To open a Mexican restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen these days requires some major Chalupas. I need to double check with the EWZ stats department but its entirely possible that Mexican is more represented in the Kitchen of Hell than Thai these days. The last couple of years saw Taquerias, Tex-Mex, and all sorts of various sit-downs flood the area. All while old fashioned Mexican bodegas forced to close or transform themselves. So forgive me when I say this, but when I saw yet another Mexican being developed on 9th between 54/53, I said the same thing when they replaced Little Chef with Choza at Gotham West Market. We need another Mexican here like I needed Shingles
Then I find out this is another place from Julian Medina, of Toloache fame. That intrigued me enough to stop wishing for shingles, but not quite enough to make it a priority (sorry Medina). But I needed to try it for myself eventually. Oh and by the way did I mention that spot is cursed? It saw a bunch of places come and go, whose names no one can recall. The only memorable thing about this location saw one of my co-workers get slapped by a former CEO when it was an Italian joint. It was a playful slap, but a slap to the face nonetheless.
But the reason that intrigued me wasnt Medina (sorry again Julian, I owe you a drink), but the fact that with all the Mexican we have in Hell’s Kitchen, I was never truly comfortable recommending any of them to visitors looking for a “Mexican restaurant”. They are all either too authentic, too taqueria, too hole in the wallish, too tex-mex, too chilish, or just simply too suck. I couldnt think of one spot, but I think that’s about to change. There’s this new place opening soon on 10th promising to make Mission style… just kidding Medina (make it a pitcher). I think Tacuba may very well be it.
Talking about Mission, the dish that is simply called Carnitas at Tacuba has that Mission District slow roasted nastiness. It comes with Chicharron (Cracklings), four little tortillas for you to master your taco skills, but thats not all… A beautiful, tangy tamarind habanero salsa that will make you want to dip you car keys into. You may also want to add some sides to go along like the rice and beans, and the unique Avocado Fries. But dont overlook the terrific Sweet Plantains.
The one thing I love about Tacuba is its short, to the point menu. Other than the good looking Ceviche section, they only have about 5 appetizers, which they seem to master. The Guacamole is thick and proper, with chile serrano giving it a little kick. The Zucchini Flower Quesadilla with Burrata, Manchego and kale pesto tastes much better than it sounds. Good luck finding this in your neighborhood Cantina. But the one must eat here for both lunch and dinner is Octopus. For lunch you got a Torta featuring Chorizo, Octopus, and Chipotle Butter. And for dinner (and lunch) Octopus comes on a toasty Tostada with chipotle butter and mezcal. Carnitas Burrito at lunch time is well done as well, other than the accompanying fries that can use some work – I suggested rosemary and garlic chips or something to oomph them up. No Complaints on the desserts and drinks side either. Go!
802 9th Ave (53/54)
This is a new monthly feature on EWZ that simply features a NYC establishment that I like right now. Not a full blown post as I will spare you the unnecessary details and jokes and simply say GO, and why. And yes, I’m changing the meaning of the conventional usage of “Flavor of the Month” and making it my own
There aren’t that many places more deserving to kick this thing off than Gazala’s. I’ve been going to Gazala’s in Hell’s Kitchen for many years, and only met Gazala a handful of times. Thats partly because for a while Gazala was cooking at the bigger Gazala near the Natural History Museum until she was forced to close it. As a result she spends more time in Hell’s Kitchen these days, especially during lunch time making dinner preparations. Middle Eastern is the proper way of categorizing Gazala’s, but its more than that
At the moment Gazala is in Israel, visiting her family at the Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, in the north near Haifa. The village where years ago as a young girl she had to make a decision that would shape the rest of her life. The decision to whether follow the religious path or not, as every Druze boy and girl requires to decide. Sacrifices surround each decision, and luckily for us New Yorkers she chose the non-religious path (as most do). This essentially allowed her to travel, and bring us a taste of that druze culture. This may be the only Druze restaurant in the country
Gazala’s Place is not a particularly sexy place. For that go to Room Service across the street where you can swing by their many chandeliers. But if you want some of the best and freshest Hummus in NYC, a Bourekas (like Bourek, flaky pastry stuffed with cheese and other goodies) popular with food tours, and fantastic falafel the size of a small monkey head, come to Gazala’s Place. Her $10 lunch specials alone like the Kafta kebab with outragously delicious chicken, hummus, salad, rice, and Baba ghanoush is the best deal in Hell’s Kitchen. Like the gift that keeps on giving
Someone out there in Denver owes me an American dollar. And I know where she lives! The bet was that taking my immediate extended family (The Joy Suck Club) to something like Blue Ribbon Sushi will be a big flop. Last time I attempted this, we wind up in Rosa Mexicano due to the reluctance of the Denverphile who should pay me another dollar for enduring another meal at Rosa Mexicano. The belief of the Denverite is that Blue Ribbon Sushi is all about that.. Sushi, and blue ribbons and stuff. And that this is simply a disastrous match to the members of some of the pickiest eaters on the planet.
Introducing the Joy Suck Club….
One is so picky that anything remotely slimy will make her puke in her mouth a little. Forget Oysters. I’m talking about mushrooms! She had her first mushroom at the age of 65, and said it was “ok”
One requires everything well well well done. Forget steak! I’m talking about pasta and eggs.
One likes generally everything, but will immediately tell you where you can get this better somewhere else even though he doesnt get out much. “I understand this is prime meat, aged 60 days and perfectly cooked. But there’s this place near where I live who does it better”
One can not handle anything with… whats the word I’m looking for… Flavor. The dish requires zero flavor whatsoever. No sauce, no seasoning. I will take the Spaghetti alle Vongole, without the Vongole please.
And then there’s the one who needs proper lighting to enjoy his meal. And by proper I mean nothing short but stadium power, blinding kind. “This is good, but I cant see anything. I would like to see what I’m eating please”
In other words, everything sucks!
To them we are freaks of nature. “You are eating uncooked meat. Should I call an ambulance now, or you’ll do it later in the middle of the night”. And so with us in the mix I’m constantly looking for that balance. Italian normally works, but gets a little challenging in the theater district (if nowhere near Mercato). At Blue Ribbon I have a secret weapon that the Denverite may not know about. Chicken! And Salmon! Not to mention steak, the sickest fried rice dish in town, and a very full menu. But what I like about Blue Ribbon and large groups more is that I can reserve at any time, and have a family style meal. I’ve done it with co-workers, and now it even passed the Joy Suck Club. The biggest test there is
Blue Ribbon Sushi has been a staple in the Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide, even though depending on how full the moon is, and who you ask, may or may not be in Hell’s Kitchen. But deliciousness has no borders. And Blue Ribbon needs to be in a neighborhood like HK. Blue Ribbon is a chain, but one should not hold it against them. While you can find their sensational oxtail fried rice with bone marrow and omelette downtown as well, they do some things unique to this location. Like the Ika Shoga, simply sauteed squid with ginger and garlic. Why no one else does this is a mystery to me. Its not only a dish I enjoyed many times, but I do get some pleasure from watching people react when they try it for the first time. Mrs Ziggy, kids, and yes, even some members of the club, raved about this one.
For me, family style meals are not about going to Carmine’s and eating 2 oversized dishes shared by 6 people. There’s just so much you can order and share, and the quality of large dishes is almost always poor. Instead, go to any place and simply order as many dishes as necessary of the same thing. Blue Ribbon is great for this because some of their signature dishes like the fried rice, and the squid are very shareable. I once sent a group there (I wasnt invited, just consulted) and pretty much wrote the entire order for them based on how many people were in the party. You want variety, especially with picky eaters. And Blue Ribbon chefs know how to cook
The rest of the meal was a big success with the Suck Club. My secret weapon fried chicken, and the salmon with a light teriyaki glaze worked like magic. The only concern was that the salmon would not be cooked enough for the club, but hey, they ate, and raved about it. I especially loved the smoky bean sprouts and rabe that accompanied the fish. While I’m not the biggest fan of the fried chicken, its almost always a smart order, and I’m slowly warming up to the honey sauce that comes with it. The fried rice is a smash hit as usual, and I’ve essentially already written essays and articles about it. Nightly specials included a fine Nobu-esque rock shrimp tempura, and finer spare ribs. There was plenty of sushi as well, shockingly gobbled up by some JSC members who may not have been aware that they were eating raw fish. And to complete the experience, I was reunited with my favorite Japanese light beer, Hitachino Nest. This did not suck.
Someone in Denver awes me a buck.
6 Columbus, 308 W 58th St (8/9)
I hope I find you readers well, and I hope this stays just between us. As much as I like my places to stay the same, my mama always taught me that “Sharing is Caring”. I shared my only toy, a plastic green soldier with my friends, including the friend who introduced me to cigarettes at the coming of age 5 (I quit when I turned 6, and swore off cigarettes forever. True story). Up until three months ago or so my go-to Ramen spot has been the Totto branch on 51st/10th, right across
the Falafel Nazi Azuri Cafe. After over a dozen visits to Totto, with the occasional cheating with the great Ippudo Akamaru and Ivan, I’ve gone exploring yet again for that great Ramen bowl in the Kitchen of Hell. Enter little Mentoku on 9th ave.
Mentoku is not your prototypical Hell’s Kitchen Ramen that is buzzy, with the occasional painful waits, less than comfortable seating, and quick eat. You can actually spend more than 5 minutes here while enjoying soft Jazz. There’s one cook, and there’s usually one or two waitresses running the “front”. And more importantly, I have never seen the place too full to enjoy. Whether by myself at the counter, or with co-workers, every visit has been comfortable and relaxing, a rarity in NYC Ramen world. “Akanoren” is proudly displayed on the sign outside, and according to this blogger, its a Ramen chain in Japan.
The specialty here is Hakata style Tokotsu Ramen, where the pork is slowly cooked at high temperatures. This means the meat and the fat dissolves into the soup more, creating a rich, but smooth base. Meaning its rich, but not one of those super rich, guilt-filled bowls that makes you want to start smoking again as you declare this day the beginning of the end of your life. You coming out of there feeling good, which to me is what Ramen is all about.
I started my relationship with Mentoku with the mild and pleasant Tinkichi, but its the Yuzu-Kosho that does it for me now. The hot Yuzu paste delivers an initial punch but settles down nicely into a very pleasant bowl. The Nori surrounding the bowl adds a nice fishy element as you smell it with each morsel, and the thin cut chashu is the way to go as far the pork belly goes. I feel that some of the other guys slice them a little too thick. Another big hit at Mentoku is their simple but incredibly juicy and flavorful fried chicken.
Mentoku will be added to the Survival Guide, while we say goodbye to short-lived Mocu Mocu. Oh how I hoped the sisters succeed, but was always afraid that Hell’s Kitchen, and in particular that corner of 10th Ave, is simply not ready for this kind of Japanese.
Pretty much overnight, food courts in NYC went from a concept to “What, another one? We need another food court like I need a pimple in my tuches”. Food courts, food halls, semi-annual festivals like Madison Square Eats have become part of us, like bagels, and pizza rats. It almost seems like a new one opens every week, and one can easily lose track of openings just like with new restaurants these days. At some point you just stop and ask yourself, how many more Luke Lobsters and Mighty Quinn’s does this city really needs. Some of them start to look the same, and one of them even invited me for a free tour and tasting. I get such invites on a weekly basis and its either something I’m not interested in, or in Staten Island. Ziggy will not be bought. PERIOD! Unless you invite me to one of these three.
CM is busy, touristy, perhaps the most crowded food hall out there, and I cant get enough of it. I bike there for lunch more often than some of the places by my work I can walk to. And, yeah, you guessed it, I dont go there for its history. The vendor list is incredibly impressive, and for the most part unique to Chelsea Market. A high quality butcher, An “A” List Taco joint, fresh seafood, top notch gelato, Halvah, and the soon to be best hummus in NYC, Dizengoff, which will open any day now, are just some examples. Its unlike any market in the world, so comparing it to something like Venice, Barcelona, Mahane Yehuda markets is silly. Some may even suggest its not much of a market, but a collection of high quality food purveyors, but there’s definitely enough market in it. In fact one of the things I love about CM is that some of the vendors source their stuff directly from next door. Cull & Pistol gets their seafood from sister Lobster Place, while Creamline (great turkey burger) gets their meat from Dickson’s Farmstand next door. If you are a food enthusiast (well. you are reading this blog post) you owe it to yourself to stop by. But dont do it when you tired or stuffed. Many tourists just walk the main isle, leave the other door and then ask whats the big deal about this place. Stay for a little bit, explore, and meet some of the vendors, like Rachel from Seed + Mill. Tell her Ziggy sent ya.
Yeah, nothing shocking about any of these picks. Long time readers already know that Ziggy hearts Eataly. Unlike, say Little Italy, Eataly is super touristy for good reason. And like Chelsea Market, yes, there’s a good chance that a large Polish man will step on your foot when you least expect. But do you know who especially likes Eataly, that may come as a surprise? Italians. Italians who appreciate quality, and can even find items that are not easily available back home. Whether we go for a little shopping, Nutella Bar, or have a snack at one of its restaurants, we cant get enough of it. I usually have a small mental laundry list of stuff that we “need” like Italian craft beer, Venchi chocolates, fresh pasta like the Agnolotti dal Plin, sauces, cookies, and whatever else catches my eye on each visit. Yes, the stuff is expensive, and I dont shop there on a monthly basis. But cheaper than this is, well, essentially “Stop and Shop”. Quality and imports come with a price tag. Another reason for tourists to come to Eataly is the location. Your attraction heavy guide book may not tell you that Madison Square Park and its surroundings is a must see, especially during squirrel season.
Gotham West Market
While I was waiting for my Steak Barbacao bowl at Choza the other day, I bumped into something I dont see very often at GWM… Tourists. The process of ordering anything at Choza for tourists can be as complicated as our current presidential race, so I was happy to put my Matt Murdock mask on and step in to help. GWM, simply put, is one of the best things to ever happen in Hell’s Kitchen, and one of its main advantages and what separates it from the pack is that its out of the main tourist route. Other than the Intrepid nearby I cant think of any reasons why tourists would come here. Maybe check out our incredible lineup of auto dealerships? GWM is also a very different food court. Its compact, with only 8 or so vendors, and it has more of a neighborhood feel than other food courts. Think of it as one large restaurant with 8 different menus to choose from, where your kids and husbands can run around freely. You can order something at one vendor and eat it at the counter of the next. The funky Avroko design of the place may be reason enough to stop by for some, but I personally go for, you know, the food.
Latest on Gotham West Market and the next Most Interesting Man in The World….
I’ve been enjoying a little Ecuadorian hole in the wall on 10th called Nano as of late. Nano has some serious Nonaism going on, with homey nona style recipes filling up the menu like the Caldo de Bola soup which made the Best Soups in HK cut. For lunch you got various deals that include the Seco de Pollo, chicken strips in a mild but pleasant gravy, and Sango de Res, beef in a soup like green plantain sauce. Some of the other offerings look very much Peruvian. I’ll be adding this one to the Survival Guide
Staying with the Peruvian theme, adding Pio Pio as a large group option to the guide. Pio Pio is a chain and it wont win any James Beard or Z-List awards any time soon. But for larger groups, even fairly last minute, I cant think of better options that are also affordable in the area. Décor downstairs is somewhat funky, drinks are good. When its time to celebrate something at my company and I’m asked for “Not as expensive as last time, please” (think Blue Ribbon or Taboon), I’m left with a Pio Pio
Removing Hell’s Chicken. I just dislike going here. No atmosphere, lackluster food at times. Honestly the only Korean you need to know about is Danji.
There was a time when I would wet dream about our office being in East Village. By wet dream I mean, a co worker would shout “Its happening again!”, and another coworker would pour cold water on me. But those moments are long gone (Replaced by a younger Salma Hayek). Nowadays, not only Hell’s Kitchen is thriving in the food front, but businesses from East Village are slowly opening locations here. Taqueria Diana very quietly is the latest one to open a branch on 9th (39th), just a few small blocks from the mew Tehuitzingo. While a mixed bag so far (good al pastor, poor carnitas), the promise is there for a proper California style Burrito. With all this Mexican greatness in the hood, I still cant find a decent reliable Burrito. Oy, first world problems!
A lot of changes happening at Gotham West Market. El Colmado, trying to become a viable lunch option as its neighbors, introduced a lunch menu consisting of sandwiches and salads. But based on the punchless fancy burger I had yesterday, they need to work a little harder. Ivan Ramen keeps reshuffling its lineup introducing various “buns” (think pork buns) including Pastrami buns. The all-day breakfast ramen which used to be mornings only, is possibly the best thing you can eat in the building at the moment. The most interesting addition to the market as of late has been Uma Temakeria from Chris Jaeckle, owner of the terrific All’onda in West Village. The specialty here is Sushi served in wacky forms like nori cones (think ice cream sushi), Burritos, and design your own Chirashi bowls. Nothing shockingly exciting, but so far so good with everything I tried. A refreshing addition for the raw fish lovers
If you missed it, I recently blogged about my favorite soups in the area. A blog post my mom would have been very proud of. And before that, I gave you my favorite Thai around. Since then however, I’ve been enjoying another place called Siri Thai on 10th ave, but not quite ready to put on the list with three very solid places there already. The one cool thing about Siri Thai is that its not only the busiest Thai on 10th, it one of the busiest places period.
Winter is here in beautiful Hell’s Kitchen. The sky is blue, the birds are chirping, and the cabbies are singing “I feel pretty, oh so pretty” and other West Side Story tunes. That’s what it feels like after you have any of those soups below on a cold NY day. Let me put this another way… I’m not a soup person. It rarely excites me, and I would never go out of my way for decent soup. So for me to write about soup, it must be something special. This post is 15 years in the making really, and none of these are your average homemade Ratatouille moment grandma soups. For that I recommend grandma! (although I will touch on some of those at the end)
Caldo de Bola at Nano – Perhaps I should have added to the above “Unless your Grandma is Ecuadorian”. A tiny Eucadorian hole in the wall on 10th serves this traditional thing of beauty. Rich, beefy broth with veggies, beef, corn on the cob, yes corn on the cob which is probably the least interesting item in there. The most is a giant plantain dumpling with all sorts of awesome deliciousness inside… more beef, raisins, egg and peanut sauce. Sounds bizarre, but it works
Spicy Ramen at Totto – Home to Ziggy’s first and coincidentally last Ramen, with about 100 in between. Delicious Chicken Paitan broth topped with spicy sesame oil and your choice of chicken or pork belly (I’ve never had the chicken, always pork). I like to sit at the counter at the 51st/10th location where you can also get some apps like Spicy Tuna Don at half price with your ramen (lunch time only I believe). Cash only.
Sukhothai Pork Noodles Soup at Pure Thai Cookhouse– While its hard for me to stay away from the rest of the menu normally, during frozen tundra times, this is the dish of choice. A clean but tangy pork broth with rice noodles, sweet sliced roasted pork, long bean, bean sprout, peanuts, dried shrimp, ground pork, and if thats not enough, topped with pork cracklings. Yes, its busy, YES its delicious. Skip the option to upgrade to the homemade egg noodles and stick to tradition. TRADITION!
Shanghai Pork & Shrimp Wonton Soup at Mooncake Foods. Calling this Wonton soup is almost criminal. Whether you generally like Wonton soups or normally pass on them at your neighborhood Chinese takeout in favor of the hot & sour, is irrelevant. Pure, clean chicken broth with a generous amount of fantastically meaty dumplings, and noodles (extra). Perhaps the best cure for the common cold in the hood.
Akamaru Modern at Ippudo. I’ve exchanged eye pleasantries and perhaps tasted a spoon or two, but after a dozen or so visits, I’ve never actually had Ramen at Ippudo that’s not called Akamaru Modern, mainly out of fear. I’ve made it this far, waited this long, not settling for potentially second best. This porky Tonkotsu Ramen with a secret umami paste transforms ramen as we know it. A game changer. While Totto is my quick ramen fix, this one is where I would bring a wife, or a date
Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – I’ve already written about this one in great length. Forget winter! This is the official cure to summer time sadness.
The Rest – Indie Fresh at Gotham West Market got unusual and healthy soups like Borscht that can even make a Babushka blush… a rather shy Babushka. When I’m in the mood for something simple like white bean or split pea soup I head to my friend Anna at Café Ole. Sometimes when I feel naughty, I get Ezra’s terrific split pea with my falafel at Azuri Café. Mocu Mocu serves a most unusual Miso with white bean and Sausage. RIP Bis.Co.Latte, and Holly’s amazing soups
In my adopted home of Turks and Caicos (I’m not worthy) there’s a little famous place called The Conch Shack, nicely situated right on the beach. Its an island institution of sorts, appearing on various “best Caribbean shack” lists and quite popular with tourists and locals alike. The same fame also means an occasional “Tourist Trap” tag given by visitors with less than stellar experiences. A rather unfitting tag considering the establishment lacks the number one ingredient for a “tourist trap”… location. To get to the Conch Shack visitors need to hire a car, or take an expensive cab ride. There are other reasons why the Conch Shack is far from a tourist trap, like the constant need to protect a reputation, but the bottom line as far as I’m concerned is location, location, location.
Times Square and much of Midtown Manhattan is on the other end of the spectrum. As tourism continues the steady yearly rise, rents continue to skyrocket, and restaurateurs need to stay on top of the tourist game. In a sea of establishments that are strictly in the business of making tourists happy (think today’s Little Italy), there are plenty of reputable establishments that can’t afford to release clunkers out of their kitchens. Spots like Ma Peche, Marea, Betony may not satisfy everyone, but you get the sense they care about every single dish they put on the table. Up until last weekend I thought Quality Italian and Quality Meats were in that same company.
It took about 5 minutes to realize that I’m sitting in a slightly fancier, tourist filled Rosa Mexicana. Except that in RM I would be attended to initially without asking for it. For the 5 of us this evening, we opted to share a yellowtail crudo (good, though I prefer the flat skinny cuts over cubes), Ricotta (very good), a few pastas, one steak and the world famous chicken parm shaped like a 12 inch pizza pie.
The Bucatini & Clams was actually quite good. Covered by a rich, pleasantly peppery ragu with potatoes. But it comes with a price tag, $33, which is $11 more than the listed online price (at the time of this writing showing $22). Same price discrepancy with the Agnolotti and the rest of the pastas, not so much with other items on the menu
On occasion we do see price discrepancies between actual and online menus, but not quite to this 50% extreme. Perhaps I dont frequent mega touristy area restaurants often enough, but how the hell do they get away with this. Whether this is a mistake or not, after several tries I have not given any explanations from Quality Meats representatives. The closest to that was a “Oooh really, we’ll let our marketing dep’t know”
On top of that I was not even given the opportunity for redemption. A bone-in filet was dry and flavorless. Dont believe me? ask my 13 year steak aficionado daughter who picked up on that before I took my first bite. A recall a similar cut at Del Frisco’s nearby that was much more successful. At a place known for their ways with the meat, this was as shocking as the pasta-gate.
The legendary Chicken Parm has been talked about since QI opened. Bloggers, Yelpers, Eater, children books written about this famous dish. The cost: $64. The verdict: It tastes approx $10 better than Mrs Ziggy’s version. Its a decent bite initially, but the sweetness of the sauce takes charge before you even finish the first slice. And if the sauce is not sweet enough, among an arsenal of condiments to justify the cost, you also get honey.
As we say bye bye to 2015, let this post be the beginning of the new and
angrier improved Eating With Ziggy. The reason I finally got to experience Quality Italian was because I was looking at something to eat before the new musical School of Rock and seeing the new tree which to me looks exactly the same as the previous 30. And if there’s one thing I learned from School of Rock is that when the time comes, sometimes, you just gotta STICK IT TO THE MAN!
57 W 57th St
Recommended Dishes: Ricotta