Ikinari – review

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Ikinari Steak

Nowadays gimmicks seem to come and go in less time than it takes to forget a login password. And no industry has a larger appetite for them than restaurants. And no country gets a bigger kick out of franchising them than Japan. While it might seem obvious for a mediocre chef to make eating more “fun” as a perfect distraction from inferior cooking, Ikinari – Japan’s popular standing steakhouse chain – is quite the opposite. So, what’s a standing steakhouse? An eccentric solution for über-impatient diners who are so obnoxiously busy that they just can’t spare the time to wait for a table, or wait for it to be cleared, or wait for menus, or water, or service… They don’t even have the luxury of time to bend their knees and SIT DOWN, for goodness sake!

 

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The first of 3 stateside Ikinari locations debuted in the East Village to a zoo of media and long lines of gimmick guzzlers. Here’s how it goes: You supervise the butcher who slices your preferred thickness of Japanese style (wet-aged) sirloin, rib-eye or filet mignon. If you can’t decide, you can try the mixed sampler of all 3.

 

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Your steak gets weighed, salted and flame grilled, and arrives at your table roaring, hissing and howling louder than a steam train slamming on the brakes to narrowly avoid hitting a well-fed country cow. While the swirl of roasted garlic butter gently melts over your perfectly seared rare cut, a “must-try” side order of Garlic-pepper rice gets tossed with a generous dollop of wasabi. Everything you need is at arm’s reach: steak knives and forks, mustards, Japanese dressings and sauces. There’s even a little rack to store your stuff and splash bibs to protect your clothing. Just no…um, chairs.

 

IMG_2134But you soon forget you are still standing as the tender meat succumbs easily to the bite, and the signature (warm) steak sauce mingles with a few drips of melted butter, collapsing your palate under a salty and umami sweetness you secretly pray will never end. No wonder there are only 5 or so items on the laminated menu. Quality over variety – in true Japanese fashion.

 

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Garlic-pepper Rice, Ikinari

For a city that emboldens impatience as table stakes, the concept of an 8-minute meal in a seat-free diner would be as obvious as odds that the M train will be delayed, but every gimmick has its Achilles heel. Despite being featured in the humor segment before the first break on practically every morning news show as yet another far-fetched oddity, New York’s first standing-only steakhouse buckled to public pressure and reluctantly snuck in a half-dozen chairs. But if you’re a gimmick devotee like me, try it standing up. It’s better for the digestion anyway.

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http://www.ikinaristeakusa.com/

 

 

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

 

 

MB Post, Los Angeles review

Until chef David LeFevre bravely opened MP Post, slap-bang in the middle of Manhattan Beach, LA’s south bay never really contributed much to the culinary scene beyond beach-boy burger joints and beer bars. Surely a long time protégé of Charlie Trotter’s, or a Michelin star winning executive chef of downtown’s famed Water Grill who wanted to open his first solo foray in the heart of a sleepy surfer town must have been barking up the wrong lifeguard tower. But we all have to hand it to him – not only did he ace it, but he started a tidal change of popular foodie hotspots up and down the Pacific beachfront. 

LeFevre’s concept was to simply recreate a few sharable comfort food dishes that reminded him of his roots. Who knew this would turn into reservation riots and valet parking apoplexy as he drove his neighbors nuts with addictive tastes and textures well beyond their Baywatch comfort zones.

There’s an über-emphasis on chilled, laid-back informality in the vast, open space. The wooden walls and concrete floors feel cool but intimate, and the odd lifeguard tchotchke here and there feels reminiscent of old school corn-dog shacks. The sand colored envelope addressed to you (a nod to the restaurant’s former life as a post office) contains the list of robust offerings of local and selected small batch wines, ten cocktails with a few unique twists and shakes, and a region-free menu categorized by ingredients rather than courses.

Menu - MB Post

You’ve got mail!

As if by socialist decree, there seems to be a mandatory serving of a Bourbon sour at just about every table. The sneaky switcheroo of Kentucky Bourbon for Pisco with frothy egg-white-whipped lime-juice seems to have become the Tequila sunrise of the new generation. And right beside them, like a couple of sun tanned, liver-spotted beach bums – the wave stopping Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits. These bad boys go down SO well with a thimbleful of whipped maple butter, that I would like to nominate their recipe for inclusion into the next time-capsule. Why shouldn’t archaeologists, a thousand years from now, relish in the delight and pleasure of millennials, who paid currency for this incomparably more-ish treat, after riding the surf with fin-shaped planks?

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits - MB Post

Bacon Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

The cheese and cured meats cater to just about every appetite, from the simplest cheddar with honey, to salty slithers of dark red Jamon Iberico with a bracingly strong horseradishy mustard and tart pickles. I would also argue that there’s at least one vegetable with everyone’s name on it. Mine’s probably on those blistered Blue Lake Beans with the most wonderful Thai basil and chili sauce and a few dice of crispy pork belly. Or perhaps the creamy, dreamy Mac & Cheese with parmesan, mycella blue and fontina. Maybe the fruity, fragranty Pomegranate Couscous with lavender feta…? No. It has to be the caramelized Roasted Brussels Sprouts with crunchy hazelnuts and strips of emmentaler.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts - MB Post

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

LeFevre offers an equally scrumptious choice of more serious eats. His Loup de Mer has the crispiest garlic-topped skin out of any fish in the greater 310 area code. It sits atop a birds nest of julienned cucumber and an almost green-papaya, mint and cilantro dressing.

Loup de Mer - MB Post

Loup de Mer

The only oddity in a string of otherwise safe bets were the line of Shrimp and Pork Dumplings straddling an insipid ponzu sauce (rather than, say, a thick soy-garlic dip), but more incongruous were the lonely chicharrones, providing little more than punctuation. But the unsurprisingly popular soft-as-a-salt-water-taffy Meyer Farm Beef Rib-eye arrived nicely charred outside and perfectly pink inside, slithered into pencil strips and topped with a rich disc of melting black truffle butter.

Meyer Farm Rib-Eye - MB Post

Meyer Farm Rib-Eye

And you thought you could only get a corn-dogs at the beach!

www.eatmbpost.com

Estela review

Estela -

It’s relatively unlikely that you are familiar with the name Ignacio Mattos. But heed my prediction: this Uruguayan James Beard Foundation finalist is dangerously close to becoming the next big name in modern American food! Having served under slow-food legend Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and South American grilling sensation Francis Mallman along with stints at Isa and Il Buco, his unique style is rather tough to define. His recently debuted Soho boutique restaurant Estela showcases a healthy influence of Spanish, some Carribean, a dash or two of Japanese and just enough Italian to call it American!

Estela - Endive salad

Endive salad

While Mattos prides himself on presenting “approachable” food, I found his plating style quite the opposite – almost bashful. Instead of displaying an overt visual focus for the main ingredient, many of his dishes seem to conceal them beneath a forest of obscurities, creating a “surprise” as you wield your knife through the edible jungle.

 

Estela - Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

His uncategorized menu of sharing plates grows in portion and price as you journey from north to south with snacks like Pickled Carrots and Salted Cod with Potato, to salads that include Kampachi with Apple or Celery with Mint, small plates such as Farro with Wax Beans, and then onto some hearty mains like Cod with Favas or Quail with Broccoli Rabe.

The Beef and Bison combined Tartare with sunchokes and capers is layered with dark flavors, and the crunch is an unsuspected bonus.   The circular display of Endive leaves obscures the wondrous anchovied walnuts with Ubriaco rosso (Italian cheese aged in crushed red grapes).

Estela - Burrata with Salsa Verde

Burrata with Salsa Verde

Everything I’d heard about the Burrata with Salsa Verde is true. The most luscious, earthy, dark green herb puree you’ve even come across slowly soaks into the toast supporting the white, velvety, creamy goodness above.   Hard to believe that I have never tried Mussels in Escabeche (vinegar marinade) before, but the unique and almost floral tang won me over instantly.

Estela - Mussels in Escabeche

Mussels in Escabeche

 

In the interest of time, forgive me as I gloss over the delectable Scallops with Peas, the unmissable Fried Arroz Negro (black rice) and the incomparable Pork with Potatoes and Borani (Persian eggplant and yoghurt) so that I can relive and re-salivate over the crystalized salt-crusted rib-eye of Beef with eggplant and leeks finished with the creamiest Taleggio cheese ever.   Oh, and don’t be surprised if someone gives him a big ol’ culinary award for the Panna Cotta finished with honey and vinegar. Yes, vinegar!

https://rez.opentable.com/reservation/start/6742?source=selfhost