Posts Tagged With: Popina

5 Underrated Italian

Dell’anima Tajarin

In NYC of course. This is not a Puglia blog yet as the last three posts suggest, although much more on Puglia coming soon. I’ve been living in NYC for 36 years now, and I dont remember a more exciting time for Italian dining. Even though The prices are moving in the opposite direction. A full meal at a mid price, full service restaurant now averages $175 for two (source: EWZ Stats), up from $150 not too long ago. But the competitive environment has never seen levels like these before. A glut of new Italian immigrants has turned the Italian scene upside down where Italian/Italian is the new American/Italian especially in Manhattan and north Brooklyn. Cacio e Pepe is the new Chicken Alfredo, and Neapolitan pizza joints are opening at faster pace than NY style it seems. Its a pizza revolution of sorts, although a complete pizza transition wont happen in my lifetime.

The title of this post is oxymoronic in a way since there are literally 100’s of underrated Italian in NYC today. But I’ll focus on five places that are much easier to reserve (unlike Don Angie, Lilia, Ci Siamo, Rezdora, and so many), and may bring you similar levels of joy.

Dell’anima (Hell’s Kitchen) – The easiest pick of the bunch. Best Italian in Hell’s Kitchen historically has been a mystery, just like the glut of Thai restaurants in HK. Mercato held that claim for some time IMO, but ever since Dell’anima moved to Gotham West Market (conquered really as there’s not much left there these days. Even Ivan Ramen is no more) it established itself as the one to beat. While tourists continue to flock to places like Becco for the quantity, locals line up chef Andrew’s counter for the quality. I dont recall ever having a less than stellar dish here. You cant go wrong with menu staples like Tajarin Alla Carbonara, and Pollo al Diavolo, but I wouldnt hesitate ordering new additions and specials. The location, and being inside a food hall of course has something to do with the underrated tag.

Pollo al Diavolo

Ulivo (NoMad) – Talking about Mercato, long time readers should not be surprised to see it’s little sister here. With that said, somehow Ulivo managed to outgrow it’s sister, and establish itself as a solid choice in an extremely competitive area. That’s partly due to the talents of Sardinian born Emanuel Concas who figured out the right formula after years at Mercato and six years now at Ulivo. What you get is top notch ingredients, solid pizza, and a plethora of fresh pasta dishes, their bread and butter. You’ll find some hard to find Sardinian and Sicilian autocorrect specialties like Malloreddus with sausage ragu, and the simple but outstanding Busiate with almonds, fresh tomato, basil and garlic. No Secondis here. Instead, order another drink from the award winning bartender.

Busiate

Faro (Bushwick) – This is another no brainer. A Michelin star recipient (yay Michelin!) only to lose it a few years later (oh who cares about Michelin!). Faro is being too modest when it bills itself as a simple neighborhood Italian. Neighborhood Italian dont do Cappelletti stuffed with sweet corn purée, topped with a slow cooked short rib ragu. I could have just ended the previous sentence after Cappelletti. This is one example of a rotating, masterfully executed seasonal pastas. I believe only the Bucatini with confit chicken has been on the menu longer than a year. And they ought to bring the sick Gnocchi Alla Romana back. Its more of a destination Italian. The problem with Faro is the most likely reason its on this list. Its kind of Faro, as in deep in the heart of Bushwick. But Bushwick, thanks to the growing list of mega clubs like Avant Gardner is slowly becoming a nightlife mecca.

Cappelletti

Popina (Columbia Street Waterfront District) – It was fun seeing Popina grow over the years, and somehow remain true to itself. On my first visit. I expected the short menu to change and expand at some point to accommodate the masses, but thankfully it never did. Chris Mcdade’s stints with places like Maialino and Marta, his southern roots, and unconditional love for anchovies help create a fun, concentrated menu. Items rotate frequently but if they ever remove the signature spicy Chicken Milanese, expect local strikes. On a recent visit one particular Monkfish dish really showcased the tiny kitchen’s range. The team is opening Gus’s Chop House in nearby Carroll Gardens, sort of a gastropub.

Monkfish

Song’E Napule (Greenwich Village) – You can skim through 120 best pizza in NYC lists and you wont find anyone singing the praises of Song’E Napule. You will need to look at an Italian publication like Gambero Rosso which we probably should be doing anyway when it comes to pizza. The name has nothing to do with singing. It just means “from Napoli” in Neapolitan dialect. But if you are a fan of the Neapolitan style you’ll be belting out romantic tunes to your neighbor, Napoli great Diego Maradona on the wall. Legit oven, proper ingredients, and a capable pizzaiolo results in light and airy awesomeness. As genuine as it gets in NYC.

Categories: Brooklyn, Gramercy, Flatiron, Midtown West, New York City, West Village | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Popina – Wacky New Italian in WeCo

Popina Negroni

May 15, 2018 Update:

That chicken!  Its as real as Traveler’s Diarrhea.  I’m not sure I’ve had better Schnitzels in Austria, and I’m not sure I had better Chicken Milanese in Milan.  Its the perfect example of what delicious sweet heat can do to a bird.  Worth braving to WeCo just for this dish.  Well, its not like you have much of a choice here.  This is one of two mains.  The other item on the current menu is the elusive great sounding Porgy which is never there when I’m there.

Popina also makes a killer Negroni.  I think thats the only thing I ever drank here.  The pastas continue to impress.  One of which I had not too long ago was particularly memorable, but for the life of me I cant remember the ingredients (Seriously what kind of blog is this.  Not the serious kind).  But the anchovy Bucatini is still on and its looking like one of the classics, along with the Pappardelle and the chicken.   Considering the Instagram name of chef Chris is AlwaysAnchovy, you know where his loyalties lie.  The small menu redefines small.  It may be the smallest menu in NYC in fact.  May deter some, but as I keep saying over and over, its not the size of the ship…

November 26, 2017 Post:

I suppose I need to explain the title first.  We dont really have an area called WeCo.  Not yet at least.  According to Google Maps the small no man’s land west of the BQE around Columbia street in Brooklyn is called Columbia Street Waterfront District for some reason.  While other Brooklyn neighborhoods nearby like Greenwood and Sunset Park include their waterfront districts, Carroll Gardens, and Cobble Hill decided to neglect it, blaming the construction of the BQE that broke them apart.  And while it didnt work for Clinton (Hell’s Kitchen) much and other neighborhoods, the name change can definitely work here.  So might as well continue with our lazy Real Estate naming conventions and call the area WeCo (West of Cobble Hill).  Other consideration were Pok Pok City, and “That area where Pok Pok is”.  I used the latter to describe the location of Popina to my wife and friends.  No one around here heard of the Columbia Street Waterfront District.

Popina is the anti-Lilia.  Ever wonder why Lilia doesnt have a Michelin star by now?  Its simple.  Inspectors cant buy a reservation.  Ever since my meal there, its been notoriously difficult to get a table of any size.  But while the meal we had at Lilia left us very impressed, the place felt more like a neighborhood joint than one of those destinations you need to wait until midnight to reserve 30 days out.  Popina’s cooking approach and neighborhoody feel reminds me of Lilia in some ways.  But its their dedication to the neighborhood with their no reservation policy that will win the hearts of the local WeCos (See, its catching on already)

Popina Chicken

They dont come much tinier than this.  We sat comfortably by the bar, and by 7:45 or so on a Friday night the place filled up.  By 8, the wait was more than an hour.  Other than one or two bars nearby, there’s not a whole lot to do and drink in WeCo (Industrial funk, Red Hook-like zone).  Chris McDade and James O’brien are the two Maialino and Marta veterans opening their first restaurant.  Being under the guidance of Nick Anderer and co at Maialino can make all the difference in the world, and it showed

This is my kind of menu, a picky eater worst nightmare, and so WeCo!  Small and to the point.  Around 10 items all together, including only 2 secondis (mains).  Starters include terrific Arancini ladened with honey with hints of saffron.  Raw Bay Scallops with soppressata and pistachio the only dish that didnt work for me.  The Bay Scallops were just too large for the rest of the ingredients to catch up and balance that scallopy sweetness.  Maybe some more acid and pink peppercorns can help.

Much has been written about Popina being a mesh-up of Italian and Southern cuisine (McDade grew up in the south and speaks fluent Southern), but I’m just not seeing it.  The menu has all the look and feel of Italian with some subtle southern hints.  You wouldnt know that you are eating in a southern establishment unless someone told you.  And much has been said, for good reason, about the spicy Chicken Milanese that suggests that southern influence.  Its essentially a Schnitzel gone wild.  But for my taste it was the Pappardelle with Ham Hock that really showcases these guys capabilities.  Perfectly cut fresh Pappardelle, slow braised porky goodness, with no tomato to be found.  The kind of dish you may find in the hills of Piemonte.  Chocolate dessert is that proper finish one would expect here.  This is a GO!

Popina
127 Columbia St (Kane), WeCo, Brooklyn
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Arancini, Chicken, Pappardelle, Chocolate dessert

 

Categories: Brooklyn, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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