Posts Tagged With: food

Cremini’s – From Le Marche With Love

Cremini's CresciaIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may or may not have noticed a slow moving shift.  A shift in the type of establishments I frequent, and write about.  Gone are the days of the almost weekly expensive meals.  Hooray fast-casual!  There was a time when I would enthusiastically read the power rankings and hot lists on a regular basis, but these days it feels more like a monthly chore.  Among my other usual sources, I now concentrate on random openings instead.  Places that open with or without any buzz, offering something that gets my attention, in convenient areas.  

The shift began a few years ago when I finally understood what “buzz” and “hot” means.  I started to talk to owners and chefs about artificial hype, and the various techniques to achieve it.  The shift continued when we started to experience disappointing meals by some of the buzz elite, some of which I’ve never written about.  But the turning point may have been when a well respected hot list I follow included a restaurant that belonged to someone I know.  That restaurant was most definitely not hot, and most definitely shut three months later.  What made it hot?  Around 3k to a marketing firm.

Enter tiny Cremini in Carroll Gardens.  The type of mom/pop that wouldnt normally make much social media noise, and is more of a neighborhood hangout.  Although Eater’s Robert Sietsema did discover its Crescia flatbread (more on that soon).  Cremini’s opened a few months ago by a young couple offering specialties of their home region, Le Marche, the lost region of Italy.  While we dont have any other Le Marche dining options as far as I know, Cremini’s is also the type of place every neighborhood needs.

Cremini'sOwners Riccardo and Elena live upstairs, and the only thing missing in their little place on Court Street is a bell.  “Like eating in someones house” is a cliche these days, but there’s no better way to describe this one.  Perhaps one day they’ll get busy enough to hire more staff and function more like a regular restaurant.  But for the time being, its like walking into your neighbor’s house, grabbing a newspaper, pretending you can read Italian.  And after chatting about politics, and 80’s Eurotrash with the owners, about an hour later, maybe eat something.

The menu is unconventional but not too foreign.  There’s even a burger, and its a good one.  But its important to keep an open mind and not expect a full menu as so many restaurants all over Italy.  Although Cremini’s may refer to Elena’s fried cream custards, you get the sense that its the stuffed Ascolana olives that are closer to a specialty here.  There are six varieties, from classic, spicy, veggie and more.  Best plan of attack is mix and match the 9 pieces, 3 x 3.

Not too far from Cremini’s, people wait one hour for the “hottest” pizza at the moment, F&F Pizzeria (its good!).  And a bit further out some wait three hours for a red hot burger at Red Hook Tavern.  Meanwhile there’s zero wait at the moment for Elena’s steakhouse quality burger where she mixes three meats, and counters with Provolone, sweet caramelized onions, and.. bacon.  The only other main is Le March style “meatballs” of fried pasta with ragu.  You’ll enjoy them as long as you can convince the inner New Yorker in you not to expect, well, meatballs.

Cremini's MeatballsThe Crescia is like a cross between a Piadina and Laffa flatbread where you can mix and match various meats and cheeses.  The Mortadella and Gorgonzola settle nicely once the taste buds get over the initial Gorgonzola funkiness.  One thing about the new Italian immigrants is they dont mess around with the raw materials.  No need to bastardize much these days like the old Sicilian immigrants did.  Another such example here is the excellent Tiramisu.

Cremini’s is not the type you expect perfection.  Its the type you want to root for.  When you talk to restaurant owners these days you get the sense that its a brutal, survival of the fittest market.  A real estate market that erased virtually all such places in some neighborhoods across the river.  One just needs to step inside Cremini’s to remind ourselves why they are still needed.

Cremini’s
521 Court St, Carroll Garden
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Fried Olives, Burger, Crescia, Meatballs, Tiramisu

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Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Enoteca L’Alchimista – Food Magic in Montefalco

IMG_1384When you visit Montefalco, a medieval stunner, smack in the middle of landlocked Umbria, it wont take you long to see which is the star restaurant.  About 5 minutes in fact after you enter the main gate.  30 minutes if you get distracted by more truffle sauces and hanging grandpa’s balls (Palle di Nonno).  Its the one in the main square with all the happy people occupying every inch of the space.  Some of the happiest ones are munching on pigeon done five different ways.  And while the star restaurant does not always deliver the results you’d expect, this one shines.

At the helm is Patrizia Moretti, the alchemist, the magician, and local legend, who runs a tight ship along with daughter and daughter’s partner.  L’Alchimista doesnt have the look and feel of a small mom/pop Trattoria but of a sprawling, busy, well run establishment with a traditional yet refined menu.  Delicate flavors so on point, you hear angels sing with every morsel (We did eventually asked them to lower the volume when it got annoying).  Facing one of the most atmospheric squares in Umbria doesnt hurt.

The only thing better than a restaurant with a signature dish is one with two.  Onion Parmigiana may not sound too enticing but here you get sweet protected onion from nearby Cannara that sings with that cheese.  Burrata with 24 month Norcia Prosciutto we couldnt get enough in Umbria was spot on, and so was the delectable ravioli with goat cheese.  Tenderloin, marinated with the local Sagrantino red, so tender you can cut with car keys.  The remote square ones, not the one you ignite with.

IMG_E1383But the undisputed shining star, and a dish of the trip nominee is the pigeon.  Just like Onion Parmigiana, pigeon just never jumps out at you when you read a menu as such.  But then we recall the tasty pigeons of nearby Tuscany, especially the one made by another female magician 100 km away.  This bird comes in a variety of ways – pigeon breast, pigeon sausage, pigeon liver, and pigeon stuffed with more pigeon.  Its outstanding.  The only thing left to do is finish with a proper Tiramisu, and its indeed fantastic here.

Although I’ve had Enoteca L’Alchimista on my radar, I was not expecting this level of cooking, and an impeccable attention to detail.  Neither should you.  It helps when you go anywhere with low expectations.  Or lower than the enthusiasm you get from such blogs.  Different tastes, off nights, and just picking the wrong items to match your palate means way too many variables involved to guarantee anything.  But for us, on this particular night, it was flawless.

Categories: Italy, Umbria | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Z-List Update – Fall 2019

tone cafe - ajaruli khachapuriIts been 8 months since the last update.  5 in, 5 out this time.  The Z-List is essentially my favorite 50 restaurants in NYC today.  I try to conduct surprise inspections as frequently as I can.  I show up wearing a hat and fake mustache.  Even though they dont know what I look like, you can never be too careful these days.  Rumors out there that I look like Tom Branson from Downton Abbey are unfounded.  I know because I founded them.  Anyway here are the changes…

In:  Wayan, Rezdora, 19 Cleveland, Kawi, Tone Cafe

Out: 

Pasquale Jones – Just getting a sense that its getting a little too touristy these days.  The group keeps opening restaurants and sometimes they lose focus.  Besides I needed to sacrifice one Italian as I have too many

Totto Ramen – Too many Tottos out there lost in the shuffle of too many great Ramen joints these days.

Oiji – Just not strong enough for me to keep coming back.  All sorts of great Korean on this list

Bombay Bread Bar, Timna – Closed

The full list with map

Congrats to the new members.  Happy eating!

Tom

Categories: New York City | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

EV Bites – Of Foxes, Pizza, and Smores in Paradise

Smor - Potato SaladEV Bites is a [whenever I feel like it] feature that showcases five places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to surrounding hoods and maybe even mention a name more than once.  The neighborhood of East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Previously on EV Bites:  The Dumplings Belt

Smør –  Want to see the saddest looking McDonalds in the city?  Head to East Village.  No matter how many places like Smør open in this area, you never have enough fast food, or fast casual spots around.  Smør specializes in exactly that, Smørrebrød, Nordic open faced toasts.  It starts and ends with the high quality bread from Union Square market.  The Potato salad will just about be the best potato salad you’ll ever have.  Fantastic Smoked Salmon is a given.  But the best item on the menu might be the Hangover (Roast Beef) Sandwich, best enjoyed with a light headache or morning after guilt.

Mister Paradise – I only write about bars if they happen to have exceptional burger food.  Mister Paradise has at the very least, some of the best bar burgers in the city.  The patty is of good quality, perfectly cooked meat, topped with bacon-infused american cheese and caramelized onions.  And for $12 good value to boot (fries are separate and good).  Add a not too shabby, if slightly on the dry side, fried chicken that comes with truffle and Habanero honey duo.  For drinks, for something refreshing try the Party Lobster – blanco tequila, mezcal, campari, watermelon, lime, fermented habanero, garlic

Mister Paradise Burger886 – Sometimes new places “expire” in my head, and I forget all about them, before they resurface somehow out of their hiding.  This Taiwanese was hiding in plain sight right on the busy, glitzy side of St Marks.  886 offers one of the better lunch specials in the area where you can choose dishes like the visually pleasing sweet Taiwanese Sausage and Fried Rice, and the absolute best Popcorn Chicken I’ve ever had.

886 - Taiwanese Sausage and riceVillage Square Pizza – Pizza joints in all shapes and sizes come and go in that part of the island.  The intense competition in the area created a survival of the fittest environment, except that its almost impossible to determine the fittest.  Sometimes I try new pizza and can pretty much pinpoint the month they’ll close (Rolio Pizza), but then there’s the curious case of Martina.  Village Square is run by former employees of the famed Prince Street pizza in Soho.  This is where you can get the famous Pepperoni Sicilian (square) without the hoopla (meaning tourists), and their signature white (fresh ricotta, garlic, mozzarella, honey).

Village Square PizzaFoxface – I told you about this ‘Hers and Hers Closet’ sandwich gem inside the William Barnacle speakeasy.  Well now that the NYT discovered it as well, you’ll need to take a number and wait for your sandwich just a little longer.  But its well worth it.

Foxface

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Day in Chianti

IMG_0884When was the last time you did the chicken dance?  They still do them in weddings and  events all over the continent as far as I know.  Legend has it, the first chicken dance was in Florence in the 13th century when Florence seized control of much of Chianti from rival Siena (more on that later).  So in order to give the proper homage to this famous wine region, and unless you’ve been to a Bar Mitzvah lately, start practicing that ancient dance.  You will see that famous black rooster all over Chianti, sometimes proudly presented as larger than life statues.  Wish to visit Chianti on a day trip from wherever (I recommend basing in this town)?  Follow me on this chicken route…

Start your morning with a visit to the Castello di Verrazzano, one of the oldest (over 1000 years) and most respected wineries in Tuscany.  Its educational, but the history, place and location offering some magnificent vistas, is what sets it apart.  Its a great place to visit even if you are not into wine.  The 10 am visit (there’s also a 3 pm) Classic Wine Tour ends with a tasting.  You can also visit the store, have a nice long lunch, or book other experiences.  But we have more to do…

A short drive away is Greve in Chianti.  Visit for one of the most striking squares in Tuscany, which all but disappears on Saturdays when the market takes over.  Its a catch 22 since the market is interesting as well, and you can still visit some of the square stores.  Like the ancient, well respected Antica Macelleria Falorni where you can buy some high quality local salami and where Beef Tartare is treated as fast food.  And if you are from NYC dont forget to take a selfie with homeboy Giovanni da Verrazzano whose statue dominates the square on non market days.

Speaking of Johnny, here’s a little tidbit.  On October 1st, 2018 NY governor Cuomo signed legislation to correct the spelling of the VerrazZano-Narrows Bridge, adding that all important extra Z missing since 1960.  The Z-gate feud between the one Z supporters, and two Z supporters that spanned decades, finally came to an end.. for now.  While Google and all electronic signs reflect the new spelling, none of the old 96 signs reflect the name change. With that said, if you take the tour at Castello di Verrazzano, you can find an ancient barrel that shows ancient spelling with only one Z.  And will New Yorkers ever change the pronunciation (ZZ is “TS”, like Pizza).  The great explorer Verrazzano of course discovered the Bay of NY, before being eaten by Cannibals in the Bahamas.  Thats why we go to Turks and Caicos.

Its almost lunch time, but before that there’s one more stop.  This centers around a man as well, except that this one is very much alive.  Panzano is home to the most famous butcher in Italy, maybe the planet, Dario Cecchini.  Dario is an eighth-generation butcher born and raised in Panzano.  He owns a butcher shop (Antica Macelleria Cecchini), a few restaurants, and is essentially the main attraction in this town based on the number of people and energy that usually surrounds his shops.  He is the only butcher featured on Netflix’s Chef Table.  Dario doesnt speak much English, and my Menu Italian wasnt strong enough to carry a conversation.  You can have your Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Dario’s house.  Or…

IMG_0861Head to Osteria Le Panzanelle, 5 km south of Panzano, with reservations in hand of course.  Its an institution, popular with locals and visitors alike.  Start with the luscious eggplant Involtini and/or green bean flan.  Move on to the fresh, eggy Papardelle with a wild boar ragu that carries some serious depth.  Then your choices are an excellent fried rabbit and chicken, or the very fine, and surprisingly affordable Bistecca.  This place is popular, so it may take some time.  So stay, relax, and.. sigh.. check in with social media.  But take turns.  Dont be that table! 

By now you must be wondering whats the story with this black rooster that you see on every Chianti Classico and all over the region.  The legend of the Gallo Nero came from medieval times when Siena and Florence decided to settle their territory feud once and for all.  Two horseman would leave early in the morning from each city, and when they’ll meet, that spot would serve as the border.  But since the Iphone wasnt invented yet, they used the rooster crow as the signal for the start.  The Florentine starved their black rooster, while the Sienese fed their white rooster plenty, thinking he’ll wake up early and energized.  But it was the black Florentine rooster that woke up too early, starving and crowing, while the white rooster slept well.  That meant an early start for the Florentine horseman who got within 12 km of Siena, essentially seizing control of Chianti.  Hence the symbol.

IMG_9875After lunch, your options are to head to the nearby hamlet of Volpaia, and/or perhaps skipping the next destination, but I suggest not.  Castello di Brolio is yet another stunner.  You can participate in more activities and tours, a la Castello di Verrazzano.  But for the purpose of this post, we’ll just pay the entrance fee, walk around the castle, enjoy the views, and read about the history.  This one feels more subdued and isolated, adding about an hour of travel time overall.  You are entitled to a glass of red on your way out, but then you have more driving to do and its getting late.  Safety 6th is the motto of Eating With Ziggy Tours.

Our last stop is the ancient Castellina in Chianti, arguably the most picturesque village in the region.  You can visit and climb the all important Rocca, and see the unique underground tunnel that is essentially a street today with wine shops.  Wine and food is the theme in Castellina.  Like the Montalcino of the north.  A great place to just hang and people watch.  End this journey at Gelateria di Castellina.  Not a personal endorsement, but… Gelato + Tuscany = Safe Bet.

IMG_0881

Categories: Italy, Tuscany | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Banff – The Food Report

Juniper Bistro - Wild Boar

Juniper Boar

This just in.  There’s food, good food, in Banff.  You can spend weeks reading food blogs, publications, and review aggregators like Trip Advisor and Yelp without getting the proper understanding on Banff’s food scene.  My expectations were of similar to touristy, seasonal resorts like a Lake George, Ogunquit.  But we were pleasantly surprised by the depth of the offerings, and overall quality, especially of that tender Alberta beef.  And six people meant a glorious amount of samplings.  Heres the good and the not so.

Juniper Bistro – A few kilometers away from the city in the Juniper hotel.  Comfortable setting, large windows offering nice views, albeit over the highway.  Elevated, creative combinations, and great for sharing which was the case in most places.  Excellent silky smooth chicken pate, wild truffle scented (probably oil) mushrooms.  A gorgeously cooked wild boar loin, and Duck were the undisputed stars of the mains.  Recommend!

Juniper Bistro - Duck

The Bison – The second best meal of the trip.  A meat extravaganza.  I easily surpassed my annual Bison intake in just one plate.  The magnificent Bison platter includes Bison sausages, the exceptional short rib and rib eye.  Bison is leaner meat so leaner short ribs can be especially appreciated.  But the star of show was the Elk Poutine which didnt resemble poutine much (good thing).  Five hefty gnocchi with slowly braised pulled Elk meat and cheese curds.  So good we ordered another round.  By round I mean one.

The Bison - Elk Poutine

The Balkan – Good Greek food.  Sort of what you’d expect from a place like this.  Appetizers (hummus, dips) were forgettable, but mains were solid, especially the lamb shank.  If you are more than four, get the feast and the shank.  Less than four, share the shank and another dish or two.  Fridays and Tuesdays are belly dancer, “Opah” nights, where you can finally participate in a tradition you didnt know missing in your life.  Smashing plates against the wall.

The Balkan - Lamb ShankChuck’s steakhouse – Best meal of the trip as expected.  Superb quality especially from the striploin/New York cuts surprisingly over the Wagyu and Rib Eye.  Very clever sides (cauliflower!) and even better desserts.  I would skip appetizers here altogether and just concentrate on the prize.  If you are more than three, share some cuts that add to about 8-10 ounces per person, a few sides, and you are golden.  This is NYC quality stuff.

Chuck's SteakhouseIndian Curry House – We know Indian.  We love Indian.  This is good Indian.  By the last day we were craving something spicy and tall buildings.  ICH took care of one part, while Calgary took care of the other.  Not everything was super authentic like the too tomatoey Chana and  the surprisingly mild beef (yes, beef is allowed here) Vindaloo (get it still), but really excellent Chettinad among other dishes

Indian Curry HouseBear Street Tavern – We know pizza.  We love Pizza.  This was not good pizza.  But its popular pub fare, with a solid beer lineup.  Skip the mooshy wings

Truffle Pigs – This serves as a nice break between Emerald Lake, and Takakkaw Falls in Yoho.  Its in a little village called Field thats worth a stroll while waiting for your table in one of the only options around.  Serviceable burgers and flatbreads

Truffle PigsFor breakfast head to Wild Flour Bakery and get the Frittata sandwich.  One morning we picked up their fine baguettes and just bought butter elsewhere for a Parisian breakfasts in the hotel room.  Best full breakfast was at Coyotes Southwestern Grill.  Marginally better offerings than the busier Tooloulous next door.

Best ice cream was at….. Shell Gas Station! A fridge full of rare Magnum bars. Better than the top rated ice cream on the strip.

Try to avoid the Fairmont Lake Louise deli or Icefield visitor center cafeteria and plan lunching at the Post Hotel instead.  We didnt and it was a mistake.

And dont forget to remove your bear bells from your pants before entering any of these establishment.   You are safe now.

Wild Flour Bakery - Frittata

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Casa Vieja – The Anti-Yelp

Casa Vieja - Tingas and TacosSocial Media is a wonderful, powerful thing.  Until its not.  I dont recall how I first learned about Casa Vieja in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  Perhaps I read about it on Chowhound or the excellent Eat The World.  But it was most certainly not via Yelp.  In fact after the first time I took Mrs Z to Casa Vieja and posted about it on Instagram, my friends were curious about taking my culinary spoiled wife to a place ranked so low on Yelp (three stars).  Thats because the type of people that visit Casa Viaja dont review on Yelp.  A whopping 15 reviews for one of the three oldest Mexican in Sunset Park (Tacos Matamoros, Tacos El Bronco are the others).

Like some of the Arab eateries of the neighboring Bay Ridge, and the Chinese neighbors in the East, it helps to know the language in this part of 5th Avenue.  I think I’m getting to the point that its a little too late in the game to tell my regular waitress that I dont really speak Spanish.  I’ve given her many clues, like not speaking a word of Spanish, and even accidentally uttering a Buonasera once or twice in the few attempts we tried.  We are not only the only non-Spanish speakers in this casa, but in the entire block sometimes.  If you measure authenticity by a foreign country like environment, Casa Vieja is as genuine as it gets.

Casa Vieja

Eat The World

However very often “authentic” doesnt translate well due to poor ingredients, execution, or cultural differences.  Sometimes in order to appreciate a dish, it helps to grow up with it.  Thankfully this is not the case here.  Everything I’ve had here so far has been fresh tasting and pleasing to the palate.  Flavors I dont expect in cheap Mexican restaurants.  I usually start with the Tingas these days.  Mini crispy tacos loaded with delicious shredded chicken with chopped tomato, lettuce, crumbled cheese and some tangy aioli.  The corn on the cob is always solid although oddly overpriced.

Tacos, even on 5th ave can sometimes be bland and uninspiring.  Not the case here, at least with the Al Pastor and Chorizo.  The Mole here is superb.  Try it on Enchiladas with steak.  But the one dish I must have every single time, that usually follows me to the car is the excellent Lomo de Puerco Adobado.  Beautifully marinated Pork Loin, with zucchini, corn, and dressed with sauce that got some seriously sneaky heat that even the Szechuan loving neighbors to the east can appreciate.

Casa Vieja
6007 5th Ave (60th), Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lomo de Puerco Adobado, Tingas, Enchiladas with mole, Tacos

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Rezdora – Grandma Power!

WDid I ever tell you the story of my mysterious volume spike?  A few years ago, I looked at my site and noticed the number of page views suddenly skyrocketed.  Mainly due to the post on Hosteria Giusti in Modena I wrote a few years prior that suddenly went viral.  And there was no indication why.  There was no referral site like Trip Advisor or Facebook which was the culprit for similar spikes in the past, like the Top NOLA bites that went viral on Facebook.  It appeared that people were sent there from simply googling “Hosteria Giusti”.  But why so many Googling?

The answer came about four months later.  Heard of Netflix and Chill?  If not, and you are a parent, you may or may not want to Google it.  But in my house, its more like Netflix and Sleep, with almost zero chance of Chill.  One day we started watching Master of None, Season 2, set in, you guessed it, Modena, a sort of Foodie paradise in Emilia Romagna.  But it was only when Aziz Ansari celebrated his birthday in Hosteria Giusti, that little light in my head finally turned on.  The next morning I googled it, and sure enough, my story is on the first page.  The spike started the day the season was released.

“So what the fuck does all this have to do with Rezdora, Ziggy”.  Great question Timmy. I’m getting there.  And why so angry today?  Hosteria Giusti is a 400 year old deli in Modena that takes a stupendously long lunch break and transforms into one of the north’s toughest tables.  Unless you have the adorable looking face of an Aziz Ansari, reservations required many months in advance.  For me it was easy because I do happen to have the adorable face of an Aziz Ansari.  More like a cross between Aziz and Tom Branson from Downton Abbey.

Tom

Anywho, this requires some more investigating, but chef Stefano Secchi the owner of Rezdora, might have been at the helm at Giusti during our lunch.  Although he grew up in some Italian city called Dallas, Secchi got much of his inspiration at Giusti and Osteria Francescana, one of the only restaurants in the world where you book the restaurant first, and THEN book flights.  Rezdora is an homage, not only to Modena, arguably the best food city in Europe, but also to the Nonnas that make it happen.  Its not entirely clear to me if Rezdora means head of household or Grandma in Modenese dialect.  It depends on who you ask.  Maybe in Modena, the grandma is usually in charge.  Not so much in NYC.

While we have plenty of restaurants that call themselves North Italian, or offer cuisine from Emilia-Romagna, none are nearly as representative or daring as Rezdora.  This is Modena cooking.  There’s a certain level of Chutzpah required to introduce this level of authenticity by way of dishes that may seem odd to the natives.  Like a Raviolo, which by definition means one Ravioli (and its a good one).  New Yorkers may know Ravioli, but not Raviolo.  Still, this is the right city to do this.  You may not get the same results in Boise.

Reservations are tough to get as of now.  But we showed up a few minutes before opening (5) and were able to get sits at the bar on a Saturday night.  When we left two hours later, there were sits available.  The best thing I can say about the service, and any service, is the staff seemed happy, genuinely enjoying what they do.  Here’s the food rundown…

Rezdora

Eater

Cherry season in Vignola – Vignola is a town near Modena known for its intense cherries.  Here its paired with creamy Stracciatella and almonds.  It is meant to eat with bread that doesnt exist unless you order the Fett’unta, an oily, garlicky toast.  It paired well initially or at least until the garlic from the bread took over the mic.

Gnocco Fritto – This is a classic Modenese specialty of fried dough balloons that pop when you bite into.  The Gnoccos vary from town to town between Parma and Bologna, but this is pretty much what you get at Hosteria Giusti.  Each one is topped with either Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella or Finocchiona.  If you are sharing and feeling selfish, go for the Mortadella.  If you are on a first date, go for the Prosciutto.  Then Mortadella.

Tagliolini al Ragu – If you ever had the ultra eggy Tajarin in Piedmont, or Tagliolini in ER, this is as close as it gets in NYC today.  Its an explosion of flavors.  What we call here Bolognese is essentially a poor attempt to mimic this, the original.

Uovo Raviolo di Nino Bergese – One large ravioli, and a brilliant combination of Ricotta, runny egg, Chanterelles, and fragrant summer black truffles shaved on top for good measure.

Cow grazing in Emilia Romagna – The names of some of the dishes alone show that Massimo Bottura influence.  This is pretty much what you expect from a sirloin in a high end restaurant.  Perfectly cooked quality beef with three delicate sauces.  The meat is so good on its own, you hesitate to try the sauces.  But they dont do any harm.  Mix and match for best results.

Chocolate Tart – This is were things just fell a little flat for me.  There was a Tiramisu and another dessert, but this one looked most interesting.  A not so inspiring dark choc tart with hazelnut mousse.

Poor lighting translated to some horrible iphone pictures this time, so borrowing some from Eater.  Read Eater!

Rezdora
27 E 20th St (Brwy/Park), Flatiron
Rating: 3 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: All of the above except dessert

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Best Dining in Sabra Village!

19 Cleveland

Courtesy of 19 Cleveland

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

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

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

Here are some of the early settlers of Sabra Village…

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

Taim

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

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

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

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cappun Magru {Manarola} – What’s in a Name? Everything

Cappun Magru - the dishTo say that Cappun Magru offers the best Cappun Magru in Cinque Terre is a fair assessment.  Its the only one making it.  This old Ligurian specialty is slowly disappearing from Ligurian menus, even in Genoa where its most associated.  Cappun Magru is an elaborate seafood and veggie salad to put in the simplest of forms.  Its most common spelling is Cappon Magro, but here at the headquarters of EWZ, with the tagline “Eating Well, Spelling Pourly” we dont care about spelling all that much.  My guess is that Cappun Magru is the more ancient spelling.  Sort of like Giovanni da Verrazzano ancient spelling had only one Z.  If only NYC would have known about it before spending millions to change the name.

When you talk to Christina, the owner of Cappun Magru, you can easily forget that you are in Cinque Terre.  This is not a place I expected to easily find Slow Food.  Two hours prior I was elbowing my way through a sea of tourists, pizzas, and Limoncelos in a boot in Vernazza.  Since Rick Steves discovered this corner of Italy, restaurants dont need to go through great lengths to please us tourists.  But Christina and husband who moved Cappun Magru from the mountains, closer to the sea, continue to march on, trying to preserve whatever tradition left.

There’s no one universal way to prepare this monster.  But its often involved shrimp, mussels, oysters, fresh fish, and a Parsley led complex green sauce that involves eggs, anchovies and a slew of other ingredients.  Its not a simple dish by any means, but the reward is a feast to all senses.  Even the non photographers on the table will reach for their phones.  It a rich poor people’s food.  It goes back to the days when fishermen would indulge in the leftovers of their bosses rich feasts.  It then became a feast in itself, and a popular lent preparation in Liguria.  There’s no meat involved of course but the name sort of means “light fat chicken” (Capon is a type of fatty chicken).  Like.. “I’m a vegetarian”.  “Oh, in that case here’s a little lamb”.

And did I mention that its delicious?  So are the smartly crafted sandwiches like the shrimp with fish roe, Zucchini, and Egg.  And while Cappun Magru does have a good wine selection (Its more of a wine bar), this is a good place to take a break from wine, and indulge in some beer.  Italy’s craft beer is some of the most underrated in the world.

Cappun Magru is ideal after a long hike.  But dont come too late as they close at around 7:30 (in the summer at least).  A light early dinner at 6 is perfect because you are after all in Monorola, and you dont want to miss sunset.  Thats the reason you are here.

Manarola

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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