September 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
I’ve lived in Soho for about four years now (damn, has time flown by) but only recently tried EN Japanese Brasserie for the first time, even though I’m at Lelabar across the street probably more often than I am home. Friends who have been going for years kept recommending it and we finally found a time to go together for dinner. Everything about the meal – the beautiful space; friendly service and delicious yet not-too-heavy Japanese fare – was superb and I can’t wait to go again.
The famous house made soft tofu with wari-joyu, a light soy sauce. I’ve never had tofu this fresh in the U.S. and it was so damn good. Slightly warm and full of toasty soybean flavor with the texture of a creamy ricotta. The wari-joyu adds just the right amount of seasoning.
Below is the momotaro tomato with homemade miso mayo. This gift from the kitchen is apparently a fancy tomato grown in California? I dunno…it was very good and pretty as tomatoes go but…again, it was literally a tomato cut into wedges with a dipping sauce (that was very good because duh…mayo) with some needed sea salt on the side. I wouldn’t actually pay for this particular dish, especially when there are still great tomatoes to be had at the greenmarket.
O-banzai, small Kyoto style dishes, to start the meal. We got the fried eggplant and zucchini with katsuobushi; the shoyu-braised pork belly sliced and served with lotus root and the assorted Japanese mushrooms with sun-dried daikon in yuzu. Although they were all delicious, the pork belly and lotus root was the best. You can get 3 of the o-banzai items for $16 instead of $6 each and next time, as Paul and Gakii suggested, I’d probably do 2 servings of the pork belly, it was that good. Sweet fatty pork with the nice crunch from earthy lotus root, it reminded me of one of my mom’s braises that she used to make for us at home. We also got the Big Eye tuna salad with avocado and wasabi dressing that, while not life-changing, was very good and nicely seasoned as tuna and avocado salads go.
We ordered additional small dishes for our main course and these were definitely the highlight of the evening. From the get-go, our server asked if we were fans of uni and mentioned that they’d just gotten a very small delivery of really prized uni from a specific area in Hokkaido (sorry, I don’t remember the name. I heard “uni” and was like, “yes, please”). We asked how she suggested we’d eat it and she said the kitchen recommended just eating it straight with a spoon to make sure we got pure uni flavor. It came out in the tray, as you see below, looking beautifully orange and super plump and we just went at it. Super sweet, slightly briny and the loveliest buttery texture, I was in heaven. Will be remembering that for a long time, which is crazy because it’s literally raw uni presented without any manipulation.
We also ordered the grilled salmon and yellowtail collars (pictured below), both further examples of how simplicity is usually the better way to go when the raw materials are high enough quality. I preferred the yellowtail, which was a bit more tender and was surprised by how much meat you could actually cull from each of those portions.
For our dessert, we ordered some really delicious black sesame and earl grey ice creams but the indisputable show-stopper was this giant mountain of green tea shaved ice with red bean hidden at the bottom. Doesn’t it look like one of those Chinese calligraphy paintings? Not too sweet and super refreshing, it was a great cap on a relatively light and satisfying meal. I couldn’t believe it’d taken me this long to finally visit EN but I’m excited to go back soon. And of course, we ended up going across the street to Lelabar for some more wine afterwards.
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!
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.
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 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!
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.