West is another option, though I would be tempted to get the Smoked Salmon Donburi, formerly known as Smoked Whitefish Donburi instead.  But to get a fuller taste of the Ivan without sounding too dirty, one must go to the downtown location.  One option that gets overlooked by many is Bassanova in Chinatown with its fiery and unusual Green Curry Ramen.  And while you ate it, give the lemon and pepper Ramen a shot as well.

Ippudo - Akamaru Modern

Ippudo – Akamaru Modern

Eat Chinese – Some folks familiar with the Chinese scene here, may be asking themselves at this point, how is this guy going to cover our entire Chinese arsenal in one paragraph.  I cant, and I wont, but I’ll offer a small glimpse just like with the rest.  Some of the best Chinese Food is offered outside of our many Chinatowns, like the Szechuan Gourmet empire (I frequent the one on 56th st).  A recent discovery for me is Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns and their addictive Shanghai style soup dumplings.  Talking of which, Prosperity Dumplings is perhaps the biggest value in town, and that’s saying a lot.  Mission Chinese Food is the hottest Chinese play in the city right now, and may even be when you read this a year from now.  Han Dynasty, a Philly chain is doing a lot of things right seems like.  And do check out at least one of our Chinatowns.  Dim Sum in Golden Unicorn, or if you feel adventurous, East Harbor Seafood Palace in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, followed by cruising along tourist free zone 8th ave.

Gourmet Szechuan 56 - Shredded beef

Gourmet Szechuan 56 – Shredded beef

Eat Mexican – Lower your eyebrows and listen up.  The notion that there’s no decent Mexican in NYC is sooooo 2013.  In the last few years a slew of exciting young chefs like Alex Stupak has given us some very cool options.  Stupak perhaps is leading the rat pack with the Empellon empire… Empellon Cocina is the flagship, Empellon Taqueria is the high end Taqueria, while the new Empellon Al Pastor is the more basic Taqueria highlighting the namesake Al Pastor.  Other options include Tehuitzingo, the fine taqueria in Hell’s Kitchen and its bigger neighbor Tulcingo Del Valle.  Visitors flock to the more polished and Toloache practically in Times Square, and while I don’t have any quarrels with it (I recommended it myself), I tend to feel more at home in the previous two.  Los Tacos #1 at the Chelsea Market is another great option if you can brave the crowds, though I would opt for something more along the lines of Otto’s Tacos which is in the process of opening a branch in Hell’s Kitchen.  Another one to consider is Mission Cantina, home to the best Burrito in NYC, not surprisingly coming from the Mission neighborhood in SF

Mission Cantina Tacos

Mission Cantina Tacos

Eat Eastern European – Perhaps this is more for the Coney Island bound tourists who should keep in mind that there’s much more to downtown Brooklyn than a Hot Dog.  The area adjacent known as Brighton Beach is loaded with all sorts of great Uzbek, Russian, Georgian and even Uzbek/Korean delights.  Consider Cafe Glechik on Coney Island Ave, sort of a Russian institution in the area.  Or perhaps Tone Cafe, aka Georgian Bread for the great Adjaruli Khatchapuri.  Uzbek/Uyghur specialty Kashkar Cafe is an absolute gem, and one of my favorite restaurants in whole of Brooklyn.  For a livelier Uzbek filled with Russians on a daily basis there’s Cafe Nargis a few blocks north on Coney Island ave.  Cant leave Manhattan but still want a small taste?  Veselka, Oda House, and Uncle Vanya in midtown should be able to take good care of you.  Unless you are a vegeterian

Kashkar Cafe - Geiro Lagman

Kashkar Cafe – Geiro Lagman

Eat Tapas – Basque, other Spanish, Mediterranean tapas galore all over.  In Chelsea alone you can Patata Brava to your heart’s delight, starting with tiny Tia Pol and ending with Toro near the Chelsea Market.  In the East Village you have the fun Cata, and lately I’ve been itching to go back to her sister AltaTertulia has its fans in the West Village, while I’ve been enjoying its sister El Colmado in Gotham West Market lately.  Many locals are in love with Casa Mono, but I need a bit more convincing.  And watch out for newly opened Espoleta, some big names behind this project

Casa Mono Razor Clams

Casa Mono Razor Clams

Eat Miscellaneous – Do you honestly need more ideas?  I didnt think so.  But all of this is just scratching the surface of what the greatest food city in the world has to offer.  In Staten Island for example, you can take advantage of the large Sri Lankan community by trying the museum-like Lakruwana, San Rasa or New Asha.  Vietnamese food, while still lagging behind other cities, is getting better.  Try Co Ba and Co Ba 53.  How about some Korean like Danji, Jungsik, HIT Korean Deli or Food Gallery 32Filipino inspired?  We got plenty of that too.. Lumpia Snack Shack, and Maharlika are just some

Overwhelmed?  Join the club.  I only live here.

Jungsik Steak

Jungsik Steak

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Staten Island, TriBeCa, Upper West Side, West Village | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

What to Eat in New York City

 

Best Pizza

Best Pizza

Oh no you didn’t…  Oh, yes I did!  A post on.. well.. everything.  I’m not writing about pizza or Indian food, or where to get the best Cheesecake, this is a post on everything.  A one time stop for the confused visitor that knows only what he reads in his guide book, and Trip Advisor ranking.  In other words, just a tad smarter than Klauss.  I have news for you Mr visitor.  We New Yorkers don’t eat Cheesecakes, Knishes, and Manhattan Clam Chowders.  Well, the last one on occasion, but having the word “Manhattan” in it should not automatically qualify it for the guidebooks.

A month ago at our company we had visitors from Minnesota.  When we ordered food for lunch, there was a moment that shook me a little.  One member of the Minnesota gang pointed to something and said “What’s that”.  To which I replied “this my friend, is a Falafel”.  Locals eat more falafels than Cheesecakes, Knishes, and Manhattan Clam Chowders combined in NYC, but you would never guess by just reading the guidebook.  Let me help set you straight

I will try my best to make it as comprehensive as possible, and update as often as I can.  Something to chew on before I leave for yet another trip to Turks (lobsta calling my name).  But there’s a chance I may forget a few things, so I would appreciate some help via comments if that indeed happens.  Its essentially a guide to help you understand what you should be targeting in NYC.  Here we go…

Eat Pizza – Yes, we eat a lot of pizza.  Every block where I live has these 3 essentials.  Pizza, Bagels, and a pharmacy to help you cope with all that pizza and bagels.  There’s great pizza everywhere in NYC and I’m not going to even attempt to name all the best spots, but here are a few

Merilu (2)

Merilu

   Slice – You have the usual suspects like Joe’s on Carmines and Di Fara in Brooklyn, but the truth is that there are plenty of solid slices out there and the 50th best slice is not really that far behind the 2nd best slice taste wise.  Consider Sacco in Hell’s Kitchen, Prince Street Pizza, Best Pizza” in Williamsburg might very well be best with their wood burning oven slice, and for something a bit different and not very New Yorky consider the thin squares at Merilu.  BTW, for those Di Fara bound, the pilgrimage may cost you half a day of travel and waiting for quite a while for your slice.  Not worth it if yo ask me, but if you must…

   Pies – While the guide books will guide you across the bridge and make you stand for 30-90 bone chilling minutes on a long line (and fail to tell you that the real Grimaldi is actually next door dishing them out at Juliana’s), you can get similar or better quality all over the city.  Consider Capizzi in midtown, where you will not find any long waits whatsoever.  Or how about the thin vodka pies at Rubirosa, an offshoot of the great Joe and Pat’s in Staten Island.  For your fancy Neapolitan pies there are a lot of great options and I strongly suggest to try at least one.  Consider Motorino, Don Antonio, Keste, Paulie Gees, and Roberta’s at a food festival near you (if you cant Bushwick it).  You can even get a decent pie in Eataly.  Also consider the Neapolitan archenemy, the mighty Roman pie at Marta.  Well, its not very mighty with its matzoh like thickness, but its quite delicious, not to mention everything else Marta offers.  You can have a great meal here without even touching the pies

Marta Patate alla Carbonara

Marta Patate alla Carbonara

Eat Burgers – As with pizza this is a very difficult topic to cover as there are so many choices, and so many kinds.  You are not only dealing with a plethora of Burger joints but you also have them on just about every French/Italian/American, you name it menu and everyone trying to outdo each other.  For your fast food smallish burger, yes, I suppose Shake Shack will do, and the pain that comes with it (long lines, fighting an old lady for a seat).  But head to Gotham West Market, and you can find another solid burger at Genuine Roadside where you’ll find no lines, and no old ladies to fight.  Try the terrific Chicken Sandwich too while you at it.  For the middle of the road, regular burger try Corner Bistro, Island Burger and Shakes and the rest of my Hell’s Kitchen picks I outline here

Dutch - Burger

Dutch – Burger

For the fancier stuff, Minetta Tavern’s Black Label is still the king, as one of a few burgers out there where the meat is so good, you can get it practically naked.  Meaning the burger!  Also consider Minetta’s sister Cherche Midi’s much hyped burger these days.  Bowery Meat Company uses the same supplier for its excellent patty (though I wish the fries would have been better).  Other solid players include the Breslin’s terrific Lamb Burger, Bar Sardine’s popular Fedora burger, The Gender’s burger with beef aioli, and the Spotted Pig with its addictive fries.  But if you’d point a gun at my head and make me choose one, I would ask you to please put the gun down, then proceed to kick your ass and call the cops.  Once you are out, I would direct you to the NoMad Bar where you’ll find the best combination of quality burger, fries, and ease of getting a table (No reservations tho)

Spotted Pig Burger

Spotted Pig Burger


Eat Bagels, Lux
 – No shortage of great bagels all over town.  With Absolute Bagel, Pick-a-Bagel in midtown, Ess-a-Bagel, and Murrays you pretty much have all the corners covered.  And while Russ & Daughters doesn’t bake their own, their Brooklyn Supplier is as old school and solid as they come.  R&D is an icon, and so very touristy for good reason.  But once you experience it, consider something like Shelsky’s in Brooklyn, or Nordic Preserves in Essex Market, for much of the quality and none of the pain.

Russ and Daughters lox

Russ and Daughters lox

Eat Italian – In NYC, one should take advantage of our Italian dining. Even Italians coming from Italy do so, and appreciate the wide array that NYC has to offer.  From the amazing seafood of Marea, to simple neighborhood spots like Da Andrea.  Consider Mercato and its southern Italian fare (real southern, not Brooklyn southern), or perhaps Bat Pitti in the village.  How about All’onda, and Piora for some Asian influence.  Or a taste of Emilia Romagna in Osteria Morini or Salumeria RossiMarta can certainly enter the discussion, and its sister Maialino is perhaps my favorite of all.  If you need to choose one, thats the one.  Or consider Scarpetta whose menu includes many popular staples.  Babbo is possibly entering icon territory, Del Posto may be already there among the high ends, while the inventive Lincoln remains under everyone’s radar.  In NYC we also have the classic New York Italian, aka red sauce American Italian cuisine that one may try.  The Guide Books will direct you to the Theater District and Little Italy, but for proper tasting consider something like Rubirosa or Carbone

Lincoln Strozzapreti

Lincoln Strozzapreti

Eat American – This is another big topic.  The one place that always comes to mind where you can get that old quintessential NY feel is Minetta Tavern.  Eleven Madison Park light, The NoMad is another solid choice with its celebrated Chicken for two.  In Midtown consider Betony, runner up for James Beard’s Best New Restaurant award last year.  Louro is a dependable neighborhood joint with rotating menus, and theme dinners on Mondays.  Consider the Dutch and its terrific fried chicken and more, which brings us to Root and Bone where the bird reigns over a solid southern inspired menu.  The veggies reign supreme at Narcissa, and the Marshal is not only extremely veg friendly, but covers all the classics well.  For something different consider the winter game festival at Henry’s End.

You also have a slew of Asian inspired American like the inspiring Annisa, and the David Chang’s empire, especially Momofuku Ssam Bar, and Ma Peche.  Consider a visit to newcomer Tuome, featuring a young chef with an attitude.

NoMad Chicken

NoMad Chicken

Dicksons pastrami

Dicksons pastrami

Eat Pastrami – Yes, yes go to Katz’s.  That’s not a tourist trap, but the real deal.  In Midtown, Carnegie Deli keeps chugging along, while Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop in Flatironhas been raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929.  Try perhaps the Montreal Jewish style pastrami at Mile End.  Or for something completely different, consider the pastrami sandwich at Dickson’s the great meat purveyor in Chelsea Market where the pastrami is more marbled and comes with a smear of apricot chutney or however they do it that day.  Yummo!

Eat Steak – Visitors come to NYC looking to eat steak in something called a “Steakhouse”.  It’s one of the most common questions on Trip Advisor… what is the Best Steakhouse.  Well, you do have the icons like Keen’s, and Peter Luger that folks will no doubt pick over Wolfgang’s which started by an employee that worked for Luger for 40 years and offers a similar Porterhouse.  But the beauty of NYC steaks is that just like burgers, you can get great steak anywhere pretty much including in modern “I cant believe this is not a steakhouse” steakhouse.  Consider the Bowery Steak at Bowery Meat Company, which consists of the Ribeye cap (the best part of the ribeye).  The Minetta Tavern Cote de Boeuf is perhaps the most celebrated cut in Manhattan.  Though for us, that honor would go to the Costata Tomahawk Ribeye which like the Cote de Boeauf, can feed a small Armenian village.

Costata - Ribeye

Costata Ribeye

Eat French – Classic french, new and old are still plentiful in the city.  You got the usual haute suspects with Per Se, Le Bernardin, Jean-Georges, Bouley, Daniel (who am I missing.  I dont want to upset anyone and get hate mail).  Then you have the bistro fair like Balthazar, and yes even Minetta Tavern which I’m adding to just about every category here (they even have a take on the Italian Carbonara, called Pasta Za Za).  Consider Benoit in Midtown, and Chez Napoleon may be as old school as it gets.  For something different however, consider Le Philosophe for a fresh take on old classic

Le Philosophe - tournedos rossini

Le Philosophe – tournedos rossini

Eat BBQ – A few years ago, the proper recommendation would be to skip BBQ in NYC.  But time, they are a changing.  In midtown if you must, head west to Daisy May’s BBQ USA, in case you forget what country you are in.  In Brooklyn you have Fette Sau and BrisketTown which also sells its sick brisket on the High Line in the warmer months.  But the mightiest of all might very well be Mighty Quinn’s which you can enjoy in both West and East village, among other more remote locations.  For the “I cant believe this is not BBQ” experience that almost no one talks about, consider Georgia’s Eastside BBQ in the Lower East Side.

Eat Ethnic – Need to take a break.  More to come after these words from our sponsors…  Are your menopause changes causing bleeding, irritation, pain during sexual intercourse?  Try Premarin, a Virginal Cream you can count on.

Ok, I have a confession.  This was not a real commercial!  But, I do need to take a break, as my arm is tired and I already used all the adjectives known to me on one page

The ethnic plays will have their own page when the time comes.  Stay tuned…

Mighty Quinn's Brisket

Mighty Quinn’s Brisket

 

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, TriBeCa, Upper West Side, West Village | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Houston Street, We Have a Problem!

161A Note from the Editor:

In the summer, during my much anticipated staycation, there was a moment on the High Line that is etched in my mind.  We found ourselves almost paralyzed, stuck in rush hour Sunday afternoon traffic behind a family of 4, a rooster, and a pair of parakeets.  It was like a zoo!  We’ve seen our share of tourists at the High Line before but not to this degree, and with characters no less.  We needed to get out of there and we had to do it fast, after a bite of the Delaney Brisket of course.  A trip to the storied High Line coupled with braving the crowds of the Chelsea Market is now firmly on the tourists path.  Great for NYC, and all those Chelsea eateries that must be thriving just about now, right?  Not exactly.

A few weeks ago someone asked me if my knowledge of Hell’s Kitchen extends to Real Estate, for the purpose of finding a new home for La Lunchonette, a long time Chelsea institution.  In what seems like a daily occurrence of businesses closing its doors, La Lunchonette is just another one to bite the dust of rising rents.  Culprit in this case:  The High Line.  The park, along with new zoning permits attracting Real Estate developers who now see a lot of green in West Chelsea, and I’m not talking about the plants along the High Line that no one looks at anyway.  Current building owners succumb to offers they can’t refuse, essentially forced to evict their tenants in many cases.  According to Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the High Line is the cause of La Lunchonette’s demise, and presumably, many more will follow.

I guess we are done with gentrifying the island and now focusing on hyper gentrification?  I’m not pretending to know anything about economics or real estate.  I’m just a poor software developer who wants to have a f*** bagel or matzoh whenever I choose to, or whenever Jewish holiday dictates.  Excuse my Yiddish there.  Oh did I mention Streit’s Matzo Factory is closing soon and so is the original Ess-a-Bagel to make room for Bank of America and you guessed it.. a bagel shop.  How can anyone afford to run a business or live in NYC anymore.

The Union Square Area alone is one giant “For Rent” sign, led by Union Square Cafe which is forced to move after its lease is up.  Restaurants are getting squeezed left and right from 57th street to Houston Street.  In Hell’s Kitchen the action is slowly shifting to the West.  A Mexican restaurant owner recently told me he couldn’t afford being on 8th ave anymore and had to move all the way to 10th.  Meanwhile downtown, Brigadeiro Bakery finally found affordable space in Soho after selling their Brazilian Truffles from a Basement nearby for years.  Do you have a Bodega (Mexican deli) near you nowadays?  Bodegas are closing all over or forced to transform and unbodega themselves.

So whats in store for 2015 and beyond.  Brace yourself for more Bank of America, 7-Eleven, Chipotle, and Eataly which plans to open two more stores in NYC in the future.  While I love Eataly as much as the next guy (I spent 3 hours there last Sunday), I need more Eatalys like I need a pimple on my ass.  This expression never made much sense to me, until recently when I finally got one.  Those things can be truly annoying.  Anyway, I cant help but wonder how many more small mom and pops will close as a result of two more Eatalys.  Places like Di Palo’s, where you get a much more personal service, need to cherished like we cherish our kids.

But is it time to panic?  Yes!  I suppose 2014 also saw many new restaurants open, and I believe I even saw “Record Year” being proclaimed somewhere out there.  But with that I also noticed that my spending has increased, so no doubt I’m paying for the rent hikes as well.  How many of the new openings are truly affordable, with entrees below $20.  For every Lumpia Shack there seemed to be 10 Batards opening last year.  In Hell’s Kitchen new business owners used to find refuge on 9th ave, but now they find it on side streets where foot traffic is much lighter, or 10th ave where traffic is even worse.  Whenever I walk to Inti, a Peruvian gem on 10th where the Rotisserie chicken rivals anyone’s, I always wonder how they are still in business.  My co-worker believes they have a healthy delivery business

I still believe NYC is the greatest food city in the world, don’t get me wrong.  And the options I have in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens are limitless.  But I’m a little worried about the direction.  Perhaps the worry is for nothing and I should stick to writing about food.  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, avoid the High Line

Ziggy

Editor in Chief

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, Queens, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Staten Island, TriBeCa, Trucks, Upper West Side, West Village | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

NYC – Top 10 Dishes of 2014

Lincoln StrozzapretiBowery Steak at Bowery Meat Company.  Normally in the food blogging universe, when a steak is compared to a Hockey puck, its usually in order to describe a poorly cooked piece of meat.  But in this case, its the odd looking Hockey puck shaped perfection sitting on top of creamy whipped potato puree, and topped with a little bit of Chimichurri.  One little touch of that thing with your fork or a prolong stare breaks the spiral roll of ribeye cap, aka the more flavorful part of the ribeye.  A most noble cut, generated by none other than the legendary Pat LaFrieda of course.  Don’t believe me?  Ask fellow meat lover Justin Bieber who was spotted there a day after yours truly and his family.  “Way to go dad, always picking the wrong days”

Bowery Meat Company Bowery Steak

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – I’m starting to believe this soup has special healing powers.  Whether you are suffering from Flu like symptoms, Depression, Frontal Baldness, Cholera, try the soup and see a doctor.  Best to have the soup solo, as it will clear up both your nostrils and allow free grazing of the two giant oxtail bones in a way that should leave no witnesses.  Its spicy, complex, addictive and just about my favorite soup in NYC at the moment.  Which really means America!

Pam Real Oxtail

Patate Alla Carbonara at Marta – The White pizza section to me is like the pet isle in the supermarket.  I only get there by accident or under some form of influence.  My wife found me there once and though I was having an affair.  These days the only way for me to cheat on the reds is with this Bianca, featuring Guanciale, Pecorino and egg “juice” poured ever so slowly all over the pie.  It took a few initial incarnations (started as “Gricia” with an egg in the middle) until this thing was perfected by Nick Anderer who perfected so many things at Maialino.  Its Roman style pizza which means Matsoh like cracker thin (especially at the edges), but it holds its own nicely throughout so knife needed.

Marta Patate alla Carbonara

Lobster Roll at The Grand Banks.  This place rocked!  Literally!  In fact we almost left upon entering this Schooner (a ship for the German readers) parked on Pier 25 in the warmer months.  But the food obsessed that we are, we braved it out and stayed for the main event.  A Maine style Lobster Roll (cold) using the meatiest and clawiest parts of the lobster, with tarragon mayonnaise and cucumbers which isnt very “Mainely” I know, but serve as barriers between meat and bun.  Very often lobster rolls lose its luster due to a soggy bun, but here the cucumbers keep it fresh and dont deter from the taste.  The roll which comes with well seasoned potato chips (no frier on board) is not exactly a value play at $25, but you gotta pay up for the good stuff mon.  Especially on the island I call Manhattan

154

BBQ Squid at Annisa – Stunner!  Actually the first word that comes to mind is “gorgeous” but its hard even for the feminine inner Ziggy to say the G word these days.  When was the last time you heard a straight man say something is gorgeous.  And adding the F word just makes it sound awkward.  But this dish is not only attractive to look at, but got the flavors to match.  Marinaded, perfectly grilled Squid with fried tentacles, mint, and fresh peanuts boiled to match the texture of the tender Edameme.  Add Hoisin sauce for some sweetness and tanginess and the formula is complete.  I hope it never leaves the menu.  Anita Lo are you reading?

Annisa Squid

Carrot Wellington at Narcissa – A rarity.  A meal where the veggie dishes outperform the meats and fish.  Even the beet dish here made me question everything I knew about beets and seek Borscht the next day.  I never seek Borscht.  The carrots are cured, roasted and simply shine in those puff pastries.  They are tender and rich enough that you wont miss the meat.  And the accompanied veggies especially the earthy Bluefoot mushrooms complimented nicely.  Along with Piora’s carrots, perhaps the carrot dish to beat.  If you are having commitment issues, you can always share it as a middle course.

Narcissa - Carrot Wellington

Strozzapreti Con Aragosta at Lincoln (Top).   Orange is the new crack!  Possibly the most ingenious pasta dish I ever had.  First of all its looks gorgeous sensational, and you smell the sea as soon as it arrives.  Smell it!  Its an important aspect of any meal.  The Strozzapreti (invented I suppose when someone envisioned a pasta shape while witnessing a priest being slowly strangled) is made with lobster coral, the female egg sac, to bring that bright sexy orange prison look.  Sweet lobster chunks are added to the mix along with Tarragon and a delicate citrusy sauce.  But the best part and what puts this thing over the top was the shockingly flavorful lobster and scallop “sausage” bits which had the texture of chicken skin nut tasted nothing like it.  As of this writing the dish is not on the menu, so write to your local congressman

Scrambled Eggs at Gato.  I’m quite the sucker for nicely executed egg dishes, and this one topped a year filled with good ones (Casa Mono comes to mind).  Almond Romesco (spanish red pepper sauce), Boucheron cheese, and fluffiness levels that I’ve yet to produce no matter how hard I try.  I Google the heck out of how to make my scrambled eggs this fluffy, and it looks like Boucheron may be the answer.  Bobby Flay got something nice going there, but dont tell him that, or mention this pick.  We dont want success to get to his head.

Gato - eggs

Zabzi Tagine at Bar Bolonat – I attacked this mini Tagine on more than one occasion in 2014.  But I confess that the first time, closer to the Bar Bolonat debut was the best rendition.  Homemade couscous, aromatic fresh herbs, and short rib or beef cheek (it changes from time to time) so tender and flavor packed, even the Goyim foodies can appreciate this modern Israeli delight.  Get this, the kibbeh, Creme Brulee, and any of the other “Best of 2014” dishes circulating the web.  Einat Admony got herself another winner.

Bar Bolonat - Zabzi Tagine

Fried Chicken at Root and Bone – Last year it was the Ma Peche Habanero, this year its R&B singing the chicken song.  Choon!  The bird is brined in sweet tea, onions and garlic for 24 hours, and finished with a dusting of dehydrated lemon powder to add that nice zesty tone.  Perfectly crisped skin, and juiciness levels I havent seen since college.  Great dish and a great menu that features all sorts of goodies like Sticky Toffee Pudding with whiskey sauce and beer flavored ice cream.

root and bone chicken

Special Mentions:

Burger at the NoMad Bar
Marinated Pork at Somtum Der
Falafel plate at Zizi Limona
Agnolotti at All’onda
Chicken Burrito at Missions Cantina
Beer Braised Pork Tongue Tacos at Empellon Taqueria
Octopus at Marea
Kimchi Fried Rice at Louro
Tofu at Dunji
Samsa at Nargis Cafe
Elk Chops at Henry’s End
Carrots at Piora
Green Curry Ramen at Bassanova
Dirty rice at Ivan Ramen
Cha Ca La Vong at Pok Pok Brooklyn
Oxtail and Bone Marrow Fried Rice at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill

Categories: East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Upper West Side, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Best Tacos in Manhattan

Otto TacosA common misconception in NYC:  “There’s no good Mexican food here”.  “Skip tacos, concentrate on Pizza, bagels and hala”.  “For Mexican you got to go south then west”.  “Even the Mexican Soap Operas here suck”.  Somehow 350,000 tortilla challenged Mexicans opted for the Northeast, while the rest went to Texas or California.  Well, there’s no mistaken where the best Mexican food in the US is located, but that doesnt mean there are no decent options in NYC.  As with any cuisine you just need to a little bit of homework, thats all.  And in the past few years there appears to be a Mexican renaissance of sorts in NYC.  And if you think the soap operas are bad, think again.  Just like some of the taco joints I will highlight below, they are intense, colorful and will bring you to tears.  Here’s one example that will no doubt change your mind.  Now, lets get down to some of the best tacos the city has to offer…

Tehuitzingo –  I’ve already written plenty about this gem in Hell’s Kitchen.  For a while it was like one of those terrible soap operas (the other ones).  Did they close?  Oh no.  Oh wait, they not only reopened, but they multiplied.  Welcome baby Tehuitzingo on 9th and 41st.  6 pounds, 5 ounces.  Thats how much Lengua they sell every hour.  The original on 10th isnt the same bodega (deli) as it used to be, but the tacos are still the same no frills, no nonsense old tacos.  Its all about the great tasting meats with just the right amount of condiments.  Try the Al Pastor, beef tongue (Lengua), just beef, carnitas, or anything else you fancy.  I havent had a bad one yetTehuitzingo

Otto HorchataOtto’s Tacos – One of the new kids on the block, this LA expat is gathering a lot of attention lately.  Their Horchata makes every other Horchata I’ve had taste like 1% milk.  I tried all the tacos here except the chicken, and shrimp (top) is my clear favorite.  Coated with serrano cream sauce, with onions and cilantro, the Shrimp is perfectly seasoned and cooked just right.  The rest of the lineup is not too shabby either and that includes a mushroom tacos that both my vegetarian readers can appreciate

Empellon Taqueria and Empellon Al Pastor – The natural progression from the labs of Alinea and WD50 is obviously tacos.  Alex Stupak is perhaps the biggest player in this tacos revolution we are experiencing at the moment, with Emplellon Cucina, Empellon Taqueria, and now Empellon Al Pastor.  The latter is the cheap simpler tacos with the namesake Al Pastor, shaved off the spit Shawarma style, leading the pack.  Taqueria on the other hand is the fancy, polished taco option.  And if I would be drafting Tacos as part of a Fantasy Taco League, the beer braised pork tongue would most be my #1 pickEmpellon Al Pastor

Mission Cantina – The Mission District in San Francisco has some of the best Mexican food in the country.  Some in fact claim that this is where the Burrito was born.  So not surprisingly, James Beard winner Danny Bowien of the famed Mission Chinese Food in Mission can make a nasty Burrito, although its take-out only these days.  The wings here are great as well, and all these goodies will make you wonder about the low Yelp score.  Crafty shmancy tacos rule the right side of the menu, with Veggie tacos firmly in charge.  But one has to try the popular masa fish taco and the lamb belly while its still around.Mission Cantina Tacos

Los Tacos #1 – Where I come from, when you see a line, you stand on it, then you ask questions.  Same rule applies to Chelsea Market where three friends from Mexico and California are trying to introduce New Yorkers and tourists to Mexican street food.  Many claim that these are the best tacos in NYC, and who am I to argue.  Try any of them, doesnt matter.  As long as you try the Adobada.  Say it with me, A-D-O-B-A-D-A three times.  Good, you ready.  Now get out there and stand on line for those abodabasChelsea Market Los Tacos

Tacos Morelos – Another fairly new mom/pop/cousin joint in the suddenly taco heavy East Village.  The store and restaurant is on 9th and Avenue A where the slow roasted porky Cochinita Pibil reigns supreme.  But its the cart on 2nd and A, where the EV rockers get their fix after gigs at 2 am, and where my friend swears by the Al Pastor.  Almost 24 hours (they take a break around 4 am)  is 24 hours to me.

Tacos Morelos

 

 

 

Categories: Chelsea, East Village, Lower East Side, Midtown West, New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ivan the Formidable

Ivan Ramen Salmon Donburi

September 22nd, 2017 Update:

I dont usually update a place this soon, but this is kinda important after yet another fine meal at Ivan Ramen LES.  Weather is getting chillier (or seemed to be a few weeks ago at least), and I cant think of a better way to start Ramen season.  The Chicken Paitan at Ivan is not the Ramen dish that made Ivan famous, but to me it’s right up there with NYC’s best at the moment.  As I described 6 months ago when it came out, “the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness”.

A corn on a cob dish always gets my attention, and this one proved to be a wowzer.   Its Miso roasted with bonito flakes and some sort of Japanese magic dust sprinkled.  The fried chicken, brined perhaps, is another exceptional one.  The Coney Island Tofu with that miso mushroom chili has made it’s triumphant return to the menu.  Magnifique as always.  As is the Triple pork, triple garlic Mazemen (brothless ramen) which has been on the menu since day 1 but somehow eluded me all this time.  Being featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table hasnt made it easy, but reservations are doable.  Go!

March 5th, 2017 Update:

All sorts of major developments with the Ivan.  The Ramen Junkie keeps reinventing himself, and has even given us some bedtime entertainment.  Yes, Ivan Orkin is featured in the latest season of Netflix’s highly acclaimed Chef’s Table which I highly recommend.  Its refreshing to see someone on the show who you actually know and talk to from time to time.  Naturally the show helped revive his Lower East Side flagship in a big way.  And so if you havent been in a while, or never, prepare for a possible 2 hour shock on some evenings.  Yesterday I heard quotes ranging from 1 to 3 hours, albeit on a Saturday night.

Coincidentally, or not, the menus in both NYC spots have gotten a facelift as of late.  At the Slurp Shop however, at the moment looks more like a botched botox job.  The great Donburis (rice dishes including top) are long gone, and the sick Breakfast Ramen, changed to Breakfast All Day Ramen after they figured why not, is now gone too.  It cameod for a while last month only to see the same results.  Why is no one eating the good stuff.  Lack of appreciation, or people simply want the goods that made the man famous.  I say its the name of the dish.  Give it a cute Japanese name like Mocu Mocu and people will drive in forces.  Oh wait, they tried it already.  With that said, knowing these guys, another homerun is probably on its way.ivan-ramen-trumpet

But at the flagship, things are looking mighty fine these days.  I cant get on Instagram without seeing Ivan tease a new dish that looks infinitely better than what I’m eating (I’m looking at you quinoa).  Something like the brilliant briny Trumpet Mushrooms sliced like noodles, and served cold that I enjoyed last night.  This was a tip I got an hour earlier by the sous chef at Slurp Shop during yesterday’s Hell’s Kitchen tour (there he goes again with the shameless plugs).  Another new potential hit is the Dan Dan Noodles smothered with chili infused ground lamb.  It is probably the spiciest Dan Dan and one of the spiciest noodle dishes I ever had.  By the end I was waving a white flag which turned red by then.  It is purposefully dry and while delicious, I was longing for something wet to counter the heat.  But the most interesting newcomer is probably the dish I had on a previous night.  A bright and gorgeous Chicken Paitan with minced chicken and egg yolk.  It has all the richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness.  Its just like your moms chicken soup!  If mom went to culinary school for 10 years, moved to Japan and married the most famous Ramen maker in Tokyo that is.

August 24, 2014 Post:

We all heard the story before hundreds of times.  A Jew from Long Island moves to Japan to teach English, moves back to the states, attends The Culinary Institute of America, leaves his heart in Japan so comes back to Tokyo, gets bored out of his mind and learns how to cook Ramen (just about the last thing that crosses my mind when I’m bored).  So he opens the first restaurant in Tokyo, finds success and opens another… moves back to NYC to open the Slurp Shop at Gotham West market and the flagship Ivan Ramen in East Village.  10 months later, over a dozen visits to the Slurp Shop and over a dozen whitefish Donburis, two visits to the new joint in East Village, and needless to say… Ziggy is a fan of the Ivan.

The Slurp Shop

I’ve already written extensively about Hell’s Kitchen’s main attraction these days, Gotham West Market, the home of the first Ivan outpost.  The Slurp Shop is normally the last stop of my monthly food crawls.  Problem is by the time we get here more often than not, tummy is already full.  The menu settled down over the year and features some unique staples like…

Slow-Cooked Pork Donburi – Another fun rice concoction with super tender pork shoulder, scallion, salted plum wasabi, and chunky roasted tomatoes proving nice balance and much needed acidity.

Ivan Ramen - Pork Donburi

Roasted Garlic Mazemen – I must admit the Mazemen here is more exciting to me than the traditional Ramen.  Mazemen is almost brothless ramen, but packs in more flavor and intensity.  This one comes with Nori, dashi, chicken broth, pork belly chashu, and the same rye noodle as the traditional ramen.  Garlic lovers especially may find this dish quite formidable.  Yes, I’m officially adding formidable to my vocabulary.

Ivan Ramen - Garlic Mazemen

Ramen – I cant find any pictures of any of the Ramen I tried here.  Most likely due to the way I attack them once I see them.  I believe I tried all of them except the vegetarian one and all are quite good in their own way.  The Tokyo classics Shio and Shoyu are cleaner and purer than most of the modern Ramens out there.

Whitefish Donburi – Perhaps my favorite dish in GWM but admittedly not for everyone (what is really).  White rice mixed with sweet soy dashi and topped with cucumber, scallion, salmon roe, and beautiful smoked whitefish.  Jewish heritage meets Japanese school girl.  Or something like that

Ivan Ramen Whitefish Donburi

Ivan Ramen

Lower East Side is the new East Village.  I can spend a year here and eat something delicious and different every day.  The new Ivan Ramen flagship complicates things even further for those locals that cant decide whether they are in the mood for Burritos, Ribs, Ramen or Israeli Scotch Eggs.  This is more of a sit down than the Slurp Shop, which basically means slurping isnt as encouraged here.  And the menu is quite different and fuller…

Pickled Daikon – shaved daikon (the radish white milder shy cousine), dried shrimp, scallop chili oil.  I expected fishier flavors from the shrimp but it was more reminiscent texture wise of the most freakish tasting bread crumbs ever.  Get this!

Ivan Ramen Pickled Daik0n

Chinese Broccoli & Garlic – Another cold winner.  You taste the Broccoli with that sweet garlic soy sauce and go “well this is nice..”, but then you taste the pickled garlic and the world suddenly beginning to makes sense again

Ivan Ramen Chinese Broccoli & Garlic

Pork Meatballs – Its texturally impossible to come up with more tender balls.  Garnished with bonito flakes, buttermilk dressing, and Japans official unofficial sauce, Bulldog brown sauce.  Marvelous dish!  And no, I’m not adding “texturally” to my vocabulary because its not a real word

Ivan Ramen Pork Meatballs

Tofu Coney Island – A playful and enjoyable take on the Nathan Hotdog.  Fried tofu topped with miso mushroom chili, mustard, and scallion.  Enjoyed this one

Ivan Ramen Tofu Coney Island

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