Mushroom salad at Pig and Khao – One of two places making their second appearance on the Top 10 (the other is Pinch Chinese). Once you start veering off the classics at some of them, only then you start to realize how good they really are. And at the moment to me, this wild Mushroom with sliced shrimp, coconut, and chili salad is the unsung hero of P&K. Its also one of the spiciest dishes here, so pair it with the most coconutty coconut rice out there.
Hummus at Vish – I often say that in this city we eat the world. And its a wonderful thing. But for better or for worse we rarely eat something that resembles its origin. Tuscan food is not really the same as in Tuscany. Uzbeki is not the same as in Uzebkistan. And Lobster is not exactly the same as in Maine even though its the same lobster. But the silky smooth, almost watery Hummus at Vish was one of those rarities, “Ratatouille Moment” if you will. This hummus strongly resembles hummus in Israel. Thats because Vish is an offshoot of an Israeli chain, and they make it the only way they know, multiple times a day.
Mafaldini at Scampi – To go to Scampi and not get the Mafaldini is like going to Katz’s and not getting the Pastrami. Its a riff on the traditional Scampi and a serious contender with Lilia for the best Mafaldini in NYC. Chef/owner PJ Calapa (Ai Fiori, Costata) Chooses Mafaldini for more chew, and tosses it with fresh shrimp, white wine, garlic and chili flakes. But what makes the dish work wonders is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more). The best way to eat this however is mix in some of their homemade Bomba dip midway.
Seco de Pollo at Nano Ecuadorian Kitchen – If you are looking for the Avant-garde, the new and exciting, the hummus mention already hinted that this is not that list. I tend to gravitate toward the Robert Sietsema kind. Seco de Pollo is a hearty Ecuadorian chicken stew and Nano is one of the only places in the city to make it. Its cooked with Naranjilla, a sour citrusy fruit grown in Ecuador. Its a dish I eat every week. Hint hint…
Upma Polenta at Bombay Bread Bar – Upma, Oprah, Upma, Oprah. I feel like saying it every time I mention it. The first thing I tasted at BBB was the best thing, and showcases that Floyd Cardoz brilliance. Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum. Like the most delicious grits you will ever encounter.
Cauliflower at Miznon – Once in a while you come across a dish that dare I say, changes your life. Ok, slightly. A dish that makes you replicate it at home over and over again. The eggs at Gato is one such example. While people flock to Miznon for the fluffy pita sandwiches, rightfully so, they miss out if they skip this seemingly simple whole cauliflower. Its delightfully salty and absolutely addictive.
Wind Sand Chicken at Pinch Chinese – This is a Hong Kong classic that I havent seen on any other menu in NYC, but variations exist. Its a $51 bird (as of now) that is cooked like Peking duck (which they also have). Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, and repeating. The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist. Garnished with fried garlic flakes, like the “sand” that the wind brought, hence the name. Maybe if they closed the door once in a while, they wouldn’t have this problem.
Porcini Flan at Bouley at Home – A staple at this house, and the previous Bouley residence. Why reinvent all the wheels if some work so well. The “Porcini Flan” is more like a superb earthy soup featuring Alaskan Dungeness Crab, and a Black Truffle Dashi that I can drink all day long.
Gnocchi Alla Romana at Faro – Bushwick produced one of the best meals and sadly one of the worst (Roberta’s) last year. All the pastas at Faro were outstanding but this one particularly stood out. This is semolina based Gnocchi that tastes more like fried polenta. Served with slow braised rabbit. The playful pastas keep rotating and changing and so this is not on the current menu, but Faro still worth checking out.
Tacos at Taqueria el gallo azteca – I never thought the day would come. Staten Island appearing on a Best list. The most exciting thing to open in SI last year was Dave and Busters, followed by Shake Shack, and the lines are forming at the new Chick-fil-A in the mall as we speak. But El Gallo Azteca in St George not far from the ferry served the best tacos I ever had in NYC. Heaps of juicy steak and chorizo goodness, reminiscent of Mission District.