The Best Neighborhood Sushi Joint in NYC

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The one with plenty of seating.

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The one that takes reservations.

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The one where native Japanese speakers sit elbow-to-elbow with pre-theater diners ordering California rolls.

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The one that is on a random street in a seemingly so-so atmosphere – rather suburban and tired.

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The one that has a small cult following on Chowhound.

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The one that has incredible uni – clean and creamy, from Santa Barbara.

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The one that has an omakase, with 12 pieces and a cut roll of rich, buttery toro, for just $45.

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The one where you should avoid the fishy, oddly crunchy herring, but to everything else, say “Yes, please.”

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The one where the seared scallop is so undeniably sweet, so mouth-meltingly tender, that it would be at home at Nakazawa.

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The place where I am scared to tell you the name. I don’t want this place to blow up and become ridiculously crowded and expensive. It isn’t 15 East, but it’s SO FAR ABOVE PAR, with excellent rice and truly fresh, well cut fish.

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Want the name?

Give me an email and I’ll give up the goods.

Fritosnfoie@gmail.com

And when I tell you the name…ssshhh…mum’s the word.

Another Carnivore Approved Meal at Le Verdure at Eataly

 It’s been awhile since I have visited Le Verdure at Eataly.

I’m trying to remember why I don’t go there more often…so far, I got nothin. 

The service is pretty good and the price tag is higher than your normal casual lunch, but the food is phenomenal. It’s the perfect place for a weekday lunch with a friend or by yourself at the counter where you can watch yourselves at work. I wouldn’t brave Eataly on a weekend for all the tea in China, but that’s just because I hate most other people.

Not you, obviously. The other people.

But, even on a horrible holiday-shopping crowded Saturday, Le Verdure would still have a lot to offer.

20141208_121232 Fritto misto

Clams be gone, this may be the best fried appetizer I have ever had…ever. A puffy, crispy, but still ample beer batter-type crust around wonderful veggies. Sweet onions, crunchy Brussels sprouts, even an unexpectedbly buttery but still somewhat spicy watermelon radish. Squeeze  lemon over this for a hit of acid that rounds out the earthy, sweet veggies. They are salted enough to bring out the flavor of each vegetable but not overly salty or at all greasy. This is an unmissable appetizer, though the daily bruschetta is no slouch either.
20141208_122256 Fried butternut squash with pumpkin seeds and Parmesan

Like butternut squash latkes. Gently pan-fried squash, crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, scattered with crunchy pumpkin seeds and a bruleed topping of nutty Parmesan cheese. I’m not the hugest squash fan, since I often find  it too sweet and a little mushy, but on a cold wintry day, this is comfort food central.  20141208_122323 Roasted winter vegetables

Why is this so much more elegant than my burnished pan of olive oil roasted Brussels sprouts? Tiny carrots with their greens still attached, gently roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, creamy sunchokes, and more are all atop a creamy yogurt. The yogurt isn’t at all tart or chalky – it’s silky and almost sweet against the simply roasted veggies. Pops pumpkins seeds and tart, juicy pomegranate seeds really give the dish a wholly rounded, faceted flavor. This is light but incredibly tasty – wonderful with some of the house baked bread and fruity olive oil.

20141208_122328 Radicchio salad

Oh YES. This salad is bitter, well dressed, and acidic, just like the old lady I hope to one day become. If you like radicchio, this salad will be your dream. Soft, mild outer leaves, bitter and biting purple inner leaves, and the almost artichoke-like grilled green ones. There are charred tastes and raw ones, mixed in a fruity, pleasantly sour vinaigrette. The sour aspect is vital to cutting through that bitter raddichio taste that is amplified by being grilled. Many people don’t like the bitter taste, but if you do,t hen this might just be the greatest radicchio you ever eat.

La Verdure is one of the few places where you can eat as well and heartily as a vegan as you can as a carnivore. I have to go back again soon, before another 4 years passes by.

Cherche Midi – Paris on The Bowery

I love a French bistro. Did y’all know that?

I love the elegance of formally dressed servers. I love the comfort of a basket of freshly baked, floury baguette on the table. I love the clatter of silverware, the hushed gossip at cozy booths, and the soft glow of tableside lamps or ancient crystal chandeliers.

Most of all, I love the food.

So, could I possibly love an updated version of all this at Keith McNally’s chic downtown eatery, Cherche Midi?

20141124_174640 The restaurant’s interior is totally charming, if a little overheated on a recent unseasonably warm autumn evening. The feel is casual but still special enough to be a birthday meal. The cocktail list is well curated, the wines by the glass are fairly priced, and the service is far more attentive than it actually is in Paris.  20141124_183449 The bread brought to each table is pitch perfect. There are slightly sour slices, small, light loaves, and a ramekin of creamy sweet butter that is soft enough to spread with ease. It’s a simple but effective first taste of the restaurant that says “relax and order that bottle of rose….it’s going to be a great night.”  20141124_183707 Anchovy toasts with Parmesan dip

A bam-pow-punch of flavor! This is strong, salty, and a little fishy – if you aren’t into anchovy, you won’t like these toasts. However, if you are, then you will love these buttery, toasty soldiers that are laden with pungent anchovies and verdant herbs. Though they are outstanding with the accompanying dip, you might still like this dish, just using the plain bread as a dipper instead of the toasts. The dip is all things lovely. Soft, smooth, nutty, creamy, and savory. It’s a cross between gently scrambled eggs and a savory creme brulee. Try though you might, you will NOT be able to resist swiping your finger along the inside of the vessel to get every last morsel of this molten cheese wonder. This is the signature appetizer and with good reason.  20141124_185949 Steak tartare

A classic done classically well. Hand chopped beef that is tender but not mushy, mixed with diced shallots, capers, and a hint of spicy mustard. It’s creamy but not goopy, so the egg yolk must be applied judiciously. I did miss some more Tabasco sauce and wish that this was offered in an entree size - the appetizer size is too small for an entree size for even the tiniest of appetites.

20141124_190009 The accompanying salad is lovely – bright and well dressed, a great foil for the rich meat. However, some crispy, salty French fries wouldnt be amiss.

20141124_175234 Cherche Midi is adorable. It isn’t a great deal, but it’s what you expect to pay for a lovely meal in a trendy part of town.The food is delicious, the service is great, and the vibe is just what you crave.

It’s  a little bit of Paris right on the Bowery.

Cherche Midi on Urbanspoon

Cha Pa’s – Vietnamese in the Theater District

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I hit up Cha Pa’s because I was in that part of town. And, of course, because I love Vietnamese food. When I lived in Tucson, there was the BEST pho restaurant  - Pho 88. I spent many happy calories there. Sadly, I have been less lucky with pho here in The Big Apple. So, I headed to Cha Pa’s to see if I could get my fix. 
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The restaurant is tiny and casual – come here in jeans and a t-shirt and you will feel totally at home.  20141122_182808 Spring rolls

Lovely! Crispy and light, but filled with a dense mixture of cabbage, beanthread noodles, and ground pork. Dipped in a light, citrusy-sweet sauce, it’s just what you want when you crave spring rolls. They are fragrant, well-balanced, and addictive.
20141122_183101 Vietnamese coffee soda

Like a coffee flavored egg cream. Not my style, but if you like egg creams and coffee, this will be right up your alley! Sweet, creamy, and lightly fizzy!
20141122_183540 Shaking Steak

WOW! I have never had shaking steak before, but this is outstanding! Flank steak that is so tender that it might as well be filet mignon. It’s coated in some sort of VERY light, crispy coating and then dressed in a sweet and salty glaze. It’s served over wilted watercress and pickled onions, which add dimensions of bitterness and tang. The steak is SO tender that you can cut it simply with your teeth. It’s sticky sweet, beefy, and very rich. I would eat this again tomorrow and simply have to try making it at home.

Cha Pa’s isn’t too expensive and I love the food. However, the service is abysmal and my co-diners were less than pleased with their entrees. So, I would come here if you are in the hood and the lunch specials are cheap. Or I would order in in my pajamas.

And I’m still searching for the pho of my dreams here in NYC.

Drunken Monkey – Cramped but Craveworthy

Let’s be very clear about something:

I love Indian food. All kinds of Indian food. Mild, spicy, Northern, Southern, pork vindaloo and vegan channa masala.

So if the restaurant is Indian, I am predisposed to like it.

Spoiler alert – I had a blast at Drunken Monkey.

Make a reservation, leave your bulky coat at home, don’t expect fast service, and anticipate being crammed in like sardines.

If it sounds like I didn’t enjoy my experience, than I have mislead you…because I had a great time. 

20141121_193657 The restaurant is minuscule and it’s really more of a bar with food than vice versa. It is REALLY small…cramped…a wee bit uncomfortable, even.

But also really fun. Loud. Boisterous. Buzzy and filled with laughter and intoxicating aromas wafting out from the kitchen.  20141121_193700 It’s a great spot to jump start the weekend.
20141121_200109 Army and Navy

This craft cocktail bar earns its stripes with this one gin based libation alone. It’s almost like a lemony Creamsicle cocktail. Light, creamy, citrusy, and sweet. I could drink it for dessert, but it works as an aperitif as well. I drank 2 of them over the course of the night and though I couldn’t detect the taste of alcohol, they didn’t skimp on it at all. Just ask my ‘hair of the dog’ Saturday morning Bloody Marys.
20141121_204138 Batata sev puri

You either love or hate these hollow crackers filled with tamarind water, chickpeas, and other ingredients. I love them – these aren’t spicy enough but they are sweet with the tamarind water and fragrant with cilantro. Pop them into your mouth all ant once and quickly, before they get soggy. The whole point here is to savor the difference in textures and temperatures – it’s ruined if you don’t eat it quickly.  20141121_204539 Tandoori chicken

The finest I have had outside of merry olde London town. It arrives in juicy, sizzling hunks on a plate hot enough to blister your skin on contact. It’s so incredibly tender and juicy that it seems to be dark meat, but it’s white – clean flavored with a charred, crispy outside. Dip it in the sweet and spicy sauces alongside for some of the best chicken you are likely to enjoy anywhere in the vicinity.  20141121_204801 Mutton kebabs

Hold the line, these are sublime. Coarsely ground sausages that are flavored with all of the best Indian flavors – fragrant coriander, smoky cumin, spicy garlic, and sweet onions. They are juicy and almost sticky on the outside with the mutton’s own fat. It’s earthy but not gamy – just like a very deep, complex lamb. This was my favorite dish of the night.  20141121_211525 Butter chicken

This is one of my favorite dishes of all time. Murgh makhani is where it’s AT. This is mild, creamy, and a little sweet - a great dish with which to introduce someone to Indian food. A creamy tomato sauce infused with garlic, cumin, and onions with soft, juicy pieces of chicken. The sauce is addictive, perfect to spoon over the basmati rice and warm, puffy naan served alongside.

The whole experience is rather intoxicating. It’s not relaxing, the service is SLOWWWW (though the servers are great, they are just always slammed), and dinner is pretty pricey. But it’s fun, the drinks are wonderful, and the food is delicious.

What more could you want on a Friday night?

Melt Shop – More Than Just an After-Tot

Sometimes, you want a good grilled cheese.

And other times, you want to go to a grilled cheese restaurant after you have already eaten dinner and indulge in some tater tots.

I didn’t plan on it, it was a total after-tot…get it?

I know, my dad humor is wasted on you foodies.

I went to Melt Shop after dinner but before seeing the inimitable Aaron Lazar in “The Last Ship” especially for these:

20141122_191416 Loaded tots

Do you see anything wrong with this photograph? Because if you do, you should probably find a different blog – this one just ain’t for you. These are decadence personified – Yeah, Amurrica! Crispy tater tots positively LOADED with creamy cheese sauce, crunchy bacon, slightly spicy pickled jalapenos, and a generous shower of garlicky Parmesan cheese. This is too much and yet just enough. It’s over the top and low end. It’s crispy bacon and salty parmesan cheese. It’s wonderfully rich nacho cheese and tart, none-too-limp jalapenos. It’s just about perfect.

20141122_191307 Heath Bar crunch and Nutella-fluff milkshakes

As if you couldn’t guess…these are also exemplary. The Nutella-fluff is almost intimidatingly sweet, with ribbons of smooth Nutella and the sugary, sticky backnote of marshmallow fluff – only serious sweet tooths need apply to this one. The Heath Bar crunch is more my style – floral vanilla milkshake studded with chocolatey, crunchy bits of Heath Bars. Both shakes are thick but still sippable, which I like – I hate a milkshake that is too thick to sip with a straw. 

I have to go back for the sandwiches, I know this. But for quick counter service, a friendly and clean dining room, and a location literally at Broadway’s doorstep…you can’t do better than Melt Shop for a delicious snack.

Don’t make it just an after-tot. 

Blue Smoke – My Favorite BBQ in NYC

I’m not a big one for BBQ. I would almost always rather have the Korean version or some steak. But, when the group wants some ribs and beers, I can hunker down with the best of them. This particular group voted to try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke.

20141109_182410 This restaurant is huge and casual – big bar playing sports on the televisions, massive tables, and Texan sized booths. This is perfect for a rowdy crowd of friends, a family with young kids, or some folks who want some wings and beer while they watch the game.


20141109_184455 BBQ potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip

Sleeper hit of my LIFE! This is almost perfect - greaseless, crispy chips that are HUGE, smoky, and a little sweet. Then they are dipped in some of the greatest blue cheese dressing that I have ever enjoyed. I mean, really…excellent dressing. Super tick and tangy with hunks of salty, funky cheese, sharp chives, and crispy bacon crumbles. The only way that this could be better is if the chips were warm, which the menu stated that they should be. These are a MUST GET.
20141109_191320 Grits

Soupier than I normally have, but delicious. A little sweet, super buttery,and the perfect vehicle for the vineagary house made hot sauce.  20141109_191325 Sampler platter

A must get if , like me, you are new to this ‘cue.

Backyard chicken – surprisingly delicious! The chicken is charred and smoky, with a hefty dose of salt and pepper. Teh meat inside is juicy and prime for the tangy housemade bbq sauce.

Sausage – I wasn’t even fast enough to snag this.

Pulled pork – excellent. Tender but not cottony with an equal balance of meat, spicy, tangy, and savory flavors. Didn’t need any other accompaniment.

Ribs – the best. I would get these baby backs again any day of the week. Sublime - almost as good as Chinese ribs. A thickly burnished, lacquered surface with fatty, soft, meaty flesh. The favorite of the platter, especially when enjoyed with the sweet and salty pickles.

20141109_200213 Chocolate layer cake

Nothing that great – a little dry, a little flat in the flavor department. The banana cream pie fares much better, but best of all is the espresso, served with a side of amaretto.

This place is great! It’ ain’t REAL down home ‘cue, but it beats the heck out of Dinosaur and it certainly scratches the itch for some great ribs and grits.

Mile End’s Awesome Smoked Meat Hash

A little late to the game, I headed to Mile End for brunch.

20141109_100728 Upside of being late to the game: Now wait at primo brunch time. Walk tight in, grab a table, and order a TON of Montreal Jewish food.

They have poutine at 10 am, y’all. I serious regret not ordering it.

20141109_102308 Latkes

The only dark spot in an otherwise shining experience. These are properly crispy without  but much too dense, bordering on leaden, within. I want my latkes like crunchy flavor ninjas not heavy potato bombs.  20141109_102314 Montreal style bagel with whitefish

The bagel is almost a revelation. It’s fluffy and chewy within, with a slightly sweet, thin, properly crispy crust. It’s lighter than typical NY bagels but with a pleasant sour tang that Montreal bagels lack. It’s a fantastic hybrid. The whitefish salad isn’t my favorite – it’s not creamy enough or seasoned enough. I far prefer Russ and Daughters -but this bagel would be fabulous with a schmear and some lox. Destination worthy item for sure.  20141109_102320 Smoked meat hash

My favorite hash in town. Sorry, mom, this even beats yours. The smoked meat here – pastrami to us hooligans in NYC – is phenomenal. Fatty and thick cut, with a peppery, spicy edge that isn’t too salty or unnecessarily greasy. It’s paired with sweet onions and soft on the inside, cirsp on the outside, cubed potatoes. Oh yeah, and it’s topped with a lovely fried egg. Add some Sriracha (available on request), and you’re in business.

The shocking part about this isn’t that it isn’t crazy heavy – the portion is perfect for sharing and the flavors are balanced and tasty.  20141109_102330 Chicken liver with gribenes

It ain’t Sammy’s, but what is? Add some pickles to the light, creamy pate and you are in business. What it lacks in salt it makes up for in smooth texture and deep, mineral flavors. Those pickled onions are sweet, tangy, and really phenomenal. I would absolutely order this again – the soft pumpernickel bread ain’t no slouch, either.

20141109_100847 Mile End was worth the wait! Prices are on the high side, but portions are fair, service is great, and food is awesome! Head here for some smoked meat and a bagel. I loved this so much that my next stop might just have to be Montreal!

Upland – A Tasty, if Pricey, Neighborhood Bistro

First the moral: Don’t run to a new restaurant just because it’s on Eater’s hot list.

Now the story:

Last Saturday night, we rushed to our reservation at Upland, the much buzzed about new restaurant by chef Justin Smille, lately of Il Buco Alimentari. It’s a seasonal restaurant with California twists from his native Upland. I used to do improv matches in Upland all the time, so I was obviously eager to see how someone could make my hometown comfort food seem high end and special.

Upland is casual but trendy, with a long, oval bar and plenty of seating. The space is dark but not too much so, and seems perfect for a double date or a quick appetizer with friends before hitting the town.

20141108_190739 Potato bread and butter with smoked salt, chives, and lemon zest

A high point of the evening. The bread arrives warm and light, with a fluffy but not cottony texture. The butter melts quickly on the bread, imparting a slightly sharp, slightly citrusy scent to the bread. We devoured this loaf and would have gladly asked for another.  20141108_193652 Beef tartare with puffed rice, anchovy, and egg yolk

Meh. The seasoning is all off for me – mushrooms make it earthy to the point of tasting like dirt. The puffed rice seems textually incongruent and the whole thing lacks salt and spice. Some tabasco sauce or lemon juice would do wonders for this, because the beef is tender and hand cut and the yolk is wonderfully rich. Unfortunately, this falls way flat for me.  20141108_193701 Crispy artichokes

Very good, if uninspired. The artichokes come in full, meaty bites with clumps of super crispy leaves. They are like potato chips, but even better because of their garlicky-buttery-lemony bath. They aren’t too greasy or too salty – bar food done really  well.  20141108_195736 Farro spaghetti with uni, scallion, and sesame

The best entree that we ordered (skip the branzino, which is fine but nothing more.) The pasta comes chilled and is naturally al dente, with a lovely, wheaty taste. It contrasts well with the briny, clean, almost sweet uni. This must be Santa Barbara uni, judging from its mild flavor. The cold, chewy pasta is tempered with nutty sesame oil, sharp scallions,and just a hint of heat. This is an excellent dish - while not destination worthy, its certainly a must get if you are here.
20141108_203801 Cinnamon sugar doughnuts

Warm, light, sweet. Very tasty, especially with the stracciatella ice cream.

20141108_190338 If this meal were half the price, I would declare it a triumph. However, for the pacing and the price…well, this is just not a great value. The food tastes like a very good neighborhood spot, but the hype is that it’s the second coming of you-know who. If this were billed as what it is – a lovely neighborhood joint – I would have loved it. So, if you go there with those expectations and very deep pockets – you will be impressed. And don’t miss the carbs here – bread, spaghetti, and doughnuts make a mighty fine meal here.

Upland on Urbanspoon

Pure Thai Shophouse’s Subtle Lunch

It’s been a long time since I went to Pure Thai Shophouse, mostly because I moved out of the neighborhood. It’s too casual to be a destination place – stools with no backs, no reservations taken, usually a long line out back. But when I stopped by the old neighborhood for lunch, I popped in here.

And wow was it worth it.

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Curry puffs

The best curry puffs in the city. I have tried them all, so you may believe me on this. These are sublime. The pastry is buttery and flaky, strong enough to dip into the accompanying sweet and tangy cucumber sauce without breaking. The filling is dense and fragrant with curry powder. Curry has so many layers of flavor – floral and earthy and savory and spicy. This curry has them all – it’s a small handful but the flavor packs quite a punch. Don’t miss these fabulous vegetarian curry puffs.

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Pork Larb

This daily special is light, subtly flavored, and downright delicious. Many versions of larb rely heavily on garlic, onion, and chiles – this was all about he subtle flavors. The earthiness of gritty toasted rice powder. Pork’s inherent sweetness. Cilantro’s grassy scent. The onions are tempered by a quick minute over the heat and the garlic is not overpowering. This is a must get.

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Green Papaya Salad

Good but not spectacular.The chewy little dried shrimp are a welcome addition and the papaya is crunchy in a citrusy dressing. However, the dressing is too soupy and not nearly spicy enough. even though I asked for it a s spicy as it comes, it was barely at a medium heat level. This is a nice palate cleanser, but not much more than that.

Pure Thai is great for a quick Thai lunch that is easy on the wallet and the halitosis. It’s not as garlicky or spicy as my beloved Pam, but it’s not as salty either – you won’t leave feeling bloated. I’ll be back for those curry puffs ASAP!