West Village

Berber Street Food – By Mother of Dragons

Berber Stree Food - Berber FeastNow that I got your attention…

The story is all too familiar, but the outcome in this case has a GOT type twist.  Girl starts working as a waitress at some of our higher ends.  She then graduates from the French Culinary Institute, before working at names like Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Daniel.  She then leaves to travel around the world to collect more inspiration before opening her first establishment.  The girl becomes chef.

But the big twist in this story is in the type of establishment.  Every time I sit in one of the four tables at tiny Berber Street Food in West Village, I wonder if there’s another place remotely like it in NYC.  “Afro-fusion” is one way to describe it, but in order to understand what it means one needs to have a few meals here and meet Diana.  She is as fierce, and confident as they come, with unrivaled talent and passion to boot.  As the New Yorker put it, Diana “has the West Village wrapped around her finger”

Berber Stree Food

This is not the case where I was blown away by the first bite.  The Jerk wings had this  familiar and pleasant fruity tone, but not quite as sharp or spicy as the Caribbean style jerk I’m accustomed to.  Dont get me wrong here.  I smothered these babies, licked every finger, and didnt wash my hands that afternoon, or evening.  I just wasnt in a rush to come back, but oh so glad I did.

The love affair started with visit #2 when I had a bowl of rice, Black Eye Peas, seasonal green beans, and jerk chicken that came in a stew-like form this time.  It had this addictive sweetness, and spicy enough to leave a nice tingle.  Although if you want more spice, the intense Habanero sauce that accommodates the dish (if not, ask) will do.  Enjoy it with the terrific homemade Ginger Lemongrass juice.  Although on another visit the scent of the Morrocan mint tea next to me was hypnotizing.

But the dish to get here might be the Djolof Fried Rice with chicken.  It may just rival the best Biryani you ever had and then some.  The same chicken is used as a wrap in the Shawarma sandwich.  Plenty of Middle Eastern dishes here due to the North Adrican connection.  There’s also Koftas, Moorish Kebabs, and her own falafel interpretation on the menu.  Diana is like Einat Admony reborn in a way.

Berber Stree Food - Pudding

 

Every time I come here I see the team grow a little bit.  Yesterday the cook (not Diana) felt especially generous with the “Berber Feast”, slowly roasted chopped leg of lamb that is marinated for a few days with Harissa and cumin.  You get more Harissa on the side, along with other spreads, a couple of nifty salads, and couscous.  A taste of a Berber (North Africa ethnic group.  Diana’s father side) wedding feast where they serve whole pigs as such.  This has potential as a house specialty.  On another day Diana was experimenting with an off menu North African pudding that tasted like something you may get at one of her old employers, like Per Se.

Half a block away, visitors from around the world, flock to Joe’s for its above average NY slice (I get mine at Sacco and elsewhere).  While at Berber, you’ll find returning locals including students going for the cheap bowls and sandwiches to go.  Berber is slowly becoming a little local hangout, where Diana knows everyone and you end up making new friends.  This is possibly the best thing to pop in West Village in years.Berber Stree Food - Wings

Berber Stree Food - Chicken BowlBerber Stree Food - Djolof Fried Rice

 

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Kish Kash – The Village Couscouseria

Kish Kash - ChraimeWhen is a concept, not really a concept.  Or doesnt feel like one.  If you walk inside Kish Kash in West Village without knowing anything about it, it may feel like just another casual restaurant serving food that my be even too familiar.  But once you read about it you can see that this is not your ordinary kitchen.  Its the only place in NYC that makes couscous the way it was made 300 years ago.  Couscous made with a lot of love that accumulated over the years by chef Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Taim).

Couscous is the side dish most used in my house because its the easiest to make.  Kish Kash refers to the Sieve traditionally used to make Couscous by hand, a process that takes hours.  As far as I know, Admony is the only one doing it in NYC.  They dont even do this in Morocco anymore.

But what is the real concept here for the average eater who most likely wont notice the difference.  While its definitely a fluffier, better tasting product, once combined with the terrific Mafrum (spiced ground beef meat balls with tomato sauce) or any of the other items on the menu, the flavor gap narrows and it may taste like any other couscous after a few bites.

Kish Kash

The real concept to me is the place and the rest of the menu.  A well designed bright, inviting space serving quick, homey Israeli/North African dishes like the mentioned Mafrum which might be the thing to get.  Or the Chraime, a whitefish, Branzino in this case, topped with tangy tomato sauce.  All dishes come with the house Couscous of course and homemade Harissa you can add once you get bored.  That combination, whether with meat or fish, results in a very satisfying forkful.

While I would still opt for this couscous given the option, the dishes would work with instant couscous or maybe even with something else.  You can make the meal as quick or long as you want.  There are starters like the legit looking hummus.  And since you are at an Admony house, by law you must try the cauliflower that comes ladened with Tahini, pines nuts, and raisins.  There’s Israeli wine and beer of course, but no Malt “Black Beer” for those truly missing Tel Aviv.

Kish Kash
455 Hudson St (Barrow/Morton), West Village
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Mafrum, Chraime, Cauliflower

Kish Kash Cauliflower

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Jeju’s Six Courser May be the Best Deal in Town

Ok, so now that I got your attention I will tell you the truth.  Jeju Noodle Bar’s deal is most likely not the best deal in town.  Not even close.  There’s a guy in Sunset park’s Chinatown that makes delicious steamed rice noodles for a buck fifty.  You can get an entire meal at the new Momofuku Bang Bar for less then six.  There’s a 2-for-1 groin massage plus flu shot special every other Friday in Brighton Beach.  Its New York City.  There are hundreds of great deals out there.

But Jeju’s Six Courser is unlike anything I’ve had in NYC, and something I would like to repeat.  Like very soon.  The set menu was introduced about three months ago, just in time for me to rediscover this gem in West Village.  the set menu is unconventional and the perfect fit for our sharing style.  Instead of being your average tasting menu that features small dishes, some not on the menu, it showcases the menu highlights at a lower price when combined.  It costs $45 per person.

Jeju Noodle Bar

Jeju Noodle Bar

Jeju is like the Cote (Korean BBQ) of Korean noodle joints.  I’m sure many balk at the idea of a Ramen like noodle bar in a fancier environment, but the concept is not much different than that of a Momofuku Noodle Bar.  At the helm is a man with an impressive resume.  If we would play Fantasy Michelin Stars (and we should) he would have been a first round pick.  Its almost like Jeju’s brand new Michelin star is an afterthought at this point.  But the recent change to get rid of reservations altogether made Jeju more approachable (are you reading Missy Robbins?).   The current set menu:

Roasted Mushrooms – The best compliment I can give to a mushroom dish is that Mrs Z, a Mushroom hater, coming from a long line of mushroom haters, ate and liked this.

Jeju Noodle Bar - Mushrooms

Jeju Chicken Wings – Simple yet your typical (in a good way) expensive light battered fried chicken with a dip you want to dip your car keys in.  But you cant.  Because its keyless entry now.

Jeju Noodle Bar - Chicken

Toro Ssam Bap – This was incredible.  Layers of fatty tuna, scrambled eggs and Tobiko (fish roe) rice.  Nori on the side to help you make the sickest spicy tuna rolls you’ll ever have.

Jeju Noodle Bar - Tuna

Prime Ribeye Ssam – Anything over 4 courses in NYC usually means a “tasting menu” where the meat course consists of a few slices of high end beef.  Here you have 12 oz of perfectly cooked sliced ribeye (they dont ask you how you want it cooked – a good thing).  You can eat it as is or dip in their own nutty Romesco sauce which they should bottle and give away as party favors at the end of the night.  It should go well with scrambled eggs.

Jeju Noodle Bar - Rib EyeGochu Ramyun – There are so many Ramen variations in the city that its hard to understand the difference between Korean Ramyun and Japanese Ramen.  This pork broth carried some serious depth, and is essentially like the best Tonkotsu you will ever eat.

Jeju Noodle Bar - Ramyun

Dessert Course – Your choice of Ice cream or Sorbet.  We had both, like together at some point.  While forgettable compared to the rest of the meal, this was a solid finisher.  This is a GO!

Jeju Noodle Bar
679 Greenwich St (Christopher), West Village
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: 6 course menu

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Via Carota – The Road More Traveled

Via Carota Funghi

December 30th, 2018 Update:

Happy New Year!

How did Via Carota become the most perfect restaurant in nyc? Very simple.  They stick to their guns and they deliver.  Their menu hasn’t changed much over the years and may even seem boring to some.  But its well balanced, and the execution is consistently flawless.  It slowly developed into one of my safest recommendations.  And the fact that they don’t take reservations made it into an approachable but busy neighborhood darling.  Otherwise it could easily turn into another Lilia.

It’s almost fitting that it’s signature dish is something so widely available below 14th, the Cacio e Pepe.  It’s amazing how such a simple dish can generate this level of craving.  I get asked about it often on my tours.  To avoid World War Z last time with the family, I ordered two of them.  But for a while it looked like the signature might be the beefy Svizzerina, a lightly seared bunless burger.  Its delicious, and may be the most unique item on the menu.  But you will want to eat it quickly, before the outer sear cools off.

Other recent highlights include a moister the moist zesty chicken.  A perfectly cooked Skate wing with brown butter and capers (seems like all skates are cooked this way but I can’t complain).  Succulent Arancini with just enough porky ‘nduja to satisfy the palate.  And a Brussels Sprouts salad that will make you like Brussels Sprouts.  This Carrot Road, that seems to have no potholes, earns a third star.

March 18, 2017 Post:

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.  When I make a mistake, its usually a big one.  After all, I am human, and I need to be loved just like everyone else (as the great Morrisey once put it).  Its a rarity for me to come back to a place I didnt love initially, and thankfully it was only a year in this case.  Thanks to the power of social media, and foodies whose opinions speak much more volume than the rest of the media, we can now make New York Italian great again.

Another rarity:  I’m writing about a place I’ve only dined at solo.  When an Italian restaurant with this caliber opens in NYC offering the same great menu all day long, one needs to take advantage during the day.  One of the biggest differences between eating in Italy and the US is the disparity between lunches.  In Italy, lunch is taken almost as seriously as dinner and in many cases there are no separate menus between lunch and dinner.  Since I eat mostly out during lunch, you get extra brownie points for this kind of menu.

But something tells me Rita Sodi and Jody Williams know a lot more about Brownies than I do.  Even prior to this at I Sodi and Buvette, they proved they can flat out cook.  Mario Batali is a fan.  At Via Catota they created the type of corner eatery where you meet your friend for lunch after a long trip in Thailand.  The initial hype stemmed from the names involved, was probably unfair for a place like this, but many Villagers took advantage early on.  Today, dont be surprised to see the place full during lunch.Via Carota Cacio e Pepe

Its worth coming back here just for the Funghi.  I love a good Mushroom dish, but very rarely I get a dish that speaks to me in this kind of language, Yiddish.  Oyster, Maitake, Trumpet and one more I didn’t recognize perfectly grilled with all that wonderful earthiness, on top of smoked grilled Scamorza, with shallot, garlic, and olive oil vinaigrette.  A mishegas combination that works oh so beautifully.  It could be NYC’s mushroom dish to beat.

Yesterday the Rabbit tasted like a mighty fine fried chicken, with wonderful herby notes throughout.  Nicely done, but with the caveat that it may taste very much like chicken when its fried like that.  The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe here is as legit as it gets west of Rome.  I preferred it over the popular Pappardelle with wild boar ragu which tasted very average to me on the first visit. Another interesting dish is the fagioli all’ucceletto, a tomatoee stew of beans and sausages.Via Carota Rabbit

The rest of the menu is a a vegetarian delight, ranging from the very Tuscan Ribolita to what seems like “best of market” veggies.  Regulars pay attention to the rotating array of specials which doesnt leave much room for menu criticism (pasta offerings may seem light at first glance).  The most famous dish here is perhaps the Svizzerina, a cross between steak tartare and a rare bunless burger.  Will be back with family or friends to this one sooner than later

Via Carota
51 Grove St
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Funghi, Rabbit, Tonnarelli, Fagioli, Svizzerina, Chicken, Arancini, Brussels SproutsVia Carota

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Babbo – The Taj Mahal of NYC Italian

Babbo Black SpaghettiTo fully appreciate Babbo, one should arrive 15 minutes early.  Stand outside, check out the menu listed that includes today’s specials, and pretend that you are waiting for someone.  But more importantly, check out the people arriving.  There will be the boring arrivals – the locals and those who have eaten at Babbo before.  And then there are those with that special sparkle in their eyes.  The same sparkle you get when you finally reach Machu Picchu.  I saw a grandma with her well dressed family, pausing in front of the sign, exhale a huge sigh, followed by a smile (unless it was gas).  I watched a family of four taking their time, taking it all in, with a particularly thrilled dad who asked me to take a picture of the happy with family.  I happily obliged, and charged them $20 (the Times Square Elmo going rate at the moment).  The only time I’ve seen this type of foodie pilgrimage in NYC was the last time I waited for a slice at Di Fara.  There’s always something special about visiting a place that means so much more to other visitors.  Much like visiting the great churches of Europe, or the Taj Mahal

Babbo Ristorante is Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich first out of many ventures, opened in 1998.  One of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in NYC history, still going very strong even with an ageless menu.  Not many realize that Batali’s first was not Babbo, but a partnership at Pó, also in West Village, 5 years earlier.  Outside Babbo looks like just another neighborhood Trattoria, oddly situated on a quiet residential part of Waverly Place (may mean something to the 16 and under, unless they are like my kids who’ve been to Taim Falafel too many times).  Talking about Waverly Place kids, there were surprisingly quite a few on this particular night, some even arriving with their American Doll lookalikes.  The irony here comes after a tweet the other day where someone asked Batali if he would be willing to open a predominately kid friendly establishment.  In which he replied, kids are more than welcomed in any of his establishments already, and that he wouldnt want to alienate adults.  After all, we are talking about Italian, the granddaddy of kid friendly cuisine.Babbo

The transformation from Babbo outside to inside, is like that of a Minetta Tavern, a time machine.  Buzzy atmosphere, full bar, best of Batali ipod blasting in the background, and a VERY full staff.  Some looked busy, while some could have easily gone on a late afternoon siesta, even with the full house.  This is to me the one major difference between eating in the US and Italy.  The traffic around you is undeniable, which is why louder than usual music is required sometimes.  Not so much a complaint, but an observation.  When you score the friendliest waiter in the city of New York as we did on this night, complaints become observations.  On to the food….

Grilled Octopus with “Borlotti Marinati” and Spicy Limoncello Vinaigrette – Although it was somewhat unevenly cooked the last time, it was still good enough to not share one between four octopus loving freaks.  “Two Octopuses please”.  This time perfectly cooked, with a nice snap, and tenderness all around.  The tangy Vinaigrette, and the Borloti, aka Cranberry, aka Pinto and Cannellini had a baby beans, just add to the joy.Babbo Octopus

Pig Foot “Milanese” with Rice Beans and Arugula – Once in a while, not too often, I bump into one of those “I dont get it” dishes.  Its a popular staple on the menu, but I just dont get it.  It tasted like a potato latke gone wild.  The one that Jewish mothers throw out because it didnt come out as the other potato latkes.  Stringy, gelatiny, fried, and very flat cutlet, with a surprisingly flat flavor profile.  The only miss of the night.Babbo Pigs foot

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles – Great dish, and by far Mrs Ziggy’s fave.  If you feel any affection toward chicken liver this dish is especially for you.  Here its much about the sauce making its best Marsala interpretation, but with Squab liver mixed in with mushrooms, adding more richness to the buttery beef cheeks pureed inside the triangular ravioliBabbo Beef Cheek Ravioli

Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chilies (top)- Another menu staple that I’ve had before.  Its a fairly dry pasta, but packed with flavor and txture.  The squid ink Spaghetti has that nice sweet heaviness to it, with that crunchy salami, shrimp, and occasional garlic, like the gift that keeps on giving.  This is one of those dishes that makes you Google recipes when you get home.

Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage – Like a love letter from the Mario to Ziggy.  “Dear Ziggy, in honor of your unconditional support and love for Eataly, Lupa, Po, and other establishments I’ve been involved with over the years, I’m sending you these refreshing, delectable ravioli filled with peas, mint, and cheese, topped with spicy sausage tomato ragu.  As you can see, the mint and the sausage, compliment nicely, and dont overwhelm… unlike your wallet by Eataly’s Venchi chocolates.  Seriously, I know you are obsessed with Piedmont chocolates, but look at you.  Time to give it a rest.  And please please shave next time you come to Babbo.  Its a Ristorante, not a trattoria so show some respect.  Idiot!  Love, Mario”Babbo Mint Love Letters

Barbecued Skirt Steak with Endive “alla Piastra” and Salsa Verde – Just a perfectly cooked, and marinated Skirt, sliced and arranged Jenga style, on top of an ultra thick salsa verde.  A very respectable meat dishBabbo Skirt Steak

Rabbit with Honey-Glazed Baby Carrots, Peas and Salsa Verde – I normally dont have high expectations from Secondis in Italian, no matter where I go as they rarely satisfy as much as the primis and the rest of the menu.  But here they are given proper treatment, starting with this sweet, flavor packed rabbitBabbo Rabbit

Dessert – A fine chocolate cake, and a finer Semifreddo.  Another great meal at Babbo, a Z-List staple for hopefully many years to come

Babbo
110 Waverly Pl
$$$$
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Mint Love Letters, Beef Cheek Ravioli, Black Spaghetti, Skirt, Rabbit, Semifreddo

Babbo Chocolate Cake Babbo Semifredo

 

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The NYC Trip Report that Left Me Speechless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rounding the top 20…

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

ABC Cocina – Spring Pea Guacamole with Warm Tortillas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bar Pitti – The Confucius of NYC Dining

Bar Pitti Taglierini Black TrufflesEverything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it – Confucius

The legend of Confucius is so legendary that in modern times he is often compared to Jesus.  Both men were great thinkers and preachers whose believes written down well after their death.  Confucius, much like Jesus is viewed as a religeous figure.  Except that.. he wasnt really.  He was a teacher and a great philosopher, but not so much a preacher.  Confucius, as the name implies… a misunderstood figure.  Even some of his philosophies are either misunderstood or misapplied

Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star – Confucius

Just like great thinkers like Confucius and Donald Trump, I feel that Bar Pitti is misunderstood.  Perhaps the most misunderstood restaurant in NYC.  If you are to visit NYC and read reviews about this place on Yelp, chances are that you will likely pass on it.  Which is fine I suppose.  There are plenty of Branzini in the sea.  What you will read is mostly about service.  “I did not get the special board right away”, “The board was too confusing and heavy”, “The wait staff is hurried and rude”, “We were hurried”.  “The owner walks around like he owns the place”  I can go on and on.  You can read about it yourself.

When you hit the wall, it will hurt for a few days – Ziggy

But the truth of the matter is, Bar Pitti is just about as Italian as it gets in NYC.  The owner and the entire staff are Italian.  The chalk board is in Italian.  Everyone speaks Italian.  And if you ever set foot in a true Italian Trattoria in Italy (not Staten Island) you may have noticed the contrast.  Italians are more direct.  Just like the rest of the world, they dont work for tips.  The “wait staff” is not there to “serve” you.  It may be the owner, the sister, the cousin that takes your order, brings you the food, and helps you select the wine.  But the biggest difference the way I see it, is that the number of workers in a typical Italian restaurant in NYC far outnumber a similarly sized Italian Trattoria in Italy.  In another words, they work their ass off.  That work ethic translates to “Hurried” by some here.  The directness and the language barrier may translate to rudeness.  Their policies (like cash only) are… well.. their policies.  Its all in the open.  If you choose to eat their anyway, you dont have the right to complaint.  Its like saying “This Pizza place sucks because they dont sell slices.  Only whole pies.  AVOID!”

Some girls are bigger than others. Some girls mothers are bigger than other girls mothers – Morrissey

Bar Pitti Veal Milanese

You know who doesnt think there are service issues at Bar Pitti?  NY celebrities.  Bar Pitti is one of those NY celebrity magnets.  Which also means good looking people lining up the sidewalk waiting for a table.  Its a places to see and be seen, partly due to that wide sidewalk and prime West Village real estate.  Jake Gyllenhaal was in the next room while we dined there the other night, joining a slew of celebrities dining there at some point.  Bar Pitti is also one of the only restaurants in its class that has no website.  Reservations for four and over are taken like in Italy, the old fashion way… via conversation.  which means you can score a table even on a busy Saturday night.  Want to stay for a while?  Keep ordering.  This is not a place to linger, unless you are Jake Gyllenhaal

You can observe a lot just by watching – Yoggi Berra

Yoggi Berra is talking about the specials board at Bar Pitti.  That’s where the action is.  Starting with the great Pappardelle Rabbit ragu or whatever meat ragu, and ending with the Taglierini with summer Black Truffles.  One of the only NYC places offering black truffles the entire summer.  The Burrata is another strong board option, and so is the Veal Milanese.  This place will also make you question your ban on creamy dishes, starting with the Pappardelle Alla Fiesolana, perhaps the most popular dish of the house.  For mushroom lovers, the oyster mushroom app is an absolute must.

Bar Pitti is old school at its best.  And I pity the fool who passes on it

Bar Pitti
268 Ave of the Americas
$$$ (cash only)

Bar Pitti Pappardelle Rabbit ragu Bar Pitti Burrata photo (17) Bar Pitti

 

 

 

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Santina – Lucca via Miami Beach

Santina Cecina

Update 7/20/2015:  Get the Squash Carpaccio people.  Whether you are into such veggie dishes or not is irrelevant.  Thinly sliced squash with pumpkin seeds adding a nice texture, crème fraiche dropped like Hershey kisses, brown butter, pink peppercorn and other spices and herbs.  The peppercorn especially complete this dish.  Tastier than many beef carpaccios I’ve had.  Another new must is the Potatoes side.  Flash fried, then sautéed with onions, hefty amount of chili paste and other goodies.  Reminded me in a way of the Momofuku rice cakes with meat.  Addcitive stuff.  The light and satisfying Santina fusilli is an interesting combination of lamb and the mussels which you wont find anywhere else.  The bright red chicken with a tangy guajillo sauce was tender and tasty as well.  Don’t overlook this gem when you visit the High Line or the great new Whitney Museum

Santina Squash CarpaccioSantina Chicken Santina Fusilli

Original Post 5/9/2015:

A lot of firsts for me at this new Carbone/Torrisi team hot spot.  The first time I took a picture of my napkin.  The first time I had Cecina in NYC.  And the first time I caused an incident of mammoth proportions.  Mammoth!  But lets start with the first first.

The Napkin – I will just let the pictures do the talking.  You may see a cinamon bun, though I immediately see the rolling Bowery steak from Bowery Meat Company in that napkin.  Maybe I should see a mental health professional about that.  Its not just the napkin.  I didnt take a picture of the outside umbrellas and server attire but I urge you to google this place.  On both visits I felt like I was missing a white sweater around my neck and a tennis racket.  Miami Beach Chic under the the High Line.

Santina

The Cecina (pictured above) is like a crepe, or pancake, made from chickpea flour.  Its a specialty of the Ligurian Sea coast spanning from Nice to Pisa.  In Lucca, we saw them bake the Cecina in a wood burning pizza oven.  Its thicker and can be eaten alone with just some seasoning.  Here the Cecina is more like a thin spongy crepe, like the Ethiopian Injera.  Not intended to be eaten alone I dont think.  So when I see other bloggers say to avoid this because its flavorless, I say the point is being missed here.  Combine it with any of the 5 “toppings” (tuna tartar, mushroom, shrimp, lamb tartar, avocado) for a very playful and tasty snack.  So far I had the lamb and tuna.  You can make four little wraps using the four Cecina slices (pronounced Chechina), or you can just tear some to scoop the toppings like in a druze village.  There’s no right or wrong way of eating it, and I highly recommend it and the rest of the menu

One of my biggest fears while dining out happened during the Cecina course.  And I don’t have many fears to be honest.  The only fears that come to mind are death, falling while putting pants on, and dying after falling while putting jeans on.  No one in the history of the world ever died while putting their pants on, and I don’t want to be the first.  When I’m spending my hard earned money while dining out, my biggest pet peeve is getting the dishes too quickly, or at the same time.  It happens far too often lately, and its getting a little annoying.  Here I got the Shrimp Zingara middle course not even five minutes after the Cecina.  I wasn’t even halfway done with both the cecina, and fantasizing about being back at the beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer.  The servant quickly realized the situation and asked me if I want him to take it back to keep it warm in the kitchen, which I never know what to say to that for so many reasons.  “Hmmm, I suppose.  Will it still be good?”.Santina Zingara

Shortly thereafter, after I finished the Cecina, another server came over to take the plates away including the bottle of the green salsa verde that came as part of the Cecina arsenal.  I then watched in horror as the green bottle, almost in slaw mo, lean over, coming down crashing.  A team of scientists could not ungreen the floor after that.  I felt particularly bad about this incident because moments earlier I made a mental note to put the bottle back in the allocated spot after using it a few times, and I never did.  The waiter may have assumed the bottle is secured in its spot after picking up the tray, and oops.  I apologized to him three times about this faux pas, but the staff can not assume the patrons are in the habit of putting everything in its place.

The moment was gone.  I’m suddenly on the wait staff shit list, and I’m about to get a dry shrimp Zingara that was prepared 20 minutes ago and probably missing its Zingara by now.  But to my surprise the shrimp dish arrives good as new, as if it was just prepared.  The shrimp didnt toughen and were soft as a baby bottom.  The rice was toasty, nicely al dented and had plenty of zing to it.  The only issue was too much capers, as by the end I found myself separating them away from the action.  Maybe they indeed made two Zingaras because I mistakenly was charged for two (or was it a shit list confirmation)

Putting service and personal issues aside, everything else I had was original and well prepared.  On a previous visit with a friend we shared a Cecina, and an ingenious Guanciale e pepe.   The name resembles the familiar Roman Cacio e Pepe, but the ingredients bring it closer to the rice version of Gricia, a lesser known Roman pasta.  Guanciales, black pepper and grated Pecorino play together ever so nicely.  I also really liked the simple, herby whole grilled porgy with sliced hearts of palm so sweet they taste like pear.

Looking forward to taste the rest of Santina.  If I’m welcomed.

Santina
820 Washington St (under the begining of the High Line, south end)
$$$

Santina Guanciale e pepe Santina Porgy

Categories: New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why I Like to Take Groups to Da Andrea

Da Andrea TigelleWhat is your favorite Italian?  The most confusing, challenging subject since sex education in High School.  Not only I don’t really know, but I also don’t have a clue what is your definition of “Italian”.  Italian can mean 21 different things, for the 21 very different regions including the Italian region of Staten Island.  It could also be a steakhouse (Costata), a pizza joint (Marta, Don Antonio), or a fusiony place like Piora.  Many of the so called “Italian” dont really have much in common.  In fact whenever we talk to Italian chefs in Italy about what they do and where they eat in NYC, they often mention Italian restaurants.  Because to a chef from Piedmont, a Roman restaurant may be just as foreign as Korean.  Ok, maybe not.  But to them there’s no such thing as Italian restaurants.  They are just restaurants.

But if you would ask me which of our so called Italian restaurants I frequent the most, the answer is fairly simple. For lunch, Mercato.  For dinner, Da Andrea.  Ok, maybe not as simple as I thought, as you can see.  Da Andrea is not what I would call a foodie destination.  Its a fun, fairly popular family operated neighborhood joint specializing primarily in Emilia Romagna cooking (owners from Bologna).  We’ve been frequenting Da Andrea since they were located on Hudson street deeper in the Village.  Back then they were half their current size, with lines around the block sometimes.  They didnt take reservations then, and they dont do now, unless you are 4 or more.  When I have to pick a place for groups between 4 and 12, Da Andrea is the first place that pops to mind.  Why?Da Andrea Calamari

1)  As busy as they are on a nightly basis, it’s easy to reserve large tables with a phone call.  Otherwise, trying to reserve large tables in Manhattan is like having a three day root canal

2)  It’s cheap.  At least for NYC standards.

3)  The food is generally good and family/group friendly.  My idea of family style dining is not Carmines where the dishes are super-sized low quality.  Regular size dishes can be just as family style.  You just need to know what to order and how many of them.  At Da Andrea, we must get the Tigelle, Modenese style baked to order flat buns that come with Prosciutto di Parma.  The simple, always fresh grilled calamari here is fantastic.  The tower of veggies is normally a big hit.  And as far as pastas go, the Pappardelle with sausage ragu and truffle oil has to be one of the most popular pasta dishes in town.  Its my guilty red sauce pleasure.  Although, admittedly I didnt detect much truffle flavor or scent last time.

4)  The house wine is good (and cheap)

5)  You can linger.  Chances are your large table isnt booked for another party, so you can take your time.  In fact last time, our waitress advised us to order our mains later on, in order to have ample time between courses.  You can take your time here

6)  100% success rate.  If it aint broke, why fix it.  Generally, everyone enjoys this place (you can tell), and at the end of the day that is really what counts

Da Andrea SpaghettiDa Andrea CapreseDa Andrea Veggie tower Da Andrea Pappardelle Da Andrea Cavatelli

Courtesy of https://whyhaventwebeenherebefore.wordpress.com/

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What to Eat in NYC – The Ethnic Plays

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

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

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

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

Moti Mahal Cauliflower

Moti Mahal Cauliflower

 

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

Bar Bolonat - Creme Brulee

Bar Bolonat – Creme Brulee

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

Nish Nush - Falafel

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

Ippudo - Akamaru Modern

Ippudo – Akamaru Modern

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

Gourmet Szechuan 56 - Shredded beef

Gourmet Szechuan 56 – Shredded beef

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

Mission Cantina Tacos

Mission Cantina Tacos

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

Kashkar Cafe - Geiro Lagman

Kashkar Cafe – Geiro Lagman

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

Casa Mono Razor Clams

Casa Mono Razor Clams

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

Overwhelmed?  Join the club.  I only live here.

Jungsik Steak

Jungsik Steak

Categories: Brooklyn, Chelsea, Chinatown, East Village, Gramercy, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Midtown East, Midtown West, New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita, Staten Island, TriBeCa, Upper West Side, West Village | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

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