Oct 31

Empellon Al Pastor

best tacos east village, alex stupakWhy Come Here? Fantastic quick & cheap tacos, amazing al Pastor

Right Amount for 2? 6-8 tacos

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware of my love for Alex Stupak and his first two Mexican efforts, Empellon Taqueria and Empellon Cocina. Both serve up some of my favorite tacos in the city, but also require a sit-down meal and prices upwards of $7 per taco. It’s all good from time to time, but generally I need my taco cravings quenched quickly and cheaply. And that’s where the newly opened Empellon Al Pastor comes in.

Al Pastor looks like a taqueria painted by the guys who paint chicken buses in Central America. There’s some crazy colorful graffiti on the walls and a giant ceiling mural of a goat shepherding his flock of cash.  Ordering is done at a counter, where you receive a number on a stick. Then comes the main challenge of Al Pastor: securing a table before the runner brings you your tacos. This isn’t made easier by the fact they came out in five minutes even on a busy Friday night. But considering you can be in-and-out in less than 20, standing isn’t a terrible option.

Drinks are ordered separately at a bar near the entrance. I’ve been impressed with the cocktails at the other Empellons and this one appear to have a nice selection of beers, ciders, micheladas and mezcal cocktails. I say appears because I couldn’t even get my order in before the tacos arrived. So you’ll want to make this your first stop if you intend on having a cold one. Soft drinks can be ordered along with your food.

As for the menu, it consists of five tacos, some sides and a giant short rib platter in case that’s not enough for you. All the tacos cost $4 and are served on corn tortillas. I prefer the flour served at the other restaurants, but ultimately I have no complaints about their thicker, maize-based brethren served here. I tried all five tacos currently featured on the menu on two visits. My thoughts are below:

Empellon Al Pastor, best taco East Village, Alex Stupak

Al Pastor Taco (3.5/4 stars) This is already one of my favorite tacos in the city. The charred, chili rubbed thin strips of pork are meaty and spicy. The pineapple slices balance them out without overdoing the sweetness.

Empellon Al Pastor, best taco East Village, Alex Stupak

Steak Taco 2.5/4 stars Much like the excellent steak tacos at his other restaurants, the key here is the high quality of beef used. The caramelized onions give this an enjoyable steak sandwich quality.

Empellon Al Pastor, best taco East Village, Alex StupakChicken Taco 2.5/4 stars The chicken is stewed, making it basically fall apart in your mouth. The addition of chiptole salsa makes it a winner in my book.

Empellon Al Pastor, best taco East Village, Alex StupakPotato & Chorizo Taco (2/4 stars) The potato and spicy chorizo are both solid on their own. But somehow every time a bite included a hunk of spud, it overpowered everything else. It’s still enjoyable but getting it to blend together better will take it to the next level.

Empellon Al Pastor, best taco East Village, Alex StupakMushroom Taco (1.5/4 stars) This is probably the only one I won’t order again. The mushrooms were on the rubbery side and packed a powerful punch of earthiness with nothing to balance it out. The awesomeness of the salsa and tortilla save it from a lower rating.

Empellon Al Pastor
132 Saint Marks Place (@ Ave A)
New York, NY
Empellòn Al Pasor on Urbanspoon

Posted in East Village, Mexican | Leave a comment
Oct 28

Cherry Izakaya

Why Come Here? Cool vibe, inventive American-friendly Izakaya fare, date night, dinner with friends

Right Amount for 2? Six small platescherry izakaya, williamsburg, japanese

Cherry Izakaya is a swanky newish spot from the team behind Bond St. and Cherry at the Dream Hotel. It’s located smack in the middle of the hottest part of Williamsburg, on N 8th Street between Bedford and Berry. Normally, this level of coolness doesn’t translate to the kind of dining experience I seek out. But Cherry offers up a creative and all-around solid small plates menu and cocktail list that make it a great for starting a night out in the ‘burg or a casual date night meal.

While the signage for Cherry is easy to miss, the large window looking into a wooden and gold circled bar is not. This first floor bar is a sexy spot to grab a drink from the impressive cocktail menu or one of their sakes, available by the “can” which is really a poptop glass (see above). Up a flight of stairs on the mezzanine lies the main dining area which feels like something that would be in whatever the Williamsburg of Tokyo is. Think lots of dark wood, dim lighting and wall paper that combines Imperial Japan with anime. Hidden up another half flight of stairs up is a closed off lofted dining area for those still unwilling to be spotted dining in Brooklyn.

The food is Izakaya style, which is basically to say Japanese tapas. However, don’t expect a traditional Izakaya with Octopus balls, fermented fish or other dishes that require a few years in the Land of the Rising Sun to “appreciate.” The menu at Cherry is built to suit the American palate, but it does so with creative fusion dishes instead of by dumbing down the classics. The gyoza (dumpling) section was excellent and you should be sure to order a couple dishes from here. Ditto for the Zensai (hot & cold small plates). The skewers, salads, ramen and larger plates all had some strong sounding offerings as well. Basically there’s something to please anyone who remotely enjoys Japanese food.

Also noteworthy was the pacing of the meal, which was absolutely perfect. Dishes came out one at a time with no overly long waits in between. Sadly I can’t even remember the last time that happened with small plates in New York.

Here’s what we tried:

Dumplings, sour cherry, cherry izakaya, williamsburg, japaneseFoie Gras Short Rib Gyoza (3/4 stars) This is the must order dish at Cherry. All the gyozas here are phenomenal with light, slightly crispy skins. But the rich flavor inside matched with the sake glaze and sour cherries makes this one the winner.

White Truffle, ponzu cream, cherry izakaya, williamsburg, japaneseTuna Tarts 2.5/4 stars White truffle oil is pretty much guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser. Sprinkled on two thinly sliced pieces of raw tuna on a thin wafer spread with creamy ponzu, it doesn’t disappoint.

cherry izakaya, williamsburg, japaneseTuna Crispy Rice (2/4 stars) The top layer is kind of a tuna tartar mixed with chili mayo and topped with a jalapeno. I enjoyed the texture of it over the crispy rice, which reminded me of a non-sweet rice crispy treat.

mushroom, dumplings, cherry izakaya, williamsburg, japaneseShiitake Confit Gyoza (2/4 stars) Like I said, the gyoza wrappers here are top notch. The shiitake confit comes with some onion chili puree, but the mushroom flavor definitely dominates this one.

Seared Salmon Belly, Uni, Big Eye Tuna, cherry izakaya, williamsburg, japaneseSushi (2/4 stars) Cherry may not be a top tier sushi place, but all their fish is fresh, enjoyable and probably at least as good as your favorite delivery spot. We tried the Big Eye Tuna, Seared Salmon Belly, Uni and a Yellowtail roll. All good, but I’d be most likely to order the roll again.

Cherry Izakaya
138 N 8th Street (Bedford & Berry Sts.)
Brooklyn, NY
Cherry Izakaya on Urbanspoon

Posted in Japanese, Williamsburg | Leave a comment
Oct 22

Gansevoort Market

Gans Market, Meatpacking District, NYCThe age of the New York gourmet food hall is officially here and I’m embracing it with open arms. No more arguing with your friend who wants sushi or a lobster roll when you want barbecue. No more splitting bills with that guy who always just “throws in a $20.” No more planning ahead a group meal. The food hall represents the culmination of every of modern casual gourmet dining is about. And I’m all for it. So expect a lot more of these reviews in the months ahead.

Gansevoort Market opened last week in the Meatpacking District in a space that was, in fact, a market some 200 years ago. Time truly is a flat circle. The market is currently sporting around 15 vendors and offers a legitimate reason to come to Meatpacking during the day (or at all). A few of the restaurants have their own seating, but most eating is done in a small communal area to the back. It has a bit of a haunted feeling (perfect for the season) with distressed brick walls and twisted vines growing around wooden picnic tables. The skylight overhead completes the feeling you’ve entered some sort of enchanted foodie forest.

In order to see what the market has to offer, I decided to spend a morning and afternoon eating my way through it. It was pretty crowded on a weekday so I imagine sitting on weekends could be a challenge. Here’s what I tried:

The Bruffin Café

Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYC

Bruffins of the World

Who says donuts and croissants are the only breakfast foods that can be crossbred? The “bruffin” mixes the humble muffin with more daring brioche. The result leans much more on the brioche side with the only “muffin-like” part being the flavored top. So maybe a better name would be the “briochin.” Surprinsgly they’re not limited to or even focused on breakfast food. Most muffins are on the savory side with each named for the country it represents (for example, the Greek contains spiced beef, feta cheese, spinach, and kalamata olives). As it was still breakfast time, I tried the Canadian (1.5/4 stars), which has bits of bacon inside and maple syrup drizzled on top. I found the brioche a little overpowering, but some of the other ones might hold up better.

Yiaourti Greek Yogurt

Parfait, Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYC

This is a make-your-own Greek yogurt parfait station that I expect will be a popular breakfast spot for the area (assuming anyone get up in time for breakfast here). Given my breakfast most mornings consists of Fage and granola, this one was right up my alley. The yogurt has the thickness of Fage, but a much creamier texture. This is probably due to the 9% fat content, so I won’t be replacing my 0% Fage with it on a daily basis. But as a treat let’s be honest, fat tastes good. You get six ounces with one topping for six dollars, fifty cents per additional topping. These include the standards like granola, nuts and berries along with some flavored honeys. I topped mine with granola, strawberries and sour cherry honey and I give the whole deal (2/4 stars).

Pig Guy

Pig Guys, Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYCAs you may remember from my annual trip to the BBQ festival, I love me some ‘cue. And while I’ve learned to enjoy brisket, my childhood trips to North Carolina have made me pulled pork man. Pig Guy is serving up both, along with chorizo and and smoked chicken. As a pig guy myself, I naturally with the pulled pork. It’s slathered on two pieces of Texas Toast to soak up all the sauce. It needs it, because unfortunately while there was plenty of the tasty tangy sweet sauce, there was far too little pork mixed in with it. Hopefully they can remedy this as things get going because this sandwich has potential. For now though, it gets (1.5/4 stars).

Sushi Dojo Express Sushi Dojo on Urbanspoon

Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYC

The original Sushi Dojo is an East Village hot spot among connoisseurs looking for reasonably priced cuts of fish. As far as I know, this little counter is their first foray into something smaller. At Gansevoort Market, you get the choice to order a la carte at the sushi counter (if you can snag a seat) or choose one of their “Grab & Go” Bento Boxes. I had Box “B” which include chef’s choice of 8 pieces of sushi 2.5/4 stars The fish was very fresh and about as good as I’ve had from a takeout counter.

Sushi Dojo Express, Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYC

Other Noteworthy Restaurants in Gansevoort Market:

Tacombi Tacos
Ed’ Lobster Bar
Donostia (Tapas)
Luzzo’s Pizza
Crepe Sucre

Ganvsevoort Market, Meatpacking, NYC

The Dining Forest

Gansevoort Market
52 Gansevoort Street (Greenwich & Washington Sts.)
New York, NY

Posted in Food Hall, West Village | Leave a comment
Oct 17

Ramen Burger

Why Come Here? Sample the legendary original ramen burger

Right Amount for 2? Two Ramen Burgers, One Ramen Fries

Like Kimye*, the ramen burger combined two things people are obsessed with to create something people could be even more obsessed with. Despite launching at Smorgasburg just last spring, Time magazine has already proclaimed it “one of the 17 most influential burgers of all time.” It has inspired many imitators, but people still line up for an hour every Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg to get their taste of the original. Having other ways to spend my weekends, I decided not to join the cues.

Fortunately, Chef Keizo Shimamoto has decided to make his creation available the rest of the week in two additional locations. One is a full service restaurant called Ramen.co in the Financial District and the other a stand in the recently opened Crown Heights beer hall Berg’n. The latter is where I had my first taste last night. Ironically, despite being located deep into Brooklyn, you can probably still get your burger faster here from Manhattan than trying wait at Smorgasburg. In fact on a Thursday night, there was no wait whatsoever (plus you can get beer with it!). Should you feel like branching out, they also offer shredded beef, chicken and vegetarian varieties as well as must order ramen fries.

All right on to what you really want to know:

berg'n, ramen.co, secret shoyu sauce

Original Ramen Burger 2.5/4 stars The original is an angus beef patty covered with arugula, scallions and secret shoyu sauce on a bun constructed of ramen noodles. The bun is a little squishy and won’t be replacing bread anytime soon in the mass market, but it adds an interesting taste and texture. The real secret sauce though is the…secret sauce. The shoyu adds a salty, tangy component that really differentiates this from other burgers. My overall take is it’s really good burger, but novelty more than taste has elevated it to legend status.

Ramen Burger, Berg'n, Smorgasburg, karrage

Ramen Fries 2.5/4 stars Don’t be content to let the bun serve as your only noodles of the meal. These deep fried ramen noodles – cooked in a karrage batter (sort of like a thicker tempura), topped with scallions and covered in a spicy mayo sauce – are just as exciting an addition to the fry world as the burger is to it’s own.

Ramen Burger

Available at:
Berg’n (Crown Heights, Brooklyn)
Smorgasburg (Saturdays: Williamsburg, Sundays: Pier 5, Brooklyn)
Ramen.co (Financial District, Manhattan)

*Kanye West and Kim Kardashian for those who only use the internet to find food news.

Posted in burger, Crown Heights, Japanese, Williamsburg | Leave a comment
Oct 14

Yakitori Tora

Why Come Here? Best tongue in the city, tasty Japanese tapas

Right Amount for 2? 2-3 yakitori plus four larger dishes

For those unfamiliar, yakitori is kind of like Japanese BBQ. Skewers of meat (primarily chicken – and all parts of it!) are cooked over little pits of charcoal. Yakitori Tora cooks theirs over coals flown in from Japan for that extra bit of authenticity. They also charge a high price for the privilege, making it a better place for a snack and a drink than a full-on meal (it’s open until midnight).

Tora sort of resembles a ramen shop, occupying a narrow space with a large counter and only a few tables up front. The decor is similarly limited with one wall of brick, one of wood and one of glass (the fourth is out of sight). We sat at the counter, which is a low bench that is reasonably comfortable should you choose to linger.

The menu begins with yakitori offering up all parts of the chicken from the heart to the gizzard on a stick for your enjoyment. There are also some meatballs of pork, duck and pickled plum that looked good but I was unable to try due to an egg allergy. While the meat has an interesting smokey flavor from the charcoal, it runs up the tab pretty quickly with small amounts of meat starting at $5.

So I recommend focusing on the rest of the menu where the best dishes of the night were found, particularly among those using beef tongue. This part of the menu should be viewed as tapas style and also ordered liberally. Options include some hard to find Japanese snacks like Takowasa and an uni rice bowls well as some grilled and simmered meats, salads and rice balls. These are generally priced in the $10-15 range which is reasonable for the quality. There’s also a premium sake list which has many options that will pair well with your food.

Here’s what we tried:

Yakitori Totto, best tongue nyc, Kenmare, Nolita

Charcoal Grilled Beef Tongue (3.5/4 stars) I always felt tongue was meant to help with eating, not being eaten. But this was a game changer. Thinly sliced and a little salty and a little spicy, it’s an amazing dish. This is destined to be the one these guys are known for.

Yakitori Tora, Kenmare, Nolit, best tongue NYC

Simmered Beef Tongue 2.5/4 stars Extremely tender and slightly sweet from the miso, this is another winner. I don’t know who’s where these tongues are coming from, but let’s just say there are some lucky bulls there…

Yakitori Tora, Kenmare, Nolita, takowasa NYC

Raw Octopus 2.5/4 stars This a popular snack in Japan but rarely seen here. It’s not hard to understand why if you Google “Takowasa” (the Japanese name) and see the ugly mess most places are serving. This one looks pretty on the plate though. But if feels…sticky. The raw octopus, the seaweed on top of it, the okra…all require chopstick mastery to pry apart. But eat it safely folded in the grilled seaweed and you end up with some pretty interesting bites.

Yakitori Tora, Nolita, NYC, Kenmare

Washu Beef Rice Ball (1.5/4 stars) As you can see, this thing is about 98% rice. So you’re gonna need to remove the small sliver of beef and eat is separately to taste it. It does tastes good, but there’s no where near $8 worth of it.

Yakitori Tora, NYC, Kenmare, Nolita

Grilled Skewers of Chicken Tender w/ wasabi and Chicken Thigh (1.5/4 stars) Grilled chicken is hard to get too excited about, even when cooked over Japanese coals. These were no exception.

Yakitori Tora
72 Kenmare Street (Mulberry & Mott)
New York, NY
Yakitori Tora on Urbanspoon

Posted in BBQ, Japanese, NoLiTa | Leave a comment
Oct 09

Los Tacos No. 1

Photo Oct 07, 2 58 08 PMWhy Come Here? Some of Manhattans best tacos, cheap eats

Right Amount for 2? Six Tacos

Los Tacos No. 1 is a small taco counter hidden not just inside Chelsea Market, but in a side room behind a spice shop and across from a Korean food stand. Somehow I feel like this tiny, easy to miss, no-frills setup is required for an authentic taco. I’m not quite sure what this assertion is based on, but you don’t see a bunch of taco palaces around Mexico, do you? Whatever the reason, these are some of the best tacos in town.

Since Los Tacos is just a counter, if you want a seat you’ll have to battle it out with other market patrons for one of the few in the hall. Or you can just stand there and scarf them down on the spot (recommended). When it comes to the food, options are limited to tacos, quesadillas or tostadas with one of four fillings. Given the name of the place and my endless quest to find New York’s best taco, you can guess what I went for.

All tacos are served traditional-style with only onion, cilantro and salsa on your choice of corn or flour tortillas. I slightly preferred the flour as I found the corn a little chewy, but I’d say both are worth a go. You then get to add a “sauce” which looks more like a paste sitting in a mortar on the counter. There’s a pico de gallo, a medium and a hot. Maybe my heat tolerance has dropped after several weeks in Europe, but I found the medium plenty spicy. Los Tacos lets you order your tacos individually, so naturally I tried one with each of the four filling options. Thoughts are below:

Asada Taco (3/4 stars) Unlike many cheap taco purveyors, these guys aren’t throwing the scraps onto their tortillas. The juicy, grilled steak has a great meaty flavor and needs to be ordered.

pork taco, los tacos no.1, chelsea market, best tacos nyc

Adobada Taco 2.5/4 stars This is the only one that didn’t come with green salsa since it’s marinated in a red chili sauce. It’s a little spicy and a little vinegary. I’ve never seen this type of pork in a taco, but I’m all for seeing more of it.

Pollo Taco (2/4 stars) The grilled chicken is solid and better than most in the city. But really, what chance does chicken have against pork and steak?

cactus taco, los tacos no.1, chelsea market, best tacos nyc

Nopal (1.5/4 stars) This is a perfectly good taco, but personally I’m not a fan of cactus as a filling. It’s too acidic and the texture just feels wrong. If you like cactus though, go ahead and get an order.

Los Tacos No. 1
Chelsea Market
75 Ninth Avenue (15th & 16th Sts.)
New York, NY
Los Tacos No. 1 on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chelsea, Mexican | Leave a comment
Oct 06

Di Fara Pizza

Why Come Here? Hands down, the best pizza in New York

Di Fara Pizza, best pizza NYC

The Master At Work

When people ask me “what’s the best pizza in New York?” and I tell them it’s at a place in Midwood, Brooklyn they usually respond with “what’s the next best?” No one seems to think Di Fara is worth the trip… except for everyone who’s ever made it. There are few food group in NYC where one rendition is clearly stands out the best. There are legitimate debates over who has the best burger, bagel, ramen or dumplings. But there’s no doubt Di Fara is number one. And it’s not just the best pizza in the world, it’s one of the best things you will ever eat. So make the trip to Midwood one night soon. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

The incredible experience begins as you walk into a hole-in-the-wall that looks like basically every other pizza slice joint in the city. That is, except for the line down the block and countless accolades covering the walls. And when you enter you will immediately see the difference standing by the counter: 80-year-old Dom DeMarco. He has made every pizza himself since Di Fara opened forty years ago. You’ll watch him toss your pie, sprinkle on various cheeses, clip fresh basil leaves and monitor the crust as it cooks in the oven, turning it and adding additional cheese as needed. You truly get the feeling of watching a master artist at work. To learn more about his process and further psych yourself up for your visit, I recommend watching this short documentary.

A few other important things to know before making the trek to Di Fara: You will wait one to two hours for your pie, so don’t come too hungry. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday. It’s BYOB and there’s a grocery store across the street if you don’t feel like lugging your own half way across the city.

best pizza nyc, new york, brooklyn

Regular Pie (4/4 stars) A chewy, perfectly charred New York-style crust provides the base for the best pizza on Earth. It’s then covered in a tangy-sweet San Marzano tomato sauce and a bombardment of cheeses including a blend of three types of Mozarella, Grand Padano and Parmigiano-Reggiano. To call is “pizza” is almost an insult.

Square Pie (4/4 stars) The only acceptable food debate regarding DiFara is whether the regular or square pie is better. Personally, I prefer the thinner crust of the regular, but bring some friends, get one of each and decide for yourself.

Di Fara Pizza
1424 Avenue J (14th & 15th Sts.)
Brooklyn, NY
Di Fara Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in Midwood, Pizza | Tagged | Leave a comment
Oct 03

Guide to Oktoberfest Food & More (Munich, Germany)

Oktoberfest, Munich

Augustiner Beer “Tent”

If you’re into beer, carnivals and singing songs with random Euros, Oktoberfest in Munich (“Weisn” to locals) needs to be on your bucket list. It’s basically the ultimate day drinking party with six million people visiting a beer tent laden fairground for 16-18 days at the end of September each year. Here are the basics you need to know to make the most of the experience and eat some, well, decent food along the way.

The Grounds

Oktoberfest marries children’s attractions with hardcore drinking in a way that would never fly in America. Of course, whereas we are a nation founded by fun-hating puritans, Europe was conquered by whoever could provide beer to the largest army.

When you enter, you’ll see what appears to be an amusement park with rides, games and souvenir stands. This makes up the “family” portion of the festival, although who doesn’t enjoy taking in a rousing mouse circus after a few beers? In the row farthest west you’ll find the beer tents. These are not tents like you think of in America, but huge structures with a tent-like roof for some reason. Outside you’ll see a sign or column signifying which brewery is hosting the tent.

The Tents

Inside you’ll find a bunch of tables surrounding a brass band playing in the center. IMPORTANT: You will need to find a spot at one of these tables (or the ones in the biergardens directly outside the tents) in order to get a beer. This is where things can get tricky, especially later in the day. Here’s how to get a spot:

Oktoberfest, Munich, Guide

Inside a Tent

1) Tables on the outer rings are generally reserved. And they are reserved about one year in advance, usually by the people who had them the year before. So if you want to bring a big group, start making nice with zee Germans now. You can tell which are reserved by signs on the table or row that tell you what time it has been reserved for. During the week, they may be free before 3:30.

2) If you don’t have any connected friends, there are some no reservation tables too. These are generally located in the center by the band. If you have a big group, they say you need to be there by around 2 on weekdays, 9 am on weekends to secure one. If there’s four of you or less, you can probably find another table to join until around 5 when they start closing the tents to new entrants. The tables all hold ten people and are communal, so if you don’t see 10 people at one, ask if there are spots available.

The Beer

While beer is the focal point of the event, Oktoberfest is no place for connoisseurs. Variety is basically non-existent as each tent serves the “Oktoberfest” beer from one of Munich’s Big Six breweries. Their ability to change the formula is highly regulated, so they all are made in a malty, amber style and end up tasting pretty much the same (although locals will usually argue that Augustiner is best). They are served in one size only: a full liter glass (God bless the Germans). To order one simply hold up the number of fingers and say “Mass” (German for liter glass, although spelled Maß).

Food

Hope you like sausage and chicken! The food selection is only slightly less limited than the beer and mostly consists of things that taste pretty good after a few malty beverages. As such, I’m not going to bother applying my rating system to what I ate. Your options are to eat in the tents or or order from one of the the vendors outside. The menus in the tents are generally in German, but if you order one of the things below in English they’ll likely understand you.

In the Tents

Half Chicken, food, Oktoberfest, Munich, guide

Half Roast Chicken (Hendl) –  Basically exactly what you’d expect, it’s half a rotisserie chicken. I found them to be on the salty side, but maybe that’s part of the beer pairing. Sadly, this is probably the healthiest thing you’ll eat here but at least it’s pretty tasty.

 

Kaiserspaetzle, munich, oktoberfest, guide

Käsespätzle – Think of this as the German Mac N’ Cheese. It comes out topped with crispy onions and is basically the only vegetarian option.

sausage, oktoberfest, munich, sauerkrat, guideWeisswurst – A trip to Oktoberfest isn’t complete without some juicy Bavarian sausage (at least so the local guys say…) These spiced veal and pork links are definitely worth a try though especially because it’s hard to find a good one in America. Get a hearty serving or sauerkraut and mustard for a more complete meal.

Dried Sausage (Landjager) and Pretzels – You’ll find women walking the isles with baskets filled with various pretzels and dried sausage. Neither are anything special, but they’re cheap, easy to order and get the job done.

Outside of the Tents

Oktoberfest, Munich, Food, Guide

Sliced Ham Sandwich – This was the best thing I ate, but that was also at closing time. I (surprisingly) can’t recall the German name, but find someone freshly slicing smoked ham and tossing it into a roll and you won’t regret it.

Currywurst – A Berlin specialty, this is a Frankfurter (basically a plump American style hotdog) topped with ketchup and curry powder. Few things here have much spice to them here, so it’s a good change of pace especially if you spend multiple days at the festival.

A Note on Dressing Up

Sure, some people will tell you you don’t have to dress up and no one will stop you at the gates if you don’t. But you just bought a plane ticket to Germany and probably shelled out $300 a night for a hotel room so do you really want to half-ass this thing now? For men, attire is made up of lederhosen (leather pants and suspenders), a checkered shirt and a hat with a feather. For ladies, it’s a dress they call a dindle. You can probably find some moderately priced outfits online or in Munich before the festival, although the good stuff does get quite pricey. Up to you how crazy you want to get but at the very least, don’t come in your Hawaiian shirt to let everyone know America has arrived.

 

Traditional Bavarian Attire (includes beer of course!)

 

Oktoberfest (Weisn)
16-18 Days Ending the First Weekend in October
Theresienwiese
Munich, Germany

Posted in Food Festival | Tagged | Leave a comment
Sep 18

Neta

Why Come Here? The “less rich” man’s version of Masa, excellent omakase menu, special occasion

Think of Neta as the Brooklyn to Masa’s Manhattan (even though they’re both in Manhattan…). You get a thing that’s basically a laid back version of the other for a fraction of the price. Admittedly, I’ve never actually been able to bring myself to drop $450 pre-tax, tip and booze Masa so I can’t say for sure. But since Neta was started by not one but two Masa alums, I’m gonna go ahead and assume the comparison is apt. Even if it’s not, it’s stil a great spot for your next omakase blow out.

Neta follows the minimalist decor trend adopted by numerous high-end Japanese restaurants in recent years. This starts with the exterior, where you’ll likelly walk right past the glass windows with tiny signage if you haven’t memorized the exact address. Step inside and you’ll find a giant sushi counter surrounded by basically a few white walls. Unlike many similar places, the entire kitchen is visible from the counter and this is definitely the place you want to sit if you’re in a small group. I found some of the tables in front felt a little isolated from the restaurant and were too loud for the delicate meal being served.

The menu gives you the choice of a range of small plates mostly in the $15-$25 range (with some BIG outliers) or one of three omakase (tasting menus) priced at $105/145/225. So at least the most expensive is still half the price of Masa. If you’re not in a position to come here often (aka you don’t carry a Black Card), do yourself a favor and splurge on an omakase. We did the $105 version which had no shortage of variety or food. Here’s what we got, in order:

 

neta, west village, omakase, nyc

Dungress Crab (1.5/4 stars) A refreshing start to the meal with the cucumber and dashi vingaigreete. I wouldn’t both dropping $18 for it off the small plates menu though.

 

Photo Sep 11, 9 40 53 PM

Sawara (Spanish Mackeral) Sashimi Salad (2/4 stars) At first I was a little thrown off by the Mackeral being served warm in the cold salad. Ultimately though, I enjoyed the pairing with the cool vegetables and ginger soy sauce.

neta, west village, omakase, nyc

Grilled Scallop (w/ Uni) (3.5/4 stars) This is the most famous dish and rightly so. If Soto is the king of uni in NYC, this is the queen. The garlic soy butter and maitake mushroom makes this a real umami bomb.

neta, west village, omakase, nyc

Tempura 2.5/4 stars I appreciated the light fry job and it was a fun plating that looked like a little crab on the beach. I’d even say it’s the best tempura I’ve ever had. But then again, when’s the last time you got really excited about tempura?

neta, west village, omakase, nyc

Szechuan Spiced Salmon (3/4 stars) It looks like some sort of weird food art version of Howard Stern with the curly head of bonito on top. But I love the addition of szechuan spice to the salmon mixture and the crispy rice added the perfect texture.

Sushi Courses:

neta, west village, omakase, nycToro (3/4 stars)

neta, west village, omakase, nyc Kampachi w/ Potato Cake 2.5/4 stars

Photo Sep 11, 11 06 58 PMScottish Salmon (3/4 stars)

neta, west village, omakase, nycFluke 2.5/4 stars

neta, west village, omakase, nycSnapper w/ Truffle (3/4 stars) (truffle didn’t really come through)

neta, west village, omakase, nycBeef Suji (3/4 stars) (charred toro tendons tasted like steak)

neta, west village, omakase, nycShrimp Tempura Maki (2/4 stars)

neta, west village, omakase, nycEel Avocado Maki (2/4 stars)

neta, west village, omakase, nyc
Toro & Scallion Maki (3/4 stars)

 

neta, west village, omakase, nyc

Peanut Butter Ice Cream (3/4 stars) The peanut butteriest of all the peanut butter ice cream I’ve had.

Neta
61 West 8th Street (5th & 6th Aves)
New York, NY
Neta on Urbanspoon

Posted in Japanese, West Village | Leave a comment
Sep 12

Spiegel

Note: I was invited as a guest of the establishment and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review and opinions expressed are my own.

Why Come Here? Affordable, healthy all-day cafe in the East Village

If you’ve been to Europe you may have noticed their cafe culture is a little different than ours. Instead of serving as makeshift offices for people with tiny apartments, European cafes are all day affairs where people come to drink, eat and meet people. Apparently the same is true for Israel where Spiegel owner Shmulik Avital was raised. Last May he brought this concept to the East Village with a Mediterranean accented cafe described as “the place you want to be with your friends.”

Spiegel operates eighteen hours a day (7-1) in a cozy corner space in the East Village. There are two walls of windows that afford an ideal spot for both sipping a coffee in the morning watching the world go by and drinking a glass of wine while laughing at drunken NYU students stumble by at night. If you need someone to laugh with, you can grab a seat at the 40 foot horseshoe bar in the center that provides about half the cafe’s seating. And next spring you’ll be able to dine on the sidewalk as well.

Spiegel begins the day as a coffee shop serving up breakfast fare like egg dishes, house baked croissants and the only East Coast location of Verve Coffee Roasters coffee (which makes an excellent espresso.) This menu is generously served until 1PM. In the afternoon and evening they offer an eclectic, vegetarian-friendly menu with cuisine from around the world including many dishes from Avital’s native Israel and Morocco. The fare is mostly light and affordable with all items coming in at less than $20. Pair all that with a global wine list with no bottle over $40 and Spiegel makes a prime candidate for your neighborhood go-to spot.

My favorites from the lunch/dinner menu are below:

moroccan tomato pepper sauce, spiegel, nyc, east village

Baked Feta

Baked Feta 2.5/4 stars The dish may be called baked feta, but the spicy Moroccan tomato pepper sauce it comes in steals the show. It’s rich and peppery yet slightly sweet making it a perfect compliment to the salty hunks of feta, eggplant and kalamata olives.

Stuffed Mushrooms 2.5/4 stars First, forget everything you know about stuffed mushrooms. These mushrooms are lightly fried and stuffed with smoked salmon and cream cheese. I know, it sounds a little weird. But somehow it comes together in a surprisingly tasty and smokey app I consider a must-order.

israeli, tzatziki, spiegel, cafe, east village, nyc

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters (2/4 stars) These are a notch above your usual fritters owing to the solid fry job and addition of feta and tzatziki.

Spiegel Chopped (2/4 stars) If I tried to list all the ingredients of this salad, this post would be twice as long. Let’s just say, if you can think of a vegetable it’s probably in here. And they’re all covered in a very refreshing lemon dressing that somehow makes it feel even healthier.

vegan, east village, moroccan, israeli, spiegel, nyc

Couscous

Couscous (2/4 stars) Another vegetable bomb, this time with the addition of couscous and a light vegetarian broth for a more complete meal.

Beets (2/4 stars) My top pick of the sides features sweetened slices of beet with a light dusting of cumin.

Spiegel
26 First Avenue (@ 2nd St)
New York, NY
Spiegel on Urbanspoon

Posted in American, East Village, Middle Eastern, Salad | Leave a comment