SoHo, NoHo, Nolita

Best Dining in Sabra Village!

19 Cleveland

Courtesy of 19 Cleveland

East village, Greenwich Village, West Village.  These are some of the most famous village neighborhoods in the world.  So famous, other major cities following suit.  Calgary now got a quirky East Village as well.  But have you heard of Sabra Village, the smallest of the four villages?  My guess is that you never heard of it, because it doesnt exist.  Yet!  But we are in the early stages of what looks like an Israeli invasion of Nolita, a made-up real estate name which stands for North of Little Italy.  Little Italy is slowly vanishing and is now essentially one block.  Its a matter of time.

I often said that NYC lacks casual, no frills, but smart Israeli food.  A place I can bring a group of 4 to 10 on a whim.  They are either too refined (Taboon, Nur, Miss Ada), or not refined at all (Nish Nush, Ba’al, Taim), without much in between.  Our real estate market has something to do with it, but deep in the outer boroughs there’s no excuse.  There’s a place on Avenue P in Brooklyn called “Pita Off the Corner” serving awful Falafel, and barely eatable Shawarma.  But the sprawling space serves as a constant tease to what could have been.  Brooklyn is home to half a million Jews, half of NYC’s Jews.  I’m certain that not all are kitchen challenged.

But in Manhattan at least, it looks like the newest Sabra are on a mission to change all that.  Two of the three I’ll focus on below feel like you are transported to Dizengoff.  Not Philly, but Tel Aviv.  Sabra btw, has nothing to do with hummus.  Its an old term that essentially means Israeli born.  “Sabres” is the Hebrew name for prickly pear, a fruit that is rough on the outside, but soft on the inside.  And by rough I dont mean Harvey Weinstein, but as in direct, to the point.

Here are some of the early settlers of Sabra Village…

Taim – Yes, Taim is now a local chain, but a very important one.  Perhaps after X’ian Famous, the most important, and a good representation of fast food in NYC today.  Owner Einat Admony certainly knows her Hummus and Falafel.  And while I give the nod to Nish Nush as far as Falafel sandwiches go, Taim’s platter is as good as it gets.  And dont be the lame one that pronounces Taim like “lame”.  Its Tah-eem.

Taim

Shoo Shoo – If there’s anything these places need to work on is the names.  Its not clear to me what Shoo Shoo means exactly, other the sound my wife makes when the blind neighborhood cat mistakenly comes to our door instead of the next one where he normally gets his food.  The name may not sound inviting but the bright decor is, and the menu brings much freshness to the area.  Very solid hummus even when topped with boiled chickpeas that can use some texture (minor quibble).  And a legit sesame ladened Tel Aviv style chicken Schnitzel.

19 Cleveland – Continuing the questionable name theme with probably the most important Sabra on the block.  This is the first serious brick and mortar by the EWZ fave Nish Nush team.  A menu that respects tradition but at the same time playful, and elevated.  We already know they can dish out killer hummus and unmatched Falafel sandwiches.  But at 19 Cleveland (also the address) you can also find a nifty, well balanced Falafel burger, along with fish and vegan Shawarma, and a slew of other healthy eats.  Looking forward to checking out the rest of this menu.

You know what they say.  Two is a crowd, three is a village!  Nolita is a very small area, and the sudden Israeli pop is noticeable.  I’ve seen some call it Little Israel, and some call it Little Tel Aviv.   Less than a year ago there were five actually.  There’s also a branch of Cava, a kinda Israeli, fast-casual national health focused chain.  And then there’s Dez which shuttered a year after opening.  Did we reach saturation?

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Tomiño Taberna Gallega – A Galician Jewel in where else, Little Italy

Tomino - PrawnsWhile I was sitting out on a bench on Grand and Mulberry playing candy crush answering emails, a woman approached me to ask directions to Little Italy.  All I had to do is point to the street 10 feet from us and say “this is it”.  She followed with a disappointed “This is it?”, and I followed with the third “This is it”, with the facial expression of a “sorry you made it all the way to NY from Singapore for this”.  I spared her the clarification that she is technically inside Little Italy already even though it looks more like a Chinatown.

But you know, for someone who spends a lot of time poopooing Little Italy, I spend a lot of time on it.  The reason is twofold.  There’s ironically a wealth of great dining surrounding it.  And Little Italy is, maybe even more ironically, one of the best passeggiatas in NYC.  I do enjoy walking around on Mulberry after a meal saying Ciao to the community of restaurant salesman and selfie sticks, and watching people from all over the world dress up for no good reason.  But there’s one restaurant on Mulberry that did get my attention this time and that is Gelso & Grand.  Buzzy with no salesman, checkered tablecloth, and not even an accordion player.  Gelso means Mulberry in Italian (its on the corner of Grant hence the name), Ziggy’s favorite Granita flavor.  There, now you know more about me.

Tomino

Tomiño Taberna Gallega which opened in Little Italy (technically. Its on Grand, not on Gelso) a few years ago, is far removed from the usual checkered, red sauce neighbors.  Its a smart, elegant Spanish offering some of the most authentic Galician this side of, well, Tomiño.  A statement not so far fetched once you look at a map.  And it got the Cojones to to call itself Tomiño Taberna Gallega.  A three word monster is as close as it gets to a slamdunk.  Lets break down the other potential names shall we.  One word, Tomiño – Cute, trendy sounding, but pressure is still on to deliver.  Two words, Tomiño Taberna – Pass.  Three words, Tomiño Taberna Gallega – Strong, ethnic, if something doesnt taste right its probably due to cultural differences sounding.

The owners of Tomiño also own the popular Trattoria Trecolori in the theater district. Which is surprising considering this ambitious Galician menu designed by Lucía Freitas, one of the leading chefs in Galicia.  Our waiter tried to explain the owner’s Galician connection, but besides the noise I was too fixated on the tables next to us.  One table over was dipping their Chorizo in the “sauce” at the bottom of the plate which was the Orujo, the Galician liquor that helped flambeed the meat on arrival.  Another table opted not to touch their Empanadillas until they were the same temperature as their Cava.  I’m talking a good 40 minutes here.

And yes, those Empanadillas with tuna were quite good and need to be eaten immediately.  So was the homey Huevos Roto Con Zorza, a nice breakfasty blend of spiced pork, fried potatoes and egg that grows on you with every bite.  It feels almost criminal to order this instead of the more popular Tortilla de Betanzos, a hefty potato omelet with a runny egg in the middle, but I wasnt feeling it.  Next time.

Tomino - Mushroom salad

The Paprika dusted Galician style Pulpo is famous throughout Spain, but not very easy to find in NY.  Here its called by the actual name, Pulpo a Feira, and its as tender and satisfying as they get.  No complaints about the Arroz Negro topped with a well cooked Snapper, except maybe its missing the oomph and complexity of what you’ll find at a Tia Pol for example.  But I can still taste the prized red prawns, Carabineros, and the sweet Langoustines.

The salads here should not be discounted.  In North Spain, you can eat simply prepared  tomatoes and tuna, but rarely together like the Ensalata San Simon which also comes with figs, pickled onion and apple cider vinaigrette that ties everything together.  Even better however is the mushroom salad, Parrillada de Setas.  Not often in NYC you get a combo of Enoki, King Oyster, Maitake, with goat cheese, garlic and honey.  A sweet and addictive medley.  And I dont normally get excited about almond cake, but the Tarta de Santiago deserves its own pilgrimage.  This is a major go!

Tomiño Taberna Gallega
192 Grand St (Mulberry/Mott), Little Italy
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Empanadillas, Huevos Roto Con Zorza, Pulpo, Carabineros/Langoustines, Ensalata San Simon, Parrillada de Setas

 

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Wayan – By Cedric the Entertainer

One can live a lifetime eating the world in NYC, and still will not know a thing about Indonesian food.  The vast majority of those that do, got their knowledge from a trip to Amsterdam where as we speak, thousands are celebrating their fresh Eurovision win with a Rijsttafel (Indonesian rice table consist of many side dishes).  Australia, so close!  Yet so far away (literally.  A little Eurovision humor).

Indonesian food and Rijsttafels are generally not a thing here.  The lone Indonesian in Hell’s Kitchen Bali Nusa Indah was open for may years, and closed before yours truly had a chance to try it.  The constant barrage of negative Yelpers didnt exactly push me at the time.  I remember coming back from Amsterdam myself one year, hunting for Indonesian joints after my lower lip was fully deflated (that was some seriously spicy stuff), and wasnt able to find anything to get excited about.

At French-Indo Wayan, owners Cedric and Ochi Vongerichten are not here to fill that void.  Cedric, the son of Jean-Georges Vongerichten (usually pronounced “Von something”), and his Indonesian wife already own two restaurants in Indonesia.  While they admittedly not after teaching us what authentic Indonesian food is all about, whatever they are doing at Wayan works and feels new.  The space is comfortable and smartly decorated.  A seafood leaning menu where you want to try more than you can.  And flavors that feel fresh, bold but restrained just enough to showcase the French side of the equation.

 

Wayan

Courtesy of Wayan

Chicken Satay – Five sticks of some of the best Satay I’ve had in NYC.  Ground chicken is perfectly spiced and cooked, served with a creamy, most delectable peanut sauce.

Hiramasa Sashimi – Outstanding Yellowtail Sahimi.  There was a lot going here including chili, herbs, and a shallots/lemongrass sauce that did not interfere too much with the clean flavors of the fish.  Different than most Sashimi out there today.

Clams Jimbaran Style.  Take the best Baked Clams you ever had, remove the breadcrumbs, and add soy, chili, sweet onions, coconut and you got Clams Oreganata on crack.

Yellow Chicken –  A cute name for a suburb chicken curry.  About three pieces if I remember correctly, some got the crunch reminiscent of the great Perry Street chicken where Cedric is still the chef.

 

 

Sauteed While Shrimp – Nice flavor, but probably the weakest dish of the night.  Shrimp slightly overcooked, and must be eaten fast before they harden even more.  I’m at the point where I enjoy fresh raw or slightly seared shrimp a lot more than the fully cooked ones.

Lobster Noodles – This is it.  The Piece de resistance!  Like the most amazing dry mazemen with ramen noodles, chili, butter, soy, thai basil and chunks of lobster.  A killer combination.  I still think about this dish a week later

Nasi Goreng – A well crafted rice with a perfectly cooked fried egg.  I’ve seen similar dishes in NYC listed as a main.  Here its a must get side.

Pandan Custard – Desserts dont usually excite me at places like this.  This did.  Panna Cotta purists may balk at the tartness of the Passionfruit, but I found it well balanced.

Caramelized Banana – Dont let the purple yam ice cream throw you off here.  This was a rather divine Sandae on a Sunday.

Wayan
20 Spring St (Mott/Elizabeth), Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Chicken Satay, Sashimi, Clams, Lobster Noodles, Yellow Chicken, Nasi Goreng, Pandan Custard

 

 

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Pasquale Jones – Downtown Funk

Pasquale Jones Diavola

May 3rd, 2019 Update:

Its been 977 days since the last update but who’s counting.  Not me.  There’s an online date calculator out there in Google land.  I use it to sometimes to count days between vacations, colonoscopies, etc.  But there’s not much to report here really, except to remind you that PJ is awesome, albeit a bit more touristy these days.  It seems that the borders of Little Italy have expended and every time I’m here, I’m surrounded by savvy tourists.  The last time, we overheard from the next table… “according to my research this is one of the best Italian restaurants in NYC”.  That followed a “Dont you dare dad” by my oldest, which meant: please dont strike a conversation with them, we are having a nice family lunch, and you are like 0 for 40 (tourists we met who read the blog).  Ok, fine!

More tourists, in addition to more restaurants by the group (Legacy Records) can very easily lead to loss of focus, but I’m not seeing any evidence of that.  Pastas like the Tagliatelle with lamb (when they are out of rabbit), fennel, Pecorino, always solid.  Its an ever-changing pasta lineup.  The great Agnolotti or Guinea Hen Cappellacci with lobster mushrooms, that’s not really a mushroom, I had once, are long gone.

The pizzas are still fantastic but I cant make myself try something other than the Diavola or clam pie whenever I’m here.  The Braised Leeks have been on the menu since day one pretty much, and its indeed good.  And on the last visit, the proximity to Little Italy made us try the Veal and Ricotta meatballs which were exceptional, tho the family was not too keen on the too bitter accompanied Broccoli Rabe.  Still a go!

August 29, 2016 Update:

The great Pasquale Jones is now experimenting with a new concept.  They offer on weekends something called “Lunch”.  Yes, its not a typo… lunch on weekends!  No Mimosa, no French Toast, not even an eggs Benedict pizza.  Just lunch.  Last weekend after a quick egg sandwich and a Mimosa at home, I decided to check it out for myself and the results may shock you.

It was great!  Sure, I was dreaming of bacon and eggs on occasion, but a small price to pay when the pizza is this good.  And by pizza, I mean I’m essentially stuck with the Diavola and the now city wide famous LittleNeck Clam pie that is growing on me.  While I much preferred the spicy Diavola last time, the clam pie with a little drizzle of the accompanied Calabrian Chili is creamy and satisfying enough to continue ordering it.

IMG_3898

But I really come here for the pastas.  Hard to pass on the pizza especially when you bring new people here, but the pastas and the whole package is why I’m adding PJ to the Z-List on the next big update (as soon as this month).  What attracted me to this very experimental lunch was the Tajarin with corn and summer truffles.  Knowing that Tim Caspare who spent some time in Piedmont, knows how to handle those Piedmont(ish) classics.  Sweet pastas dont particularly sound very sexy to me, but this one may have changed that notion.  Rich, creamy, but at the same time very summery.  The “Mezze Rigatoni”, their slightly heavier version of the Cacio e Pepe was good as well.  And I’m still yet to have the Pork Shank for 2 (or 3) that everyone’s talking about

If you go for lunch (or dinner), check out the new soft serve and Poke window at Seamore’s next door.  They are serving now coconut lemongrass ice cream from Oddfellows which is fantastic.  And/or if its open, get the chocolate chip cookie and coffee at Maman.  Strong candidate for best cookie in NYC! IMG_3895

March 20, 2016 original post:

I rarely get them this young.  As tempting as it is to move up the food blog ladder, I prefer to wait for the growth and maturation that comes at the other guinea pigs expense.  After some time, they figure out where the holes are, what works, what doesnt, and suddenly the world is a better place.  This is one reason that one can not simply go by early opinions from first respondents who care only about being on that elusive first Google page (I’m looking at you Infatuation).  But sometimes, something jumps at you, and you feel a little anxious.  In this case it wasnt so much the team of Charlie Bird behind this thing, but the third wheel, a dude from Cotogna from San Francisco that got my attention

Cotogna was the mistake from last summer.  Instead of sticking to the initial plan, I substituted Cotogna with the very attractive Piedmont heavy menu of Perbacco.  The kind of menu sorely missing in NYC.  The result was a less than stellar meal that featured Piedmontese classics that deviated the wrong way from tradition.  Irony and Redemption came seven months later when Tim Caspare of Cotogna, now at Pasquale Jones, whips a perfectly executed Agnolotti dal Plin that would make any Langhe nonna blush.

Pasquale Jones KitchenWhen she said “It will be around 90 minute”, Unlce Boons, Bar Goto started creeping into my head, as its about 85 minutes longer than I normally like to wait for a table in NYC.  But my dining partner, aka first wife, was still 60 minutes away.  And besides, I’m right by my favorite area in NYC… Little Italy!  By the way, a little free tip to restaurants out there:  When you say “It will be around 90 minute”, smiling is the wrong way of going about it when delivering the sad news.  While smiling is generally a good idea, and the #1 rule of fight club, this is not one of those moments.  Just like “your grandma died”, or “the vasectomy didnt go as expected sir”, dont underestimate the sadness of the news.  Smiling while saying it, makes you look like TAO

I wont keep you in suspense.  This was one of the best meals in recent memory (I started eating cashews religiously which extended “recent memory” to about a month).  Pasquale Jones is essentially a more comfortable, more ambitious, better pasta, slightly less creative Bruno Pizza.  The counter facing the action is the way to go, but you dont have choices here.  You get what becomes available.  Attention to detail starts with those super comfortable counter seats.  The ones you can lean back comfortably when you feel the need to unzip.  Reservations through Resy – Forget it.  Only about 20% are out there.  On to the food…Pasquale Jones Cauliflower

Charred Cauliflower – This is one those simple dishes where you get pretty much what you order.  Sure there was blood orange, and some heat to go along, but the star was simple cauliflower that was still raw enough to maintain that crunchy texture.  Although the dish was fine, I did have some serious small dish envy, like the Braised Leeks which looked like the sexiest grilled calamari.

Clam Pie – Good.  I get the sense that this is their early signature pie.  I’m not the biggest white pie lover unless its something like Marta’s Potato Carbonara where the ingredients talk back to you (I should probably see someone about this).  This is not one of those, but satisfying nonetheless.  Perfectly charred, chewy, flavorful dough.Pasquale Jones Clam Pie

Diavola – More like it, but I’m more of a Diavola fan overall.  I wasnt about to order two pies but couldnt decide here.  A bit more heat than the average city Diavola.  Neapolitanish, very similar to Motorino which is a compliment.  Some may expect more refined pizza (a la Bruno) in a place like this, so its important to adjust those expectations.  Its about the total package.

Agnolotti – I already touched on this beautiful dish.  This is a good example of pasta that stays true to its origin, unlike the rest of the Agnolottis out there in town.  This is buttery, explosive, pillowy Agnolotti dal Plin packed with Guinea hen, sage and Pancetta.  PANCETTA!

Rigatoni – Another simple but very solid dish.  Perfectly cooked dry rigatoni, with sausage ragu carrying a nice depth.  Get this!Pasquale Jones Agnolotti

Pear dessert – Proper finish.  They only offer one dessert, different each night I believe.  Baked pear with Vanilla ice cream, olive oil and candied hazelnuts.  The two brick ovens are utilized heavily here.

Zoe Amber Ale – Maine Beer Company.  Solid hoppy, aromatic, complex Amber.  Highly recommend this one

But Ziggy, in Paragraph #4 you used the word “Ambitious”.  What’s so ambitious about Rigatoni, Diavola, and pear.  Good question Timmy.  This is where the steaks and fish come in.  And by steaks I mean those huge $125 dry aged rib eyes that you can hang in your basement and practice on them like Rocky.  They also offer a beautiful pork shoulder, and a Verdure section to boot.  Watching them handle all that meat for two hours, gave me all sorts of impure thoughts.

Cementing the belief even more that pound for pound, Nolita is the best eating neighborhood on the east coast.  This is also another no-topping establishment.  I failed to talk about it, because its really a non-issue until you are reminded about it when you you get the bill.  Its like Santa suddenly shows up to kiss you softly on the cheek

Pasquale Jones
187 Mulberry St (Kenmare) – Nolita
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Diavola, Clam Pie, Meatballs, Leeks, any pasta

Pasquale Jones Rigatoni Pasquale Jones Pork Shoulder Pasquale Jones Dessert Pasquale JonesIMG_3897

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Bombay Bread Bar – Mission Possible 3

Bombay Bread BarZ-List fanatics, both of them, already well familiar with this newest incarnation from Top Chef star Floyd Cardoz.  But as with some other recent Z-List additions, I never got a chance to write a review on “Paowalla 2.0”.  Paowalla’s blog post title would have read “Oops, I did it again”, after Cardoz essentially tried to recreate another fancy Tabla to satisfy his devotees.  At BBB Cardoz is following his gut.  And it works, a lot better than the “critics” leading to believe.

Classifying Bombay Bread Bar can be tricky.  Indian chef, working with Indian ingredients must mean “Indian”, right?  Much to the chagrin of theorists and traditionalists who bulk at the prices.  Indian food should never ever cost this much, creatures of habit proclaim.  And the likes of Cardoz, and other Asian chefs forfeit the right to get creative and charge premium for it.  Not only hogwash, but on my last meal I tasted Italian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese flavors in this so called Indian.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

As for the “critics” out there, the state of affairs of Google results in NYC these days is looking a little sad.  Its dominated by marketing and Google skills, rather than knowledge.  I dont want to name the names out there, but one of them rhymes with “Infatuation”.  These are not seasoned reviewers.  They read like Yelp reviews, and often sound like they dont really know what they are talking about.  They lock in the first Google page nowadays, even prior to actual reviews, with a “Review soon to come” post.  Their BBB review is yet another example of advice that is either wrong or unnecessary.  Missing in this case, the most important aspect of the establishment, the chef, and his ability to invent and change.

The Upma Polenta, the first thing I tasted at BBB, showcases that Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever eat.  The creamy Cauliflower Makhani, not on the current menu, made great use of the Naan.  I’m a sucker for a good garlic naan, and the flat naans here are exceptional.  So is the chickpea chaat, a medley of green chickpeas sprinkled with toasted yellow chickpeas.  And while you wont find much lamb presence in lamb curry, you will certainly taste it in all its glory.

Bombay Bread Bar Donut

Another “small plate” winner is the Three Chili Chicken Fry which got the sweetness of a General Tso’s chicken along with the intense heat of Szechuan.  Follow the Chinese flavors with hints of middle eastern in the new Sea Bream.  Served whole, but deboned and stuffed with a fantastic spicy red paste reminiscent of a mild Yemeni S’chug.  It replaced another good one on the menu, a Banana leaf wrapped Halibut covered with yet another great paste.  The Chicken Tikka, not Masala is another strong consideration with the larger plates.

Perhaps the only dish I didnt care for so much after three visits was the baked Eggplant which felt heavy and unbalanced next to other dishes.  I found the rice dishes good but not necessary.  The drinks can use a better hand, but I’ve only sampled two (sticking to beer).  And how does the Indian Donut not generate Cronut like lines?  Intense sweetness with its pistachio cream, candied pistachio, and rum syrup.  Go!

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This Soho Chicken With a Pinch of Sand is Outstanding

Pinch Chinese Wind Sand ChickenSometimes in order to find the best dishes, you need come back with friends.  Not only you can try more, but you can finally order some of the larger dishes, like the chicken for 2 to 6.  Such was the case the other day when we introduced our friends to one of our Soho faves, Pinch Chinese.  An invitation that became a little suspicious when I walked in three hours prior to our reservations to reserve the bird while friends waited outside.  I should have played it more subtle.  As in “Hey, you guys want to try the chicken? I hear its fantastic!”

The Wind Sand Chicken is a Hong Kong classic.  It doesnt look whole and not particularly large, but the 4 of us couldnt finish the $51 dish.  By trying to leave the best for last (dark meat) we left it on the table.  When you taste the flash you taste the labor.  The bird is cooked like Peking duck.  Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, repeating.  The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist.  Garnished with fried garlic, like sand that the wind brought (Ahhhhh!).  Maybe if they closed the door, they wouldnt have this problem

Oh and there were pork soup dumplings of course and terrific spicy Wontons (new to us).  And the “Snow Crab in a Chinese Restaurant” with fermented black bean and glass noodles we order each time.  And there was a side of porky Sichuan String Beans that is now our favorite side.  Not to mention those sick Cumin Pork Ribs.  If there was a Fantasy Niman Ranch Pork league, Pinch Chinese would win by three snouts.

More on Pinch Chinese here

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

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Balaboosta Needs a Boosta Shot

Balaboosta - OctopusYou can get easily lost in the constant changing dining shuffle here in NYC.  One minute its Poke, another minute its Ramen, and before you know it, Sabra joints popping up all over like.. well, Sabra.  When Balaboosta first opened 7 years ago, it was quite the welcoming menu featuring refreshing Middle Eastern and north African fare not so easily available elsewhere.  But today, with places like Nur, Timna, Taboon, and even Balaboosta’s hipper sister Bar Bolonat, this once perfect housewife (the meaning of Balaboosta) seems a little lost, neglected, disowned by the family and left in a nursing home in Idaho

After all these visits to the Einat Admoni empire (Taim, Bar Bolonat, Balaboosta), I’ve never seen her pink scooter parked in the front which also means I’ve never actually met her.  She strikes me as a very busy celebrity chef nowadays, promoting, cooking, touring, pink scooter racing, etc, etc.  There’s nothing unusual about establishments running themselves like well oiled machines.  But one cant help but wonder if this one requires a little more attention these days.

Take the current menu for example.  You have usual classics like the cauliflower that pretty much started the Israeli cauliflower trend all over town.  The hummus that makes me question my stance on chunky vs creamy every time I eat it.  A perfectly tender octopus that defines smokiness.  And a taste of Israeli street food, chicken and merguez in a pita with that mango-ish Amba sauce normally poured on shawarmas.  The appetizers here are solid for the most part and set the tone

Balaboosta - Hummus

But unfortunately the excitement stops there.  There are places out there that make me want to come back and try every single entree on the menu, and then there are those where I struggle to pick two.  If you remove the first item (“Syrian Pasta ‘Rishta’) you are essentially staring at you average “New American” menu.  Two fish dishes, chicken, brisket, lamb burger, and a skirt steak.  Some come with small hints (“Israeli couscous”) that you are inside an Israeli/Middle Eastern/Mediterranean establishment.  My super picky mother-in-law and the entire Joy Suck Club can have a field day with this menu.  Maybe thats the idea.  Remove the exotica, and make it as Balaboosta friendly as possible, where NYU students can bring their Bridge and Tunnel parents (I am one, and yes it is a thing) to finally meet that new boyfriend.

On this Saturday night, even the two specials were both appetizers.  We settled on the chicken and Branzino.  The boneless chicken was tender alright, with crispy skin that blended nicely with flesh, but got progressively duller.  The Branzino was cooked well (hard to screw it up), but flavors not very distinct or different than what we grill at home once a month.  We wanted at least one fish dish and that was the only one served whole.  My friend enjoyed her skirt steak, while her partner was struggling with the lamb burger.  And for dessert the Knafeh didnt seem as eventful as last time around.  An enjoyable meal nonetheless, but I think I’ll stick to the younger hipper sister for the time being

Balaboosta
214 Mulberry St (Spring/Prince), Nolita
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Hummus, Cauliflower, Israeli Street Food

 

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Pinch Chinese – Soho Gets her Groove Back

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

July 30th, 2018 Update:

In Praise of the Wind Sand Chicken

March 28, 2018 Update:

Pinch Chinese is clicking on all cylinders.  There’s something about sitting there at dinner time looking through the glass at that kitchen.  Like watching a team of physicians conducting a well orchestrated surgery.  If they would be making cupcakes I would be probably standing on a line for cupcakes, hoping they come with a side of soup dumplings.

Boy those bite size seafood/pork soup dumplings are explosive.  And the flavors on the room temperature cumin ribs really come through nicely.  Hard to try new dishes here when its just the two of us, and you want to eat the same things again.  But the Steak fried rice featuring a tender ultra beefy Wagyu sirloin, is the one big addition to the list.

“Snow Crab in a Chinese Restaurant” is still fantastic, and a good source of vitamin Crab, with those silky glass noodles.  The Peking Duck here is becoming very popular, and looks rather scrumptious.  In previous visits for lunch I enjoyed the Taiwanese Beef Noodle soup, a current NYC trend it seems.  This is a major go!

Pinch Chinese Steak Fried Rice

May 16, 2017 Post:

As the wise Yogi once said… “Its so crowded, nobody goes there anymore”.  Have you been to Soho lately?  Spring and Price are giving Times Square a run for its money.  I wonder whats the rent like these days.  On the flip side, I was picking up visitors from Sixty Soho on back to back mornings for a Brooklyn Tour, and I couldnt believe how charming and quiet that area can be in the morning.  I heard cab drivers singing and birds making mating calls (or is it the other way around).  Even Dominique Ansel had no queue!  It was as shocking as your spouse telling you out of the blue, “I didnt know the Bee Gees were all male”.Pince Chinese

Pinch Chinese is sticking out of Prince Street like a zebra in a nudist colony.  There’s nothing like it in the area, serving solid elevated Chinese in a comfortable setting.  One of the partners is a veteran of the famed Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, known for their soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao).  Inside, once you look passed the seriously focused crew behind the glass, its quirkiness galore.  From the menu, quoting Yelp reviewers, to the bathroom, warning employees about the consequences of not washing hands.  A lot of effort into the decor.  We ate…

Seafood/Pork Dumplings – Smaller than your average soup dumplings, but more concentrated and potent.  Wife was wishing for bigger (what else is new) but I thought they carried enough spark.  Something I would definitely order again

House Special Shrimp – Fine!  No issues with the perfectly cooked tiger shrimp and sauce, just nothing new and exciting flavor wise.

Niman Ranch Cumin Ribs – “tender, fall-off-the-bone – jocelyn on yelp” menu description is spot on.  But to me its all about the dressing of these babies that made us eat the leftovers with a spoon.  One of those rare awkward “Are you done with that” moments.  And it just goes to show you how flavorful Chinese Cumin lamb or pork can be without the numbing heatPinch Chinese Ribs

Dan Dan Noodles – Yet more pinches of brilliance.  And more Niman Ranch pork, with heat this time, and hints of star anise.  Its a peanuty sauce a la Han Dynasty.

Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant – A dish of the year nominee.  Something Jocelyn and all her Yelp colleagues missed out on (I didnt see any mentions of it when I ate there).  Glass noodles with heaps of crab, dressed with an outrageously delicious fermented bean sauce with chilies and scallions.  The crab was plentiful and delicious, but it almost plays second fiddle to the noodles with sauce.  I would even order this without the crab

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce – Exactly what it says.  A regular, but solid, Chinese style eggplant in garlic sauce

Pinch Chinese
177 Prince St (Sullivan/Thompson), Soho
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Seafood/Pork Dumplings, Cumin Ribs, Dan Dan Noodles, Wind Sand Chicken, Spicy Wontons, String Beans, Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant, Steak Fried Rice, Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (Lunch)Pinch Chinese Soup DumplingsPinch Chinese ShrimpPinch Chinese Dan Dan NoodlesPinch Chinese Eggplant

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Chef’s Club Counter – Rotating Nasty

Chefs Club Counter Duck RiceThey recycle their own sluts!  I’m not quite sure what it means, but that is according to a sign inside.  Either they employ people with extremely low standards or they are referring to their Eggslut sandwich, which is excellent.  Either way, to my knowledge they are the first slut recyclers in the industry.

But Chef’s Club Counter is known for other “firsts”.  To explain the concept, I’ll go with the longer but more efficient approach.  Think about the many times that you bought your spouse a popular cookbook only for the spouse to take almost no advantage of it.  One and done meal!  Too many ingredients, pictures not in color, too many words, etc etc.  Ok, lets pretend that it did happen.  I know many out there have a certain passion for cooking, but for the rest of us, its really just a passion for eating.  Think of Chef’s Club Counter as a cookbook, in the midst of its first chapter, with more to come.  Where the cooking is done for you (for a fee)

Chefs Club Counter BurgerUnlike big brother Chef’s Club where you got a fuller assortment of famous chef’s recipes including guest appearances, the counter is all about a few rotating recipes available for lunch and breakfast.  Every three months or so they will change entirely.  So anything you eat now, say goodbye to it immediately, or take a few more months to enjoy.  While they are preparing your slut, the rest of the team is hard at work trying to figure out its replacement.  All enjoyed in a very comfortable, cafeteria like fast food setting.  Order at the cashier, and wait for it.

At the moment they are featuring the infamous Eggslut which deserves all the hype it generated when CCC opened.  Its a hit in LalaLand, and even in Vegas at the Cosmopolitan (Best food hotel in Vegas – Keeps attracting the best of the best).  How great can a little $8 egg sandwich be you ask?  Well, it starts with an especially light Kaiser roll. Fluffiest scramble you will ever get, gently aided by sriracha mayo with oniony hints and melted cheddar.  Its the perfect egg sandwich.

A fast-casual room demands a fast-casual burger, and the Jean George burger here doesnt disappoint.  Similar to the one at the Mercer Kitchen nearby, it features melted cheese, Russian dressing, avocado and fried onions.  McDonalds style fries could have used a little less salt, and some pepper perhaps.  But in today’s NYC, I’m just grateful to get fries.

But the most interesting thing on the menu at the moment may be the Duck Rice by George Mendes.  This is similar to the signature Arroz de Pato dish I had at Aldea many years ago.  Aldea is so forgotten I had to check now if its still in business.  Duck Rice is like a nicely executed duck paella, featuring three differently textured Duck preparations with olives.  There’s added tartness from cirtus purée spread all over the plate for you to use as you please.

Go!  Before they recycle those sluts.EggslutChefs Club CounterRecycle Those Sluts

 

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Fish Cheeks – Getting Cheeky With Thai Seafood

fish-cheeks-dishesBetter late than never, but I’ve decided to start starring the places due to popular demand.

Its fitting that on the day of removing the shuttered Le Philosophe from the Z-List, I visit the newest tenant, Fish Cheeks.  Gone are the philosophers hanging on the wall, the foie gras hanging from the Tournedo Rossinis, and in is a colorful, fishy Thai eatery with some early identity issues.  On paper, Fish Cheeks looks and sounds like one of the most exciting new openings of the year, perhaps except for the name.  When two brothers reunite from two corners of the world, to form their first restaurant, one could expect a better name.  “Cheeks” and “Fish” should never be part of any name, unless its a brothel or something.

I can give you a very solid argument why going to places as soon as they open is the best time.  Initial buzz, easy to get a table, chefs and staff are guaranteed to work their tuches off in order to please you in today’s “everyone’s a critic world”.  But I can also give you a very solid argument to wait a year until the proprietors mature, smooth things out while figuring out what works and what doesnt.  Very often, I see menus that are very different than where they were a year ago (Nishi).  And while publishers like NYT and NY Mag do a good job taking their time before reviewing a place, 2-3 years down the road, the reviews start to look stale and premature.

fish-cheeksEverybody has to start somewhere.  Fish Cheeks certainly delivers enough positive elements to warrant a visit for anyone who loves Thai food and especially Thai Seafood.  But at the same time, it can use some more maturing.  It’s one thing to cook at world renowned places as the brothers did (Bangkok’s esteemed Nahm for one), but opening in NYC is another animal.  In the last 5 years we’ve seen a Thai revolution of sorts and the competition is getting fiercer by the minute.  When was the last time you saw Pad Thai on Instagram.  Actually, the only philosophy you’ll see on the Philosopher wall today, is the proclamation of a No Pad Thai Zone.  Cute, but doubt many expect Pad Thai in a place that takes Grub Street hot list by storm, and in that location.

Another assumption that the brothers can make is that New Yorkers dont need reminders that we can share.  They bill themselves as a place to experience “Family Style”, including the right side of the menu stating “Family Style Dishes”.  No, the dishes are not particularly bigger than other Thai places, and its a just a matter of time until a Yelper goes “How do I share the 2 Shrimp in the Goong Aob Woon Senn with 4 of my closest friends”.  In Thai joints in general, “family style” whatever that means today is already assumed by many if not most.  What is not assumed is getting the main courses 3 minutes after getting the appetizers.  If the idea of Family Style here is that all the dishes arrive at the same time including the appetizers, than perhaps make the prices reflect a more Fast Food joint, than a place you linger in.  We were done within an hour.

fish-cheeks-porkBut I’m willing to play along and forget if the food takes me to places my taste buds havent gone before (I’v read it in another blog.  Dating for Pizza Lovers).  The crispy Fried Chicken served with sweet Chili sauce was a respectable starter, but an average quality compared to Somtum Der and many more these days.  More like it was the Namtok Pork, bathed in delicious Thai herbs and spices, though not entirely unfamiliar flavors.  Crab Fried Rice, not only featured plenty of crab but the rice had that nice crunch that I prefer (take note Uncle Boons)

The fried whole Branzino is deboned, sort of butterflied, and perhaps the most interesting dish here.  We had to order another one, not because it was particularly impressive but because half of our party could not fully enjoy the spicier stuff.  The coconut crab curry while packed with deep flavors, was a little too much for the women (we were with another couple by the way).  Almost equally as fiery, the Seafood Pad Cha was indeed ChikaLicious! (you see what I did there?), though marginally better than an occasional Pure Thai Cookhouse special.  And since Thai joints are not exactly known for their dessert, you can walk to ChikaLicious or the closer phenom Spot Dessert Club.  The lone coconut dessert at Fish Cheeks will make my wife and her sister do their best De Niro impression while spitting profusely.  Its very embarrassing.  For them.  While we record it with our iPhones.

Many like myself will rejoice in the heat levels at Fish Cheeks no doubt.  But the problem is that when you make your most desirable sounding dishes very spicy, you create a “Family Style” ordering problem for those coming with, well, families, or friends with more sensitive palates.  Raise your hand if all your friends can handle a lot of heat.  You are in the 1% I’m guessing.  For the rest of us, it will be “Hey, do you want to go back to Fish Cheeks, remember, that place we went with your sister about a year ago”, “Oh that spicy place where I almost got hospitalized?  How about something more Obamacare friendly”.  But I do wish them well, and a longer tenure than the previous tenant.

Fish Cheeks
55 Bond St (Bowery/Lafayette)
Rating: One Z (out of 4)

Stars range from Good to Exceptional.  Simple as that

fish-cheeks-seafood fish-cheeks-exterior

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