Why Come Here? Good, hearty upscale drinking food in the East Village you can probably walk into
Right Amount for 2? 3-4 dishes
You know those days you’re craving the spices of Southeast Asia and the smokey, meatiness of Texas BBQ? No? Well, you can imagine what it would be like if you did. And if you did, or do now that I’ve mentioned it, you have Duck’s Eatery to satisfy both at once. The menu is not surprisingly meat heavy and even the greener dishes generally contain something that’s been smoked or charred. In other words, it’s exactly the type of upscale drinking food you want to wash down with beer and whiskey, which are naturally also plentiful here.
In terms of ambiance, Duck’s feels pretty much like a bar. It’s loud, tables are densely packed and the bar itself takes up a good quarter of the space. Although it’s small, we didn’t have any wait for a table on a Saturday night. That’s good because it’s better as a quick option for a night out in the East Village than a planned out foodie indulgence. And if you treat it that way, Ducks will do you right.
Here’s what I tried:
Crispy Pig Ears I’m torn on rating this one. The first bite of spicy, sweet, porky crunch is amazing. But eat two of the lettuce wrapped tacos and it’s too much. Make sure you have someone to split these with and you’ll be happy.
Note: Tuesdays are brisket night, which includes smoking it over night in apricot preserves and adding fish sauce. I’ve yet to try it but it’s definitely on the list.
351 East 12th Street (1st & 2nd Aves)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Strange but delicious fish-focused small plates
Right Amount for 2? 3 pieces of sushi (each), 3-4 other items
Chez Sardine is the latest addition from West Village master restaurateur Gabe Stulman who has done great things with Fedora, Perla, Joseph Leonard and Jeffery’s Grocery. Chez Sardine is an Americanized Izakaya, which is essentially a Japanese tapas bar (for the traditional version, check out Rockmeisha). I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do this per se, but playful small plates in a casual setting is something New York has gotten pretty familiar with. The inside does maintain a Japanesey feel with a sleek design, the typical light wood paneling, pictures of fish and a classic rock soundtrack (ok, maybe that’s not Japanese). The place is pretty tiny and does take some reservations, so if you don’t have one, you’re probably waiting two hours. Surprisingly once you sit though, you’re not packed like “sardines” as tables are reasonably spread out by West Village standards (aka more than 3 inches).
The menu comes in sections that include snacks, sushi, small & large plates and Miso Maple Salmon Head. Despite some weird sounding combinations, nearly everything hit the mark, but make sure you dig deepest into the sushi and Salmon Head sections. While the fact that only two items are over $20 may give you the impression you’ll escape without a hefty tab, keep in mind you’ll need a reasonable stack of dishes to fill yourself up. It feels like a cool local spot you’d like to frequent for some small bites and drinks, especially late night. Unfortunately, the popularity and prices take that out of the equation for most of us. But it’s still a great addition to the neighborhood.
My top picks are below. You can find all my reviews and photos on DishEnvy.
Miso Maple Salmon Head The miso maple glaze isn’t too sweet and is definitely plate-lick worthy. Why the head of a salmon though? I can’t answer that, but they do say the cheeks are the best part. Dare you to eat the eye!
183 West 10th Street (@ West 4th St)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Cheap eats, sample Chinese Fondue, good for a group
Hou Yi is a Chinese hot pot hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown. And by hole-in-the-wall, I do mean neon signs, folding tables and decor consisting of little but a TV showing Chinese game shows. But as is usually the case in Chinatown, you’re not paying for ambiance. You’re paying very little for really good food.
But what is a hot pot you ask? Think of it as Chinese fondue, except with delicious soup broth replacing inedible oil. It’s best to know how it works before you go, because your waitress isn’t likely to be able to explain it to you in English So here it goes: for $23, you get all you can eat for two hours with unlimited non-alcoholic beverages. You’ll start off with a checklist to choose what you want to cook in your pot including about 30 options ranging from meat and offal to fish to mushrooms, tofu and vegetables and noodles. Don’t by shy, order all you want. We initially only ordered four items, much to the displeasure of out waitress. Yes, they are actually offended if you don’t get at least 8 things. So check away.
Next you need to select your broth, and I recommend the “combo” which allows you to try two different ones. If you can handle spice, get one mild or medium spicy. But be forewarned: medium spicy is Chinese for “very, very spicy”, so don’t try to be a hero here. When your broth and food comes, you cook it fondue-style in the hot pot and choose from an array of sauces to slather on it. My favorite was to mix the coffee-like one with soy sauce and chili sauce. The fish sauce is also a little sweet and great on the shrimp or fish balls.
Overall, it’s a fun experience and great for groups since it’s fixed price and you can order a ton of food, throw it in a pot and share.
Why Come Here? An adventurous night out, great cocktails, NYC’s premier foraging restaurant
Let me start out by saying this: Aska is not a restaurant you bring your parents to. The modern Scandinavian cooking bears no resemblance to the ligonberry, smoked salmon and herring platters you think of as “traditional Scandinavian.” In fact, much of it bears little resemblance to things you think of as “food.” Instead, it follows a trendy cooking style known as “foraging” (set by Copenhagen-based Noma) which essentially means “let’s find some stuff in a forest that no one is cooking with and serve it to people.” So you find ingredients like purslane (a weed), lichen and autumn leaves. Aska is about the adventure of eating unusual food that’s good more than eating something downright delicious. But for those who are up for the adventure, a very enjoyable evening awaits.
While you might not know what “modern Scandinavian food is, the space is probably exactly what you would imagine as “Modern Scandinavian . An airy two-story loft with plenty of wood and a mural of birds soaring against a white (and thus presumably freezing) backdrop on the wall. It serves as a coffeeshop and studio by day and formerly hosted Frej, a similar themed restaurant by the same chef. We opted for the $65 tasting menu since hey, it’s not like you know what you’re ordering anyway (it’s offered Sunday-Thursday nights only).
The meal started at the bar where which whips up some dynamite (and not too weird) cocktails you’ll want to get your hand on. While seated there, we received four bar snacks including delicacies like dried pigs blood and fish skin chips with some more traditional caraway seed bread throw in to settle the stomach. From there, we were lead to a table in the back where the six-course tasting officially commenced. While the dishes were hit or miss, they definitely had an earthy quality that reminded you something had been “foraged” and brought on your plate. The presentations were all also quite impressive. For $65, it’s an necessary and affordable foodie excursion.
My thoughts on some of the dishes:
90 Wythe Avenue (@ N. 11th St)
Why Come Here? A great neighborhood spot for upscale, innovative Thai
Right Amount for 2? 1 app, 2 entrees
I’ve touted Kin Shop as one of my favorite restaurants since starting this blog, so it’s about time I put together a formal review. My love of Kin Shop can be summarzied by its combination of three of my favorite restaurants themes:
1) Upscale Casual Yes, everyone’s doing it right now, but why shouldn’t they be? Who doesn’t want a nice meal out without feeling like they’re in the waiting room for da club or dining in an eighteenth century palace? With Kin Shop, you get a sleek white space, open kitchen with lots of bar seats that actually have backs! Bonus: you can usually snag without much of a wait if you’re too lazy to make reservations.
2) A Varied Menu with Reasonable prices. One trend, particularly popular in the “upscale casual” category, is the small menu. Now in many ways, it’s a good thing. I want the focus to be on what the chef things is best, not a Cheesecake Factory style list of every dish ever imagined. But in a go-to spot, you need some variety as well and that’s by definition lacking on ten dish menus. Kin Shop’s selection of selection of salads, veggie plates, noodles and curries however make it easy to get a totally different meal every time. And while it isn’t cheap, low 20s entrees is quite reasonable for this quality of cooking.
3) Real Thai Flavors. I’ve been to Thailand and as the scores of other people who also have will similarly complain, the food we get here ain’t the same. Now, Harold Dieterle is not trying to reproduce classic Thai dishes here. But the herbs and spices are legit and will make you feel more like you’re in a modern kitchen in Bankgkok than an American chef’s in New York. Another authentic touch: the tables come with dried chili powder and spicy fish sauce seen on nearly every table in Thailand yet seemingly deemed unsuitable for American use and rarely seen here.
Below are my favorite dishes:
Red Curry Roasted Duck Breast The duck cooked medium rare is juicy and delicious. The curry is flavorful with the right amount of spice. Wrap that up in a roti and it’s one of the best things you’ll ever eat.
Fried Pork & Crispy Oyster Salad Oysters and Pigs have been paired since Missy Piggy first dawned her pearls, but for some reason people didn’t think to eat them together. Thank you Harold Dieterle for putting two-and-two together and creating the perfect meaty, salty and sweet “salad”.
Fried Brussels Sprouts & Chinese Sausage This dish smacks all the taste sensors: bittersweet brussels, smokey sausage, sweet coconut chutney and tangy apple vinegar. If you feel the need for some greens while eating here, this is where you want to get them.
Why Come Here? An Upper West Sider with a downtown vibe and a southern soul
Right Amount for 2: Pickles, 1-2 apps, one sandwich or entree
I rarely venture to the Upper West Side for food (unless it’s Pumpkin Ice Cream at Trader Joe’s), but with two friends raving about a new place called Jacob’s Pickles (and only one of them actually obsessed with vinegarized veggies) I decided I needed to give it a shot. The space is built to make you forget that you’re uptown with an industrial chic look, speakeasy style back-lit bar and alt rock music. The food is Southern cooking with a twist and focus on pickles. Basically, it’s like hipster Paula Deen opened a restaurant on the UWS.
Upon arriving at your table, you have a few tough decision to make. First, will you order one of the intriguing cocktails like Rosemary Vodka lemonade or the Honey Julep, or sample one of the many unusualcraft beers on tap? Next, you’re going to need some pickles. Naturally, there’s a a wide variety to choose from and you get a lot in one order, so do choose carefully. Finally, while there are some good looking apps and “home cooking dishes”, you’re next decision is really which of the massive Southern Biscuit Sandwiches with Fried Chicken is going to bust your gut that day. Whether you get it covered in pickles, fried tomatoes or gravy, you can’t really go wrong. You also get a side of grits in case your arteries haven’t clogged yet.
So while it’s not the most earth-shattering menu, there are some very good options and it’s a great addition to the neighborhood. Here’s what I tried:
Honey Chicken & Pickles Biscuit Sandwich Sweet and juicy fried chicken, hot & sour pickles on a fluffy biscuit. If you’re going to get your daily calorie intake in one dish, this is how you want to do it. At least pickles are kind of healthy, right?
509 Amsterdam Avenue (84th & 85th Sts.)
New York, NY
With at least two more months of cold weather ahead hear in NYC, many of you are probably dreaming of warm weather getaways. Miami has long been a popular destination for it’s beaches and cheap flights, although the pricey (and usually mediocre) food and drinks on South Beach can quickly run up the tab. So you decide to venture out for some cheap ethnic eats, but you’ve already had your fill of ropa viejos and cubano sandwiches. Fortunately, Cubans aren’t the only group to have immigrated to Miami and if you’re willing to ride up Collins Avenue 50 blocks or so to North Beach, you can sample all sorts of South American delights. While there are tons of options from nearly every country, we followed the recommendations of Food For Thought and were very happy we did. Here was our route:
Moises Bakery (7310 Collins Ave) is a tiny Venezuelan bakery that has no shortage of delicious looking sweets, but we came for the empanadas. They offer varieties from three different countries: Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. Being pretty familiar with the first, we went for the latter two. The Chilean was in a pastry crust that reminded me of those little packaged Cherry Pies (without the the sugar) and has a little too much crust for my liking. The Venezuelan , however, came in a crisp, chewy corn based pastry and was definitely one of the best empanadas I’ve had.
El Rey Del Chivito (6987 Collins Ave) represented my first foray into a Uruguayan restaurant. While I haven’t been to this country, I have been to neighboring Argentina and can say that from the artwork, to the soccer jersey’s to the staffs ability to disappear when you’re ready to go, this place feels legit. Here, you’ll want to try one of Uruguay’s signature dishes, the “Chivito Sandwich” . Despite the fact that Chivito translates to “goat”, it’s actually a steak sandwich covered in the “heart-attack-by-40″ superfecta of bacon, fried egg, fried ham and cheese. As you can imagine, it’s absolutely delicious. It can also be safely split amongst two people, especially if you want the tour (and your life) to continue.
Buenos Aires Bakery (7134 Collins Ave) is a great place to end your visit. It’s a fairly large bakery with lots of pastries to choose from and a reasonable amount of seating. I couldn’t tell you what most of what we ate were as the staff doesn’t speak much English and there’s no signs. But just get ready to point at what looks good and feel confident that you won’t be disappointed. I do recommend trying an Alfajor which is a traditional Argentine cookie filled with dulce de leche, as well as the churros.
If you’re still standing after this, below are a few other places that were recommended which we didn’t get to try. If you check them out or have other recommendations, please share your thoughts in the comments.
La Perrada de Edgar (6979 Collins Ave) Columbian Hot Dogs
Mixtura (7118 Collins Ave) Peruvian ceviches
Las Vacas Gordas (933 Normandy Drive) Argentine Steakhouse
Why Come Here? Fresh, high quality sushi without breaking the bank
Right Amount for 2? Sushi for 2
There are three levels of successful sushi restaurants in New York. At the bottom rung is the place serving cheap, mediocre fish that manages to stay packed to the gills (pun intended) because they’ll let you drop as many sake bombs as you can in a two hour period. In the middle is your standard delivery joint where the fish is good on its own, but rolled up and covered in enough spicy sauce and fake crab it makes for your favorite “healthy” weeknight meal. And finally at the top lies the temples to the sea where eating your fish anything other than sashimi or sushi style is considered an insult to both the chef and Posieden himself.
The problem with eating at this top rung is you often need to drop over $100 person to fill up on their treasures of the sea. Enter Kanoyoma: your every week upscale sushi restaurant. As with all top sushi restaurants, the play is to let the master sushi chef select your meal from the day’s bounty. We usually go for the sushi for 2, which includes a very filling 16 pieces of top quality, fresh sushi and 3 rolls for $52 – a fraction of what you’ll spend for this quality other places. To be fair, It usually includes some of your less exciting fish such as salmon and shrimp (as well as a couple more interesting ones), but they are good as it gets. If you want to get fancier however, Kanoyama does offer more unusual fish in an 8 piece omakase that goes for a mere $37. including a roll and dessert just to make sure you don’t leave hungry. The sake list is also affordable and fantastic.
Best of all, you can have this in a soothing, dimly lit, perfect-for-a-date spot centrally located in the East Village. And now that they have expanded into the adjacent space there never seems to be much of a wait. If you haven’t been, add this to the top of your dine-in sushi list now.
Why Come Here? Try Gramercy Tavern cooking without breaking the bank or a reservation far in advance, solidly priced and excellent new american
Right Amount for 2? 1 app, 2 entrees
Gramercy Tavern has remained one of New York’s most popular restaurants for over 20 years with diners calling a month ahead of time and donning coat and tie to spend $90 (or more) on the Dining Room’s prix fixe menu. Fortunately, for those of us want to try the famous food but don’t want to put up with the above formalities, there is another option. In the front of Gramercy Tavern lies the “Tavern Room” which takes no reservations, requires no special attire and serves its own equally delicious menu a la carte at prices that almost make you want to apologize to Danny Meyer for stealing from him (all entrees under $25, with several less than $20). There’s even a $45 tasting menu if you want to feast on the cheap. Sure, it’s a little louder and more casual than the Dining Room and you may have to wait a bit, but the service and food remain top notch. This is definitely a place worth adding to the rotation.
Here’s what we tried:
Butternut Squash Lasagna, Kale, Mushrooms and Pine Nuts To be fair, butternut squash and kale are two of my favorite veggies. But the earthiness with a touch of sweet still might make this the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten
Grilled & Braised Flaitron Steak w/Quinoa, Sunchoke and Hazelnuts The quinoa, sunchoke hazelnut salad was spot-on but it overpowered the steak which I found slightly lacking in flavor. Enjoyed it thoroughly nevertheless.
Pumpkin Whoopie Pie w/ Rum Ice Cream I love pumpkin desserts but this one really stands out. There’s a layer of glazed pumpkin you scrape off the bottom of the place and the rum ice cream is just the right amount of cooling and bite. I just wish there were more of it.
Why Come Here? Some of South Beach’s best upscale food, relaxed atmosphere, pool and ocean views
Right Amount for 2: 1-2 apps, 2 entrees
I never would have come across Florida Cookery had it not been for a recommendation from Miami blogger Food For Thought who is a big fan of Chef Kris Wessel from his previous restaurant, Red Light. I’m very glad I did though as this may be the best spot on South Beach for great food without pretension or (much of) a scene.
Florida Cookery is located in the James Hotel, although “hidden” may be the better term here. There are no signs once you walk into the hotel and you have to walk all the way to the back then up two flights of stairs to find it. Once you do though, you’re rewarded with a cool, sleek modern space overlooking the pool with the crashing waves of the Atlantic in the distance. Add in friendly and attentive service and music and patron noise at the right level and you have one of South Beach’s most pleasant hotel dining experiences. The only issue with the location is perhaps the world’s longest walk to the bathroom (which is outside the restaurant, down a flight of stairs and a long hallway.) So if you’re decked out in traditional South Beach attire with the 8-inch stilettos, you may want to pee before you go.
The menu is fresh and local, with a nod to the diverse heritage of Florida cooking (think pecan-dusted grouper w/ grits, gator empanadas, creole oxtail). Yes,probably half the restaurants in South Beach make this claim. But while most charge the same amount ($15 apps, $25+ entrees), few do it this well. It’s also one of the rare restaurants where I would have been happy eating anything on the menu. And on a recent Saturday night, it was inexplicably only about half-full. So get in before the secret gets out.
Here are my thoughts on what we ordered. You can find more photos on DishEnvy.
Oxtail, Oyster & Alligator Empanadas (1 of each) If you’re into empanadas (who isn’t?) these are a solid way to start your meal. The oyster was a little strange, but the lemon cayenne sauce makes everything better.
Kris’ Biscayne Blvd Shrimp Grilled and covered in a spicy tangy sauce somewhat reminiscent of Worcestershire that you’ll want to lick out of the bowl. Fortunately it comes with baguettes to soak it up so you won’t have to.
Key Lime & Tomato Mahi Mahi The tomato and lime combined for a dish I found a little heavy on the acid. You do get a nice cut of mahi mahi, but there are too many great options here to settle for this.