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Yuji Ramen

Ramen has for sure taken over this city.  New ramen shops seem to magically appear out of thin air.  With ramen, we’ve seen it all: traditional pork or chicken (Ippudo, Totto), tonkotsu (from pork bones) (Hakata Tonton), straight or curly noodles, hot or cold and even brothless, shoyu (soy) or shio (salt) broth (both at Sanshiro), to the less conventional, like miso or curry ramen, veggie ramen (Chuko is the best, close second is Dassara’s mushroom ramen), chicken dinner ramen (Talde) or lamb or matzo ball soup ramen (Dassara).  But even in a ramen saturated city, we’ve found a ramen first.  A 7-course ramen omakase dinner. 

That’s right… an entire tasting menu dedicated to, and serving course after course of, delicious ramen!  By day, Yuji Ramen is a small ramen counter specializing in satisfying bowls of mazeman (brothless ramen) a la carte to Soho lunch diners; by night, Yuji Ramen ramps it up and presents a lucky 6 diners per night the only ramen omakase dinner in the city.  And this ain’t just any ol’ ramen.  Chef Yuji Haraguchi is churning out some of the most inventive, imaginative and down-right crazy ramen in this city.  He reinterprets, and challenges you to rethink, ramen entirely. 

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The 6 omakase diners perch at the narrow counter, a nice place to overlook all of the large fragrant pots of broth calmly bubbling in the background, and the couple of young ramen chefs busily fluttering about, assembling pretty little bowls of noodles.  Standard for a ramen shop, no?  No.   Because Yuji Ramen is on the mezzanine level of the Bowery WHOLE FOODS!  So strange…. but so right….

The meal started like the daytime service (ATO makes it a point to go whenever he can) - with pickles.  A welcome start, but the pickles were lacking in pickling.  I like more bite to my pickles. 

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The parade of ramen commences.  The portions are perfectly sized for a tasting menu and the pacing is right.  Yuji himself, who is surprisingly young, very thin (especially considering his livelihood is based on simple carbs) and super smiley and approachable explains the ingredients and his intention with each dish.  A very casual atmosphere for a seriously creative high-end dining experience. 

The first course is a staple of the Yuji menu: cured salmon is served with camembert and cream cheese, garnished with nori and fresh herbs.  This is ATO’s “go to” on the regular menu.  At once so original, yet familiar, tried and true.  The smoky salmon and the creamy rich cheese, when mixed together, is balanced and phenomenal. 

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Next up, a cold ramen: squid ink ramen in the shape of orecchiette, with ikura (salmon roe), daikon, yuzu and lime.  A refreshing dish with a nice pop of saltiness from the ikura to offset the mild sweetness of the yuzu and the slight bitterness of the daikon.  ATO’s only knock was that he wanted to really taste the squid ink in that pasta. 

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Barley tea.  Love this stuff.  ATO and I always have a batch brewing in our fridge in the summer.  The version here was far superior than the tea we sip at home.  By the way, as of now, Yuji does not have a liquor license.  Only big downside.

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Who says ramen is limited to the form of a long thin noodle?  How about a raviolo?  This one was filled with a saucy uni and white miso mixture, and garnished with orange, orange zest, nori and a premium chunk of fresh uni.  Intense, yo.  You have got to be down with that funk and brine of the ocean taste to enjoy this dish, but if you are, it’s a real treat.

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For our next course, the ramen came in the form of a cracker.  To be used as a vehicle for some light and delicate bluefish belly, mixed with quail egg, shiso, nori and scallions.  The fish was ridiculously fresh and tender.   

It was at this point that the Jamba Juice peeps came over and offered us free samples of their newest smoothie flavor (we politely declined but our neighbors actually took them up on their offer mid-tasting).  Strange consequence of being located in the Whole Foods food court, I guess.  I laughed out loud.  Yuji took it well, with a goofy grin, a shrug of the shoulders and a slightly embarrassed look in his eyes. 

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Now, the interactive course.  Meaty cherry stone clams, slivers of radish, thick slices of bacon, Asian pear and ponzu were floating in a gelatinous dashi broth.  The whole thing jiggled like jello when you shook the bowl.  It was cold. 

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But once you poured the mixture onto a steaming hot bowl of noodles, it melted.  It liquefied into an aromatic, savory broth.  The noodles had a pleasant bounce and firmness.  Everything turned luke-warm (which, admittedly, is not my favorite temperature for ramen, but was definitely intentional, as Yuji explained) and made for a very interesting bowl of noodles.   The ponzu broth was heavy on vinegar and not too sweet, making this dish really stand out for ATO.  

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At the end of the meal, Yuji asked each guest what their favorite dish was.  I named this one.  Monkish liver in nori ramen, topped with fresh grated wasabi.  Truth be told: I didn’t finish my serving (ATO was rewarded with an extra raviolo).  But I wasn’t lying to Yuji.  Monkfish liver is, as Yuji described, the “foie gras of the sea.”  I love myself a good foie gras torchon, and the dense lush consistency of this monkfish liver was spot on.  So over-the-top decadent.  But, it was definitely a product of the deep blue sea.  The finish of this bite was prominently fishy.  Not fishy in that “not so fresh” way, but fishy in that intrinsic quality of fish offal way.  So while respectfully appreciative of the fine care and skill that was applied to this dish, I knew that ATO would enjoy the oceanic qualities more than I would.  And FYI, fresh wasabi is completely amazing.  

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Finally, the knock-out round.  Yuji’s excitement to present this dish was palpable.  French presses were set on the counter.  They were carefully filled with torched mussel shells, all hot and crackly and on the verge of disintegration.  Next, large flaky pieces of bonito were added.  Finally, a steaming redolent broth was poured in.  Yuji noted that since his menu is based on seasonal ingredients, and since we were coming in at the end of November, our particular broth was heavy on turkey.  Then we stewed in anticipation as the ingredients stewed in the French press.   

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Finally, after a couple of very long minutes, we were welcome to push down our French presses.  As we did, all of those shells were crushed to bits and pieces, and the resulting deeply complex broth was ours to pour over our separate bowls of delectable smoked mussels and ramen.  Sensational.

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To end this fabulous meal, a little shiso mint cake with white chocolate panna cotta. 

How does Yuji make some of the best, and certainly the most creative, ramen in the city?  When asked where he eats ramen on his free time, he answered “I don’t eat ramen.”  It turns out, Yuji himself DISLIKES ramen.  In fact, the whole point of this place is to redefine ramen, to change it into something that, for him, is actually good. Well, he succeeded.  It’s no wonder that no other ramen will do for him now. 

Can’t wait for your ramen enlightenment?  Be patient and persistent and call often.  As Yuji told us, matter-of-factly with no hint of ego, the waitlist is only about 3,000 people per month.  Good luck!

Website: http://yujiramen.com/

Rotisserie Georgette

It doesn’t push boundaries.  It isn’t in the trendiest of locations (by any stretch).  It’s actually quite pricey.  But since word got out about their tasty fancy fowls, Rotisserie Georgette has been non-stop packed.  Because in NY, if it’s good, no one is fazed about paying a hefty $72 for a chicken for two (including us!).

Admittedly, this place isn’t just good, it’s really good, in that old-fashioned, home-cooked meal kind of way.  Comfort food, yet refined.  If I were to host my perfect dinner party, this is exactly the meal that I’d want to wow my guests with.  (In an alternate universe where I could actually cook, that is.)   

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Above is the Salade G - my favorite type of “salad”, a.k.a. a fatty fake salad that appeases the mind and conscience in name but actually clogs the heart and enlarges the gut with calories galore.  Endives are topped with frisee, Asian pear, candied walnuts, lardons and blue cheese and tossed with mustard vinaigrette.  Mmmmm, the lardons were outstanding, the blue cheese funky and creamy, and the salad crisp, fresh and not a bit overdressed.  Very happy.      

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We had to order the famed poule de luxe for 2 as our main.  Buttery and earthy wild mushroom stuffing is thinly spread beneath the crackly skin of a whole tender roasted chicken, which is then topped with seared foie gras and jus.  An excellent savory and herbaceous mushroom sauce is served on the side (below), to be poured over your poultry to your liking (we liked, and used it all).

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I thought for sure the foie gras would be overkill, an easy means to forge an elevated image and to justify the price.  I was wrong; the foie gras had real purpose on this dish.  Not only did it add an expected richness, but it enhanced each bite with an unanticipated and wonderful gamey, musty and slightly metallic quality.  Like dry-aged meat.  And offal.  YEEEEEEESSSSS.  We loved.       

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With four varieties of potatoes to choose from, we were a bit overwhelmed.  We settled on the “stuffed and crisped” preparation. An expertly baked Idaho potato (nice outer shell, but not a bit dry) is filled with smooth, moist (yes, I hate that word, but that’s what they were!) Parmesan mashed potatoes.  Just the right amount of sear to top it off.

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And even the cauliflower was delicious!  Served with Jerusalem artichokes and golden raisins.  A satisfying balance of salty and sweet.  The cauliflower was cooked to the perfect consistency - delicate and supple, but not obliterated to mush.  

Oh, happy belly. 

Website: http://www.rotisserieg.com/

Salumeria Rosi

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Salumeria Rosi has been one of our go-to cured meat outposts for years.  Their selection is varied and their quality is top notch - we’ve used them to cater almost every party we’ve ever hosted, and often pop over for a tasty afternoon snack.  It was curious that it took us so long to dine at their busy in-house restaurant, but as soon as we moved to the Upper West Side, we dragged RP and RL.  We started with a meat board, of course; it is, after all, their specialty.  It never disappoints.   

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Which is more than I can say about the cheese plate.  I take my cheeses seriously, and these were just so dull.  The pairings also looked so cheerless on that plate (I don’t blame them).  A complete throw-away.

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The first of our two salads, the Pontormo, was quite controversial.  It is their “signature salad” of market greens tossed with soft-scrambled egg, guanciale and pancetta.  I thought it was tasty and homey (I don’t know if this is a Chinese thing generally, but my mom used to make something similar).  RP and ATO did not appreciate the warm/cold omelete/salad mix, and found it totally weird and off-putting.

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The market greens, on the other hand, are straight-forward and meet expectations.  Fresh.  Slightly tart and citrusy from the lemon vinaigrette.  The shaved Parmesan added a nice salty bite.

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The entree and pasta courses, while rustic and authentic, all suffered from a portion issue.  They were all about 50% too small.  It’s like your Italian grandmother made you all of this delicious home-cooked food, but thinks you’re too fat to marry off so has decided to enforce a strict diet on you.  (By the way, the prices suggest normal-sized portions).  Above, the meatballs.  A portion comes with just two smallish ones.  So sad.      

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The veggie risotto: also super yummy and full of plump fresh veggies; unfortunately also portioned for a 5-year old child (the picture is deceiving, the plate was small).  

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I just wanted to burst into tears upon first glance of my pork and beef lasagna.  Instantly I knew: this was going to taste so freakin’ good, but I would not be satisfied with a serving the size of a 3 by 3 inch post-it notepad.  I ate in very small bites, very, very slowly.   

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As soon as the entrees arrived, we ordered a size of the Brussels sprouts; we just knew we would need more food.  And it’s always good to get more veggies, even if covered in oil and meat (actually it’s better that way ;-)). 

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When the dessert menu was presented, there was no hesitation.  D*amn straight we were getting dessert, we were all still hungry.  The chocolate mousse was nice and rich, but erred on the side of mundane. 

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The banana bread pudding with vanilla sauce.  Just a freakin’ banana muffin!  I died a little inside.  Bread pudding may be my favorite dessert of all time, so I felt deceived by the cold, wet and dense little pastry on my plate that purported to be such a promising treat by name.   

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The most provocative dessert on the menu: the semifreddo with parmigiano reggiano parfait, prosciutto di parma brittle and seasonal fruit. While its flavors didn’t match its avant garde title, it was definitely good.  And at least it was the right portion.

If you’re looking for a convivial first date spot where you can nibble on small tasty bites (and maybe each other afterwards), this might be in your wheelhouse.  But if you’re married and just looking for the pleasures of gorging on a hearty Italian meal and rolling out with a full happy belly, then move on.  Come by in the afternoon for a snack at the take-out counter instead.  

Website: http://salumeriarosi.com/

Maysville (brunch)

ALERT: New brunch spot!  Maysville might have gotten off to a slow start - it might not have debuted with a splash - but people are catching on that this joint is a solid brunch option with a cool, laid-back pace.  The type of place that provides Vitamin D lacking New Yorkers with a nice sunny place to sit, sip a few delicious whiskey-based brunch cocktails, have some well-executed, no frills fare and stay a while.  Which is what SG, JG, ATO and I did on this relaxing Sunday afternoon. 

Brunch in New York is not brunch without some cocktails, and these were a nice twist on some classics.  The smoked chipotle Bloody Mary was made with bourbon, adding a nice smoky depth to my favorite hangover cure.  

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The whiskey milk fizz was another cool play on a familiar horchata flavor profile.  

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While we waited for our food, hot cranberry muffins arrived.  When given the choice, I always go salty over sweet for brunch, so this was a pleasant sweet and tart little start to the meal.  

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The shrimp toast which we all shared was my favorite dish of the day.  Lightly cooked, tender shrimp piled high with blistered corn, ginger aioli and radish on buttery toasted bread.  Tough to share, but worth the effort.  We were all surprised by how good this bright but delicate dish was (especially JG, who made an exception for his no-shrimp rule after all of our effusive reactions!).    

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For our mains, ATO and SG followed the recommendations of the masses and ordered the pulled pork sandwich.  The pork was relatively lean and well-seasoned and the cole slaw added an enjoyable freshness and crunch.  But ATO (unsurprisingly) ached for the presence of fries, in lieu of sweet potato chips.    

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JG ordered the crispy grits with smoked ham, blistered sweet peppers and sauce mornay.  While the mornay was decadent, it didn’t overpower the dish, which certainly satisfied our companion.  The small size of the dish didn’t feel stingy; it was a saving grace, to keep the diner from rolling out bloated with a stomach ache. 

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I am a sucker for a good quiche.  It’s actually one of the few things I can make, but I still can’t resist ordering it at restaurants all the time.  This one was amazing - soft, fluffy, almost custardy egg filled the crust with plump squash, spring onions and a creamy goat cheese.  With the cool fresh salad, this really hit the spot.  Yuuuuuuuummmy. 

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And we wouldn’t be us with at least one extra side dish in there.  ATO finally did get his fried starch, in the form of crispy delicious breakfast potatoes.  And now we’re all happy.  

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Tip - when you go, make a late reservation like we did, you’ll have the whole place to yourself and unhurried service, so plan to stay awhile!

Website: http://www.maysvillenyc.com/

Luksus at Tørst

One constant embarrassment for ATO and I as we dine around the city: we don’t know sh*t about wine.  Not only that, we just don’t have the palates for it.  Call us lucky: it’s actually quite a blessing not to be able to distinguish the $10 bottle versus the $50 bottle (we can usually go cheap!), but it makes ordering wine at a nice restaurant and trying to sound like a well-seasoned diner a bit of a challenge.  Typical conversation:

Waiter/sommelier: “What were you thinking in terms of wine?” 

Me: “Um, white, or…. er, maybe red?  I don’t know, what do you think?”

Waiter/sommelier: “Well are you looking for something more [blah] or something more [blah].  [Blah blah citrusy blah blah full bodied blah dry blah tannins blah.]” (I don’t follow).

Me: “Ummmm, I’ll just have whatever you think is better with whatever I just ordered.”

So when we heard that Tørst, a craft beer drinker’s heaven, was to open a mini hidden restaurant, Luksus, serving a tasting menu paired with, not with wine, but (wait for it)…. BEER ONLY, we knew we had to check it out.  Cos while I don’t know sh*t about beer either, ATO has in fact become quite obsessed in recent years.  He travels the city far and wide looking for exotic or small batch brews, can actually distinguish small nuances in flavor and has become a bit of a beer snoot.  A beer tasting dinner… we might actually be able to hold our own for once in the beverage category!   

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To reach Luksus, you are ushered in through a discrete door in the back of the bar that leads to a small simple room with a tiny open kitchen, some bar seating and a few tables.  Promptly after being seated, a line-up of snacks is presented.  The first: perfectly fried cippolini onions and tomato relish.  If only I could chomp on these every Sunday while watching football.  Hot and crisp but not at all greasy, the tang of the tomato was the perfect pairing with these sweet, flavor-packed onions.   

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The next snack was lighter: poached rock shrimp topped with rye, dipped in sour cream.  For some reason, rye now always reminds me of the corned duck and rye appetizer at WD-50.  Very tasty. 

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I was a bit thrown off by the 3rd snack: a cold lobster “slaw” served with dense, kind of mealy, seaweed biscuits and hazelnut mayo.  While each ingredient was good on its own, the combination was…. interesting.  I am ambivalent as to whether I mean that in a good or bad way.  

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Our final snack: chicken oyster on a bed of eggplant puree, to be wrapped and eaten in a disk of cabbage.  We know from Yakitori Totto just how delicious chicken oysters - that small dark round bit of meat on the back of a chicken’s thighs - can be.  This one was good, but didn’t elicit the mouth-watering response that Totto’s does.  Snacks paired with “It’s alive!  Rhubarb” (yes, that’s the name of a beer) from Mikkeller. 

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Of course, some artisanal bread and butter. Places like this always seem to have good bread and butter.

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And now, the real courses come.  Chef Daniel Burns (who, like every other hot new chef opening a restaurant in the city, paid his dues at Noma) serves a Scandinavian/Nordic style tasting menu.  The cuisine is generally light, subtle, fresh and clean.  The food at Luksus actually bears a strong resemble to the chef himself.  Sight unseen, there is no doubt that this meal was not birthed from the hands of a showy, gluttonous, fanciful or indulgent chef with a big personality.  It is in fact quite apparent from each dish that the creator of this food must be a lean, quiet but confident, refined yet sleeves rolled-up hairy-armed man who is one with the earth and with nature.  (No, I don’t have a crush on him.)  To confirm my very accurate description (if I do say so myself), he is pictured to the right, above.  And now you also get to see just how small that kitchen really is, making this meal all the more fascinating.

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We started with cured hamachi in whey broth with a seaweed emulsion, cucumber and dill.  To me, this dish epitomizes new Nordic cuisine.  Not so much my thang (I don’t, after all, enjoy raw fish), but ATO was pleased.  Paired with Gose, from Westbrook.

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The next course was all veggies: thin slivers of turnip, maitake mushrooms and radish resembled petals floating in a puddle of squash broth.  Beautiful dish.  After my first spoonful of broth I was like “um, why’d you serve me turnip/squash flavored water?” but it grew on me with each bite.  I could appreciate the depth and complexity in that “turnip/squash flavored water”, but at the end of the day, the flavors didn’t win me over.  ATO, however, was charmed immediately.  He loved the understated sophistication of this dish, the deference it showed to the delicate earthy tones of these lightly cooked vegetables.  Paired with Luciernaga, from Jolly Pumpkin.

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Our savory courses ended on a seared duck breast and heart, paired with a bewitching salted plum sauce and excellently roasted beets.  The duck was cooked perfectly, but the star of the show was the wonderful harmony of salty and sweet demonstrated in the salted plum.  Mmmm.  Paired with Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien, from BFM.

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A tart little peach sorbet with black currant cordial to cleanse the palate and transition to dessert. 

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Which was my favorite course of the night…. (although I still got those fried onions on my mind.)  Parsnip mouse covered in cocoa crumbs, served with a parsnip malt ice cream and apple puree.  This dish had it going on, both in terms of texture and taste.  And bonus points for being so inventive.  I mean, c’mon, parsnip, malt and apple?  It’s like a Chopped challenge gone oh, so right.  Paired with Cidre Bouche de Normandie, from Etienne Dupont.

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To end the night, a sweet little treat: a chocolate shell covered a thyme cookie and butternut squash meringue.  Lovely.

And by the way, ATO gave them a gold star for their beer offerings and specific pairings; you’d really be hard-pressed to find this quality of beer anywhere else in the city.    

Bottom line: if you’re a beer fanatic and you enjoy the new wave of modern Nordic cuisine (think Acme, Isa, Frej, Aska and the like), this place is a must-go.  If you are neither a big beer drinker or a huge fan of the modern foraged food trend, like me… it’s still a worthwhile, fun and tasty experience!

Website: http://www.luksusnyc.com/

M. Wells Steakhouse

Being first always makes you feel special.  When ATO snagged a reservation for the first non-soft opening night at M. Wells Steakhouse, we felt like VIPs.  So, on a dreary Thursday evening, we trekked out to Long Island City to celebrate MT1’s birthday in style.  The dining room was peculiarly not so busy for the opening night of one of the “it” restaurants of the season, but we ignored that and kept our expectations high.  Unfortunately, we should have seen the writing on the walls (or the empty seats around us).  

The original M. Wells and M. Wells Dinette consistently serve bright, impactful flavors with a decadent twist.  A great combination of concept forward dishes and good (and buttery!) execution.  M. Wells Steakhouse fails where its predecessors succeeded.

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To start, the bread course.  I always say that you can tell a restaurant by its bread and butter, and this was no exception.  A nice butter, but the pretzel bread was lukewarm, a bit hard and dense and saltless (salt and pretzels go together like pb&j, highlighting the lack thereof).  A middling start.  

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Next up, the appetizers.  We had to order the foie gras terrine.  Our Californian compadres needed to get their fill.  Fill it did; it was a surprisingly large and weighty chunk.  But its density and coldness were off-putting and the congealed fat visibly oozing down the sides was completely unattractive.  

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The geoduck “a la peacock” with radish and pickled peppers.  Pickled tartness complimented a mild fishy hue.  Pleasant. 

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Scallop…pot pie?  Fine, it had a fancy French name: “Coquilles Saint Fereol”.  But I took one bite and was immediately brought back to a rest stop on I-95, shoveling down some Crocker Barrel chicken pot pie….. er, but with a slightly fishy tang.  I like myself a good pot pie so was pretty content, but not really impressed.

The entrees came at just the right time.  For an opening night, the pacing was good.

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For my entree, I actually ordered the appetizer lobster roll, which was decently sized for an appetizer portion.  A healthy amount of lobster is included, but the bread that housed said lobster was too dry and dense.  All in all, it fell flat. 

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The highly anticipated bone-in burger arrived next.  First question: what is the point of putting a bone in a burger?  Follow-up question: how do you eat a burger with a bone?  Both valid and reasonable questions.  Answers: (1) no discernible reason; the bone that was shoved into this big patty of ground beef didn’t enhance the flavors in any way, but I guess it did make us order the burger to see what the fuss was all about (we felt let down); and (2) messily dislodge the completely useless bone out of the burger and put it to the side.  Maybe it was a social experiment meant to entertain the chef and staff: “What your method of eating your bone-in burger says about you.”  And, after finally prepping the burger so that it was easily consumable, it was just a burger.  The charred, salty crust was nice (albeit a tad too salty) but the patty itself was rather uninspired.

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MT2 went with the server’s recommendation and tried the Truite Au Bleu (trout) right out of the fish tank, Chinese-restaurant style (whole fish on the plate).  The preparation imparted an interesting blueish greenish hue to the fish, which was poached with cabbage, served with potatoes and topped with fresh hollandaise.  The fish, while tender, lacked significant flavor or freshness, and was outshined by the cabbage (you never want to be outshined by cabbage!).  The little bones throughout made it hard to eat.   

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Next, the lamb chops.  A smaller portion than other entrees, but one of the better choices.  The lamb was a relatively straightforward presentation with an enticing fatty, salty richness.  We’ve read that they’ve changed this item on the menu recently, and what is offered is now a “lamb chop tagine” that includes more ingredients and flair.  The price concurrently increased from the $36 we paid to $45 (a hefty price tag!).

Being the gluttons we are, we obviously order numerous sides to our mains. 

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Above is the bone marrow with escargot, borrowed from the original M. Well’s kitchen and finally meeting the standard of said kitchen.  Over-the-top rich; big bold flavors. 

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Foie gras gnocchi.  Too big to eat in one bite, but cutting into pieces made the dish unbalanced — either you ate all potato or all foie, neither of which was spectacular. 

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Poutine.  I love the Canadians for this delectable treasure.  This high end poutine is tasty and probably my favorite savory dish of the night; addictively salty and fried.  But maybe more appropriate for a 3am drunk snack than a $10 sharable side for a nice restaurant. 

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Last, the cauliflower “risotto.”  The infusion of strange orange notes created what we all identified as a slightly (fine, kinda in your face) rancid quality.  I’m not sure where this was going, but it was not going in our mouths.  We left it about 2/3 untouched.

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While disappointed with the meal, we tried to salvage the experience with some sweets from the famed traveling dessert cart. 

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Lucky for us, it worked.  The desserts were hands down the best part of the meal.  The classic NY cheesecake is above.  So luscious and creamy and all around fantastic.   

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The cinnamon bun cake, which looked a little dry, was surprisingly amazing.  Perfectly proportioned between the thick gooey cinnamon goodness and the moist challah bread like consistency of the cake, not too sweet, and had that perfect smell of Cinnabon in the mall.  This is what you always wished Cinnabon would actually taste like.  Get it a la mode for sure.  

Unfortunately, the deliciousness of the desserts may have come too late the save the rest of the meal.  Our recommendation: this place is not destination-worthy.  Go back to PS1 to the Dinette instead.   

Website: http://magasinwells.com/mwells.html

The Spotted Pig

When it comes to small bites and tapas with a large group, you’re only as good as your weakest link.  So when, at a dinner with some friends of friends at Takashi, the largest guy of the group started slouching in his chair, rubbing his belly and making comments about how he felt like he was going to explode, ATO and I knew it was all over.  Everyone had had their fill…. except for us.  We simply weren’t close enough to this group (we just met most of them that night!) to reveal our true disgusting selves.  We paid the check, said our goodbyes, and went on our separate ways.

Some people headed home, others went out for some drinks, we dragged MT1 and MT2 straight to The Spotted Pig for second dinner. 

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The Spotted Pig is always crowded, and at 11pm on a Saturday night, this night was no exception.  But, for once we weren’t starving (I mean, we had just come from a huge dinner at Takashi), so we happily perched near the bar and took down some tasty cocktails while waiting for a table.  Within half an hour, we were ordering some shared “snacks” to fill our greedy stomachs.  

We started with an order of the deviled eggs.  While nothing mind-blowing, their deviled eggs are always fresh, flavorful and whipped to the perfect smoothness.  A great little bar snack. 

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Next came the chicken liver toast.  I love April Bloomfield’s chicken liver.  It’s rustic farmhouse style.  Coarse in texture, super savory and good.  Brings me back to a house-made version I had in a small village winery in France (VB, thinking of you!).   

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We lightened things up with a seasonal salad of sunchokes, pine nuts and cheese.  Man, I love sunchokes, and these were expertly executed.  Tender but firm.  Exuded appealing earthy notes.  The creaminess of the cheese and the crunch of the pine nuts was a pleasant contrast. 

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Finally, my favorite burger in the city.  I haven’t had this burger in years.  How did it come to that?  I have no idea.  But it lived up to my memory of it.  The meat was high quality and tasty, a perfect medium rare.  The bun nicely toasted.  And the cheese……oooooooh the cheese.  That salty tangy, funky blue cheese.  It wraps and hugs this burger with so much love and warmth.  It brings that specialness to an otherwise good, but not fantastic, burger.  And it comes with a winning little sidekick: super stringy shoestring fries, mixed with fresh herbs.  YUM.   

Second dinner: success.  April Bloomfield sure has late-night dining down.

Website: http://thespottedpig.com/

thebardofeccentricity asked: So I moved to Hell's Kitchen a few months ago and while I've definitely tried a lot around the area, I generally have a tendency to stick to what I know. I stumbled on your Takeout in HK blog post and decided to try a burrito from Toloache tonight. Oh, god, it was fantastic. I had a minor religious experience. Thanks much for the recommendation. I look forward to your future posts!

Awesome! I’m so glad you liked it. I’m so sad I’m out of their delivery zone now (moved to the Upper West Side). Have many more burritos on my behalf!

Hell’s Kitchen: Best of Take-Out

Until 2 weeks ago, I lived in Hell’s Kitchen (for 7 years).  The food scene improved each year, and it’s now actually one of my favorite neighborhoods for food in Manhattan.  So here’s my ode to my old hood, showcasing the best of take-out! 

My blog posts usually feature “occasion” restaurants - places I’ve hit up once or twice, but not my “regulars”.  This post focuses on the joints (and specific dishes) that I’ve probably consumed upwards of 20, 30, 40 times.  These are my go-to take-out orders, my weekly rotations on Seamless; this is the food that I survive on… the food that I am (because, after all, you are what you eat).  These meals are tried and true and have passed the test of consistency time and time again.  Oh geez, I’m faklempt…… I’m going to miss these meals so much!

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The Breakfast Burrito (Georgio’s Country Grill

Served all day.  Turkey bacon makes it satisfying, without being sinful.  Throw in a “Banana Health Shake” for good measure (it’s rich and creamy and tastes like ice cream).  Sub fries for breakfast potatoes for a change of pace, or fruit, if being good (although the fruit cup is mostly filled with melon - bleh).

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Best Mexican Food and Our Favorite Burrito (Toloache)

I’ve blogged Toloache before.  It’s totally delicious.  But the biggest secret - the best item - is only offered to-go!  The burrito.  Just as big, and the same price, as a Chipotle burrito… but 100% better.  This is the one food item that I will miss the most because, well, I can’t just stop by the restaurant and order it.  If you live in Hell’s Kitchen and will allow me to borrow your address for take-out, I’ll love you forever!

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For A Quick Slice (Uncle Mario’s)

The grandma pizza here is seriously addictive.  Hot, crisp, and with a tangy tomato sauce that will knock your socks off (and anyone you’re talking to, because it’s got a powerful garlic zing).  Definitely worth the low price tag and quick wait.  For a truly authentic and higher-end delicious pizza though, Don Antonio’s delivers too (review: http://photo-hungry.com/post/19379257399/don-antonio)! 

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Cheese Fries!  (Lucky’s Famous Burgers)

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite food of all time is cheese fries.  It combines the two best things in life: fried potatoes and chhheeeeeeessssse.  And the best kind of cheese for fries?  Artificial, processed whizzy cheese!  Lucky’s totally hits the spot.  Many people find this totally disgusting, but I think it’s grand, especially for (1) when you’re drunk and (2) when you’re depressed and just want to wallow in it.  I always order a turkey burger (in fact, I’ve never had their beef burger) on a whole wheat bun cos, well, you gotta be somewhat healthy, right?  And yes, this time I got a side of cheese fries AND onion rings (which are made with real onions).  So what? 

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My Favorite Turkey Sandwich (Lunch Box)

I’ve blogged this one before, but must do it again because it’s so d*mn good.  I’ll keep it short and simple this time: go get one! 

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Drool-Worthy Thai Noodles (Chai Home Kitchen)

In a neighborhood flooded with Thai restaurants, Chai is my favorite.  Their pad see ew (above) is da bomb - as the Black Eyed Peas say, “I just can’t get enough”.  The pad thai and other noodles are amazing as well.  And the northern style Chiang Mai noodles in a thick, spicy complex broth?  I’m in heaven.  (The version at Pam Real Thai is a close second).  Get the party started with the “steamed Thai dim sum” (below) and some basil eggplant for some veggies.   

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Other honorable mentions: Pita Grill for a good salad or grilled eggplant sandwich (their fries are surprisingly good too); Basera is the best Indian place on the block, but might make you want to die afterwards; Chinese food is pretty weak in the area, but Mee Noodle House is a safe bet; for sushi, we always order Sushi of Gari (yes, it is ridiculous to Seamless Michelin star sushi, but sometimes you gotta live a little… or a lot); for bagels, although admittedly not the best in the world (or the city), Pick-A-Bagel, f.k.a. Bagel Stix - always fresh (turnover there is great) and they got whole wheat everything - what what?  Pile on the veggie cream cheese like a Philly cream cheese commercial (it’s like 2 inches thick) and layer it with avocados and tomatoes for the ultimate wake-up meal; and for any kind of baked goods you can imagine, Sullivan Street Bakery is the best (their flatbreads make a fantastic mid-day snack).  Sigh.  Nostalgic already….

Websites: http://www.georgioscountrygrill.com/
http://toloachenyc.com/media/toloache.html
http://www.unclemariosnyc.com/
http://www.luckysfamousburgers.com/
http://www.nyclunchbox.com/lunchbox.php
http://www.chai-restaurants.com/

El Pescador Fish Market & Restaurant (La Jolla, CA)

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A full fledged fish market that also sells some quick seafood bites.  A perfect last treat in San Diego before rushing off to the airport for our dreaded red-eye back to NY. 

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Everything was fresh, delicious, and pretty dang cheap.  Above is the clam chowder.  Filling and satisfying, chock full of clams, but not too heavy or creamy.  All for $2.95.  That’s cheaper than a small serving of pinkberry, yo!

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Mmmmm, dungeness crab cocktail.  My motto: always indulge in dungeness crab while in CA, cos we east coasters are stuck with our Maryland blue crab (not worse, just different).   

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Nice and flaky tender grilled white halibut, served in a torta roll with lettuce, tomato and green and red onions.  Awesome. 

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Must.  Have.  More.  Dungeness.  Before.  Leaving.  This time, in the form of an entree salad, served on a bed of spring mix, romaine, red and white cabbage, tomatoes, green and red onions, lemon and gigantic slices of avocado.  For $10.95!  What a steal.

Bellies full of yummy local seafood, we could make peace with our departure and slept wonderfully on our red-eye :-). 

Website: http://www.elpescadorfishmarket.com/


Please don't judge me for all the crap (albeit delicious crap) that I put into my body. My only defense is that I run a lot, which is (partly) why I eat like this. For full disclosure, I don't eat anything that looks like it did when it was alive (no meat on bones, no shellfish out of the shell...you get it). Exception: mussels and clams. I don't eat any fish (except sometimes at nice restaurants). I don't eat raw meat and I don't eat any weird organs or offal (all of the foregoing, collectively, the "restricted foods"). Any comments related to the restricted foods are third party opinions (mostly from my adventurous better half, ATO).

NY Best of....
Dessert: Degustation (JW); Roberta's (ATO)
Brunch: Lincoln (JW); Resto (ATO)
Italian: Locanda Verde (JW); Ciano (ATO)
Wine Bar: Casellula (JW & ATO)
Burger: Spotted Pig (JW); Minetta Tavern (ATO)
Fried Chicken: Charles Country Pan Fried (JW & ATO)
Steak: Momofuku Ko (JW); Blanca (ATO)
Tapas: Tia Pol (JW); Casa Mono (ATO)
Lobster Roll: Mary's Fish Camp (JW); Flex Mussels (ATO)
Overall Experience: Atera (JW & ATO)