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:
Sawara (Spanish Mackeral) Sashimi Salad 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.
Tempura 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?
Szechuan Spiced Salmon 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.
61 West 8th Street (5th & 6th Aves)
New York, NY
Why come Here? Impressing a date, parents or guests
Right Amount for 2? monkey bread, a starter, a pasta and an entree
I first came to this space several years ago when it was a mediocre wine bar. I remember sitting in the back room looking out at the garden and thinking someone could do a lot more with this space. Well, someone has. And they called it Piora.
Piora is a sleek restaurant perfect for impressing a date or a big night out with friends in the West Village. The front area has a long, quaint cozy bar with a cocktail list that makes it worth coming in just for a drink. Try the Sunset Romance. There are a few tables up there, but you want to hold out for one in the sexy back area. You feel like you could be eating in a chateau with wooden beams on the ceiling and a quaint garden against a brick wall back drop.
Once here you’ll receive the menu, which is New American with Italian, French and Korean accents. Your meal should begin with an order of monkey bread and an appetizer. Fortunately the starters are primarily veggies and seafood so you won’t be too full heading into the obligatory pasta course (preferably shared). Follow that up with a main consisting of heartier items like Porterhouse for 2 and Rohan Duck.
All of this ain’t cheap as most of the entrees are in the mid-$30s, but you’re getting high end ingredients and a great space in a prime area. It’s also one of the few places in the West village where tables are comfortably spaced out, making it perfect for a European-style lingering meal. Come in viewing it as an indulgence, and you’ll have no problem leaving with a lighter wallet.
Here’s what I tried:
Monkey Bread I’m hesitant to pay for bread at a restaurant given the shortage of high quality free stuff throughout the city. However, the crisp outside and cloud like softness within combined with the interesting flavor of the seaweed butter makes it worth shelling out the six bucks.
Barbecued Octopus Get ready to get smoked. This octopus picks up a ton of burnt flavor from the grill and the hot fermented pepper adds a sour spiciness. Despite the charred exterior, it’s perfectly tender inside. The basil makes a refreshing addition.
Rohan Duck The duck with lavender at Eleven Madison Park is one of my favorite dishes of all time. While this doesn’t quite reach that level, the mere fact it’s in the same conversation makes it a must order.
430 Hudson Street (Morton & Leroy Sts.)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Solid ramen option in the West Village
Jinya is another Tokyo ramen mini-chain import that comes to us by way of LA (and several other West Coast cities). The West Village branch marks their 12th location in North America and given the stellar reviews in LA, I decided to add it to my ramen tour. The ramen is Hakata style which features Tokatsu broth – the rich porky stock found at Ippudo which requires a long nap after consumption. The space is more welcoming for a dinner with friends than many of the hobbit holes where ramen is currently served in NYC. In fact, it actually looks like a real restaurant. A real restaurant that was short of materials that don’t come from trees. Think wooden walls, a large wooden communal table and chairs and a wooden counter that doesn’t actually overlook the kitchen. There’s even an actual bar up front, with a wooden top of course. This place was clearly made with a night out in the village in mind, not the stop n’ slurp (quick slurp) mentality of the likes of Totto and Bassanova.
The menu is small and contains typical ramen bar fare like dumplings, pork buns and edamame. One intriguing addition that I inexplicably didn’t try are the truffled tempura brussels sprouts. Gotta save something for next time I guess. There are several types of ramen utilizing both tonkatsu and chicken stocks as well as a token vegetarian version. Jinya is most famous for their Tonkatsu Black, which I tried as part of the lunch special with gyoza.
Tonkatsu Black Named for the tar colored garlic oil, the thick broth is certainly heavy on the garlic and scallion. If you’re into those flavor you’ll find it enjoyable, although it lacks the complexity of some of the top ramen shops. The stringy noodles are thin and semi-firm. The pork doesn’t arrive in the hunks of belly I generally prefer, but had good flavor and was tender consider how thinly it was sliced. The ramen may not be elite quality, but it’s quite good especially for the location and vibe.
24 Greenwich Avenue (10th & Charles Sts.)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Kaiseki style dining, foodie indulgence, sampling hard-to-find Japanese delicacies
Last week the good folks at Tabelog were generous enough to bring me to dinner at EN Japanese Brasserie. EN is a place suited for a full on food indulgence with many Japanese specialties rarely found in NYC. The cavernous dining room could be the largest such space in the West Village and sets up well for a large group. But if you’re in the mood for something more intimate, the counter around the central open kitchen and soaring cherry tree in the middle create some cozier spaces as well. Up front is EN Shochu bar, one of the few bars in New York specializing in the Japanese liquor. It’s a nice spot to stop for a drink and soak in the ambiance.
With a grand space, you expect a grand meal. And with EN’s kaiseki menus you get just that. A kaiseki is basically a Japanese tasting menu, so be prepared for a leisurely meal. The house specialty is the tofu, made fresh six times per night. Currently they’re celebrating cherry blossom season with a special cocktail and kaseiki menu. Naturally I had to try both. Between that and Cutie Patroller ordering the Soyo Kaza Kaseiki I ate a lot of food, so get ready for a photo barrage:
From the Sakura Kaiseki Menu
Zensai This was a collection of 9 different 2 bite plates. I would say I can’t remember what they all were, but that would imply I knew at some point. My favorites were the squid (upper middle) and prawn.
Sakura Smoked Sashimi Two pieces each of fresh and tender wagyu and Tasmanian sea trout. It’s brought out with a smoke filled lid giving it that fresh smoked flavor. Definitely one of my favorite dishes here.
Sakuradai Sugata Ankake (fried seam bream w/ cherry leaf sauce) When this first came out I almost complained “you took the good part!” But thankfully the meat is there in front of the bones cooked tempura style in a cherry leaf sauce.
Sakura Tofu Admittedly, I’m not the biggest tofu fan but it isone of the specialties here so you gotta give it a go. This one is rolled to maybe half an inch thick and while I appreciated the melt in your mouth texture, I thought the cherry leaf broth didn’t add enough flavor. I preferred the version on the soyo kaze menu with the soy based wari-joyu sauce.
Lobster & Sakura Hapa Kamameshi (lobster w/ steamed rice & Hacho miso) This is another one that wins style points. They brought this out about 20 minutes before you eat it in the little oven you see above. You then add the thick, slightly sweet miso sauce and enjoy. Thoroughly.
From the Soyo Kazu Kaiseki Menu
Freshly Scooped Tofu (w/wari-joyu) The more flavorful soy based sauce greatly increased my enjoyment of this tofu, but I’ll admit it’s still not really my thing. For a tofu lover, this could be a 3 or more.
EN Japanese Brasserie
435 Hudson Street (Leroy & Morton Sts.)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Have your opinion of falafel changed forever, one of NYC’s best sandwiches
Years ago, I was highly skeptical that falafel had any business in a carnivore’s pita pocket. Every time I had tried the ball of spiced, mashed and fried chickpeas, I found it either too soggy, too dry and just plain lacking in flavor. Why would anyone substitute this for juicy shwarma or chicken kebab I wondered. Then a friend introduced me to Taim, and my mind was blown.
Taim is a kosher, vegetarian Israeli restaurant focusing on the falafel. The name means “tasty” in Hebrew, although that’s an understatement for how good their falafel really is. It’s one of those game changing renditions that makes it feel unfair to refer to it by the same name.
Taim’s falafel comes in three types: green (cilantro, parsley & mint, my personal favorite), red (roasted red pepper) and harissa (Tunisian spiced). The balls are made fresh – which it’s now clear is the only way to eat falafel – leaving them crunchy on the outside and moist inside. You can get them as a platter with salad, but I must highly recommend the sandwich which is perfectly topped with their spectacular hummus, tahini sauce and Israeli salad. Not matter how much you think you don’t like falafel, you need to give it a try.
Taim currently has two locations, plus a truck. The original is in the West Village and justifiably received a 9/30 in decor from Zagat. It’s basically a food counter with seating for four so have another place to eat in mind when venturing over (the steps across the street are popular). The NoLiTa location is slightly larger seating maybe 15 and adds some wood paneling so you don’t feel like you’re eating in a commercial kitchen.
Falafel Sandwich All the ingredients from the falafel to the hummus, [tahini] to the pita itself are fantastic and in perfect portion. If you feel the need to add something, I recommend their pickles or housemade hot sauce.
222 Waverly Place (Perry & 11th Sts.)
New York, NY
Check Website for Locations
Why come here? Modern, affordable Italian in the West Village
Right Amount for 2? 1 Appetizer and/or salad, a pasta and an entree
According to MenuPages, there are 113 Italian restaurants in the West Village although it often feels like there could be that many on Seventh Avenue alone. Most of them serve some mix of mediocre fried calamari, doughy pizza and standard red sauce pastas and are reserved for B&T groups looking to make same-day party of eight reservation in “The Village.” So I’ll excuse your yawns when you heard Pagani opened on the corner of 7th & Bleecker. But this newcomer brings a much needed upgrade to the strip and should move to the top of your list for a lively, causal meal in the area.
Brought to you by Massimo Lusardi of Uva fame, Pagani brings the trendy casual vibe you search for in the West Village, yet is somehow missing from the surrounding moderately priced Italians. The blonde wood and smokey tiled bar area is fairly large and open, making it pleasant place to enjoy one of their delicious artisan cocktails while waiting to be seated. The waitstaff is young and playful, shunning the tired formal, old-school Italian service model. The main dining area is fairly small and intimate, with a semi-private area in back in case you’re rolling deep.
Matt Barrett formerly of Babbo delivers a menu that may not set the foodie world ablaze, but contains a nice selection of well executed dishes. Between the pastas, salads, fish and meat even the friend who can never “find anything she can eat” will be satisfied. Of the six items across the menu everything was solid with prices coming in at a reasonable $15-22 for entrees. The wine list also contains a refreshingly large selection of wines under $50, instead of the token one or two typically found nearby. My top picks are below:
Ravioli Cacciatore The chef’s play on chicken cacciatore contains perfectly cooked chicken and pasta in a tangy, meaty sauce. It’s a on the smaller side, but perfect if your saving energy to go out afterwards.
289 Bleecker Street (@ 7th Ave)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? Top notch bagels and lox
New York is associated with many iconic dishes: pizza, cheesecake, fried chicken & waffles. But perhaps no food is more quintessentially New York than the bagel. Yet while few would dispute that New York is its King, finding a really good bagel here remains no easy task. Thankfully for those of us in the West Village / Chelsea area, there’s Murray’s.
Aesthetically, Murray’s looks like just about every other New York bagel shop / deli. A long counter with the big board of meats and cream cheeses behind it and in front a few tiny tables and chairs with no decor whatsoever. But what goes on behind that counter is pure food magic. They make the bagel that’s everything a bagel should be: crispy on the outside, chewy without being tough within. Toasting such a work or art is not only not necessary, it’s not an option. So please don’t embarrass yourself by asking.
Equally impressive are the sheer number of offerings. Murray’s has about 20 types of bagel, including my personal favorite: the elusive whole wheat everything. Then there’s the collection of smoked fish, another New York icon. Murray’s brings in the best from throughout the city and has a selection of over 10 styles of smoked salmon alone. While it’s fun to sample the different varieties from around the world (particularly when you order from here every weekend), my favorite for a bagel remains the standard mildly smoked Eastern Nova Scotia variety. The dill Scandinavian and peppery Pastrami serve as top change of pace options.
I’m not going to get too far into dish recommendations as everything is meant to customized and you won’t be disappointed with any of the bagels, cream cheeses or salmon. However, for those who like to be told what to do, my go to order is below:
Why Come Here? Strange but delicious fish-focused small plates
Right Amount for 2? 3 pieces of sushi (each), 3-4 other items
Chez Sardine is the latest addition from West Village master restaurateur Gabe Stulman who has done great things with Fedora, Perla, Joseph Leonard and Jeffery’s Grocery. Chez Sardine is an Americanized Izakaya, which is essentially a Japanese tapas bar (for the traditional version, check out Rockmeisha). I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else do this per se, but playful small plates in a casual setting is something New York has gotten pretty familiar with. The inside does maintain a Japanesey feel with a sleek design, the typical light wood paneling, pictures of fish and a classic rock soundtrack (ok, maybe that’s not Japanese). The place is pretty tiny and does take some reservations, so if you don’t have one, you’re probably waiting two hours. Surprisingly once you sit though, you’re not packed like “sardines” as tables are reasonably spread out by West Village standards (aka more than 3 inches).
The menu comes in sections that include snacks, sushi, small & large plates and Miso Maple Salmon Head. Despite some weird sounding combinations, nearly everything hit the mark, but make sure you dig deepest into the sushi and Salmon Head sections. While the fact that only two items are over $20 may give you the impression you’ll escape without a hefty tab, keep in mind you’ll need a reasonable stack of dishes to fill yourself up. It feels like a cool local spot you’d like to frequent for some small bites and drinks, especially late night. Unfortunately, the popularity and prices take that out of the equation for most of us. But it’s still a great addition to the neighborhood.
My top picks are below. You can find all my reviews and photos on DishEnvy.
Miso Maple Salmon Head The miso maple glaze isn’t too sweet and is definitely plate-lick worthy. Why the head of a salmon though? I can’t answer that, but they do say the cheeks are the best part. Dare you to eat the eye!
183 West 10th Street (@ West 4th St)
New York, NY
Why Come Here? A great neighborhood spot for upscale, innovative Thai
Right Amount for 2? 1 app, 2 entrees
I’ve touted Kin Shop as one of my favorite restaurants since starting this blog, so it’s about time I put together a formal review. My love of Kin Shop can be summarzied by its combination of three of my favorite restaurants themes:
1) Upscale Casual Yes, everyone’s doing it right now, but why shouldn’t they be? Who doesn’t want a nice meal out without feeling like they’re in the waiting room for da club or dining in an eighteenth century palace? With Kin Shop, you get a sleek white space, open kitchen with lots of bar seats that actually have backs! Bonus: you can usually snag without much of a wait if you’re too lazy to make reservations.
2) A Varied Menu with Reasonable prices. One trend, particularly popular in the “upscale casual” category, is the small menu. Now in many ways, it’s a good thing. I want the focus to be on what the chef things is best, not a Cheesecake Factory style list of every dish ever imagined. But in a go-to spot, you need some variety as well and that’s by definition lacking on ten dish menus. Kin Shop’s selection of selection of salads, veggie plates, noodles and curries however make it easy to get a totally different meal every time. And while it isn’t cheap, low 20s entrees is quite reasonable for this quality of cooking.
3) Real Thai Flavors. I’ve been to Thailand and as the scores of other people who also have will similarly complain, the food we get here ain’t the same. Now, Harold Dieterle is not trying to reproduce classic Thai dishes here. But the herbs and spices are legit and will make you feel more like you’re in a modern kitchen in Bankgkok than an American chef’s in New York. Another authentic touch: the tables come with dried chili powder and spicy fish sauce seen on nearly every table in Thailand yet seemingly deemed unsuitable for American use and rarely seen here.
Below are my favorite dishes:
Red Curry Roasted Duck Breast The duck cooked medium rare is juicy and delicious. The curry is flavorful with the right amount of spice. Wrap that up in a roti and it’s one of the best things you’ll ever eat.
Fried Pork & Crispy Oyster Salad Oysters and Pigs have been paired since Missy Piggy first dawned her pearls, but for some reason people didn’t think to eat them together. Thank you Harold Dieterle for putting two-and-two together and creating the perfect meaty, salty and sweet “salad”.
Fried Brussels Sprouts & Chinese Sausage This dish smacks all the taste sensors: bittersweet brussels, smokey sausage, sweet coconut chutney and tangy apple vinegar. If you feel the need for some greens while eating here, this is where you want to get them.
Why Come Here? Fun meal with friends before a night out in the West Village
Right Amount for 2: 2-3 small plates, 1 large plate
You’ve got a group of friends looking for a night out in the West Village. Dinner, drinking, whatever happens, happens. You need a place that’s lively, has a strong cocktail list and food that appeals to a diverse group and won’t put you to sleep. Enter Yerba Buena Perry. The swanky Cuban decor, Latin music and some cocktails from the Little Branch team get your night started right. You won’t go wrong sipping on the Poquito Picante (featuring the always delicious triumvate of gin, jalapeno and cilantro). And the menu, with a formidable selection of small bites and ceviches to start off you off and some meaty large plates to finish, offers something for all comers.
Those are the reasons you come to Yerba Buena Perry. The food itself, while still good, seems to have declined somewhat over the years. Given the fairly high prices, I can’t recommend a trip for the food alone (although if you’re willing to come during the week, a deal from Savored to cut up to 30% off can help with that). Below are my thoughts on what we had: