Posts Tagged With: food

Anguilla – Top 7 Dishes 2019

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First order of business of this trip was to mimic some of the previous experiences including eating the top dishes.  So I’ll start with that.  This is the list I made for Anguilla-Beaches in 2016.  Sarjais has sadly closed since then.  We didnt make it to Straw Hat this time, and Mango’s snapper wasnt a special.  But as for the rest… Chicken at Jacala, Steamed Red Snapper at Johnno’s, Fish Salad at Tasty’s, and the Smoked Fish Trio at Hibernia, all still outstanding.

Partly due to craving the above, it was a little tougher finding excellence this time around.  It was a slightly shorter trip (6 days), and some clunkers at the beginning of the trip didnt help.  And really, most of the stellar dishes came at three places, Hibernia, Ember, and Jacala.  No surprise the three amigos are on the list again this year…

Wahoo Carpaccio at Mango’s

Leave it to the fish experts at Mango’s to take care of your seafood needs.  Perhaps a handful of pink peppercorns shy from being spectacular, this Wahoo was silky smooth, with just the right amount of ‘salsa’ to elevate.  These guys just know how to get the freshest stuff.  Sunday however, is a conundrum.  Like going to a museum on a rainy day.  Many places are closed which means Mango’s is packed much more than usual, and the fish sizes were noticeably smaller than last time.  Mango's - Wahoo

Seafood Pasta at Falcon Nest

We travel for pasta (Italy), and we travel for seafood (more Italy).  So naturally when I see pasta with seafood on the menu, I start unbuckling that belt. Its not a particularly complex dish.  Just loads of fresh chunky fresh fish and shellfish that was flash fried before mixed with the creamy goodness and plenty of veggies.  The good news, not overly creamy.  You may want to toy with their hot sauces midway if you get bored.

Falcon Nest Seafood PastaSpaghetti alle Vongole at Trattoria Tramonto

See above for the pasta/seafood love affair.  But this was a tip I got from iron chef Marc Forgione who owns three restaurants in NYC.  Its a simple dish, but not so simple to pull off.  I can think of only one Spaghetti with clams in Taormina that topped this.  Its well balanced, garlicky, and plenty of delectable clams hidden under that mountain.  Perfect pairing to a hot summer afternoon facing the empty but mesmerizing Shoal Bay West.

IMG_2317Tuna Tartare at Jacala

I didnt think anything can top that Chicken but turns out chef Alain Laurent (the “ala” in Jacala) got more goodies up his sleeve.  Its quite possibly the best Tuna Tartare I ever had.  It may have been because they just received the fish a day prior (Tuesday).  But this is superb stuff, with every morsel resulting in slightly different flavors and texture, with angels singing in the background.  I eventually asked them to lower the volume as there’s just so much this Jew can take.Jacala Tuna Tartare

Foie Gras at Hibernia

This hidden gem called Hibernia is like a dream.  The setting makes familiar flavors taste unfamiliar.  But the homemade Foie Gras was uncharted territory for this Foie lover (soon to be Foie desperate seeker as it becomes illegal in NY).  It comes with this fresh mango & old rum chutney, a syringe that gently sprays Cognac (I can use that during Hockey season), and home-made toasted walnut bread.  Pure ecstasy with every bite.  Top picture.

Pizza at Artisan

I love pizza!  I eat a lot of pizza.  This is good pizza.  Maybe the best in Caribbean in fact.  But its not for everyone.  This is extreme Neapolitan.  Ultra thin and spongy in the middle, not meant to slice but eaten with a knife and fork.  The more ingredients you add the more the dough simply blends in with the rest of them without showing any texture.  The menu features an impressive arsenal of imported ingredients like ‘nduja, a particular Calabrian spicy sausage spread.  All that’s needed is a certificate Pizzaiolo, and a world class pizza oven.  Check!Artisan Pizza Anguilla

White Chocolate Bread Pudding at Ember

I could have easily chosen the excellent roasted beets, or the Foie Gras here, but lets go with the Bread Pudding to finish on a sweet note.  NYC, the food capital of the world is sort of bread pudding deprived, and we have to get our fix at NOLA sometimes.  This was Bread Pudding perfection with just the right texture/flavor combination.  Not much white chocolate flavor which is a good thing.  Desserts often satisfy, but rarely excite.  This one did.  Problem is I dont have a good picture of it.  Natalie, help 😉IMG_2304

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Village Cafe – Once Upon a Time in Azerbaijan

Village Cafe - Guru HingalThis is not your father’s Coney Island Ave.  When I lived in that part of Brooklyn in the 80-90s, Turkish places like Sahara dominated.  Turkish, car washes, ice cream, and affordable divorce lawyers to be exact.  Nowadays, the business hub, that doesnt quite lead to Coney Island, features even better Turkish (Taci’s Beyti), respectable Moldovan (Moldova), Uzbek royalty (Nargis), swanky Russian nightclubs like Chinar, and a plethora of Pakistani joints between Foster and H.  And when I want to kick it up a notch, there’s always Z-List fave Werkstatt (I’m overdue).  Coney Island Avenue is a foodie paradise.  And the divorce lawyers now speak 17 languages.

With that said, you can drive the entire length of Coney Island 100 times, and miss one of its biggest gems, Village Cafe.  The restaurant is hidden inside a parking lot of a liquor shop (yes you can park inside).  Its like one of those Staten Island mini malls where you pick your laundry.  You’ll see a “Village” sign in what looks like an oversized temporary tiki hut.  Its a strange name for an Azerbaijani restaurant considering almost all other Azerbaijani restaurant names contain Baku or Azerbaijan.  But I’m sure “Village Cafe” just rolls off the tongue for the Azerbaijani.Village Cafe - Kutaby

What is Azerbaijani food you ask?  Its not too different than some of its neighbors like Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkey.  Kebabs and Plov (rice pilaf) dominate, although the latter is sweetened with dried fruits so quite different than the Uzbek version.  Soups, meat filled flatbreads, kebabs wrapped in flatbread, kebabs in soup, and something called Guru Hingal (more on that later).  Just please dont call it Russian food.  Yes, you will get your Russian classics at Village like Borscht and Pilmeni, considering the location of the place and this is a former soviet republic after all.

The bread (they call it Turkish bread) is good, but who needs that when you have Kutaby, Azerbaijani flatbread filled with minced chicken, lamb or greens.  Its a must order.  The salads are your typical central Asian/Russian (Ok, only this one time) tomato, avocado, and the Georgian Lobio among many more.  I’m intrigued by “Unexpected Guests”, and “Simple & Delicious”.  I believe the former is only for walk-ins.  The soups get a bit more foreign sounding, though the only one I tried is the familiar Kharcho, which isnt quite as potent as Tone Cafe’s version 2 miles south, but good enough.

Village Cafe - DessertMeats in a form of kebabs and lamb chops dominate the menu.  Lulya kebab (minced meat) here is thick and juicy.  But what sets them apart here is they are wrapped with thin dough.  Get the lamb over chicken.  Guru Hingal is a thin pappardelle like noodles topped with a “ragu” of onions, and lamb cooked in its own fat.  You wont find better tasting pasta in south Brooklyn.

The village people (staff) are friendly and efficient.  No alcohol or pork as its Muslim, but as with many such places in south Brooklyn, you can bring your own alcohol.  You just cant bring your own pork.  The desserts here are good.  The Napoleon is fresh and huge.  But try the “Pakhlava”, denser, nuttier, not as sweet and better than your average Baklava.  Looking forward to try more here, especially when I arrive unannounced.

Village Cafe
1968 Coney Island Ave (Ave P/Quentin, Brooklyn)
Rating: 2 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kutaby, Lamb Lulya Kebab, Chicken Kebab, Guru Hingal, Pakhlava

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Bowery Meat Company – Come for the Meat, Stay for Lasagna

Bowery Meat Company - TomahawkSometimes I cringe when I read my old posts.  Ever so often it starts with the title.  Why did I call BMC, a “Croatian Seafood Delight” in 2014.  I remember BMC had broiled oysters which were popularized by Croatian immigrants in New Orleans, but still, what was I thinking.  Turns out, after reading the post (more chills), I see that I was simply making fun of the confusion of what type of restaurant is BMC.  Many dismissed it as a steakhouse.  On Yelp at that time it was listed as “Salad, Italian, Seafood”.  And the owners didnt really like the “Steakhouse” tag, calling it stale, uncool, and touristy.  Hence… Croatian!

The owners are still correct today.  I dont know of too many young New Yorkers that go to traditional steakhouse these days.  But in 2020 Justin Bieber’s fave BMC feels like a steakhouse whether the owners like it or not.  Just not the classic steakhouse most tourists, or older New Yorkers usually consider.  In fact BMC may be the best example of a modern steakhouse in NYC today.  Unlike other such meat specialists like Minetta Tavern, and 4 Charles Prime Rib, meat and more meat reign supreme at BMC.  I imagine not that many go to BMC for their Oysters, or Duck Lasagna.  But they should…

The Duck Lasagna actually dictates the ordering game plan.  If you get it ($58, for 2-8 ppl), you may want to take it easy with the meat.  And if you skip it, knock yourself out.  Or if you are like me, do the lasagna and the knocking.  Its magnificent, and much meatier than I remember.  A fine combination of duck, mushrooms, creamy Caciocavallo, Parmesan, and plenty of noodle texture.Bowery Meat Company -Cauliflower

The meat selection at BMC is always impressive.  Its perhaps the only steakhouse offering the Ribeye cap that comes rolled into a hockey puck shape.  Its arguably the best piece of the cow and thats why its $68 for what looks like about 6 oz of meat.  Its still one of the best steaks I ever had.  But on this night, we “settled” for the 40 oz Tomahawk Ribeye.  As expected it was perfectly cooked, though I wished for a bit more flavor from the crust.  While a sauce with this cut is not normally necessary, the house sauce is worth using.  It made the fries taste that much better, and we even took some home.

Another discovery this time was the roasted cauliflower steak.  Its topped with quite the pungent Pumpkin Seed Pesto.  The very shareable, Lasagna size, bread pudding is a smashing finisher.  It contains apples, lots of Candied Pecans, Caramel Chocolate, and Vanilla Ice Cream.  Its yet another must.  The one beef I got with BMC is the lack of affordable wine.  I understand we are at an expensive steakhouse, but still.  Impressive list but not much under $100.  2017 Nebbiolo for example is not exactly a bargain at $95.

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Bowery Meat Company
9 E 1st St (2nd/3rd, East Village)
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Duck Lasagna, Bowery Steak, Broiled Oysters, Cauliflower Steak, Bread Pudding

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

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.

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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)

 

Categories: Anguilla | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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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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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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

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

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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