July 27, 2012
In the opening intro of ABC’s hit food TV show The Chew, Chef Mario Batali says “There are two types of people: Italians and those who wish they were Italian.” If you’ve ever wondered what this means, eat a meal cooked from scratch by a real Italian nonna (grandmother) and you will understand; it’s pure food bliss. You can taste the years of practice and tradition, passed through the generations from some quaint Italian village, in every bite. And thanks to my friends Eric and Caterina Cook, I was privy to a home cooked meal from Caterina’s Calabrian Nonna and now, I don’t think I ever want to go out for Italian food again.
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July 23, 2012
Michael White is a seriously high class Italian chef. But now he is diverting his attention from octopus and bone marrow fusili to “Wisconsin style” pizza. And he’s doing it in my neighborhood, the East Village, which means it’s my obligation as a borderline pizza addict to sample some. The best barometer for a new pizza place is the symbol of pizza porn: classic pepperoni pizza. Now I’m not sure what “Wisconsin style” actually dictates, but at Nicoletta, I found an airy, dinner plate sized pizza with slightly crisp and buttery end crust, a thin layer of smooth tomato sauce, a thick layer of mozzarella, a lot of dried oregano, and tasty pepperoni, small, burnt around the edges and cradling their own little pools of oil. Just how I like it.
My pizza was tasty – not a game-changer – but good enough to put Nicoletta on the consideration list when someone asks “Where should I eat pizza in the East Village?” My first and only visit came late on a Sunday night after beers, Jameson shots and fried pickles at open-air haunt Bua on St. Mark’s Place. Not the steady base you would want to approach the menu of rich pizzas, topped with everything from porchetta and pork cracklings (Porchetta, $21) to Wisconsin bacon and potatoes (Patatona, $19). But steady base or not, the question in my mind as I departed was whether or not I’d want to come back at all for one of those gut-busting pizzas. Not a good sign in a neighborhood overrun with quality pizza options. Motorino, Artichoke, South Brooklyn Pizza, and even Vinny Vincenz (for Sicilian slices only) offer pizza heads more alluring options. Then again, Nicoletta is open until 3am and crazier decisions than indulging in Carbonara pizza (cream, pancetta, pecorino romano, egg, black pepper, and scallion, $19) have been made after twilight.
Nicoletta 160 Second Ave at 10th Street, New York, NY 10003 212.432.1600 Mon-Fri, 5pm-3am Sat & Sun,1pm-3am
July 6, 2012
I rarely accept freebies. After all, I can’t pass fair judgement if the restaurant knows I’m coming. But when I received an invite from the PR team at Marc Murphy’s Benchmarc Restaurant Group (Landmarc & Ditch Plains), to take a cruise around the southern tip of Manhattan Tuesday while enjoying all-you-can-drink wine, vodka cocktails and Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale, as well as an all-you-can-eat hot dog bar, cheeseburger bar and ice cream sundae bar, all in celebration of our nation’s birth, how could I turn the offer down? All I had to do was write a blog post about it, whether I had fun or not. Well not only did I have fun, I had a blast. The turnout was great – everyone was friendly and ready to mingle – the music was awesome, and there was more food and booze than I have ever seen on a single boat before. And I hang with these guys. The views of the NYC skyline were incredible; the Freedom Tower is badass. I’m kvelling so much because I want you to have as much fun as I did. And you can, because the next Summer Cruise event is Tuesday July 10th in celebration of Bastille Day (a.k.a French Independence Day) and for $60 you’ll be able to eat your weight in sweet or savory crepes, French cheese and sausage, and macarons while drinking enough Lillet cocktails, French wine and Brooklyn Brewery Summer Ale to make Gerard Depardieu proud. And if you can’t make this event, the Summer Cruise Series continues on July 17 with Bourbon and Beer, July 24 with Bluegrass and Bayou and July 31 with Swine and Sparkling Wine. Get involved people. You’ll thank me later.
Buy Tickets Here Cruise ships leave at 8:15pm from the World Financial NY Waterway Pier at Battery Park City/Vesey Street. Questions? Contact email@example.com or call 212.625.8270
July 2, 2012
White meat chicken breast finally has a raison d’etre and it’s name is the Lebanese Pressed Chicken Sandwich ($10) at Porchetta. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better at the porcine palace, Chef Sara Jenkins had to go and follow through on all the Lebanese food talk and create what is quite possibly the tastiest chicken sandwich I’ve had in a long time. The same airy Grandaisy Ciabatta Piccola that sandwiches the namesake porchetta is slathered with a Lebanese garlic and lemon sauce called “toum” and packed with house made pickles and sliced white meat chicken marinated in lemon, saffron and onions, all before crisping up in the sandwich press. The best bites are those where the toum surprises your taste buds, a pool of it exploding from an airy nook in the ciabatta. At first glance, the finished product doesn’t inspire much awe. You may even feel like you should ask for extra toum. But looks are deceiving; there is so much flavor among the toum, marinated chicken and crisp pickles, you won’t want more sauce, you’ll want another sandwich. Only once before have I experienced chicken, garlic and lemon converging so beautifully, and it was out at Alsalam Restaurant & Meat Market in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where the chicken schwarma is well worth the trip. Chef Jenkins drew inspiration for the sandwich from childhood trips to Lebanon; all you have to do is go to the East Village. Make it happen soon, the chicken sandwich is only here for the summer.
Porchetta 110 East 7th Street b/t 1st Ave & Ave A 212.777.2151 Sun-Thurs, 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat, 11:30am-11pm
June 29, 2012
Make like Mario Batali and get your Smorgasburg on! If you haven’t been yet, it’s time. And if my disconcerting glance isn’t enough, Cooking Channel is sweetening the offer giving everyone free Buffalo Wings, grilled squash quesadillas (better than they sound, trust me), pulled pork sandwiches, and Brooklyn Brewery Beer in celebration of their 2nd Birthday tomorrow from 1-5PM at the Saturday food-only extension of Brooklyn Flea.
If that’s not enough, there will also be a live band and a digital photo booth, just like at your cousin Andy’s wedding; If you’re still not convinced, you’ll want to rub elbows with the one-and-only Baron Ambrosia (above, top) or this sexy brunette Eden Grinshpan (above, bottom) who apparently also hosts a show on Cooking Channel. I’m just happy they didn’t bring out Eddie Huang. I don’t know what pains me the most, his Cooking Channel show, his vest or his Jonah Hill chin?
Other food on sale and worth eating at Smorgasburg: Asia Dog, Bon Chovie, Cemita’s Mexican Sandwiches, Country Boys huarache, anything from Danny Macaroons or First Prize Pies, a BLT at Landhaus, beer caramels from Liddabit Sweets, McClure’s Pickles, Mighty Quinn’s BBQ brisket, Shorty Tang and Sons, People’s Pops, Porchetta, and Schnitz.
Smorgasburg East River Waterfront between North 6 & 7 Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211
June 22, 2012
If you haven’t been yet, it’s time. Everyone knows Brooklyn Bridge Pier 1, and rightfully so, it’s beautiful; the bridge, River Cafe and the carousel set an epic New York City scene. But if you walk 10 minutes south along the river, away from Pier 1 toward Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, you’ll eventually arrive at Brooklyn Bridge Pier 6. There’s Slide Mountain, Swing Valley, Sandbox Village, and a water play area for the kids, beach volleyball courts open past dark, and best of all, a rooftop beer and wine bar serving Sixpoint beer – in cans and on tap – and delicious burgers and lard-basted hot dogs from Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Toppings are free and plentiful. Did I mention the view? Manhattan’s southern tip looms majestically across the East River and the sunset makes it easy to forget about NYC’s hustle and flow.
Pier 6 Access: 4/5 train to Borough Hall, walk west on Joralemon St down to water, turn left. Also, walk all the way west on Atlantic Ave and you’ll come right to the Pier.
Rooftop open until 11pm Mon-Fri, 10pm Sat-Sun
June 20, 2012
I discovered Szechuan Chinese food in 2009 during an epic meal at then newly-opened Lan Sheng. It was an eye-opening experience; the flavors and dishes completely reshaped my view of Chinese cuisine. In the three years since, Manhattan has seen an influx of new Szechuan joints all over the city; Hot Kitchen in the East Village (get the Mei Shan Beef), Legend in Chelsea (get Mapo Tofu and white fish w/ cabbage), Land of Plenty on the Upper East Side (get crispy lamb w/ cumin), and Mission Chinese, which traveled all the way from San Fran to the Lower East Side (get everything). Cafe China, located on 37th street just off Madison Ave in the no-man’s land of Midtown East, opened in fall 2011 and has been on my to do list ever since, especially since it received a 2-star review from Pete Wells in the NY Times in May. I was rolling solo Monday night and in the mood for mapo tofu with ground pork – my barometer of a great Szechuan restaurant – and decided to check out Cafe China.
Mapo Tofu can easily go wrong if it’s too oily or there’s too much corn starch, but Cafe China’s version ($11) disappointed in a whole new way. First off, it came with no meat in it, something I’ve never seen before. Not a problem; the server was happy to add pork, free of charge no less. The real issues were the bowl and the sauce. Usually mapo tofu is served in a deep bowl, allowing the hearty sauce to cover and imbue the tofu with flavor, making the dish into a delicious stew. At Cafe China, the bowl was shallow and the sauce was thin and soupy, making the mainly flavorless tofu – which to the kitchen’s credit was fresh and silken – into the star of the dish. Not going to fly with me. Fortunately, the meal was not a total loss. The spicy Chengdu wontons in Szechuan peppercorn and vinaigrette ($6 for 8 wontons) offered great depth of flavor – at once spicy, smokey and sweet – and great textural contrast thanks to the delicate wonton wrappers and the hearty pork inside. Will I return? Maybe. The wontons and the service were great, but with Hot Kitchen and Legend much closer to where I live, it will be a tough sell.
Cafe China 13 E. 37th St. b/t 5th Ave and Madison Ave New York, NY 10016 212.213.2810 Open Daily 11:00am – 10:30pm
June 18, 2012
Let’s get this straight right off the bat: There’s no pad thai or drunken noodles or pad see ew at Zabb Elee. In fact, you won’t find any dishes where noodles are the main component. What you will find are a lot of fried and grilled fish and meat dishes with various dipping sauces and salads made of everything from ground duck and crispy duck skin to shredded papaya and shrimp. And this is a good thing, because the vibrant Thai flavors – spicy, sour and sweet – bursting from every dish, will completely reshape your view of Thai food while going very easy on your wallet.
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June 15, 2012
In case you missed it over the last few years, the restaurants formerly known as “Houston’s” have been renamed “Hillstone” in Manhattan. Some employees say it’s branding. Others say it has to do with not wanting to list calories on the menu. Ultimately, they can call it “Tommy’s of New Jersey” for all I care, just as long as they continue serving five items that always keep me coming back for more: spinach artichoke dip, the off-menu traditional salad with house vinaigrette, the cheeseburger, the ribs, and the warm five-nut brownie sundae. Last night, I ate three of those items between 9:30PM and 11:30PM. I advise you to follow my order, but I do not advise you to choose the same time frame if you have work at 9AM the next morning.
The massive cheeseburger, pricey at $18, is my favorite thing on the menu. The burger patty itself – griddled and grilled – offers a dividing line between fancy and fast food flavors. Sliced white cabbage and a dab of barbecue sauce rests beneath. Above, mayo, mustard, shredded lettuce, always-fresh tomato, chopped onion, and pickle chips offer a flavor reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest’s “goop” sauce. The buttered and grilled brioche bun is sweet, squishy and just hefty enough to support the weight of the burger and toppings. The super thin fries, which used to be some of my all-time favorite, have been almost too thin of late, skewing more toward matchstick fries than shoestring. Either way, they’re still delicious dipped in Hillstone’s custom ketchup, sweetened with a bit of honey.
Spinach artichoke dip ($14) may be a standard bar snack, but when sober, it doesn’t get better than Hillstone’s version. Mix up the molten concoction of Monterey Jack, parmigiana Reggiano, spinach, and bits of artichoke heart, scoop it up with a tortilla chip, and then spoon on sour cream and salsa, and indulge. If you run out of chips, ask for more, they’re free. You will end scraping the ramekin until nothing is left.
Salad, yes, salad. Before you chastise NYC Food Guy for promoting greens, be aware, this salad is topped with house made croutons, hard boiled egg and crispy bits of bacon. It’s called the “traditional salad” and it’s no longer listed on the menu but you can still order it. Just make sure to get the yellow-tinted house vinaigrette, it’s another bowl-scraper.
I would have crushed the warm 5-nut brownie sundae ($8), with it’s scoop of Sedutto vanilla ice cream, pool of champagne custard, and espresso caramel drizzled throughout, but there’s one thing whose name will never change: food coma. And I had achieved it.
Hillstone 153 E 53rd St near 3rd Ave 212.888.3828 // 378 Park Ave South b/t 26th & 27th St 212.689.1090
Houston’s 630 Old Country Road Garden City, NY 11530 516.873.1454
June 13, 2012
Do you know what a torta is? I didn’t until about three years ago. And every time I’ve eaten a delicious one since, I’ve kicked myself for not discovering this quintessential Mexican sandwich sooner. The crux of a torta is simple: a white hero roll is schmeared with black or refried beans and mayo. Then it’s piled with meat – typically fried chicken, beef or spicy pork – pickled jalapenos, white cheese, sliced avocado, and iceberg lettuce. It’s then pressed until crisp and busting at the seams. It makes that panini you had for lunch today whimper like a puppy during a thunderstorm. And it was with this in mind that I went to the supermarket one night set on creating a torta of my own.
I seasoned three chicken thighs with kosher salt and crushed black pepper before placing them skin-side down in some olive oil in the cast iron skillet for 5-7 minutes per side, until golden and crisp. As I shredded the chicken off the bone, I realized it was undercooked and tossed everything back into the skillet to crisp up. This turned out to be a genius idea because when it was time to press the torta in the cast iron skillet, the pan was coated with chicken fat. Dangerous.
While the chicken cooked for about 5 more minutes, I heated three tablespoons of canned refried beans in a small saucepan, sliced 4-5 pickled jalapenos and carrots, shredded a handful queso blanco (Mexican white cheese similar to mozzarella), sliced half a ripe avocado, and washed a small handful of cilantro. After pressing the sandwich in chicken fat, I opened it back up; strings of melted queso blanco streched like Spiderman’s webs, and added some fresh cilantro and Cholula hot sauce before digging in.
Wow. Just wow. This is probably the best sandwich I have ever made for myself. The chicken thighs turned out even better than I imagined; tender, salty and studded with crispy chicken skin, which added great texture to the torta. And if this is only my first try, it can only get better. This makes me want to start a torta business. Is that jumping the gun? You should try my recipe and decide for yourself.
June 11, 2012
Sometimes food makes you speechless and transports you to another mental plane. That’s what happened today after I tasted my first bite of pulled pork from Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson’s (above), in Decatur, Alabama, at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park in Manhattan. Lilly’s pork shoulders have won their category at Memphis in May seven times, and with good reason; once pulled, his pork offers all the smokey tenderness one could desire. Drizzle on some of the sauce and you’re in business.
After two servings of this porcine wonderment, a normal person would typically find a bench in the shade and doze off happily. Not my brother Craig (aka Lil NYC Food Guy) and me. We trekked over to Ubon’s Barbeque of Yazoo City, Mississippi for a chat with the charming pitmaster himself, Garry Roark, who was feeding bits of bark-laced pork to New York Jets Center Nick Mangold, out filming a video with fellow bearded carnivore Josh Ozersky. We also came to see my friends Dave, Adam and Bob-O who are helping Garry (top left, above) spread the word about his incredibly delicious BBQ sauce. It’s tangy, spicy and laced with bits of onion, making it a delicious topping for Roark’s smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork or a refreshing base for a bloody mary. Craig and I tasted both and could not have been happier.
Big Bob Gibson – @BigBobGibsonBBQ
Chris Lilly – @ChrisLillyBBQ
Ubon’s – @UbonsBBQ
Ubon’s Sauce – @UbonsSauce
November 14, 2011
I like playing favorites, especially when discussing banana pudding and cupcakes. Thanks to sugar Sweet sunshine, my two favorites are under the same roof. I’ve praised their banana pudding before, and after a visit last week, I’m happy to report that copious amounts of ripe banana and Nilla wafer ensconced in rich, creamy pudding are still the norm. And for the first time, a cupcake made me speechless, namely the Ooey Gooey ($1.75, top), featuring moist chocolate cake crowned with chocolate almond buttercream frosting. For lovers of marzipan and almond paste, this frosting is your zen; it will ease your soul, align your spirit and have you moaning in delight. Make sure to try the seasonal chocolate chip trifle (above left, $4 small, $5 medium, $6.50 large) before it’s gone; it elevates dessert to another level by blending whipped cream and butterscotch pudding with pockets of crushed chocolate chip cookie. There’s always room for one more favorite, right?
sugar Sweet sunshine Link 126 Rivington St b/t Norfolk St & Essex St New York, NY 10002 (212) 995-1962
November 11, 2011
If you’ve ever wondered what the finest funnel cake would taste like topped with cheese and sauce instead of powdered sugar, this is it, only much, much better. In order to achieve this state fair food gone deliciously wrong, Forcella’s owner and pizzaiola Giulio Adriani deep fries the stretched dough until almost cooked through. Then he places it in a pan and tops it with San Marzano tomatoes, house made fresh mozzarella, grated grana padano, and basil, before sliding it into a wood burning oven. It figures then that “Montanara” in Italian translates to “mountain,” because the result is a small pizza that delivers a mountain of flavor; the consistency – crisp and chewy yet delicate – and slight sweetness of the dough bring fresh donuts to mind while the quality of the toppings – creamy mozzarella, bright tomatoes and grana padano-crusted basil leaves – allows their simplicity to shine. Work fast though because like any Neapolitan pizza, the center of the pizza tends to get soggy quickly. A necessary evil for a pizza unlike any you’ve experienced before.
Forcella Bowery Link 334 Bowery St at Bond St New York, NY 10012 (212) 466-3300 Forcella Brooklyn 485 Lorimer St b/t Powers St & Grand St Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 388-8820 Hours Mon-Fri 12pm-4:30pm for Lunch, Closed 4:30pm-5:30pm, Open 5:30pm-11pm for dinner, Sat-Sun Open 12pm-12am
November 8, 2011
I used to hate hamburgers. Hard to believe, I know. As much as I love my mother, I sadly have to blame her. Growing up, her definition of the perfect burger was “the more burnt, the better.” Mom meant well – she’s a great cook, and amazingly, still getting better – but instilling burger appreciation was unlikely. The situation was so grave, it took TGI Friday’s and Burger King, both with their flame-grilled patties, to convince me that a burger could taste like anything but burnt beef. As a result, I shunned any burger not cooked over fire for most of my adolescence. If it were going to be griddled, I’d smother it in toppings; anything to avoid the overwhelming flavor of beef alone.
About the time I started this website in 2007, my feelings began to change. My first review, of Manhattan’s first Five Guys Burger and Fries, glowingly praised their griddled burger. It was a revelation. Liberally seasoned beef, cooked in nothing but its own fat, could become crispy outside and still remain juicy inside. “Fat” is the key word, because fat equals flavor. It’s no wonder then that my favorite griddled burger today is at the Brindle Room, where the steakhouse burger features not only more fat than most, but fat from the outside of a ribeye steak, also known as the deckle. Chef Jeremy Spector’s deckle burgers are imparted with even more flavor from steak trimmings and the cast iron skillet their cooked in. Chef Spector personally likes his burger with caramelized onions – cooked in burger fat in the skillet – and American cheese. All I need is a slice of American cheese to cut the richness, the burger is that flavorful on its own. The squishy, griddled white bun and the skin-on fries – perfectly crisp outside and creamy inside – do the rest. If you’re harboring any doubts about your love for burgers, Brindle Room’s steakhouse burger with caramelized onions and fries ($12 at brunch and lunch, $14 at dinner, no extra cost for cheese), will make you a believer. If you still need convincing, just watch this mouth-watering video. Burger porn at its finest.
Make sure to save room for dessert, Chef Spector’s Wonder City Donuts are served from breakfast until they run out (Mon-Fri starting at 7:30am, Sat-Sun at 11am). You’d never know it from the taste, but the donuts are actually “spudnuts” which are made of potato batter. As a result, the freshly fried donuts are especially airy and creamy inside. Flavors range from caramel coating, Nutella frosting with almonds, or powdered sugar ($1.75 each). There’s also new flavors added daily. You’ll want to order one of each.
Brindle Room Link 227 East 10th St b/t Avenue A and 1st Ave New York, NY 10009 (212) 529-9702 Open Mon-Thurs 7am-12am, Friday 7am-1am, Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-11pm
November 7, 2011
Peels is known for brunch, but since I refuse to wait for a table at brunch on weekends, I decided to give dinner a try. Unfortunately, the $7 side of Brussels sprouts was the most memorable part of my $100 meal for two. I should have known that in this food-consumed city, if the waitress has to up-sell me on an off-menu “secret burger ($18)” – Bacon and pimento cheese atop a Piedmontese beef patty, shredded iceberg lettuce and pickled onion, jalapeno slaw - I’d have known about it by now if it was any good. It wasn’t. The flavor of smoke and cheese product overwhelmed; thick cut bacon was so chewy I pulled out an entire piece of bacon with my first bite. This is why meatball-shaped burger patties should be simply adorned, there’s not enough surface area for the toppings to hold onto. The veggies provided no redemption, iceberg lettuce is pointless and the slaw offered no acid or heat to cut through the bacon and cheese. The accompanying house made parmesan and chive tater tots – hearty like mini knishes, as Lil NYC Food Guy noted – were the only saving grace. At $21 for two pieces of fried chicken (not pictured), this better be the I’ve ever had. Not even close. One drumstick and one breast? At least give me the option for all dark meat so I can experience some flavor if the breading is going to be so ordinary. The bed of mashed sweet potatoes – which as Lil NYC Food Guy observed, “got old quick” – were gloppy and overly sweet; any chicken resting on it was rendered soggy. Moving forward, The Cardinal will be my first stop for East Village fried chicken. The shrimp and grits ($13) appetizer looked better than it tasted; it delivered in the texture department – creamy grits, chewy bacon, just firm enough shrimp – but it needed a dousing in Secret Aardvark habanero hot sauce to really satisfy. The biggest insult of all may be the fact that Sir Kensington gourmet scooping ketchup is offered over Heinz. Comfort food without Heinz? Blasphemy.
Peels Link 325 Bowery at 2nd Street New York, NY 10003 (646) 602-7015 Phone only leads to recording for reservation line Open Daily 7:30am-12am