March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’m a huge fan of solo bar dining when I get a lazy and quiet Saturday or Sunday. Some people are tentative about dining alone but it can be really enjoyable to take some time to oneself with a good book or even your phone. Usually, I try to go to a restaurant during off hours, around 3pm (assuming the restaurant remains open between lunch and dinner service), so I can take up my little slice of the bar and chat with the bartender or other patrons without having to yell. Below are some places I’ve gone to recently where I really enjoyed my experience:
Via Carota: Spicy shrimp pomodoro atop a super flavorful, slightly cheesy polenta. I also always start with the fried olives wrapped in pork sausage…the perfect bar food.
Aquagrill: Oysters and littlenecks with house cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette. This place has been open for 20+ years and tends to get pretty packed during prime lunch, brunch and dinner hours but around 3pm, you can usually snag a seat. My usual approach is ordering 6 west coast and 6 east oysters – I leave the particular details to the awesome shuckers – and then some sparkling white wine and maybe french fries on the side.
Union Square Cafe 2.0: The new space is gorgeous and definitely evocative of the original. Service was, as expected, incredibly friendly, and I really enjoyed my spontaneous lunch here when I took a day off. There’s a small bar on one of the upper levels as well so will definitely want to go back and get a seat there next time.
Fried calamari with peppers and anchovy mayonnaise
Rainbow trout with roe, rye, leafy greens, buttermilk and fingerling potatoes
Babbo: I came here for an early dinner after skipping lunch. Vibe at the bar is super casual and low-key even though the food is a bit more high end than Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s more casual places in the neighborhood like Lupa and OTTO. Here, a fantastic roasted butternut squash with goat cheese and black truffle honey that was the right balance of sweet and savory.
Chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Excellent for the early cold evening.
Augustine: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this place (it’s Keith McNally’s most recent restaurant) but have to say the food and the ambiance lived up to expectations. It really does feel like you’re in an old school Parisian bistro (also…the way to the bathroom takes you through the incredibly beautiful Beekman Hotel lobby that’s perfect Instagram fodder) and my cheese souffle with cave-aged gruyere and parmesan and horseradish fondue was absolutely insane. Rich and cloud light at the same time.
I also ordered the sea urchin spaghettini with king crab and pickled jalapenos with my main and they did not skimp on the ingredients. So damned good, and at 3:30p on a Wednesday, so quiet compared to what I’m sure is a madhouse on a Friday night!
The lobby inside the Beekman Hotel
Finally, the NoMad Hotel: Excellent cocktails and a sandwich version of their famous roasted chicken dish, with black truffle and foie gras on brioche and a side salad (because I guess you need some green every once in a while). The cocktail was called the Start Me Up, a super tasty concoction of bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon bitters. A great Saturday afternoon.
So even if you’re tentative about dining alone at the bar, I really do think it’s one of the most relaxing and stress-releasing things you can do for yourself. It’s probably easiest to go to a restaurant you’re already familiar with so you feel comfortable and just remember to bring a good book (or your iPad) and open yourself up to conversation with the bartenders or other customers. Sometimes you meeting really fascinating people!
February 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
Finally made the trek out to Flushing, Queens during a week off from work to sample some of the cheap, delicious ethnic food on offer. Wes (possibly the only white man in all of Flushing that day) and I started at Ganesh Temple Canteen, a cafeteria-style establishment in the basement of a Hindu temple, and helped ourselves to an enormous buttery Pondicherry dosa filled with potatoes, onions and spices as well as a spicy onion uttapam, both paired with sambar and chutney for dipping – perfect for the rainy, grey day ahead of us and just $7 for each dish.
Next, we walked back to the main thoroughfare in Flushing and began eating Chinese food in earnest. Our first stop was Golden Shopping Mall, a collection of food vendors off Main Street, where we dug into a giant bowl of hand-pulled noodles and beef from Lanzhou Handmade Noodles (again…just $7). So fucking good and made me realize how much I’d missed this kind of down-home Asian comfort food. Perfectly tender beef, super flavorful broth and addictive condiments in the pickled mustard greens and fiery chili oil.
Next, we wandered around for a bit to make room for our next meal and got lost in JMart, a giant Chinese supermarket with huge fish and meat counters, aisles and aisles of Asian condiments and one of the biggest selections of exotic fresh vegetables and fruit I’ve seen. The best part, though, was the small outpost of New Flushing Bakery, with its insanely good Portuguese egg tarts, slightly caramelized on the surface with a crazy flaky, fall-apart crust.
And because we are fatties, we then walked the few blocks from JMart back to Golden Flushing Mall and got a couple seats at Tianjin Dumpling House. For $6, we got a dozen of the lamb and green squash boiled dumplings (again, with a ton of chili oil), a combination I’d never seen before but really enjoyed. Normally, I like my dumplings pan-fried but these reminded me of the boiled pork and scallion dumplings that my mom always made at home growing up – guess it’s a Northern Chinese thing?
Needless to say, we were feeling stuffed from all the starch and meat we’d already eaten and decided to make a stop at Fang Gourmet Tea, a tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the street, for a charcoal roasted oolong tea tasting. The shop owner was super friendly and patient with our tea ignorance and after some browsing, we each ended up buying a tin of oolong tea that cost way more than all the food we’d eaten during the day.
After more than three years of living in Manhattan, was so glad that I’d finally made it out to Flushing (and to be honest, the train ride out there wasn’t even that bad) and couldn’t believe the amount and quality of food we’d gotten for so cheap. Really need to make sure I make an annual or semi-annual pilgrimage out there, especially when I’m missing food from home.
February 6, 2017 § Leave a comment
Another stellar meal at Shuko, one of my all-time favorite restaurants. The chefs and staff are always so warm and welcoming, practicing their craft to perfection, and I love that you can eat pristinely prepared sushi and kaiseki dishes in an environment that’s casually blaring old school hip hop or Justin Bieber at any given time. Dress is as casual or formal as you want it to be and it’s not out of the ordinary to strike up a conversation with your neighbor at the counter. Plus, even though the kaiseki tasting menu consists of a long procession of dishes, I never feel like I’m about to burst out of my jeans by the time the meal has ended…which has happened before at dinners with a French or New American emphasis on cuisine.
Highlights of the cooked dishes from this visit include the crispy fried oyster with hollandaise, black truffle and pea shoots (a wonderful mix of textures and earthiness against fresh greenery); cumin-inflected squid with carrots and fennel and a meltingly tender braised veal cheek with crispy fried sunchoke, sunchoke puree and fresh Asian pear.
Sushi-wise, the first toro piece was beautiful as always…perfectly rich and unctuous. Also really loved the amber jack; ocean trout (which I didn’t get to have the last time I visited but remember loving); Spanish mackerel; sweet, sweet scallop; baby shrimp; uni (of course); a mini roll of grilled toro with chiles and scallion that was completely out of this world; the matsutake and truffle tempura that was super light for something fried; and finally, the charcoal-grilled tuna we ordered as a supplement that I will never be able to forgo ever again. Amazing to see our awesome chef Andre prepare it in front of our eyes and hand it to us seconds later, still smoking and glistening from all that fat. A couple bites of the famous apple pie and I was ready to (blissfully) call it a night. Can’t wait til the next time!
October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment
Chances for me to cook are pretty rare (even though I love it and find it very relaxing and rewarding), but with a slower work schedule in August and September, Katie and I began to ramp up our time in the kitchen. Since she works at the Sunday greenmarket right in front of the Museum of Natural History almost every week, we thought it’d be nice to focus on using whatever produce she’d brought home that day and supplement it with whatever we picked up at the grocery store or already had in our pantry.
Below is a dish from one of our first dinners, which featured the sweetest summer corn, cherry tomatoes and aromatic basil. Barely even a recipe, I started with a healthy glug of olive oil over medium-high heat and fried some whole smashed garlic cloves to impart their flavor without having any actual chunks of garlic (hate biting into a super pungent bit of garlic). Fished them out after they turned golden and crisp on the edges and then added halved grape tomatoes and sautéed them in the oil on high heat until they started browning and bursting. Next came the corn until it too had some color, salt and pepper to taste (with red pepper flakes because I like the heat, maybe a pinch of sugar to boost the sweetness of the corn) and that was a basic sauce.
After cooking the linguine a minute or so shy of package instructions (it continues cooking when tossed in the sauce), I added the pasta to the corn tomato mixture and about a cup of starchy pasta water to add a little bit of body since it was on the drier side. Mixed everything together some more with a healthy heaping of grated parmesan so the sauce, cheese and pasta water became a nicely emulsified sauce and then added some torn fresh basil and of course, more cheese on top. So delicious and simple to make and a wonderful way to showcase some of summer’s great offerings…
A couple weeks later, I was craving Korean food and beef and instead of opting for Seamless, thought I’d finally try out the Lucky Peach cookbook, Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes. Were the recipes actually easy? This soy-braised short rib dish certainly was and, with the new potatoes and carrots, proved to be a full meal in itself. Would I have to get random-ass Asian pantry items? Not really – as I already always have soy sauce, mirin and toasted sesame oil on hand (the most Asian of the ingredients listed). As with any kind of braise, it takes a few hours at low heat on the stove for the meat to become super tender but damn is the wait worth it (plus it makes the entire apartment smell amazing). I found some super funky napa cabbage kimchi in the fridge and leftover Momofuku ginger scallion sauce to counteract the richness of the beef and parked my ass in front of the television to watch Stranger Things for a perfect quiet evening at home.
Last week, I actually managed to cook three separate times, including the below dinner with Cindy. I missed the salmon dish I used to order from Il Brigante all the time when I worked in the Financial District so made seared salmon fillets with a punchy lemon caper sauce using this Williams-Sonoma recipe as a rough guideline, a classic broccoli salad with mayo-mustard dressing, toasted slivered almonds, grape tomatoes, bacon (of course) and red onion, and my tried and true roasted potatoes with an insanely good truffle mayo I’d brought back from my trip to Paris. Had a nice crisp white wine and have to say even I was impressed with how great of a meal it was.
Then, this past Friday, instead of going out to eat with Cindy and Beth, I managed to leave the office a bit early and put together this eggplant involtini (I’ve been making and modifying this recipe since law school). It’s a lighter take on a classic eggplant parmesan that doesn’t involve all that breading and frying yet still comes out bubbly, cheesy and super satisfying. In an effort to eat more greens, I also made a salad of wild arugula, grape tomatoes, slivered almonds, avocado, shaved parmesan and this wonderful, easy mustard dressing from Bon Appetit. Again, modified it a bit to personal taste (I like a lot of acid in my dressings) and it turned out to be a hit. Plus, I had plenty of dressing leftover for subsequent salads.
Rounding out the meal were some fantastic cheeses and charcuterie from Murray’s provided by Cindy, a couple bottles of wine (whatever I had in our fridge) and then superb Lady M desserts courtesy of Beth. I’ll always love trying new restaurants and bars but it’s been so nice to spend some relaxing time at home, both in the kitchen and at the dining table, in the company of wonderful friends with delicious food and wine. I can only hope this trend will continue as the weather starts to get chillier and I can really bust out the braises, stews and baked goods and crank up the oven.
July 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
Two relatively new places that couldn’t be more different (and one that is now temporarily closed due to a fire). I’m a bit conflicted posting about Ruffian because it’s a matchbox of a place and I don’t like the idea of someone else taking up my seat but at the same time, it totally deserves the publicity and recognition. I’ve posted about West Village wine bar, Lelabar, on this blog multiple times and have been a visitor ever since I moved into the neighborhood. One of the first Lela sommeliers I got to know was Patrick – a super friendly guy who’s seriously passionate about his wine, especially anything particularly funky or strange – and when I heard he was opening his own place in the East Village, I knew it’d be a gem.
He’s assembled a great team – I know Alexis, the other sommelier, from Lelabar and the chefs, Josh and Andy, are turning out some crazy ambitious Southern French small plates in a kitchen that’s tucked right behind the bar and tinier than mine. One thing to note about Pat and Alexis is that by now, whenever I visit either Lela or Ruffian, I have no idea what I’m drinking since they know my preferences and I always defer to them…it’s an approach that’s never steered me wrong.
On this visit – Cindy and I started with a refreshing rose wine and this dreamy dish of scrambled eggs with shaved bottarga, ramps and mushrooms. Texture of the eggs was perfectly creamy and I loved the raw earthiness of the mushrooms against the briny, funky bottarga and the garlicky bite of the ramps. Seemingly simple but surprisingly complex.
Josh and Andy also had us try this slightly Asian take on a steak tartare – unfortunately I can’t remember what the other components were but I can tell you it was a lighter version compared to classic iterations and so delicious.
Here we have the octopus dish with pickled sunchokes, cilantro and a sauce made with octopus ink. The octopus was tender and I quickly became addicted to the sunchokes, which I’d never had pickled and sliced that thinly before. Chilies added some heat and a generous glug of fruity olive oil rounded out the dish.
Somehow we managed to eat even more food after all the above – below is some sliced finocchiona, a salami from Tuscany that’s heavy on the fennel, a generous wedge of soft coupole cheese (one of my favorites and not too strong), a selection of crusty bread and then more pickled sunchokes (I’m telling you, I couldn’t get enough) and pickled grapes. We had a really lovely time catching up with Pat and Alexis, meeting Josh and Andy and can’t wait to see what they turn out next. The menu is constantly changing and it’s always a new surprise every time I visit.
Much further uptown is April Bloomfield’s newest NYC place, Salvation Burger. Note that the restaurant is temporarily closed due to a kitchen fire they had at the end of May but they should be opening up again soon. If you’re ever in Midtown East and craving some satisfying, greasy food, this is definitely the place to go. We came here right before seeing Fully Committed, a totally hilarious one-man play starring Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson about the restaurant industry, and thank god we had enough time before the show to walk some of this off. We split two burgers and a giant side of fries (super crispy on outside, creamy on inside and nicely salted, just how I like them).
The Classic Burger (second photo below) was basically what you dream a Big Mac could be – a double patty burger with American cheese, some special sauce and pickles – and the Salvation Burger (third photo) had ramp butter, taleggio cheese and a whole mess of mushrooms. Both were cooked to a medium rare, super juicy that I think I used about a dozen napkins, and not too heavy handed with the garnishes, but my favorite of the two was the classic version. It’s a wonder I didn’t start snoozing during the play and I mainly credit Mr. Ferguson’s talent with keeping me awake and entertained.
Here’s hoping that Ms. Bloomfield’s team will be able to get the kitchen running again soon…there are admittedly a ton of burger joints in NYC but this one is turning out some seriously good food and the neighborhood needs an upbeat restaurant like this.
June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Remembering when I still had it easy at work and weekends were free…just need to make it through June 30. Here – a lazy Sunday lunch at the Via Carota bar, starting with fried green olives with pork sausage and a superb negroni
A huge, hands-only kamayan feast featuring banana ketchup ribs, longanisa sausage, whole head-on shrimp, braised lamb, etc. at Filipino gastropub, Jeepney, in East Village with Cahill friends. Total gut bomb.
The Macho Man sandwich from a new favorite, Court Street Grocers – heritage pork shoulder, cabot cheddar, coleslaw, pickled jalapenos and duck sauce on garlic bread. Between this, the Delight and the Cubano, I can order from here about 4 times a week. So dangerous.
Dinner with Artemis at Mario Batali’s new restaurant, La Sirena, in the Meatpacking District. Bucatini with braised octopus in spicy pomodoro sauce and then ravioli all’amatriciana with spring onion butter…quite tasty but wasn’t crazy about the atmosphere, the service or the scene
Lunch at Legend near Washington Square Park with the family. We ordered our usual dishes – spicy lamb with cumin, spicy beef tendon with chili vinaigrette and a seriously delicious whole braised fish with spicy bean sauce – and went for a really long walk afterwards to recover
Sunday night shellfish bake at North End Grill – half a Maine lobster, head-on prawns, clams, new potatoes and corn in an addictive garlic butter and then sweet gem lettuce and blue cheese dressing on the side. Not pictured: duck fat fries and a lot of white wine.
The famous, substantial duck carnitas at Cosme…’nuff said.
Late night eats at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken…my ultimate weakness.
June 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
Dinner at Momofuku Nishi, David Chang’s newest NYC restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood, featuring a kind of mash-up of Korean and Italian food. The interior is typical for Chang’s restaurants (spare, not particularly comfortable furniture and a cramped, loud space with mostly communal seating) and service would sometimes disappear and pop up again randomly, but there were a number of interesting dishes that conveyed the concept particularly well and made the visit worthwhile…
To start: whole fried shrimp with salt and pepper…a perfect bar snack to pop into your mouth, head, legs and all, while drinking a refreshing beer or cocktail. Crunchy and heavily seasoned, brightened with a squeeze of lime.
Instead of getting any protein-heavy dishes (the brisket had run out by the time we arrived), we ordered a number of pastas, including the much-hyped ceci e pepe with chickpea hozon and black pepper, a funky take on the classic Roman pasta. Here, the usual pecorino cheese is swapped for a chickpea miso-esque substance that doesn’t skimp on the umami and maintains that velvety texture. It looks super simple on the plate but don’t expect it to be bland.
One of my favorite dishes of the evening, Nishi’s Asian take on chicken and dumplings. It was a lighter version of the Southern comfort dish, with strong hits of toasted sesame oil, wide flat noodles and meaty, smoky shiitake mushrooms. It reminded me of the minimalist, medicinal soups that my mom and dad would prepare when my sisters and I were young, consisting mainly of a milky bone broth made pork back bones, sesame oil and other Asian ingredients like goji berries and ginseng.
Here, clams grand lisboa, a potentially great dish that was unfortunately way over-salted on our visit (and I tend to like a lot of seasoning). Topped with tender clams, the noodles were cooked like Spanish fideos or Cantonese pan-fried noodles, with crunchy, almost charred noodles around the perimeter and heavily sauced, softer noodles in the middle. At some point, I’d like to try a better executed version of this dish because it has everything that I like – briny seafood, lots of different textures and an interesting sauce.
Our final pasta dish, spicy beef Sichuan noodles, a decent dish but not particularly memorable. It evoked a hybrid of pappardelle bolognese (and looks a lot like it too) and the addictive sauce in the spicy pork sausage and Chinese broccoli dish at Ssam Bar but didn’t have as much of a kick as I would’ve expected from a dish labeled “Sichuan”.
We also tried the fried fingerlings with smoked yolk and tarragon and while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t really care for the large, thick chunks of potato, which were missing that crispy exterior and creamy interior that I look for in any fried potato dish.
Dessert, however, was delicious and wonderfully simple. We ordered the pistachio bundt cake with ricotta because everyone had been raving about it and it was a lovely, not-too-sweet slice offset by the tangy cream. So many carbs in one meal…in the end, while I was happy to have tried this cross-cultural restaurant, it will be a while before I feel the need to go back.