It’s Summertime – Here’s Where You Should be Eating Ice Cream!

It’s summer and it’s hot. I mean shorts wearing-sunscreen slathering-ice cream eating hot.

1. Shorts – cheap ones. So you don’t care if they get grass stains.

2. Sunscreen – at least spf 50 if you are a redhead, like me. Just call me Casper, the skin cancer-free ghost.

3. Ice cream – well, either of these will work:

20140529_145643 Oddfellows

This cult favorite import from Brooklyn has a tiny storefront in the East Village. I don’t think that the ice cream is worth a special trip, but if you are in the ‘hood and want a sweet, cold treat than come here. Though you could go for the very good, very rich chocolate ice cream, I suggest that you go for something a little more out of the ordinary.
20140529_145911 Thai iced tea ice cream

Well, there goes my of Thai iced coffee. This ice cream is so many times better than my favorite southeast Asian drink that I doubt I will ever order another iced coffee with my pad see ew ever again. This is smooth and dense but not hard – easy to eat with the plastic spoon. It’s very creamy and has a rich, buttery taste upfront followed by a light, herbal tea flavor. It’s refreshing but still indulgent and I would definitely get his again.

20140627_123824 Big Gay Ice Cream Shop

Destination worthy. The Salty Pimp is where it’s AT. Soft serve that makes Mr. Softee look like the fraud he is. Deeply chocolaty Magic Shell. And, best of all, a salt flecked drizzle of ducle de leche that is so buttery and sweet that you might propose to it.

20140627_123843 I dare you to share it with someone. You will each need at least 2.

Gotta love summertime. 

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1) Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business.  image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

image Fish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Otto’s Tacos is A Taste of Home

I’m not going to fool around with some twee opening about how I love NYC but I miss California’s Mexican food.

Because I have already done that.

I’m just going to say it.

I found a piece of home at Otto’s Tacos.

Otto’s Tacos was opened in late 2013 by Otto himself. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer guy. He is always at the restaurant and is the first to tell you that he isn’t a cook – he just loves and misses southern Californian taco trucks. That’s where the idea for the restaurant came from. He assembled a top-notch culinary team and brought the restaurant to life.  the joint is super casual – order and pay at the counter and then eat the food at your seat. It isn’t huge and it isn’t about atmosphere – it’s nice and clean but this is about EATING. The restaurant makes its own corn tortillas every single day, multiple times a day, and you can see the shells for your soft tacos being pounded out as you order. The prices are really reasonable, and a couple of tacos will only cost you about 7 bucks. But come on…how satisfying could that be?

How about majorly satisfying?

IMG_20140219_125111_053

Carnitas taco

Usually my favorite type of taco. This pork is expertly made - juicy and tender but not mushy. It retains a bit of a bite, which is a pleasure compared to overly greasy versions at big box chains. It’s so juicy that it almost saturates the tray – really flavor packed with porky taste. It’s accented by a slightly spicy salsa verde and a sprinkling of cilantro and chopped onions. And that tortilla…wow.  Thick and pleasantly lumpy and doughy in some places, charred and crisp in others. It’s the difference between a hearty 7 grain bread and Wonder bread…amazing how much it adds to the final product.

IMG_20140219_125118_951

Carne Asada

That same fabulous tortilla, this time with charred, chopped steak. It’s crispy but not fatty and chopped finely so there are no unwieldy or chewy pieces. Wow…it’s actually even tastier than the carnitas, which I rarely say. This is a great amount of steak, especially for the price – not gristle or overdone, gray meat here. It just needs a hit of the hot sauce on the table and it’s a complete meal.

 Well, almost…

IMG_20140219_125448_773

Masa chips

NOW the meal is complete. These masa chips make tortilla chips look like child’s play. They are pillowy inside and very crunchy outside, with an intense, corn-y taste. Otto says that these came about by accident – they had made some dough too thick for chips, so ende dup frying the thick, un-dried dough and voila! The moisture content is what results in the crisp-fluffy texture. Dip it in the accompanying spicy chipotle sauce for a creamy sauce with a gentle heat that builds – skip the guac, which needs more lime and cilantro to make it a contender.

IMG_20140219_131734_095

Finally, don’t forget the churros.

My dining partner isn’t the biggest fan of churros and was sure he wouldn’t like  these.

Guess who ended up stealing the last one?

These arrive piping hot, drenched in cinnamon and sugar. Try not to burn your moth as you dip int into the sweet dulce de leche dipping sauce.

I would come back here in a heartbeat. The price is right, the food is great, and it’s the next best thing to a flight back home.

Plus, I can take the subway home instead of sitting in traffic on the 101.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal and the restaurant paid for me. I was not required to write a review and the opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Arepas, Tartare, and Aweseome Gelato

I have eaten a ton of great food lately – here are some of my favorite gems!

IMG_20130812_140327_739 Arepa from Palenque

When I hear arepa, I think of those floppy, thick cornbread discs filled with rubbery cheese – you know, the kind you find at street fairs. This arepa truck, quite frankly, spun my head right round, right round. The food truck offers all sorts of Colombian food, and the arepa is Columbia’s greatest contributions to the food world. This one is corn (though you can have it made out of yuca, brown rice, or other options), and is topped with incredibly moist, tender Angus beef. Served with mozzarella-like queso de hebra, chipotle mayo, salsa fresca, and spicy cilantro pesto, it is a really filling lunch. For only $8, you can’t really do much better than this. Spicy, crispy, juicy, and awesome.

That’s also the name of my imaginary band.

montmartre 002 Steak tartare at Montmartre

Gabriel Stulman’s Chelsea bistro isn’t’ cheap, but it does have tasty, inventive twists on Parisian bistro classics. Take this steak tartare. Hand chopped beef in a very mild dressing with tangy mustard and briny capers. The beef isn’t’ too mushy nor too chewy. The egg yolk is rich and the shallots are just sharp enough. Smear the beef on the airy toasted baguette, and it’s the raw burger of your dreams. Best of all is the lettuce alongside. Yes, I said that the lettuce outlines the beef. The long romaine leaves are dressed in a warm garlicky oil that softens the lettuce and totally elevates the meal. They are crispy, incredibly savory, and when eaten with the beef, brings out the rich, mineral notes. I would come here for the oysters and sweet/salty mustard-dusted fries, but would stay for the tartare.

pix 002 Ferreroand Pistachio Gelato at Fresco

What can I say? This place just makes perfect gelato – yes, I said perfect. There aren’t any awesome toppings or wacky flavors(except for the awesomely tangy/sweet goat cheese flavor). Just thick, dense gelato with intense flavors. It’s the most perfect pistachio gelato that I have ever tasted – deep and nutty and buttery and rich. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is sweet and velvety, like frozen Nutella. It’s uber creamy and rich, with a velvety texture and a taste that is so vibrant that you won’t even want any toppings. It’s a schlep from where I live, but the flavor is so divine that I still say it’s worth the trek.

Feast – Where the Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

This is a brunch review.

This meal isn’t the best brunch I have ever eaten. It isn’t the cheapest. But it has the best of all possible worlds.

It has a laid back but still “special event” atmosphere. You can wear flip flops or a trendy pair of shoes and still feel at home. There is a prix fixe but a plethora of ways to customize.

And there is a LOT of food for the price. 

Feast is a relatively new East Village restaurant which specializes in seasonal small plates, so you can try a lot of food for the same price as just one entree costs at other restaurants. The feel is rustic chic – very Anthropologie.

First off, you get a drink. A (very strong) mimosa made with freshly squeezed orange juice, a house made “beery Mary,” or a bottomless cup of coffee are all on offer. I especially appreciate that there is a bottomless alcohol-free option, as I don’t always feel like drinking so early in the day.

Who am I kidding? Of COURSE I do!

As part of the prix fixe, every table gets…

pix 024 A platter of freshly baked muffins, flaky croissants, and rich pain au chocolat.
pix 025 You also get a tray of mini quiches. This day, they were studded with sweetly caramelized onions, sautéed spinach, and melted goat cheese. The crust is particularly memorable – it’s so buttery and crisp that it is like savory shortbread. These tiny egg pies were my favorite part of the meal.

pix 026 These yogurt parfaits and a chilled canteolupe soup are also part of the deal. Before you even get your main course, you are tipsy and full…right there, the price of brunch is almost justified. 

pix 029 Omelette

The seasonal omelette, this time made with goat cheese and squash blossoms, is good if not inspired. The eggs are filled with creamy, earthy zucchini filling and the goat cheese stuffed blossoms are gooey, crispy, and generally addictive. Nothing I haven’t eaten before, but done well. The portion isn’t huge but by that time you aren’t starving anyway.
pix 030 Lemon souffle pancake

Now THIS is huge. A behemoth of a pancake, crispy without and custardy within. It’s almost like a doughnut, dense but not heavy. It is scented with fragrant lemon and topped with a sweet-tart berry syrup that is loaded with fresh fruit. This is absolutely overload and thought it’s tasty, it’s a bit one faceted – sweet. I prefer a slightly lighter, crispier pancake.

pix 022 Feast is kind of the perfect celebration brunch place. It’s just $24 for all of this food plus an alcoholic drink, the vibe is more lazy Saturday lunch than hungover Sunday morning, and the service is both prompt and informative – the servers are happy to recommend favorite dishes and speak eloquently about the food.

So this might not be my favorite brunch place – the food isn’t totally memorable. But, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

And where else can you find a pancake that weighs as much as a toddler?

Feast on Urbanspoon

Father’s Day Redux

We ate cake.

We noshed on party mix.

We started drinking mimosas at 8:30 AM and didn’t stop till the orange juice was gone. 

Then we just drank straight champers. 

But, of course, we also had to eat real food.

Here are a few of the bites that we had:

pix 002 Omelette at Bistro Cassis

It may seem stupid to include an omelette on a list of great eats, but this is one of the better omelettes I have had on the UWS. The restaurant itself is fine, if not memorable, but the omelette is a thing of beauty. Done French style, it is very thin and delicate, rolled around freshly chopped herbs like thyme and tarragon, filled with a silky layer of tangy Gruyere cheese. It is filling but extremely light and is served with wonderful roasted-fried hybrid potatoes. An ideal breakfast or lunch, and the outdoor seating is wonderful for a Father’s Day celebration.

pix 011 Sundried tomato spread at Luce

This restaurant is a standby. It’s fairly priced with a large dining room, nice enough for a dinner out but casual enough to never need reservations. The place is great for kids but has a full bar, so you can get so tipsy that you forget that you have kids at all. The Italian food on the menu is very good – fresh salads, well prepared fish, and a great mushroom ravioli .And the best thing on the menu is free – how often can you say that?! The sundried tomato spread that comes with the bread basket is nothing short of delicious. The spread isn’t overly salty or oily, but lush and full of ripe tomato-y flavor. It’s so umami that it almost tastes porky, even though it’s vegetarian. It’s divine on bread, mixed into your pasta dishes, on a fork, or on your fingers.

If they sold it by the barrel, I would buy two of them. 

pix 053 Sausage and shrimp skewers at Pig and Khao

Okay, so I didn’t actually eat at the restaurant. Definitely didn’t go there on Father’s Day. And I don’t know if this dish is on the menu. But when chef Leah Cohen prepared her Southeast Asian food for us at The Samsung House (ps, that fridge that dispenses sparkling water and an oven that has a special insert that lets you cook 2 things at 2 different temperatures are why I am glad that I live in the 21st century. Well, that and Bravo.), I knew that I had to visit her restaurant ASAP. These skewers were a standout on an entire menu of memorable dishes. Soft and juicy and briny and salty. Coated in young rice flakes that puffed like Rice Krispies when fried, they had an added crunch that was reminiscent of fried chicken. The sauce served alongside was tart, sweet, hot, and wonderfully savory with fish sauce. Cohen has a real knack for balancing flavors, and I can’t wait to try all the dishes at her restaurant. 

Well, maybe for next Father’s Day, we will!

I attended The Samsung House as a press event. I was not compensated nor was I required to write about my experiences. My opinions are my own and unbiased. 

Kimcheese Sandwiches at Porsena Extra Bar

I saw a famous chef cooking in her own kitchen. At lunch service, nonetheless.

That shouldn’t be a huge deal…but it is.

In this day and age of celebrity chefs with huge restaurant empires, it’s not the most common thing to see an acclaimed chef cooking inside her own restaurant instead of jet-setting to fabulous events.

So imagine my thrill at seeing Sarah Jenkins walking through Porsena Extra Bar, her diminutive add on to the loved East village Italian restaurant Porsena.

Porsena Extra bar is small and narrow, with – as  the name implies – a long bar at which you can sit and drink some wine from the extensive, excellently priced list. As far as food goes, don’t expect strictly Italian dishes like next door. Instead, expect some of Jenkins’ more whimsical dishes.

Salami, goat cheese, and fig jam on baguette

Simple and perfect. The fig jam is sweet but not cloying or sugary it really tastes just like ripe, jammy figs. It is served with spicy salami that is garlicky and peppery but not salty or greasy. It is soft in texture, multifaceted in taste, and works well with that sweet jam and the creamy, mild goat cheese. The bread is literally perfect – not too hard, not too squishy.  This sandwich is just beautifully constructed, and is served with a light, bright salad where even the cucumbers are peeled and sliced on a bias.

It’s that attention to detail that really make a difference.

Grilled Kimcheese

This puts all other kimchee/cheese combos to shame. Yes, I’m saying this beats them all. The Pullman bread is soft and incredibly buttery, so it has a crispy, thin layer where it has touched the grill. Underneath that sheath is a soft, buttery layer of bread. It melts into the American cheese and kimchee puree filling. The filling is subtle – I might not even know that it was kinchee if I hadn’t read the menu. The filling is creamy and beautifully gooey, but with a slightly spicy garlicky tang that isn’t overtly fishy or salty. The kimchee puree cuts through the buttery richness of the other ingredients and makes this rich sandwich a star. Split it with a friend or be prepared to take a long nap afterwards.

Porsena Extra Bar is a gem. It’s super inexpensive for the quality, with a very cheap and high quality happy hour. In the evening, there  is an entirely different menu than the one at lunch, and you can also order food from Porsena next door. The service is jovial and efficient, and the vibe is perfect for a solo lunch.

Plus, Sara Jenkins is in the kitchen either here or next door. , overseeing the food

It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it totally is.

 

Momofuku Noodle Bar – Unique Ramen and Rockin Buns

It’s hard to have a restaurant in NYC that is cool and relevant for even a minute. If you have one for years? Along with an ever expanding empire, a name in the media, and a highly acclaimed magazine? Well then, you are probably David Chang. The man behind the Momofuku has several restaurants, all of which are still so cool that you will have to wait a minimum of 25 minutes, no matter what time of day you walk in. Don’t expect his restaurants to be traditional, but do expect them to be delicious and very inventive.

Case in point: Momofuku Noodle Bar.

This long, light East Village restaurant is always packed, but the tables turn quickly. Expect to be jostled as you wait for your seat (don’t forget to put in your name with the host), and then consider yourself lucky if you get a booth. Most of us are sat at a long, high communal table with stools without backs. Just FYI.

Brisket buns with horseradish mayo, pickled red onions, cucumber, and lettuce

Having already tried the famous pork buns, I went with the brisket buns this time. Wow. Really, really awesome. Very tender brisket, with a melting layer of fat, smoky as if it was on the BBQ, but soft as if it were cooked the Jewish way. Layered on a soft, sticky bun with cool veggies and creamy, hot horseradish mayo, this really hits the spot. It also prepares you for the rest of the meal – not traditional, not totally Korean OR Japanese OR anything else…just totally Chang. 

Chilled spicy noodles with sichuan sausage, spinach,a nd candied cashews

Stop the presses. This may be my new favorite noodle dish in NYC. 

The noodles are incredibly springy and al dente, with just enough give to absorb the mouth numbing, lip tingling, nose running house made chili oil. The sausage is hot and juicy, filled with Sichuan spices that are warming and aromatic. The spinach soaks up more of that delicious chili oil and even the cashews – not my favorite nut – were a welcome crunchy, sweet note. The portion is extremely generous and the flavor is well balanced. I really can’t say enough about it.

Mint Chocolate Cake Truffles

Not my favorite cake truffles, as they are a bit aggressive in the mint department, but still tasty enough to gobble down whole.

A lunch here will cost you about $20, but I am shocked to say that it’s worth it. The ingredients are high end, the food is really unexpected, and it is so tasty. I am craving those noodles as I write this and can’t think of another ramen in town that is more unique or better balanced in terms of flavor. Add to that excellent, fast service, and you have a restaurant that will absolutely last the test of time.

Actually, it already has. 

East Noodle and Izakaya – More Than Meets the Eye

You know those restaurants you walk right by? The ones that seem just a little too cheap, or where the menu is jut a little too big, or where the deal just seems a little too good to be true? Most of the time you are right to pass those by. Most of the time, you just keep on walking to a smaller, more authentic place, and you are sure to get a better value for your time and money.

BUT…

sometimes, you should go into those places. Like when there are 5 of you who are cold and hungry and just on the verge of whining. Like when this place has a huge table just waiting for you. Like when the atmosphere is jovial and fun, not to say rowdy.

Like when you pass East Noodle and Izakaya on St. Marks. From the outside it’s a tourist trap. From the inside, it’s a melting pot of student teachers form NYU, families with kids, couples on dates, and lone diners at the bar.

It’s ideal for a delicious but inexpensive meal.

Though you could get the agedashi tofu, creamy and custardy within its crisply fried exterior, saturated in salty sauce, or the thick and hearty vegetable pajeon, that isn’t why you come here. You come here for the many delicious yakitori. Here are just a few of my favorite skewered meats and vegetables:

Chicken thigh with scallion

Simple but supremely done. Moist and tender chicken, slightly bitter from the char marks on the outside. Tinged with salty soy and separated from the bite of sharp scallions, this is a delightful skewer.

Chicken thigh with yuzu

Oh, get this. The thigh is rough and charred from the fire, bursting with savory juices within. Atop, it is brushed with sour yuzu juice that is so spicy that it makes the lips tingle. Not overly fiery, it definitely announces its presence, and it’s hot and sour taste compliment’s the meat’s natural sweetness.

Pork belly

Pork, come to mama. Supremely fatty and sweet, with a garlicky bbq sauce on the outside that picked up the savory notes of the pork. If you don’t like pork belly or visible fat, don’t get this. But if you love the natural taste of pork and the  mushy taste of well caramelized fat, then jump on this skewer and ride it to the end of the line.

Chicken hearts

Like grilled liver but a bit less chalky and more bouncy. That minerally, iron-heavy taste combined with salty-sweet teriyaki sauce. If you like liver, you will absolutely love chicken hearts. Get over it people…if you have eaten hot dogs, you have eaten offal.

JapChae

Yeah, i know I said it was all about the skewers. But this Korean holdover really deserves mention. Glass noodles sautéed with vegetables. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But these noodles are something else. Tender and slippery, with a good bite. Coated in salty, umami forward sauce that is sweet without being cloying and savory without being aggressive. Sweet onions, soft zucchini, and other vegetables rounding out the dish. This is really something where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Bravo to the chef.

Bibimbap

Traditional? No. But delicious? Yep. Soft and sticky rice, crisped by the dolsot, blended with spicy gochujang, bits of softened vegetables, and strips of long, thin, delightfully fatty gyudon beef. Don’t miss it…it’s addictive.

This whole place is addictive. I defy you to spend more than $30 a person here, with each person leaving stuffed to the gills. The service is fast, the atmosphere is fun, and the food, while not revelatory, is really tasty.

You will be so glad that you stepped into a restaurant that you would normally pass over.

Sundaes and Cones – Far Out Ice Cream

Here’s a little secret – I am a pretty sub-standard food blogger.

That IS a shock to you, whether you like it or not!

I say this because I don’t always blog where I eat. Sometimes I go out simply to enjoy myself, with no plans to photograph or specifically remember any of the goodies I consume. That really lets me live in the moment without wondering if I captured the burger’s juiciness in photos or if it is cinnamon or ginger that I taste in a cocktail.

However…occasionally something I eat is so extraordinary that it stops me in my tracks and I start taking pictures mid bite, because I simply know that I have to share it with my readers (all 12 of you).

That happened to me this weekend at Sundaes and Cones.

This east village ice cream shop is small but well designed, with a few small tables and a large floor area to gawk at the ice cream flavors. On this cold night it was easy to grab some of the few seats, but on a summer weekend, I could imagine that it would be a take-out or nothing situation. This would be a very cute spot for a first date or a solo indulgence.

Now a word on the ice cream…you can get butter pecan or chocolate ice cream here. But why would you? Why when you can get flavors the likes of which you have likely never tried. Let’s go in order from most conventional to least:

Pistachio Almond

 This is undoubtedly the most nut forward ice cream I have ever had. The flavor is so concentrated that it is more like gelato than ice cream. It has that pure,  totally sharp flavor that usually only gelato has, but with the light, clean taste of the cream in the background. This is almost savory, but then has a touch of sugar that balances it into an ice cream. This is actually TOO nutty and rich for me, but the person who ordered it was a huge fan. Topping it with some of the shop’s freshly whipped cream might be a way to break up the almost aggressive nuttiness.

Taro

If you have had poi and hated it, welcome to the club. To me, it tastes like mud flavored glue. Thus, I had no desire to try this taro ice cream. Them someone ordered it, and I figured “what the hell? One bite won’t kill me.” And indeed it didn’t. In fact, it downright bowled me over. This purple hued ice cream, dense and clinging to the plastic spoon in purple streaks, tastes for all the world like a frozen brick of halvah! It is peanut buttery, Butterfinger-y, sesame-sugar tinged…nothing at ALL like poi! This is fantastic for anyone who loves peanut butter. And, by the way, anyone who doesn’t love peanut butter, needs a visit to the head doctor. This is highly recommended.

Corn

Sweet and fresh as cream with the simple, earthy taste of corn in there. It at first tastes like vanilla ice cream but then the taste of corn reverberates in the mouth, filing the entire palate and even nostrils with the buttery taste of popcorn. There are even kernels in there, miraculously soft and even juicy in the frozen cream. This is fantastic on its own and could be improved by only some of that aforementioned homemade whipped cream.

Now you see why I had to take pictures mid bite. You see why I needed to tell you about it. It’s enough to get me down to the east village on a freezing night and it’s enough to get me to try taro.

It deserves a blog post.