Posts Tagged With: Travel

The Pure Thai Cookhouse Survival Guide

Pure Thai RatchaburiI started this blog in 2012, about 2 years after Pure Thai Shophouse opened on 9th ave.  Yes, it was called Shophouse back then, until two lawyers from Chipotle walked inside demanding a name change.  Little Pure Thai was apparently a threat to Chipotle’s brand spanking new Asian Kitchen Shophouse brand.  And what do you know, the threat was apparently real.  Long time readers of this blog know the story.  The initial idea was to create a sense of a Thai street Shophouse-like environment inside.  The place is after-all “if you sneeze you may miss it” tiny, cramped, slightly uncomfortable, and sometimes even smells a little.  My type of place.  But if not your type, this post may help.

It feels like Pure has been open a while longer considering how many times I’ve been there (somewhere between 50-100).  I used to go there with co-workers whenever I felt like it, until it got so popular that we would need to leave the office at 11:45, 15 minutes before opening.  We would sometimes even have practice drills and those who’d fail would be on a three month lunch probation.  Over the years, I’ve seen it become a lot more popular with tourists.  When I get emails from visitors (tour inquiries, hate mail, marriage proposals, etc), Pure is mentioned more than any other place.  But not only I’m glad its successful, I couldnt keep it a secret if I wanted to.  In the great sea of 9th ave Thai, there’s really nothing like it.  And while establishments next door are adjusting to mass tourism with increased prices and smaller portions, Pure continues to do it the only way they know how

Pure Thai Pork

Pure Thai Pork

There’s a reason why Pure has been on the Hell’s Kitchen Survival Guide from day one.  If you are simply after rainbow colored curries, and the basic Pad, Pure may not be the right place.  But as I will mention again soon, if there’s a curry dish on that board in the back, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th.  Pure’s specialty is noodles, soups and old family, and regional recipes from all over Thailand.  Here’s a little noob guide to help you take advantage of this little gem

When to come:  As I mentioned this place has gotten very popular over the years.  If I’m solo I come whenever I want.  Two people can try as well with a solid backup option in mind (Danji).  They will call you when your table is ready if theres a long wait (plenty of bars on 9th).  But most convenient time is right when they open (noon), or 2:30 to 4:30 pm

What to expect:  You can look at the pictures to get a sense of the type of space.  Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet in NYC.  The staff functions like a family, some of which have been there for a while.  Sometimes they close for a few days for a retreat in a house they own upstate NY.  While I never felt totally uncomfortable there, this is as far as it gets from Michelin comfort.  You may sit on tiny stools, sharing a tiny table, staring at your partner or an old Thai action movie poster.  And then there’s the 80’s Thai disco to complete the moodPure Thai

What to order:  The reason for this post….

Green Papaya Salad – This is a classic Thai dish that you can get everywhere including all over 9th ave.  But Pure’s version is… well, pure, loaded with addictive heat and dried shrimp.  If you never had a Papaya Salad before, you came to the right place.

Roasted Baby Back Ribs – These ribs wont win the coveted Crazy Roscoe BBQ championship any time soon (Ok, I totally made that up), but this is finger licking magic, loaded with bean paste, oyster sauce, sesame, sitting on top of the luckiest lettuce on the planetPure Thai Ribs

Jungle Curry Fried Rice With Chicken – Some of the best simple looking fried rice dishes you’ll find in the city.  Fragrant, and spicy (notice a trend?  It ends soon).  Serves as a great side dish or main.

Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles – This is the Oprah Winfrey of the Pure dishes.  A dish liked by everyone.  A specialty of Ratchaburi region, where one of the owners (wife) hails from.  Its very mild and so a safe dish for the heat challenged, but satisfying enough for those seeking bolder flavors.  Scoop up the broth to the top and mix this baby well.

Pure Thai Ratchaburi

Wok Curry Paste With Pork (second from top)- More delicious heat.  Loaded with the best of Thai… string beans, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, green peppercorn, basil, and kaffir lime curry sauce.  One of my favorite Wok dishes here, along with the Chili Turmeric With Beef, and Roasted Chili With Shrimp

Sukhothai Pork Noodles Soup – One of my favorite soups in Hell’s Kitchen.  It got the depth, the aroma and all kinds of pork action.  Three different textures of pork in fact including craklings.Pure Thai Sukhothai

Special – When you come in, treasure awaits on the board in the back.  The mains are more exciting.  Often beef or shrimp sauteed with some kind of spicy paste, market fresh veggies, Jasmine rice, and a fried egg.  And as I mentioned before, if its curry, it instantly becomes the best curry on 9th.

Mango or Pumpkin Sticky Rice – Possibly the most important tip here since you can easily miss it.  Its the lone dessert, always on the board as a special.  Sometimes its Mango, Pumpkin and sometimes both.  Served on top of sticky rice, with sesame and coconut milk on banana leaf.  Its warm, with just enough sweetness, and simply heavenly.

Thai Iced Tea – Goes without saying.  This is a good one

Pure Thai Pumpkin

Pure Thai Cookhouse - Curry Special

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

10 Tips for Venice

italy 2010 1308Warning:  Some of these are tips you will see just about everywhere else.  I figured if I issue the warning I can easily get away with it.  But at the same time let some of this serve as a strong emphasis.

Stay for a while

I’ll start with the obvious, but perhaps the most important tip.  There are many tourist cities that merit staying longer, but this place demands it even more.  Venice is mostly enjoyed by day trippers and cruisers who spend the entire time in San Marco area, and then complain that Venice is way too crowded.  And while they marvel at the San Marco area sights, they often miss Venice’s most important attraction, Venice.  Venice’s main appeal is being one of the most unique places on earth.  Being there in the morning, and at night helps, but staying at least 4 days with a day trips to Murano/Burano and perhaps Padua is key to give this place any justice.

Location, Loca

No, its not a mistake.  I’m  listing half of the usual “Location, Location, Location” you see everywhere else because that is exactly what it deserves, half.  Venice is compact.  The only time we used the Vaporetto last time is when we had no choice but cross the canal to San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the islands.  Granted we stayed in a very central location this time, but it was more coincidental, and not that important to us.  You can walk from the train station to St Marks, which looks quite far on the map, in 30 minutes.  While location can be important, half of Venice as the title suggests can be considered in a good location, maybe more.  And going back to the previous point, you are walking in Venice after all, not Cleveland.  But you need to stay in Venice and not Mestre or Cleveland

Stay here

This one is very specific, but a tip nonetheless.  Ca’ Amadi is a gem.  Its the most central middle of nowhere place you will ever find.  Its tucked inside the kind of courtyard that as a stranger you want to immediately turn around when you reach it, but as a guest, its a very welcoming and convenient retreat.  Risking hypocrisy after the previous tip, this is really as central as it gets in Venice.  You are within 20 minutes from just about anywhere.  The rooms are roomy, modern, comfortable and mostly quiet (Yes, canal rooms are indeed romantic, but remember, their canals is the roads).  And its also believed that Marco Polo himself used to live there as his family owned a few homes in the area.  So dont be surprised if your food exploration sense gets a sudden shock, and you find yourself one day Cicchettiing like a maniacIMG_7143

Read this

There are countless of food blogs out there including I suppose the one you reading right now.  But there’s only one blogger as of this writing that actually lives in Venice and understands the Venice food scene and dynamics better than anyone.  And yes, some of the tips you’ll find in my blog came from the talented Nicoletta Fornaro of Naturally Epicurean.

https://www.naturallyepicurean.org/home

Visit Burano

This may be obvious to some but not all.  Some may even elect to take it slow and skip it or visit just one of the islands like Murano, since its usually mentioned in the same breath.  But the island of Burano is not only one of Venice’s best gems, its one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen.  There are very few places in Europe that I describe as “Movie Sets”.  Sintra, Dubrovnik, Cesky Krumlov are some.  A smack in the face as soon as you get off the boat, and you dont stop smacking until you get off the island or restrained.  Have lunch at Trattoria alla Maddalena in the serene island of Mazzorbo just over the bridge.  And then head to Torcello

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Dont Get Lost

Its understandable what everyone means by “Get Lost”, and so I’m not exactly opposing that.  Getting lost in the narrow callis of Venice can be fun and rewarding, but that magic can quickly disappear if you cant eventually find your way, risking that all too familiar look from the wife.  Venice can be tricky to navigate.  And if you havent made Google Maps your best travel companion by now, its not too late.  You can download the map of Venice back at home and use it off-line.  Its easy to use and it works.  And its also effective with your water transportation needs in Venice.  I could have made a beautiful collage of bridges with people standing on top struggling with their paper maps.

Explore Via Garibaldi

At some point these calles and bridges may start to all look familiar, until you get to eye popping Via Garibaldi.  There’s nothing like it in Venice.  A wide, very wide for Venice standards, street filled with local life and old charm.  Like you suddenly stepped inside another UNESCO heritage site.  This is that “Laundry Hanging” moment you’ve been looking for.  But dont stop there.  Go all the way and cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro where you may really be the only tourist there.

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Do the Cicchetti thing

No, its not a special dance, but more of a way of life.  Its the Venetian answer to the aperitivo, or Spanish tapas, but quite more than that.  Its an important part of Venice that you can easily miss when you give Venice one or two days.

Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

Do your food homework kids

Although plenty have done it successfully, this is not the place to explore and stumble on the first thing that looks good.  Its an incredibly touristy town with a bad food reputation, perhaps for good reason.  But the lagoon is rich with wonderful seafood, producing some of the best array of seafood restaurants we encountered anywhere.  If you or your spouse is not a seafood lover, you have my condolences.  But if any town can convert you, its this one.  Its the only place where we eat non stop and never gain any weight.  So, you can find hidden gems on your own, or take the safe route and let uncle Ziggy guide you.  Here’s a good starting point….

Osteria alle Testiere
Osteria Alla Frasca
Osteria Enoteca Ai Artisti
Antiche Carampane
Trattoria alla Maddalena in Mazzorbo (Burano)
L’Osteria di Santa Marina
CoVino
Anice Stellato
Trattoria Da Jonny

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Plan Sensibly, follow your instincts.

You dont have to follow the masses anywhere, but it especially rings true for Venice.  Venice is loaded with hidden gems and mesmerizing monuments, and simply following the herd risks missing much of that.  Doge’s Palace is stunning indeed, but that means you’ll be spending a lot of time indoors in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Instead, something like Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the nearby Frari may fit your plan better.  Many flock to the Peggy Guggenheim museum just because it is very highly rated.  But after two visit, I find the collection and building rather dull and just not for me (Let the comments commence…).  Come up with a sensible plan that includes exploring some or most of the neighborhoods, and experiences like music in a church, or a food tour.  See Venice from above from San Giorgio Maggiore bell tower, and Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store terrace.  Visit Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the hospital next door.

Wear comfortable shoes, and remember to Enjoy!

Seriously Ziggy?  Not really.  This is the 11th tip that is not really a tip.  The type of tip that normally makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I see it.  Can someone explain what exactly “Remember to Enjoy” mean?  If I can somehow click on a magical enjoy button, why do I need any other tip.  Do you go to sleep sometimes on vacation thinking, “damn it, I forgot to enjoy”.  And besides maybe aunt Betty’s house is there a place on this planet where you dont need to wear comfortable shoes?  Two of the most overused travel cliches out there

Enjoy! 😉

ZiggyIMG_7520

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

Best Ramen Dishes in Hell’s Kitchen

Ivan Ramen - Chicken PaitanYes, I know, I’m about 24 hours late on this.  Its beginning to feel a lot like spring here compared to what we experienced the previous 4 days.  Today I can finally wear just enough layers and headgear to be recognizable and to comfortably go to the bathroom during tours.  And I dont need to inspect the mummies I’m with every 30 minutes to make sure these are the people I’m touring with

Although during this cold spell I’ve been craving mostly Thai and Vietnamese soups, Ramen is usually the more common medicine.  So for the latest issue of W42st, that colorful magazine you see all over Hell’s Kitchen, I wrote about my favorite Ramen dishes in a neighborhood that is perhaps most Ramen heavy in NYC today.  Remember the four pillars of Hell’s Kitchen:  Ramen, Mexican, Thai and Gay bars.  Come to think of it, Gay bars is the only one I didnt write about.  I’m on it.

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop (top)- While the average folk go for the classic dishes that made Ivan famous, savvy W42st readers should opt for the latest and greatest.  The richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness.

Yuzu-Kosho Ramen at Mentoku – Solid Ramen with no wait in Hell’s Kitchen is like finding a parking spot within 30 minutes.  Love the way they cut that Chasu so thin, and that spicy, zesty Yuzu paste carries some serious depth.

Spicy Ramen at Totto (bottom)- Its that complex spicy sesame oil that transforms this thing into an umami of flavors.  On a really cold day, it doesnt get much better than this.  Ok, maybe Turks and Caicos.

Akamaru Modern at Ippudo – Its a good time to catch up with your virtual friends while waiting for your table.  Two hours later you can return the favor by posting this sumptuousness.

Tonkatsu with Spicy Black Garlic Sauce at Hide-Chan Ramen – If you like it ultra rich and porky, it doesn’t get much richer than this. Get the fried chicken too while you’re at it.

totto-spicy-ramen

Categories: Midtown West, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Trattoria alla Maddalena {Burano} – Best Value in Venice?

Trattoria alla Maddalena - mixed seafoodDuring my Brooklyn tours, we visit one of my favorite stores in NYC, Vintage in Brighton Beach.  Its Turkish owned featuring sweets and various foods from all over Europe and Middle East.  And every time I’m inside, it doesnt take long before I find myself staring at a particular brand of ice cream in the fridge, reminiscing about what I could only indulge in about once a year as a child.  Same type of thoughts come moments earlier when we visit Coney Island.  “Awwwwee”, said no one.  But today, in my late 30’s (ok, 47 to be exact), I can afford to eat one of those babies more than once a year.  And I do cherish every one of those moments.

You dont have to grow up poor to appreciate the little things in life, and good value.  A part of that is still in you.  But it does help.  After spending 6 days in Venice, two things seemed fairly clear.  I most likely saved the worst for last.  Meaning I wasnt overly excited about the last food choices, and things just couldnt possibly get any better.  Second thought was that I forget how expensive is Venice.  Maybe not NYC and London prices, but certainly above almost all Italian cities we visited.  Especially, possibly unfairly compared to neighbors like Sicily and Croatia for example.  But on the last day, things shockingly got better and for lunch at least, a whole lot cheaper.  I inadvertently saved the best for last

Trattoria alla Maddalena - Gnocchi

Burano – Now I understand!  It will make you forget about that Murano place you visited moments ago.  Like a slap in the face movie studio as soon as you get off the boat.  But its {probably} best to get off the Disney-like island for food as deliciousness awaits just across the bride on the sleepy island of Mazzorbo.  It is home to the Michelined Venissa and its vineyard.  And quietly playing second fiddle is the exceptional Trattoria alla Maddalena.  I dont know why I came with low expectations but I’m glad I did.

After a great start, a sizable plate of delicious mussels and clams, we were greeted with the most unique mixed seafood plate of the trip (we had a few).  A brilliantly balanced combination of flavors and textures.  Various kinds of large shrimp, small shrimp with grilled white polenta.  Polenta in all shapes and sizes frequent the menus of Venice and this was the best we’ve had.  There was an amazing Bacalau-like spread made from a rare fish (to me at least) called Dentice.  A fresher than fresh octopus salad.  And something they made from eggs of Sepia that tasted like crab that I couldnt get enough.Trattoria alla Maddalena - clams and mussels

Another thing we couldnt get enough of in Venice is simply prepared seafood pasta and gnocchi, and the gnocchi with crab here was another succulent hit.  Monkfish, like a good Skate, can be so delicious when fresh and just simply grilled.  I regretted not having more prior to this one.  In Venice, Panna Cotta is another item you want to consider every other meal or so (when taking a break from the incredible Tiramisus here), and this one topped with strawberry compote did not disappoint.

Add to that a plate of mixed veggies, a cheaper than water carafe of house white and the final bill of 86 Euros.  We had another great meal the same night for almost double that amount, and just about every such full meal we had was above and in some cases way above 100.  This was closer to the value we found just across the pond in Croatia earlier this year.  This is another major GO!

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Top 10 Dishes of 2017

Nur Eggplant

Lobster Fra Diavolo at Nishi.  A beautiful mammoth mess consisting of 1.5 lb flash fried salt and pepper coated lobster on a bed of garlic, chili and XO infused spaghettoni (emphasis on the chili).  Lobster comes cracked and ready to easily fish out perfectly cooked meat, while the escaped crunchy Tempura flakes adds some texture to the pasta.  Its a $62 triumph.

Nishi - Lobster Fra Diavolo

Chicken Paitan at Ivan Ramen – Not the Ramen that made Ivan famous, but the one that may convert the nonfans.  The richness and deliciousness of a Tonkotsu without the heaviness that follows sometimes.  The only dish other than the classics that broke the rule and became available in both Ivan Ramen locations.

ivan-ramen-chicken-paitan

Chengdu Fish Fillet With Pickle Vegetable at Legend of Taste – A spice loving family of 4 can easily share this outrageously delicious Szechuan soup.  I shared it with 6 and 4 in different visits.  Plenty of flaky flounder and chewy Enoki Mushroom.  Pleasant heat sneak up at you.  Even good an hour later when it cools down.  Only problem with this legend is that its in Whitestone, Queens.

legend-of-taste-chengdu-fish

Smoked Goat Neck at Ducks Eatery – A revelation of sorts.  Dont know why it took me so long to try it.  It may sound like something that is not everyone’s cup of goat, but once you see what goes into this dish, it may be hard to resist.  It redefines tenderness, succulence, and simply outstanding all around.  The only restaurant in NYC that serves this dish.

Ducks Eatery Goat Neck

Skate Wing at Gloria – Very few things in life can be as satisfying as a well cooked Skate.  Seems like once a year or so these days I score a good one.  At Gloria the skate is simply seared with butter and sprinkled with magic dust.  Opened by two Contra alumni, Gloria is the best thing that opened in Hell’s Kitchen since Gotham West Market.

Gloria Skate Wing

Eggplant Carpaccio at Nur (top)– Maybe the best looking dish out of the bunch, and the only vegetarian this time.  Like a Baba Ganoush gone wild.  Smoky, creamy, crunchy at times, and something you just want to “Scarpetta” the heck out of.  Not every spoonful is the same.  Chef Meir Adoni is sort of a legend in Israel opening his first in NYC, and just knows how to handle those veggies.

Snow Crab in Chinese Restaurant at Pinch Chinese – This is one of those dishes that you continue to think about months later, sometimes even at inappropriate moments.  Glass noodles with heaps of crab, dressed with an outrageously delicious fermented bean sauce with chilies and scallions.  The crab was plentiful but almost plays second fiddle to the noodles with sauce.  Pinch is an underrated gem in Soho

Pinch Chinese Crab in Chinese Restaurant

Sizzling Sisig at Pig and Khao – East Village and Lower East Side is slowly transforming into Sisigville (pig’s face parts come sizzling and topped with egg yolk).  And the best Sisig I had is at this Filipino inspired celebrity chef Leah Cohen’s flagship.  Very nice depth, flavor packed, and not as strong tasting as other Sisigs.  No additional sauce needed for this one.

Pig and Khao Sisig

Laab Ped Udon at Ugly Baby – Maybe the best thing to open this year is this fiery Brooklyn Thai from an old Brooklyn friend.  And this larby Duck Salad is one of the classics early on.  Complex, addictive heat, and unlike any Larb or larb-like salad you will ever have.  Spice level is fairly high in all dishes here, but in particular in those that have words like “Spicy” in the description.

Ugly Baby Duck Salad

Fromage Blanc Island “Cheese Cake” at Chikalicious Dessert Bar – Best dessert I’ve had this year came from an oldie but goodie.  Its delicate, elegant, and super light.  Like delicious fresh cheese mixed with cloud.  Its worth just going in order to meet the master Chika Tillman herself.  But if this dessert scene is a little foofoo for you, try the faster Dessert Club across the street and go for the Nutty Professor ice cream.

Chikalicious Cheese Cake

Other Noteables:  Soy Keema at Indian Accent, Goi Hed at Somtum Der, Spicy Lemongrass soup at Ginger and Lemongrass (new Lower East Side location)

Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers and all the fun people I met over the year.  Thanks for a great 2017!

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Mastering Cicchetti in Venice

IMG_7382The best tip I can give you when you go to Venice with kids is this:  Start planning your return trip without them.  Meanwhile you scout, you observe, you take notes, and study.  And by the time you return you can pretend to live like a local for just a few days, and do crazy things like have a full meal before dinner.  You may even be proficient enough to able to spell Cicchetti without Googling, like the pro that you are.  Cicchetti (Chee-ke-tee) is Venice’s answer to the aperitivo (Aperitif).  Its the Venetian happy hour.  They are served in bars called Bacari, usually 5 to 7 pm, but some are open throughout the day for the rest of us tourists.

We travel because we want to see and experience different.  Taking a peek at Ziggy’s current culture back home, things are looking fairly reversed.  5 to 7 pm is when I have dinner.  At 9 when the Venetians go out to eat, I may have a small Cicchetti of my own.  And by 10 pm when the Spaniards (our next focus) go out to eat, we watch Netflix and fall asleep by 11.

In a way I was glad that my planned Cicchetti crawls failed.  I had to cancel a Cicchetti tour so we could attend the lighting of the Menorah at the world’s first ghetto (as they say “happy wife, happy Ziggy”.  Seriously who says that?!?).  And my self planned Cicchetti crawl was a complete bust for a variety of reasons.  But after visiting and enjoying a few Bacari during the week, I now get the sense that this type of forced Cicchettiing is the wrong approach to this social scene.  And while I see the appeal of a crawl, I also see the appeal of doing what the Venetian do.  Go to one, meet your buddies, and see how things shape up.  Or visit one when you dont have the time for a full meal, like before a concert.

Cà D’Oro alla Vedova – This is one “Widow” I would trust with my life.  They are famous for the meatballs and rightfully so.  Its a dense filling of mostly bread, but satisfyingly salty.  The white beans, grilled calamari, and octopus salad are delicious as well.

Cantine del Vino già Schiavi – One of the oldest and more popular Bacari around, specializing in nifty crostini like combinations like smoked swordfish, ricotta with walnut purée, egg Funghi and truffle cream.  These are my recommendations, but you can also look around and just pick what looks good to you.  English descriptions next to each one.

Bar Alla Toletta – Tramezzini, fat crustless sandwiches is something you’ll see all over Venice, and this is the best place to try it.  We are partial to the tuna

IMG_7273Salvmeria – The newest kids on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi block isnt too concerned about its spelling on Google (Yes, its a V in there) because its main aim is locals, not so much tourists.  Although far removed from the tourist route, this is one of the most picturesque streets in Venice.  The clever assortment of wine goes as far as Moldova.  Try the Salumi, and baked scallops with breading and carrots if they have

Al Portego – We had a full sit-down meal here.  But judging by the quality, and the army of Cicchetti lovers we had to fight in order to get to our table, this place looks legit.

IMG_7135Fritoin del Gondolier – Its more of a street food shack that can be as convenient as Cicchetti.  Here you can try some fried goodies like Mozzarella in Carrozza (a fried sandwich with fillings like ham) and fried cream squares on a stick.  Those creamy squares can work well with hot chocolate from Vizio Virtu not too far away

Instructions:  You dont need no stinking instructions.  Ok, I didnt mean to sound brusque there.  Too early in the morning.  But every place is different, and you need to remember that you are in Venice.  Chances are you are not the only clueless tourist inside.  Just smile, point and shoot!  And order a glass of red or white, or ask what other wine options they have available.

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

Osteria Alla Frasca {Venice} – Definition of Hidden Gem

Osteria Alla FrascaAdjective fatigue, title fatigue, are some of the biggest challenges in writing blogs like this.  At some point you just sit there, staring at the computer, looking for new ways to express yourself without sounding like a douche.  A douche is when you get bored with all the cliches and resort to cuteness that is not translated well on the internet, and you begin to sound like a douche.  But what do you do when a cliche that you used many times fits a description so perfectly.  You swallow your douchy pride, write that thing and move on.  While hinting to the audience how dirty you feel for using one of the most overused cliches in the food blogger universe yet again.  Its the thought that counts, right?

But in the case of Osteria Alla Frasca, another title sounds almost like injustice.  In today’s Trip Advisor age nothing is really entirely unknown.  Just like a falling tree in the forest, “Hidden Gems” are not so until people find them and write about them for everybody to see.  Alla Frasca is not exactly a secret.  It is mentioned in just enough publications and blogs like the excellent Naturally Epicurian, the only Venice based blogger as of this writing.  But its all about the quality and location, tucked deep inside Cannaregio, inside a little picturesque courtyard that is so deserving of the title.  When you discover it, you pause.  And when you visit it, you really want to like it.

Osteria Alla Frasca - Octopus

And then when the food exceeds the already lofty expectations, it becomes a home run.  Octopuses and even Octopi dont come any more tender than this without crossing to the mushy side.  It is served with two purees, a potato, and cherry tomato for you play with.  A fresh tasting Cheese Ravioli was nicely perfumed with lemon and herbs, with razor clams added for good measure.

Here we tasted one of the best pastas of the trip.  So good a restaurant is named after it!  The Pasta Alla Frasca is a spectacular medley of seafood on spaghetti, brimming in that wonderful white wine and seafood juice we couldnt get enough on this trip.  A grilled mixed seafood plate was another delight though by this point we started to struggle as we were getting full.  We found that in Italy, and even across the pond in Croatia, one needs to be careful with those “Mixed Grills”.  Pistachio creme brûlée was fine but not great to finish still a most wonderful meal.  The Sicilian in the kitchen adding oranges and pistachios and other Sicilian touches when no one is looking.

Osteria Alla Frasca represents everything we love about eating in Italy.  When it’s just you, Bruno the owner, the young Sicilian peeping out of the kitchen cracking jokes, and a few more diners in a small room.  Bruno has been in the food business in Venice pretty much all his life, including a major presence in the Rialto market at some point, resurrecting what feels like a local institution loved by locals and savvy tourists alike.  This is a big time GO.

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Random Venice

IMG_7550IMG_7533IMG_7548IMG_7567IMG_7597IMG_7521IMG_7520IMG_7458IMG_7377IMG_7349IMG_7340IMG_7281IMG_7291IMG_7294IMG_7310IMG_7313IMG_7333IMG_7265IMG_7263IMG_7254WIMG_7207IMG_7189IMG_7131IMG_7174IMG_7529

 

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Somtum Der – For Babies Who Lunch

Somtum Der - Goi HedIts time to bump up this Z-Lister and one of my favorite Thai in NYC.  All these recent Thai posts can only mean one thing.  Its getting freakin cold!  And when its cold I like to eat spicy things.  And we are also just about outta here to escape this cold front.  But this time we are trying something new.  We are leaving for something colder instead of warmer (no TCI).  The idea is that by the time we come back, we can enjoy better weather.  At least thats what we are convincing ourselves.

A few weeks after dining at Ugly Baby I found myself surrounded by them at the most unexpected of places.  It was like a Thai mommy and me and Papaya salad event at Somtum Der on a weekday afternoon.  And I suddenly felt this urge I never felt before… calling random babies ugly.  No, its not me losing my marbles, but really it felt more of a Mitsvah.  As I mentioned before, in Thailand apparently you call random babies ugly in order not to attract the ugly spirit.  I even asked the waitress while chewing on their fried chicken (good as usual) and she confirmed.  She then remarked how they always say the opposite in regards to many other things for this reason.  But when I mentioned how awful their food was she gave me a look and said this doesnt apply to food.

Not much has changed at Somtum Der since they opened 4 years ago.  Its usually fairly empty when I’m there but thats because I’m usually there between lunch and dinner (after a tour).  The funky looking room that is not quite East Villagy is bright and colorful hence well received by ugly babies and bloggers.  And there’s a side of me that loves menus with pictures, huge colorful pictures.  Thats how I pick travel books.

When in Rome… I der you not to start with the Somtum (Papaya salad).  You see what I did there?  Any of the pictured salads will do, but I’m partial to the ones with the salted eggs.  But every meal at Somtum usually starts and ends with Moo Rong Hai Der, the house special grilled marinated pork.  Its playful and delicious.  I love sucking on those coconut rice sticks and dipping everything in that fish sauce including car keys.  The fried chicken as mentioned is Thigh meat which can be tough and stringy at times but always delicious.

But perhaps the best thing I’ve eaten at Somtum Der as of late was a mushroom special called Goi hed.  Name perhaps was invented by someone who thought the Beech mushrooms reminded them of uncircumcised penises (get it?).  It has all the elements of a nice and spicy Larb but without those chewy beeches losing that command.  A very well balanced dish that was perhaps part of a November mushroom celebration, but it could still be around if you hurry.  Love me a good mushroom dish

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (East Village)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Lemongrass Juice, Goi hed, Sa Poak Kai Tod Der, Moo Ping Kati Sod, Moo Rong Hai Der, Tum Thai Kai Kem

 

 

 

 

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

Best Thai Dishes in Hell

Pure Thai RatchaburiIn East Village, during my tour we discuss the 4 pillars or principles of the Temperance movement when we visit a Temperance fountain: Temperance, Faith, Hope, and Charity.  While in Hell’s Kitchen we discuss the 4 pillars of Hell’s Kitchen: Thai, Mexican, Ramen, and Gay Bars.  Temperance supporters would obviously disapprove of this neighborhood today.  Until they taste any of the items below that is.

My 5 favorite Thai dishes that appear in the latest W42st, come from 3 places, the only Thai I go to these days in Hell’s Kitchen.  (There must be around 30 in the area).  Rule of thumb for Thai in HK and anywhere pretty much, the dingier the place, the better the food.  If you see chandeliers, run.  If it smells a little, and you see a menu that looks like hasnt changed in 15 years with items crossed out with a pen, stay.

Pick up your free copy of W42st anywhere in Hell

Ratchaburi Crab & Pork Dry Noodles at Pure Thai Cookhouse – Its all in the name. Mix in the broth from the bottom of the bowl and you get magic. A good introduction to the outrageous 9th avenue Thai scene for the rookies

Oxtail Soup at Pam Real Thai – One of my favorite winter dishes. Chunks of tender, juicy Oxtail in a beautiful Vinegary broth that packs a punch (heat!). Its BYOB! Bring Your Own Bounty.Pam Real Oxtail Soup

Duck Larb at Larb Ubol – When in Larb, you have to eat, well, Larb. An Isan specialty of liberally seasoned minced meat with chili, lime and other addictive goodies served in room temperature. I’m partial to the ducky

Larb Ubol larb

Seafood Kee Mao at Pam Real Thai – And the Dandruff award goes to… Over the years I tried this guilty pleasure all over Hell’s Kitchen. This is head and shoulders above everyone else.

Pumpkin Custard at Pure Thai Cookhouse – When a place has only one dessert, well, you have no choice. Because its only one. A not too sweet custard with coconut sticky rice inside a banana leaf is pure diviness.

Pure Thai Pumpkin

 

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

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