May 19

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.

Why Come Here? Fresh seafood in a casual setting

While North Brooklyn has no shortage of high quality meat markets, it can be quite lacking when it comes to the treasures of the sea. Enter Greenpoint Fish & Lobster (“GFC”). They offer a nice selection of fresh, high quality and sustainable seafood near McCarren Park. And for those not inclined to prepare it themselves, they’ve got a kitchen serving up some very tasty offerings.

GFC looks like your standard seafood market, with a bunch of fresh fish on ice upfront and the obligatory white brick walls. The back offers a small amount of casual dining at both a counter and a few small tables. I don’t think any could take more than 2 people, so don’t plan on having your birthday party here. The offerings range from a rotating selection of raw oysters to fish tacos and lobster rolls to full on seafood entrees. The ones I’ve tried are below:

Greenpoint Fish Lobster Seafood MarketSeabass in Mango Salsa (Market Fish Plate) 2.5/4 stars The market plate changes daily depending on the catch of the day and should be your go-to order. The meaty seabass in a tangy salsa I had could hold its own at any seafood restaurant in the city. The curry spiced potatoes were a nice compliment.

 

Greenpoint Fish Lobster Seafood MarketKelp Noodle Pad Thai (2/4 stars) I enjoyed the refreshing use of kelp noodles in the pad thai. It adds a slight crunch over the traditional noodles while sacrificing surprisingly little flavor. Bonus for healthy types: it’s raw, vegan and gluten-free.

 

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster, seafood market, brooklyn, nycFish Tacos (2/4 stars) Meaty white fish with a nice crispy fry and tangy spicy mayo. Definitely one of the better fish tacos in town.

 

Greenpoint Fish Lobster Seafood MarketHamachi Crudo (1.5/4 stars) Generally I’m in the camp that when you’ve got some slices of really good fresh fish it’s best to let them stand on their own. However, hamachi can be a little bland and the simple dressing of olive oil and sea salt wasn’t quite enough to overcome that.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFish Collar (1/4 stars) As you can see, the “collar” is in fact the area around the tail. It’s sort of the “dark meat” of the fish with a distinctive texture and taste. I think I’ll be sticking to the normal parts.

Right Amount for 2? 1 app & 2 entrees or 3 apps & 1 entree

 

Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co.
114 Nassau Avenue (Leonard & Eckford Sts.)
Brooklyn, NY
Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. on Urbanspoon

Posted in greenpoint, Seafood | Leave a comment
May 15

Javelina

Why Come Here? NYC’s best queso dip, riffs on Tex Mex specialties

Javelina dining room

Dining Room (credit: Javelina)

While New York’s Mexican scene has been on the rise in recent years with strong additions in the authentic and Cal-Mex categories, “Mexican” cuisine’s third jewel in the crown has languished behind. I am speaking of course of Tex-Mex. It’s clear that the city yearns for queso dip, fajitas and all the other creamy, cheesey, beefy stylings of the Lone Star State’s proudest food group (maybe tied with deep-fried anything). To see this you need look no further than the popularity of newcomer Javelina. I recently shared a lunch here with Chelsea-Rae, whose always entertaining food blog is required reading. The place was jam packed that weekday afternoon and apparently has been since opening two months back.

Javelina’s interior is a blend of both Tex Mex and NYC restaurant elements (as is the food.) The bright aqua green chairs and booths matched with Soutwestern tile work and cactii definitely harken to a warmer dessert climate. But then you’ve got your exposed brick and piping, open kitchen and the fact this place would be considered a closet in Texas to remind you you’re only a few blocks from Union Square.

The offerings draw from all over the state but the biggest draw are the queso dips. This is basically cheese melted to a semi-liquid state and covered with chilis, cilantro, pico de gallo and  the “option” to add your choice of meat. From there the menu gets into all your Tex-Mex favorites from fajitas to enchiladas to red chili and some regional specialties as well.  Prices are pretty fair with most of their quite filling entrees going for less than a Jackson note. I came at lunch so I avoided the booze, but they appear to be doing a nice selection of tequila & mezcal cocktails. Here’s what we tried:

 

Javelina, Tex-Mex, Gramercy, NYCYellow Queso Dip w/ Chorizo (3/4 stars) There is an option to add meat to your dip. There is also an option to add electricity to your apartment. Sometimes options are silly. We added the spicy crumbled chorizo and were very pleased. As for the dip itself, it’s creamy, cheesy and slightly spicy from the serranos. I would call this the best rendition I’ve had in NYC and possibly ever, even if (or maybe because) they shun the traditional Velveeta. Plus its easily big enough for four.

 

Javelina, Tex Mex, Gramercy, NYCChile Relleno 2.5/4 stars One of my favorite chile rellenos, it’s stuffed with beef and covered with cheese and tomatillo salsa which is all good. But the thing that puts this one over the top is the nutty-sweet sprinkling of toasted pecans and raisins.

 

San Antonio style, Javelina, Tex Mex, Gramercy, NYCPuffy Taco (1.5/4 stars) This sounded cool but was ultimately undone by its own puffiness as the shell overpowered what was inside. Which was a shame because the spicy pork shoulder was quite tasty on its own.

Right Amount for 2? Queso Dip (good luck finishing it) plus 2 entrees

Javelina
119 East 18th Street (Park Ave S & Irving Pl)
New York, NY
Javelina on Urbanspoon

Posted in Gramercy, Mexican | Leave a comment
May 13

Pergola

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? Hookah and Mediterranean bites in a garden-lounge setting

A pergola is one of those wooden things you see in a large garden that’s covered in vines or flowers. Which is to say if you live in NYC, it’s something you don’t see. Pergola sort of looks like someone decided to set one up in a New York loft. It’s a soaring two story space that’s full-on open to the street in warmer months and fulled with vines, plants and curtains contrasted with club-like, multi-colored lighting. This all happens in the Flower District, which further adds to the Springiness of the place. Then there are the hookahs because hey, you’re kind of pretending to be outside, right? They come in numerous flavors including fresh fruits and are some of the best I’ve had in the city.

The food is Mediterranean and is also quite good for a swanky hookah lounge. Pergola offers all the mezze staples you’d expect with a nice selection of entrees like lamb burgers and sea bass souvlaki. There’s a large selection of housemade cocktails which I found a bit hit-or-miss, but you won’t go wrong with the Jalisco Rose or Bangkok Banger. It works just as well for shisha and snacks as a full meal in a Mediterranean garden-lounge, making it a great after work option in a neighborhood that has few.

I was invited to sample their spring menu. My favorites are below:

Pergola, NYC, HookahFeta Tomato Crostini 2.5/4 stars This place has real good feta. And it goes well mashed into a little salad on a piece of bread.

 

Pergola, NYC HookahMezze Platter (2/4 stars) The spicy fried pita makes an interesting dipper for the traditional assortment of hummus, babaghanoush and olive tapenade.  You’ll want one for the table to snack on.

 

Pergola, NYC HookahPergola Lamb Sliders (2/4 stars) Lamb is underrated as a burger meat. And it’s especially good with feta, arugula and spicy aioli though personally I’d like to see it cooked medium rare.

 

Pergola, NYC HookahGrilled Prawn 2.5/4 stars This was the most popular dish of the night at my table. The prawns were perfectly cooked and topped with slightly spicy pomodoro but were almost overshadowed by the phenomenal asparagus risotto. A must order if you get an entree.

 

Pergola, NYC HookahBaklava Cheesecake (2/4 stars) Two hunks of sweet, flakey baklava sandwich a creamy cheesecake filling. Enjoy.

Pergola
36 W 28th Street (B’way & 6th Ave)
New York, NY
Pergola on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chelsea, Mediterrenean | Leave a comment
May 05

Minetta Tavern

Why Come Here? Iconic restaurant, Old New York dining, meat-fest

Minetta Tavern, Greenwich Village, West Village, NYC best burger

Bar Room

The entrance to Minetta Tavern could very well be a portal to 1940s New York. Pull back the curtain to find tile floors and a tin ceiling, caricatures on the walls  and tucked away leather booths and you half expect your dining companions to be mid-century gangsters.  There isn’t even a single window to the outside, not that its awkward location on narrow MacDougal and tiny Minetta Lane would bode well for a drive-by anyway. When I entered I immediately ordered a Brooklyn (similar to a Manhattan) at the bar. I couldn’t imagine drinking anything else.

The service harkens back to another era as well. The uniformed waitstaff (people still do that?) manages to nail the service trifecta of friendly, attentive and knowledgeable. When we asked for bread for our marrow, our waitress offered freshly toasted baguettes with caramelized onions free of charge. Another waiter chatted us up about photography and old movies.  To an outside observer, it looked like we ate here twice a week. But this is all part of what makes Minetta such an iconic establishment.

The menu pays homage to the time-honored tradition of meat-centricity and reads like a list of animal parts. Pork trotters, foie gras, bone marrow. Some fish and pasta thrown in for good measure. But what Minetta is known for is beef. While there are numerous way to take your steer, the fabled black label burger and cote de boeuf receive the most acclaim. These are what drew me here with steakhouse blogger Johnny Prime to celebrate his fourth anniversary dinner. If you’re looking for the best steaks in town, he’s your man (plus his photos put mine to shame).

When it came to ordering, let’s just say it was the kind of meal where our appetizer was a burger. Yeah. Here’s what went down:

minetta tavern, west village, nyc, best burgerBlack Label Burger (3/4 stars) Probably New York’s best known burger and with good reason. They use prime, dry aged meat for the patty which gives it a funky taste you won’t get from the average stuff. It’s cooked right and they don’t go crazy with the toppings; other than some perfectly caramelized onions its just the standard lettuce, tomato and optional cheese (we added cheddar). Bonus: the crispy thin “McDonalds style” fries are among the city’s best.

 

minetta tavern, west village, nyc, Dry Aged Cote de Boeuf (3.5/4 stars) This is one of those dishes a meatophile needs to gorge on at least once in their lifetime. It includes a huge ribeye, some beef rib and marrow on the bone. The meat is magnificently cooked with a thick charred crust on the outside but juicy medium rare within.

 

Minetta Tavern, West Village, NYCBraised Heritage Pork Shank (2/4 stars)  It’s fall of the bone tender, flavorful and served over a bed of mustardy cabbage. You wouldn’t order it over the beef, but they always say you shouldn’t just eat red meat.

 

minetta tavernPunched Pommes (2/4 stars) You need a side of something from the ground with all that meat. These crispy little potato cakes with a nice helping of rosemary are a great option.

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street (Bleecker & W. 3rd Sts.)
New York, NY
Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

 

 

Posted in French, Steakhouse, West Village | Leave a comment
Apr 30

Somtum Der

Why Come Here? Manhattan’s most authentic Isan Thai, get your spice on

Somtum Der is a mini-chain with one other location: Bangkok. That’s the type of cred I like to see in my Thai restaurants. But this place won’t be everybody’s bowl of noodles. If Cafe Spice is your pinnacle of Thai cooking, you probably best stay away. But if you heart authentic Thai cuisine that doesn’t have the spice toned down, sauces sugared up and inferior Western ingredients substituted, you’re going to love this place.

The food at Somtum Der comes primarily from the Northeast region of Thailand known as Isan. This differs from what we usually see in America with a focus on salads, fermented fish sauces and enough chilis to kill a small animal. There is not a single curry on the menu. We ordered our food medium-spicy and let’s just say the table got pretty quiet once it arrived. But it was the good kind of burn that compliments the dish without overpowering it. While the cooking may not be quite at Pok Pok‘s level of originality, considering it’s in the East Village and has no waits it’s a damn fine alternative.

The menu is divided into sections of salads, fried, grilled and noodle dishes. I recommend at least one from each. While I’ve spent about a month in Thailand my two friends at this meal had never been and were unfamiliar with this style of cuisine. Let’s call them Spicy and Mild based on their heat preferences. I’ll throw their thoughts in too for comparison. Here’s what we tried:

Papaya salad crab, Somtum Der, Isan Thai, NYCTum Poo Plara Somtum (Isan Papaya Salad w/ Crabs) (2/4 stars) As our waitress reminded/warned us when we ordered, this dish kind of tastes like licking a dockworker. A layer of fermented fish sauce sits on the bottom and the shelled crab legs don’t do anything to detract from it. Let’s just say it’s a taste you’ve either acquired or you haven’t. Oh yeah it’s spicy too. Mild didn’t love it, but Spicy and I agree it’s worth a try.

 

Somtum Der, Isan Thai, NYC, East VillageSa Poak Kai Tod Der (Deep Fried Chicken) 2.5/4 stars One the specialties here is the deep fried chicken thigh. The cooking is perfect and the spicy fish sauce nails it as a compliment. It’s probably the lowest on the adventurousness scale of anything we had, but all three of us agreed it’s a must order.

 

Somtum Der, Isan Thai, East Village, NYCNue Rong Hai Der & Khao Ji (Grilled beef skewers) (1.5/4 stars) The beef was well cooked but didn’t have much flavor without the very spicy chili dipping sauce. Fortunately you get some sticks of coconut sticky rice sticks to help extinguish the flames.

 

catfish salad, somtum der, isan thai, nyc, east villageLarb Pla Dook Yang (Catfish Salad) (3/4 stars) This is the dish that got me most excited. I don’t know exactly what it was, but something about it just tasted like Thailand in a way very few dishes in America do. If you want real Thai food you won’t find elsewhere it’s a must order. Spicy and I agrees it was the best dish of the night.

 

somtum der, isan thai, east village, nycPad Ki Mao Pork & Basil 2.5/4 stars You need something on the table that’s good and won’t burn out every last inch of your mouth. The crispy basil pork noodles are perfect for this. Mild declared it his favorite dish of the night and it is a fantastic rendition.

Right Amount for 2: 4 dishes and a sticky rice

Somtum Der
85 Avenue A (5th & 6th Sts.)
New York, NY
Somtum Der on Urbanspoon

Posted in East Village, Thai | Leave a comment
Apr 27

Definitive Guide to Smorgasburg

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

Smorgasburg

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.

 

Mighty Quinns, smorgasburg, williamsburg, nycBBQ Pulled Pork Slider @ Mighty Quinn’s* (3/4 stars) A 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* (3/4 stars) One of NYC’s best lobster rolls, it comes on a buttery bun with a touch of mayo.

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.

 

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.

Ovenly, Smorgasburg, Williamsburg, CookieSalted Chocolate Chip Vanilla Sandwich @ Ovenly* 2.5/4 stars I’m not a big sweets guy but this cookie is amazing, even though it was a little dry from being out all day. Fresh out of the oven I’m guessing this is an easy 3.

 

Smorgasburg, Bep, Tofu, WilliamsburgBanh Cuon w/ Tofu, Mushroom & Carrots @ Bep 2.5/4 stars Wrapped in a thicker rice paper than summer rolls and loaded with flavor this is one of the best Vietnamese rolls I’ve had. Add some hoison sauce for optimal eating pleasure.

 

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.

Season Sandwich @ Duck Season (2/4 stars) Duck confit topped with pickled cabbage, XO sauce and spicy chickpea spread on a brioche sounds like a recipe for an incredible sandwich. It’s good, but unfortunately was also a little dried out. The perils of mass production.

 

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.

Lolitas, Spanish Ham, Smorgasburg, WilliamsburgJamon Bite @ Lolitas (1.5/4 stars) Fact: Jamon iberico is one of the world’s greatest hams. And I’ve had some amazing sandwiches made from it in Spain. Unfortunately here it’s undone by a substandard soft white bread. This should be an easy upgrade and I look forward to trying it again if they do.

 

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