Posts Tagged With: Travel

Simon & The Whale – Not your Grandpas Hotel Dining

Simon & The Whale - CrudoWhile we were dining at Simon & The Whale the other day, we noticed something thats becoming less and less peculiar these days.  We were the oldest people in the room by what looked like quite the margin.  That includes the wait staff.  Our waiter could have been the son I was never given (even though he confused Dorade for a Sea bass, something my son would never ever do).  But didnt all these kids get the memo that hotel restaurants are horrible tourist traps?  They may not have lived long enough when it actually was.  In NYC at least.

And so where is the “mature” hanging out these days anyway?  We were also the oldest at Broken Shaker, the rooftop bar at the same hotel (Freehand).  Some kind Millennials asked us if we were lost and offered help.  Did the entire Generation X move to Staten Island?  Oh never mind.  Found them in the Upper East Side.  But are we getting closer to Young Pro City that just got accelerated with the introduction of Hudson Yards.  I’m a soon to be 49, frontal balding Tour Guide middle aged professional.  Where do I belong?

Simon & The Whale

Courtesy of Freehand

But these days, hotel dining in NYC is not only perfectly acceptable, but trendy.  Just look at The NoMad, The William Vale, The Freehand, and any other hotel that begins with “The” these days.  They all offer a plethora of creative chef driven dining options.  And your ears perk a bit higher at the sound of “At [hotel name]” these days.  For example: “The Magician at Mikes Pub” vs “The Magician at The NoMad Hotel”.  There’s no question which magician I just have to see.  The competitive dining and real estate environment today means you can no longer afford to have a hotel restaurant that sucks.  Is that all good news? No, not really.  But let’s leave that for another gloomy day post.

Simon & The Whale along with The Studio and George Washington Bar at The Freehand is run by Happy Cooking Hospitality founded by Gabriel Stullman and his wife.  With the hotel launch, HCH essentially transformed into a dining empire, adding to a resume that includes Fedora, Bar Sardine, Joseph Leonard and other places I dont really frequent.  Matt Griffin, the Fedora and Bar Sardine chef, is now at the helm at Simon & The Whale, named I believe after Stullman’s son who likes to play with whales.  A practice we dont endorse here on EWZ.  Its a seafood focused New American menu.  Which really means fancy food that can not be called Italian or French.  Although it’s one or two pastas shy from Italian.

Simon & The Whale - Whole Fish

Black Bass Crudo – If I have to pick one dish, this might be it.  Mrs Z said the sauce reminded her of her childhood. A ratatouille moment if you will.  But I think she was just under a major Spritz  influence by that point.  It was just a nice spiced miso.  Along with the sliced radishes (daikon I believe) and the crunch of the puffed rice, this was a very pleasant bite

Smoked mussels – Fine but skippable. You fish them from a small jar and spread on wheat crackers.  Not overly flavorful or smoked.

Squid ink Tagliatelle – Very nice, albeit there’s really no squid ink mixed here as the name may suggest (to some).  Its simply black pasta (made with squid ink) mixed with fresh seafood, with a little heat.

Simon Burger – Had this on another visit and as expected just a solid burger from the team that got burger fame at Bar Sardine.  Well cooked meat, and top notch craftsmanship.  And the crunch from the crispy shallots tricking your brain to believe there’s an especially nice sear here.Simon & The Whale - Burger

Whole Fish for Two – Expertly cooked Dorade.  For two really means for two in this case. Very often dishes for two can be for 3 or 4.  Served on top a thin, delicate Madras curry, and creamy white butter beans (fava).  Delicious but a bit overpriced at $60.

Cauliflower (side) – Listed as a side, but closer to an appetizer we sometimes see in middle eastern places.  Its good.

Almond Milk Panna Cotta – Possibly the best Panna Cotta I’ve had in NYC.  I find that chefs often mess around with Panna Cottas way too much, but this was just perfect.  The combination of the cream, tangerine, and the crunch from the caramelized cocoa nibs worked beautifully.

For drinks she enjoyed the Crazy Charlie, a Spritz-like with Mezcal and grapefruit. My Negroni was a little off but manageable.  The great wine list didnt have many glass options, but there was a rare Grillo (Sicilian white) sighting so I had to take advantage. This is a Go!

Simon & The Whale
23 Lexington Ave (23/24 at the Freehand Hotel), Flatiron
Rating: 2.5 Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Crudo, Burger, Squid ink Tagliatelle, Whole Fish, Cauliflower, Panna Cotta

Simon & The Whale - MusselsSimon & The Whale - Squid ink Tagliatelle

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Categories: Gramercy, Flatiron, New York City | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Hunan Slurp – Substance Over Style

Hunan Slurp - Pepper and PorkIts 14:30, I just finished another East Village tour, and I’m hungry.  An inside peek into my head… “I still have time for Hunan Slurp before the kitchen closes for a smoke break.  Or should I just get another sick sandwich from Foxface?  Where exactly did I park my car?  If I sprint to the car with the sandwich, will it make it or get all soggy.  How do you spell mausoleum anyway?  Its cold and I really feel like noodles, preferably swimming in something spicy.  Ok, Tatsu Ramen it is!”.

I did end up having one of the better bowls of Ramen this winter at Tatsu, called “Bold Ramen”.  But the Hunanese noodle joint on the same block is where my thoughts are these days.  I picked Tatsu because I’ve been to Hunan Slurp so many times lately, I’m having my Amazon mail forwarded there (yes I switched from Dell’anima after a complaint was issued).

Hunan Slurp - Hunan Salad

Hunan Slurp, along with Le Sia, Szechuan Mountain House and some others is leading the charge in what is dubbed by some as “Chinatown North”.  A most important Chinatown that looks nothing like a Chinatown.  The past five years saw an explosion of young entrepreneurs opening shops covering a variety of regional Chinese cuisines.  While they are young, the kitchens are staffed with very capable, experienced cooks.  And a more recent phenomenon is popular Flushing and Sunset Park joints like 99 Favor Taste, and Szechuan Mountain House testing the waters of the more glamorous East Village.

Contrary to the what the title may suggest Hunan Slurp is stylish alright.  In fact its one of the most tastefully decorated restaurants in the area.  A lesson in restaurant design. Thats because owner Chao Wang who grew up in Hunan’s second largest city, is a former artist.  But in a city where style over substance is much too common, its always refreshing to see stylish spaces where the food is the real attraction.  Its a first date for foodies kinda place.  Here’s the food rundown…

Hunan Slurp

Hunan Salad – This is a thing of beauty and not really “Salad” by any means.  Preserved eggs wrapped in eggplant topped with pepper and dressed in soy and sesame oil.  Like Baba Ganoush with makeup.  A must get.

Cabbage – Sounds awful.  Looks even worse.  Who wants to eat a plate titled cabbage?  Me!  After my first introduction to Chinese style cabbage at the Fei Long Market in Sunset Park I never looked back.  When done right its addictive.  And this one ladened with garlic, chili and soy, was one of those.

Fresh Whole Fish – Possibly the best thing I’ve eaten all year.  The whole fish is chopped so it looks like fillets with bones.  Covered with garlic, ginger, and a supremely flavorful homemade chili sauce

Hunan Slurp - Fish

Chicken – The closest dish to American Chinese, and still a good get.  Stir fried chicken with young ginger.  The hot plates here can seem pricey (this is $25) but they are very shareable.

Hometown Lu Fen – Probably the closest thing on the menu to a signature dish.  Sliced Beef, Char Su, Peanut, Cucumber, Bean Curd, Crispy Soy Bean and plenty of silky thick rice noodles that sucked all the little amount of broth.  Pretty sure I sat next to Terri Hatcher while eating this.  I didn’t ask, but she did ask me if I’m Ziggy, and I said no.  Don’t like to be bothered while eating

Pepper & Pork – Mifen (rice noodles) is the specialty here.  There are all sorts of nifty combinations on the menu, and this is just one of them.  Its like soup topped with a delicious juicy stir fry.

A rare 3 Z’s!

Hunan Slurp
112 1st Avenue (6/7), East Village
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: All of the above

Hunan Slurp - ChickenHunan Slurp - Hometown Lu Fen

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

Meet Gotham West Market’s Messiah

Dell'anima CarbonaraThe Gotham West Market’s executive in charge of luring interesting new vendors must have one of the toughest jobs in America.  It turns out that surviving so deep inside Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood dominated by young professionals and Bulldogs is pretty tough.  Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is the only original vendor left since they opened about 5 years ago.  Changes are happening in a furious pace.  Latest shocker is the departure of Genuine Roadside, a burger joint owned by Avroko the firm that designed GWM.  Sources tell me Corner Bistro another burger joint will be its replacement.  Yes, I have sources.

For a moment there, with the shuttered burger option, GWM’s total demise seemed in sight.  I mean how much more pain can these Bulldogs take.  Enter Dell’anima!  Yes, that Dell’anima that you may have heard about but never went because it got lost in the crazy West Village Italian shuffle.  It managed to survive a decade there generating quite the following, but ultimately succumbing to ultra gentrification like so many others.  Today’s rent squeeze means you have to be creative with the real estate, but it also means winners may emerge elsewhere.  In this case its Hell’s Kitchen which may have just gotten its best Italian.

Dell'anima

I’ve been hanging around so much at Dell’anima lately (before or during tours) that I’m having my mail forwarded there.  It replaces the space of El Colmado, joining Ivan, Seamore’s, Corner Slice, Ample Hills Creamery and a Jianbing joint (Beijing style crepes) as the current residents.  A very different lineup to even going back a few months, not to mention on opening day.  Dell’anima features the type of concentrated menu that feels fresh and unique in the entire Hell’s Kitchen universe where Italian is somewhat lacking.  And I can safely say this again:  Gotham West Market is a solid, severely overlooked pre-theater option.  At least for the time being.

The mostly Roman inspired pastas here is the main draw although everything else I’ve tried was exceptional.  There’s a Tajarin Carbonara with Speck and egg that is so good I had to come back for it when I didnt have to share it with three women (My family.  I’m not THAT popular).  The Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese was another winner.  There’s also a Tagliolini Cacio e pepe and a standard but fine looking Orecchiette with sausage.

Only two Secondis on the menu, and at least one of them is superb.  A chili crusted, juicy Pollo al Diavolo sitting on top Broccoli Rabe.  The charred octopus, a popular dish in the previous location is excellent as well.  It comes with “Rice Beans”, cannellini Beans so young they resemble large grains.  While not one of these fat Spanish octopuses you come across sometimes, its zesty and delicious, and the dish works well as a whole.  Go!

Dell’anima
600 11th Ave (Gotham West Market, Hell’s Kitchen)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Octopus, Chicken, Carbonara

Dell'anima - Octopus

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

EV Bites – Goodnight Almond Croissant

Patisserie Florentine - CroissantsEV Bites is a monthly feature (well sort of.  I may have skipped a few), that showcases five places in or around East Village you should know about.  I will occasionally extend the border to surrounding hoods and maybe even mention a name more than once.  East Village in case you are not aware is an incubator for top industry talent, and a goldmine of world cuisine.

Foxface –  The smallest kitchen in the village keeps attracting the most interesting stuff.  Inside the William Barnacle Tavern/Theater 80, out goes Feltman’s Hot dogs, the rebirth of the inventor of the hot dog (or Coney Island red hots) and the best hot dog in NY.  In goes Foxface, the little Sandwich shop that could.  It took me a couple of months to try it, because that’s how long it takes me to get excited about a sandwich shop, but man was it good.  One bite of the well crafted, balanced Smoking Fox (smoked boneless rib, coleslaw, pickles, homemade spicy sauce) is all you need to understand.  Its owned by a duo that used to own a cafe in Tokyo.  Quite the ingredient driven little place, starting with the bread they get from NYC’s elite like Pain D’Avignon and Fat Witch.

Hunan Slurp – Possibly the most important opening out of the countless of Chinese openings over the last few years.  Half of my meals in the area as of late are here.  A fresh Z-list addition.  Cant say enough.  The incredible whole fish, the cabbage, stir fried chicken, Hunan Salad, and the signature Hometown Lu fen.  I will have a dedicated post when the time comes.

Hunan Slurp

Hunan Slurp

La Rossa – Hate the generic sounding name, love the pizza.  This is from yet another Italian pizza legend, Stefano Callegari who owns some of Roma’s best and the inventor of the Trapizzino.  We are just missing Bonci (Interestingly he owns two in Chicago).  I like to start my pizza relationships with a light no frill meal which means a basic Margherita, and this one did not disappoint.  Although from Rome, its more Neapolitan-style featuring a light and airy dough with great ingredients all around.  But the pizzas to get are most likely the Roman inspired Carbonara and Cacio e pepe baked with ice in order to “glue” the ingredients better.  Technically just inside Soho on Lafayette.

Dunhuang Noodles – Its getting to the point where its hard to limit this feature to just one Chinese, but they are all so very different.  Dunhuang specializes in Northwestern Chinese food, and is growing a la Xi’an Famous.  In the winter I usually crave spicy noodle soups, and very few in the area beat Dunhuang’s Braised Beef Noodles and Lanzhou Beef Noodles these days.

Patisserie Florentine – Is no more!  That group from Canada that makes the semi-annual pilgrimage to Patisserie Florentine after pre-ordering ALL their Almond Croissants will soon get the painful truth just like I did.  Only in East Village a place with a perfect Yelp score offering a legend-esque product can still close.  I’ve watched these Almond Croissants make countless of people smile over the years on my tours.  But hey, its East Village.  There’s plenty of fish in this sea.

La Rossa Pizza

La Rossa

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

Z-List – 2019 Winter Update

Hunan Slurp - Hunan Salad

Hunan Slurp

After a recent mediocre meal at one of the more trusted Z-listers, I’ve decided to update the list more frequently.  If you are familiar with NY dining, or currently researching, you may be surprised by these changes. But this is not a popularity contest. The difficult table is not necessarily the better choice today.  Four out, four in.

In:  Hometown BBQ, Scampi, Jeju Noodle Bar, Hunan Slurp

Out:

Estela – One of the most trusted names on the list, but quite the mediocre meal last time.  Some of the menu staples we loved before, missing some of that oomph.  And some of the “large” dishes are wildly overpriced.  Estela just doesnt feel as relevant today.

Rubirosa – Another shocking exclusion.  Its very popular with tourists these days, and that is one of the problems.  But the main issue is the ever changing, over saturated pizza scene in that area with the openings of La Rossa and Sorbillo from Italian pizza legends and many more.  And you can now get similar pizza at Joe and Pat’s in East Village without the hoopla.

Bar Bolonat – Is no more.  Well, kind of.  Balaboosta closed, Bar Bolonat then rebranded as Balaboosta and the menu and to some degree the concept changed.  Once I visit the new place a few times, I may reconsider.

Mighty Quinn’s – The original location in East Village is still good.  But its tough to keep a name on the list that now has 12 locations. For proper que, you can still go to the original east village location, or better yet go to Ducks Eatery on Tuesday for the brisket, or Hometown in Red Hook

The complete list can be found here

Scampi Mafaldini

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Sofreh – FOMO Strikes Again in Brooklyn

sofreh - chickenWhen I was very young, like around age one, I was really really handsome.  And I dont mean how all young babies and toddlers are beautiful in a way.  I’m talking stunning beauty, almost girlish like. My nickname in daycare was Kendall.  I had this ravishing hot blonde (I think that’s the correct color name) hair, and I was extremely pleasing to the eye.  So pleasing that my parents were constantly worried of the ‘Ugly Baby‘ jinxing syndrome, where someone out there would successfully give me the evil eye one day.  And sure enough it happened.

We were on a long train ride one day, and I cried hysterically the entire ride.  Well, much of it at least.  A woman then approached my parents and told them that I was obviously under a spell, which my parents already suspected.  There was no way I suppose I was teething, hungry, or suffering from an ache of some sort.  I was obviously cursed!  And the only way to get rid of this curse according to the stranger was to wash my face with a cloth that was soaked in some… urine.  Now, lets skip the part of whose urine it was or supposed to be, and go straight to the disturbing punch line.  It worked!  The fact that it worked that one time meant that I was essentially bathing in urine pretty much my entire baby/toddler life.

sofreh

Eater

Back in the day people blindly followed old rituals the same way we struggle today with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  Back then when people didnt have access to information, they rarely questioned things.  The fear of being wrong, or the consequences of going against the grain were too real.  You just went with the flow, and popular belief.  While FOMO is not nearly as serious, it follows similar human nature traits.  If we are not going to go to this hot new Persian restaurant in Prospect Heights, we are not living life to the fullest.

I am talking about one of the hottest openings last year.  A restaurant that was reviewed by everyone and their mothers (My mom gave it 3 cloths!).  Trying to reserve a table on a weekend these days proving more difficult than building a wall.  We had to resort to a Thursday 6 pm slot.  A new Persian restaurant in NYC offering seemingly well crafted, ultra instagrammable dishes that most New Yorkers never experienced.  Whats not to get excited about.

sofreh - kofteh

First the good news.  The space is chic, smartly decorated, and well lit.  Well, until 7 pm at least, when they decided to dim the lights for some reason.  But you got the sense that they thought of every single detail.  I even thought the bathroom featuring wall to wall vintage Iranian movie posters was pretty cool.  I especially liked the movie featuring Popeye knocking down a beautiful potentially unfaithful woman with his big bat, with Burt Reynolds, her lover coming to the rescue, too late.

Our first bite, the Kofteh was superb!  Beef meatballs with rice and split peas that put most Italian meatballs to shame.  Our second bite, grilled cauliflower was less successful but pleasant enough.  Things were working early on, and life is looking full again.  Unfortunately however, that was the end of the hit list

The “Ash”, a thick Persian herb and noodle stew delivered nice complex flavors the first few spoonfuls, but quickly became too heavy to eat on its own for all three of us.  This was a dish recommended by a few critics, and I wonder how much of it they really ate while trying to sample the various dishes.  It would have worked better with meat, in a soup form or on top of rice (which we got later with the mains) or pasta.  The whole wheat noodles as part of the stew wasnt nearly enough to save the dish.

A similar fate plagued the chicken and fish, two of the menu “classics”.  Interesting first few bites that quickly turned to “how do we salvage this”.  The chicken’s Plum and Saffron sauce with the tart Barberries became too sharp-tasting fairly quickly.  For relief I was picking on just the bird at some point.  But you couldnt do that with the “Catch of the day” striped bass.  “Catch of the day” is a funny concept in NYC, but thats another post/rant for another time.  The sauce was overpowering alright,  but the fish was too bland on its own.  The Persian Ice cream was good, but flavors not much different than at other middle eastern spots.

Looking at the mirror these days, that curse 45 years ago seemed to work.  But at least I’m living life to the fullest.  I’m Glad I tried Sofreh, but its probably a one and done deal for me.

Sofreh
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: One Z (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Kofteh, Cauliflower

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

The Richmond – A Star is Born

the richmond - tartareAsk 100 Staten Islanders what is good to eat on the island and the answers will be roughly as follows:  50 will say pizza.  25 will swear by the Eyetalian.  10 will say nothing, as in time will expire until they can come up with something.  10 will say Mexican. 4 may surprise with Spanish.  And 1 will mention Sri Lankan, followed by ding ding ding.  Mexican is in fact getting better.  But Sri Lankan is still the correct answer if we are talking about reasons to come to the island for food.  Coincidentally 1 is also the percentage of my readers that will make the trek to the island for food (or live there).  But last time I checked this is an equal borough opportunity blog.

So considering the above, its not so far fetched to consider The Richmond one of the island’s best.  The menu and location on Bay Street near other island greats like Lakruwana and Vida gives it a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ if you will.  The Richmond bills itself as the default New American which begs the question; WTF is New American anyway?  And what ever happened to old American?  Did we miss it?  Its very simple actually.  New American is a menu that can not be categorized.  Its not French, not Italian, Russian?  Nyet.  Its essentially an eclectic, random bunch of stuff in a semi expensive restaurant in America.

The room is spacious, inviting and just elegant enough, without crossing over to the pretentious side (ie no tablecloths).  One of the main differences between dining in Manhattan and SI is real estate.  In SI, you dont need to say gezuntheit every time one of your neighbors sneezes.  There’s usually ample separation between tables, but at the Richmond the layout and the various sections take it to another level.  Noise levels in SI usually can only be hindered by music (I’m looking at you Enoteca Maria)

the richmond - octopus carpaccio

The menu is quite far from your typical SI joint.  Items like Octopus Carpaccio, French style Charcuterie, and hand cut steak tartare are not something you can find on the island.  And the execution is there.  While the Octopus Carpaccio lacks much Octopus flavor, the dish including the chick pea salad on top still manages to work.  The Kobe Beef hand chopped Tartare reminded me of the beefy Tartares of Piedmont.  It is that good.  But the star early on was the superb spicy seafood bisque.  I would come back just for that

And there is a burger of course, and its a good one.  The Wagyu patties cooked to medium perfection dont need much else.  Instead of asking you how you want it cooked, they print how its cooked on the menu. I suppose you can request a different temperature but I wouldnt dare.  There’s also some gourmet Mac n Cheese.  We tried the Seafood (the other is Beef short rib) that featured wagon wheel pasta, and a smart combination of Gruyere, Raclet and sharp cheddar.  It is relatively light, creamy and satisfying.  The only dishes that felt short were the mussels, and the below average creme brulee.   Verdict:  If you live in Brooklyn, Go!  If you live on SI: Run!

The Richmond
75 St Marks Ave (Brooklyn)
Rating: Two Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Burger, Octopus Carpaccio, Tartare, Seafood Bisque, Mac n Cheese

Categories: New York City, Staten Island | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Taladwat – The New Thai Sensation on 9th

taladwat - pompanoWhen a new Thai opens in Hell’s Kitchen, and no one hears it, does it make a sound?  Not so much these days in the closest thing we have to Thai-Town where over 40 Thais dominate 9th ave and beyond.  But what happens when the owners of the most important Thai in Hell open something?  You get a tsunami in comparison.  Such is the case with the new baby sister of Pure Thai Cookhouse a few blocks down called Taladwat

I didnt realize the connection when I first walked by Taladwat from Kinky Boots (meh!).  But I was intrigued by the menu that looked very different than the usual bunch.  There’s not much in common with Pure Thai here except perhaps for originality and some key ingredients.  Communal wooden tables dominate the rustic spacious room that looks more like a little Thai beer garden.

taladwat dishes

Over 20 dishes with prices next to them that most likely wont mean much to you.  Thats because most select the Pick and Mix option; 2 for $16 for lunch, or $18 for dinner for the smaller tapas like versions of the dishes.  I’ve taken advantage of the deal in all of my five visits so far.  Two dishes per person is a good amount.  I will update this post from time to time but out of the dishes I tried so far here are my current favorites…

Vegetable Green Curry – The curries here, whether in paste or creamy form are all solid.  This has just enough kick to remind you that you are not in one of the ordinary Thais on 9th

Crabmeat Tom Turmeric – Just like at Pure, crab reigns supreme with some key dishes.  This is just a well balanced milky goodness.

Pad Prik Khing Pork – Similar but not the same as one of my favorite pork dishes at Pure.  It comes with green Thai long beans they love so much, and a more complex, potent curry paste

taladwat - crab

Pork Stew – A mild but delicious stew that is not as shareable as other dishes, but there’s just enough meat for two.  It comes with some tofu and a hard boiled, hence “stew”

Turmeric Curry Chicken – Another outstanding curry.  Juicy, succulent dark meat ladened with a curry paste with some serious depth

Steamed Pompano – This is a small white fish that doesnt offer a lot of flesh, but whatever you can extract is quite delicious especially once you add the green chili sauce that comes with the dish.  Pompano can only be served whole due to its size and bonyness (I may have swallowed a few but hey what can I say, I’m living on the edge.  Yesterday I let my phone’s battery go down to 10%!)

taladwat beeftaladwat

 

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

Tone Cafe – The Republic of Khachapuri

tone cafe - khinkaliIn the black sea of Uzbek and Ukrainian eateries on Brighton Beach Ave, one can easily forget the avenue two blocks up, Neptune.  Like 10th ave in Hell’s Kitchen, 7th avenue in Sunset Park, these are the forgotten practical blocks.  As a visitor you tend to gravitate towards the hubs.  But when you live in the hood, this is where you fix your chipped tooth, visit your favorite tarot card reader, or get that pastrami sub from the deli guy that knows exactly how you like it.

These blocks often give birth to destination places that cant strictly survive on the people living nearby.  Whether its the elderly in Brighton Beach or the poor students in East Village, these are often not the demographics that can sustain such businesses alone.  The young professionals and actors that dominate Hell’s Kitchen for example call the entire city their neighborhood and rarely stay put.  Such are the challenges for places like Nano, Taboon, Hearth and Tone Cafe on Neptune Ave.

tone cafe - chanakhi

 

Tone Cafe is one of a plethora of Georgian eateries popping up all over the city in the past 5-10 years.  And just about all serve the formidable Adjaruli Khachapuri, a boat shaped bread filled with salty farmers cheese and egg.  The eggier and bigger the boat, the more Instagrammable the dish.  In Williamsburg a Cheese boat theme restaurant opened not too long ago called, you guessed it, Cheeseboat.  But what’s hip and cool in Williamsburg, in Brighton Beach its called Wednesday.

The Cheese boat in Tone is not only a feast for the eyes but a succulent combination of salty, rich, crispy, and gooey.  If you are a bread and cheese lover, you need to add this to the bucket list.  Right after Machu Pichu.  The Khinkali, the mammoth Georgian dumplings is another popular dish here.  But I’m finding them too doughy for my taste these days and would pass in favor of …

The Kharcho – A tart tomato based soup with rice, walnuts, lamb or beef, and spices.  You may not look at Borscht the same way again.  Its something you can find all over Brighton, but Tone’s version is cleaner tasting and pairs very well with winter.  Another popular starter is the red bean Lobio, cooked with herbs and spices, and  usually served with walnuts, and pomegranate.  Georgian food in a “nutshell”:  walnuts, pomegranate, red beans, a lot of meat and bread

Tone Cafe - Georgian Bread

If you are not quite up to the gigantic cheeseboats task, you also got the other Khatchapuris like the Imeruli, which literally translates to “Khatchapuri for whimps” or something like that.  Its a simpler cheese filled soft bread.  Or try the Chanakhi, lamb cubes slowly cooked in clay pot with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes and spices.  Pomegranade can also be found inside their terrific sausages (Kupati) I discovered on a recent visit (about 3 hours ago).  The Kupatis are thick and juicy and can rival with some of the best German franks.  A similar but differently spiced meat is the Kababi which comes wrapped in thin Lavash bread.

Tone Cafe is a little out of the way for most of my readers, but Brighton Beach, one of the most unique areas in NYC, and miles more interesting than neighboring Coney Island should not be overlooked.  Remember kids, we travel to see different, and this is definitely different.  Same applies to the kind of service you’ll encounter at places like Tone Cafe.  You may see a 10% service charge instead of a smile.  You may need to wait 30 minutes for your food for no good reason.  You may need to Google how to refill your own water.  And chances are that you’ll hear this “Hi my name is Randy, I will be your waiter today.  Do you have any allergies today?” is zilch.  Because that part of town has no Randys!

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Top 10 Dishes of 2018

Mushroom salad at Pig and Khao – One of two places making their second appearance on the Top 10 (the other is Pinch Chinese).  Once you start veering off the classics at some of them, only then you start to realize how good they really are.  And at the moment to me, this wild Mushroom with sliced shrimp, coconut, and chili salad is the unsung hero of P&K.  Its also one of the spiciest dishes here, so pair it with the most coconutty coconut rice out there.

Pig and Khao Mushroom Salad

Hummus at Vish – I often say that in this city we eat the world.  And its a wonderful thing.  But for better or for worse we rarely eat something that resembles its origin.  Tuscan food is not really the same as in Tuscany.  Uzbeki is not the same as in Uzebkistan.  And Lobster is not exactly the same as in Maine even though its the same lobster.  But the silky smooth, almost watery Hummus at Vish was one of those rarities, “Ratatouille Moment” if you will.  This hummus strongly resembles hummus in Israel.  Thats because Vish is an offshoot of an Israeli chain, and they make it the only way they know, multiple times a day.

Vish Hummus

Vish

Mafaldini at Scampi – To go to Scampi and not get the Mafaldini is like going to Katz’s and not getting the Pastrami.  Its a riff on the traditional Scampi and a serious contender with Lilia for the best Mafaldini in NYC.  Chef/owner PJ Calapa (Ai Fiori, Costata) Chooses Mafaldini for more chew, and tosses it with fresh shrimp, white wine, garlic and chili flakes.  But what makes the dish work wonders is the crunchy toasted Filone breadcrumbs (toasted with garlic and more).  The best way to eat this however is mix in some of their homemade Bomba dip midway.

Scampi Mafaldini

Seco de Pollo at Nano Ecuadorian Kitchen – If you are looking for the Avant-garde, the new and exciting, the hummus mention already hinted that this is not that list.  I tend to gravitate toward the Robert Sietsema kind.  Seco de Pollo is a hearty Ecuadorian chicken stew and Nano is one of the only places in the city to make it.  Its cooked with Naranjilla, a sour citrusy fruit grown in Ecuador.  Its a dish I eat every week.  Hint hint

Nano

Upma Polenta at Bombay Bread Bar – Upma, Oprah, Upma, Oprah.  I feel like saying it every time I mention it.  The first thing I tasted at BBB was the best thing, and showcases that Floyd Cardoz brilliance.  Its Semolina based earthy goodness with mushrooms and hints of Coconut and Kokum.  Like the most delicious grits you will ever encounter.

Bombay Bread Bar - Upma

Cauliflower at Miznon – Once in a while you come across a dish that dare I say, changes your life.  Ok, slightly.  A dish that makes you replicate it at home over and over again.  The eggs at Gato is one such example.  While people flock to Miznon for the fluffy pita sandwiches, rightfully so, they miss out if they skip this seemingly simple whole cauliflower.  Its delightfully salty and absolutely addictive.

Miznon Cauliflower

Wind Sand Chicken at Pinch Chinese – This is a Hong Kong classic that I havent seen on any other menu in NYC, but variations exist.  Its a $51 bird (as of now) that is cooked like Peking duck (which they also have).  Two days of Marinating (cinnamon, star anise, other herbs and spices), drying, spanking, and repeating.  The skin gets thin and crispy, and the flesh redefines moist.  Garnished with fried garlic flakes, like the “sand” that the wind brought, hence the name.  Maybe if they closed the door once in a while, they wouldn’t have this problem.

Pinch Chinese - Wind Sand Chicken

Porcini Flan at Bouley at Home – A staple at this house, and the previous Bouley residence.  Why reinvent all the wheels if some work so well.  The “Porcini Flan” is more like a superb earthy soup featuring Alaskan Dungeness Crab, and a Black Truffle Dashi that I can drink all day long.

Bouley at Home - Porcini Flan

Gnocchi Alla Romana at Faro – Bushwick produced one of the best meals and sadly one of the worst (Roberta’s) last year.  All the pastas at Faro were outstanding but this one particularly stood out.  This is semolina based Gnocchi that tastes more like fried polenta. Served with slow braised rabbit.  The playful pastas keep rotating and changing and so this is not on the current menu, but Faro still worth checking out.

faro gnocchi

Tacos at Taqueria el gallo azteca – I never thought the day would come.  Staten Island appearing on a Best list.  The most exciting thing to open in SI last year was Dave and Busters, followed by Shake Shack, and the lines are forming at the new Chick-fil-A in the mall as we speak.  But El Gallo Azteca in St George not far from the ferry served the best tacos I ever had in NYC.  Heaps of juicy steak and chorizo goodness, reminiscent of Mission District.

taqueria el gallo azteca tacos

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