Posts Tagged With: NYC restaurants

Malai Marke – Shiva latest + German Draft Beer = Success!

I will make this one short and sweet and spare you the usual nonsense.  East Village is kicking butt lately.  What else is new.  Already perhaps the best foodie neighborhood in NYC which makes it one of the best in North America, things are only getting more and more exciting, and deserving of a run-on sentence.  Its almost like something new pops up in the East Village on a daily basis.

The title refers to Shiva Natarajan, not what you do when your goldfish dies (sit shiva).  Malai Marke is the latest from Natarajan, the king of Indian food in NYC.  Shiva owns more restaurants than I own boxer shorts and briefs combined (note:  I know what you thinking and its really none of your business.  Its between me, my wife and my briefs.  I should have more briefs but mrs Z keeps throwing out all my “air conditioned” ones whenever she packs for vacation).  While Shiva virtually owns Curry Hill including Chote Nawab and about 4 eateries on one block, his presence on “Curry row” is now firmly established with Malai Marke.

I’ve already been to Malai Marke twice now, sampling all sorts of complex deliciousness…

Garlic Naan fresh from the oven as good as it gets.  German draft beer, major bonus.

Kurkuri Bindi – Okra.  Fried and dry which was a surprise. I was expecting a saucy okra but  it was still very good.  Reminded me of one of those spicy Indian nut snacks.

Bindi Sasuralwali – I much preferred this Okra – “okra you would eat at your in-laws house.” as it says on the menu just like in Chote Nawab. If anyone here can introduce me to someone who’s parents can cook like this I might need to reconsider my status. My in-laws don’t even know what Okra is.

Chicken Xacuti – Outstanding!  Had it twice already.  Mild but subtle, with roasted coconut, peanut, and poppy seeds

Lamb Madras – One of the better Madras dishes I’ve had.  Tender lamb and the dish overall was fairly similar to the Xacuti

Tand Mix Grill – Another must for me.  Great chicken tikka, Tandoor, unique lamb kebabs with just enough heat

Lamb Chettinad – So good. Thicker and heavier than the others but in a good way.  Again I expected more heat but was pleasantly surprised with just the right amount.

Chicken Tikka Masala – something I eat often but never in places like these even tho I’m always sure it would be much better. This was no exception.  Creamy and perfectly buttery, tho I sort of liked it more as an occasional bite vs eating it continuously if it makes sense.

Chicken Rizzala – Green nutty korma almost dessert like compared to all the other dishes.  Korma is another dish we eat often at home and this was like eating it for the first time.

As with pretty much any Indian restaurant I would not bother with dessert.  East Village has too many great choices like Chikalicious, Big Gay Ice Cream, Sundaes and Cones

Add another one to your East Village list people.  and excuse the horrific Iphone pictures please

Malai Marke - Tikka masala Malai Marke- Garlic Naan Malai Marke - Chili Chicken Malai Marke - Bindi

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Nish Nush – Ach Ya!

Nish Nush - Falafel A little Borat/Bruno humor there

So the other day something weird happened at night that never happened before.  No, not what you think.  And shame on you.  What happened was I was awaken by Mrs Z’s stomach making all kinds of weird noises.  I spent about 10 minutes lying there listening to this processing symphony with a certain amount of fear that she’ll wake up with some sort of ailment.  The night before we had an incredible meal at a place where 2 Yelpers got sick recently and I couldn’t help but worry.  (That place is not Nish Nush).  Unlike snoring, there’s really nothing much you can do in this case.  I mean, imagine this conversation..

Her:  “What?”

Me:  “Ahhm, your stomach is making noises”

Her:  “And..what exactly can I do about that?”

Me:   “Ahem, can you.. like.. go downstairs and have a turkey sandwich or something”

Her:  Speechless

Me:  “I love you”

Her:  “Fuck You!”

See what I mean?  But thankfully Mrs Z woke up fine the next day and everything turned out fine.  False alarm.  What does it have to do with Nish Nush?  Good question Timmy.  Nish Nush is sort of a symbol that we are eating out a little bit too much lately, and as I was listening to Amadeus Belly I was wondering if I’m going too far.  The place is an hour drive from my house and I already visited it twice in one week.

Quite simply Nish Nush (“snack” in Hebrew) serves the best Falafel in NYC at the moment.  Their classic “Green” Falafel is not really green but picture perfect blend of brown and green herbs, mostly brown which I prefer.  Along with the perfectly crispy exterior its the closest I’ve had to Falafel in Israel.  Although I used to live in Israel as a kid, my best Falafel came last year when I returned as an adult (stop laughing Mrs Z!).  Falafel here is made to order which makes a big difference.  Pitas are baked in house which is another big plus, and are served warm.  There’s free Hummus inside the Falafel sandwich, which is sort of a sad plus.  Hummus should always be free, like wifi.  So many charge extra for Hummus these days.

But thats not all Nish Nush serves of course.   They have a pretty large menu in fact for a place like this.  All sorts of Hummus specialties, the Hummus Whisperer a former? contributor to this blog swears by their Masabacha, Hummus with warm chickpeas, boiled eggs, and spices.  Hummus is made fresh daily and second only to Gazala’s Place for my taste.  The Falafel Platter puts other Falafel platters to shame and I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  They also got Sabich on the menu and get this, they even spell Schug correctly.

Move over Taim! Just a little bit

Nish Nush

88 Reade St, New York, NY 10013

Nish Nush Platter Nish Nush Falafel Nish Nush

Categories: New York City, TriBeCa | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sakagura – Tale From a Crypt

SakaguraTaking a short break from Italy blogging.

You think you know someone.  I’ve known my friends Igor and Natasha since the high school days.  At least I thought I did.  Staring somewhat confused at an office building looking for an entrance to Sakagura, Igor turns to an Asian couple standing near us and asks them where is the entrance.. in Japanese.  “They said its 2 blocks down” “how can it be 2 blocks away if Google Maps tells me we are standing right in front of the building.” I answer.  “And is it my imagination or did you just ask for directions in Japanese in New York City.”

SakaguraTurns out I needed this to be spelled out to me.  Go inside the unassuming office building, go down to the basement and Voila!.. Sakagura, one of the cities most popular Izakayas, aka Sake bar, aka Japanese tapas bar, aka an oasis for Russian middle aged men who somehow picked up some Japanese from coworkers and waited many years to showcase their new found skills to their friends.  A quick sprint to the desk by Igor to inform the confused girl that we are here and we get comfortably settled in a nice booth.  Décor takes me back to the Tokyo underground dining days.  Meaning, the images Ive seen on the Internet

We agreed that I’ll take care of the food ordering while Igor handles the Sake menu.  Both quite challenging but I came prepared. But when Igor started talking Japanese to the Sake Sommelier, the shocked fellow had the kind of expression as if he was just asked if his daughter is 18, twice.  But we somehow managed and before you knew it the food started flowing.  More on Igor later but lets do a quick run down on dishes I (we) liked and disliked.  Other than a few clunkers this was a great meal

Sakagura - DessertLiked:

Gomaae – Spinach with sesame sauce.  Nice and pleasant to start things off.  Aromatic and heavy seasame presence in a good way

Onsen Tamago:  Fantastic soup with soft boiled egg, uni and salmon roe.  I’m not a huge fan of uni but this was quite good, along with the rest of the soup.

Maguro Tartar – Tuna tartar with all sorts of fish roe and caviar.  Best and most expensive ($16) dish of the night

Sakagura - FlukeHirame Ponzu – Buttery, very tasty Fluke Sashimi with this acidy grated radish salad I couldnt get enough of.

Buta Kakuni – Melt in your mouth yummy stewed pork belly.  Perfect fat/meat ratio 

Tori Tsukune – fairly nice but basic Chicken meatballs with terriyaki sauce.  Not all of us enjoyed this one

Chawanmushi – Egg Custard Ponzu soup with chicken and shrimp and something resembling a mini Easter egg

SakaguraGindara Yuan Yaki – Not Yaki at all.  very nice and sweet black cod

Sremeika Yaki – Grilled Japanese squid with garlic sauce.  Was growing on me more and more as I was eating it

Saikoro Steak – diced steak with great sauce.  One of the best dishes of the night

Desserts – we sampled 3.  Very nice coffee jelly, a savory seasonal Mango pudding, but the big winner was the crème Brule with black sesame.  holy smokes that was good

Sakagura - rice ballsDisliked

Sanma Onigiri – rice balls with shiitake, radished and veggies wrapped in whole baked Mackarel.  This had a strong fishy odor and taste.  I’ve had mackerel many times but not quite like this

Snow Crab with steamed rice.  Quite dry and surprisingly fishy as well.  Kept trying it to no avail

Overall a fantastic but pricey meal.  Sakagura (“Saki Storage”) is far from your typical Japanese sushi joint.  Fine service, cool décor, and “cool” clientele that will satisfy the Anthony Weiners and Carlos Dangers of the world.  And as we were leaving…

Mrs Z:  I should probably go to the bathroom before the long drive

Igor:  Its right there on your right.  If you cant find it just ask someone “Toire wa dokoda”.  With a slight and sudden head nod after the last word like in those samurai movies

Me:  But Igor, we are in NYC and they all speak English here.  Why would a white girl… ok never mind.  “Tolet wa dokota” got it.Sakagura - Tuna Tartar

Sakagura - Steak Sakagura - Squid Sakagura - Cod Sakagura - Chicken Sakagura - Soup Sakagura - Spinach

Categories: Midtown East, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide

Hell FoodUpdated: June 24th, 2019

“One more block” is what I normally say to tourists who come to NYC to experience one of the best NY attractions (Broadway shows) along with one of the saddest NY attractions (Theater District Dining).  One more block and you are in the middle of ethnic galore 9th avenue.  To experience eating in NYC, one of the greatest food cities in the world, one should take advantage of one of its greatest strengths, ethnic dining.  From amazing Sri Lankan food to fiery Thai.  Most visitors don’t realize that you wont find any Theater District Restaurants on any “Best of” lists, but you WILL find some of the following.  And if you insist on fine dining, why not go to something like Ma Peche, Lincoln, Marea, or The Nomad which are not in the district but a short cab ride away or a nice stroll on Broadway.  You already paid $300 to see Muppets having sex on stage, surely you can afford a $5 cab ride to make the night complete and eat at some of New York’s finest.

With that said, here’s the best food in Hell…

New:  Food Tours of Hell’s Kitchen, East Village and Brooklyn

** Note:  I try to update the guide as often as I can, but the article links below “Top Dishes”, “Best Pizza”, etc may be a bit outdated.  Most of the dishes and places are still there and there’s enough useful info, but some are closed ***

Best Dishes in Hell’s Kitchen

Top Pre-Theater Options

Best Pizza

Best Thai

Best Soups

The Sandwich Awards

Ivan Ramen Whitefish Donburi

Food Halls

Gotham West Market –  Perhaps the coolest thing ever to open in Hell’s Kitchen.  In a city suddenly flooded with all sorts of food halls, this is one of the more intimate, and less visited ones.  Main reason being the tourist free zone of 11th and 45th, making it more of a neighborhood stop.  Only about 9 high quality vendors, and a bicycle shop.  Ramen, Italian, Seafood, pizza, great ice cream and more.

Middle Eastern

Middle Eastern – Gazala’s Place.  Fabulous Druze cooking.  Some of the best Hummus in town (I’ve spent plenty of time in Israel including the druze village where Gazala Habibi came from).  The place is slightly larger a hers and hers closet (in my house at least.  I count my blessings to have 2 shelves left for myself).  The Bourekas with goat cheese and sun dried tomato is always solid.

Gourmet Middle Eastern – Taboon.  One of the most successful, long running hidden gems in the area.  A fine “Middleterranean” menu created by Israeli chef Efi Nahon.  Try any of their bread specialties baked in their Taboon oven, and the Silan (below), one of my favorites desserts in the city.Taboon Silan

Doner Kebab/Turkish – Turco.   This is perhaps the closest thing we have to the Berlin style Doner Kebab (Turkish immigrants in Germany made it the most popular fast food snack since the invention of the Speckpfannkuchen and Zwiebelkuchen).  The main culprit is that thick, crispy tasty pita bread that holds its own.  I slightly prefer the chicken over the lamb but you should try both.

Asian

Momofuku – Bang Bar.  Leave it to David Chang to make lines fun, and for a $5 snack no less.  Oddly situated in the Columbus Shops at the Warner Center, its worth the short trek for the spicy pork “U”.  And for a price of a Halal cart lunch its… I’m saying it… a Bang for your buck.  Get it?  Because its called Bang.

Korean – Danji.  One of the more reliable old guards, and best Korean in Hell’s Kitchen. Chef Hooni Kim can flat out cook.  He travels to Korea multiple times a year to gather inspiration.  Best Tofu dish in town.  And you will be hard pressed to find better chicken wings and sliders in the area.  Michelin people agreed (initially ta least), rewarding it a star soon after opening

Ramen -Totto Ramen.  Shoe box setting and potential long waits adds to the charm at the original.  Just write your name on the board outside (Not Seymore Butts – already done) and wait.  Order the spicy Ramen, add the egg and you are all set.  Newer, bigger Totto located a block away 464 West 51st.  Less wait if any than the original

Ramen – Ippudo Westside.  Perhaps the most exciting HK opening in 2013.  One block away from Totto and others making HK a NYC Ramen powerhouse.  Just like Totto, this is an experience, but a little different.  Its bustling, noisy, energetic, and that’s just the wait inside and out.  Clearly my favorite here so far is the Akamaru Modern, but you must add the egg, and for a little more spice the spicy miso paste.  Highly recommend this one

Ramen – Mentoku.  Three is a crowd you say?  I disagree!  The other two are now well known oldtimers, and these days you will most likely find me at this relaxing no-line, no hassle, newcomer.  Start with the simple but the delicious fried chicken and finish with the spicy Yuzu-Kosho.

Japanese – Blue Ribbon Sushi.  Not all chains are created equally.  This is far from Applebee’s.  And depending on who you ask, and the day of the week, this is not exactly in Hell’s Kitchen but close enough (Yelp thinks that it is).  Its located in the SIXTY Hotel on Columbus Circle (on 58th st).  Whether you are a sushi lover is irrelevant in this case.  Good fried chicken, steaks, and the sick oxtail fried rice alone is worth the price of admission.  And other goodies such as the excellent Ika Shoga (sautéed squid), and Kanpachi Usuzukuri (amberjack sushimi) worth detouring.

Thai – Pure Thai Cookhouse.  Not your average NYC Thai food among a plethora of all kinds of great Thai on 9th.  No drunken noodles, no red curry, no green curry and not even purple curry on the menu.  What you do get is something a bit more authentic with all sorts of complex flavors and extra heat.  Read the post for what to order.  Try the ribs, Pork with curry paste, Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles, and the pumpkin or Mango custard with coconut sticky rice off the board (may not be on the menu)

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Thai – Taladwat.  The new kid on the Thai block is a possibly the most important opening in Hell in the last few years.  Thats because its the latest from David Bank and his wife, the owners of Pure Thai Cookhouse, and its three times bigger.  The menu focuses on 20 or so small plates covering a wide array of protein.  You have the option of getting two for $16 for lunch (a bit more for dinner).  So far the Crabmeat Tom Turmeric is the winner

Thai – Pam Real Thai.  I was hesitant to add this one for too long, partly due to having two Thai places on the list already.  But.. a) Many EWZ readers have already been to Pure and/or Larb Ubol, b) The Oxtail Soup, and c) Just about everything else I’ve had here is pretty darn good.  Setting redefines minimalistic, and the place could use some refreshing, but I dont go there for the decor.  Try the Pad Kra Prow (w/shrimp), Pad Prik Khing, Khao Soi, best Kee Mao Seafood in the hood, and the Oxtail Soup which is just about my favorite soup on the planet.

Chinese – Gourmet Szechuan 56.  By far the best Chinese in the area.  Like Pure Thai, Spice level significantly higher.  Loving the Shredded Beef w/ Asian Spicy Green Chili especially

Chinese/Dumplings – Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen.  A little piece of Chinatown on the border of Hell’s Kitchen, steps away from Times Square.  Contrary to what the name suggests, this place isnt known for its ramen, but for its soup dumplings. The place is tiny, and at peak hours there could be a line but it moves quickly.  Communal tables add to the fun, but try not to squirt that dumpling soup juice on your neighbor.  Unless its a Broadway actor

Pork Buns

Indian

Indian – Saar Indian Bistro – My little Indian rule of thumb – pay special attention to the latest from Indian master Hemant Mathur (Malai Marke, Chote Nawab and many more).  The dude just knows how to cook and how to hire them.  He finally opened one in the Kitchen in 2018, making Saar instantly the most important Indian in the area, and very different than the rest.  Its a nice bridge between a curry house and gourmet Indian.  Try the Chicken kebabs, Cauliflower Latkes, Butter Chicken, and Pepper chicken

Indian Lunch Buffet – Benares.  I’m not normally into lunch buffets these days, but this is a good one.  What I like about it is that they dont offer the usual conventional Tikka and Chana Masalas, but various shrimp and lamb dishes with proper Unamerican degrees of heat and flavor

Italian

Dell’anima – Italian is the one thing that is lacking in the area even though there are now three of them on this list.  That makes this West Village import at Gotham West Market one of the most important openings of 2019.  Try the signature Tajain Carbonara, and the chicken

Italian – Mercato.  This is quickly becoming not only my favorite Italian in the area but my favorite restaurant in the area.  Truly flavorful, mostly authentic southern Italian (from south Italy, not south Staten Island) dishes like the excellent homemade Trenette (below) with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil.  A cozy Trattoria, with an all Italian staff.  Check out the simple spaghetti, the meaty gnocchi, Sardinian specialties, and look for any specials like the excellent Cavatelli

Mercato Trenette

Italian – Il Melograno.  A lot of mediocre Italian in the area.  This is not one of them.  No frills, small, cheap(er) Trattoria sitting in a location where its almost impossible to survive unless you are doing something right.  Owner from Brescia, no stranger to Northern Italian cooking.  Try the Pappardelle with sausage and truffle oil.  In the warmer months locals flock to their sidewalk wine bar Il Baretto on 11th.

Seafood

Gloria.  Its not only my favorite seafood in the area, but one of my favorite in the city.  Contra and Le bernardin alumni filling a very important void in the area.  You must try the Jonah crab, you simply must!  And the octopus, the skate if they have, monkfish or any other featured fish.

American

Wine and Cheese bar – Casellula. Great wine and.. you guessed it.. Pork Ass sandwiches. No joke!  Small, not the prettiest bar but the food more than makes up for it.  Just leave it to them to make you a cheese and meat assortment with some vino and enjoy those asses

Bar/Gastropub – Shorty’s.  Calling this a Gastropub may be a stretch, but you do come here for the Philly Cheesesteak.  I’ve had it in Philadelphia, and I can assure you that this is the real deal.  Same bread (arrives daily from “Le Bus” in Philly and finish baked in house), same steaks, same Whiz, same style, same everything.  Owner apparently was part owner of the great Tony Luke’s in Philly.  If you never had one, you are in for a messy treat.

Burger – Farm to Burger.  Good burger places come and go here.  Ans this very hidden gem in the Aliz hotel just came.  I’ve only tried one burger here so far and it was good enough to earn the crown.  The not as sweet as it sounds Honey Bee might be the best burger in the kitchen.

Farm to Table – The Marshal.  One of the most exciting additions to the neighborhood in recent years.  They have a relationship with 14 local farms whose ingredients fill much of the seasonal menu.  Just about everything they do, they do well.  From the terrific french loaf, to the meatloaf and roast chicken, to the ice cream sundae. Ditch the diner and go to this neighborhood spot to experience American cuisine at its finestThe Marshal - Meatloaf

Pizza

NY Slice – Sacco.  An old timer.  No 99 cent slices here (more like $2.50), but a NY slice as good as it gets

Slices – Merilu.  My kind of family.  Merilu from Torino dishes out great thin slices along with her kids while the dad just eats the stuff.  Come on Friday or Saturday to try Merilu’s excellent meatballs

Slices – Corner Slice.  Gotham West Market now serves delicious airy Sicilian squares by dough wizards backed by Ivan Ramen

Neapolitan Pizza – Don Antonio.  Opened by two Naples veterans who know a thing or 3 about pizza.  One of them also owns the popular Keste in the village.  Try the slightly fried Montanara that no one else does, and my fave Diavola boasting the best sopressata in town.

Pies – Capizzi.  A solid alternative to the Don Antonio, John’s craziness and perhaps the closest thing to a pizza parlor you can only find in the outer boroughs.  The ingredients speak for themselves, like the bright, fresh tomato sauce and the extra meaty pepperoni and sausagesCapizzi

Latin

Empanadas – Empanada Mama.  Empanadas are like little patties, and should be on everyone’s area walking tour.  Try the spicy chicken, the meaty Brazil, and before you try the Viagra make sure there’s ample space between you and the person in front of you.  Hmmm, this sounded much funnier in my head.

Ecuadorian – Nano.  This hole in the wall on 10th has some serious “nona” action going for it.  An “I cant believe this is not Peruvian” Ecuadorian has joined Lali and the rest of the growing latin gang in the immediate area.  Try the homey Caldo de Bola soup which made the Best Soups in HK cut.  For lunch you got various deals that include the Seco de Pollo, chicken strips in a mild but pleasant gravy, and Sango de Res, beef in a soup like green plantain sauce, among all kinds of other surprises

Peruvian – Inti.  10th ave is the new 9th ave.  Can someone go here please? Anyone?  Bueller?  Its always empty during lunch for some reason and it would be a real shame if it closes.  A Pio Pio alumni with a twist.  And the twist being empty ceviche.  Great looking and tasting Ceviche Mixto (below), Fresh fish chunks, shrimp, octopus and calamari with red onions, cilantro and rocoto hot pepper.  Add sweet potatoes for much needed contrast and the traditional baby corn and you got yourself a winner.  Or try the always reliable Rotisserie chicken

Inti Ceviche

Peruvian/Large Groups – Pio Pio.   Ok, I give up.  Pio Pio is a chain.  In fact I think the official name for this one is Pio Pio 8, or something like that.  It’s also not the best Peruvian in the area (Inti gets my vote), and it wont win any James Beard or Z-List awards any time soon.  But whenever I’m asked the question I loath the most by my employer.  A last minute place for a large group that is not only affordable but will make everyone happy, this is the first place that comes to mind.  Good drinks, rotisserie chickens, and much more.

Dominican – Lali.    Read this while listening to this.  Ready? Lets go.  Home cooking cant get any more homey than this.  Small, Diner-ish, Reggaeton music blasting in the background to help you chew and move, and the two lovely nonnas serving including Mrs Lali herself.  You get what’s available today which will normally include some sort of stew, chicken, or ribs.  Go for the braised chicken if available, or the beef stew, with rice and beans of course.  Breakfast and lunch only

Mexican – Tacuba.  I realize that there’s a better chance seeing Lindsay Lohan win an Oscar than seeing tourists (without guides) in one of those last remaining bodegas/hole in the walls deeper in the area.  This is the latest from Julian Medina of Toloache fame. And everything I’ve tried so far from the octopus sandwich for lunch to the Carnitas for dinner suggests GO!

Tacos – Otto’s Tacos.  The first addition I didn’t even need to try.  I’m well too familiar with their East Village spot, and those shrimp tacos (hmmm, how you doing!).  But I did of course had my fix on day two of this most important Hell’s Kitchen opening since Gotham West.

Misc

Ethiopian – Meske.  This is a fun place for groups.  Just order a bunch of plates and watch them create the plate of dreams.  Use the spongy Injera bread below to scoop up all those goodies.  Queen of Sheba practically next door also worth consideringMeske

Farmer’s Markets – Stiles on 52nd is a tiny market with a big heart and Outer Boroughs prices.  You also have the 57th st Greenmarket on 57th and 9th open Wednesdays and Saturdays from about mid April to December.  What fantastic timing on my part, eh?

Diners.  Westway Diner for a classic NY diner

Bakeries/Cafes/Sandwiches

Sandwiches – City Sandwich.  Sorry I have to use that “one of the city’s best” again.  From Naples to Lisbon to the huge Portuguese community in Jersey, comes some of the best bread in the area, with some of the most unusual ingredients like blood pudding, sandwiches worthy of a run-on sentence.  Just try to study the huge menu ahead of time so you dont feel pressured or confused once there.  I like some of the egg sandwiches (egg based sandwiches got its own section) like Bench Girl, and of course the only on Tuesday, porky Roberto

Bakery – Sullivan Street Bakery.  Talking about no brainers. Another “One of the best in town” and the source to many top restaurant’s bread baskets like Scarpetta and Maialino.  Try some of the bread, the spectacular Canottos (the sweet ones), Bombolonis (donuts on crack), and the chocolate almond croissants.  Many love their pizzas but its the other stuff that makes me go there almost weekly these daysSullivan Street Bakery

Café/BakeryBibble & Sip.  One of the new kids on the wrong side of the block.  Technically just outside of HK but deliciousness sees no borders!  A place where you can unwind and BS all you want (it says so right on their logo).  The Earl Grey Banana Bread is quickly gaining neighborhood fame.  Add the Earl Grey Panna Cotta (notice a theme?), Matcha Cream puffs, scones, the morning egg sliders and all sorts of rotating daily goodies.

Café – Rex.  The new kid on the block and by kid I mean Rex, the hardest working baker in HK.  And only 3 years old!  Ok, not really, he’s 4 now!  Ok, not really again, his father helps out a little but still.  Great coffee, scones, and muffins like the Morning Glory.

Bagels – Pick-A-Bagel.  Ess got nothing on these guys.  This is by far my favorite bagel place in the area, and trust me I’ve looked.  A good place to try the walnut raisin spread but I normally go for a simple bagel with butter.  Muffins are great in size and taste, and the only place that has Ziggy’s fave banana nut.  Its a great concept:  You say “Bagel” and they pick one for you.  🙄

Sweets

Chocolates – Kee’s.  What happens when you leave your corporate job to follow your dream and open what eventually becomes one of NY’s finest chocolate shops?  You open another one, and another one, and on 39th st in Hell’s Kitchen.  Creamy explosion, the words that come to mind once you chew on one of the 50 or so truffles and chocolates.  Top notch craftsmanship doesn’t come cheap.  But still, a good option after lunch at Mercato, Larb Ubol, or Capizzi.  Or before dinner, whatever takes.

Pies – Little Pie Company.  While everyone is obsessing with cheesecakes, those in the know come here for the insane Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie.

Cupcakes – Huascar & Co. Bakeshop.  Cupcake wars champion!

Healthy

Fresh From Hell.  Quite a few healthy places surprisingly closed the past few years like Mooncake Foods despite being popular.  But tiny takeout FFH is a solid new alternative with fine sandwiches featuring Sullivan bread, and the best split pea soup this side of wherever they make the best split pea soup.

Mercato

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Moldova – Mamaliga Bliss in Brooklyn

MoldovaWhile you are Googling Mamaliga, some facts about its origin and mine.  The Republic of Moldova is nicely nestled between behemoths Ukraine and Romania.  According to National Geographic the people of Moldova are the saddest people in the world.  Coincidentally, the happiest people are supposedly ex-Moldovans.  Well, something both of you readers may not have realized but according to my bio, I, Ziggy, am one of those proud ex-Moldovans.

I was born in Kishinev, the capital but only because the city we lived in, Argeyev (aka the second saddest city in the world) didn’t have much of a hospital.  Sadly (dah!) I dont really have many food memories, so whenever I talk about Ratatouille Moments they are definitely not from childhood.  We were lucky to just get essentials like toilet paper and vodka.   All my fondest memories were about getting in trouble.  When I was about 5 years old, I discovered what every normal Moldovan child discovers at this age..  Nicotine!  So I started smoking (this is a true story btw) mainly socially, never at home, and never more than a pack a day (ok, although true I’m exaggerating just a bit).  I was smoking until the day I decided to smoke one at home in the balcony (in the saddest country in the world, kids are left home alone at a very early age).  To make a long story short, my grandma came home, found the cigarette, told my dad, I peed a little when he called my name but all he did was tell me not to do it again (he may have been proud of me).  Well, I havent smoked since.  Besides wearing a patch to day care (aka the second saddest day care in the world.  Our daily highlight was to go outside and look at the giant factory pipes) for the first month as a 6 year old, quitting was surprisingly easy.  So whenever my friend Joel boasts about how he’s cigarette-free for 14 months or whatever that number is now, I always say the same thing… “36 YEARS!!”

With that said, I may be more familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine than Moldovan, I think.  I never really thought about what Moldovan food really is as I always assumed its pretty much like Russian (with some Romanian influence) food and I still sort of do to an extent.

I went to Moldova the newish restaurant in Brooklyn with a large group last week.  Everything ordered was family style so I didn’t even look at the menu.  In true Russian form, they start you off with a large array of salads where a nice Babaganoush-like eggplant salad was one of the standouts. But the most memorable app was the Fasolita, a yummy mashed bean paste with roasted onions and oil.  I never heard of it and pretty sure they invented the name.

Moldova - MamaligaBut you come here for the Mamaliga.  Polenta on steroids!  Our family style version was a massive piece of cornmeal, but what you would normally get is a smaller piece of Mamaliga in the middle of a plate surrounded by an assortment of meat, cheese, sour cream, and egg. In our case it was more like a glorified side dish to compliment the mixed grill consisting mainly of 2 things.  Mititei is something I grill at home on occasion. It’s a mix of ground beef, pork, lamb with herbs and spices rolled into a hotdog size kebabs.  Unless you overcook them it comes out really nice and juicy and this was cooked right.  And so was the Costita, basically a nicely spiced pork chop and this one was very flavorful.  Very often with large groups those things come out dry but here it was nice and moist.
Dessert of cherry and prunes with nuts blintses was a nice finish although missing some ice cream perhaps.  A terrific meal overall.  Although the cuisine doesn’t deviate much from the regular Russian fair, everything was prepared well and tasted great.  And the lively environment is a nice reminder that you are not in Moldova anywhere.  Although I do hope things are different there nowadays, and 5 year olds have a tougher time finding cigarettesMoldova - Mixed grill Moldova - dessert Moldova Moldova1
Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

The NoMad – Chronicles of a Chicken

NoMad ChickenThe war is still ongoing.  Hours before our dinner reservations at the NoMad I asked the trusted folks at the Chowhound forum the simple question: “To Chicken or not to Chicken”.  Meaning, should I order their famous chicken dish considering…

a) It costs $79 (its for 2)

b) Its Chicken

Well, the overwhelming response was Yes, with a few Nos (including a resounding No 2 weeks after I already had it), and 1 “order what you feel like”.  Considering chicken is not exactly something I’m ever in the mood for, I needed a little help with this one.NoMad Chicken white

The NoMad, not to be confused with Nomad (you see the difference?  These are in fact 2 different restaurants in NYC) is a 1 year old Daniel Humm and Will Guidara venture at the NoMad hotel.  Eleven Madison Park light if you will (same duo behind that).   Once inside there’s no mistaking that you are dining in a hotel.  Your look most likely will determine the room they will sit you at.  Apparently we look like ladies who lunch!  Since it was sort of early (5:30 mind you, before Vanya, Pasha, Boris..er whatever its called.  I don’t subscribe to the “you must eat in the theater district before a show” policy), there was plenty of light out, and with that glass ceiling this room was very well lit.  For a while it felt like we were moved from one waiting room to a fancier waiting room.  But I didn’t mind it so much.  Within 30 minutes or so were suddenly surrounded with tourists, so I guess they confused us for ” tourist ladies who lunch” or something like that.NoMad bread

But the food was quite good.  They start you off with their terrific freshly baked Focaccia-like flatbread with rosemary, sage, and a little bit of salt.  Toppings change seasonally.  This is perhaps as good as it gets as far as restaurant bread goes.  Tagliatelle with king crab, lemon and black pepper was savory, with plenty of meaty crab to go around.  But the egg stole the app show.  Poached with asparagus, brown butter and quinoa, holy smokes it was good!  The asparagus alone is worth the price of admission, and that grainy quinoa really tied everything together beautifully.  Fantastic dish, as I say to the swedes to the right.NoMad Tagliatelle

And then came the main event.  They first present you the whole cooked chicken like a fine bottle of wine.  I sniff it from both sides and enthusiastically approve.  They take the bird away and bring it back carved for 2, with a nice plate of dark meat with garlic espuma (foamy light garlic goodness) to share.  The chicken was divine.  Perfectly crispy skin, moist juicy white meat, along with some foie gras and black truffles (all cooked) nicely tucked beneath the skin.  Each bite of that combination together was a Tour de Force.  French couple on the left agrees.  With that kind of hoopla over an expensive dish as such, nothing less than the best chicken ever was expected, and it was.  Well done NoMad people!

Desserts were fine as well.  Although the famous Milk and Honey was the only underwhelming of the evening.  The chocolate dessert was more like it.  A spectacular meal overall.  Weird setting but food prevailed to save the day.NoMad Egg NoMad chicken dark NoMad Milk and Honey NoMad Chocolate NoMad Cappuccino

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Best Thai in Hell – Pure Thai Cookhouse

Pure Thai - Beef Pad Prik KhingThis is the first of a series of posts about the best food in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood in Midtown West, NYC.  I already posted about the Best Pizza in the area, but this is the first individual restaurant posting out of many to come.

A quick stroll on 9th avenue, the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, brings up 2 questions.  Why am I craving for Bourekas, and why are there so many Thai places around.  There must be at least 100 of them, not to mention all the ones on 10th avenue nearby.  Ant to top it you also have entire franchises nestled in there.  Wondee Siam 2 is almost across from the original (I prefer the newer space and food).  Yum Yum 1, Yum Yum 2, and Yum Yum 3 are all right next to each other.  Yum Yum 2 recently represented the Yum Yums in the 9th avenue food festival and I’m not sure why Yum Yum 1 and Yum Yum 3 were absent from the event or the reason Yum Yum 2 was representing instead of Yum Yum 1.  But I digress

I tried many of the Thai spots over the years, but since I discovered Pure, the “trying” part shifted to trying every item on Pure’s menu.  Pure to me is purer Thai than the rest.  Not only it feels you are in a foreign country once you enter (its slightly bigger than a shoe box, a hers and hers closet f you will.  Yes thats what we call it in our house.  I recently lost 2 more shelves to her shoes. I’m lucky I got something left), but the menu doesn’t boast the regular American Thai dishes you see everywhere else.  You don’t see the usual green/red curry, drunken noodles, pad dishes that just about every single spot on 9th got (although I enjoy them from time to time like the excellent Kee Mao in Kare Thai on 10th).  What you do get in Pure is all sorts of complex flavors leading to a Pure culinary ecstasy.   Here are some of my favorites…

Pure ThaiBeef Pad Prik Khing & Crab Meat Omelette (top picture) – This is my a new favorite discovered on a recent visit with my friend Alex.  Its not on the menu but often appears on the board as a special.  Tender, limey, juicy, super flavorful beef cubes with long bean, and sugar snap peas, with this beautiful crab and scallion omelette sitting on a bed of Jasmine rice which was absolutely perfect with the light curry sauce.  Fantastic dish all around and worthy of a run-on sentence!

Ratchaburi crab and pork with dry noodles.  These guys are serious about their homemade noodles, and this is one dish to sample it.

All kinds of fabulous Wok action:

Curry Paste with Pork,  Chili Pepper with Chicken, Cashew Nuts with Shrimp, Chili Turmeric with Beef (Below. Very tasty with plenty of heat)

One particular rice/noodle dish I like is the Jungle Curry fried rice with Chicken – fairly spicy so use caution.

Many of the dishes especially with 3 stars next to the names are not for the faint of heart but you can also ask them to reduce the heat level.  Remember what I said about authentic?  Authentic translates to Thai spicy (vs American Thai spicy).  Its BYOM – Bring Your Own Milk spicy so watch out with those starred attractions., and enjoy Pure Thai Cookhouse in Hell’s Kitchen  Pure - Beef Turmeric

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

Why I dont write negative reviews

photo (38)Have you ever played “Find the Falafel”? No?  Here’s how the game goes…  You buy a falafel sandwich from the new kid on the block for an amazingly low price of $3.50 (about half the price of a competitor), and then while eating the falafel, you… you guessed it… try to find the falafel.  How many bites of seeing “green” (as in leaves) you go through until you see brown (as in Falafel).  The $3.50 Falafel I had a few months ago won easily with an astonishing 5 bites of seeing nothing but spinach.

The game is actually less excising than it sounds. While I was shaving one day I thought about writing a post called “Find The Falafel” where I chronicle this eating event and name this new neighborhood gem.  But then I figured whats the point really, and I didn’t take any pictures anyway.  Maybe this was the cooks first day on the job.  Maybe the real cook is out on maternity leave (this actually happened to me), maybe they are having a falafel shortage crisis at the moment.  Maybe the real cook just collapsed after enduring a long week of sleepless nights after a gang of the 17 year cicadas invaded his neighborhood.  Who knows really

But that’s not all.  This site to me is all about providing food ideas for readers.  Not food ideas to avoid in a city with over 30,000 restaurants.  Anges from Little Rock reading this blog before her first visit to NYC is looking for food ideas. I don’t think she needs to know that “Famous Falafel” in the East Village (Not a real place) needs to be avoided.  BTW how do they get away with injecting the word “Famous” in a brand new place.  Isnt that an oxy-moron?  There are a lot of “Famous Falafels”, “Famous Pizza”, and “Famous Pharmacy” in NYC

photo (37)This burger was the latest “taking one for the team” mishap while trying something new in Hells Kitchen, and the main motivation behind this post.  “Would you like it medium sir?”  “YES!” sensing that they know what medium is, being a French influenced establishment with a French accent cook/server.  And everyone knows that the French tend to undercook and I will most likely get medium rare which is how I really want it.  The result:  WELL DONE!  Oh well.  Its probably the Cicadas.

BTW, not to go off topic… well actually this is not a particularly exciting topic… so do go off topic.  The Cicadas I see are now dying.  What a difference a week makes.  One week you hear them singing, or sirening, or whatever their sound is called.  It sounds like a weird siren.  You see them walking around together, not flying, simply walking every evening, a cicada Passeggiata if you will (Italian nightly stroll).  They fly into people, really acting as if they own the place.  And now you see them dead on the ground or dying, like this poor fellow pictured above, who was on his back before I turned him around.  He was found right in front of my kid’s school.  The entire scene looked like a scene from Saving Private Ryan with dying cicadas everywhere.  See you in 17 years guys!

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

Costata – Fiamma Part Deux

Costata - Ribeye10 years ago if you were to ask me what are my favorite NY restaurants, I would probably mention Union Square Cafe, Blue Water Grill, Gotham, Gramercy Tavern, and my neighborhood Chili’s (Yes thats right Chili’s.  In the burbs those ribs are the best thing you can get).  Now, although those places are still alive and kicking, I’ve moved on and havent been since.  But one place in particular could have become more of a regular for us if it hadnt closed so prematurely, Michael White’s first restaurant, Fiamma.  I don’t recall why they closed it.  It only got a Michelin star and perhaps more importantly 3 New York Times stars.

10 years later, the boy is now a man.  I’m talking about sir Michael White, not Ziggy (I still on occasion cry during Family Guy).  White, is now an owner.  An owner of 5 restaurants including Ai Fiori and the amazing Marea. (Seriously have you seen the episode where stewy and Brian are stuck in the bank?  That was pure emotion).  Michael White’s 5th restaurant is 3 week old Costata at the same space as former Fiamma.  Naturally, I couldn’t wait much and the result was a glorious meal of the year, and one of the most memorable meals we’ve had in NYCMe and Michael

Inside right away it felt like being in the old Fiamma.  But one of the first things we noticed was the number of employees around us.  It felt like a factory.  Perhaps they don’t want to take any chances in the first few weeks with all the newspaper critics and (ahem) Ziggys visiting.  In fact the main manager came over to us mentioning that she saw me taking pictures outside with my fancy new camera, and at first I though I was in trouble, but she assured me that its more than ok and I can take all the pictures I want.  So I got a little carried away taking pictures everywhere including with my new best friend Michael White (we bonded while exchanging Hummus recipes)

Costata is as if Marea, Scarpetta and Minetta Tavern got together and made a beautiful baby boy named Tommy.  Like Minetta, its a steakhouse with a twist.  The twist being great crudo and pastas.

And we started with that amazing Crudo.  The scallops with truffle vinaigrette in particular was a stunner and a dish of the year nominee.  Buttery, melt in your mouth goodness, and with that amazing but not overpowering truffle sauce was a thing of beauty.  Picture perfect razor clams were great as well.  With bits of sopressata (wow) and fennel mixed in with the ceviched clams.  Brought us back to the awesome razor clams in Venice a few years back.  Great startCostata - ScallopsCostata - Razor Clams

Pastas were more than satisfying.  The Lumache Carbonara was probably the winner for me.  Although the pasta didn’t have that Lumache “snail” shape.  Like Orecchiette (shape like baby ear) and other pastas the Italians call it as they see it.  Though, I’m not quite sure about their motivation behind the Strozzapreti which means priest stranglers!  Did someone envision a pasta shape while watching a poor priest being strangled?  The Cavatelli with tender juicy oxtail was another winner. The Old favorite Garganelli Alla Fiamma with light truffle cream, the only remaining dish from Fiamma, was still good but I preferred the others a  bit more.Costata - lumache Costata - Cavatelli Costata - garganelli

Then came the main event.  One of the most flavorful steaks I ever had. A mammoth 44oz $120 Tomahawk Ribeye cooked to perfection.  We asked for medium (wife demands) so I was a little worried that they would overcook the beast but it came out perfect medium rare for the most part (or “real” medium in high end dining).  Black truffle butter was the choice (extra $3) and sides of fries and asparagus ($10 each) complimented nicely.  But the steak, OMG the steak, basted beautifully with a rosemary brush was so addictively delicious that I kept getting lost in the moment forgetting the sides.  Its almost a cliché but this is probably the best steak we ever had

Desserts were great as well.  Enjoyed the Meringa (another Kodak moment) but the Semifreddo with the Rum Raisin stole the show.  Kids loved the chocolate tart.Costata - Meringa Costata - Rum Raisin Costata - Chocolate

As expected the service was top notch and very knowledgeable (some veterans from Minetta Tavern and Lincoln) as you would expect in a place like this.  Jokingly I offered to pay with my Minetta tavern gift card I got from friends for our 20th anniversary (thanks guys if you reading, and even if you are not).  I could have really used a card here as this turned out much pricier than anticipated (just north of $400 with tip, including 2 drinks)

So yes, meal of the year and highly recommend Costata.  Now if you excuse me, Family Guy is on.  Where are the tissues.

Costata Costata

Categories: New York City, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

10 Things to Try in Eataly

EatalySomething I don’t do nearly enough is read other food blogs.  I wish I had the time to just chillax for a full day and read nothing but food blogs.  No wife, no work, no kids, just me, myself and blogs.  Not possible.  But whenever we are about to travel somewhere I put the blog reading on the next gear, and naturally these days I read Italian food blogs.  I noticed that not only I get many ideas on what to eat on our upcoming trip in the summer, but I also get plenty of ideas on how to improve the blog.

For example the excellent Katie Parla blog (which I found last fall while researching New Orleans and got the a great Boucherie reco from her) and Elizabeth Manchilli in Rome (and Florence) have given me something to think about, like that my site sucks does not have enough lists.  So I gave you Best Pizza in Hell earlier this month and now I figured I’ll write about Eataly.  A place dear to my heart and wallet (my wallet strongly believes in keeping your friends close and enemies closer)Eataly10 years ago I used to work right across the street from Eataly where it was a Toy Building.  While we were too busy at work checking out the modeling action on 22nd st with our binoculars working, we didn’t have much time to check out the toys back then. But nowadays we go there often.  Eataly is busy, hectic, full of Italians for some reason, and very very touristy, but for good reason.  You can easily spend an entire day there.  Well, I can!  During the last few years I spent a lot of time there eating, drinking, shopping and learning elementary Italian cursing like “tuo padre è un pollo” (your father is a chicken) comes in handy.  So without further ado, here are 10 things to try while visiting Eataly to make your visit more memorable

Sorry about some of the Iphone photos.

1)  Italian Soda.  My new obsession.  The refreshingly citrusy Cedrata, Gazzosa, the ‘root beer on crack’  Chinoto, the lightly sweetened Gus Sodas.  Buy a few and see what you like.  All with natural ingredients and some like the Gazzosa feature the famous lemons of AmalfiEataly

2)  Maitake Mushrooms at Birreria – Put your name down for the roof garden, and wait for the text.  The text is your gateway to some of the most delicious Mushrooms you will ever eat.  Perfectly chewy and savory Maitake with Pecorino cheese.  One of about 3 or 4 dishes in their mushroom section along with nice Oyster mushrooms and fried shiitakes.  Also try the Cotechino sausage and pork shouldereataly2 photo (35)

3)  Grande Piatto Misto Di Salumi & Formaggi at La Piazza – Say what?  thats right.  A nice little assortment of the best cheese and Salumi of the day in the Piazza.  Prosciutto, salami, 4 different kinds of cheese, honey, figs and more.  Add a glass of one of their fine whites and its like having an aperitivo in Piazza Navona staring at la Fontana dei Fiumi.  Except that you are in Eataly, inside a building, staring at a German tourist’s sandals with socks.099

4)  Asparagus and Egg at Le Verdure.  Another example that adding egg to anything will make it better.   My favorite from the veggie menu of Le VerdureEataly

5)  Cacio e Pepe at La Pasta.  “A so a simple and a so good a”.  Cheese, black pepper, al dente pasta is apparently all you need to make this Roman classic.  Perfection on a plate.   So what am I doing wrong?Eataly

6)  Gnocchi at La Pasta – To compliment your Cacio e pepe.  Gnocchi, with 3 hours braised + 3 hour cooked + 3 hour groin massaged, wonderful melt in your mouth lamb shank.  Also try the Neapolitan pizza while thereEataly 101

7)  Fresh Agnolotti cacio e pepe – This is to buy.  Pillowy delicate Agnolotti stuffed with pecorino and black pepper.  Don’t overcook.  Set the timer to what it says on the box – I believe about 3-4 minutes after returning to boil.  Add some freshly shredded cheese and butter and invite me for dinner and Voila!  I found that a little more than 1 pound (1.2) feeds a hungry family of 4. Eataly

8)  Truffle sauces.  Walk all the way to the right pass the dry pasta section, and you’ll see this mostly Urbani truffle heaven.  It will do wonders to your pasta.  Just don’t overdo it – add just one of those little babies and invite me for inspection.  You can also visit the Urbani NYC headquarters on 11th in the 50’s (I forget)Eataly

9)  Pesce Alla Diamantese at IL Pesce – Seared fish of the day cooked with tomato sauce, olives, Calabrian Chiles, fennel and capers.  Savory, great flaky texture and absolutely delicious.  Well played Mario.

10)  Gelato – Duh!!  Try the Stracciatella (sort of like choc chip) and Nocciola (hazelnut).  Fantastic gelato

So there you have it.  Buon Appetito, and stay hungry my friends.  Some more food porn…

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

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