Ember – Anguilla’s Newest Epicurean Jewel

EmberI’ve come to realize that I’m not much of a beach reader these days.  The heat, the glare, the turquoise water, way too many distractions out there.  But what’s my excuse at home?  Dont know.  But at the beach I prefer long walks, listening to music, and sometimes just aimless staring while getting lost in random thoughts.  Albert Einstein got much of his ideas from aimless wandering.  I’m getting there.  The best I came up with in 6 days is “What the heck is a Post Malone”, and “How do you spell Rendezvous, anyway”.  Silent Zs just seem so annoyingly wasteful, especially these days for some New Yorkers (Verrazzano is missing a Z in all 96 road signs and business names).

Another thought that popped was how such a small island where a human walks every 20 minutes from my vantage point has such great dining depth.  In busier Providenciales (Turks and Caicos) where its now about 20 humans per 20 minutes from my favorite spot, I can think of only two very solid sure bets for dinner.  Ember in Anguilla now makes it three, joining Jacala, and Hibernia.  And there are island old timers I still havent tried, like Blanchards.Ember Beets

One year old Ember is the dream of Marc Alvarez who is sort of an island legend.  If you are not aware of that by the time you get there, his long time friend and manager(?) Michelle will make sure you are.  This kind of confidence can backfire if not followed by matching results.  It did.  And its always good to know who’s at the helm, what’s his/er story, and most importantly is that person in the kitchen every night.  Its a yes for Ember.

The space is comfortable and inviting.  There’s a wood burning oven in the kitchen that looks like a pizzaiolo wet dream.  The menu features a New York-like “Snacks” column that makes ordering more interesting here.  Alvarez did spend some time with Union Square Hospitality in NYC.  A smaller plate section is also a risk as one can spend much less for a full meal.  It took a while to come up with a game plan here.  I had to interview 27% of the very full staff to finalize my order.  Nice French leaning wine menu, just like the rest of the island pretty much.  I lean Italian, but managed.

Started with the Snap Peas, the only miss for me as the spices too mild to make any sort of impact.  But the buttery Pretzel, perhaps his homage to NY, was a nice kickstarter in more ways than one.  It comes with sharp Dijon that brushes against your sinuses, but can do more damage if not too careful.  Like hockey players sniffing ammonia-laced salt in order to wake up.  Perhaps that’s the idea here.

The roasted beets was the first sign of that Alvarez brilliance.  They looked like tomatoes, and tasted like meat.  We are the rare breed of beet haters who like to order beets at places like this.  The Foie gras terrine & duck prosciutto was the second sign and perhaps dish of the trip nominee.  Prosciutto was more like Jamon or lardo that melts in the mouth without the chewiness.  The combination of the Foie with port cherry on toast was like ecstasy in your mouth.

The red snapper fillet dish was a beautiful chaos of various ingredients, and perhaps best piece of fish on this trip.  And the baked gnocchi was rich and spot on.  Large fresh gnocchi as such tend to get all mushy sometimes but these were sturdy and spectacular, with bright, tangy tomato sauce and just enough cheese.  The white chocolate bread pudding to finish was NOLA-ish bread pudding perfection.  Not much white choc flavor which is a good thing.

There are meals (like the night before Ember) where I politely say no to dessert and ready to leave.  And then there are the self inflicted marathon meals where I want to stay longer, visit the kitchen and kiss the chef on the lips!  In this case I settled for a hand shake (I think he’s from the Bronx!).  An epic meal from start to finish.

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Top 10 Dishes of 2019

Another fantastic eating year is in the books folks.  Just to be on the safe side, for the purpose of this post, I’m not planning to eat anything until 2020.  Figured I’ll give this Intermittent Fasting thing that everyone is talking about a go finally.  Eat freely for the first 362 days of the year only.  Ever wonder why these lists come out so early in December by Eater, and the rest of them?  Do they not plan to eat anything interesting the rest of the year and postpone all eating assignments to January?

Anywho, its actually been a rather a rough year, and perhaps contrary to the first line of the post, not exactly my favorite food year.  Personal tragedies, and an accelerated number of great eateries closing all over the city contributed.  There’s no more rhyme or reason to restaurants closing these days.  But 2019 still saw some great openings and old favorites continue to deliver…

Peking Duck at Pinch Chinese

Who said the most expensive item on the menu is often the best.  I did.  Many times.  Because its true more often than not.  This $105 duck that needs to be ordered and paid for days in advance is a triumph.  And not bad value considering the four of us couldn’t finish it.  Without sounding too much like the Oscars, this is the third nomination for Pinch Chinese who previously got nods for the Wind Sand Chicken and Crab dish in this space.

Crabmeat Tom Turmeric at Taladwat

2019 saw the talented David Bank (Pure Thai Cookhouse) finally open another massively successful Thai hit in Hell’s Kitchen,  And he somehow managed to keep it fresh in Little Thailand.  In about half a dozen visits during the year, only once I did not order this well balanced milky goodness.  With Gloria now shuttered, this is the best crab dish in the kitchen today.taladwat - crab

Pastrami Sandwich at Hometown BBQ Industry City

Yes, this means I finally found a parking spot in Industry City.  And yes, I finally found a compelling reason to visit Industry City.  This ultra flaky pastrami may be as good as it gets in NYC today.  It borders too salty on the first few bites, but settles in beautifully.  Fatty in all the right places, like slow dancing with your mother in law.  A nice homage to the classic Jewish deli pastrami on rye.Hometown BBQ Pastrami

Tagliolini al Ragu at Rezdora

If you look at the word ‘Bastardized’ in the dictionary you’ll see a picture of the classic American spaghetti Bolognese.  If you ever had the real thing, Tagliolini al ragu in Emilia Romagna or Tajarin in Piedmont, you are probably nodding profusely right now.  So before you hurt yourself, head to Rezdora.  It shouldnt surprise anyone considering chef/owner Stefano Secchi’s resume includes Modena royalty Osteria Francescana, and Hosteria Giusti.

Rezdora-Tagliolini

Eater

Parrillada de Setas at Tomiño Taberna Gallega

When I dine alone, I often order mushroom dishes, because I’m legally not allowed to order them when I’m on a date.  Its in my marriage contract.  And sometimes when I see a good looking mushroom dish on the menu while with Mrs Z, I have to sneak back into the place on another day in order to have it.  This one was worth the hassle.  A wonderful sweet and savory medley of Enoki, King Oyster, Maitake with goat cheese, garlic and honey.Tomino - Mushroom salad

Wagyu Ragu at Kāwi

Perhaps the most important opening of the year in NYC doesnt get enough attention.  Probably because of the mall location (Hudson Yards).  There are about 5 very solid dishes I can pick from Kawi, but the Wagyu ragu that comes with table side scissored rice cakes is a no brainer.  The kind of umaminess not experienced since the debut of Ssam Bar’s spicy rice cakes.Kawi - Wagyu Ragu Rice Cakes

Carrots at Ducks Eatery

Leave it to smoking wizard Will Horowitz to make carrots taste this good.  The man behind the the legendary pastrami, watermelon ham, and goat neck (a former Top Dish) got another hit which got vegan chain By Chloe’s attention.  The carrots are treated just like pastrami which means it takes about a week to make them taste like meat.Ducks Eatery Carrots

Lobster Noodles at Wayan

One of the most thrilling openings of the year, and a dish I think about often, sometimes in most inappropriate moments.  Like when Mrs Z tells me about her day and then ruins the moment with a “Are you listening”?  Its like the most amazing Mazemen (drier Ramen) you’ll ever have.  Ramen noodles, chili, butter, soy, thai basil and plenty of Maine lobsta.Wayan - Lobster Noodle

Djolof Fried Rice with chicken at Berber Street Food

In vanishing NY its refreshing to see places like Berber Street Food keep opening.  Michelin trained Diana Tandia created quite the sweet formula to attract a slew of locals very quickly.  The Djolof is a tomatoee Senegalese rice dish that is essentially like the best Biryani you’ll ever have.Berber Stree Food - Djolof Fried Rice

Fresh Whole Fish at Hunan Slurp

The plethora of new Chinese places opening all over the city changed the way I eat fish in NYC.  This whole market fresh fish is chopped with bones and all, and covered with garlic, ginger, and a supremely flavorful homemade chili sauce that I can drink from a wine glass.Hunan Slurp - Fish

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Anguilla Random

IMG_2365Its that time of the year.  The time we look back, reflect, and look forward.  The time we argue about the spelling of Hanukkah, and wonder how impeachment works exactly.  The time we look back at the wonderful things we ate during the year all over the world.  The time to call your mom, and watch vacation pictures.  In that order.  Yes, call you mom, and buy her something meaningful this time.  A puppy, a food tour, a trip to Anguilla.  Something that will change her life.

To all the people I met during the last years years, wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a blessed Festivus

The Ziggys

(PS, click on any of the pictures below to view)

 

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Hibernia {Anguilla} – The Umami of Dining Experiences

Eating With Ziggy

Anguilla Hibernia 3

December 17, 2019 Update

Another epic meal at one of my Caribbean faves.  Its a timeless menu in a timeless setting.  We went for lunch again to mimic the previous experience and ordered pretty much the same dishes.  The one addition was a grilled Mahi seasoned with turmeric and other gingers.  Its worth getting it just for the accompanied butternut squash, bok choy and shiitake gratin.  It’s a sum-of-all-parts kind of dish with the mild seasoning letting the fresh fish do the talking.  The trio of smoked fish and and the outrageous Foie Gras are still the strongest stuff on the menu.  Impeccable attention to detail throughout.  This is a major go for lunch or dinner!

December 27, 2015 post

While we were wrapping up another gruesome beach day on Anguilla (someone has to do it), we noticed something peculiar happening next door.  A private table for two was being set…

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Best Tacos in Hell’s Kitchen

Alan's KitchenTacos, one of the four pillars of Hell’s Kitchen.  Thai, Ramen, and bars are the other three.  I cant think of many Hell’s Kitchen corners where you are not less than 5 minutes away from good tacos.  But try telling that to the 100 or so poor souls standing on a long line in freezing temps at Los Tacos #1 (or is it #2) in Times Square because their notes say so.  Oh its good alright.  But in this Little Puebla there are options.  Many options.

Carnitas at Alan’s Kitchen Mexican Cuisine – The newest kid on the block may very well be the best of all.  No alcohol license as of this writing, but the kitchen dishes out some of the juiciest pulled pork and Carne Asada (top pic) around.  Perhaps the closest you can get to Mission (San Francisco) quality.  339 W 44th St (8/9)    

Shrimp at Otto’s Tacos – Small shrimp but with a lot of Chutzpah.  Smartly seasoned, served with Serrano cream and onions.  Slightly inconsistent as of late, but when they are on they are on.  And when they are not, they are still one of the better shrimp tacos out there.  705 9th Ave (48/49)

Al Pastor at Tulcingo Del Valle – One of the old guards on 10th.  When neighbor Tehuitzingo unexpectedly shuttered, the other T became the king of Al Pastor.  You cant mix and match here, so bring friends, or a bigger appetite.  Or both.  665 10th Ave (46/47)

Carnitas at Tacuba – This is the entree, not the “tacos”.  Although the small designer tacos are good here as well.  Order the Carnitas main and manufacture your own tacos.  Its hard to screw up with that wonderfully greasy suckling pig featuring plenty of crispy Chicharron.  802 9th Ave (54/53)

Oyster Mushroom at La Palapa – While everyone else is offering just boring cactus, the newest taco joint in Gotham West Market has the most impressive array of Veggie tacos.  The mushroom here works very well with the Chihuahua cheese and Pasilla peppers.  Its like a Russian Mushroom Julienne taco.  600 11th Ave (44/45)

Tulcingo Del Valle

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Taladwat – The New Thai Sensation on 9th

Eating With Ziggy

taladwat - pompanoDecember 1st, 2019 Update:

Even with one of the most prominent Thai gone (Larb Ubal), Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen today is an embarrassment of riches.  They keep multiplying, making ugly babies.  On 9th they are more common than pharmacies or delis.  On 10th where its much tougher to survive, they are going strong.  But if I have to pick one name out of the bunch that has the best combination of food, comfort, and accessibility, its Taladwat.

Like a fine wine aging in dog years, Taladwat gets better every month.  David Bank (Pure Thai Cookhouse) and Brian Ghaw (Feast) essentially perfected the local formula by offering the most robust Thai flavors inside a mini beer garden setting.  The setting and concept is unlike anything else available on 9th, or pretty much the city for that matter.  While its not the prototypical pre-theater type, the location, and accessibility (at…

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Thankful!

Happy-Thanksgiving-1On Thanksgiving we give thanks to the things and people we take for granted.  This is perhaps the most meaningful Thanksgiving, and the first one I was not particularly looking forward to (first one without dad).  So I would like to take this opportunity to give thanks..

Thankful to the most important person in my life, my wife.  Don’t know where I’d be without her at this point in my life.  Probably having Thanksgiving at Pure Thai Cookhouse by myself staring at the wall.

Thankful to my mom who had a rough year.

Thankful to my daughters.  Couldn’t possibly be prouder.

Thankful for my lone black umbrella.  When you live with three women choosing a manly umbrella can be tough sometimes.

Thankful for my friends.

Thankful for Tacos.

These are mostly not in any particular order btw, otherwise tacos would have been much higher.

Thankful to live in such a multicultural city where I can say Bonjour in the morning patisserie, Shalom at lunch, and “Whoa, too spicy, where’s the hong nam man” (toilet in Thai) for dinner.

Thankful for Hockey and the NY Islanders, even though they stunk it up last night.

Thankful for Depeche Mode.  Greatest music gift in history.

Thankful to the person who invented Anti-Pervert Hairy Leg Stockings.  Makes holiday gift buying so easy for me.

Thankful to all the visitors who entrusted me on their precious vacation time and took my tours.

Thanks to the visitor who returned my black umbrella 6 months later.

Thankful to the Trip Advisor NY forum!  Not sure where I’d be without your support at this point.  Probably divorced, eating by myself at Pure Thai Cookhouse.

Thankful to the owner of Pure Thai Cookhouse!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Three to Consider in Brooklyn

Hometown BBQ PastramiEvery time I sneeze a new restaurant opens in Brooklyn.  Every time Mrs Z sneezes, a dove commits suicide.  Its the loudest sneeze on the planet, that comes without warning.  Think a samurai shout or a mother giving birth to triplets.  Some of the new restaurants generate hours long waits or impossible to reserve, but thankfully plenty of solid oldies around.  Today you get three for the price one.

Xixa – I dont know what took me so long to get to this Mexican fusion.  Maybe the inner Jewish guilt.  Xixa after all, and its sister Traif (where we ate before), are situated just outside of Hasidic Williamsburg.  Xixa, pronounced Shiksa, means gentile woman (not Jewish).  Traif means not Kosher.  Its like two bullies laughing while pointing fingers at a kid eating Gefilte Fish off a can.  But Xixa has been around for a while now, and still packs young folks nightly.  Its hard to pick favorites from the many small and large plates.  But give the Elote (corn or carrots), beets, duck or short rib Carnitas a try.  Playful menu, with playful drinks to match.  241 S 4th St (Williamsburg)

XixaOlivier Bistro – Its beginning to sound like another cliche, but Olivier Bistro is the type of place every neighborhood needs.  I’ve been frequenting Olivier for a few years now but for some reason never wrote about it.  Talented French born Olivier Verdier is constantly on his toes, offering a mix of specials and a plethora of French classics for the steady regulars.  Its the closest you’ll get to an authentic French Bistro in Brooklyn.  The burger is always solid.  As are the Shishito peppers, Cassoulet, Moules Frites, Hanger Steak, and make sure to ask about today’s poison! (fish).  I’ve never had a bad dish here.  469 4th Ave (Gowanus)

Hometown BBQ Industry City – I havent written much about Industry City because, well, I can never find parking.  And I havent had truly compelling reasons to keep going.  Until now.  The ultra flaky pastrami sandwich at this new Hometown branch may be as good as it gets in NYC today.  It borders too salty on the first few bites, but settles in beautifully.  Its a nice homage to the classic Jewish deli pastrami on rye.  Industry City (Sunset Park)

And talking about pastrami, I inform you with heavy heart and slightly elevated cholesterol that EWZ fave Harry and Ida’s in the East Village is closing this weekend.  I wish nothing but the best to Will and Julie.  There will never be anything like Harry and Ida’s.

Hometown BBQ

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24 Hours in Washington, DC

IMG_2108When I was watching the Washington Nationals beat the Astros for their first title in the modern era (post iPhone), I never imagined that two days later we would be trapped on Constitution Ave, trying desperately to swim out of the Red Sea (parade crowd).  We spent roughly 24 hours, which was also the amount it took me to plan for this last minute getaway.  Arlington and Indian – that was pretty much my base, the starting point for this trip.  I’ve never been to Arlington, and I got sick and tired of hearing the praises of Rasika.

Saturday

11:50 am – We park at Colonial Parking (reserved via Parking Panda), and checked into the super convenient (for our purpose), State Plaza Hotel.  We accidentally found ourselves in the middle of a quiet, and picturesque George Washington University where my youngest is applying.  This school visit was not planned, but of course we told her it was.

12:30 pm – Plan was to check out Momofuku CCDC, but that means potentially missing our tour at the Capitol.  A Brunch menu makes this decision easier as I feel places like Momofulu and Brunch dont mix.  But a dumb down eggified version of a Momofuku is still probably better than most brunches out there.  Instead we do a quick take out from errr.. Cosi, along with roughly 654 National fans.

1:23 PM – An uneventful walk through the White House, on our way to the Capitol.  The crowd is getting bigger, and rowdier.  Its like the Astor Place riots except that everyone but us is wearing red.  Not fully knowing the parade route we get caught in the middle of it all.  At some point I even lost Mrs Z for a minute.  One can only dream…

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2:03 PM – At this point it feels like we just completed an Amazing Race task as we are greeted by an Anne Hathaway look-alike at the Capitol who gives us the next clue.  Go downstairs and join a group led by an Elisabeth Moss look-alike (whats going on here).  A 45 minute tour of the Capitol is one of the many cool freebies this city has to offer.

3:10 – Still feeling safe underground we cross the tunnel to the granddaddy of all free attractions, the magnificent Library of Congress.  The largest library in the world, with over 168 million items.  It will add 15,000 items by the time I finish writing this post (I’m a little slow).  Since 2006 it started collecting every one of the 50 million tweets.

IMG_20783:48 PM – We peep out like Meerkats and it looks safe to come out and walk outside.  After a Starbucks emergency (for Coffee…), we are off to walk the 2.6 miles National Mall, arguably the greatest outdoor museum and memorial in the world.  The plan was to check out the National Museum of the American Indian (Free), but long lines and… jet lag kicks in.  It was a 3.5 hour drive after all.  From the outside the museum resembles something that belongs in Bilbao.  Thats a good thing.

4:17 PM – We enjoy a local refreshment called Coca Cola.  “Refreshments” are the US version of the Cicchetti or Tapas.  Small, in between meal snacks like Hot dogs, burgers, fries, etc.  Refreshment stands are the only food options in this part of the capital.

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4:38 PM – We are now staring at the Washington Monument.  Not at the actual monument, but at the row of people lying on their back against it with their feet up.  Clearly we missed an Instagram opportunity, or they are just very tired.  This was the world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by Eiffel Tower.  No building in Washington is allowed to be taller.  We end at the Lincoln Memorial, and perhaps the biggest surprise of them all, the mesmerizing Korean War Veterans Memorial.

9:00 PM – Dinner at Rasika West End.  I was curious how a restaurant offering dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala can be considered one of the best Indian in the country, but I get it now.  Its really is just solid Indian offering a full menu of inventive, and expertly cooked mainstream dishes.  The signature Palak Chaat is a beautiful combination of baby spinach fried to a nice crisp along with tamarind, dates, and yogurt.  A lesson in texture and balanced flavors.  Another highlight surprisingly was a perfectly flaky Snapper sitting on top of rice vermicelli.  The Dal Dhungaree was like a very rich Dal Makhni.  And if you like your curries spicy and complex, give the Andhra Chicken Curry a try.  The Date and Toffee Pudding will take you back to Grand Cayman (I imagine only 1% of my readers will get that, but its worth noting)IMG_2120

Sunday

8:10 am – a 20 deep line forming for brunch at the appropriately named Founding Farmers.  In a house that can fit roughly 400 diners, we somehow managed to get the worse seats, right between the kitchen, and the line to the bathroom.  I was in perfect position to trip anyone coming out the of the kitchen but I figured we should try the food first.  Excellent French Toast, and Pastrami hash with eggs, a la pastrami egg Benedict.

10:00 am – Ever since I visited the cemeteries in New Orleans many years ago I’ve become fascinated with them.  My so called Food Tour of Brooklyn includes a visit to Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn a place near and dear to my heart.  Arlington Cemetery was at the top of a very short list of cemeteries on my bucket list.  Its crucial to visit cemeteries with a tour and Free Tours by Foot proved to be a fine option.  Tip:  At The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dont leave immediately after the changing of the guards is over as many do.  There may be an important and moving wreath laying ceremony that follows.  Another Tip:  Dont miss the US Marine Corps War Memorial, a short drive away with easy parking.

IMG_21301:30 PM:  We have important unfinished business in other states, so bye for now

Bonus for New Yorkers or anyone driving from the north…

2:45 PM  A crab fest like no other at Nick’s Fish House in Baltimore, right off the highways.  If you never had proper Maryland crab cake, this is a good place to have one.  And its such a great place to experience the Chesapeake Blue Crab.  Yes its an experience.  If you never had them, its worth watching some youtube videos and/or ask the waitress on how to crack them open.  I would go to Baltimore just for this.

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Santina – Stays Fresh a Little Longer

Santina - CecinaRemember that old commercial.. “Stay Fresh a little longer… say goodbye a little longer..”,  The actual products dont stick, but the songs often do.  If you dont remember this one its probably because, well, it doesnt exist.  Its actually a Wrigley Big Red gum commercial that goes “So kiss a little longer…”, and the fresh part was only in my head.  But the idea of the commercial is that the gum will keep you fresh longer than normal so you could kiss longer, for some reason.  Why would anyone want to do it in public is beyond me.  Kissing in public for more than 3 seconds is rare, awkward and should be banned frankly for the safety of the individuals and motorists.  You practically asking for herpes.  And at home you have Listerine for that.

But last time I checked, this is not Hygiene With Ziggy.  Its a food blog.  Major Food Group’s Santina, five years later, still feels fresh and unique.  With the ever changing regional Italian scene on the island, Santina stays true to its concept – fun, inventive spin on coastal Italian.  Italians, like in many cultures around the world, generally live very close to their land.  On the coast of Sicily for example you may find beautiful sweet Gambero Rosso (red shrimp).  While 10 km inland, you find yourself wrapping Focaccia around sausage and ricotta.  Coincidentally, ever wonder why we have so many lobster/crab shacks, and various seafood joints by the water?  Its not like any of the seafood comes from the Hudson or Buttermilk Channel near Red Hook.

Santina Squash CarpaccioMuch of Santina’s originality is attributed to one item, Cecina.  While Santina bills itself as coastal Italian, mainly Liguria and Tuscany, this chickpea pancake is different than anything we had between Genoa and Lucca.  Its softer and spongier, but not in a bad way.  On recent visits I enjoyed it with tuna infused with Calabrian chili, and avocado thats essentially the best Guacamole within a two mile radius.  Once wrapped with the Cecina ‘slice’, you get four tasty snacks.  Add the accompanied red sauce to the second or third Cecina for a change of pace and maximum oomphness.  The Cecina is reason #365 why you should stop reading Infatuation.  Clearly I cant!

The only thing better than a restaurant with a signature dish is one with two.  The Squash Carpaccio is a brilliant combination of thinly sliced squash, pumpkin seeds, brown butter, pink peppercorn, and crème fraiche dropped like Hershey kisses.  Another recent discovery is the Capellini Blue Crab – simple but effective.  Perhaps a spoonful of crab shy from being VERY effective.  Avoid the boring wild rice calamari.  The spicy potatoes side is one of those dishes I’m seeing elsewhere nowadays, but rarely comes close to Santina’s version.  In previous visits we’ve also enjoyed the chicken, Shrimp Zingara, and Santina Fusilli that are menu staples.

Santina
820 Washington St (under the begining of the High Line, south end)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Cecina, Squash Carpaccio, Capellini Blue Crab, Spicy Potatoes, Shrimp Zingara, Santina Fusilli

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