Posts Tagged With: restaurants

Pecking House – Birds of Paradise

I feel like sharing with you something very few know about me. You may want to sit down for this one. In 36 years of living in NYC I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. Tried once off the NJ side, saw the line and turned around. I figured since I live here I have all the time in the world to do it and she and I are not going anywhere. For the same reason it took me three years to try the Cronut. I was just passing by one day, saw no line, popped in and just bought one.

The FOMO thing just doesnt really work for me in NYC. Hype is often just that, a product of a marketing collaboration very few can afford. Maybe if I had lived in Bologna, I could see myself getting anxious to try a new Sichuan joint, and maybe miss an intimate Tortellini in Brodo filled evening. But NYC is the city of a million options, no matter the Borough. Yes dear friends, even on the island of Staten, I can now have decent Thai, Ramen, Filipino, best Sri Lankan, and maybe even the best Taquerias in NYC.

Pecking House, yet another product from an Eleven Madison Park alumni (see Milu) has spent three years as a pop-up in three boroughs before finding a permanent home in Park Slope. By that point the chili coated fried chicken already reached legendary status in NYC. A pop-up in this case doesnt mean the traditional kind. You had to add your name on a waiting list that meant waiting weeks sometimes. At some point there were close to 10,000 waiting for a crack at the bird. When your turn came you were assigned a day and time where you could pick up your order.

Pecking House

After one too many “Best Fried Chicken in NYC” calls, I’ll be lying if there wasnt any FOMO at all in this rare case. After a few years of hearing about it, I finally put my name on the list. But when my lovebird was ready I didnt make the effort to cancel all my plans for this. Over time FOMO evaporated and I forgot all about it. Even when the news of a permanent brick and mortar opening in Park Slope, I figured I’ll wait a few months and let the lines subside. But since Winter is Coming I couldnt wait too long.

It was almost disappointing when there was no line at all last Sunday, and I was able to easily snatch a table for two. Like at Milu you order up front, take a number and wait a few minutes that feel like hours for your order. The best way I can describe the chicken is this. They offer it naked (lightly seasoned, not spicy at all), Salted egg, and Chili flavor. The Chili was so satisfying, I may never try the other two, ever. It matches my taste like your old Nike shoes you still wear even though they have holes in them. Crispy without being too crispy, spicy without being too spicy, and just juicy enough.

Pecking House essentially perfected what the former colleagues at Milu do best. But that’s not all. Take the sides of a fast food place like Popeyes and see what Eleven Madison Park cooks can do with them. Most order the Dirty Fried Rice (dirty due to the rich chicken liver bits), and Mashed Potatoes with Duck Heart Gravy, rightfully so. But dont underestimate the Butter Bean Salad with an addictive sesame vinaigrette. The perfect order here for two is two two piece orders (one side each) and an extra side. Even the drinks here are elevated like the Elderflower Soda. If you enjoy putting Elderflower liquor on anything (good with bud light lime) you will enjoy this.

Pecking House
244 Flatbush Ave (Park Slope, Brooklyn)

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

House of the Red Pearl – A Hidden Dragon

I spend roughly 3% of my time at home looking for my glasses. Last time after an intense search I found them hanging on a shirt I was wearing. I spend more time looking for a particular item in the pantry or fridge. Half of the time I forget what the item was at some point, and sometimes the act is prompted by something totally unrelated. Like when I’m about to head out to rake the leaves, but open the fridge instead. You might as well take the eggs out and make a Shakshuka while you at it. “Why are you making Shakshuka, we just ate, and I asked you to rake the leaves”… “Remember when we talked about being more spontaneous?”.

Anywho, I didnt have to spend much time looking for the House of the Red Pearl because I knew exactly where it is. But unless you cheat, you can have an especially frustrating scavenger hunt looking for it in the new Tin Building by Jean-Georges. Since no one can pronounce or spell his last name, we simply refer to him as Jean-Georges, or JG. For the same reason it is easy to forget that Cedric of EWZ fave Wayan and Perry St. is JG’s son.

There used to be a time when a food hall would open in NYC, people paid attention. Nowadays, with more than 30 halls and food courts scattered all over town (Source: EWZ Research) you forget about it the day after opening. But Tin Building in South Street Seaport is worthy of a detour. I used to visit SSS when I was younger, but for the past 20 years or so, it has become a place we regrettably have to pass while biking to another place. But with the rejuvenated Pier 17, the openings of Momofuku Ssam, The Fulton (also by JG) and other notables, you may want to include SSS on your Brooklyn Bridge or Staten Island Ferry day. I wont go into detail describing Tin Building, except to say that the percentage of items I wanted to taste or purchase here is quite high. Its an elegant, and extremely thoughtful food hall.

If you thought that entering a Minetta Tavern takes you back to the Gilded Age, wait until you open the curtains of House of the Red Pearl. An old fashioned, yet modern Cantonese speakeasy. A movie set really, with some comparing to something you may see in a Bond flick, though for some reason Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came to mind. No reservations can be made yet, and I hope it stays that way. The building just started opening on Wednesdays after a soft opening so closed on Mondays and Tuesdays for now.

Much of the motivation behind the menu came from Jean-George’s time spent in Hong Kong. Wontons or Dumplings in Chinese restaurants rarely excite (unless of the soup variety). The Pork & Shrimp Wontons here did. Perfectly balanced, with just enough heat. Eggplant, cooked down to the consistency of Enoki Mushrooms, with beautiful scallion-garlic notes to match. Currently not on the menu but most definitely should be. Flavors reminiscent of Danji’s sick tofu. On a return visit there was zero question whether I’ll order the Bacon Fried Rice again. In fact it was the main reason for the return visit. One of the more complex fried rice dishes you’ll find in the city.

The hope is that they dont dumb down the menu over time as it gets its share of tourists. And that the larger dishes improve just enough to be on par with the small. The Stir Fried Lamb, seasoned well, but not quite the best Cumin Lamb version in NYC as Eater’s Sietsema states. Not enough cowbell. Mala Chicken, the spiciest item on the menu, wont exactly “Mala” your mouth and will probably get some heat for that from the die-hards, but its agreeable nonetheless and I would still order it again. The roasted monkfish was perfectly fried, though the accompanied sauce was a bit too pungent for the fish. We devoured it of course.

The mains will satisfy most, but not as flawless as the smaller dishes, and one particular dessert. Mango Sago Pudding is an especially proper finisher, and quite the looker as well to match the space. The House of the Red Pearl is unique, fun, and features an ingredient driven menu full of hits. Go!

House of the Red Pearl
96 South St, South Street Seaport
Recommended Dishes: Wontons, Fried Rice, Eggplant, Mala Chicken, Mango Sago Pudding

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

Milu – The New Age of NYC Fast Food

One block away from Milu, in Madison Square Park, you will find the original Shake Shack. Twenty years ago, Shake Shack transitioned from a hot dog cart to a kiosk selling burgers and shakes. And before you knew it, FOMO and long lines started to disrupt the local squirrel population. Today Shake Shack has 360 locations worldwide, including one 5 minutes away from my house. The chicken sandwich ranks up there, and the Smoke Shack, featuring the signature quality beef with applewood-smoked bacon, cherry peppers, and Shack Sauce is perhaps the finest fast food burger we have today.

But while Shake Shack revolutionized America’s burger culture, the original shack neighbor Milu may be in the early innings of reinventing American fast food as we know it. Its a tough task considering our obsession with the familiar. But if anyone can do it, its probably fine dining veterans and students of taste, Milu’s co-founders. The trio has an extensive combined resume, including stints at another famous neighbor, Eleven Madison Park.

We essentially have an Eleven Madison Park and Shake Sack love child. I dont have the slightest idea if the co-founders have any ambitions beyond this, although by all indication ambition isnt exactly lacking here. To open a Chinese fast food operation that is far from traditional Chinese food, and far from traditional fast food in an ultra competitive environment requires some major chutzpah. Even if they dont open another location, I’m rooting for these guys as there’s nothing quite like Milu out there.

Thats not to say you should expect big flavors that are in line with finer dining, and you can cancel your ressies at nearby Upland. Thats to say for $10-15 you can get a well crafted bowl of expertly cooked protein, rice and greens, usually Watercrest salad, or cucumber salad. Some may balk at the amount of protein, and abundance of veggies, but thats part of the idea. Make it tasty, cheap, and healthy(er). Another big benefit is the space. Fast food often involves rubbing elbows, noise, long lines, and pretending that you are comfortable eating in the park while telling every other stranger that the Hoisin sauce was on your shirt before. At Milu its as comfortable as it gets. Although at peak lunch time you may experience a full house, and a line.

After trying about half of the bowls, I settled on the Chili Crisp Chicken. Its not terribly spicy, and it helps to be familiar with Sichuan sodium levels. The Sichuan Cauliflower with the Seaweed salad is outstanding as well, and so is the Brisket. They used to offer a Sichuan fried chicken on Saturdays that was plenty hot, and ultra, dentist approved crispy, but I’m not sure if that’s still the case. You also have access to free water, a big indication that they value comfort/needs over $$$.

On occasion you do get a taste of Milu’s growing pains. Last time, my Mandarin Duck’s crispy skin was far from it, and while the meat was tender alright, there wasnt much of it underneath the skin. The terrific marinated cucumbers, and duck fat rice however helped curb the disappointment. Even at well oiled machine Shake Shack, you can get a bad burger sometimes.

But there’s more. Milu also offer products that will upgrade your pantry in a meaningful way. Chili oils, Soy, Hoisin, their own seasoning, and dumpling sauces. I probably purchased around half of them and pour their seasoning on just about everything I cook. Although they make their own Chili Crisp, perhaps the most notable (and expensive) item they sell is the Fly By Jing Chili Crisp. The added Umami with this Chili Crisp will transform your eggs and pastas into something as complex as figuring out Bronski Beat lyrics. I’m still trying after all those years.

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

Eating With Safta, in Denver

Eater

How do you lose ownership of your namesake restaurant. It happened to Alon Shaya in New Orleans. Shaya, the restaurant was considered by some, the best new restaurant in America in 2015, and Shaya the chef joined the A list of the American culinary world as a result. I still needed some convincing because the last thing I wanted to eat in NOLA was Israeli food. The second last thing happened to be pizza, which meant skipping Shaya’s other place, Domenica after many visits to NOLA. Both, as part of the Besh Restaurant Group at that time, seemed like slam dunks, but for New Yorkers its like eating Indian food in Bologna.

Everything was going smoothly for Alon Shaya, arguably the most successful Israeli chef in the USA today. The Michael Solomonov of the south if you will. Then the Me Too movement happened which shook the food industry. 25 women filed complaints against partner John Besh, and Shaya tried hard to disassociate himself from the group. Shaya wasn’t successful at keeping his namesake, but was able to replace it with two Israeli standouts, Saba (grandpa) in New Orleans, and Safta (grandma) in Denver.

At both Safta and Saba, women play a key role. Shaya gives homage to Israeli grandparents that brought influences from Middle East, Europe and North Africa. EatWithSaba and EatWithSafta are the social media handles and websites (hence the title), even though you are surrounded by the usual under 30 crowd, and there’s no gefilte fish in sight. Shaya is back on track. Right? Well, there are some groups out there pushing to rename “father”, “mother” into something more inclusive. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Talking about inclusive, coincidentally there’s a growing movement in Denver called “Judaism Your Way” which is pretty much what the name suggests. A do whatever the f#%k you want Jewish community that is reimagined, inclusive, and beyond reformed really. Instead of Bar or Bat Mitsvah, they offer a gender inclusive Be Mitzvah. You want to end your Yom Kippur fast at noon, no worries, we even offer water if needed at the services. Heck bring a Porchetta sandwich if you absolutely need. But since “exclusive” is not part of their dictionary, this is not the type that would cancel grandma.

“Here’s an idea, Ziggy. Maybe stick to food?”. Ok Ok! Safta’s strength is well documented, and in fact written all over the entrance in huge letters. “Pita + Hummus”. The pita and hummus is straight out of the Michael Solomonov (Zahav/Dizengoff) Israeli food for dummies playbook. Or is it the other way around. The pita here is a little crispier (perhaps reheated) but just as good as what you get in Philly. The hummus with lamb ragu was like a Hava Nagila in your mouth – the wedding version. Though much of the flavor came from the well crafted ragu.

You can even add “+ Falafel” to the wall. Golden crispy exterior, and creamier than your usual green interior. The Salatim (small, mezze like salads) is another thing from the Solomonov playbook, and every single one we tried was spot on. The Lutenitsa especially stood out, but I wouldnt skip the smoky Baba and the peppery Muhammara. You can have a satisfying meal with simply the dishes I mentioned so far.

Sometimes, when everything goes well in a highly acclaimed place, your get on a food high. Thats when any faults that follow become unnoticed, forgivable, or become apparent later. While the lamb shank’s flavor was spot on, the meat was a bit dry. For $44 thats a no-no. The duck confit tagine was fine, but again, on the dry side, and wont win any Tagine competitions. Harissa chicken was probably the best main, though not particularly exciting to New Yorkers, including in the looks dep’t. If you order more than one main, might as well add the Persian rice that can compliment just about all.

Desserts did not produce anything noteworthy. Although the lone dessert we didnt try, the Knafeh, may very well be the one to get. We just eat plenty of Knafeh back at home. The space is attractive, comfortable, and the drinks were well balanced. Safta is a solid B. And while the execution of the mains can use some work, I can see myself becoming a regular if I lived in Denver

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Upland – Make American Great Again

Notice the all important extra letter. This is not a political post. Quite the opposite actually. Its a celebration of our great uniter, American cuisine. Whatever that means. Since USA is relatively young compared to the rest of the world, its a bit complicated to define, even though you have enough examples of it (burgers, pastrami, bagels…). The label is often used more as a default when you cant call it anything else, except Italian in some cases. But we often categorize restaurants simply based on the origin of the owner/chef, as is the case with Upland.

Upland menu is as American or Italian as it gets in NYC, but it bills itself as Californian. Chef Justin Smillie who since left to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, named it after his hometown in California. Maybe its my software engineering background, as I like things to be orderly for search purposes among other reasons in this case, but is it really necessary to break down the American tag into states? I can only imagine the poor Google or Yelp engineers trying to figure out the impact of adding a new category or subcategory. Upland is the only restaurant in NYC currently labeled as such. Does the signature burger, a creative riff on In-N-Out has something to do with it? Is it the grilled peaches?

Perhaps its the seasonality. Though we do have a label for upmarket seasonal American: “New American”. An Italian visiting NYC for the first time, will feel more at home at the pizza and pasta dominated Upland than a Californian. Sometimes restaurateurs try to be cute, and differentiate themselves in a crowded field, but more often than not, its best to keep it simple. Be bold, but be proud. Its American. This is not a rant by the way, but an observation. Its a celebration, remember?

Upland is a bright star in the Philly based Starr group’s huge portfolio that includes names like Buddakan, Pastis, and of course, the shiniest of the stars, Jackass Burrito. Upland got everything going for it. A prime Flatiron location. A deep American and Italian greatest hits menu. A striking, high ceiling, trendy looking space. And unlike many of its peers, it survived the pandemic. Its the type of place you can bring a date, new coworker, or host a 70th birthday celebration. On a recent visit, we witnessed suits, and gym attire.

Whether you come for Brunch, lunch or dinner you will face a very full menu. Though for some reason the much hyped Burger is not available for dinner. The Pizza is exactly what you’d expect from a place like this, except in the case of Breakfast pizza at least you get double the listed ingredients. In addition to bacon, cheddar, egg you get Broccoli, Sausage, Onions and more. It worked just fine for us, but could be misleading for others.

The Shakshuka-like “Eggs in Hell” had a nice flavor but missing something like sausages, or potatoes. The reason that shakshuka works on its own is that you usually get a nice fluffy pita and the eggs are more prevalent. While a dining companion was not looking I borrowed one of her breakfast sausages that made a big difference. Desperate times, desperate measures. This is the only miss from the two recent visits.

In some ways Upland reminds me of Via Carota. A jack of all trades, master of all. Solid pizzas, solid pastas, solid everything else. I couldnt fault anything with the Pappardelle with spicy sausages. And the Bucatini Cacio e Pepe were the best I’ve had in NYC since, well, Via Carota. Maybe even better since not quite as salty.

There are very few starters as satisfying as a nice Stracciatella with honey and grilled peaches. The combination here works so well, making the added Shishito peppers (both turned out spicy) unnecessary. The Duck Wings is a trend setter. I started seeing them more and more since Upland opened. The skin is crispy, well seasoned, while the dark flesh easily falls apart. You know its good as soon as you start operating.

But the best dish on the menu might be surprisingly the cod, and that may not have anything to do with the cod. The flaky fish, while mildly discolored, is expertly cooked. But the mixture of Fregula (Californian for Israeli Couscous), calamari and bits of chorizo really elevate the dish.

Extra brownie points for serving delicious fluffy bread with butter without charge. Refreshing to see these days. Solid drinks, nice atmosphere. In super competitive Flatiron, Upland is still a solid choice for American (with subtle Idaho hints). Its a Go!

Upland
345 Park Ave S (26th), Flatiron
Recommended Dishes: Pappardelle, Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Duck Wings, Stracciatella, Cod, Budino

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

Four Gems in/near Alberobello

Lets get the puns out of the way. The Trulli town of Alberobello is truly magnificent. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Puglia’s main selling points. After the initial shrug of “why Puglia, what’s there”, all you need to do is show pictures of some random Trulli, followed by pictures of Polignano a Mare, followed by a church in the shape of a Trullo, and before you know it, she’s shopping for yellow dresses.

Spending two nights in Trulli Disney in a Trullo was an unforgettable experience. The only thing we forgot was Mrs Z’s (and mine) favorite bra hanging behind the bathroom door. But the touristy nature of the town made it a bit more challenging to find good food. Unlike food heaven Ceglie Messapica, I did not get the sense that Alberobello is known for its cuisine, hence half of the places mentioned here are actually in the nearby town of Noci.

Al Boschetto in Noci – Fantastic find. We stopped here for lunch on the way from Matera as I was looking for a safe place to park with luggage. Unfortunately in Italy you have to think about that. A sprawling, old school, formal without the formal prices type. We were the only tourists in a packed house on a Monday afternoon, with clientele ranging from the business type and nonnas who lunch. They had an American celebrity spotting not too long ago and I swore not to tell. Frankly I forgot who it was anyway.

This is where we started questioning the amount of food we ordered the rest of the trip. One needs to come to Puglia just to experience the thrill of the house antipasti, an array of 6 to 20 small plates that most restaurants we visited offered. Here it was a brilliant combination of all sorts of salami (Martina Franca Capocollo of course), cheese, fried goodies, marinaded veggies and more. Extra brownie points for offering us to half the pastas when the waiter noticed we were making funny full noises, which we gladly accepted. Tagliatelle with seafood was the undisputed winner among the Primis. Highly recommend.

L’antica Locanda in Noci – This is a popular “Slow Food” legend that required me to reserve well ahead from home, via phone. Parking was a little challenging in Noci, especially with two cars in our case, but we managed. The town seemed quite busy with a picturesque square and a tourist free old town. You know there are no other tourists by the “are you lost?” stares.

While we were eating, heard some fireworks nearby, probably to commemorate Johnny Depp’s court win. Or maybe I just heard them in my head after tasting the pear, ricotta, rum dessert. A deadly combination and solid contender for best dish of the night. The Plin-like Raviolini was exceptional, as were the scrumptious meats. A very solid meal all around probably deserving its own dedicated post.

Il Guercio di Puglia in Alberobello – I suppose it should not surprise anyone that most places on this post arent in tourist central Monti area, the busiest of the two Unesco zones in Alberobello. Il Guercio is located in the newer part of the city. We noticed that after the day visitors are gone in Monti so is the electricity. The evenings are as dead as the current Nasdaq bounces (trying.. not… to… look). Il Guercio on the other hand, got fairly busy after 9 pm, so make reservations or come as soon as they open.

The specialty here is “Pinsa”, one of several Roman style pizzas. It’s a long oval shape, thicker but fairly airy dough. Its not terribly different than pizza to be called something else (same goes for New Haven Apizza) but I can see why they would. It features a quality crust and top notch ingredients including of course Martina Franca Capocollo. We had to order it because the stand alone Capocollo (Gabagool in “Brooklyn Italian”) we had every other day was not on pizza.

La Lira Focacceiria in Alberobello – People often ask on the boards what else is there to eat in Italy besides pasta and pizza. Well, lets see, there’s also Focaccia, Trapizzino, Puccia, Pinsa, Lasagne, Calzone.. La Lira specializes in Focaccia and Puccia, another form of a pizza sandwich, the Puglia answer to the Roman Trapizzino.

Out of the Puccia we tried in Puglia and Matera this was the best one. Though the stuffed focaccia sandwiches were even better. Another reason to come for this busy take-out is for the animated owner.. “Now wait outside until you hear Puccia!! Like this… PUCCIA!!!!”. No tables outside means “trully” take-out. Ok, I’m done.

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

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: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cibus – Slow Food City

I’m one of those who doesnt subscribe to the idea of asking locals for food recommendations. This is popular advice that works for many people, and in some places like small villages. But if you ask my neighbor in NYC for food recommendations, she would send you to the nearest Olive Garden branch. Personally I prefer to get acquainted with the local a little to make sure their tastes align with mine to some degree. Our host in Lecce gave us fantastic sounding seafood recommendation, until I learned the next day she doesn’t really eat seafood, her favorite exotic foreign food is hamburger, and she likes her steak well well done (chills). While this distrust can be a blessing and a curse, a serial food researcher like myself usually arrives at the destinations with not only an arsenal of possibilities but the knowledge of what to order in each one. Good or bad, that’s how I roll.

With that said, it didnt take long to learn that Pierluigi, our host at the splendid Masseria Spetterrata is the sort of food and wine enthusiast I can trust. When he talked to us about cities we should visit, I started finishing his sentences. “… and if you into food you should go to Ceglie Messapica and…”, me: “Cibus!”, “Oh… you know Cibus? You are the first guest that knows Cibus”. A surprising comment considering the legendary status of the place. But the way his eyes started to bulge, I figured the dude got more fine picks up his sleeves, or he has some sort of a thyroid issue. Later on I gladly accepted his more local recommendations, with Ristorante Mezzofanti in Cisternino being the most successful of the bunch.

Cibus was just shy of flawless, but had all the triumphant qualities you’d expect from a Slow Food legend. Cibus was in fact the first Puglia establishment to receive the Snail designation in the 90’s. But the first thing you should know about Cibus is that its located in Ceglie Messapica, the proud food capital of Puglia. A sleepy gem almost as striking as the much more touristy white towns of Ostuni, Locorotondo, and Cisternino. In fact when we strolled around the old city, we were practically alone in some corners. It is believed that its impossible to eat badly here. Yet, many establishments that struggled mightily during the pandemic, had to shut their doors.

As with most restaurants we visited in Puglia, the menu usually starts with one item, perhaps the most important one, Entrata di piccoli antipasti del territorio, a selection of small local appetizers. This is not your typical selection in a restaurant in Italy. Compared to the rest of the country, in Puglia, its often an eye popping tour de force selection of local cold cuts like Martina Franca Capocollo, cheeses, cooked or raw seasonal veggies, fried goodies, various salads often featuring more local cheeses, and pretty much anything and everything you can fit on a tapas size plate. Before you know it, you are showered with small plates covering the entire table and you start questioning “what have I done”.

You essentially have an environment where every place tries to outdo its neighbors in quality and quantity (number of plates). The “Antipasti for two” you’ll see in most menus is really for two to four depending on the place. This created an ordering challenge for much of the trip as we would often get full even by the Primi course. In Puglia, sharing is caring and key, and skipping the antipasti course could lead to hot flashes and sleepless nights.

In Cibus, the said antipasti course is a feast to all senses. A shockingly earthy baked eggplant that tasted almost like a mushroom. A stringy Stracciatella with black truffles. Zucchini flowers with ricotta and toasted almonds. Giuncata, a soft, ricotta like cheese made from various milks topped with jam. Wheat salad, and more. Just when you think they stopped and its safe to take a photo, here comes more.

The oohs and ahhs did not stop there. Orecchiette with Stracciatella, cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and Cegliesi almonds was a pleasant reminder that you are in Puglia, in the summer. Lasagnariccia, a perfectly deconstructed Lasagna offshoot with eggplant is the best eggplant parmigiana you will ever eat. And just when you thought you’ve seen every pasta shape, comes Sagnapenta, a chewy, slightly thicker than Bucatini, with aged ricotta cheese and fried breadcrumbs. This was enjoyable but the strong cheese a bit overpowering for some of our palates.

Since we somehow managed to miss Bombette (stuffed meat rolls) in the Bombette capital of Cisternino even though we were there on two evenings, I had to order the mixed meat platter with veal Bombette and sausages. While the Bombette were solid, I kept reaching for the splendid sausages. The ultra tender donkey stew you can cut with a hard stare was another winner. Its cooked for 10 hours, but tastes like 20. Scrumptious desserts sealed the deal, leaving you in a food euphoria for the rest of the day. Just what the doctor ordered for our anniversary. That and some antibiotics after a mouth surgery.

This is why we travel.

Categories: Italy, Puglia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cote – Korean Meat Erotica in the Flatiron

Cote FeastWhat do you give a girl that has everything?  What do you give a city that has everything?  The answer to both is Steak!  Its hard to go wrong with steak.  But Simon Kim of the Michelin Starred Italianish Piora just upped the ante.  Instead of opening just another steakhouse or just another Korean, or Korean BBQ, he created a new concept, a Korean Steakhouse.  Elevated Korean BBQ in a modern, sexy setting in Flatiron.

Its food porn, with a slight emphasis on the latter in this case, “porn”.  It starts as soon as you walk in and settle in the bar, and kicks up a notch when you go down to the basement.  You cant help but stare at the aging steak hanging in the red lit room behind the glass while listening to the soft porn jazz in the background.  Its the meat lover red light district.  The theme continues upstairs where you are presented with the said meat by a team of sharp looking Chippendales.

The bottom line in this post (recommended dishes) is a single item: Butcher’s Feast.  Four very different cuts cooked right in front of you, accompanied by a plethora of Banchan – side dishes.  I would like to meet the people that reported leaving hungry after ordering the feast.  The waiter starts us off with the aged Ribeye that comes with its cap dangling.  The cap, the Ron Jeremy of meats, the least appetizing meat out there, which is why you rarely see it anywhere.  But its arguably the best tasting part of the cow.  Bowery Meat Company in the Bowery uses only cap to for its infamous Bowery Steak, one of the most expensive hockey puck meats in NYC.Cote Meat

The feast continues with the Hanger, followed by a well marbled Wagyu Flatiron (when in Flatiron..), and Galbi, as the “meat dessert”.  Galbi is short rib marinated with soy and sugar.  A curious but logical finisher to the meat course.  By that point of the meal, the entire family flipping those meats like the pros that we are.  Three days later, the oldest makes her first egg over easy.  A week later, our kitchen is in desperate need of a paint job.

It was difficult to keep track of the accompanied sides in this one.  The egg souffle was a particular winner, along with the funky preserved Korean Perilla Leaves.  And I could happily dip my car keys in that spicy Ssamjang sauce if they let me, once we are done with the meat.  Then came the stews, the lettuce, the rice, and the question…  Did I really need to order that Kimchi Wagyu “Paella”.  A fine $28 dish that can easily lose itself in the shuffle, and not all that necessary if you get the Feast.  The feast ends with soft serve which I estimated will please 98.4% of patrons

Simon created something trendy and cool that even the trendy and cool haters can appreciate.  I suppose some traditional steak lovers may find fault with the execution.  And I suppose Korean BBQ aficionados may find issues with the delivery or pricing.  But for the rest of us, this is culinary entertainment at its finest.

Cote
16 W 22nd St (5/6), Flatiron
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Butcher’s FeastCote Meat room

Cote

Eater

Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A Ducky in East Village Dishes out Killer Goat

Ducks Eatery logo

 

June 17, 2018 Update

The annual much anticipated Z-List update is coming up soon so I figured I’ll give you a little preview.  Much anticipated in my household that is.  Something tells me Jean-Georges Vongerichten is not exactly losing sleep on this.  But who knows, I may be wrong

You gotta love places with a signature dish.  And then you really gotta love places with so many “classics” on the menu, you dont even need to order the signature dish.  I was having dinner at at Vietnamese place the other day, my second time there, and I came out as puzzled as ever about its must order dishes.  While at Ducks Eatery, you salivate at the usual suspects… ribs, wings, goat neck, and after the latest mini feast, smoked duck salad, and just about the most outrageous “Rice and Beans” you’ll find in NYC. Not many do the American classics better in NYC

July 23, 2017 Post

You can get goat all over the city, especially in Indian restaurants.  But Google “Goat Neck NYC” or “Smoked Goat Neck NYC” and see how many results come up.  Go ahead I’m waiting.  You will get many results, but all pointing to one place…  Ducks Eatery.  Thats because Ducks is the only place in NYC that offers it.  Why?  I’m not sure.  But one bite out of that thing makes you wonder.  Perhaps at this stage, its impossible for any chef with some integrity to add something like this to the menu without any infringement.  Its a revelation of sorts.  A level of tenderness and succulence I havent experienced in NYC, or at least not in a while.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Guy Fieri.  But on occasion I cross paths with him in my writings.  Perhaps to the point of “maybe I should start watching those DDD’s” ( I even forget what they stand for.  Drives, Diners, and Divas?).  So instead of trying to give this the proper justice with fancy food words like divine and OMFG, I will just refer you to this DDD clip which describes this dish and its inspiration very well.  As you see, making this goat requires 59 easy steps, a culinary degree, with a minor in economics.  It makes the price ($36) look like a robbery (where I’m the robber).  You may also want to watch Fieri in another EWZ favorite, Gazala’s Place in Midtown  Ducks Eatery Goat Neck

I suppose if you are a carnivore, that video is all you need.  My job is done here.  But I need to make it to at least 350 words or else its “No pastrami for you” the next time I’m at Z-List fave, and East Village tour staple Harry & Ida’s (Will and Julie Horowitz own Ducks and Harry & Ida’s).  So what should we talk about to fill the gap.  There’s apparently a front moving according to the news.  What happens when a front stops moving.  Is it still a front?  Or does it need to move by definition?  They never report on fronts that stay still, I dont believe.  You never hear “we have a front that is stuck for 3 days outside the Maryland coast”

I suppose I should also mention that the dry rubbed St. Louis Ribs here sport a beautiful red hue and would make any Texan blush (because of the East Village crowds).  And the wings here are gorgeously jerked and pepper-corned, and are going straight into the NYC Wings Hall of Fame.  We ordered another round.  This is serious BBQ folks.  But all of this including the seafood items like the fine smoked trout take on a supporting role after the most beautiful neck this side of Ibiza.

sfdef1Apparently its called a Stationary Front.  Where two air masses collide and neither strong enough to move each other.  Sort of like drunk sumo wrestlers leaning against each other.  But at some point they simply fall down and get dragged out of the rink ending in a tie.  But not before they piss on themselves.

Ducks Eatery
351 E 12th St (1st ave), East Village
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Goat Neck, Trout, Ribs, Wings, duck sa just get the Goat Neck

Ducks Eatery RibsDucks Eatery TroutDucks Eatery Wings

 

Categories: East Village, New York City | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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