Midtown East

Aquavit – How to Train Your Pastry Chef

Aquavit Bird's NestTo become the second female in the country to get a second Michelin Star, after Dominique Crenn of SF (Suzette Gresham, also from SF joined the list since).  Quite the feat for Stockholm native Emma Bengtsson.  In a city where Michelin stars are randomly distributed like candy (my mom has one.  Found it on Craigslist), the action, the crème de la crème usually starts with the ultra coveted #2.  Although, more often than not, when the time comes you are more concerned about losing a star, as opposed to hoping to gain one.  Aquavit, a name that’s been hanging around like that balloon your kid brings home, hovering all over the house for days until it loses its luster and scares you in the bathroom in the middle of the night with its new wrinkled dog look which normally means its time to get rid of it.  Where was I?  oh yes..  Aquavit is a rejuvenated gem, rejoining the city elite.

Pete Wells who awarded Aquavit with a three star review last month, mentioned an overall stiffness, with servers suffering from “Michelinitis”.  In comparison to that, our dinner was a Swedish House Mafia post concert party.  The staff was extremely professional, but friendly, loose and engaging.  We felt comfortable, and you get a sense that the patrons around you are as well.  Maybe its Wells, whose bust is Googleable, making everyone nervous.  Though I do agree with him about the chairs, which weren’t the most comfortableAquavit

There are 3 different menus as you can see on their site.  While all offer a nice glimpse of Emma’s greatness, to take full advantage one should look left, at the Chef’s Tasting.  Eight dishes are listed, but with all sorts of fun surprises in between, its more like 15.  I cant recall all the details (the meal is now a week old) but I do recall much.  The other night I had trouble sleeping because both of us couldnt remember Daniel Craig’s name with no electronic devices next to us.  She wanted me to go downstairs and look it up (which would also mean bringing yogurt), but I refused.  At 1 am I finally figured the first name is Craig, at 3 I realized its the last name, and in the morning I saw the hard truth: Turns out Daniel Craig’s name is Daniel Craig, and we are pathetic.  But thats for another post.  Here’s the long rundown of the meal at Aquavit.

The bread – A great meal must start, and end (and some in the middle) with great bread, and this one did not disappoint.  In fact Emma herself was also in charge of bread service before the big promotion.  The Danish rye and the brown butter in particular was simply… wait for it… Divine!

Aquavit - Gravalax and AsparagusGravlax Asparagus – Starting with a bang.  Like a full plump egg ravioli, with layers of salmon coating more salmon bits, with essentially an asparagus ménage à trois.  Asparagus panna cotta, apsaragus tips (let me know when I start sounding like Bubba gump), asparagus ribbons, and asparagus espuma.  Ok, so there was no espuma.  But there was something exceptionally delicious in this dish that I havent found in any gravlax/lux before.

King Crab and Rhubarb –  With nutmeg butter, you can see the ingredients clearly below.  The least favorite dish came in early.  Not much wrong with it, but lacking the brilliance of the others.  You are supposed to eat all three together, and you quickly realize that you include too much of the tarty rhubarb.   And on your second bite you realize that you have too much butter.  By the time you find the right balance you are left with a quarter of the king crabAquavit King Crab

Calf’s Liver and Cucumber – I dont know what Pete Wells was eating, or perhaps they adjusted this dish after the review but I thought this was one of the strongest dishes.  A hockey puck of creamy calf’s liver wrapped inside this cucumber gelatin, with a surprise inside in the form of braised oxtail, and sliced cucumbers adding a nice crunch.  Spectacular looking, and tasting dish

Beef Tongue and Nasturtium – While I truly enjoyed this one, the name of the dish should really be”Potatoes”.  Marbles potatoes baked in ash, some of the smokiest, tastiest potatoes I ever had.  Yes there were tender strips of beef tongue and Noma-esque Nasturtium (flowers and sugar are two common Aquavit elements) among other things, but it was the potatoes that took center stage.Aquavit Calf's liver

Mackerel and Pistachio – Perfection!  Mackerel’s strong personality was well contained, and the result was quite flavorful.  Simply put, perfectly cooked.  Candied pistachios, more flowers, foam contributed to the fun.  This is the dish that showcases Emma’s style the most

Lamb and Spring Onion.  Essentially this one is lamb and spring onions!  Onions posing in every way shape or form, Kardashian/Jenner style.  Lamb, slowly cooked for three days had a nice crispy top layer and a fatty middle layer.  Nice flavor overall, but a bit more fat than we like

Aquavit HavgusHavgus and Walnut – One of the havgus cheese strips was still alive when it showed up, and eventually unrolled itself.  There were more candied nuts, along with thinly sliced fresh peaches and birch syrup, though the Havgus midway proved a bit heavy and tiresome.  And tiresome is the last feeling you want to have before the next dish

Arctic Bird’s Nest (top) – This is the star, the main event. the Thrilla in Manila of the tasting menu.  You anticipate it, you know its coming, and at some point you think maybe its not a good idea to have that third Danish rye with brown butter, because we are not here for Danish rye and brown butter.  I cant think of another such place in NYC whose menu’s star is a dessert.  I’m sure it exist, but I cant think of any.  The Bird’s Nest was as selfie worthy and spectacular as we imagined.  There was a “cookie” nest, Goat cheese parfait eggs, snow dusting of frozen yogurt, blueberry and raspberries sorbet, a hint of gold and more than a hint of brilliance.  Well done!

Aquavit
Park Avenue Tower, 65 E 55th St
$$$$
Recommeded Dishes: Get the Chef’s tasting menu

Aquavit sorbetAquavit Lamb and Onion Aquavit  Mackarel Aquavit Oyster 010

 

Categories: Midtown East, 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

Tourist in My Own Town – Day 4

136   Partially thanks to the new view, I slept like a baby.  I woke up every 3 hours needed to be fed and changed.  I’m attaching a picture of the “Courtyard View” which I requested over the street view we got last week.  We checked out after playing a game we invented called “I spy a courtyard” (I won!) and off we went to Everyman Espresso for another fantastic latte.

We are walkers, especially in the morning, and on this morning we decided to walk all the way to Battery Park passing approx 17 neighborhoods on the way give or take.  East Village, West Village, South Village, Greenwich Village, Nolita, South East Village, Chinatown, Soho, you get the picture.  Free tip for men:  The best time to walk through Soho is Sunday morning where its nice and quiet, and all the stores are closed!

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143We reach the Irish Hunger Memorial, dedicated to the million Irish killed in the great potato famine around 1850.  The great hunger led to millions fleeing to NYC, New Orleans, Australia and the relocation greatly shaped many NYC neighborhoods especially Hell’s Kitchen.  Its a memorial, not a museum, so there’s not a whole lot to see, but its fairly unique.  Large stones were brought in from the different Irish counties to represent them, and other stones were brought in to replicate a typical 1850 Irish cottage.

The transformation from the hustle and bustle of the city to Battery Park is akin to travelling from Milan to a small unassuming Italian Village with fewer cars, tourists, and more families.  We walked by the water toward our main destination of the day passing unique playgrounds, nice looking lawns with stunning settings, beach volleyball, and skateboard courts.  Kids here have it all.  When I was a kid, all I had was a tiny toy soldier, and a pack of cigarettes (I started smoking at 5, quit when 6, true story).  The Times They Are a-Changin’.

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156It may sound strange to new readers, but perfectly fine to the rest, that I built the entire day around a Lobster Roll.  Well, not just a Lobster Roll.  The Grand Banks is a Schooner (a ship for the German readers) that is parked off Pier 25 and offers one of the best lobster rolls in town until November when they go south.  The roll is done Maine style which means cold, and I’m not the biggest fan of Maine style rolls unless they are done right using the meatiest parts of the lobster.  This one features plenty of Maine claw meat with tarragon mayonnaise, cucumbers and worth every penny of the $25.  Fries would have been nice but the potato chips are spiced so very nicely.  “Is Very Nice!” Borat would have said.  The boat rocks by the way.  I mean literally.  At some point after a few beers, the thought of pirates came creeping in.  The Somali type!

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We then picked up CitiBikes and rode Hudson River Park a bit toward Chelsea and the Highline.  By this point Mrs Z is like a pro, utilizing all her fingers and command of the language.  I’m very lucky to have her.  The Highline on a Sunday afternoon is Meshugenah!  Crazy busy.  At some point we were stuck behind a family of 4, a rooster, and a pair of parakeets.  It was a zoo!

Real tourists, you are standing on the wrong line.  Instead of tacos, you need to stand for the greatest Brisket in the tri-state area, Delaney’s Brisket.  It was comical to see no line to this while a long line for the tacos.  A trip to Briskettown the flagship in Williamsburg may also be necessary if you are a brisket fan.  I once drove for takeout with the Hummus Whisperer to bring back to Staten Island.  Also right next to Delaney is great gelato from L’Arte del Gelato and not too far, north is a La Newyorkina stand offering artisanal ice pops.  Don’t discount those stands, as this is great stuff folks.

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We shared the brisket sandwich, with the 2 great sides, and off we went to the subway to catch the L to cross East to 1st Ave.  We then picked up the bikes again and rode them all the way to 60th, and I must say once again, if Mrs Z can do this, so can anyone.  And besides, 1st and 2nd avenues are great for bikers and very Obamacare friendly since all the hospitals are right there.

We took the Roosevelt tram to Roosevelt Island.  I was there a few weeks ago for the first time and this time came back with Mrs Z for her first time.  Again, I went the south route to the new FDR memorial park via the only ruins in the city of New York (Smallpox hospital).  FDR has a special meaning for us since we met in FDR high school in Brooklyn (awwwwe!).  Cant say enough about New York parks these days

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I picked dinner close to the tram and for me it was a no brainer especially after the movie the day before, Moti Mahal Delux.  Locals and most visitors may not realize that this is actually part of a world wide empire chain, originating in India.  While menu wise it didn’t feel as sexy as a Kokum, Chote Nawab, and some other we’ve visited over the years, this was a solid North Indian fare.

Evening time, we realize we have kids, they are coming tomorrow, and fridge is empty.  Back to Union Square and Whole Foods.  But right before, we found ourselves singing and dancing with Israel supporters at Union Square Park, which over time became a center for political rallies.

After Whole Foods we loaded the car next to Liquiteria, a new location right in front of the Hyatt which I only noticed on Day 3.  Got my favorite juice the Grasshopper, and back home to Staten Island.

And thats all she wrote folks.  Now if someone volunteers to take my kids to Aruba (or Turks and Caicos) next year again, I would write another NYC Trip Report.  But, until then…Ciao baby!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

 

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Categories: East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Midtown East, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, TriBeCa | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dude, You Are Researching NYC Food All Wrong

002Dear Tourist,

So you’ve decided finally to go on a “Holiday” to New York City.  Mazal Tov!  You probably read by now in your guide books that NYC is the greatest food city in the world.  And you are probably waking up every morning thanking god for the gift that keeps on giving, the TripAdvisor Rankings.  Between the rankings, the guidebooks, and all the great recommendations by your neighbor’s house sitter Betty (you must go to bubba gump you must) who eloped to NYC last year with 75 of her closest friends, you are all set.  Right?  Not exactly.  Lets take a moment and examine what is wrong with the above plan, and come up with a new one.

Whats wrong with the TA rankings:  Everything, and nothing.  Its just totally meaningless, especially in NYC.  TA is a great traveling tool, but pretty much totally useless in NYC as far as restaurants are concerned.  The main reason for its uselessness is that there are much better research tools in NYC. (more on that later).  But lets discuss the rankings for a second shall we.  They are so flawed and so out of tune with reality that’s not even funny.  The top 50 at the moment is a bizarre mishmash of classics and places I never even heard of.  First of all the TA algorithm puts some major weight on the number of reviews.  So older establishments may be higher than better reviewed younger ones.  And then there are those that have 27 remarkably high reviews that made it all the way to the top 20.  And not to mention that 25 of them may be coming from all their employees and families.  I always recall this one particular place in Milan where the owner single-handedly put his place #1 with a bunch of obvious fake reviews.  At some point he mistakenly gave himself one star, and that followed with 4 quick glorious reviews with a similar language.  And once real reviews started coming in, he found himself arguing with every reviewer

But fake reviews don’t have much of a bearing on the busy NYC listings.  Tourists do.  TripAdvisor is predominately used by tourists, and its especially true in NYC.  While you may see locals contribute in other towns and countries where there’s not much of a choice other than TA, in NYC locals use other sites like Yelp.  Now, couple the tourist factor with the high volume factor I mentioned above and you can see why something like Basso56 will be near the top as its heavily reviewed by tourists thanks to its location near Times Square.  Besides Basso, at the top of the Italian chain on TA at the moment you can find other Italian behemoths like Rafele, Piccola Cucina, Via Della Pace – places I never even heard of.  But if you need more convincing than “Ziggy never heard of”, why not just go to Chowhound where all the NY foodies hang out and pull threads that discuss the best Italian in town.  You will not find any of those places mentioned.  What you will see mentioned are places like Maialino (#95), Babbo (#602), Marea (#194), Lincoln (#882), or even Ziggy fave Costata (#2605).  TA numbers are all over the place as you can see, well outside of the top range for the unsuspecting tourist.  So while you are eating a Carbonara with cream and bacon at a high ranked theater district place near you, locals out there enjoy the real thing with Guanciale and egg at Maialino.

Same applies to using the rankings everywhere else in the world.  My favorite restaurant in our adapted home of Turks and Caicos is Caicos Cafe, rated #20 at the moment, pretty low in T&C standards.

Now, its time to ditch the guide book.  Ok, wait.. pick it up.. its actually quite useful for many things.  But not so much for food.  Yes, you will get some good tips on some NY icons like Katz’s and Russ and Daughters that I recommend.  But then you have something like pizza (namely Grimaldi’s) and bagels that NYC is so famous for.  While you will not easily find better pastrami than Katz’s, you will easily find better pizza than Grimaldi’s.  Actually, all you need to do while standing on line at Grimaldi’s with the rest of the tourists is look to you left at Juliana’s window to see where the real Grimaldi is doing his thing nowadays.  But you dont even have to leave your neighborhood in Manhattan to get great pizza that is arguably better than Grimaldi’s.

Besides pizza, your guide book will mislead you in other areas.  E.g.  Hell’s Kitchen is not a safe area, the place for Italian is Little Italy, and Times Square is a foodie paradise.  Your guide book may be up to date as far as facts are concerned (MoMA hours) but not concepts.  Little Italy is now a block inside Chinatown riding one of those concepts.  There are no Italians living there.  Another thing to keep in mind is that the food contributors to the guides may not be necessarily “foodies”.  Rick Steves for example does not strike me a foodie, and to follow his advice in Italy or anywhere else is Europe in this day and age is pretty silly.  Eating at guidebook recommended establishments and high ranked TA spots also means eating with other tourists who are doing exactly the same thing.  Some may find comfort with that, but if you are reading this blog chances are you want to eat where the locals eat.

And as for your neighbor Betty recommendations go, treat them like meeting your dentist at the supermarket.  Smile, and move on.  Unless Betty, is an avid Eating With Ziggy reader and/or does any of the following…

Read Chowhound – as I mentioned, this is where many of the NYC foodies hang out, and where I get many ideas.  Chowhound is probably my wallet’s single worst offender.

Read Yelp Reviews instead of TA reviews.  I already touched on this, and its fairly simple.  Locals use Yelp, tourists use TA.

Read or Subscribe to Grub Street – You can get all sorts of interesting ideas there, especially from the power rankings.  Same idea applies to Eater, or Serious Eats.

Hang out in the TripAdvisor NYC Forum.  You dont even have to participate.  Its amazing how much knowledge you can get just by reading the forum for a month or two.  There are plenty of locals who contribute on a daily basis, and you can also find many discussions on dining by using the search feature

And the most important tip…

Read EatingWithZiggy.  Whats so funny.  Where do you think I derive my ideas from.

Happy eating, and happy planning!

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

NYC – Top 10 dishes of 2013

NoMad breadAnother year, another amazing eating year in the city of New York.  Keeping up with all the new and excitement here is like keeping up with the Kardashians.  But 2013 proved to be one heck of a year, probably the best ever.  And if there’s ever a post on EWZ that could be helpful to visitors or locals seeking great chow in NYC, this is IT!

Ma Peche – Fried Chicken (with a side of the Brussels Sprouts).  I’ll start with the last great dish.  Haute Fried Chicken doesnt get any better than this.  Habanero, coriander, black pepper and other spices used to create this fried pieces of awesomeness.  Its a large shareable whole chicken at $48, but for lunch you can get half for $24 which can still feed an Armanian village, or 2 Americans.  And the amazing Brussels Sprouts dish are worthy of their own spot here.

photo (4)

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop– Smoked Whitefish Donburi.  With salmon roe, sweet soy dashi, cucumber, scallion over rice.  Need I say more?  I probably should.  Tell me if you heard this story before.  A Jewish man from Long Island opens a Ramen shop in Tokyo which becomes critically acclaimed, then comes back to NYC to open a Ramen shop in the New Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen.  Sounds familiar? The Donburi is a nice clash of the 2 cultures (Japan meets Jew)

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Momofuku Ssam Bar – Spicy Sausages & Rice Cakes.  Second Momofuku mention already (Ma Peche is the first)   This dish is insane.  Plenty of heat and plenty of joy.  Its a beautiful medley of ground sausage, Chinese broccoli, Sichuan peppercorn, and the awesome rice cakes which were essentially Korean Gnocchi made from rice flour.  Puts the Mssion Chinese rice cakes to shame.  Photo courtesy of Never Too Sweet

Betony – Short Ribs.  A revelation!  Tender, full of flavor goodness.  It takes 3 days to make them we were told.  We told the waitress that we cant stay that long, but we quickly understood the meaning.

Betony - short ribs

Maialino – Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.  Its so simple, it shouldnt be here.  But along with the carbonara perhaps my favorite dish at one of my favorite Italian spots in the city.  Perfectly creamy, peppery, and addictive.  Having it sit there among the other pastas on the table is like visiting the bunny ranch after trying out all the bunnies, and constantly picking your favorite.

Maialino - Cacio e pepe

The NoMad – The Chicken.  This is a no brainer, and a top dish nominee even before it reached our table.  Once you get over the facts that a) is costs $78 (for 2) and b) its freakin chicken, you will enjoy this one no doubt.  Perfectly crispy skin, moist juicy white meat, along with some foie gras and black truffles (all cooked) nicely tucked beneath the skin.  Each bite of that combination together was a Tour de Force.  But that’s not all.  Add a glorious plate of the dark meat with garlic espuma (foamy light garlic goodness) in the middle to share.

NoMad Chicken

Ippudo – Akamaru Modern (with egg).  “Welcom”, “Goodbye”, “Aim Well”? I have no idea what they are screaming in Japanese at Ippudo every time someone arrives or goes to the bathroom.  All I know is that this is my favorite dish here.  Rich, complex pork broth, along with hefty pieces of pork belly.  Add the egg and spicy miso paste for even richer flavors

Ippudo - Akamaru

Costata – The Costata.  Perhaps the dish of the year.  A mammoth 44oz $120 very shareable Tomahawk Ribeye cooked to perfection.  Basted ever so beautifully with a rosemary brush, this beast was a feast for all senses.  Add some Black truffle butter, fries and asparagus, but good luck remembering the sides in between bites of perhaps the best steak in town

Costata - Ribeye

Nish Nush – Falafel.  I know Falafel.  I grew up with falafel.  My car runs on falafel (its the trade-in period while waiting for the new car so dont want to use the real thing).  This is good falafel.  Fresh pita from the oven, and free (great) hummus can only help

Nish Nush - Falafel

Kashkar Cafe – Geiro Lagman.  Little Asia in little Odessa (Brighton Beach) and perhaps the only Uyghur spot in town.  I’ve had this dish 3 times in the last 8 months.  Nice and chewy hand pulled noodles with lamb, veggies, cumin, garlic, other spices and herbs make up this highly palatable dish.

Kashkar lagman

Special mentions:

Malai Marke – Chicken Xacuti (and Bindi Sasuralwali)
Sakagura – Maguro Tartar
Pure Thai – Wok Curry Paste with Pork
Mercato – Trenette
Jungsik – The rice dish that comes for free for b-day boy 😉
Louro – Octopus Bolognese (tie with monkfish)
Mission Chinese – Kung Pao Pastrami

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, TriBeCa, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sakagura – Tale From a Crypt

SakaguraTaking a short break from Italy blogging.

You think you know someone.  I’ve known my friends Igor and Natasha since the high school days.  At least I thought I did.  Staring somewhat confused at an office building looking for an entrance to Sakagura, Igor turns to an Asian couple standing near us and asks them where is the entrance.. in Japanese.  “They said its 2 blocks down” “how can it be 2 blocks away if Google Maps tells me we are standing right in front of the building.” I answer.  “And is it my imagination or did you just ask for directions in Japanese in New York City.”

SakaguraTurns out I needed this to be spelled out to me.  Go inside the unassuming office building, go down to the basement and Voila!.. Sakagura, one of the cities most popular Izakayas, aka Sake bar, aka Japanese tapas bar, aka an oasis for Russian middle aged men who somehow picked up some Japanese from coworkers and waited many years to showcase their new found skills to their friends.  A quick sprint to the desk by Igor to inform the confused girl that we are here and we get comfortably settled in a nice booth.  Décor takes me back to the Tokyo underground dining days.  Meaning, the images Ive seen on the Internet

We agreed that I’ll take care of the food ordering while Igor handles the Sake menu.  Both quite challenging but I came prepared. But when Igor started talking Japanese to the Sake Sommelier, the shocked fellow had the kind of expression as if he was just asked if his daughter is 18, twice.  But we somehow managed and before you knew it the food started flowing.  More on Igor later but lets do a quick run down on dishes I (we) liked and disliked.  Other than a few clunkers this was a great meal

Sakagura - DessertLiked:

Gomaae – Spinach with sesame sauce.  Nice and pleasant to start things off.  Aromatic and heavy seasame presence in a good way

Onsen Tamago:  Fantastic soup with soft boiled egg, uni and salmon roe.  I’m not a huge fan of uni but this was quite good, along with the rest of the soup.

Maguro Tartar – Tuna tartar with all sorts of fish roe and caviar.  Best and most expensive ($16) dish of the night

Sakagura - FlukeHirame Ponzu – Buttery, very tasty Fluke Sashimi with this acidy grated radish salad I couldnt get enough of.

Buta Kakuni – Melt in your mouth yummy stewed pork belly.  Perfect fat/meat ratio 

Tori Tsukune – fairly nice but basic Chicken meatballs with terriyaki sauce.  Not all of us enjoyed this one

Chawanmushi – Egg Custard Ponzu soup with chicken and shrimp and something resembling a mini Easter egg

SakaguraGindara Yuan Yaki – Not Yaki at all.  very nice and sweet black cod

Sremeika Yaki – Grilled Japanese squid with garlic sauce.  Was growing on me more and more as I was eating it

Saikoro Steak – diced steak with great sauce.  One of the best dishes of the night

Desserts – we sampled 3.  Very nice coffee jelly, a savory seasonal Mango pudding, but the big winner was the crème Brule with black sesame.  holy smokes that was good

Sakagura - rice ballsDisliked

Sanma Onigiri – rice balls with shiitake, radished and veggies wrapped in whole baked Mackarel.  This had a strong fishy odor and taste.  I’ve had mackerel many times but not quite like this

Snow Crab with steamed rice.  Quite dry and surprisingly fishy as well.  Kept trying it to no avail

Overall a fantastic but pricey meal.  Sakagura (“Saki Storage”) is far from your typical Japanese sushi joint.  Fine service, cool décor, and “cool” clientele that will satisfy the Anthony Weiners and Carlos Dangers of the world.  And as we were leaving…

Mrs Z:  I should probably go to the bathroom before the long drive

Igor:  Its right there on your right.  If you cant find it just ask someone “Toire wa dokoda”.  With a slight and sudden head nod after the last word like in those samurai movies

Me:  But Igor, we are in NYC and they all speak English here.  Why would a white girl… ok never mind.  “Tolet wa dokota” got it.Sakagura - Tuna Tartar

Sakagura - Steak Sakagura - Squid Sakagura - Cod Sakagura - Chicken Sakagura - Soup Sakagura - Spinach

Categories: Midtown East, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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