Cafe Altro Paradiso
August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
There are lots of wonderful restaurants and bars in my neighborhood, but Cafe Altro Paradiso is my latest obsession and I think I’ve been 4 or 5 times in the last month or so. Its location is a bit odd as it’s set back from 6th Avenue on Spring Street behind a small square that’s almost always under some kind of construction but once you walk inside, you’re welcomed into a beautiful, airy and light-filled space with a decently sized brass bar. Also, as someone who is constantly craving Italian food, I love that the menu features a lighter touch on pastas and main dishes, which is better for the summer, as opposed to the classic Roman-style food at Lupa (which I will always love despite the fact that it doesn’t do my waistline any favors).
I typically like to go by myself on the weekends for a late lunch and sit at the bar and love that they stay open between lunch and dinner service with a smaller menu. My favorite cocktail there is the Skinned Knee (tequila, mezcal, Cynar, grapefruit, lemon and orange) and I start with the arancini, addictive crispy rice fritters filled with piping hot and gooey fontina that comes with a spicy Calabrian chili sauce, with the perfect hit of vinegar. They also have a refreshing fennel salad with Castelvetrano olives and provolone. It comes out looking like a giant heap of white sliced vegetables but once you begin to dig in, there’s lovely snaps of sharp cheese and buttery olives and you actually get to feel quite virtuous eating it.
On another visit, I ordered the prawn crudo with cherries and capers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s still on the menu, but I really, really loved this dish. Not only was it beautifully presented but I liked that the crudo was sliced razor thin and the sweet cherries and briny capers balanced each other out nicely. Perfect summer dish.
One other visit, I had the burrata with roasted peppers, raisins and capers. Again, wonderful for the summer and even though I usually don’t like fruit in savory dishes, the plump raisins were a nice touch against creamy, fresh burrata and the smoky-flavored peppers. Also, I need to figure out what olive oil they use because it may be some of the best I’ve had.
My most recent visit, I ordered the malfatti, these cloud-light ricotta dumplings with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and pecorino. I couldn’t believe how quickly these melted in my mouth and really appreciated the meatiness and savoriness of the pancetta. I definitely need to go back and have it one more time before the tomato season ends (by the way, it’s a bit insane that it’s already mid-August…where has the summer gone??).
I’m not usually a dessert person, but during my last visit, I ended up at the bar for a good three hours or so, when Jackie could finally join me after work. She’s a big ice cream fanatic and so we ordered the blood-orange Campari sorbet and fig-vin santo gelato, both of which were interesting flavors and delicious. The sorbet was my favorite for its slight bitterness and citrusy bite.
Ever since my first meal here, I’ve been raving about Altro Paradiso to anyone who’d listen. It’s a perfect neighborhood spot where you can come in with a bigger group, order everything and have a fun, rowdy dinner or you can go in solo and just hang out at the bar and have too many cocktails with an antipasti platter. The service is always so friendly and chill and though it can get packed during dinner on the weekends, for lunch it’s one of my favorite places to go. In fact, I’ll probably find myself back there this coming weekend.
May 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
Another day, another sushi spot. This time at the new Sushi Katsuei on 6th Avenue in the West Village, which is the second location of chef Aung Ko Win (the first location is in Park Slope) and focused on offering more affordable omakase options. I opted for the open omakase on this initial visit to see the scope of the menu and was impressed with the quality given the lower price point compared to other temples of sushi. Win is also not super wed to tradition so appreciated having certain pieces dressed with decidedly un-Japanese garnishes (e.g., a light squeeze of lemon and sea salt) which nevertheless enhanced the fish and never really overwhelmed.
Ocean trout – continues to be one of my favorite types of fish for its richness
Medium fatty toro
Herring with kombu – I’m still not really sure how this dish was prepared but it was slightly bitter and a nice palate cleanser between courses
Shima aji with yuzu kosho
Horse mackerel – stunning to look at as well
Cuttlefish – actually not the biggest fan of cuttlefish due to its tendency to be overly chewy. That was the case here.
Scallop – supremely sweet and accentuated by the lemon and salt
Baby squid – obviously interesting to look at but overly fishy in flavor to me
Orange clam – one of my favorites. Toothsome texture and nice and briny
Hokkaido uni – no skimping on serving size here
Cherry-marinated black snapper – a special from Chef Win. Incredibly floral with hint of shiso underneath
Overall, I’m very happy to have another sushi option in the neighborhood, especially one that’s reasonably priced but still delivers in terms of variety of fish and quality. As far as I can tell, they’ve been pretty busy from day one (and I only managed to get my seat because it was 5:30 P.M. that day) but it seems like, if you call ahead, that they try to be as accommodating as possible.
April 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
Dinner at Batard in Tribeca a few weeks ago. The weather had been absolutely miserable outside that day (pouring rain, random winds) and work was crazy so to indulge in a really nice French meal before the weekend felt like a huge treat. I’d gone once before when they first opened a few years back and really enjoyed the experience but had basically since forgotten that this place is always a nice option for something a bit fancier. There are a number of options in terms of how many courses you can order but it’s actually a pretty good deal considering the amount and quality of the food. We decided to do three savory courses for $75 plus the cheese plate option since neither of us really likes dessert.
House breads and butter with sea salt on top.
Octopus “pastrami” with braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes – a Batard classic and I think it’s always been on the menu. Really interesting way to showcase octopus that I haven’t seen anywhere else plus the meaty pastrami flavors really come through.
Steak tartare with brandy, egg yolk and sourdough batard
Celeriac tortellini with black truffle coulis, cashew and cured egg yolk – really loved this dish, especially given the shitty weather outside. Earthy flavors, wonderfully tender handmade pasta and a nice crunch from the cashews
Rabbit sausage with risotto, spigarello and meyer lemon – this was really delicious and satisfying as well. Don’t know that I’d ever had rabbit sausage before but it was surprisingly delicate against the creamy risotto.
Duck breast with braised salsify, cara cara orange and crispy quinoa – really powerful citrus flavor and perfectly medium rare duck with crispy skin. Nicely executed overall and stunning to look at.
Braised porcelet shoulder with savoy cabbage, cipollini onions and miso – definitely a bit more on the comfort food side in terms of presentation but I really enjoyed the tender meat with standard onions + cabbage + potato combo. The miso didn’t come across particularly strong for me and may have gotten a bit lost in all the other flavors but still a very solid dish.
Cheese plate of Little Napoleon (bloomy-rind goat’s milk from Ann Arbor); Epoisses (stinky, delicious cow’s milk from Burgundy); Annelies (raw cow’s milk from Appenzell and Crown Heights cave-aged); Queso del Invierno (aged sheep and cow’s milk from Westminster, VT); and Bayley Hazen Blue (blue-veined raw cow’s milk from Greensboro, VT). As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth and Batard had a fantastic looking cheese cart in the dining room, so we opted to get a plate instead with apricot preserves and aged balsamic vinegar. Standouts were the Little Napoleon, which was super spreadable and had just the right amount of tanginess; the Epoisses…because duh, it’s Epoisses and the Bayley Hazen Blue, which was surprising since I don’t really like the funkier blues.
Overall, a really satisfying dinner with friendly service and a knowledgeable sommelier (we’d ordered a bottle of white and then red burgundy but unfortunately I can’t recall anything other than they were delicious and paired well with our dishes). It’s a great place for a date or a special occasion, where they’re serving seriously first rate food but the dining room isn’t too hush hush and actually sometimes quite boisterous. The bar is kind of small and right at the entrance so I wouldn’t choose to eat your meal there but from what I can tell, it’s surprisingly easy to get reservations, even the day of. Enjoy!
Momofuku Nishi and Blue Ribbon Federal Grill
April 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
Recently, I got to catch up with two separate groups of former co-workers at Momofuku Nishi and Blue Ribbon Federal Grill. While the types of cuisine and locations were very different, both places provided a really fun and casual place to reconnect with friends and tuck into some good drinks and food.
At Momofuku Nishi, we ordered a couple of small plates to start but the main event was the Pok Pok and Nishi fried chicken offering, while at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill, which had only just recently opened in the Financial District, we ordered as much food as three girls could stuff down our gullets.
Jajangmyeon with pork sausage; chili pan mee and fried egg. A riff on a traditional Korean/Chinese noodle dish made of fermented black bean paste and usually pork but here, dressed up with some spice and a runny egg. Typically, the noodles are served with julienned or grated cucumber and/or carrot to add some freshness and crunch and I think that element was unfortunately missing here.
Bone marrow with XO sauce, milk bread and herbs. An interesting and slightly funky take on the typical fatty bone marrow and toast combo, which had a nice balance between the sweet and slightly squishy bread and the pungent flavors of the marrow.
And finally, two fried chickens – one midnight fried chicken from Pok Pok served with chili garlic sauce and tamarind sauce and then the Szechuan style fried chicken from Nishi with hot sauce and honey butter. Side dishes included an absolutely monstrous plate of super dense and buttery green onion biscuits, a papaya salad with miso (because you know…plants) and toasted rice. We dug into this hard and actually managed to finish it all, which we’ve found is surprisingly hard to do on most large format Momofuku dinners. My favorite of the two chicken styles was the spicier and tangier Szechuan and even though it was absolutely freezing outside, my post-dinner flush kept me warm enough to walk all the way home from Chelsea back to Soho.
When Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen in my neighborhood closed this past winter after years of serving American comfort food, it definitely felt like there was a sudden dining hole in the neighborhood. Luckily though, the Blue Ribbon family was able to move all of the staff down to the new restaurant Federal Grill in the Financial District at the AKA Hotel, where they’re now offering slightly fancier fare in a posh setting. Alice, Vanessa and I got to try it for the first time right around when it opened to the public and it was so wonderful to see so many familiar faces and treat ourselves to a really standout dinner where the service was incredibly warm and gracious.
Below – beef shin with spatzle, cornichons, beets and caraway cream; shishito tempura with malt ponzu; baby kale caesar salad and farro and shrimp with poblano peppers, grilled corn, pomegranate and mint labneh. Of these, my favorites were the beef shin, which was perfectly tender and full of earthy flavors, and the farro and shrimp, simply because it was a really well executed dish and something completely new to me, bringing together flavors I never would’ve thought would complement each other.
For our mains, we split the bavette steak with bourbon and black pepper sauce; the insanely good, perfectly cooked Maine lobster with potato, corn and miso butter (highly addictive) and then the truffled potatoes and cheesy spatzle (think macaroni and cheese on crack). So much food but we had no problem eating it all. Luckily we were seated in one of the larger banquettes, where if we really needed to, we probably all could’ve lay down for a quick nap in between courses.
Alice and Vanessa insisted on also getting dessert even though we were absolutely stuffed so we went with the apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, which I actually ended up being crazy about, and the incredibly alcoholic baba au rhum with creme fraiche. I took a couple of bites of each and finally gave up.
I’m definitely biased when it comes to Blue Ribbon but have to say that they’re doing a really nice job at the new location, which is completely different from what Bakery Kitchen ever was. The food walks a nice balance between the familiar and domestic vs. unique and worldly, the service is as awesome as ever and I’m sure they’ll have no problem filling their seats with new regulars downtown. Especially want to thank Roghan, Laraugh, Bessie, David and Sam for their wonderful hospitality and can’t wait to go back soon.
Solo Dining at the Bar
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!
Flushing Food Crawl
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.
June 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
Procrastinating all the work I have to do this weekend and reliving this amazing dinner at Shuko near Union Square when I had all the time in the world in between jobs. It’d been a long time since I’d splurged on sushi and the kaiseki menu offered also features a few cooked preparations, including some super luxurious supplements. The interior is minimalist and dominated by the ash 12-seat counter, and the night I was there dining solo, top 40 was blaring. Some highlights of the all-around outstanding meal were the fatty tuna belly tartare and caviar with Japanese milk bread course; beautiful sunchokes, lobster, truffles and a subtle taste of bacon; sea trout; Santa Barbara and Monterey uni and a whole procession of pristinely prepared fish. I wish that I’d been given a menu of all the courses at the end of the meal so I could recall exactly what I had but since some courses were also customized based on personal preferences told to the chef throughout the meal, I didn’t want to be a bother. Instead, I’ve made another reservation for July and will be curious to see menu changes according to the summer season. If anyone wants the second seat, let me know.
May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
Still catching up on posting…these are from a few months back when I knew I was leaving Cahill and started scaling back on work to take some off-campus lunches and catch up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.
Dinner at Untitled at the Whitney. We started off with Carolina rice fritters that came smeared with chicken liver and pickled carrots and lamb meatballs with peanuts and guajillo pepper. A super fancy, farm-to-table version of bar snacks.
Instead of ordering heavier main dishes, we shared the beef tartare with chestnuts and winter squash; cauliflower, cardamom custard and lemon; and sunchokes with bacon and cloumage cheese, which was my favorite of the three.
And because we’d decided not to drink any booze, we justified ordering two desserts – the hot fudge truffle cake with creme fraiche which I could only handle two bites of, it was so rich, and the ridiculous, giant banana hazelnut praline cake with concord grape sauce. Not bad for a weeknight meal.
I also got lunch with Bert and Artemis at Tribeca favorite, Little Park, conveniently located right outside the Chambers Street subway stop. Here are the charred broccoli with radish, blood orange and pancetta with the roasted carrots with sesame, dukkah and honey. I normally don’t really care for carrots but this was an interesting sweet and savory take thanks to the dukkah, which I’d never really tasted, and honey.
A favorite dish from a previous visit – the crispy brussels sprouts with parsnip and apple cider. These taste a lot like the sprouts from Rouge et Blanc…mainly in that they’re both hella fried and have a nice acidic bite to them. I could eat bowls and bowls of these no problem.
My main of rainbow trout, fingerling potato, dill and celery. A nice, light take on the fish salad combination. Which was good considering I was meeting up with old high school friends at Khe-Yo later that evening.
Aforementioned dinner with Lucy and Steph at Khe-Yo, also in Tribeca, although a totally different cuisine. It was one of the few times I’d ever had Laotian and man, is it addictive (and spicy). Here is the smashed green papaya salad with fried pork rinds on top and their two famous sauces (one of which basically just singes all your tastebuds off if you’re not careful).
A gout-tastic dish of steak tartare hidden underneath just-fried shrimp chips served with bone marrow and a bunch of uni heaped on top (no big deal).
Super succulent, tender and slightly sweet Berkshire pork spare ribs with a smashed long bean salad that I didn’t really care for.
And the day’s special and indisputable show-stopper, half a roasted pig’s head served with accoutrements like herbs, noodle salad and peanuts, all of which you wrap with sauce in rice paper that’s soaked and softened at the table. Unsurprisingly, I was really struggling by the end of this meal and took a painful hour long walk to feel somewhat back to normal.