Apr 27

Definitive Guide to Smorgasburg

Why Come Here? Eat almost any type of food imaginable with the East River and Skyline as your backdrop

When it comes to New York food markets, Smorgasburg is King. Thousands of people travel to Brooklyn every warm weather weekend to sample food from close to 100 vendors. Saturdays you’ll find it at East River State Park in Williamsburg while Sundays they move to Pier 5 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Both locales offer a feast for both the stomach and eyes with stunning views of the East River and Manhattan skyline. It’s hard to imagine a better place to stuff your face with any type of cuisine imaginable.  Seriously, there’s everything from Indian Tacos to Bolivian Sandwiches to Vegan Burgers. Getting a chance to sell your grub here is a highly competitive process which means while some things are better than others, everything is at least pretty good. Gather a bunch of friends and try as much as you can.

Fortunately I live a short walk from the Williamsburg location which means pretty much every Saturday you’ll find me food-in-hand strolling the stalls, looking for my next bite. So yeah, I’ve eaten a lot of things there. And I will now rank them for your reading pleasure.

Note: As I continue going I’ll keep this list up to date. So you’ll want to bookmark this page. Not that you wouldn’t anyway.

berg'n, ramen.co, secret shoyu sauceThe Original Ramen Burger @ Ramen Burger 2.5/4 stars Last year’s hottest burger still draws the longest lines at Smorgasburg. The original is an angus beef patty covered with arugula, scallions and secret shoyu sauce on a bun constructed of ramen noodles. It’s a really good burger, but novelty more than taste has elevated it to legendary status. Click the name above for my full review.

 

Mighty Quinns, smorgasburg, williamsburg, nycBBQ Pulled Pork Slider @ Mighty Quinn’s* 2.5/4 stars Another Smogasburg legend that’s led to several brick-and-mortar locations but graciously continues serving here. You can also expect a long wait for this one if you’re not there early. The pulled pork is tender and well spiced with a great sweet tangy BBQ sauce pickles and chilis. It’s just a very well done BBQ sandwich.

Maine Style Lobster Roll @ Red Hook Lobster Pound* 2.5/4 stars One of NYC’s best lobster rolls, it comes on a buttery bun with a touch of mayo.

 

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYCBLT @ Landhaus 2.5/4 stars Landhaus has discovered the secret to the BLT. Replace the flimsy slabs of bacon with a big fat juicy slice of pork belly. Winner.

 

Chana Masala, Bombay Sandwich Co, Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, NYCChanna Masala Sandwich @ Bombay Sandwich Co.2.5/4 stars Indian style chickpeas with chutney on a fresh ciabatta it’s packed with a lot of flavor and probably my favorite vegan sandwich in town. Check out their store on W 27th street for a wider selection of excellent vegetarian sandwiches.

 

takumi taco, spicy tuna, short rib, smorgasburg, williamsburg, nycSpicy Tuna and Short Rib Tacos @ Takumi Taco2.5/4 stars The taco fusion craze takes on Japan with excellent results. What’s not to love about big hunks of tuna in spicy mayo and avocado? Nothing. The crispy gyoza taco shell makes it a little more Japanese and is perfect wrapper. The short rib is meaty and tender and great with wasabi crema.

 

Big Mozz, Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, NYCMozz Pops @ Big Mozz NYC (2/4 stars) You can watch these guys just making fresh mozz all day. But you should try some too. Cause it’s delicious.

Brisket Slider @ Lone Star Empire (2/4 stars) Moist, meaty and well spiced. It’s a strong alternative if you want barbecue but don’t want to wait in the Mighty Quinn’s line.

 

lumpia shack, smorgasburg, nycSpring Rolls @ Lumpia Shack* (2/4 stars) They offer Pork, Peking Duck and Mushroom filling in crispy, Filipino style spring rolls. They’ll give you all three for $8. Take the deal.

 

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, NYCChicken Roti @ Mamak Rendang (2/4 stars) Sweet and spicy chicken in a buttery roti. You’re about to realize you can sell my anything in an ethnic wrap, but this is the best of the bunch.

smorgasburg, williamsburg, nycChicken Satay Stick Rice @ Bamboo Bites (2/4 stars) Spiced chicken, cucumber, cilanto over sticky rice. This is a solid snack I think could rate it higher if not for the peanut sauce.

 

best buds burritos, smorgasburg, williamsburg, nycCarne Asada Burrito @ Best Buds Burritos (2/4 stars) I’ve gotta give these guys credit for being the first in NY to execute on the stoner fantasy of french fry filled burrito. Otherwise it’s a pretty standard California style burrito with crema, cheese and cilantro.

 

Smorgasburg, Williasmburg, NYCShrimp Ceviche Tosatado @ El Super (2/4 stars) A refreshingly somewhat lighter bite than most here, it makes a great option on a hot summer day.

 

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, NYCBeef in Scallion Pancake @ Outer Borough (1.5/4 stars) I love the idea of using scallion pancakes to make a wrap. A good sauce could take it to the next level.

 

Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, NYCSlow Roasted Pork Belly Paratha Taco @ Goa Taco (1.5/4 stars) I like the paratha and the pork belly, but I would have liked something a little more Indian than the somewhat uninspired cilantro / chipotle mayo combo.

smorgasburg, williamsburg, nyc

Goodwich @ The Good Batch (1.5/4 stars) I’m a longtime fan of the chipwich and my ability to turn down ice cream stuffed between two cookies is severely limited. This one uses a oat chocolate chunk cookie with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of fudge. While it tastes good, it lost points for the hardness of the cookie.

Thai Style Issan Sausage @ Queen Cobra Thai (1.5/4 stars) I ate these sausages off the street all the time in Thailand and loved them. These are a decent rendition, but don’t pack quite the same punch.

Phatty Melt @ Chickpea & Olive (1.5/4 stars) A beet based burger with a few different topping options. It’s meant as a vegan substitute to a burger and it’s suitable if you want just that.

* Indicates vendor also has a permanent location

Smorgasburg (April-November)
Saturdays at East River State Park
Sundays at Pier 5 at Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn, NY

Posted in Dumbo, Food Festival, Williamsburg | Leave a comment
Apr 22

The Little Beet Table

Why Come Here? Fancy food that’s also light & healthy, lots of vegetarian options, gluten free, you want to dine with a lot of girls

Little Beet Table Dining Room

Dining Room (credit: Urbandaddy)

The Little Beet Table describes itself as “Guiltin’ Free” which should give you some idea what you’re getting into. Yes, it’s one of those “healthy” restaurants that’s gluten-free and has lots of simply prepared vegetable-driven dishes. But don’t go thinking this is another place that’s just a bunch of quinoa salads and roasted beets (though they do offer those, of course). Pastas, flatbreads, a burger and some pretty good cocktails all find there way onto the menu here. It’s a combination that seems to be working well; good luck getting a table on less than a few days notice.

Inside, “LBT” looks like your cool artist friend’s loft. High ceilings are supported by conspicuous columns and tables made of reclaimed wood with mismatched chairs. There is lots of exposed brick covered in things like plants and paintings that looks like half a newspaper got stuck on them. Also like your cool artist friend’s loft, it’s packed with women. Seriously, my brother and I were the only table without a representative of the opposite sex. If you’ve got restaurant game, move this to the top of your list.

Overall, this means The Little Beet Table will loved by some and somewhere between enjoyed and tolerated by the rest. It’s a place to be seen eating healthy (which is sort of what I imagine every restaurant in LA being like). And if you’re vegetarian, gluten free or just looking to eat lighter meals, it has enough diversity you could eat here several times a week. But while the food is good, be advised most of it is not quite “I forgot I’m eating healthy good.” Below are my thoughts on what we tried:

chili, garlic, little beet table, gluten free, healthy, vegetarian, nycTender Shrimp 2.5/4 stars If garlic and chili are your thing, this is your dish. While the shrimp were good, we continued picking at the sauce covered chickpeas long after the last was gone.

 

little beet table, gluten free, healthy, vegetarian, nycMushroom Flatbread (2/4 stars) Mushrooms covered in three cheeses on a crispy flatbread makes it a vegetarian pleaser we can all enjoy. The best bites were the ones that caught some of the charred tomato sauce.

 

little beet table, gluten free, healthy, vegetarian, nycTuna Tataki (1.5/4 stars) One way to make me unhappy is to not deliver on a promise of avocado. I guess it’s in the sauce but it didn’t really come through. Outside of that, it’s sort of your standard, solid Asian seared tuna dish. Enjoyable but nothing particularly special.

 

little beet table, gluten free, healthy, vegetarian, nycRoasted Sunchokes & Baby Leeks (1.5/4 stars) Served with a cranberry mostada, I enjoyed all three elements here but not necessarily together.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALBT Burger (2/4 stars) You wouldn’t expect to see this at a place that describes itself as “guiltin free.” But despite the gluten free bun, it has all the makings you want in a good burger. Bacon, crunchy potato chips, charred tomato ketchup and spicy mayo special sauce. It’s good for treating yourself, or your friend that didn’t really want to come to a “healthy” restaurant.

Right Amount for 2? 3-5 small plates and 1-2 entrees

The Little Beet Table
333 Park Avenue South (24th & 25th Sts.)
New York, NY
Little Beet Table on Urbanspoon

 

Posted in Flatiron, Gramercy, New American | Leave a comment
Apr 16

Upland

Why Come Here? The real question is, why not?

Right Amount for 2? 2-3 from the veggies/ones, 3 from the two (pasta) and three sections

Upland Dining Room

Dining Room (credit: Upland)

At some point Upland owner Steven Starr must have thought to himself “how can I make a restaurant that will make everyone happy.” Friends, clients, dates, foodies, vegetarians and gluten haters will all love this restaurant. Yes, this make Upland the Emma Stone of restaurants. The only problem is, it makes Upland the Emma Stone of restaurants. Which means if you want a table before 10, you better have booked it two weeks ago.

So what makes Upland this mythical unicorn of restaurants? Well, let’s start with what happens when you step inside. The setting somehow manages to feel opulent, trendy and casual all at once. A golden hue emanates throughout from the large open bar upfront to the Mad Men era collection of booths in back. But upon closer inspection you find a beamed ceiling, checkered tables clothes and walls adorned with pickled vegetables that help relive you of any concern you should be wearing a coat and tie. The casual-friendliness of both the hosts and your waiter fully put you at ease. All are meant to fell comfortable at Upland.

The food is from Justin Similie of Il Buco Alimentari is described as “Contemporary California” which I translate to mean seasonal and vegetable-driven. It’s also pretty heavily Italian influenced drawing on Similie’s previous gig at one the city’s best Italian eateries. So while there are entire sections of mostly vegetables, they’re balanced out with pizzas and pasta courses. This may not represent the pinnacle of innovative cuisine, but it’s the type of food that will please the most people and is just really damn good. Also, the wine list is extensive with good bottles in all price ranges. And my cocktail was delicious. Do I really need to keep giving you reasons to come here?

Here’s what we tried:

Upland, Gramercy, NYCSlow Roasted Celeriac 2.5/4 stars I’ve seen celeriac pop up on a few menus lately and I have a feeling it’s about to trend. Why? It meets the trifecta of being very food for you, something our ancestors ate a lot of and having an interesting sounding name. Mark my words next time you see it on a menu. But how does it taste? Think of it as a sort of sweeter celery with the texture of a potato. Be ahead of the curve and order this one with delicious black truffle butter.

 

Photo Apr 10, 10 27 07 PMFive Lettuce ‘Caesar’ (3/4 stars)  Not only is it the coolest looking, but it may very well be the best tasting caesar in the city. The unique blend of lettuces is done up nicely with a dressing that’s light but packs a strong garlic-anchovy punch.

 

Photo Apr 10, 10 27 00 PMRazor Clams (2/4 stars) Razor clams score points for being the coolest looking and most fun to eat of any type of shellfish. But then they lose them for not having much flavor. To make up for that, Upland blends them with almond and spring onion, although the lemon juice ended up overpowering everything.

 

Upland, best pasta nyc, Flatiron, GramercyBucatini Cacio e Pepe (3.5/4 stars)?  Cacio e Pepe literally means cheese and pepper. Which are usually the starting blocks of a pasta, not the ending point. But sometimes beauty lies in simplicity. Simplicity and perfectly cooked pasta.

 

Photo Apr 10, 11 07 39 PMUpland Cioppino (2/4 stars) Honestly, I find cioppino hard to get excited about. It’s the (half) Noah’s Ark of seafood dishes with one of every fish and shellfish you can find tossed into a boatload of sauce. So I ordered this one because our waiter said it was his favorite dish on the menu. It is quite good and they use a Korean condiment called gochujang which gives a slightly funky taste. But I still can’t get too excited about it, especially given the other options here.

 

Photo Apr 10, 11 07 30 PMCrackling Porcelet (3.5/4 stars) This weirdly shaped hunk of pork is the dish people are going to be talking about it as I can’t imagine not ordering it. The meat is sort of like crispy pork belly meets perfectly cooked pork chop. Naturally, love ensues.

Upland
345 Park Avenue South (entrance on 26th St)
New York, NY
Upland on Urbanspoon

Posted in Flatiron, Gramercy, Italian, New American | Leave a comment
Apr 13

Ponty Bistro

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? West African and French influenced fare in an intimate bistro

sengalese bistro, gramercy, nyc

Dining Room (Credit: Ponty Bistro)

Ponty Bistro is the labor of love of Chef Cisse, a Jean-Georges vet who wanted to bring the flavors of his native Senegal to Manhattan. On the labor side, Cisse serves as owner, executive and pastry chef, beverage director and as he likes to add “dishwasher.” But there’s also the love. When you dine at Ponty, you’ll inevitably see Cisse find the time to greet his regulars with the affability of man who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

Ponty is named for a famous avenue in Senegal and the interior offers many nods to the West African nation. Walls are adorned with traditional wood carvings, paintings and photos from the country. However the overall feel is more French bistro than African cafe. It’s an intimate space with pale yellow walls, bistro tables and floor-to-ceiling windows that open onto Third Avenue during the warmer months that may or may not actually be coming soon.

The food too is far from being limited to that of the small nation, or even Africa as a whole. While many dishes contain Senegalese elements, Ponty Bistro is really more of a French/African influenced global restaurant. Dishes include everything from a variety of mussel preparations to Sengalese spiced steak to Thai spring rolls. Prices are reasonable and they offer a number of prix-fixe specials including a $19 lunch, a $25 dinner before 6 and $20 brunch with a cocktail. That brunch also offers a large selection of Benedicts, a weekend staple I have found inexplicably lacking on menus of late.

Speaking of cocktails, when you come to Ponty you’ll want to start off with one from their extensive list of martinis. All your favorite fruit flavors are there well as their signature bissap (a Sengalese hibiscus tea) and fresh ginger renditions. They also happen to be 2-for-1 before 7 so get there early. The rest of the bar selection includes a small but global wine list and one of my favorite hard-to-find African beers, Tusker.

I attended a press dinner so portions shown below are smaller than what you would typically receive. Here are my thoughts:

Ponty Bistro, Senegalese, NYC, Gramercy, HarlemButternut Squash Soup w/ Berbere Spice (2/4 stars) Even though it was served in a mug with a handle, there was little chance of getting thick pureed squash out without a spoon. Not that that’s a bad thing. The velvety soup was a great start on a cold “spring” day and the African berbere spice gave it as taste I can’t quite put my finger on, but know I want to have again.

 

Ponty Bistro, Senegalese, NYC, Gramercy, HarlemRoasted Beet Salad (2/4 stars) How did beets go from one of the most hated vegetables when I was growing up to a requirement to operate a restaurant? Were we just cooking them wrong from 2007 BC to AD? Whatever happened, they’re delicious here with blue cheese and a tangy refreshing citrus-balsamic dressing.

Ponty Bistro, Senegalese, NYC, Gramercy, HarlemWild Mushroom Risotto 2.5/4 stars A particularly creamy risotto elevated by parmigiano, asparagus and the magical flavor enhancing ingredient known as truffle oil.

Longlet a L’Echalote (Hangar Steak) 2.5/4 stars This looked so good I actually forgot to take a photo. It’s thinly sliced, cooked medium rare and so tender you could cut it with your fork. The red wine demi-glaze is a good but almost unnecessary.

 

Ponty Bistro, Senegalese, NYC, Gramercy, HarlemStriped Bass (2/4 stars) A lighter followup to the steak was this pan seared bass over an artichoke salad. The red sauce you see on the side was a sort of African marinara that I would like to see in larger quantities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChocolate Lava Cake 2.5/4 stars The chocolate lava cake was invented by Jean-Georges almost 30 years ago and who better to serve it up than one of his disciples. I’m not normally big on chocolate-heavy desserts, but this one is really good.

Ponty Bistro
218 Third Avenue (18th & 19th Sts)
New York, NY
Ponty Bistro on Urbanspoon
&
2375 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (@ W. 139th St)
New York, NY
Ponty Bistro on Urbanspoon

Posted in African, French, Gramercy, Harlem | Leave a comment
Apr 08

Pasar Malam

Why Come Here? Great introduction to Malaysian cuisine, reasonable prices

Right Amount for 2? 1-2 smaller plates, 2 entrees

While Thai and Vietnamese restaurants have occupied nearly every corner of NYC, their  dangley Southeast Asian cousin to the south known as Malaysia has yet to make a much of a dent. To borrow a phrase from the region, think of Malaysian cuisine compared to it’s neighbors as “Same Same, but Different.” Many dishes share elements with Thai, Vietnamese and Indian cooking while others clearly have a unique taste of their own. A perfect place to get started is Pasar Malam where they serve everything from crowd pleasing Thai standards to the “acquired tastes” of spicy fermented sambal.

Pasar Malam markets itself as a “Malaysian Night Market” and is meant to resemble the stalls of Kuala Lumpur with open kitchens, a hodgepodge of signs advertising dishes and a colorful mix of murals, flowers and Buddhas. Unlike the stalls, you won’t have to wait in long lines only to hope the cashier understood which dish photo you pointed at. Pasar is instead a typical waiter service restaurant which is fortunately staffed with people adept at describing the unfamiliar items on the menu.

The offerings at Pasar have the range of a full-on market with sections devoted to rotis (pancakes), salads, noodles, fried rice and satays. For your friends who don’t like to be surprised when their food comes out, there are Americanized version of dishes like the Elvis Roti (peanut butter & nutella) as well as Southeast Asian standbys like stir frys and Drunk Man Noodles. Prices are reasonable with entrees in the 10-$15 range for good sized portions. Whatever you do, be sure to get some satays for the table and a roti if you’re hungry. They’re among the best renditions in New York. Here’s what I tried:

Pasar Malam, Malaysian, Williamsburg, NYRoti Canai 2.5/4 stars Best I’ve had in the city. This one is light and buttery with a spicy curry dipping sauce.

skewer, Malaysian, best satay nyc, pasar malam, williamsburgSatay Chicken w/ Peanut Sauce (3/4 stars) This is not the typical peanut-buttery peanut sauce we Americans are commonly shafted with. This is the real deal curried, slightly spicy stuff you find on the streets of Asia. Try it while you can.

skewer, pasar malam, malaysian nycSatay Tandoori (2/4 stars) The Indian spiced chicken skewer was very tasty, although nothing you couldn’t find at a good Indian restaurant.

peanut sauce, pineapple, skewer, Pasar MalamSatay Babi (peanut & pineapple) 2.5/4 stars  A juicy pork skewer with their excellent peanut sauce and pineapple chunks, it sort of reminded me of an al pastor taco. Note: someone please make this into a taco.

Nasi LemakNasi Lemak (1.5/4 stars) The “National Dish of Malaysia” comes out like an Indian thali, which is to you get a bunch of things that you get to mix together yourself. Sorry, but that doesn’t mean you can say you”made” Malaysian food. The entree is basically a curry chicken (10 o’clock) which goes nicely with the peanut dried anchovies (8 o’clock) and sambal (5 o’clock). The spicy funky shrimp (3 o’clock) and passion fruit desert (1 o’clock) are basically bonus items. Think of it more of as an opportunity to try a lot of flavors than a great dish itself.

Pasar MalamFlounder w/ Basil (2/4 stars) It sounds like you’re typical Thai or Vietnamese basil stir fry. But a surprisingly funky sauce that doesn’t overpower and lets the big hunks of fish and vegetables shine through makes this one a winner.

Pasar Malam
208 Grand Street (Driggs & Bedford Sts.)
Brooklyn, NY
Pasar Malam on Urbanspoon
Pasar Malam

Posted in Malaysian, Williamsburg | Leave a comment
Apr 02

Balzem

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? Great selection of Mediterranean small plates & wines in a casual rustic setting

Dining Room (credit: Balzem)

When it comes to the perfect neighborhood restaurant, Balzem has all the ingredients. A rustic space with a vibe that’s cool yet casual. Check. A great happy hour ($6 wines, $5 beers, $5 tapas, 5-7, 7 days a week). Check. Lots of delectable, light small plates to snack on. Check. If you live around Nolita, you should be hitting this up frequently for drinks, dates and dinner with friends.

Enter Balzem and you’re greeted with an airy space featuring a 12- foot beamed ceiling and exposed brick walls. Looking around you’ll notice an eclectic array of old wine racks, mirrors and chandeliers that serve as great conversation pieces. The reclaimed pine bar is a good spot for a drink with a nice selection of craft beers on tap and excellent selection of small-production Mediterranean wines.

The food is an updated take on both Turkish and Italian fare. Much of it is light and simply prepared which means you can eat a lot without feeling terrible about yourself. I could easily see coming in for some drinks at the bar and a few tapas like the spicy feta, zucchini pancakes and prosciutto wraps. But unlike many Mediterranean spots the large plate section is also strong with flatbreads, skewered meats, seafood and a dynamite tiramisu to top it all off. Below are some of my favorites from our meal:

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeProsciutto Wraps (3/4 stars) Wrapping prosciutto around mozzarella is nothing new. But the creamy burrata and charred pepper elevate this one to must try status.

 

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeOctopus (2/4 stars) Octopus is one of the hardest dishes to get right. It goes from rubber to mush in a matter of seconds. Here it’s pan seared to perfection in a red wine sauce with arugula.

 

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeCrevette Grille (2/4 stars) Grilled shrimp that packs a ton of flavor thanks to a variety of Turkish spices.

 

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeZucchini Pancakes 2.5/4 stars Think more potato pancake than Bisquick on this one. The dill, feta and parsley give it a salty, tangy flavor that you’ll want to taste again soon.

 

balzem, nolita, nycTruffle Mac & Cheese 2.5/4 stars This dish is always a winner for me, but Balzem’s version is particularly good. The cheese is baked firmly into the macaroni and just the right amount of truffle. It didn’t last long on our table.

 

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeLamb Brochettes 2.5/4 stars This another dish that may not sound exciting, but is just prepared too well to ignore. The lamb is tender and juicy with just a hint of gaminess. But  it’s the herbed yogurt and chimichurri-like dipping sauces that ensure you’ll order it again.

 

Balzem, Mediterennean, Nolita, small plates, mezzeTiramisu 2.5/4 stars Tiramisu is one of my all time favorite desserts so I’m very picky with how it’s done. What I love about this one is the strong, fresh espresso taste and the fact that the lady fingers have been soaked to the point you feel like you’re slicing through a mousse.

Balzem
202 Mott Street (Spring & Kenmare Sts.)
New York, NY
Balzem on Urbanspoon

Posted in Mediterrenean, NoLiTa | Leave a comment
Mar 27

Ramen Setagaya

Why Come Here? Quick bowl of very good ramen

You wouldn’t expect much from a ramen shop located on a strip of St. Mark’s Place known more for bongs than broth. And when you peer through one of the large windows, your confidence is unlikely to increase. The painted concrete walls have little more than a few Japanese characters and posters covering them (grab a table by the window if you can). All of the seating is communal with a counter wrapping around three walls and a big table in the middle. Setagaya is not a great place for groups or for lingering. But if you’re looking to get your ramen fix on quick, it will do the trick quite nicely.

Ramen Setagaya offers your standard ramen shop appetizers (gyoza, buns, etc.) and ramen in pork, chicken and vegetarian broths. If you come at lunch, they’ll slash a full $1.05 off your bowl. The most popular ramen here is the spicy miso (in a pork broth), which is what I ordered. It arrived at my spot in about five minutes. My thoughts are below:

Ramen Setagaya, East Village, NYCSpicy Miso Ramen 2.5/4 stars I really enjoyed the spicy miso broth which was salty with a good kick and strong pork flavor. The noodles were thick and chewy, probably the chewiest I’ve had (but in a good way). The pork was above average – a little tough but much better than the dried up strips you sometimes find at this price point ($12). The other fix’ins of corn, cabbage, bamboo shoots and egg left something to be desired. Given how much I enjoyed the broth, I think this could be three stars with a little sprucing.

Ramen Setagaya
34 1/2 St Marks Place (2nd & 3rd Aves)
New York, NY
Ramen Setagaya on Urbanspoon
Ramen Setagaya

Posted in East Village, Japanese, Ramen | Leave a comment
Mar 24

Cosme

Why Come Here? Excellent New American style takes on Mexican cuisine

Right amount for 2? 4 dishes

Cosme Mexican Dining Room NYC

Dining Room (Credit: Cosme)

As a big fan of the food of Mexico, let’s just say I excited to hear Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol (the 20th ranked restaurant in the world) was opening a restaurant in New York. It’s been jam packed since opening in November but I was able to get in late on a Friday night. While this one may not make a top 20 restaurants of the world list, but it’s still a great addition to the New York dining scene.

Step inside Cosme and it feels a bit like the Battlestar Galactica with soaring black ceilings and gray walls in a surprisingly large space. Fortunately there are some flowers and little cactuses on the tables to remind you this is Earth and we do have colors here. It’s also lively enough to not make sitting in this gigantic space awkward and after a couple of their fantastic tequila cocktails you wouldn’t care if it were a spaceship anyway.

The food takes you on a journey of its own as the dishes reach far beyond their Mexican roots. There is no guacamole or tacos on the menu (though you do get to make your own with some excellent homemade tortillas). The most comparable restaurant in New York is Empellon Cocina, but Cosme delves further into the New American realm with some strong nods to Japanese and Italian. Items like uni tostada, burrata in salsa verde and crispy octopus mole give you some idea of the fusion happening here. Prices are also very New American with at least 2 $20+ dishes needed to make a meal for most people. While it’s not the game changing restaurant Pujol might be, it’s still a very unique and enjoyable meal. My thoughts on what I had are below:

 

Cosme, Mexican, Flatiron NYCSliced Raw Hamachi (3/4 stars) Covered in fermented serranos and fish sauce this looks more like something that would come out at an upscale Japanese restaurant. Which makes it a perfect representation of what Olvera is doing here. The fish is a little spicy and sour and makes a great start to the meal.

Cosme, Mexican, Flatiron NYCCobia al Pastor 2.5/4 stars A play on the classic al pastor with whitefish replacing the traditional roast pork and a pineapple puree joining the party. Bonus: you get to wrap it all into a taco using their “single origin” corn tortillas.

 

Cosme, Flatiron, Mexican, NYCBurrata 2.5/4 stars Mexico meets Italy in this one with a perfectly fresh, moist hunk of burrata sitting in a pool of thick salsa verde. How these two took so long to get together I’ll never understand.

Duck carnitas , onions , radishes, salsa verdeDuck Carnitas (3.5/4 stars) It says it’s for two although you could easily split it among four. The slow roasted half-duck has a layer crispy skin protecting the tender meat inside. It comes covered in onions, radishes and cilantro with both habanero and salsa verde. You then get to roll all this into your own taco. It might be more food than you need, but I have faith you’ll find a way to get it down.

dessert, Cosme, Mexican NYCHusk Meringue with Corn Mousse (3.5/4 stars) Normally with so many tantalizing fusion options I would skip on dessert. But no matter how full you are, don’t do it. First off, you get the enjoyment of smashing into the meringue shell. Once inside you find a creamy, smokey dessert that’s slightly sweet and unlike anything I’ve ever tried.

Cosme
35 E 21st Street (5th Ave & B’way)
New York, NY
Cosme on Urbanspoon

Cosme

Posted in Flatiron, Mexican, New American | Leave a comment
Mar 17

Eating in India

As close as you'll get to beef here

As close as you’ll get to beef here

For most people, eating in India conjures images of fragrant curries and tandoori breads. But it also brings on fears of “Delhi Belly” due to let’s say “different” hygiene standards as well as the challenges of navigating unfamiliar menus. After a recent jaunt to the subcontinent, I’m ready to share some tips to help make eating out in India an easy and enjoyable experience. Here’s what you need to know:

First off, India is a vegetarian’s paradise. As much as 40% of the population refrains from meat so you can expect at least half (if not all) the menu dedicated to veggie delights. There’s plenty of potatoes, carrots, peas, spinach, onions and cheese in fried, curry and tandoori oven cooked forms.

For meat lovers, options are a bit more limited. Firstly, cows and pigs are considered holy and rarely appear on menus (in the streets is a different matter…) If meat is on offer, it’s typically chicken or lamb. However, these are also probably the most common source of Delhi Belly. So go with your gut (while it’s in tact) to determine whether the place seems sanitary. I ended up eating vegetarian about 90% of the time with minimal grumblings from my inner carnivore.

Street food is the other potential cause for concern. Basically my rules are: stick to places that look busy and only order food cooked in front of you (really no different than for halal carts in New York). If you follow these practices, you’ll likely be safe eating off the streets anywhere in the world.

On to the food. Below are some of my favorite dishes from the trip should you need a little inspiration on what to order:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASaag (or Palak) Paneer A healthier alternative to most curries, there’s generally less if any cream used as the base is primarily pureed spinach and onion. The addition of paneer (a soft, mild Indian cheese) adds a nice texture. And of course cheese makes everything better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChilli (or Chilly) Paneer  A Chinese influenced dish that’s served basically fried cheese, onions and peppers in a sauce similar to Chinese Garlic Sauce. It’s a nice alternative when you get tired of curry but don’t want to chance the Indian “interpretation” of chicken alfredo.

Gatta CurryGatta Curry A specialty of Rajasthan in Northwest India, gatta are balls of chickpea flour similar to gnocci, shown here in a cashew and tomato based curry. I’ve yet to see this in America so be sure to give it a try when you’re over there.

Vegetarian plate IndiaAbove are a few other solid veggie options : aloo dum (potato fry), mixed vegetable curry and dal (soupy lentils) with rice and chapati bread (similar to naan but without butter or yeast).

ThaliThali For those who can’t decide, there’s thali. Think of it as a mini tasting menu. These usually come with bread, rice, at least two to three types of curry, yogurt and a dessert.

Chicken Kadai (or Karahi) When I did opt for meat, this was my staple (yet I somehow managed to end up without a photo). It comes in a cashew nut gravy and is one of the few curries served with bell peppers. Topping it with cilantro ensured I’d be ordering it again.

Masala Chai You’ll find this all over India and if you’re a fan of what we call chai (which just means “tea” in India), you’re in for a treat. Unlike in America where spice packets are commonly used, here they do it the old fashioned way: freshly grinding the spices (cardamom, ginger and pepper). It’s served with a generous helping of milk and sugar.

Lassis

Lassis are basically the Indian milkshake combining salty yogurt with a variety of fruits. At many restaurants I found the sour-salty yogurt over powering and shied away. However, there were two places you must get lassis if you’re in the respective city:

JapiurLassiwalla in Jaipur prepares a creamier lassi without the salty sour flavor. It’s more like really good milk shake, but lighter thanks to the use of yogurt. Mine was mango and came in this photogenic clay cup.

Varanasi India

Lassis and Blue Lassi VaranasiBlue Lassi in Varanasi not only rhymes but is considered by many the top lassi shop in India. The lassis here are more parfait style with fresh fruit chopped and put on top of a bowl of yogurt. For those looking to take their yogurt to new “highs” there are special versions available.

Sweets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn nearly every city you’ll find cases filled with delectable white sweets. They’re heavy on both the sugar and cream which gives them sort of a tres leches flavor. Some are mixed with coconut or chocolate. The shiny stuff in the top photo is actually edible silver. Unfortunately due to the milk content they need to be eaten within 24 hours so you won’t get to take any home. Not that they would last that long anyway.

Old Delhi Walking Tour with MJH Tourism

I highly recommend this tour for anyone with some time in Delhi. While it isn’t entirely food related, you do eat some great food while seeing things and meeting people you never would on your own. You can get more details and book it here.

We started off with breakfast of a chana masala (spiced chickpeas) with poori. Think of Poori as an edible bread balloon. It’s a fried Indian bread that inflates with air when cooked which you then squash and rip up to eat. As you can see, I got to make my own.

Indian spinach cheeseOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tour also included (among other things) a walk through the spice market at Khari Baoli where you can pick up all you Indian spice needs on the cheap. We ended at our guide Dhruv’s beautifully restored haveli (old mansion) where his wife prepared the meal for us below. Indian home cooked meals vary quite a bit from what you find at restaurants. Depending on how charming you are, you probably won’t have too many opportunities to get one on your trip (this was my only one). Which is yet another reason I recommend this tour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Mar 06

Brucie

Why Come Here? Interesting Northern Italian cuisine in a cozy setting

Right Amount for 2? One item from each section or 2 starters, 2 pastas

There is something about a big Italian meal with friends that no other type of meal can ever seem to match. Sharing courses of pastas, antipastas and meats with a good bottle of sangiovese is simply one of life’s greatest pleasures. Any time I move to new neighborhood figuring out where I’ll have such a meal is a top priority. If you live around Cobble Hill, Brucie should be that place for you.

When you enter the partially subterranean space, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a home in the Italian countryside. Which is exactly where you want to be for such a meal. There are two rooms featuring rustic wall paper, wooden tables and chairs and walls stocked with books and pantry items. The cooking also has a down home feel with a small number of offerings that changes based on available ingredients. In typical Italian format, it’s divided into numerous course with a few appetizers, a pasta course and some large shared meat options. Naturally you’ll want to get in on all them. Here’s what we had on a recent Saturday night:

Brucie, Italian, Cobble HillBread & Butter (2/4 stars) I refuse to give up the notion that bread should be free, but if you’re going to pay a thick crusty slice with homemade lemon butter certainly won’t make you feel slighted.

Caesar Salad (Not Tried) I didn’t try this one but it got rave reviews from others at the table so I’m mentioning it. It bucks Caesar tradition by coming out shredded and includes beets and radish.

Brucie, Italian, Cobble HillMeatballs (2/4 stars) Cooked to tender perfection and served in a bath of tangy marinara.

Brucie, Italian, Cobble HillTagliatelle w/ Tomato Butter (2/4 stars) I saw this written up all over as a must try dish with brussels sprouts and burrata. While I enjoyed the buttery goodness of the sauce, not having those two in my pasta did leave something to be desired.

Brucie, Italian, Cobble HillPaparadelle w/ Lamb Ragu 2.5/4 stars This was described as their take on a Rreuben with a Russian dressing like sauce, rye pasta and sauerkrat. I’ll take this bed of homemade papradelle over bread in my Reuben any day.

Brucie, Italian, Cobble HillChicken alla Brucie (3/4 stars) The signature dish lived up to it’s billing. It’s a whole chicken, cooked under a brick which makes the skin amazingly crisp while keep the meat moist. Then there’s the yogurt sauce and sour sweet potatoes that keep every bite interesting. Bring a friend (or 3) and shell out the $50.

Brucie
234 Court Street (Baltic & Kane Sts)
Brooklyn, NY
Brucie on Urbanspoon
Brucie

Posted in Boreum/Cobble Hill, Caroll Gardens/Red Hook, Italian | Leave a comment