Posts Tagged With: East Village dining

Madame Vo – Real Vietnamese Housewives of East Village

Madame VoThis post was supposed to be about the other housewife, from Hanoi.  Both Madame and Hanoi House opened in East Village around the same time earlier this year, pretty much turning the Vietnamese scene in East Village upside down.  Both heavily reviewed by local media, sometimes even together.  Early consensus indicated Hanoi to be the slightly more serious contender of the two, so I set my sight on the hot looking Madame on St Marks.  We had a little fling.  A little fun with the Bun Cha if you will, and the always dependable Beerlao (which both have).  But it felt like I wanted more… Trout!  There’s this great looking whole trout on the Hanoi menu, setting the anticipation for round #2.

But it never arrived.  Well, not yet at least.  The culprit?  A Jewish theater!  You see I always wanted to see a movie in Village East Cinema, a converted movie theater that was once a Jewish theater.  One of the remains from the old Yiddish Rialto days when some two dozen Yiddish theaters spread along 2nd ave.  I visited the theater over 100 times during my East Village tours but havent actually watched a movie there.  And while the two Vietnamese hotties are not exactly miles apart, Madame Vo’s location made more sense this time.  Besides, I was intrigued.

Madame Vo feels a bit more Madamish and less East Villagy than Hanoi House.  In fact next to Vo, Hanoi feels like Trashy Debby.  I am however attracted to both kinds.  But especially to the one with the chutzpah to put a beautiful mural of herself (presumably, but looks very similar) in the front.  Who does that?  Imagine Ivan Orkin mural in front of Ivan Ramen.

Madame Vo Ginger Chicken

And as for the menu, just like with any Nevada bunny ranch this is the kind of lineup that makes you want to order more than you can handle.  After three visits so far, I feel the emphasis should be on the mains.  Its a spring roll heavy lineup early on that is uninspiring when compared to the rest of the menu.  And that is broken into noodles and rice, where the latter may just mean that it comes with it.

Chao Gio – Spring rolls as satisfactory as spring rolls can get.  These were stuffed with shrimp, crab and pork, with the shrimp taking the lead role

Banh Xeo – This is the one dish I didnt quite get.  Crepes filled with bean sprouts, shrimp, pork belly and more bean sprouts.  Some of the pork was more edible than others, and the dish overall required a heavy dose of the table condiments (Hoisin, Sriracha).  I was instructed to make lettuce tacos with these as I often do in Vietnamese places but the flavors were just not there

Garlic Noodles.  This dish has a few things going for it including the robust garlicky flavors, and the easy to remember English name.

Bo Lu Lac –  No english here, but this dish does speak the universal language of delicious. Rib eye cubes with fried egg come sizzling and oh so perfectly spiced and juiced.  This one is a must.Madma Vo steak

Ga Kho Gung – This is another big winner here.  Delicious white chicken meat cubes infused with Ginger arriving in a clay pot that keeps the heat and juices intact.  Loved picking those scallions off that thing

Goi Cuon – “Summer rolls with shrimp, vermicelli, lettuce and mint” according to the menu.  “Lettuce rolls” according to Ziggy.  Thats all I tasted

Mama Ly’s Fried Rice – A good if not standard fried rice.  A bit on the sweet side for my taste.  Table Sriracha to the rescue again.

Its odd that this reviewer did not try the signature Pho during his three visits, but during the summer heat he starts sweating just by being in the same room as one.  But all accounts indicate that this is a very proper rendition.  Another big plus, worthy of rounding up to two stars (from 1.75) is the fact that Vo’s dinner items are available for lunch as well, in addition to the lunch specials.

Madame Vo
212 E 10th St, East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Garlic Noodles, Bo lu Lac, Ga Kho Gung

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Not Your Grandpa’s N’eat

N'eat Short RibIts fun to watch the hype machine in play in NYC, and see how things develop.  While I read all the Hot and Buzz lists out there as everyone else, I learned over time sometimes the hard way, that things are not always what they seem.  A name and/or a little bit of money, at minimum $3000 is needed to market yourself as such.  An alum of something good in the world… Noma, EMP, Contra, tickles your interest, with a picture of something beautiful that is cooked for two weeks straight, seals the deal.  “Brian is a recent graduate of Betty’s school of Hospitality and Accounting” is not gonna be nearly as sexy.

Nordic eatery N’eat opened last November in East Village with that kind of buzz.  I walked by it many times, and watched the menu develop and eventually redesigned.   The initial buzz apparently was just that, as reserving now for a prime time table is as easy as getting a table at your local Chipotle.  Whats wrong with this place!?!  What do the village people know that I dont.  You cant get too comfortable reserving tables in NYC these days.  Its either too hard, or you secretly wish for a little harder.  Thats what she said.  I mean my dining companion.  She said that.  And she’s right.

N’eat is casual, quirky fine dining.  The bathroom is blasting Ali vs Frazier in case you missed it.  80’s music includes stuff you dont normally hear, just when you thought you got it pretty much covered.  Wait staff is “East Village Fun” as opposed to “EV hipster, help I’m stuck here”.  When the waiter said  “Still or sparkling, and by still I mean tap”, a small tear came out of my good eye… only to quickly disappear with the usual comical “dishes are meant for sharing”.  Advice as useful these days as “Dishes here are meant for eating”.  A young Filipino female chef, an Atera, and other heavyweights veteran, at the helm.  While its still owned by the same folks including Noma veteran Gabriel Hedlund, something tells me this is no longer the same n’eat, even though it opened just 6 months ago.  So if Grandpa happened to eat here 3 months ago, he needs to…  Ok, I’m trying here.

“Æbleskiver” (say that one time), a Nordic snack usually eaten during Christmas, was a nice little starter.  Like a mini beignet stuffed with braised duck.  The accompanied Lingonberries sauce was just the right delicate compliment.  Enjoyed the Buckwheat toast with Cremini mushroom and fluffy, shredded, Halvah-like Cheddar.  Truffle salt sealed the deal for the brain on this one.

Sunchokes was perfectly cooked into a meaty potato like consistency, served as is with a nice tasting foam.  Foam was fairly prevalent throughout the meal.  While I admire foam as much as the next guy, at some point we were wishing for some veggie texture.  Though the Duck heart tartar had plenty of texture and flavor.  Loaded with chives, chive flowers that blossom one month of the year, fermented mushrooms, chili, and dried rice.  While very different it was an homage of sorts to the Filipino Sisig.  By far the spiciest tartar I ever hadN'eat Duck heart Tartare

Arctic Char came very rare, with just foam and some trout roe. This is where we started missing those veggies.  It was good, but rather forgettable.  Short rib, the most expensive item on the menu was perfectly cooked, most likely slowly sous vided.  The glaze on top was on the sweet side, and the ultra lean short rib you could cut with a toothpick.  It came with a bone marrow and two spreads including fermented onion puree and pepper butter.  Combining the two gave the best results.

N’eat is borderline Nyet.  Its one of those solid two stars that I dont quite see me returning.  I cant really fault anything or any dish other the uniformity of it all.  Yet nothing blew my mind, and the menu featured didnt scream unfinished business.  Neat is a bordeline But I do appreciate the uniqueness and recommend you to try at least once.

58 2nd Ave (3/4), East Village
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that.
Recommended Dishes: Æbleskiver, Buckwheat toast, Duck heart tartar, Short ribN'eat Sunchokes

N'eat Arctic Char

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Hearth – The Booze Megillah


February 20, 2017 Update:

This is not your ex’s Hearth.  The 13 year old East Village staple got a makeover, Marco Canora seems happier and healthier, and the menu essentially turned upside down.  Some of the remains like the terrific Gnocchi, the Spatchcock chicken, and the light but pungent Rigatoni with pork ragu are now the classics, but much of the menu has changed.  The emphasis continues to be on highest quality raw material.  In fact you can even say some of this stuff, like the bone broth is life changing.  Although I’m almost ashamed to say I only had it once, from the Brodo window.  While it was great, its hard for this non-resident to go for bone broth in arguably the best food neighborhood on the east coast.

But I’m more convinced now that this may be New York’s best Gnocchi dish.  The texture of these melty pillows cant get much better.  This time a little more peppery which means more brownie points.  And when you get a pasta dish like the Rigatoni that is not smothered in saucy ragu, but tastes just as rich, its a home run.  The Rigatoni itself had a nice bite and was cooked to a perfecto al dente.  This night we also discovered a wonderful tender rabbit with polenta (below).  Although the mushroom app didnt wow as the hen of the woods last time, I would still order mushroom here.  And the Cecina sent us back to the old town of Lucca.

But the main reason for the 2 stars instead of 3 is the value.  I rarely complain about dish sizes here.  I think I complain more about dishes being too large if anything.  There’s no doubting the quality of the four pieces of Hanger, but when you share with your family of four steak loving freaks, you are left with a few bites and a tease.  This steak is about 50% smaller than similar steaks. Same idea goes for the $22 Roasted Octopus.  Its an app priced like a main.  And the time when you got some nice slices of Sullivan Street Bakery bread for free are over I suppose.  But this is high rent New York City.  And chefs that can survive this long in this ultra competitive city know a thing or two.  We complained a little to ourselves, but at the end of the day, we left full and satisfied.  Hearth is still a Go!


July 21, 2014 Post (Shivers, I wrote this?)

I’m on page 18 of the Wine List at Hearth, and I still haven’t seen any mention of wine.  I am about to get brainwashed into ordering a Riesling by the 10 pages of why I should be drinking more Riesling, followed by an essay about the glory and history of Riesling, followed by a solid argument that Riesling is more fun than babies.  This is like letting one of those Jehovah witness pairs inside your house (Why do they always come with a kid?).  Readers, this thing is freakin 75 freakin pages.  It provokes you, it challenges you, and it makes you order Riesling

I called it the mothership because Hearth and its Megillah spawned a whole bunch of Terroir wine bars all over town.  I think their goal is to have one for every page.  We passed one just between the parking spot and the restaurant.  Inside its a little bit dark (for the camera), a little bit loud, and I’m a little bit hungry.  “Put yourself in our hands” the top of the menu reads.  NEVER!  Havent you done enough?  I’m sitting here writing this, drinking a freshly purchased cheap Riesling straight from the bottle.  Anyway, no tasting menus tonight as we are with the kids this time.  Here’s what we ordered

Ricotta Sformato – A nice ode to the dysfunctional Broccoli family.  Roasted Broccoli, Pine Nuts,  Cauliflower, Spigarello and ricotta.  Enjoyed this one

Hearth Ricotta Sformato

Grilled Quail – Expertly cooked quail with rosemary, but what stole the show was the accompanying salad of Faro, Cucumber, Onions, Quail Egg, and very nice tomato preserve that tied everything together.  I would order just the salad

Hearth Quail

Rigatoni with pork ragu – Outstanding! Not your typical heavy ragu.  More like a light summary version.  In the picture you can barely see any pork, but there was just enough porky goodness. Ther was peas, ricotta and more rosemary, as if fellow Tuscan Cesare Casella of Salumeria Rosi came to visit.  Note:  Only two pastas at this Tuscan inspired joint, an attribute I actually find refreshing.  The smaller the amount the better

Hearth Rigatoni

Gnocchi side – This led to an uncomfortable conversation with the waitress as I remember reading years ago about the legendary gnocchi of Hearth as one of the best gnocchi dishes in NYC.  I asked the waitress if there was perhaps another more substantial gnocchi dish on the menu before (answer is no) and I had to repeat a few times “don’t get me wrong, this is great”.  This was excellent but basic cheesy buttery pillowy gnocchi side dish.  I do recommend getting this

Hearth Gnocchi

Spatchcock Spring Chicken – Good, moist, but after a few bites tasted like ordinary chicken.  Not as flavorful or imaginative as all the great chickens we’ve enjoyed over the years in the city (NoMad, Annisa, Louro, Scarpetta), but still a solid shareable option for the picky eaters.  If not for our Grouper fest last week in Turks and Caicos I would have ordered the fish here.Hearth Chicken

Veal and Ricotta Meatballs – Absolutely delicious meatballs.  But once you take out the Swiss Chard Cannelloni that comes along you are left with $10/meatball.  Perhaps the priciest in NYC?

Hearth Meatballs

Hen of the Woods side – Even though I’m the only one in my family that likes mushrooms I had to have this thing.  Its such a distinct earthy taste, and so so ugly looking (I cant even show you the picture or the selfie I took with it)

Panna Cotta – Good but could have used a little more berry compote.  Venice Panna Cottas spoiled us forever.  I also noticed they have an Affogato which made me wonder if Affogato can be without any sort of liquor (just ice cream and espresso) and lo and behold it can.  I learned something new today

Overall we enjoyed this one and can comfortably recommend Hearth especially to the pickier eaters out there

403 E 12th St
Recommended Dishes:  Quail, Rigatoni, Gnocchi, Meatballs, Rabbit, Mushrooms, Cecina

Hearth Panna Cotta


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East Village Quick Bites – Zabb Elee and Arepa redemption

Continuing the East Village food invasion. Had a few eating hours to kill before Ave Q (very nice) and so went back to my new favorite hang out place with a friend.

 Zabb Elee – How do you know if its authentic Thai if you havent been to Thailand?  Bring someone with you that was there – Check.  Make sure there are no curries, pad thai and Kee Mao/drunken noodles on the menu – check.   I first read about Zabb Elee on  SeriousEats and couldnt wait long to try it.  Now I cant wait much longer to try again.  

A nice array of Som Tum dishes (Green Papaya salad) fills the menu and is kinda a house specialty.   We tried the one with dried shrimp and peanuts – nothing like I’ve had before.  I heard about how spicy this can get and it was extremely hot out so we opted for the mild version (thats the excuse I’m going with today).   Really enjoyed this dish.   But the highlight for me was the Pad Ped Moo Krob.   Crispy pork, green peppercorn, ginger, Thai eggplant and spicy curry (see photo).   So much flavor in this one.   Pork is deep fried and then fried some more…  pretty much burned texture but tasty nonetheless.  Very tasty!!  Some of the best and unique thai I’ve had in a while. 

Liquiteria – Needed a cleanser.  Super refreshing fresh juices.  My friend is into juices and this is one of his faves.

Dirt Candy – couldnt get in. Needed resvs to eat the dirt, who knew?  Its a tiny hole in the wall popular vegeterian btw

Caracas Arepas bar – What do you do when you dont like it the first time?  You come back to try it again asap.   Much much better this time around.   My friend enjoyed the La Mulata and I got the Muchachos (to compensate for all my dessert talk) – grilled Chorizos with spicy cheese (grilled with jalapenos) and peppers.   Even the Arepa itself tasted better this time.   Like pita on crack.


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East Village Quick Bites – Perfection in a bun

Luke’s Lobster – Maine Lobster is one of my favorite things to eat in the world and this is definitely one of the best lobster rolls I’ve had.   Buttery, fresh, meaty, deliciousness.  Nice rolls, a few sprinkles of seasoning instead of mayo – nice touch.  Well done!  Expensive ($16) but oh so worth it.   Perfection in a bun!!

Caracas Arepa bar – 2 locations hugging Luke’s Lobster. Went to order my Arepa while waiting for the Lobster.  Hey thats how I roll 😎 .   Mildly disappointed however with the Pabellon arepa but I think it was more of an ordering mistake.   Shredded beef with black beans to me dont go together with the mooshy sweet plantains.   Love the plantains but on the side please, not as part of a sandwich. 

South Brooklyn Pizza – last stop. It was just ok. The slice to me was missing… what do you call it…ahhm…  its on the tip on my tongue… oh yes.. FLAVOR.   Maybe my taste buds got all screwed up and too demanding by that point, who knows.  Will try again later.

Stay hungry my friends!!

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East Village Quick Bites and Merchants House

Pomme Frites – First time for me.   Its all about the sauces here.. tried a variety of them.   Mango chutney and garlic mayo were good, organic truffle not so much, Vietnamese pineapple tastes weird at first but was growing on me. I think I prefer well seasoned fries overall more.   I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here.

Mamouns Falafel – Very good falafel – nice and crispy on the outside.   Beware of the hot sauce.   I love hot sauce as much as the next guy but this is “lower lip burning” hot.   I don’t know why it’s always the lower lip burning.   Lamb Shawarma was good but we had better in Brooklyn.

Took a small food break to visit the Merchants House,  the oldest free-standing family home in NYC.   Well preserved furniture and interesting stories not only about the family but also about the poor Irish servants at the time.   You will only give this place proper justice if you go through the rooms while reading the well informative and sometimes humorous booklet they hand to you.   Check it out.  After Mamouns we explored the 300 years old St Marks on the Bowery church and went back to eating

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