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!

Soiree in the Park and Other Bites

So what have I been eating recently? Fine, I’ll tell you:

20140529_194519 I attended Soiree in the Park as press. This event is part of New Taste of the Upper West Side, and the proceeds go towards keeping Theodore Roosevelt Park clean and safe for the neighborhood – it’s hard to feel bad about spending money when it goes towards such a great cause! Though this year’s event was held on a very cold night, there were some great eats, including some of my favorite sweets: 20140529_195928 Oh Sarabeth’s. You don’t just do a good rehearsal dinner, you do a damned good cookie. The rugalech is buttery and flaky, the chocolate is fudgy and moist, and that apricot jam cookie. Um, yeah. That one is great. Very rich shortbread cookies, dipped in glossy chocolate, with a sticky sweet apricot jam filling. This is a rather pricey event,  but if you have the money to spend, you could do worse than chowing down on a barrel-full of these cookies! 20140607_124441 Huevos Rancheros at El Centro

How did I live in Hell’s Kitchen for 7 years and never come here? It’s a really fun Mexican restaurant with great margaritas that would be perfect for a birthday dinner with friends. On this occasion, I had an outdoor brunch with a friend and though the sidewalk seating is tight, it isn’t at all too cramped. I had the huevos rancheros and for the price and the portion – this is great! The eggs are sunny side up with rich yolks and a zingy, onion and tomato influenced enchilada sauce. Cubes of buttery avocado, melty cheese, and sour cream rounded it all off. Refried beans and crispy, freshly fried tostada shells…I mean, what more do you need? Oh, besides one of those limey margaritas, of course. Look, it isn’t Cookshop, but it’s delish in its own right.  20140626_083643 Smoked salmon tartine from Le Pain Quotidien

A chain so good that I hesitate to even call it a chain. Really, this place does fresh and seasonal better than most high end places that claim that they specialize in such food. The smoked salmon is pleasantly salty and firm – not mushy like lesser versions. It’s served with ripe avocado, fresh scallions, and some of the chewiest, sourest peasant bread around. An excellent light but filling breakfast.

Print Restaurant – Location, Location, Location

You’ve heard it before and you are about to hear it again – location, location, location.

Hell’s Kitchen is known for its plethora of cheap Thai restaurants and trendy bars, but the farm-to-table concept hasn’t made a big splash in this part of town. Furthermore, restaurants rarely spread father west than 9th Avenue, let alone to the car dealerships of 11th Avenue. Print, the restaurant at Ink Hotel, is thus one of a kind.

This restaurant, owned and operated by Adam Block, is so committed to seasonality and sustainability that it has hired a full time forager whose sole job it is to source products and produce from local farmers and indigenous plants. Black, who has previously consulted for both Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, has put together a menu that seems more at home on a farm in Vermont that on a car dealership dominated street in Midtown.

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The look of the restaurant is sleek, streamlined, and just hip enough to avoid trying too hard. It feels a bit corporate, but sufficiently sophisticated enough for a weekday lunch or business dinner.

dinner and lunch at marea and scarpetta 038 Black bean soup with cilantro and crema 

The beans are tender and meaty, and the soup has a thick consistency. Spiked with fragrant cilantro and a drizzle of tangy crema, it is nonetheless flat tasting. Some additional Mexican spices like cumin or coriander would round in out, adding smokiness. Even some fried garlic chips would have added texture.

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Poached eggs on a bed of seasonal vegetables with speck, Parmesan cheese, and toast

The ideal brunch any time of year. The eggs are perfectly cooked, with velvety whites and gooey yolks that spill out over the salty speck and nutty Parmesan cheese. The vegetables vary by the day, but if you are lucky enough to get some freshly foraged mushrooms and spicy arugula in your mix, you won’t soon forget this dish.

dinner and lunch at marea and scarpetta 044 Steak and eggs with homefries

Nicely fried eggs with firm whites and runny yolks. Crisply fried potatoes with fresh peppers and herbs. And steak that is not only cooked well (that is, to say, rare), but is served with a totally unusual sauce. Dill, parsley, basil…anything fresh and green goes into that sauce. It brings a fresh, verdant taste that steak rarely gets. It somehow makes the meal lighter, so it’s an ideal breakfast.

dinner and lunch at marea and scarpetta 039 Blood orange salad with arugula, dates, Parmesan, and almonds

Why don’t more people use dates in salads?! They are like cranberries’ softer, sweeter, slightly easier-to-get-along-with cousins. With crunchy almonds, salty cheese, and juicy blood oranges, this salad is a textbook lesson in varying textures and tastes. In fact, this salad is one of my new standards. In fact, I can’t wait to recreate it at home – with avocado, naturally.

Print does simple food very well. It brings a well-known trend to a lesser frequented part of the city, and as such has endeared itself to the neighborhood. The service is quite good, and though the prices are a bit high, the food and atmosphere makes up for it. Hell’s Kitchen now has a new type of restaurant to add to its mix.

Location is everything – you should just make sure that your location is at this restaurant. 

Totto Ramen – Reasonably Priced and Pork-a-licious

Originally published here

Here is an article I wrote several years ago that I never shared here. I thought I would because I went back recently and the food is still fantastic. And I didn’t eat much this weekend because I had a horrific case of food poisoning (no barf, just facial hives…are you jealous?). So, this is about all I have to share.

So, here ya go!

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Ramen has long been the dish of starving students. That Styrofoam cup, filled up to the line with boiling water. The strange way that the dehydrated orange and green bits became vegetable-like substances. The uncanny aftertaste of chicken, no matter WHAT flavor you get. Aah yes..this is the ramen we all know and love. Because, besides being filling, it is incredibly cheap.

But, when you dine out for ramen, things can get tricky. Gone are the freeze dried veggies and brick of noodles, and in their place, artisanal cuts of pork and long-simmered stocks. With these additions, the price of ramen in restaurants quickly adds up, and it’s not uncommon for a bill to be over $20 for one person.

Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case.

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 Totto Ramen, in Midtown West, offers a menu with options for those trying to save a few bucks. The secret is to come with a friend.

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Be prepared to wait if you get there at prime dining hours. The cash-only restaurant seats only 25, and does not seat parties larger than four. Just put your name on the list and wait outside.

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The best way to go here is to split a specialty ramen and and a side dish. Though you could each order a ramen , that would end up costing more for less. If you do it right, you can be eating restaurant-quality ramen on an instant ramen budget. Let me explain:

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A plain or spicy bowl of ramen costs $9.

The mammoth bowl includes flavorful chicken stock laden with chewy noodles, crunchy bean sprouts, a melting slice of nutty nori and 2 slices of BBQ pork.

OR…

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You can spend $15 and get the meaty ramen.

This includes the same gelatinous stock, homemade noodles and toppings, but throws in what must be an entire pig’s worth of meat. Charbroiled, meaty BBQ pork, tender braised pork shank, pork belly with a layer of fat an inch thick, and probably a few more cuts hidden there in the depths of the cloudy chicken broth.

The insane amount of pork is not overkill, because instead of the pork broth that restaurants so often use, Totto Ramen uses chicken broth. This balances the heavy, porky taste with the restorative and relatively light taste of your grandma’s chicken stock.

The huge bowl of noodles and pork is easily enough for two people when you factor in an inexpensive side dish.

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Try the potato salad, classically Japanese, with its mashed potato texture, sweet Kewpie mayonnaise and use of corn. Or, try the avo tuna, which pairs torched sashimi with velvety slices of avocado and a citrusy, garlicky dressing. If you are really a glutton, you could even go for the char siu mayo don, which layers that spectacularly juicy and charred pork over tart yuzu mayonnaise and sticky white rice. Add any of these onto your already filling meal, and you are looking at a meal clocking in at $19.50 for two people. And when I say a meal…I mean a banquet. If you and your dining partner are hungry after this meal, I will PERSONALLY buy you your next one. And have you immediately checked for tapeworms.

Pam Real Thai is the Real Deal

This is a review that, once lost in the archives, must be brought to light. Because it’s about a place that is very near and dear to my heart.

One of my favorite restaurants on the planet is Pam Real Thai in Hell’s Kitchen.

There is an offshoot of this restaurant called Pam Real Thai Encore, and both places are equally fabulous.  This branch of the restaurant is casual, dirt cheap, and unbelievably delicious.

Pam Real Thai is a bare bones establishment-laminated menus, sparse decorations, cash only.  You don’t come here for atmosphere, you come here for food. Pam herself is often in the kitchen and you don’t leave here without a heavy dose of garlic breath!

*And, if you are Thai, for special kinds of food.  Many times I dine here, I see Thai people with condiment caddies of spices and sauces and special menus written in Thai.  This is stuff that I have never gotten, and for which, I am embarrassed to say, I have never asked.  You should really just bite the bullet and ask for this stuff  when you go!*

 

 

Pad See Eil (Stir Fried Beef with Chinese Broccoli and Gravy over Stir Fried Flat Rice Noodles)

The penultimate version of Pad See Eil.   The rice noodles are chewy and slicked with sweet and savory gravy that is redolent of fish sauce, soy, and palm sugar.  The beef pieces are not those tough, meager cuts one gets in lesser establishments, but garlicky marinated steak.  And the Chinese broccoli is in between broccoli raab and spinach – toothsome at the stalk, and silky smooth at the leaf. The NY Times recommends this dish, and so do I!

Pad Kee Mao-Stir Fried Meat and Flat Rice Noodles with Basil, Onions, Bell Peppers, and Chili.

This dish is insanely delicious!!! The bell peppers and onions are cooked only slightly, so they still have heft to them, and cloaked in the salty, spicy, garlicky sauce, they are heavenly.  The pork option is especially delicious – sweet and tender against the chewy rice noodles.  This is spicy enough to curl your hair, and though you can order it milder…why would you? This is Thai food, designed to make your life seem more worthwhile via food-induced pain. 

 When you see a specialty of northern Thailand, you absolutely get it – it’s not often that you see a Northern Thai dish on a menu.

This is-and this is an absolute compliment-Thai sloppy joes.  Seasoned ground chicken in a soupy sauce made of coriander, tomatoes, and something swee t- probably palm sugar. It is not very spicy but it is very tasty.  Sweet and savory, with a very mild, floral note of cilantro.

On the side, are cucumber, cabbage, and steamed broccoli and cauliflower florets.  At first these additions seem totally random, but when you dip the veggies in the sauce, it gave the dish a whole new dimension! Stirring the raw cabbage into the stew, gently wilting it, brings out the fragrant Thai spices and gave the cabbage a savory, meaty heft.

 

 Pam Real Thai is the real deal. Spicy, well balanced food with pungent, multifaceted flavors. You will struggle to spend more than $12 at lunch (including a $1 can of soda; a rarity in any city these days, let alone NYC) and though the service might be  a little brusque, it is always efficient and on point. This is just one of the best Thai restaurants around, and I hope you give it a try.

Give me a call when you do…we can ask for one of those condiment caddies together. 

Get Your Fix at Ardesia

I am a wine bar addict always in search of my next fix.

I will go anywhere to find it – that great bottle of vinho verde, that perfectly roasted macadamia nut and salted caramel brittle.

And, like all those who are dedicated to finding the best, I know to look on the far edges of town.

After all, that’s how I ended up at Ardesia.

pix 015 This spacious wine bar is hardly a hidden gem, but it’s so far west that I have never frequented it. This is far west – as in, if you don’t watch it you might go out the side door and end up on the west side highway west. It took awhile to schlep there but once I arrived, I was glad I came.

pix 016 The space is much larger than a standard wine bar, with a comfortable lounge, a long bar, and lots of outdoor seating on the patio.

pix 018 It was empty when I arrived, but by 6:30pm, people were swarming the joint. This is a really great place for drinks with a few friends.

pix 019 Lillet spritz

If you think white wine spritzers are all about moms at country clubs named Buffy, you are sorely mistaken. This spritzer, made with lillet, prosecco, grapefruit bitters, and lemon, is as complex and tasty as any cocktail I have had. The prosecco is crisp and a little sweet, which works perfectly with the herbal, aromatic lillet. The grapefruit provides a touch of bitterness, and the lemon adds a final, bright acidity. If you like negronis, this light cocktail is a must try.

pix 022 Fava bean crostini

Favas, where have you been all my life?! This crostini is so packed full of flavor that it belies its tiny size. Grassy and garlicky, with a slight sweetness and some salty pecorino cheese. It’s not totally smooth, which really makes it more satisfying and hearty. The bread is from Amy’s, which elevates the dish even further. Crispy and creamy at the same time – this is the perfect small bite to accompany wine.

pix 023 Cheese plate

I know cheese. Maybe you do, too.

Forget everything you want to order and let the server make you a plate.

We had stinky cheeses, creamy cheeses, silky cheese and hard cheeses. Cheeses that were grassy and soft, nutty and firm, smooth and rich. Cheese that came with pickled ramps, tiny potato chips, and homemade(incredible) graham crackers. Accompanied, of course, by Amy’s bread.

I have no idea what cheeses I ate because I was 2 white wine spritzers in at this point.

Okay, so I sound  little bit like Buffy at the country club at this point.

Ardesia is worth the trek. They have a great weekend and weekday happy hour, a lovely menu (next time I am definitely getting the duck banh mi), and the pricing is fair for the quality of food and excellent service.

Actually, I’m kinda jonesing now.

I think I need another lillet hit.

Ardesia on Urbanspoon

Shorty’s – The Best Philly Cheesesteaks in NYC

I’m a huge fan of Philadelphia food. Tastykakes, soft pretzels, and high end Italian cuisine, come to mama.

Oh yeah, and I love cheesesteaks.  It’s steak…and onions…and cheese…and bread.

There is SO nothing wrong with any of those words.

Shorty’s is the ONLY place that I eat cheesesteaks outside of Philadelphia. Why? Well, because they import the bread straight from Philadelphia (and eating a cheesesteak roll that isn’t from Philly is like eating a bagel that isn’t from NYC).  The fella who opened it trained at a world renowned cheesesteak empire, where he learned how to cook the meat perfectly and saute the onions just so.

The tiny place is part sports bar, part beer emporium, all delicious. The long bar serves up a bevy of American and foreign beers, or you can sit at one of the high tables to enjoy a cocktail and watch a game playing on one of the many wide screen tvs.

Don’t ask me what game. A sports game, ok?

Mozzarella triangles

Without a  doubt, the best in the city. Crunchy outside and absolutely steaming inside. The mozzarella is melted and stretchy, with no gluey or hard globules of cheese. It is light, creamy, and crispy  Dunk the triangles into the zesty marinara sauce, with chunks of acidic tomato and the zesty scent of oregano. Nothing groundbreaking, but standard bar food made this well is all too rare.

Cheesesteak with whiz and onions

Yeah, this is the stuff. The soft bread is slightly tangy and strong enough to support the fillings; perfectly Philadelphia. The steak is tender and well seasoned with salty, sweet onions and spicy peppers. And the cheese whiz…creamy, oozy, slick on the beef and bread. It is a simple combination and a satisfying one. I always add a dash of Tabasco sauce before devouring the whole thing.

Salad

For those of you who want a palate cleanser after such a heavy meal.

Though, chances are, you won’t want anything else. You are going to be in a huge food coma. You are going to be in a beefy, cheesy, beery coma. Your wallet will still be full, and so will your stomach.

It’s a little slice of Philly right in Hell’s Kitchen.

Uncle Jack’s is More than Just a Steakhouse

Midtown West below 42nd street can be a little dicey. There are a lot of bodegas, a few apartment buildings, and – out of nowhere – a grandiose steakhouse out of another era.

Uncle Jack’s is a real meat emporium, It is big, it is dark, and it has fancy steak knives on the table. This is a place that you come to announce your promotion to your parents or have dinner with your boss. It’s a serious, traditional restaurant.

But it doesn’t have to be all about the meat – which some of us can’t eat at lunch if they want to avoid an afternoon nap.

Wedge Salad

Nothing new here, nothing you can’t get somewhere else…but this is done superbly. A huge portion of icy cold lettuce, crisp and fresh. Thickly crumbled bacon, smoky and salty, gives way to pungent shreds of red onion and juicy beefsteak tomatoes, spilling their acidic seeds. The dressing, creamy and clean tasting, comes with creamy clumps of Stilton cheese. It is sharp, funky, and adds a certain heft to the salad. Like I said, this isn’t new, but it is perfect.

Mahi Mahi with lemon beurre blanc and sautéed spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes

Fish in a steak restaurant?! Really? Who does that? If you are smart and dining at this restaurant, you will. This mahi mahi is delicious. It is soft but not mushy, flaky but still moist, and has charred parts where it touched the grill. The beurre blanc balances richness and acidity well, and the vegetables are especially notable. The spinach is so minerally and meaty, the tomatoes are so sweet and juicy, and the mushrooms are so umami and garlicky that they are worth ordering on their own.  They work well with the salinity of the fish and bring another dimension to the dish.

Uncle Jacks’ probably has great steaks. They certainly looked and smelled delicious, arriving at tables all around us. But they also have other wonderful lunch entrees that are a little lighter but just as tasty. The restaurant isn’t cheap and the service is a little stiff and brusque, but the food is really well done. Come here when you have a bachelor party or an office affair, and everyone will be satisfied, –  and carnivores alike.

Nook – A Haven of Home Cooking in Hell’s Kitchen

Service is paramount in any dining experience. It makes up for a multitude of sins, and often makes me return to a restaurant to see if the food has improved.

This experience was the opposite of that: the service was mediocre at best, but the food was so wonderful that I don’t think I can resist going back.

Nook is a tiny, un-air conditioned restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. By tiny, I mean TINY – you can almost touch both walls of the restaurant by standing with arms akimbo. It is very casual, BYOB only, and the sole server the day of our lunch was also the main chef, cashier, and host. Let’s get the bad out of the way first:

Your meal will take forever. You will get a carafe of water and a menu, and then you will wait. Almost interminably. Then, when you finally order, don’t expect to get your soda right away. That won’t happen until after your food arrives, almost half an hour after you finally got to order. You might get crabby, but if you peek into the narrow kitchen, you will see why it takes so long. There are eggplants being sliced and grilled a la minute. Fries being cooked to order. Steaks being cut off the tenderloin and grilled to order. Every single thing is made fresh and with utmost care.

 Smoked turkey breast with tomato, cucumbers and spicy beet relish on a baguette, served with fries

Whether this turkey is homemade or outsourced is irrelevant. The point is that it is unlike any sandwich turkey I have had before. It is extremely juicy and tender, with a smoky, candied exterior that is so sweet that it seems more like ham than turkey. It is light enough to balance with the peeled cucumbers but earthy enough to stand up to the tart homemade beet relish. The baguette has a thin, sharp crust that surrounds a slightly tangy, bouncy interior crumb. The fries merit special mention. Fried to order from what seem like fresh potatoes, they are crunchy, rosemary flecked, and flecked with fragrant rosemary.

Grilled Vegetable Salad with eggplant, red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, and goat cheese over mixed greens with a balsamic reduction dressing

This is a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The eggplant is sweet, almost fatty in its richness. The zucchini is firm and charred, with a slightly yielding interior. The yellow squash is sugary and the roasted peppers are soft and intense. The goat cheese is mild and melts into creamy warmth that blankets the vibrant vegetables. The deep, umami-laden balsamic glaze brings depth to the salad, and a few scattered scallions brighten and sharpen the flavors. This is not a technically or flavor-wise complex salad, but it is one that is made with as much care as you would take to make it for yourself. That makes it special.

The care taken with the food is what makes this whole restaurant special. Though the service is abysmally slow, it isn’t because you are being ignored, it is because the chef is doing everything by himself. That is how he keeps the prices low and the quality high. And the quality really is very high. The menu is not especially inventive or large, it is just prepared expertly. This is highly recommended for a lazy lunch or brunch. Just be sure to bring cash (the restaurant is cash only) and have plenty of time.

It is well worth the wait.

Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Little Pie Company

A little bit west of the fluorescent lights of Times Square, a little side street leads away from the dingy Thai restaurants and throbbing bars of Ninth Avenue. The street is quiet, with trees, a small floral shop, and a little courtyard where older couples often walk dogs. There, near the courtyard, is a little piece of heaven.

You can smell the Little Pie Company before you can see it. As soon as you turn down 43rd Street, the scent of warm apples mixed with butter and cinnamon fills the air. The open kitchen shows bakers rolling out sheets of dough, sprinkling sugar over fresh fruit, and putting large pies into the oven.

This bakery, started by an actor, makes pretty damn tasty pies.

Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie

The bakery’s signature pie. A tender, flaky bottom crust is piled high with thinly sliced apples that are cooked until they are so tender that they almost melt into one another. The apples release their own sweet juices, caramelizing with spicy cinnamon and just enough tangy sour cream to cut the sugar content of the apples and make the whole filling creamy and rich. The topping here is the winner – crunchy and buttery with walnut streusel. Get it warmed and topped with smooth Bassett’s ice cream – the ultimate a la mode treat. It is the best version of apple pie you have ever had. If it isn’t, I will eat my elbow.

Or, more likely, I will just finish the pie.

Mississippi Mud Pie

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Of course, there are some people who tink that if there isn’t chocolate in the dessert, it just doesn’t count. For them, get this deep chocolate pie. The crust is so crunchy and sweet and the filling is everything you want it to be – rich, smooth ganache, chewy and sticky sugary ribbons and large chunks of chocolate cookies. I like this pie best cool, when the whole thing tastes like a  chocolate truffle gone wild. This is best with a dollop of their freshly whipped, barely sweetened cream.

Of course, you could always buy one of the seasonal pies, like peach or key lime, to take home. Or, get a small pie and share it with just one other person.

Just make sure that the other person is me.

Little Pie Company on Urbanspoon