Dan Dan Noodles
When I was still a tourist to the city, I always believed that the best Chinese restaurant would most certainly be found in Chinatown, and the best Italian restaurant had to be in Little Italy. Wrong! It was doubly sobering for me to discover that not only is the best Chinese restaurant in the East Village, but that it hails from Philadelphia! In my opinion Han Dynasty might well be New York’s finest import from Philly this century.
Chef Han Chiang does his very own spin on Szechuan cuisine that includes gallons of chili oil that shows up just about everywhere. He washes his wontons in it. He drowns his dumplings in it. He even flavors fresh, sliced cucumber salad with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Windex has been spiked with it. Regardless, it has catapulted his Dan Dan Noodles into megahit status. With an “8” according to the menu’s spicy scale, these unshareably infectious house-made rope noodles are seasoned with Szechuan spices – and chili oil, and if you order them you’d be wise to consider the wait-staff’s question about including the ground pork rhetorical.
Most of the dishes are categorized by cooking style: dry pepper, long hot pepper, salt ‘n pepper (yes, there’s a pattern here). I cautiously recommend the dry pepper dishes. They are triple flash fried and really delicious – that is if you are able to process the mind-numbing fire. The parts of my anatomy I love the most have to be my taste buds. No matter what I throw at them, they never fail to rise to the occasion. That is until they staged a full-scale meltdown protest after I tried the dry pepper chicken wings. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, each subsequent wing required the removal of an additional item of clothing to bring my body temperature down. Chef Chiang’s philosophy is that he doesn’t cook for wimps. “My food’s a perfect balance of spice, numbingness, saltiness and flavor.”
One of the more subtle ways to tell that it’s either spring or fall in Manhattan, is when the pink booths and umbrellas for the month-long Madison Square Eats food-avaganza begin to upstage the entrance to Eataly on Broadway & 5th. Now in its sixth year, the pop-up culinary market offers sample-sized bites from a variety of different neighborhood chefs and kitchens. There are a few stalwart regulars like Ilili, Asia Dog, Momofuku Milk Bar and Roberta’s, but it’s encouraging to see stalls representing dishes from further afield – even from the other (brave) boroughs.
The wedge-shaped traffic median between Madison Square Park and Broadway now offers beer-garden benches that permit a less frantic eat-and-run enjoyment of the delights from more than 20 stalls that serve just about everything (including the un-prohibitable pizzas, pretzels and beer) from Hong Kong street noodles to Red Velvet Macarons along with (a slightly too large variety of) Gourmet Tacos. It doesn’t help that this irresistible food fest is located right outside my subway station, so I have little choice (or willpower) but to try something different at each visit.
So far this season my favorites are the Lobster Roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound with huge chunks of pink, steamed claw meat and the Ragu stuffed Arancini from the Arancini Boys, but topping the list (and in my opinion deserving to be its own major food group) are the Southern Style Thai Curry Chicken Wings from the Clinton Street eatery: Pig and Khao. Even before you can sink your teeth into the perfectly blistered skin, the healthy aroma of lemongrass, ginger and chilli could prove challenging to your balance. So just sit down and surrender!
Thai curry (Southern Style) Chicken Wings served with fresh coconut water
Rewriting Veal Parm history
The Torrisi/Zalaznick/Carbone trio have an incomparable knack of recreating tradition with just enough bold choices to push out the fourth wall of their newest spin on Italian home-grown specialties. Carbone, their heavily shaded bistro in Greenwich village isn’t just another black-and-white-tile-floor stuffy-service-from-vest-wearing-waiters variation on a ga-jillion other Italo-American tables around Manhattan, but rather a passionate haven for delivering plate after plate of conversation-stopping “optimizations” on traditional dishes that make you want to have ALL your meals from here. The intimate wood and brick space is made even cozier by the darkest of green walls – and the rather deliberate 50’s rock ‘n roll soundtrack proves to be the perfect ice-breaker or conversation starter.
But now to the food: If the Lobster Fra Diavolo and garlic drenched (almost french-toast) croutons in the Caesar salad doesn’t seal the deal, the pizza-styled Veal Parmesan will rewrite cooking history as you know it. Their generous wine list offers large to medium producers from the usual abundant regions of Italy, but also some strong and surprising representation from Sicily and beyond. The staff seem to understand that when you eventually manage to land a table here (the lottery can be won in less time), you deserve to be treated like family.
I have eaten (at least) 3 square meals a day my entire life. By now I would say I’m pretty good at it, so I thought it might not be a bad idea to share some of my mastication and digestion experiences.
So, a bit about me: I have a very broad palate. There are very few things I absolutely WON’T eat. I’m all about presentation, texture, flavor and a spoonful of drama. I cook at home, I dine out, I order in. But most importantly – I LOVE TO EAT!