New York City

Jun-Men Ramen – Come for Nails, Stay for Italian

Eating With Ziggy

fried rice Jun-men ramen Photo by Jun-Men Ramen

March 29, 2019 Update:

I cringe sometimes when I read things I wrote over 3 years ago.  I had to take an entire paragraph about Cialis, yes Cialis, from this post because its not very relevant or funny today.  But here it is.. an oldie but.. Ok, just an oldie.  Z-List staple Jun-Men is clicking on all cylinders, and established itself as one of the most important Chelsea neighborhood hangouts.  Well, you cant hang out for too long as the place is very small and waits can stretch to the corner.  But this is the only place I know where you add yourself to the list on the ipad in the front, where you can see exactly how many are ahead of you.  A good spot to go before Hudson Yards if you want to eat “local”

The Ramen here settled down to a silky smooth…

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Categories: Chelsea, New York City | Leave a comment

50 Shades of Vessel

IMG_0123In case you didnt get your daily Vessel fix today, here’s a good one.  Well, as good as my iPhone can take at least while my big boy camera collects dust.  And in case you’ve been living under a rock, or Staten Island, the Vessel, aka The Honeycomb, aka The Giant Shawarma is a 200 million giant art structure in the just unveiled Hudson Yards (aka pretty mall).  You need tickets to get inside and the process of getting them at this moment is as difficult and convoluted as the process to get tickets to The Last Supper in Milan.  But at least its free.

 

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Simon & The Whale – Not your Grandpas Hotel Dining

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

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

Simon & The Whale

Courtesy of Freehand

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

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

Simon & The Whale - Whole Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunan Slurp – Substance Over Style

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

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

Hunan Slurp - Hunan Salad

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

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

Hunan Slurp

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

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

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

Hunan Slurp - Fish

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

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

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

A rare 3 Z’s!

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

Hunan Slurp - ChickenHunan Slurp - Hometown Lu Fen

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

The 10 Commandments of Picking Food in NYC (And Avoiding Tourist Traps)

Eating With Ziggy

Travel Trip Map Direction Exploration Planning ConceptJust like a mom balancing work and being a mom, a tourist in NYC needs to find the right balance between being a tourist and unleashing that inner Ziggy.  After meeting so many of you on my tours (semi-shameless self promotion), and reading Trip Reports and questions on Trip Advisor, I now totally understand the struggle.  You are reading this because you, unlike most visitors, understand that food is one of NY’s greatest attractions, that often doesnt play well with other attractions.  In fact they really hate each other.  Sometimes, something will have to give, but it can result in a much more enjoyable trip.  Here are 10 rules to help you strike that balance, and avoid tourist traps.

1. Location Location Location.  Stay in or close to a residential neighborhood, a food friendly one preferred.  Pretty much anywhere below 34th, Hell’s Kitchen, and UWS, will do.  I dont mind Times Square…

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Meet Gotham West Market’s Messiah

Dell'anima CarbonaraThe Gotham West Market’s executive in charge of luring interesting new vendors must have one of the toughest jobs in America.  It turns out that surviving so deep inside Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood dominated by young professionals and Bulldogs is pretty tough.  Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is the only original vendor left since they opened about 5 years ago.  Changes are happening in a furious pace.  Latest shocker is the departure of Genuine Roadside, a burger joint owned by Avroko the firm that designed GWM.  Sources tell me Corner Bistro another burger joint will be its replacement.  Yes, I have sources.

For a moment there, with the shuttered burger option, GWM’s total demise seemed in sight.  I mean how much more pain can these Bulldogs take.  Enter Dell’anima!  Yes, that Dell’anima that you may have heard about but never went because it got lost in the crazy West Village Italian shuffle.  It managed to survive a decade there generating quite the following, but ultimately succumbing to ultra gentrification like so many others.  Today’s rent squeeze means you have to be creative with the real estate, but it also means winners may emerge elsewhere.  In this case its Hell’s Kitchen which may have just gotten its best Italian.

Dell'anima

I’ve been hanging around so much at Dell’anima lately (before or during tours) that I’m having my mail forwarded there.  It replaces the space of El Colmado, joining Ivan, Seamore’s, Corner Slice, Ample Hills Creamery and a Jianbing joint (Beijing style crepes) as the current residents.  A very different lineup to even going back a few months, not to mention on opening day.  Dell’anima features the type of concentrated menu that feels fresh and unique in the entire Hell’s Kitchen universe where Italian is somewhat lacking.  And I can safely say this again:  Gotham West Market is a solid, severely overlooked pre-theater option.  At least for the time being.

The mostly Roman inspired pastas here is the main draw although everything else I’ve tried was exceptional.  There’s a Tajarin Carbonara with Speck and egg that is so good I had to come back for it when I didnt have to share it with three women (My family.  I’m not THAT popular).  The Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese was another winner.  There’s also a Tagliolini Cacio e pepe and a standard but fine looking Orecchiette with sausage.

Only two Secondis on the menu, and at least one of them is superb.  A chili crusted, juicy Pollo al Diavolo sitting on top Broccoli Rabe.  The charred octopus, a popular dish in the previous location is excellent as well.  It comes with “Rice Beans”, cannellini Beans so young they resemble large grains.  While not one of these fat Spanish octopuses you come across sometimes, its zesty and delicious, and the dish works well as a whole.  Go!

Dell’anima
600 11th Ave (Gotham West Market, Hell’s Kitchen)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Chicken, Carbonara

Dell'anima - Octopus

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

EV Bites – Goodnight Almond Croissant

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

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

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

Hunan Slurp

Hunan Slurp

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

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

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

La Rossa Pizza

La Rossa

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Z-List – 2019 Winter Update

Hunan Slurp - Hunan Salad

Hunan Slurp

After a recent mediocre meal at one of the more trusted Z-listers, I’ve decided to update the list more frequently.  If you are familiar with NY dining, or currently researching, you may be surprised by these changes. But this is not a popularity contest. The difficult table is not necessarily the better choice today.  Four out, four in.

In:  Hometown BBQ, Scampi, Jeju Noodle Bar, Hunan Slurp

Out:

Estela – One of the most trusted names on the list, but quite the mediocre meal last time.  Some of the menu staples we loved before, missing some of that oomph.  And some of the “large” dishes are wildly overpriced.  Estela just doesnt feel as relevant today.

Rubirosa – Another shocking exclusion.  Its very popular with tourists these days, and that is one of the problems.  But the main issue is the ever changing, over saturated pizza scene in that area with the openings of La Rossa and Sorbillo from Italian pizza legends and many more.  And you can now get similar pizza at Joe and Pat’s in East Village without the hoopla.

Bar Bolonat – Is no more.  Well, kind of.  Balaboosta closed, Bar Bolonat then rebranded as Balaboosta and the menu and to some degree the concept changed.  Once I visit the new place a few times, I may reconsider.

Mighty Quinn’s – The original location in East Village is still good.  But its tough to keep a name on the list that now has 12 locations. For proper que, you can still go to the original east village location, or better yet go to Ducks Eatery on Tuesday for the brisket, or Hometown in Red Hook

The complete list can be found here

Scampi Mafaldini

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Brooklyn Tour FAQ

IMG_6290

A much needed update to the Brooklyn Tour FAQ. Most important change is name of Movies to watch before the tour

Eating With Ziggy

Updated: Feb 4th, 2019

What is the Brooklyn Tour?

Its a full day driving tour of Brooklyn where we explore about 6 distinct neighborhoods not very easily reached otherwise.  While there will be plenty of interesting food involved, the tour is more of a cultural immersion experience with the goal to show visitors the “real” New York

What time does it start and finish?

9 to around 4-5 although an earlier finish time can be requested.  I’m usually around the pickup location 15 minutes prior.

How much does it cost?

At the time of this writing its $100 per person for 3 or more people in the tour (regardless if its the same group or not), and $125 per person for just 2 people.

Is Food included?

Yes.  In all three tours (East Village, Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn) food is always included

Can I come solo?

Yes!  But as long as…

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Sofreh – FOMO Strikes Again in Brooklyn

sofreh - chickenWhen I was very young, like around age one, I was really really handsome.  And I dont mean how all young babies and toddlers are beautiful in a way.  I’m talking stunning beauty, almost girlish like. My nickname in daycare was Kendall.  I had this ravishing hot blonde (I think that’s the correct color name) hair, and I was extremely pleasing to the eye.  So pleasing that my parents were constantly worried of the ‘Ugly Baby‘ jinxing syndrome, where someone out there would successfully give me the evil eye one day.  And sure enough it happened.

We were on a long train ride one day, and I cried hysterically the entire ride.  Well, much of it at least.  A woman then approached my parents and told them that I was obviously under a spell, which my parents already suspected.  There was no way I suppose I was teething, hungry, or suffering from an ache of some sort.  I was obviously cursed!  And the only way to get rid of this curse according to the stranger was to wash my face with a cloth that was soaked in some… urine.  Now, lets skip the part of whose urine it was or supposed to be, and go straight to the disturbing punch line.  It worked!  The fact that it worked that one time meant that I was essentially bathing in urine pretty much my entire baby/toddler life.

sofreh

Eater

Back in the day people blindly followed old rituals the same way we struggle today with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  Back then when people didnt have access to information, they rarely questioned things.  The fear of being wrong, or the consequences of going against the grain were too real.  You just went with the flow, and popular belief.  While FOMO is not nearly as serious, it follows similar human nature traits.  If we are not going to go to this hot new Persian restaurant in Prospect Heights, we are not living life to the fullest.

I am talking about one of the hottest openings last year.  A restaurant that was reviewed by everyone and their mothers (My mom gave it 3 cloths!).  Trying to reserve a table on a weekend these days proving more difficult than building a wall.  We had to resort to a Thursday 6 pm slot.  A new Persian restaurant in NYC offering seemingly well crafted, ultra instagrammable dishes that most New Yorkers never experienced.  Whats not to get excited about.

sofreh - kofteh

First the good news.  The space is chic, smartly decorated, and well lit.  Well, until 7 pm at least, when they decided to dim the lights for some reason.  But you got the sense that they thought of every single detail.  I even thought the bathroom featuring wall to wall vintage Iranian movie posters was pretty cool.  I especially liked the movie featuring Popeye knocking down a beautiful potentially unfaithful woman with his big bat, with Burt Reynolds, her lover coming to the rescue, too late.

Our first bite, the Kofteh was superb!  Beef meatballs with rice and split peas that put most Italian meatballs to shame.  Our second bite, grilled cauliflower was less successful but pleasant enough.  Things were working early on, and life is looking full again.  Unfortunately however, that was the end of the hit list

The “Ash”, a thick Persian herb and noodle stew delivered nice complex flavors the first few spoonfuls, but quickly became too heavy to eat on its own for all three of us.  This was a dish recommended by a few critics, and I wonder how much of it they really ate while trying to sample the various dishes.  It would have worked better with meat, in a soup form or on top of rice (which we got later with the mains) or pasta.  The whole wheat noodles as part of the stew wasnt nearly enough to save the dish.

A similar fate plagued the chicken and fish, two of the menu “classics”.  Interesting first few bites that quickly turned to “how do we salvage this”.  The chicken’s Plum and Saffron sauce with the tart Barberries became too sharp-tasting fairly quickly.  For relief I was picking on just the bird at some point.  But you couldnt do that with the “Catch of the day” striped bass.  “Catch of the day” is a funny concept in NYC, but thats another post/rant for another time.  The sauce was overpowering alright,  but the fish was too bland on its own.  The Persian Ice cream was good, but flavors not much different than at other middle eastern spots.

Looking at the mirror these days, that curse 45 years ago seemed to work.  But at least I’m living life to the fullest.  I’m Glad I tried Sofreh, but its probably a one and done deal for me.

Sofreh
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kofteh, Cauliflower

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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