Keep Calm and Curry On!

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It was very much within my lifetime that London’s most traditional meal switched from Fish & chips, to Curry & rice. By contrast, New York’s Indian fare is nowhere near the scope and scale of London’s, but the clutter of turmeric-awninged establishments up and down Lexington avenue in Manhattan’s Curry (Murray) Hill are just the preview of the larger story. Thanks to an incredible fellowship of chefs from all across the Indian peninsula, Michelin and the New York Times have been generously honoring Indian restaurants with stars, stripes and other accolades. Here’s how they shake down for me.

Chicken Kati rolls – IndiKitch

Categorizing from fastest to slowest (Curry in a Hurry notwithstanding), IndiKitch is the papadum and samosa version of Taco Bell. Good, clean, tasty and fresh. You build your meal from carbs to cattle with chutneys, sauces and rices on the side.

For in-home delivery I have Dhaba on speed-dial right below 911, thanks to their vast menu of all-time classic favorites, made just the way I like them: Tandoori, Korma, Paneer, Masala, Vindaloo…even a collection of British-inspired curry dishes. If you love Poori like I do (a hot-air filled, angry, blow-fish looking pillow of bread – the size of which remains curiously dependent on the weather) you have arrived!

Pondicheri

One of the newer kids on the block is Pondicheri. What the exposed-ceilinged, cavernous Flatiron space lacks in intimacy, with one teal wall and a massive gray mural with what looks like a couple of giant balls of wool quickly unraveling across another, or the head-scratchingly ominous tangle of cables and wires overhead, it more than makes up for in non-traditional, but authentic pan-regional fare. The Houston import is more of a “community concept” than just a restaurant. With a huge enviro-agenda, cooking classes, pop-up event dinners and a super-busy in-house bakery, where chef Anita Jaisinghani churns out the most extraordinarily yummy Indian interpretations on popular western confections.

Bakery Counter – Pondicheri

Donuts dripping with rose-water honey, Financiers with pistachios and cumin, Rice crispy bars with nuts and curry, coffee cakes, cookies and ginger snaps that populate the breakfast and lunchtime counter. Dinner is a bit smarter. Down goes the lighting, and out comes the wait staff. The best way to navigate the mainly street-food menu, is to go for one of the freshest and tastiest Samosa’s on the island, followed by one of the Thalis platters, that provide a half dozen different dish-lets of kebabs, soups, poultry, ribs, greens and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the one called Earth for its standing-ovation worthy Butter Chicken.

Paowalla

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Tabla on Madison Park, turns out chef Floyd Cardoz is back, but this time he’s converted one of those typical West Village neighborhoodsy corner cafés into his next culinary canvas. Paowalla (named for the bicycle peddlers of traditional breads) offers so much more than just cumin/cardamom/chili delights. The carb-forward menu is a striking introduction to the real world of Roti and Naan, stuffed with cheeses, radishes, bacon and herbs. Cardoz also pulls together a few unexpected pairings, many of which make for happy surprises like Burrata submerged in a delicious puddle of Dal, or the tandoor-fried Black Pepper Shrimp, while others…not so much. The overly-soggy, coconut-laced Baked Crab might have been more comfortable under the protection of its shell, but I adored my first ever Dogfish curry, smothered in flavor, steamed in banana leaves and served with tart mango over brown rice.

Short and Saintly Rib – Tapestry

Going even further along the bridge toward experimentation, Michelin star winner Suvir Saran’s new downtown bistro is appropriately named Tapestry, in my mind suggesting the very fabric of what comprises our city, offering up a menu every bit as diverse as the kitchen staff, the clientele and the planet in general. Saran calls it “comfort food from around the world.” Maybe. I prefer: “The united nations of yum!” It’s where India whimsically intersects with Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Louisiana – otherwise known as the F train.

Roasted Cauliflower – Tapestry

You can’t help smiling as you scan the remarkably affordable menu that has the chutzpah to combine a heavenly Arancini with green curry, or a tangy, sweet and crispy Okra salad with chaat masala. How about an irresistible Cauliflower roasted with hakka spices? Or the only time I can ever remember asking for left-overs to be boxed up: a super-tender Short Rib with cashew-poppy kurma. And the dish that just became my ultimate bribe ever – the utterly sublime Masala Fried Chicken. I still dream and drool about those flavorful sections of spicy, fried chicken tossed in a sticky, sweet and savory chutney, alongside a peanut slaw. And finally, almost triumphantly, a guava and passion fruit, flaming tribute to a baked Alaska called Fire and Ice. We’re not talking fusion here. This is pure kitchen magnificence.

Fire and Ice – Tapestry

That brings us to the northern end of the price/flavor scale. Indian Accent just celebrated its first birthday as one of New Delhi’s finest exports into Manhattan’s midtown maze. The dark, sleek and sexy interiors look, smell and feel nothing like your typical Indian restaurant. Almost formal – if you’re judging by the prix fixe options of 3 or 4-course menus, but casual enough to do without the tablecloths.

Indian Accent

Despite the litany of translations and explanations the poor wait staff have to decode – thanks to the lexicon of unrecognizable and unpronounceable items, there’s no collective sighing or rolling of eyes – yet. The plating is gorgeous. The flavors are remarkable. The cocktails are imaginative. The service is excellent. The prices are high.

Crab Claws – Indian Accent

Standouts (and judging by our neighbors on both sides who imitated us plate-for-plate) are the Potato Sphere chaat, which is a charming miniature birds nest of crispy potato shoelaces spun into a ball over a white pea mash, the utterly finger-lickingly delectable, butter-pepper-garlic baptized Crab Claws, the unsharably wonderful sweet and sour, fall-off-the-bone Pickled Ribs, the scrumptious Chicken Kofta (meatballs), and the magnificently tender Braised lamb with prune korma.

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Pickled Ribs – Indian Accent

Each main is accompanied by a choice of Kulcha (if an enchilada and a calzone had an Indian baby) stuffed with any number of interesting ingredients like hoisin duck or pastrami mustard. Yes folks, we’re a long way from curry in a hurry!

Potato Sphere – Indian Accent

https://www.indikitchtogo.com/store25/restaurant.php

http://www.dhabanyc.com/

http://www.pondichericafe.com/new-york

http://www.indianaccent.com/index.html

My Top 38 Restaurants in New York City

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After much begging, pleading, mooing and meowing, I finally succumbed to share a list of my personal favorite food haunts in New York City. And because not all meals are created equal – nor are all palates or pockets, I took the liberty of dividing the list into 7 convenient categories to help you retrace my foodie foodsteps. But before you proceed to cut-and-paste, there’s a caveat we need to be clear on:

While none of my restaurant or meal recommendations mentioned here are “one-dish-wonders”, I cannot accept any liability for sub-par experiences due to off-nights, falling standards, menu omissions, inflated hype or chef dismissals. The food was amazing when I ate there! Just sayin’.

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Le Bernadin “Egg”

In the new year, the only thing higher than legend-busting rents (au revoir Union Square Café, Barbuto, Costata etc.), will be the highest minimum wage for restaurant workers in the city’s history. So if someone else is footing the bill, let’s label the first category as EXPENSE ACCOUNT EXCESS.

Daniel $$$+

An immaculate, flawless and unforgettable experience. The service, the presentation, the food itself and (as sincerely as only he can muster) the traditional table-side greeting by Chef Boulud himself.

Eleven Madison Park $$$+

Daniel Humm finds the right balance between shi-shi molecular gastronomy curiosities and one of the best meals in the city today. Not your average cup of tea, so make sure your party can handle Carrot foam and Carrot Tartare.

 Le Bernadin $$$+

Also clutching his 3 Michelin stars, chef Eric Ripert is the consummate host and venerable architect of so many dishes that have inspired the careers of two generations of toques. His legendary “Egg” – while no longer on the menu is a must-have.

 

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Svizzerina (bun-less burger) from Via Carota

The next group of restaurants are literally mood-altering locations, that the mere thought of eating there instantly puts a smile on my face. These are my ALL-TIME FAVORITES

Upland $$

Great space, great vibe and the menu is replete with hit-makers, but the Duck Wings are to die for.

Via Carota $

Very vibey face-brick room decked out with antique shnick-shnack as a typical West Village backdrop for some sensational and affordable dishes like the Svizzerina bun-less burger.

Buvette $

I absolutely adore this little French bistro with Barbie-doll-sized tables, stools and dishes. Jodi Williams cranks out the most astoundingly delicious French mini plates. Great for brunch.

Momofuku Ssam $

Some might say this is David Chang’s ATM, but the guy puts an unbeatable Korean spin on anything he touches. Fun, friendly and flavorful. Great for lunch. Steamed pork buns were pretty much invented here. Spicy Pork Sausage rice cakes are also sensational.

The Musket Room $$

Only in New York can a big, beafy, tattoo-shmeared New Zealander use Kickstarter to open a chef’s favorite haunt with the most delicate and robust flavors. Berkshire Pork done two-ways, Southland Lamb done two-ways and the Passion fruit Pavlova are outstanding. (See earlier review)

Estela $$

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about this unpretentious hit-maker. Even the Obama’s have to stop in every time they’re in town. Beef Tartare with Sunchokes, Mussels escabeche, Burrata with salsa-verde, Lamb ribs and Rib eye. (See earlier review)

Marc Forgione $$

Dark, moody and filled with regulars. The Bell & Evans Chicken under a brick for 2 in this TriBeCa landmark is legendary.

Little Owl $$

With more dishes on anyone’s favorites list than any other kitchen of its size (and too many to mention here), this simple room of 20 or so seats is tough to get into, but well worth the wait.

Narcissa $$

Ask for a table on the kitchen side, so you can see the army of Veg-forward chefs put the final touches on the 5-hour Rotisserie-crisped Beets, or Carrots Wellington or Barley Risotto with Baby Clams. (See earlier review)

 

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Braised Halibut with Pink Peppercorn Sauce from The Clocktower

Creating a unique and unforgettable menu in tough enough, but when the location itself is dripping with drama and atmosphere, you have to be at a place that is COOL, HIP & HAPPENIN’

The Nomad $$$

Daniel Humm does it again. Each of the four lavishly gawdy rooms feels like you’ve just stepped onto the set of “La Traviata.” Don’t miss the incomparable (and pricey) Foie gras, black truffle and brioche stuffed Roast Chicken served two ways.

The Clocktower $$$

Wow! Talk about making a statement! UK native and Michelin winner Jason Atherton has created a deliciously sexy space with a whole host of unstoppable dishes like the Dressed crab with uni and apples or the Hand chopped Steak Tartare au poivre or the Braised Halibut with pink peppercorn sauce as well as a collection of knockout signature cocktails.

Betony $$

The funny thing about Manhattan’s midtown is that even though it is the central focus of business and tourism, you can sometimes count blog-worthy restaurants on one claw. Bryce Shuman however serves up picture perfect dishes in an intricately carved space that feels like you just climbed into a plush picture frame. The chef’s tasting menu is an experience. (See earlier review)

Beauty & Essex $

I love bringing out-of-towners here. It’s impossibly irreverent, ridiculously popular and surprisingly satisfying. The door on the far side of a pawn shop opens into a sumptuous and heady lounge where you can barrage yourself with a litany of tapas plates including the Roasted Bone Marrow on toast, Grilled cheese and Tomato Soup dumplings and the Lobster Tacos.

 Untitled at the Whitney $$

The Whitney Museum’s recently unveiled, clean-lined, glassy architectural new digs is also home to Danny Meyer’s latest jewel in the crown which has become as popular and eye-catching as some of the artworks upstairs. What it lacks in views, it surpluses in modern dishes. Try the Roasted and Fried Chicken and the Lamb Meatballs with peanut sauce.

 

Jerk Chicken WIngs at Ma Peche

Even with 20,000 restaurants to choose from, New York still manages to squeeze out a newcomer every other day. But there are a handful of locales that for years and years have set unwavering standards without compromise, that constantly deliver on being SOLIDLY RELIABLE

Perry Street $

Jean-George protégé (and descendant) Cedric Vongerichten still packs them into this über-modern, airy space right on the Hudson river. The Perry Street Fried Chicken is remarkable.

Locanda Verde $$

The perpetually-popular Anthony Carmelini and Robert De Niro partner shop is one of the best bets in TriBeCa. The Sheep’s Milk Ricotta is one of a kind, not to mention the Duck Arrosto and the all-time favorite Paccheri with Sunday night ragu. (See earlier review)

Ma Peche $$

David Chang’s midtown Korean dim-sum palace looks a bit like an army med-evac tent, but when those little Dim-sum carts come rolling past bearing Jerk Chicken Wings, Roasted rice-cakes or the Habanero Fried Chicken, you remind yourself not to judge a book by its cover. (See earlier review)

Marea $$$+

The epicenter of Michael White’s Altamarea group anchors Central Park at this standout Italian-seafood showpiece. It’s a bit posh, but the food is very real. The Fusilli covered in red wine braised octopus and bone marrow is what it’s all about.

Dell’ Anima $

It’s intimate, packed with regulars and at times rather smokey, thanks to the all-in-one kitchen-dining room. The daily specials are always amazing, but the Bruschettas are legendary.

ABC Kitchen $$

Of all the all-natural locovore palaces in town, this one set the bar early and high. Jean-George’s spacious room continues to draw a crowd for dishes as varied as the days of the week.

Hudson Clearwater $

There are a bunch of cute, atmospheric bistros in the West Village, but few of them are as unpretentious as this one. Small menu, exceptional service, great food. I love the Grilled grass-fed Hanger Steak or the Pan-seared local fish of the day.

Annisa $$

Anita Lo’s little shop that could – always does. Very intricate dishes, brimming with flavor and imagination that span the globe like the Seared Foie Gras with Soup dumplings and Jicama or the Duo of Rabbit.

 

 

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Cosme’s Husk Meringue

In the NYC melting pot, it’s not surprising that chef’s from all over the globe abide by the adage: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it in Singapore, Vegas, London, Shanghai and Beverly Hills” Here are my current favorite authentic INTERNATIONAL KNOCKOUTS

Cosme $$$

It was no surprise that Enrique Olvera’s first foray in the US would be a sell-out hit, but I doubt even he realized just how nuts we would all be over his hyper-authentic, gourmet Mexican cuisine. If you’re feeling generous, splurge on the Duck Carnitas, and the (beyond incredible) smashed Husk Meringue. (See earlier review)

ABC Cucina $

On the north side of the block from ABC Kitchen, Jean-George points his magic compass towards the Iberian coastline for a super-sophisticated tapas bar with much curb appeal. I adore the Chipotle Chicken Tacos and the best Patatas Bravas in town. (See earlier review)

Bar Jamon $$

Just around the corner from Casa Mono, Mario Batali & friends’ incredibly authentic Spanish bistro is one of my favorite (and alas not so secret) mini wine bars in the city. Specializing in a broad range of known (and not so well known) Spanish wines, they also hand-carve a delectable Jamon Iberico along with any number of other traditional favorites.

El quinto Piño $

There are a curious number of adorable little Spanish bistros in Chelsea, that range from tragic to traditional. This is one of my favorite spots that is super simple, but the food is full of flavor without the fuss. Everyone loves the Uni Panini or the Bocadillo de Calamar. (See earlier review)

Babu Ji $

Curiously enough Jesse Singh’s authentic Indian cooking is attributed to his Grandmother who hailed from Bombay, but his business is a replica of his hugely successful curry shop in Melbourne, Australia. It’s nothing more than a jumble of a room in Alphabet City with a “serve yourself” beer fridge in the corner, but the food is beyond inspired. I recommend the Chef’s Tasting Menu which highlights with vegetable filled puff-pastry balls called Pani Puri, a Lamb Raan, Butter Chicken and end off with Kulfi ice-cream bars flavored with cardamom and honey.

Haldi $

Of the forty or so Indian restaurants that comprise “Curry Hill”, Haldi is the reigning champion. The menu boasts just enough traditional Calcutta fare, while leaving room for a plethora of gourmet dishes never before seen on South Lexington Avenue menus. The Chicken Tikka Masala is legendary, while the Creamy Shrimp with carom seeds is stunningly surprising.

Bar Bolonat $

Ainat Admony’s modern Israeli-Arab menu is chock full of mega hits. Whatever you do, bring an appetite for the Jerusalem Bagel that you dip into oil and Za’atar spices and the equally delicious teardrop-shaped Hudson Street Kibbeh or the Shrimp in Yemenite curry, but leave room for the Fried Baklava Ice cream which melts out and mixes in the pistachio syrup. (See earlier review)

Han Dynasty $

Searing hot success story from Philly, the Szechuan peppercorn-heavy menu won’t disappoint. The Dan-Dan Noodles are a must, and if you can stand the heat, you have to try the mouth-numbing Dry Pepper Chicken Wings. (See earlier review)

Tuome $

A micro-bistro with Asian influences from an accountant turned chef. Try the Egg – which is panko fried with pickles, or the Pig which is a checkerboard of delicious pork morsels, or the duck-fat infused Rice. (See earlier review)

Carbone $$

The Torrisi Food group’s masterful red-sauce restaurant is close enough to Little Italy without feeling like a carbon copy of any other Italian restaurant in the city – and there are hundreds! Order the Caesar salad and the Veal Parm or go home. (See earlier review)

Marta $$

If you love thin-crust pizza, then you will adore Marta almost as much as me. Nick Anderer (via Danny Meyer)’s double pizza ovens seem to hold up the roof in the open-plan lobby of the Martha Washington hotel. The pesto flavored Arancini appetizer and the Potate alla Carbonara pizza are my favorite orders. (See earlier review)

Khe-Yo $

Intimate, dark and full of atmosphere. Chef Schwader (Marc Forgione protégé) shows off his Laotian prowess. If you like flavor forward, you’re in for a treat. The Sesame Beef Jerkey, Chili Prawns and Berkshire Pork ribs are a must, and don’t be shy to re-order the Sticky Rice. One helping is just not enough. (See earlier review)

Wallse $$

Kurt Gutenbrunner has a network of Austrian bistros all over town, but the best Wiener Schnitzel in the city has to be had at Wallse. If you want to savor the best in Viennese coffee bars, try his Café Zabarsky inside the Neue Gallerie for a Große Braune and a slice of Sachertorte.

 

 

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Fried Chicken Sandwich with Fu-ket Peanut sauce and slaw by Fuku

My expectations have no relationship to the size of a dish. Even a between-meal munchie or an informal, inexpensive supper needs to be the best there is. Here are some that offer QUICK, CHEAP & CHEERFUL

FukuFried chicken sandwich

Bianca – A cash only, no reservations, super inexpensive treat. Lasagne to end all Lasagnes.

Mile End – Canadian style Smoked Beef Sandwich bar with a delicious Poutine

Smith and Mills – Little plates and cocktails in a former carriage house

Salvation Taco – Gourmet tacos

Umami Burger – (See earlier review)

 

 

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Chef’s menu platter from Babu Ji

And finally because there are only three meals a day, many of which I choose to cook myself, I find myself collecting an ever-growing STILL “TO-TRY” LIST

Batârd

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fair

Contra

Dominic Ansel Kitchen

Little Park

Lupulo

Mission Chinese Food

Oiji

Russ & Daughters Café

Sadelle’s

Sushi Nakazawa

Salvation Burger

Santina

Semilla

Shuko

Hudson Street Kibbeh - Bar Bolonat

Hudson Street Kibbeh from Bar Bolonat

http://www.danielnyc.com

http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

http://www.le-bernadin.com

http://www.uplandnyc.com

http://www.viacarota.com

http://www.ilovebuvette.com

https://reservations.momofuku.com/login

http://www.themusketroom.com

http://www.estelanyc.com

http://www.marcforgione.com

http://www.thelittleowlnyc.com

http://www.narcissarestaurant.com

http://www.thenomadhotel.com

http://www.theclocktowernyc.com

http://www.betony-nyc.com

http://www.beautyandessex.com

http://www.untitledatthewhitney.com

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com

http://www.marea-nyc.com

http://www.dellanima.com

https://www.abchome.com/eat/abc-kitchen/

http://www.hudsonclearwater.com

http://www.annisarestaurant.com

http://www.cosmenyc.com

http://www.casamononyc.com

http://www.elquintopinonyc.com

http://www.babujinyc.com

http://www.haldinyc.com

http://www.barbolonatny.com

http://handynasty.net/east-village/

http://www.tuomenyc.com

http://www.carbonenewyork.com

http://www.martamanhattan.com

http://www.kheyo.com

http://www.kg-ny.com/wallse

 

 

Dining in Cape Town

Having not dined in South Africa’s “mother city” for more than a dozen years, it came as no surprise that the local culinary scene has moved on – and then some. On one hand, I couldn’t help feeling a teeny bit nostalgic to notice bedrock establishments like La Perla, Ari’s Souvlaki, Panama Jack’s and Blues have all endured the 20 year arduous transition from apartheid to democracy, from economic isolation to destination envy, from world pariah to world cup – with unchanged menus and décor in tact (barring frequent electricity blackouts and currency devaluations), while on the other hand, exciting new bistros with eclectic chefs in gentrified neighborhoods with huge fan bases are all vying for a seat around table mountain.

Blues - Camps Bay

Blues Restaurant – Camps Bay

So regardless of whether you happen to find yourself at the most gorgeous tip of the continent for a short, medium or undetermined length of stay, there are (thankfully) a handful of adorable bistros well concealed from the camera-flashing, “is-the-meal included?” inquiring tourists oozing out of mega-coaches all over town.

Pot Luck Club - Woodstock

Pot Luck Club – Woodstock

For instance, when you exit the glass elevator at the top of the disused biscuit mill in an unlikely industrial part of Woodstock, Luke Dale-Roberts’ Pot Luck Club administers 10,000 volts of unbridled energy into the concrete, wood and window “room in the sky,”  like a cricket bat to the back of the head. The multi-award winning gastropub is obnoxiously popular for its Afro-Euro-LatAm-Asian-influenced tapas – divided into the 5 main taste groups of Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami. Given the defiant lack of menu focus from the get-go, it’s hardly surprising that there are some misses among the hits – but the hits are certainly worth mentioning.

Calamari with Lentil curry - Pot Luck Club

Calamari with Lentil curry – Pot Luck Club

Who would think to reinvent Crispy Calamari with a velvety smooth and flavor forward bed of zesty Cape Malay lentil curry? And I would, without hesitation, add Roberts’ Smoked Beef Fillet to my final-meal-on-the-planet list. After the first morsel of the ultra-tender, marbled steak surrounded by the most unforgettably delicious, creamy pool of black pepper and truffle spiked “café au lait”, I secretly hoped for a “load shedding” event (the South African P.C. way of saying “rolling blackouts”) so that I could snatch the “sharing” plate away from my party, and gorge myself in total darkness.

Smoked Beef Fillet - Pot Luck Club

Smoked Beef Fillet – Pot Luck Club

The stiffly fried Beer battered Fish also took on a Malay flavor – thanks to the cardamom and saffron aioli and the green mango Atchar – which is a salty, mustardy, citrusy pickle used to spice up food and marriages, as well as grow hair on the chest.

Beer battered Fish with Atchar - Pot Luck Club

Beer battered Fish with Atchar – Pot Luck Club

The desserts were an equally disparate mix of cultures and influences starting with a Bunny Chow, which can best be described as an “interesting experiment” – where spicy white chocolate found its way inside a slice of banana bread, topped with fruit preserves and accompanied by the most formidably overbearing cucumber sorbet ever attempted. But all was instantly forgiven when the donut-hole shaped Tonka Bean Churros emerged with a finger licking, lip smacking, malted chocolate dipping sauce – which instantly time-warped me back 35 years!

Tonka Bean Churros - Pot Luck Club

Tonka Bean Churros – Pot Luck Club

As it happens, one of chef Roberts’ protégés, Frank Marks, recently opened his own fresh-ingredient-focused, concept bistro called Borage. I use the word “concept” because being located in the heart of Cape Town’s CBD, the gray bistro-in-a-box caters chiefly to high-octane power breakfasts and business lunches (before the downtown area pretty much empties out) with only two dinner services a week that conclude promptly at 9pm. Marks also hosts a monthly, invitation-only “Supper club”, featuring the multi-culti talents of young up-and-coming chefs. In fact all students currently attending the famous Silwood Culinary School get to spend a period of their academic education prepping, cooking and scrubbing at Borage, Pot Luck Club and (the impossible-to-get-into) Test Kitchen before they can graduate.

Borage Bistro

Borage Bistro

Marks’ modest menu features 4 starters for under $10, and 4 mains for under $18 plus a very limited, but hand-selected local wine list.

Beef Tartare - Borage

Beef Tartare – Borage

You realize when you bite into the quail egg topped, green parsley canopy shrouding a wonderful blend of Beef Tartare with gherkins and capers on wafer-thin ciabatta, that the emphasis is all about allowing the fresh combinations of the local produce do all the talking.

Chicken Liver and Foie Gras - Borage

Chicken Liver and Foie Gras – Borage

I have tasted swooshes and shmears of just about every liquid reduction on the planet, but just the very idea of a glühwein gelée to bolster an almost foamy domino stone of Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait, opened a whole new lexicon of taste for me. I was also intrigued by how subtly Marks’ sauces complimented his mains; a rather simple but hearty red wine reduction for the Sirloin, a spicy au jus that was born from at least one Bordelaise parent for the Duck, and a magnificent pickled beetroot gel for the Kingklip. Given that our table was the only thing in the way of the crew’s quitting time, the service was remarkably and uncharacteristically swift.

Kingklip with beetroot gel - Borage

Kingklip with beetroot gel – Borage

In general terms, Cape Town’s cooking can range from hearty and decent to unique and inspired, but like a few obstinate lumps in an otherwise smooth gravy, South Africa’s omnipresent collision of 1st and 3rd worlds emerges when spotty service can unfairly tarnish a kitchen’s shine. It’s one thing to order a spectacularly described, farm-to-table-influenced, salivation-inducing item off the menu – but quite another to have it served!

Babylonstoren - Paarl Valley

Babylonstoren – Paarl Valley

Let’s take Babel as an example. The 45-minute drive inland, plants you firmly in the heart of the wine country – with roly-poly hillsides replete with vineyards, olive groves and Cape Dutch gabled, thatch-roofed structures dating back 300+ years. And one of the most impossibly beautiful estates between the historic towns of Paarl and Franschoek is “Babylonstoren” – the poster child for hand-raised, organic, fair trade, free range and bio-dynamic foods.

Gourd tunnel - Babylonstoren

Gourd tunnel – Babylonstoren

I am talking about 200 hectares of immaculately landscaped and symmetrical fruit orchards, prickly-pear mazes, herb and salad gardens, gourd tunnels, chicken runs, citrus groves, vegetable patches, fish ponds…all in the shade of an idyllic cookie-tin valley with mountains, streams, horses and of course the obligatory winery. On the premises of the estate – which also boasts a boutique hotel and spa, is a casual, airy restaurant called Babel, with a dozen tables in and outdoors. The menu looks like the centerfold of a well illustrated “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk” popup book – and it reads like a shaman guru’s shopping list.

Babel

Babel

Appetizers are offered in three colors: Green, Red and Yellow. (Apologies for transcribing the menu here, but there is no better way to do justice to this cornucopia of ingredients, all freshly picked that morning.)

"Green" - Babel

“Green” – Babel

Green: Chilled Soup of cucumber, avocado, yoghurt, dill with fennel, granny smith apple, pear, kohlrabi, green pepper, green bushbeans, green tomato, pickled white Shimeji oyster mushroom and Suring.

"Red" - Babel

“Red” – Babel

Red: Carpaccio of pickled beetroot varieties, turnip and champion radish with pepperdews, hull blackberries, pomegranate, mission fig, vineyard grapes, black plums, purple beans and smoked salmon with black sesame. Dressing; Carob and mint-infused white balsamic.

"Yellow" - Babel

“Yellow” – Babel

Yellow: Tempura of ricotta stuffed zucchini blossom with butternut, dragon tongue bushbeans, yellow beans, Turkish granadilla, golden delicious apple, yellow pear tomato, tree melon, baby carrots, tiger figs, golden pickled beetroot, sungold plums, pineapple and mango. Dressing – Spicy coconut, coriander and mango.

With this many different (yet surprisingly well matched) ingredients, it’s hard not to be amazed at the restrained barrage of flavors, colors and textures. Every morsel, every bite yielded a whole new crunchy explosion of fresh sweet and sourness – like a fireworks display with different bursts of wonder and pleasure with every passing second.

Babel

Babel

I can tell you what main dishes we ordered, but unfortunately they have yet to be cooked, served or eaten. Instead of being fed on Lamb Cutlets with Greek basil and lemon sauce, or a Cauliflower Sandwich with gorgonzola and macadamia nuts, or Fresh Linefish with crab apple butter and salsa verde, we were fed to bursting with a 2-hour litany of explanations and apologies that ranged from “ your order is being plated now” to “the head chef didn’t show up for work today” to “it’s a new menu and no-one knows how to make it yet.” Oops!

Kloof Street House

Kloof Street House

And closer to town at the casual-chique, mostly Mediterranean Kloof Street House – an eclectic Victorian villa of interlinked dining rooms lined with fabric wall panels and bookcases filled to the pressed-steel ceilings with colonial tchotchkes and a noisy clientele of trust-fund babies with plenty of time on their hands, one of our orders didn’t quite make it to the kitchen, and so one of us watched – while two of us chewed. Oops!

Harbour House - Kalk Bay

Harbour House – Kalk Bay

But before you resign yourself to lowering your expectations, it is probably advisable to focus on the rest of the experience instead. Like sitting in front of one of the big windows at The Harbor House in Kalk Bay, perched on the very edge of a treacherous rocky cliff, while a ferocious Indian Ocean thrashes mercilessly below, as you calmly pick through a bowl of hearty West Coast Black Mussels in wine, garlic, thyme and cream, or tender Calamari sautéed in fragrant smoked paprika with olives, or even a plate of magnificently succulent Mozambique-style grilled Prawns in lemon and chili. Fresh, solid and reliably enjoyable.

Calamari with Smoked Paprika - Harbour House

Calamari with Smoked Paprika – Harbour House

And finally, no trip to Cape Town would be complete without a stop at Bizerca Bistrôt near Heritage Square. The French-influenced local fare is offered as evergreens on the printed menu, and an even longer list of daily specials on mobile chalk-boards. Highlights included the house-cured Raw Norwegian Salmon Salad with salty notes and a lively goat cheese, soy ginger and shallot dressing. Another crowd pleaser is the Butternut Gnocchi – which has a soft center protected by a crispy sautéed skin with melted Parmesan and roasted vegetables. The Seared Ostrich Fillet could have remained on the fire for another sixty seconds for my money, but the coin-sized medallions of fat-free steak always takes the top spot on the poultry family tree. Figs and beetroot with plum sauce were the perfect sweet and tangy contrast to the tender, umami delight.

Butternut Gnocchi - Bizerca

Butternut Gnocchi – Bizerca

Most of the ubiquitous sweet, sour and chocolate desserts are no match for the most earth-shatteringly delicious deconstructed Apple Pie ever to leave a kitchen. The 45-minute pre-order time faded into distant memory when our waiter lowered a flat, flaky, 4-inch square pastry tile, covered by a doyly of hot, caramelized apple relish with a single ball of the most decadently scrumptious crème fraiche ice-cream. Just one hot/cold/creamy/crunchy/toffee bite instantly blurred the lines between well-mannered human and greedy beast!

Apple Pie - Bizerca

Apple Pie – Bizerca

http://thepotluckclub.co.za/

http://www.borage.co.za/

http://www.babylonstoren.com/food/

http://www.kloofstreethouse.co.za/

http://www.harbourhouse.co.za/

http://bizerca.com/

http://www.capetown.travel/

Pippali review

Pippali - There are two things I have to warn you about before you step foot into Peter Beck’s relatively new Indian bistro Pippali in Curry Hill: the one is the noise, and the other is the food! Chances are, you probably prefer the one over the other, but you will undoubtedly have to concern yourself with both. The combination of the understandable (yet unpredicted) popularity of this semi-subterranean dining room with woefully inadequate sound-absorption materials seems to recreate the chaos of the Bangalore railway station at rush hour.  But be that as it may, if your waiter can manage to hear your order above the infernal roar, then you are in for one of the most exotic Indian treats this side of London.

Beck has successfully impressed New Yorkers with his inventive elevation of Indian classics into ultra modern culinary delicacies since he opened the Michelin star winning Tamarind in 2002. This new venue further permits him to take bold risks and blend western ingredients with Indian spices. While you might recognize some of the dishes by name on the vegevore/carnivore menu, the resulting flavors will most definitely surprise you.

Pippali - Jaipuri Kofta

Jaipuri Kofta

The spinach Samosas are bursting with lentils and humming with heat – which is broadened and softened by the orange chutney. There’s hardly any need to wonder why the Jaipuri Kofta is one of the most frequently ordered dishes. These too-good-to-be-true green pumpkin and chickpea meatless meatballs are steeped in garam masala with ginger and spinach, and arrive submerged in a sauce made from precisely the same ingredients! The incredibly plump and flavorful Chorchori Chingri (marinated shrimp) are sautéed in mustard seeds and a thick coconut cream. I was tempted to try the Batak Uttapam (black pepper hand rubbed duck breast with portabella mushrooms) but ultimately chose the incomparable Tabak Maz (grilled rack of lamb).

Pippali - Grilled Rack of Lamb

Grilled Rack of Lamb

Three succulent chops grilled to perfection with roasted aromatics that create an immaculate balance between taste, tang and tart – finished in a creamy saffron and fennel sauce, (the kind that if no-one was looking, you would bury your head deep into the plate and lick up every last drop!)

So don’t let the noise deter you. Just light some candles, put on some cool jazz, call Pippali and order in!

http://www.pippalinyc.com/