Eating my way through Charleston

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Breakfast biscuits, Poogan’s Porch

Since its inception, Charleston, South Carolina has been called many things. Originally  “Charles Town” or “Chuck town” in honor of King Charles II, and more recently the “Holy City” thanks to the proliferation of almost every denomination of church steeple, but I prefer to think of it as “Charmtown” – the city of warmth, charm, hospitality and phenomenal southern cooking.  Because a large part of the myrtle tree lined cobbled streets lie several feet on the wrong side of sea level, many local menus refer to their recipes as “low country” cuisine – which incorporates soul food concoctions of local grains, greens, poultry and seafood – not to mention a nirvana for any barbecue pit-master.

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Shrimp & Grits, Husk

There are several “must-try’s” on every newcomer’s list to the city: Shrimp and Grits (a gritty porridge dotted with cooked shrimp bathing in some form of roux; Pimento Cheese (a pimply pale paté of soft cheese, pickled pimentos and mayonnaise often dolloped over fried green tomatoes); Barbecue (pork, beef, catfish and poultry – usually open-pit-smoked with vinegar-forward rubs and sauces); She-crab Soup (a creamy chowder from the legs and claws of female crabs) and Fried Chicken (no explanation required!).

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F.I.G.

Food establishments are as casual as they are abundant, and every Charlestonian (from Uber drivers to baggage handlers) will recommend their favorite, but securing a table (one of the few still using white cloths) at Mike Lata’s F.I.G. (Food is Good, est. 2003) is still tougher than a hamster sandwich. The kitchen at this all-time favorite local bistro in Ansonborough is run by executive chef and James Beard Award winner Jason Stanhope, who should be thanked for averting local riots by loyally reprising several menu standards.

 

 

Top of the list has to be his velvety smooth, rich and incomparably wondrous Chicken Liver Paté, served with shards of toasted brioche, a bracing Dijon and a pile of sour pickles. Next would be a cluster of impossibly fluffy Ricotta Gnocchi with the most delectable lamb Bolognaise that could easily summon 100 angels (from wherever it is that angels need to be summoned from.) We had also hoped to sample the much-blogged-about Tomato Tarte Tatin, only to be firmly but politely corrected by our dapper apron-clad waiter, that everyone knew it would be three more weeks before tomatoes were at their most flavorful. (Did I mention that this town runs on locally sourced, available ingredients?) So, we opted for one of the highly requested seafood dishes – the Fish Stew Provençal, which beautifully merges French and Southern cooking styles into one heavenly pot of mussels, local white shrimp, squid, fish and Carolina Gold rice.

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Shrimp & Grits, Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is an enchanting, family-run establishment set inside a double-story house with a generous porch, where you can people-watch the iPhone bungling tourists go by, while enjoying the Best Shrimp and Grits in 2016. Their secret? They add cheddar to the grits to give it a tangy creaminess, and their roux is a Tasso ham gravy with sausages and peppers.

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The Grocery

You will, without doubt, stumble upon former vegetarian chef Kevin Johnson’s The Grocery on several Charleston Top 10 lists (and via many a personal recommendation too) mostly because of his reliance on the freshest local farm produce. The daily menu is dictated by whatever appeared on the back of the truck that morning, but rest assured, the sublimely spicy Roasted Carrots in Harissa is a staple. The curiously wide space (formerly a furniture showroom) comprises a series of incongruous areas with and without views of the elaborate and high-octane kitchen. We wolfed down the house-made Charcuterie Platter, and savored an amazing mustard and au jus Glazed Duck leg confit with German potato salad and a sharp turnip kraut.

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Glazed Duck leg Confit, The Grocery

You could easily spend a year sampling every take on Fried Chicken in town without repetition, but faced with a time budget, we opted for the lonely pink cinder block box surrounded by a cluster of weeds on the side of a road just north of town called Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Thrillst® just embraced it onto their America’s 31 Best Fried Chicken spots list, and you won’t get any arguments from me. True to the adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – this windowless room hasn’t seen much in the way of upgrades over its thirty-year history.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Label-free, sticky, hot-sauce bottles pin down the hand-scribbled menus, which would otherwise be strewn across the 7 floral, vinyl-covered tables. The only sounds above the whirring of dueling electric fans are the enthusiastic shrieks of anticipation from the crowd of persistent regulars waiting patiently in line. The silverware is plastic, the dishware is Styrofoam and the linen is dispensed from a roll. But the chicken is…to…die…for.

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Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Mac ‘n Cheese and Cornbread, Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Cooked, served and cleared by two feisty sisters who offer you a choice 3 sides (some of the best collard greens, mac ‘n cheese and corn bread in town) to go along with their moist, tender, golden and candy-apple-crisp portions of dark or white meat. The salty-peppery batter is just thick enough not to pull away from the chicken, and when all is said and done, neither plate nor fingers yield a trace of oil. Be warned though – the Sweet Tea is sweeter than a honey-bee’s butt.

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Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

There’s another crowd standing in line just a few blocks away at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Mr. Scott brought his James Beard Award winning “whole hog” technique to town after a very successful run in Hemingway, SC. Alongside the airy red, white and blue dining room is a not-so-airy pit room where hogs, chickens and large sections of beef are slowly and meticulously smoked.

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Spare Ribs, Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

The service is counter-style, and the food arrives in little red baskets lined with butcher paper to soak up the oozy, yummy, vinegary, sweet-and-spicy sauce. Popular favorites are the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a generous helping of lean strands of smoked pork between a soft, white bun, and the amazing dry rub, melt-in-your-mouth Spare Ribs that yield their dark, rich and woody flavors from years of crafting and perfecting.

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Husk

Sean Brock is probably the most notorious chef to draw attention to Charleston’s food scene. After a career under the influence of toques from multiple styles, the “Mind of a chef” starring, James Beard and Daytime Emmy Award winning southern boy opened the now legendary Husk in 2010. Set in a charming 1890’s house on Queen street with a fancy Bourbon barroom next door, Brock dedicated the menu to his strict devotion to southern produce: “If it ain’t southern,” he used to quip, “it ain’t coming in the door.”

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Pimento Cheese Bruscetta, Husk

He elevates Shrimp and Grits with a medley of cheeses for extra creaminess, and douses it in a mind-blowing tomato and shellfish broth. By now everyone has heard of his utterly amazing Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps.

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Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Husk

In reality they are a fresh leaf of butter lettuce clutching a few crispy, crackly twigs of what our waiter described as: “if bacon and pork belly had a baby,” with soft pickled cucumbers, onion slices and a spot of Togarashi sauce for some heat. But nothing can beat the pure, simple joy of his classic Cheeseburger.

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Cheeseburger, Husk

A pair of chuck, bacon and brisket patties held together by a slice of melted American cheese, a swipe of secret sauce, a sprinkle of shaved onion and 3 or 4 pickles crammed into a golden, squishy sesame bun. Uncomplicated. Unfussy. Unbelievable.

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McCrady’s

But don’t think for a hot and sticky southern second that Sean Brock can’t do fussy. Just take a seat at the U-shaped counter at his revamped McCrady’s for a serious, focused and flavor-intense degustation experience. The gold pressed-steel ceilings and exposed brick walls help warm the 18-seat dining throne at the edge of an all-induction, sous-vide kitchen with no open flames. A diverse group of line chefs labor theatrically and animatedly with tweezers, needles and miniature tongs to surgically assemble, prep and plate thirteen of the most beautiful micro-portions of amazingly fussy food. The two and a quarter hour savory thrill ride is rather like a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, with daring surprises, immaculate choreography and a story arc that builds slowly with several culinary high points, before a series of sweet endings gently lower you back down to earth. The grey seersucker-vested waiters provide all the jokes, anecdotes, punctuations and explanations, but no-one will reveal what’s coming up next.

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Royal red shrimp and Savoy Cabbage, McCrady’s

Part of the suspense includes Brock’s highly curated musical “soundtrack” to accompany each course, with selections from The Wild Club and Massive Attack, (which at times makes hearing the dish descriptions a tad challenging for these old ears) but it’s all part of the uncompromising “dinner party” experience that Chef Sean was after.

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Uni and Cucumber ice-cream, McCrady’s

Each dish is revealed in a unique way, in its own unique vessel, accompanied by a uniquely carved wooden rest that houses each unique piece of articulated cutlery. The menu updates regularly based on seasonality, fresh produce availability (noticing a theme yet?) and tons of experimentation. Some of the recent highlights included an ice-cream made from Uni; a delicious Ossabow Pork Pie (that was truly the size of a licorice all-sort); a sous-vide Royal red shrimp and Savoy cabbage mousseline splashed with Kimchi butter and topped with Osetra caviar; a marvelous risotto made from Nostrale Rice (aka Charleston ice-cream) with puffed cereal and a foamy egg custard; pan-seared Mahi Mahi covered by a thatch of thinly sliced white asparagus and New Zealand finger limes, served under a splash of chamomile and spring onion tea; and a Banana Caramel with coconut gelato and black lime zest.

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McCrady’s

With only so many meals a day, the larger question is where didn’t I get to eat? That list would have to include notables like The Glass Onion, Chez Nous, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Bertha’s Kitchen, Charleston Grill, 167 Raw, Zero, Stella’s, Lewis Barbecue and The Ordinary. Looks like I’ll be back in “Charmtown” real soon. Y’all take care now!

https://eatatfig.com/

https://www.poogansporch.com/

http://marthalouskitchen.com/

http://www.rodneyscottsbbq.com/

http://huskrestaurant.com/sean-brock-2/

http://mccradysrestaurant.com/

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My favorite New York restaurant

When folks hear that I write a food blog, their first reaction is always one of shock and surprise. (Notice how I said “shock and surprise” and not “shock and awe?” That’s because there’s nothing that awesome about writing a food blog. It’s just something I happen to do.) After that, the most popular request that gets volleyed my way is to “name my favorite restaurant”. Then for some bizarre reason I become as tongue-tied as a toddler.

(You know that moment when you have just bitten through a slice of toasted baguette, but the generous slither of prosciutto refuses to be halved by your incisors, your canines, your molars or even your wisdom teeth? And so it stretches out of your mouth like a celebrity red carpet between the piece of toast on your tongue, and the piece you were hoping to return to your plate. Then, despite the fact that you are in public, you override good manners and decide to shove the entire thing into your pie hole anyway – not realizing that if the prosciutto wasn’t easy to chew when your beak was empty, it’s going to be darn near impossible now that it’s full.  And so, with cheeks puffed and lips stretched beyond their endurance with a corner of toast already crowning, someone asks you a question.)

That’s exactly how it feels when people ask me…that question.

So, as an attempt at answering it once and for all, I’ve decided to lay out a menu of all of my favorite dishes and where they are served around the city, as though this were to be my very last meal on earth. (Clearly in my case there would have to be a temporary stay of execution just to get through them all – but hey, what a way to go!)

SNACKS

I’d probably start with a greedy handful of House roasted red peanuts with chilies from Pok Pok NY, and then help myself to at least 3 light, fluffy and utterly devourable amuse bouche Cheese Puffs from Benoit before anyone notices they’re missing.

Then I’d tear off a couple of chunks of Nur’s Jerusalem Sesame Bagel before dipping each into that heavenly Lima Bean and Za’atar mouse. Next, I’d use a piece of crispy Italian country bread to scoop up the puddle of olive oil in the middle of Locanda Verde’s smooth and creamy house-made Sheep’s milk Ricotta, while saving some room for a bite or two of the splendiferously yummy Grilled Nueske’s Bacon with peanut butter and Jalapeño jelly from Quality Eats West Village.

APPETIZERS

While I have a lengthy list of establishments that hand chop a great Beef Tartare, (Estela covers theirs under a forest of yummy crispy sunchoke chips, and Cote serves theirs with equally crispy chimichurri-like puffs), only the incomparable Gabriel Kreuther serves a staggeringly delicious and audacious Lobster tartare. I’ll use any excuse to go to Le Bernadin for Eric Ripert’s perfectly circular Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio, dotted and dashed with all sorts of interesting nic-nacs like pickles, Iberico ham chutney and olive oil. And speaking of which, you can’t deny me at least a few bites of Il Buco’s magnificent olive oil Fried Artichokes.

I’m always up for a few slithers of sea urchin speckled Crab Nachos with a rich aioli “queso” from Empellón, or I could grab a handful of Indian Accent’s butter, pepper and garlic baptized Crab Claws to accompany a floret or two of the most delectable of all Indo-Asian fried cauliflowers called General Tso’s by Babu Ji.

Something noodley? It would be hard for me to pass up a nice coil of Han Dynasty’s Dan-Dan Noodles served with ground pork and chili oil, or (because I have such a proclivity for the theatrical) I’d wait and stare while someone heaves and twists the vintage duck press at The Grill to flavor their immaculate Pasta a la Presse with duck, pheasant, squab, bacon and vegetables.

If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering why there are no chicken wings on this list yet. Well, wonder no more: Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok NY always do it for me. And one size up from chickens, at least one of those finger-licking-salty-lemony Crispy Duck Wings from Justin Smillie’s Upland shall forever have my name on it.

For fresh risotto, nothing can touch the light and creamy Barley Risotto with Baby Clams from Narcissa, and when risotto makes its second-time-around appearance, I’m all about Nick Anderer’s adorable pesto flavored Arancini from Marta.

David Chang does two app’s that I could eat at just about any time of day: his Spicy Pork Sausage and Rice cakes from Momofuku Ssäm, and the absolutely ocean-stopping Sea Urchin with fermented Bean paste from Momofuku Ko.

The mere thought of a few strips of Sesame Beef Jerky with a healthy dunk into the fermented Laotian chili paste from Khe-Yo makes me about as weak at the knees as the pure, simple and garlicy red shrimp Carabineros with preserved lemon at La Vara.

And to round it out with a super spicy, lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorn dish, it would either be one bite of Danny Bowien’s Thrice Cooked Bacon and Rice Cakes at Mission Chinese Food, or one of the scaldingly hot Thai Papaya Salads from Somtum Der.

MAINS

My main course favorites come in two basic categories: Roast chicken, and everything else. While some might think there’s nothing more ho-hum than a piece of rotisserie foul, very few can do it as crispily, tenderly and succulently as Le Coq Rico, Dirty French, Le Turtle or chef Jonathan Waxman who honed his poultry skills for years at Michael’s before turning me into a broken record about his astounding Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde at Barbuto. And you can’t blame me for having a very soft spot for Pinch Chinese’s garlic-blasted Wind Sand Chicken. But the king of them all has to be The Nomad’s Roast Chicken stuffed with brioche and foie gras served two ways after being paraded around lavishly like a trophy hen. The other piece of poultry that gets – and rightfully deserves – its own parade is the magnificent and mysteriously shoe-leather-brown Honey Lacquered Duck from Legacy Records.

Moving from roasted to fried, I would have to have one final bite each of the shatter-crisp Fried Chickens from Perry Street, The Dutch and Blue Ribbon – in that order. And it’s a toss-up for who makes my favorite Chicken Kiev between Mari Vanna (who serves it Russian-style with buckwheat) or The Clocktower (who serves it inside an adorable miniature credenza).

I definitely skew French when it comes to seafood and believe that no-one can die before they’ve tried Eric Ripert’s much lauded Paupiette of Sea Bass, which is wrapped inside the thinnest skin of crispy potato scales at Le Bernadin, and Le Coucou does a wondrously faithful and nostalgic Sole Veronique. But if you’re looking for a cavalcade of shellfish flavor, Alain Ducasse whips up twin Quenelles de Brochet at Benoit that are as light and fluffy as pike meringues.

This city is drowning in amazing pasta palaces, but I’ll have anything fresh from Osteria Morini or Café Altro Paradiso’s Garganelli with chicken Ragu, not to mention the stunning Saffron Linguine from Boulud Sud, or Locanda Verde’s dreamy Paccheri with Sunday night Ragu. And while some can’t live without Yesterday’s 100 layer Lasagne from Del posto (don’t get me wrong, I can’t either), I couldn’t imagine a world without Rita Sodi’s sensational Lasagna a Sugo at the nearly-impossible-to-get-into I Sodi.

If I were to choose one last hamburger before leaving the planet, it would probably be the delectable beef patty smothered with Comte cheese inside John Fraser’s Piedmontese Burger at The Loyal, with thanks in large part to the “22-step tomato” that covers, smothers, decorates and elevates it beyond all others in its class, unless I happened to be in the mood for April Broomfield’s Chargrilled Lamb Burger with feta at The Breslin.

I’m still busy wading my way through the morass of Ramen joints across the city, but the one that felt the closest to a real Tokyo train station broth bowl with pork and veggies was the ridiculously creamy and insanely flavorful Tonkotsu Ramen from Mu Ramen in Long Island City.

Before progressing to beef, I’d have to include both of my favorite breaded veals: Wallse’s outstanding Wienerschnitzel, and the most memorable (and expensive) Veal Parm in town at Carbone.

The last two entries will have to be a cut of The Grill’s Prime-aged Ribeye smothered in a green Peppercorn and cognac sauce, and the insanely delectable Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry in the darkest, richest, garlicky, soy and oyster sauce, smothered in fries and accented with chilies, avocado and crema, and served in a chive crepe at Llama Inn.

DESSERTS

Just like the mains, I have 2 categories for desserts: those that have something to do with meringue, and those that don’t. I don’t know what it is, but when egg-whites and sugar get beaten into a foamy froth, it makes me abort every attempt at a diet without conscience. And it doesn’t matter what state it’s in either. Dominic Ansel Bakery uses meringue to cover his sublime Frozen Smores on a stick, while Enrique Olvera smashes 2 of them in his transcendent Husk Meringue at Cosme. The Musket Room somehow manages to shape it into a hollow tube that gets filled with cream and a tangy curd in their Passion Fruit Pavlova masterpiece, and vegetarian hotspot Nix spikes meringue with toasted almonds as a topping over their (off-menu) Grilled Pineapple Wedge.

I’m not much of a pie person, but my arm can be twisted without resistance by the meringue snake that gets torched on top of Llama Inn’s unsharably wondrous Graham Cracker Lime Pie. And I can’t decide between my two favorite alcohol flambéed Baked Alaska’s, (so I have to have both) – the classic one from The Grill, or the one called Omelette Norvégienne with pistachio ice-cream from Le Coucou. Neighborhood bistro Olmsted’s Lavender honey Frozen Yoghurt isn’t technically a meringue, but when they manage to whip it into a shaving-foam delight, it makes my list as something familiar, yet unique and spectacular. But the be-all and end-all of meringue desserts has to be L’Ile Flottante from Le Coq Rico, which is a pink pistachio and burnt sugar crusted island of fluff that is set adrift on a pond of vanilla custard crème.

As for the rest, I’d have to grab one more mouthful of those irresistibly hand-made Honey Butter Chips from Oiji – with or without ice-cream, and it’s a toss-up between Alex Stupak’s Avocado which is a sublime air-brushed recreation out of lime-flavored pudding, or his equally Instagrammably delicious Corn Taco Ice-cream – both from Empellón.

So next time someone asks me what my favorite New York restaurant is, they’ll just have to contend with: “It depends!”

https://pokpokny.com/

https://www.benoitny.com/

http://nurnyc.com/

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com/

https://www.qualityeats.com/west-village/

https://www.estelanyc.com/

https://www.cotenyc.com/

https://www.gknyc.com/

https://www.le-bernardin.com/

http://www.ilbuco.com/

https://www.empellon.com/empellon/

http://www.indianaccent.com/newyork/index.php

http://www.babujinyc.com/

http://handynasty.net/

http://thegrillnewyork.com/

https://www.uplandnyc.com/

http://www.standardhotels.com/new-york/features/narcissa

https://www.martamanhattan.com/

https://ssambar.momofuku.com/

https://ko.momofuku.com/

https://www.kheyo.com/

http://www.lavarany.com/

https://www.missionchinesefood.com/

http://somtumder.com/home_ny.html

http://www.lecoqriconyc.com/

https://www.dirtyfrench.com/

http://leturtle.fr/

http://www.barbutonyc.com/index.php

https://www.pinchchinese.com/

https://www.thenomadhotel.com/new-york/dining

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com/#!/about-perry-street/restaurant/

http://www.thedutchnyc.com/

https://blueribbonfriedchicken.com/

http://www.marivanna.ru/ny/

http://theclocktowernyc.com/

https://www.lecoucou.com/

http://osteriamorini.com/

https://www.altroparadiso.com/

https://www.bouludsud.com/

http://delposto.com/

http://www.isodinyc.com/

http://www.loyalrestaurant.com/

https://www.thebreslin.com/

http://ramennyc.wixsite.com/popup

https://www.kurtgutenbrunner.com/restaurants/wallse/

http://carbonenewyork.com/

http://www.llamainnnyc.com/

https://dominiqueansel.com/

http://www.cosmenyc.com/

https://www.musketroom.com/

http://www.nixny.com/

http://www.olmstednyc.com/

http://www.oijinyc.com/

 

 

Mu Ramen – review

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Mu Ramen

Would you be bothered if people watched you eat? I don’t mind if people see me do a great many harmless things, but for some reason chewing for a crowd feels a little unnerving. Well, that’s the way it is at Mu Ramen, the 20 (highly coveted) seat room in Queens, where homesick Japanese ex-pats and lovers of ramen from all across the 5 boroughs perch themselves for hours on benches surrounding the brick walls, staring and glaring at the lucky few who have graduated to back-less stools at the single communal table. Every one of my attempts (both failed and successful) at coiling a thick noodle neatly into my wooden spoon, every use of my chopsticks (both adept and disastrous) and every time a nugget of smoky ground pork escaped my grip and splashed back into the deliciously dark and sublime broth, I could feel the daggers, sniggers and snorts from the audience behind me: “Novice.” “Space waster.” “Unworthy.” “Manhattanite.”

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Mu Ramen

The only thing that shifted my focus from the crowd to the food – was the food. New York native Joshua Smookler who did kitchen stints at Per Se and Buddakan before opening this mega-popular ATM in Long Island City, boils bones and other carefully selected animal parts for hours and hours yielding 4 of the most delectable ramen broths in the western hemisphere. But more about them later. His 9-item menu is super simple and to the point with Treats (appetizers), Ramen (the reason we crossed the East River) and Toppings (to take the Ramen up a notch or two), but if you flip it over, you find yourself time-traveled back to Queens with three steak options, a pasta and the Harlan hamburger. Who orders a hamburger in a Ramen shop? We did. It’s a medium-rare hockey puck of chopped short rib, smothered in a super-jammy onion relish with a nest of shoestring fries and a square of melted cheese under a sesame bun. Certainly does the job – but by no means the main event.

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Harlan Hamburger, Mu Ramen

We started with something called U & I. It’s a combination of sushi rice, nori flakes, spicy tuna chunks and 3 slithers of Japanese sea urchin with salmon roe and a dollop of wasabi. It looks like a Sunomomo bowl, but the trick is to try and get a smidge of each ingredient onto the same chopstick without mixing them in order to fully appreciate the salty crash of the ocean – meets a jellyfish sting of spicy heat – meets a creaminess that folds everything into total sublimity. Next, we climbed into a bowl of charred and smoky, citrusy, salty yuzu-lemon Edamame. After finishing my “fair” share, I began to suck the remaining grains of lemony salt from the empty shells. This is most likely the moment I forgot I was being watched.

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U & I, Mu Ramen

Tebasaki Gyoza was our third “Treat” and perhaps the only real miss. When I lifted one of the scalding chicken drumettes, I became aware of two things: they are heavier than your regular breaded, deep-fried wing and they are also miraculously oil-free. The drumette bone has been replaced with a large nugget of brioche and foie gras, but as fetching as it might look – all bronzed, puffed up and seemingly crunchy, the rather gummy breading hid whatever flavor might have come from the rather mushy, fleshy stuffing. If I had a wish, it would be for chef Smookler to come up with another crowd-stopper like U & I while leaving the brioche and foie gras poultry stuffing to Daniel Humm at The Nomad.

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Tebasaki Gyoza

We tried 2 of the 4 ramen options. The Mu Ramen (a beef broth from oxtail and bone marrow) was unfortunately not available. We also skipped the I’ll Shoyu duck-based broth in favor of the two pork versions. Tonkotsu Ramen (the most frequently ordered item by my shoulder-to-shoulder neighbors) is a delightfully creamy broth with thin noodles, pork morsels, egg and vegetables. Not overly salty, very lean and wonderfully silky. They could have just as easily served it as tea.

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Tonkotsu Ramen, Mu Ramen

On the steamier end, the Spicy Miso ramen features a clear, dark, rich and wonderfully umami broth with scallion, strips of corn, ground pork clusters, thick noodles, sesame and a tinge of heat thanks to the chili oil. Once the solids were gone, I lapped up the remaining liquid like a good little Hello Kitty. Speaking of Tokyo, most of their Ramen broths tend to be more fish-forward, but either of these outstanding contenders can certainly hold their own next to any of those I sampled in the corridors beneath the Maronouchi station.

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Mu Ramen

As I rose from my seat, I could feel the spectator glares behind me turn into eager and appreciative smiles. While maneuvering my way out between their knees and umbrellas, I couldn’t help wondering if it would be too much to ask for a round of light applause for my performance.

Mu Ramen. 1209 Jackson Ave, Queens, NY. No website. Cash only.

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Legacy Records – review

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Perpetually groovy Manhattan hotspots Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones have a new baby brother. Chef Ryan Hardy of the Delicious Hospitality Group birthed his newest Italo-Seafood supper club Legacy Records in early March. The restaurant is visionary in many respects. Not only did San Francisco designer Ken Fulk do an absolute number on the new space, with a high-end tribute to art deco and mid-century luxury using liberal helpings of emerald green, gold and mahogany, but the far west location somewhere between the Javitz Convention Center and DHL’s distribution hub at the base of a condo tower is definitely out there – that is until Hudson Yards becomes the city’s newest it neighborhood.

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Legacy Records

Being able to snag a table at one of New York’s newest establishments delivers more than just bragging rights. First month jitters, growing pains and teething troubles often yield their own uniquely entertaining take-out stories, and Legacy Records is not immune. As we tried to gain access via the very masculine brick-and-steel Henry Hall condo lobby, a sign directed us to a side entrance, 50 feet away. Once there, a contradictory sign directed us back to the condo lobby. Then just as we marveled at the magnificently clubby, yet airy crescent bar and the staggering array of multi-leveled brass trumpet flower arrangements decorating the all-day dining café, we were suddenly immobilized by the instantaneous ambience destruction of a smoke alarm with intermittent deafening sirens and a pulsating cascade of flashing lights. Not exactly the tribute I had in mind for a former recording studio.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 6.26.00 PMAs you circumnavigate the bar, a series of bold and funky artworks by Mickalene Thomas adorn the walls that lead to a somewhat less formal dining area flanked by a row of windows looking out onto a concrete wall as high as a prison yard. My hunch, hope or suggestion might be for a vertical garden to slightly diminish the claustrophobia.

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Razor Clam Crudo, Legacy Records

The service has also not quite found its groove yet. After our waiter bragged that the butter was “especially imported”, a server seemed to think that it just came from “uptown”. (Turns out he clears tables at a different location for lunch and got his butter origins confused.) The only reason I’m making such a big deal about the butter is because it is indeed imported from France, and is accompanied by a cocoon-shaped dollop of rosemary-infused lard which collectively transforms the house-baked sprouted seed bread into a sublime and decadent feast. But the kicker came later in the meal when one of the bussers who was so intent on replacing our plates and flatware mid-course, that one of our table guests – who had 4 remaining mouthfuls to go – found himself at the defensive end of a tug-of-war.

“New plates,” the busser kept insisting.

“Not finished,” we kept replying.

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Diver Scallop Crudo, Legacy Records

But the kitchen is indisputably pitch-perfect. The highly recommended Crudo for the table arrives in a multi-level ceramic sculpture resembling an architectural model of a Santorini cliffside villa. It includes a Razor Clam in a wonderfully tart and tangy saffron espellette, a delectable lime-yogurt flavored Diver Scallop – diced but still in the shell, and sweet but heat-loaded, sashimi-smooth slithers of Fluke, thanks to some citrusy jalapeno. I felt a little sorry for the Japanese Sea Urchin that got drowned out by a blasting chorus of Dungeness crab under a shellfish-flavored aioli.

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Japanese Sea Urchin Crudo, Legacy Records

Some of the other small plates included San Daniele Prosciutto, hand-pulled Mozzarella and a charcoal grilled Pigeon, but we unanimously went for the seasonally appropriate and utterly rewarding Sunchokes. I cannot ever recall ever enjoying such dark and crispy lobes of sunchoke that gave way to soft and tender artichoke hearts and anchovies in a leafy, mushroomy salad.

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Sunchoke Salad, Legacy Records

The half dozen pasta options are also more intriguing than your Italian go-to staples. We had to skip the pea and leak Raviolo Doppio and the cuttlefish Spaghetti in favor of the wondrous chestnut Tagliatelle with shards of duck ragu in a rich rosemary and liver sauce. And I hereby commit to trying the über-popular shellfish Risotto next time.

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Honey lacquered Duck for Two, Legacy Records

The mains are the usual carousel of Italian RCB’s (Ribeye, Chicken, Branzino) with a Duck for Two as the absolute showstopper. The honey-lacquered roasted bird gets paraded around in her birthday suit featuring a dark mahogany crust with a rosemary plume before being whisked away for dissection and plating. “Our” duck made 2 separate appearances by 2 separate waiters, revealing that she was perhaps selected for objectification and exhibition purposes only. Regardless, I predict that the duo of super tender breast slices bordered by a nutty, spicy and delectably sweet skin are sure to elevate this dish to billboard status before the summer is over.

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Gelatos, Legacy Records

Desserts include a Rum cake and other equally odd bits and bobs, but the popular must-haves are the Gelatos served in cracker-crispy house-made cones. Right now, flavors like Bananas foster, Chocolate fudge and Yoghurt rhubarb were all she wrote, but I have a strong feeling that this repertoire will continue to grow as the temperature rises.

What better way to usher in the spring than a fresh new hit in a hip, new hood.

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

 

Cote Korean Steakhouse – review

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If the definition of an enigma is a mysterious or puzzling riddle, chef Simon Kim has whipped the term up to a whole new frenzy at Cote, his dynamo of a Flatiron grill house. While it might be much more of a Korean barbecue than a regular steakhouse, the one thing this recently crowned Michelin hotspot is super-dooper serious about – is meat.

 

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The mysteriously dark and borderline somber interior (thanks to the dark walls, concrete floors and granite table-tops) feels less like the place you’d find wood-handled serrated knives, paper napkins and sticky bottles of dark-red sauce, and more like the set of a tragic opera titled “The Temple of Contrasts”. It’s way too mellow for a fine dining experience, and yet way too serious for a steakhouse. When you stand up it feels expensive, but when you sit down at the rows of shared tables, it’s not. Let’s call it a hybrid. Just like their American Wagyu steak – which is a byproduct of a mixed marriage from a Japanese Wagyu father and an American Black Angus mother. Is it the best of both? Absolutely. We’re talking unparalleled mecca of meat in Manhattan here.

 

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Dry aging room, Cote Korean Steakhouse

The wait staff are as delightful and helpful as kindergarten teachers, who just want you to enjoy yourselves as you wade your way through the 2-foot long laminated menu with built-in bovine anatomy lesson on the back. But no-one would dare upstage the real stars of the show who are all resting and aging quietly downstairs on a series of comfortable racks for about 2 to 20 weeks. Brief sightings are permitted via a window into their neon red chamber of patience as you pass by on your way to the sub-level lounge.

 

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Chef’s Feast, Cote Korean Steakhouse

The perfect way to dive into this heady list of options is via the Chef’s Feast, which serves as a primer for various Korean sides, salads and accoutrements plus a dealer’s choice of 4 different ages and cuts of marbled prime for $45.

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Korean Bacon, Cote Korean Steakhouse

We supplemented our order with a couple of appetizers, like the Korean Bacon – a wondrously crispy cumin and paprika rubbed, twice-smoked pork belly punctuated with pickled Jalapeno’s, and the hand-sliced (or rather – diced) top-round Steak Tartare flavored with chunks of pear and pickled mustard seeds. Uber-delectable in so many ways, even if the fluffy tendon crisps fell short in their duty of transporting every delicious scarlet morsel of flesh from plate to mouth.

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Kimchi Wagyu Paella, Cote Korean Steakhouse

And from the Savory dish section we ordered something deep and delicious called Kimchi Wagyu Paella. A rather curious name given that it didn’t much taste of Kimchi, nor did the mini-morsels of Wagyu beef get any spotlight, and I’d hardly describe it as a paella either. But who cares? The “chili-fried rice with nori flakes and a soft poached egg thing” got crispier and crispier and tastier and tastier as it waited patiently in a sizzling cast-iron pan, while the waitress sprinkled a trio of salts onto 8 bite-sized dominoes of wet-aged Hangar steak before lowering them onto the table-top grill.

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Hangar steak, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Various wait staff rotated in and out to turn the meat to ensure that it delivered the house-recommended medium-rare doneness. Meanwhile in the foreground, side dishes materialized from out of the darkness and transformed the table into a carousel of colors and flavors. Pickled cauliflower with jalapeno’s. Scallion salad with a tart dressing. Red leaf lettuces to wrap around the meat. A nice and crispy Radish kimchi. A soft and salty Savoy cabbage kimchi. A single leaf of Sesame kimchi (which despite many attempts proved un-tearable and therefore un-shareable.) Spicy kimchi stew with pork belly and rice. A rather pale and shy Savory egg soufflé, and an ochre-colored, spicy, fermented soy bean paste called Ssamjang that could transform anything – even the rear-end of a Hyundai Elantra – into something delectable.

Despite our trepidation about making a culinary faux pas, we were assured that there were no rules. You can group the steak bites together with a chorus of kimchi and paste inside a lettuce leaf for extra backup, or you can force each bite into its own solo act. Either way, the heavenly meat succumbed without resistance for a moist mouthful of umami, with hints of sear and salt in perfect unison. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

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(Clockwise) 45-day aged Ribeye, Wet-aged Hangar steak, American Wagyu, Galbi Marinated Shortrib, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Next on the grill was the aforementioned American Wagyu. No other way to describe it than utterly conversation-stoppingly sensational. And climbing yet another notch in tenderness – the 45-day aged Ribeye. No funky mushroomy flavors here. Just the purest, moistest, most salivatingly wonderful bite of beef ever. And finally, the popular Galbi Marinated Shortrib rounded out the quartet. Finger-thin striplets of tender meat still barely attached after bathing in a marvelously sweet and salty soy, apple, pear and mandarin juice all day. Sheer heaven. We were offered a staggering 145-day aged T-bone as the Chef’s special but heeded the warning that it can taste a little like blue-cheese on a good day.

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Steak Tartare, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Eating a steak has never been an exercise in patience for me. Quite the opposite. But I do have to confess to a certain enjoyment as I watched each morsel slowly cook in front of me, and then thoughtfully masticated and savored each bite. But once the flavor serenade burst into my mouth, I would have given anything to gobble up every last bite in sight in under a minute.

https://www.cotenyc.com/

 

 

 

Olmsted – review

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Olmsted

Manhattanites (myself included) obediently acquiesce to the burden of trying every new dining hotspot the city offers up. And the mere thought of bridge-and-tunneling it across to any of the other boroughs seems troublesome, treacherous and traitorous. Why do I need to drag myself across to Brooklyn for a meal, when there are 10,000 options right here? Well, there are a handful of excellent reasons, and Greg Baxtrom’s Olmsted is one of them.

 

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Olmsted

The neighborhoody shotgun room crowded with regulars, was named for the designer of nearby Prospect Park. And given chef Baxtrom’s background for having worked under Grant Achatz, Thomas Keller and Dan Barber, it’s no surprise that he wanted somewhere to cultivate at least a few of his modern American, veg-forward, seasonal ingredients – even if it meant standing up to his frown-browed neighbors at the prospect of raising herbs, flowers, quail and crawfish on his suburban premises.

 

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Carrot Crepe, Olmsted

There are only 12 items on the neatly folded menu that range from $7 – $24. In my experience, there are two reasons for such limited options: it can either mean a cramped kitchen with no room to accommodate a broader selection, or that a fastidious chef has clipped, filtered and trimmed the variety of dishes down to only offering standout stars. Olmsted is combination of both. The three line chefs can practically reach every pot, pan and plate without taking a single step, and by cooking every item in batches of 4, many of the plates were prepared in anticipation of us ordering them. If I were to do it over, I would simply order one of everything ($194 total, which can easily feed 6) to solve the debate of what to order, and the food would arrive almost immediately.

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Crawfish Boil Crackers, Olmsted

Don’t let the super-attentive service fool you – it’s all about the food. I’ve never eaten hand-made shrimp chips before. Normally they come dehydrated in a cellophane-wrapped box before curling and stretching out in hot oil, tripling their original size and tasting a whole lot more like UPS packaging than actual shellfish. But these chicharone-like Crawfish boil crackers, poking out of a newspaper basket were a very tasty tribute to those lethargic crustaceans sharing a bathtub with some goldfish out on the patio outside.

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Non-Fjordic Oysters, Olmsted

Next to arrive were four Non-Fjordic oysters, flavored with tiny pickled beets, some horse-radish cream, a few salmon roe and a fluff of dill set atop a bowl of pink, diced ice. The briny, vinegary, salty, anisey combination is a solid hit.

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Beer battered Delicata Squash, Olmsted

A mere wipe of the napkin later, a wooden bowl of Beer battered Delicata squash replaced the empty oyster shells. The short stack of yummy donut-ringed vegies are wrapped in a light, ketchup-flavored batter and crusted in crunchy herbs, crispy rice and salty splinters of nori.

Probably the most requested dish (and therefore the only menu perennial) is a Carrot Crepe. Made from, with (and possibly by) carrots, it’s a wonderful example of transformative cooking. Adding to the heavenly combination of 3 different carrot textures, little neck clams provide some salty chewiness, roasted sunflower seeds (home-grown) yield some crunch, and a few daisy petals finish off a totally Instagrammable package.

 

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Rutabaga Tagliatelle, Olmsted

Whenever I think of rutabaga I imagine a thick, turnippy, cabbagy alternative to mashed potatoes. Never would I have expected this shy bulb to grab the spotlight as the most delicious ribbons of soft and crunchy Tagliatelle, flavored with Burgundy black truffle breadcrumbs, brown butter and melted Parmesan.

But that was hardly the end of the story. The street cart inspired Gai Tod Hat Yai (Deep fried Thai Chicken) is served two ways: as expected in tightly battered and fried strips before being dunked in the most delectable ginger glaze, and an unexpected confit, tossed in a cabbage, carrot and raw turnip slaw with crunchy fried shallots and a superb fish-sauce and lime dressing.

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Lavander honey Frozen Yogurt, Olmsted

But how can I ever look a plain yogurt in the eye again after knowing that it can be topped with a meringue-like foam made entirely from whipping honey and water? Despite the sub-freezing temperatures outside, this magical concoction found its way onto every table (sometimes twice) which fully deserves a slot in the next time capsule.

So, don’t feel intimidated to veer coyly away from the island in search of great food – run!

www.olmstednyc.com

 

 

Llama Inn – review

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Llama Inn

People often ask what’s my favorite food. It’s a very tough question given my proclivity to so many vastly different disciplines and flavors. I guess I’m always expected to gush over iconic Italian, flawless French or amazing Asian, but that’s only half the story. The other half has to be Peruvian. Few people realize how delicious, unique (and yet familiar) Peruvian cooking is. Having adopted tastes and flavors that are decidedly Creole, Spanish, West African, Chinese and Japanese, many of their dishes include garlic, ginger, soy, lime juice, a rainbow of colored chilies and heaps of rice. This little mountain nation has also produced some of the finest toques ever, like Vergilio Martinez – recently named “best chef on the planet” – not to mention getting the health-obsessed hooked on Quinoa, their staple grain.

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Llama Inn

Adding his American twist and a modern “Neuva Latina” take on classic Peruvian cooking, Eleven Madison alum Erik Ramirez’s Llama Inn adds to Brooklyn’s bounty of river-crossing-worthy restaurants in a big way. Despite its curious location sandwiched between the B.Q.E. overpass and Withers street, the striking three-sided glass box sports tables, counter tops, a roof-top lounge to go with the young, hip and decidedly Williamsburg-esque crowd. It’s also easy to get caught up in the electric energy of the kitchen and wait staff, who fall somewhere between a gracious host, a good friend and a lion tamer.

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Flame grilled Anticuchos – Llama Inn

The menu is broken up into plate sizes from bar bites to (large) family portions. Some of which are expected, like a Whole Branzino Patarashca in banana leaves or a Quinoa salad, while others were a bit more surprising like Whole grilled Lobster or Steamed Clams. The same goes for the robust list of Pisco’s and Peruvian Sherries.

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Chicken thigh and Pork Belly Anticuchos – Llama Inn

From our control-tower perch at the “chef’s counter”, it became instantly evident which dishes were the most popular. After watching several dozen Beef Tenderloin stir fry’s (that’s American for Loma Saltado’s) being assembled, and several hundred Anticuchos (Peruvian for kebabs) being fired up, I could quite easily replace any of the line chefs without missing a beat. The Chicken thigh kebabs were doused in a wonderfully flavorful fermented soybean and then spiked with a squiggle of wasabi-green chile, while  the Pork Belly char siu was punctuated with pickled chilis and a nub or two of spicy mayo. (Next time I have to try the single head-on Shrimp rubbed in adobo and lime – yet another crowd pleaser.)

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Tiradito – Llama Inn

I lapped up the Sea Bream Tiradito like a thirsty kitten. It arrives dotted with persimmons to offset the tartness, and a cluster of walnuts for extra crunch. Simple, bracing and utterly refreshing. And once the fish was gone, I almost bent the spoon on the remaining mouthfuls of sauce.

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Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry with scallion tacos – Llama Inn

But candles and cacti had to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the platter and trappings that accompanied the Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry. I’ve made and ordered many a Loma Saltado in my time, but this mound of joy before me was the epitome of loveliness. Large chunks of medium-rare marbled steak adrift in a deep, dark, rich, salty, vinegary Oyster sauce with seared onions and tomatoes, topped with a thatch of crispy fries. Our incredibly attentive waitress instructed us to eat it taco style on a wafer-thin scallion pancake, with a pinch of pickled peppers, some simple quac’ for color and a dollop of aioli for spice, and you are cleared for takeoff. With both hands engaged, guiding my first messy bite of an avalanche of flavors, I could practically see the Andes before me. And when all I had left was a swampy mess of sauce, a bowl of rice appeared from heaven to soak up every…last…scrumptious…drop! (Here I am just thinking about it, and I’m salivating at the keyboard.)

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Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry – Llama Inn

Not that I had any room or space or reason to quibble at this point, but I was a bit surprised not to see a few other traditional dishes that were on Chef Ramirez’s original menu, such as Skewered Beef Hearts and Braised Goat neck. It must be that sobering boundary somewhere between authentic and ambitious, or just how far Williamsburg palettes will dare to reach into the darkness of the unfamiliar, versus gravitating back to what they recognize. So instead of wolfing down a trio of Picarones (the donut’s Peruvian cousin), I settled on a slightly more American slice of Graham Cracker based Lime Pie with a freshly piped and torched snake of meringue which took the express lane straight to my happy place.

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Graham Cracker Lime Pie – Llama Inn

http://www.llamainnnyc.com/

 

 

 

 

Benoit – review

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Benoit

I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to explain to my Grandmother how a fax machine worked some 30 years ago. But these days, I seem to expend so much effort struggling to latch on to technology’s slippery tentacles myself – just to remain relevant enough to carry on a conversation with a millennial without sounding like a ripe idiot. But as many new industries seem to emerge out of convenience for the younger end of the population, could the most overlooked business arena be the nostalgia industry for baby boomers? If “experiences” are supposedly more coveted than “things”, then perhaps the biggest growth opportunities might actually be lurking in our rear-view mirrors. Here’s one: being able to enjoy classic Parisian gourmet dishes that taste exactly as they did a century ago. And if you happen to live in New York, you can skip the transatlantic hassle at Alain Ducasse’s import, Benoit, now in its third and most triumphant incarnation in midtown.

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Benoit

Remember those romantic trips to Paris, where unless you spoke flawless French, your waiters invariably rolled their eyes uttering: “Tête de noeud” (knucklehead) under their breaths? Well, your memories have been well preserved. The service team at Benoit have perfected the lost arts of snooty indifference and sheer disinterest for the fact that I might like to see a menu, or might need a little more time deciding between Pork Rillettes or Duck foie gras terrine, or that the fine family of four who followed us in, is paying the check while we’re still wondering if we’ll ever see our aperitifs.

But, as if by thematic apology for a series of Buster Keaton-like false-starts (let me be clear that no verbal apology was offered), a silver vessel filled with warm cheese puffs arrived to quickly shut us up. All it took were two or three of these fluffy little balls of greedy goodness to hit the “restart” button on my first impressions.

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Cheese puffs, Benoit

 

The all-time franco-favorite menu includes century-old hits that will (should) never die, such as Pâte en croute and Escargot. And Ducasse’s newest chef Laëtitia Rouabah, whose vertical resume stretches from the Plaza Athénée Hotel, to Air France’s first class lounge to the very top of the Eiffel Tower, is a stickler for honoring traditional French flavors and preparations while holding back on over-reinvention.

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Onion soup gratinée, Benoit

The much written about Onion soup gratinée is a mic-drop humdinger. Dark, caramelized sweet onion shreds in a rich, salty and umami broth with a decadent layer of so much Gruyere that it manages to keep every spoonful company until the very last drop. Speaking of cleaning the platter, the Tarte Flambée is another exercise in flavorful delight. Thin crusts of flatbread held together by an umbrella of cheese and onions, with just the right amount of bacon nibs to give every mouthful a salty, smoky aroma. Plate after plate left the kitchen with the same fastidious attention to detail, delivering the most tender and magnificent Sweet Spiced Rohan Duck or Bordelaise Skirt steak you’d expect.

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Quenelles de brochet, Benoit

But I swear I could hear the Marseillaise crescendo as I bit into my Quenelles de brochet. Two almond shaped pike dumplings luxuriating in the most staggeringly delicious lobster bisque as they prepared for their disappearing act. With a texture somewhere between an unbaked meringue and an ultra-smooth omelet, finished with a rich, crustacean flavor that ­­­could have ended the French revolution a full month earlier, I’m only now regaining the full complement of my faculties.

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Dessert trolley, Benoit

All I could say about the silver dessert trolley as it glided by to a table with more time on their hands than ours, was: “Aaaaah, next time.” A bientôt Benoit.

https://www.benoitny.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABCV – review

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Roasted Cauliflower, ABCV

In my mind, there’s a good reason why beige gets such a bad rap. As a color, it’s neither brown, nor cream, nor yellow, nor orange, nor white. It’s refusal to take a stand one way or the other locks it into the nethersphere of indifference. I also find it timid, inconsequential and perhaps even lazy. In fact, the only thing going for beige is its invisibility. After months of trying, I finally landed a spot at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s much-fussed-about 3rd act within the Flatiron district’s ABC Carpet & Home. After the inextinguishable farm-to-table success of ABC Kitchen, followed by his mostly-Iberian bistro ABC Cucina, he then tripled-down with ABCV, a robust commitment to vegetarianism that I can best describe as…beige.

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ABCV

The white-washed techy space is the brightest of his ABC’s with a few vague, non-comital splashes of pale colors here and there: pale pink, pale green and of course – pale beige. Even the wait staff seem to have been hand-picked for their pasty skin tones – which against their faded-pink T-shirts makes them all appear to be headed for a slumber party at the Langone Hospital emergency room at the end of their shift.

 

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Heirloom Tomatoes, ABCV

As expected, aside from a few cocktails and a limited wine selection, the non-alcoholic libations include an array of smoothies and veggie juices with a litany of promises, from a healthy heart to a clean spleen. But what did surprise me was the illustrated vegetable encyclopedia for idiots, which I found both startlingly unnecessary and oddly insulting. (I know what an eggplant is. It’s an emoji metaphor for a man’s endowment!)

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Avocado Lettuce Cups, ABCV

 

After the first few bites of the Avocado Lettuce Cups It became brutally evident why that darling little antique salt-boat containing vegan hot-sauce was waiting patiently in front of me. I figured that if the only discernable flavors were the total sum of the ingredients listed on the menu, I should still be in good shape flavor-wise with the cumin, serrano and lime, but all I got was a mouthful of fresh and crunchy beige.

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Wok Fried Ramen noodles, ABCV

I won’t bore you with repetitions, but suffice it to say that the next few dishes including Heirloom tomatoes with figs, Roasted Cauliflower with turmeric-tahini, Roasted baby Artichokes with green olives, Wok fried Ramen noodles with marinated cucumbers all left the kitchen fervidly vying for “dullest dish of the decade” – and frankly, it was a very close call. I’d happily argue that my vegetarian meal kit delivery service leans into its flavors with more conviction. Heck, even Langone Hospital offers more flavor off their heart-healthy iPad menu. And although I have yet to vouch for them, I’m told that Old Mother Hubbard Classic Country dog-bone shaped treats promises irresistible pumpkin flavor too. Let’ s just hope they’re any color other than…you know…

Tim Ho Wan – review

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Tim Ho Wan

Given my proclivity for impatience, I have always admired the concept of Dim Sum. No sooner have you sat down, than the food starts showing up via a Formula 1 rally of tin carts, dodging and weaving between the tables, where dripping steamer baskets are distributed and score cards are stamped. If you don’t recognize the dish being wheeled past, you might not like (or believe) what you hear under the infernal din and acute language barriers. I once inquired what was inside some odd-looking dumplings, only to be told, “a European!” Never mind, it’s all part of the experience. And if you’re very lucky, all of your small plate preferences might be the first to show up, and you can be napkins down inside of twenty minutes.

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Tim Ho Wan

Thing is, as efficient as the experience might be, just getting seated can feel a lot like day one of boot camp as a military recruit. Lots of high-pitched yelling into walkie-talkies; being shunted into different snaking lines; having one’s name horribly mis-pronounced, or being given a ticket with a number that stretches into the next millennium. Or worse yet, the food itself can show up in dire need of a pit-stop – the oil can do with a change, the driving crew can do with a break and some of the ingredients can do with a major disposal.

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Har Gow, Tim Ho Wan

So to learn that Mak Kwai Pui, one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated dim sum chefs, decided to open a local branch of his mega-successful chain Tim Ho Wan, I had to indulge. Their claim to fame as “the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world” is as bizarrely fascinating as it is annoyingly challenging due to their über-popularity yielding the longest wait times in the city. Curiously there are no actual lines outside the East Village corner establishment. That’s because after putting your name down, the hostess with smile and promise to text you in: “Two hours and forty-five minutes!” Zzzzzzzzz. So I set out for a vexingly early slot on a Monday morning and snagged a table in the middle of the cheerful room. The placemats are the menu, with familiar names, pictures and strictly single-digit price-points. Service is prompt, and before you know it, a steaming feast materializes magically before you.

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Siu Mai pork dumplings, Tim Ho Wan

It didn’t take the double order of Har Gow to realize that we weren’t in Manhattan anymore. Micro-thin rice wrappers bursting with plump, crisp, unexpectedly large prawns with a heavenly Shaoxing wine and ginger flavor. The Siu Mai pork dumplings with shrimp are a close second, but way fresher and meatier than any of their Chinatown cousins. And biting through the crispy, sugar-dusted surface of the Baked BBQ Pork buns revealed a dark, thick, smoky, silky sauce with mushrooms and pork bits within.

 

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Baked BBQ Pork Buns, Tim Ho Wan

Everyone loves Deep Fried Springrolls, but how many times have you bitten into an oil-drippy, doughy envelope of goo and old sprouts? Not these big boys. The wrappers disintegrate into dry, crispy flakes yielding steaming hot vegetables that won’t leave you with an oil-slicked chin.

 

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Deep Fried Springrolls, Tim Ho Wan

We didn’t have room or time to sample some of the other house specialties, like the Steamed Egg Cakes, and Beef Balls with Bean Curd, or the Pan Fried Turnip Cake. Have to wait for another free mid-morning mid-week, or perhaps another hurricane threat when no-one’s around, so we won’t have to be told: “Three days, six hours and eighty-five minutes!”

http://timhowanusa.com/