Nighttime Brunch at Egg Shop

What’s a gal to do when the hottest brunch spot is not only way downtown and doesn’t take reservations, but also has a 2+ hour wait on weekends?

She has brunch for dinner, of course.

20140915_203241 Egg Shop is the latest darling of the brunch world. It is – as it sounds –  a sweet, small, retrofitted eatery specializing in one thing: eggs. In bowls, on toast, and in every incarnation you can imagine. Though it’s supposedly bumper-to-bumper packed on the weekends, on a weekday night, it was positively deserted except for the pleasant waitstaff and enticing, tiny open kitchen.

20140915_204526 Egg salt and pepper shakers…come on…this is adorable. 20140915_204609 Avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes and a poached egg

Thick, seeded toast smeared with buttery avocado and topped with sweet heirloom tomatoes and…

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a gorgeous poached egg. Tender whites, gooey yolk. Warm and comforting atop those juicy tomatoes and that lush avocado. This is so simple that you could make it at home…but you know you wouldn’t. I doused this with the homemade hot sauce and it was such a satisfying meal that I may just make it for myself tonight, after all.
20140915_204619 Egg salad with fried chicken

The best fried chicken I have had in recent memory. I can’t tell you how good it is. Juicy with a thick, craggy crust and not too thick – perfect for eating between two slices of toast. The egg salad isn’t made with mayo but it’s still creamy and loaded with piquant, aggressive flavors like coriander, dill, and fresh herbs. It’s light and punchy instead of stodgy like egg salad often is.  It’s more of a spread, a backdrop, for that lovely fried chicken. This doesn’t need anything – not hot sauce, not mayo…nada. Just your mouth.

This place is kind of overpriced, but it was fun for a weeknight meal. The service is great and the food is delish. I would NEVER wait more than 20 minutes to eat here – 30 minutes max. But if I was int the neighborhood again, I would be happy to eat here again and try a Bloody Mary, too.

Long live evening brunch!

Dirty French – Dirty in All the Right Places

I’ll cut to the chase: I ate at what is probably the hottest opening of the (late) summer this weekend.

Dirty French, from the team behind Carbone and ZZ’s Clam Bar, among others, is on the Lower East Side and it couldn’t be cooler. It’s in The Ludlow hotel and the look is ultra cool Brooklyn meets Moroccan bazaar meets modern art gallery. It’s dark, it’s loud, and the hostesses are all impossibly beautiful. I felt pretty old and uncool, so don’t bring parents or an intimate first date here. This is prime real estate for business people with deep pockets, Euro-celebs, and – of course – foodies looking to see if Dirty French lives up to its elder siblings’ reputations.

The menu isn’t classical French – it’s made up of all of the foods of places that French cuisine has had influence – heavy on the Moroccan and New Orleans dishes.

Shall we begin?

20140906_204318 Oysters shown tableside

Honestly, it seems gimmicky. They are all East coast oysters, which I certainly enjoy, but there is nothing like a small, deep cupped, creamy West Coast oyster. I find East Coast oysters to – generally -be a little brinier and flatter tasting. These come in a variety of preparations, with spicy garnish or baked with garlic and butter, but we didn’t try any that night. Also, this raw bar selection is market price, which is always scary when it comes time for the check.
20140906_205820 Ludlow Gimlet

A refreshing, cooling citrus cocktail.None of that pine-y taste that gin sometimes has. It’s a little sweet from the apricot liqueur, which softens the tart lime juice and rounds out the edges. This is strong but not hit-you-over-the-head-powerful and it’s an ideal aperetif.
20140906_210330 Warm bread and herbed yogurt

One of the hits of the night. No kidding…what’s the last time that you can say that the complimentary bread was a better than the foie gras (which, by the way, was good enough to try but not to get again – a little greasy and lacking salt)? This arrives on a silver platter piping hot from the oven. It’s a naan/doughnut hybrid that is puffy, doughy, and slicked with butter and salt. It’s tasty enough to eat on its own, but when you spoon some sumac dusted yogurt over it and let it melt into the warm bread…well, then it’s a course unto itself. Cool, hot, creamy, tangy, soft, and buttery…I’m not writing a poem, I’m just eating bread. Really, stupidly, amazingly tasty bread.
20140906_210959 Beet and Roquefort salad

This could be so mundane, but the attention to detail makes it shine brighter than similar salads in town. The beets are clearly home roasted, with a toothsome texture and almost candy sweet taste that is echoed by the crunchy candied walnuts. Thinly sliced apples, miniscule slivers of chives, and some really creamy, salty Roquefort complete the dish. Everything is bite sized and easy to enjoy in one mouthful. Plus, it helps lighten up a meat-focused meal.
20140906_211007 Boudin with pickled onions and Creole mustard

Outstanding – a refined, subtle version of the down home original. This is what a great restaurant does – it takes something that you know and love, and honors it by putting its own stamp on the food. Dirty French succeeds here, with a sausage that is tender and rich with pork and liver flavor. It’s not overly garlicky or salty and really lets the minerally taste of the liver shine, almost like chicken liver pate. The outside is crispy and lacquered in an almost sweet glaze that works with the pickled onions and the spicy Creole mustard. If you like sausage, you just have to try this boudin…it is a show stopper.

20140906_211112 Lamb carpaccio with figs, yogurt, and pita

Unique and tasty, but not a must order. The lamb is beautifully butchered and sliced paper thin in sweet, mild slices, but it lacks a lot of taste. The figs and yogurt seem to overpower it. I prefer steak tartare to carpaccio, and perhaps if the lab was ground instead of slice, it would have been more to my liking, but here it just disappeared.
20140906_213545 Chicken with crepes

Shut. it. down.  (Thanks, Rachel Zoe). Get this. Moroccan chicken meets Peking duck. The breasts are seared and served with harissa, spicy mustard, and sweet chutney that you roll into thin crepes like Peking duck. The legs come later, barbecued under a peppery, lacquered skin that is the legal version of crack. The legs come fully intact with feet and claws, so order another cocktail if you are feeling squeamish.
20140906_213852 Or just eat another one or 2 of the white meat filled crepes.

I didn’t even touch on the salmon maison or the absolutely EXCELLENT, UNMISSABLE POMMES FRITES (do not leave here without getting these!). So, most of the food was excellent and the vibe was super cool – why am I not giving this place an unmitigated rave review? A few things brought down the general feel of the night:

Service: Aloof at first, then warmed up to excellent service by the end of the night. Still, the beginning was so reserved and slow (cocktails alone took about 20 minutes), that it was hard to shake that.

Price: It’s expensive and without many of the perks that you get from restaurants in a similar price range. No mignardises, no super personalized attention, no questions about allergies to certain foods.

Location: Wherever you live, this is not near it. It’s just a PITA to get down here, and while I might visit it a lot more if it was farther west or farther uptown, I’m unlikely to make another special visit here.

So, what’s my takeaway? This place is great, if expensive. It needs to iron out a few kinks, but the food is interesting and delicious – not to mention, much needed in the Moroccan void that is NYC. Its longevity will, I predict, be determined by how well it fine tunes its service and listens to the neighborhood’s demands, since few of us are likely to make this a weekly trip.

But, with pommes frites and bread like this…a trip at least once is well worth it.

Dirty French on Urbanspoon

Skip These Dishes at These Excellent Restaurants

I tend to only write about the restaurants I love. Because, unless the errors are really egrigious or a restaurant htat has been lauded is so not worth your time and money and I think that you should actively avoid it.

However, many good restaurants – even great restaurants – have one or two clunker dishes. Dishes that, if you orer them, may color your view of an otherwise excellent restaurant.

So, when visiting these restaurants, you should avoid these dishes:

20140601_182341 Red Farm fried lobster and cheese sticks

To be honest, this whole meal was kinda a disappointing. But these cheese sticks were by FAR the most miserable item that we ordered. Yes, miserable. Fishy lobster. I can’t even remember any other taste, because the lobster was so offensively awful. It tastes fake, rotten, foul…ugh. And maybe that’s why the rest of the meal was disappointing. I need to go back and enjoy a meal without the gross taste of bad shellfish in my mouth.
20140609_192830 Fabrick red snapper ceviche

Loved this meal – hated this dish. Weird, fishy, off taste (in case you can’t guess, anything less than totally pristine seafood is my major gustatory bugaboo) and the fish skin was not crispy enough so it turned rather soggy. By all means, skip this and order the lovely flatbread or the addictive candied bacon.
20140704_184348 Minetta Tavern oxtail and foie gras terrine

High end cat food. Bizarre, slimy texture that is so dense that the meat itself almost gasps for air. The flavors are muddied and it seems like a waste of excellent ingredients. Do yourself a favor and order a different appetizer from the excellent menu.
20140705_114241 Russ and Daughters Cafe new Holland herring

This just tastes like a big ole slimeball with a visually displeasing tail and some rather tickly bones. I so badly wanted to love this. I know that all over Asmterdam this is considered a delicacy and that these particularly tender and mild herring only come in for a few weeks every year. The lines can wrap around the corner of the Russ and Daughters shop when word comes in that this stuff is in stock. And…yet…I just couldn’t get into this. Oh well, more for you.

Russ and Daughters Cafe – The Best Bagel of My Life

I mean, I really had a great eating weekend over July 4th.

And it didn’t involve any grills.

It did, however, involve this:

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Yep, the venerable Russ and Daughters Cafe.

The world-famous, decades old smoked fish emporium recently opened up a cafe around the corner from its teensy, temptation filled store. The cafe is open all day, offers the sandwiches that it always offered from the store, but now includes an expanded menu (including a full liquor list and a MEAN looking Bloody Mary), and ample seating.

It doesn’t take reservations but it is worth. the. wait.

20140705_112459 The cafe is done like an old-fashioned soda shop – a white counter in front with tables in the back, very comfortable stools with low backs so you don;t have to hunch over, and soda jerks in white jackets offering homemade egg creams (Fox’s U-Bet is the superior chocolate syrup on offer).

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LEO

This lox, eggs, and onions isn’t my favorite version in town, but it is excellent. Of particular note, the eggs are extremely creamy – no burnt or rubbery edges here. The eggs might be done by Daniel Boulud in the back – that’s how delicate and buttery they are. The lox isn’t super salty, but it is smokier than I prefer. The eggs ar sweet and soft and the brightly dressed salad alongside is a zingy counterpart. If you like a smokier lox, this would be your ideal version of the dish!

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Super Heebster

So good that I immediately texted the newest dad on the block and told him that when his son is ready for whitefish salad, he must have this iteration first. This is the single best bagel I have ever had. Creamy, mild whitefish salad mixed with baked salmon salad, spread atop horseradish cream cheese and topped with wasabi infused fish roe, all on a thin slice of toasted bagel. This is creamy, spicy, verdant, and hearty. The cream cheese really makes it - without it, this might seem too fishy. With it, it’s a perfect amalgam of everything Jewish comfort food. I’m not usually a fan of fish roe, but this is incredibly light and not at all bitter just a small, pleasant sting of wasabi. This is just perfect. Please get 2 of them.

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Chopped salad with whitefish and buttermilk dressing

The perfect way to round out your somewhat heavy and indulgent meal. Flaky, mild whitefish, lemony avocado, super sweet beets (those are really the standouts), and even some cruncy matzo. The apples and eggs are almost unnecessary, but the hit of fragrant dill really brings this salad to another level. This salad is excellent and I would order it again in a heartbeat.

20140705_120521 Blintzes with sour cream and compote

Mhm. Mhm, mhm, mhm. Get these for SURE. They simply must be deep fried – how else could they get so golden and crispy outside while remaining creamy inside? They are like cheesecake – sweet, rich, super creamy…paired with tangy sour cream and that sweet compote, it is great for either dessert or breakfast. I love dishes like that – sweet enough to end a meal but not a total sugar bomb.  20140705_120525

 Bread pudding

The best I have ever had. Others need not apply. This is the now and future king of bread puddings. Studded with sweet, sticky, juicy apricots, the top layer tastes deep fried and sugary. The inside is almost soft enough to eat with a straw, but isn’t at all liquidy. It’s just super soft and vanilla-y and creamy, and delicious.

Russ and Daughters is AWESOME! The staff couldn’t be more delightful or attentive (one server actually tried to replace one dish that we didn’t like – we told him that it was our fault, not theirs – it just wasn’t our cup of tea – and he was terribly distraught. Love him), the prices are high but fair, and the food is the best. Updated versions of all your favorite deli classics.

I’ll see ya around a Super Heebster.

BassaNova Ramen Shows Chinatown Who’s Boss

When I go to Chinatown, it’s not because i am in the mood for fine French food.

Hell, I’m not even in the mood for fine Chinese food.

I want down home, familiar, had-it-a-million-times-before Chinese food. The sweet, sticky char siu bao. The soft, slippery dan-dan noodles. the dumplings with crisp wrappers and juicy fillings.

I really don’t go there for ramen. And neither does anyone else. Other than a random bodega, you aren’t likely to find much besides Chinese food in Chinatown.

So imagine my shock when I came across a ramen joint in Chinatown.

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BassaNova Ramen is a basement level restaurant and it’s very modern. All white, impeccably clean, and minimalist. It’s just a place to stop in with family or a friend – not a good date spot. It is so totally different from all of the bustling dim sum palaces that I couldn’t help but be curious.

Of course, if I had read The Bible, I would have known…this palce is a Tokyo export known for its super rich, porky Tondaku Ramen. So, obviously…that’s what I got:

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Tondaku Ramen

Not for the faint of heart. This broth is almost gelatinous. It’s very rich and nutty, with the unmistakable tastes of pork and sesame. The flavor isn’t overly salty but the real standout here is the texture. It is almost a broth you can chew – does that make sense? It’s so full bodied and silky that it is actually filling on its own. Days later, I still remember it and can’t get the memory of the texture out of my mind. It’s so comforting and at the same time, new and exciting. I can’t recommend the broth enough.

The noodles are also excellent. Thin and very bouncy/springy. They really soak up all of the flavor from the nutty nori, the sweet toasted garlic, and the soft wood ear fungus – don’t be scared, it has the texture of bamboo shoots and is really tasteless.

And the pork. That PORK! How I wish I had gotten the full portion instead of the lunchtime one so I could have had another slice of two of that wonderful pork. It’s so soft that it really does melt in your mouth – sorry to use that expression, but how else can I describe what is essentially meat butter? The edges still manage to be charred and a little smoky, in contrast to the silky, lush meat.

This ramen rocks. 

And it’s a good thing, too, because this ois one of only a few items on the menu. It’s a really minimalist place - they don’t even serve Coke!

But they don’t need to. The staff is excellent, the price is right (bring cash for your cheap, delicious lunch), and the food is really great. It doesn’t have the signature kick of most ramen, and the noodles are a little thinner, but wow…it’s so complex. It’s so different. It’s so great.

Because even I occasionally need a break from dim sum.

Go to Dim Sum Go Go

Enjoying dim sum is one of my favorite dining activities. Usually because I love those little carts.

But this time…at a small, modern, clean, cartless place that is perfect for gringos who need pictorial menus to choose what they want…I came for the food.

And it is worth it.

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Dim Sum Go Go isn’t too crowded on a weekday for lunch, but I hear that it gets hopping on the weekends, so you might want to get there early. They serve dim sum every day of the week from 10 AM and though you do miss the carts (I certainly did), what they lack in atmosphere they make up in quality of food.

IMG_20131018_122500_314 Har gow

I’m not even a fan of shrimp dumplings.  I often find them muddy and iodine-y with weird-looking, ill cleaned shrimp. These blew my mind. So fresh and thin skinned filled with sweet, vaguely briny whole shrimp that pop in the mouth with  a pleasing “snap.” I took a peek (never a good thing to do in a dim sum restaurant) and the innards are pristinely clean. Dipped in some of the tableside xo sauce and leek-horseradish relish, it is savory, salty, and delicious. If you like har gow, you are going to love these – I surely did! IMG_20131018_122057_922 Bbq pork puffs

Like char siu bao wrapped in croissants. That’s right – sweet and sticky bbq pork inside flaky, buttery croissants. If you don’t like that, why are we even friends? IMG_20131018_123317_379 Eggplant casserole

Not on the dim sum menu, but totally worth ordering. Tiny chinese eggplants are peeled then steamed inside an earthen dish that is basically as hot as the surface of the sun. It emerges velvety and soft, slicked with an insanely garlicky, somewhat spicy sauce. It doesn’t taste too garlicky at the time, but trust me…its stays with you. and you don’t even care. Because it’s so tasty.  And – bonus! – vegetarian!
IMG_20131018_122048_218 Vegetable rice rolls

Always my favorite dim sum dish. Thick, chewy rice noodles wrapped around savory beef or – in this case – soft, ginger scented, peppery vegetables. It’s like an eggroll inside a warm, comforting, noodle-y blanket. Enjoy it with the sharp black vinegar that cuts through heavy, fatty tastes.
IMG_20131018_122504_389 Duck dumplings

Juicy, sweet duck scented with cinnamon and cumin inside gossamer thin wrappers. Not just sweet but savory, too. Tiny pockets of ducky goodness – the duck flavor is very pronounced, so don’t order this expecting a standard chicken dumpling. Order it expecting something much better.

This isn’t even all the food we ordered, and we couldn’t spend more than $20 a person. Really, it was so much food for so little money. ANd it was GREAT! More than that, it was easy to order. Even a dim sum newbie can look at the pictures and see what looks good. It’s clean, it’s easy to order, and it’s so tasty.

It’s called Dim Sum Go Go because you really must go go there.

Dim Sum Go Go on Urbanspoon

The Stanton Social – Soup Dumpling Disappointment

I want to tell you how incredible this restaurant is. How it lived up to, and even surpassed, expectations. How you should run there this weekend.

But that just ain’t gonna happen.

The Stanton Social opened in 2005 with a bang, and ushered in the era of the ultra cool bar/restaurant hybrid. With its sleek design, beautiful servers, and innovative menu of small plates, it has garnered praise from foodies and fashionistas alike for the last 8 years.

So…was my wait for the French onion soup dumplings worth it?

pix 039 The restaurant is – in a word – LOUD. And that’s coming from someone who has a voice like a foghorn. I am talking wall vibrating, music pumping, hoarse-by-the-time-you-leave-the-restaurant loud. It’s also a little cramped, but that adds to the cool bar/club effect of the restaurant. It was a big noisy for my tastes, but for brunch with a few girlfriends, I could see it being a fun vibe. 

pix 043 Ahi tuna poke

One of the best dishes of the night. When I tasted this, I figured we were in for a great meal. The tuna is finely chopped so it literally melts in the mouth, and is so fresh that it is almost sweet, like the best sushi. The wonton is crisp and the tuna is flecked with fiery chiles, creamy avocado, and an herbaceous cilantro dressing. This is a must order. 

pix 044 French onion soup dumplings

The dish that made the restaurant famous. These dumplings, based on Chinese soup dumplings, are supposed to be wafer thin dumpling wrappers filled with sweet, savory, beefy onion soup broth, served under a blanket of melted Gruyère cheese. They are…not quite that. The dumpling skins are thick and flaccid, the interior is tasty onions, but there is no broth to speak of, and the cheese atop is tasty to be sure, but not enough to make up for that lackluster delivery. The presentation is beautiful, and they must have been novel when they were first on the menu, but these have sadly not stood the test of time.

pix 046 Fava bean and ricotta ravioli

A strong dish. Buttery little pasta pockets filled with a creamy, grassy filling. The fava beans are wonderfully apparent – they are earthy and fresh, mixed with garlic and just enough salt. The pasta for this is tissue thin and perfect – if only they used this dough for the dumplings! This is so flavorful that even carnivores will love it. 

pix 047 Cuban baby back ribs with mango-chipotle glaze

Good, if not memorable. The meat is tender and the portion is substantial, but there is nothing super special about these. A sweet, vaguely spicy glaze. A creamy, oniony slaw. Charred in some parts, sticky in others. No unbelievable smoke ring, no world-class sauce. It’s just tasty, not crave-worthy.

That’s the whole feel of this place – good, but not anything special. The food is pretty fairly priced for a fancy, special night- 2 people can dine there with cocktails for about $12o. However, the food doesn’t hold up for a fancy night out – the tuna is great and the pasta is good, but neither are worth a special trip there. And the dumplings were a major disappointment. Quite frankly, I might come here with a group of friends if they wanted to go, but I can’t see myself going here again on my own.

Stanton Social on Urbanspoon

Schmaltz it up at Sammy’s!

You wanna know what my childhood was like?

How I ate and my family get togethers resembled?

Then head on down to Chrystie street.

pix 030 Walk right into Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House(reservations required) and help yourself to a crunchy, mild new pickles sitting on the table. They are the best -they come from Guss’s, which used to be right down the street. Now that fabled pickle place is in Brooklyn, but they still make the juiciest pickled tomatoes, garlickiest dills, and best half sour pickles in town.

pix 031 Have some rye bread, too if you want…

pix 033 topped, of course, with schmaltz. Liquid chicken fat. Sitting on the table like olive oil.

pix 034 It’s surprisingly light, with a rich, fried-chicken taste.

Yes, I just called chicken fat light.

And compared to the rest of the meal, it really is.
pix 032 Don’t think that the rest of the meal is going to get any more refined. This is a mashup of a bar mitzvah, your grandma’s dining room, and the resort from Dirty Dancing. There are friendly but busy servers, bottles of vodka that come frozen in ice, and Danni Luv in the corner, playing everything from New York, New York to very dirty versions of Frank Sinatra Songs. D

Oh, and you are expected to get up and dance the hora. It will happen.

pix 043 Chciken liver with all the fixings

So very good and homey. Minerally, very rich chicken liver loaded with juicy fried onions, crisp shards of radish, and enough schmaltz to make the mixture positively silky. It’s definitely very liver-y tasting, but if you like chicken liver, this is the most classic Jewish interpretation on the planet. I wouldn’t dream of leaving here without ordering it.

pix 044 Karnatzlack

Dracula, take cover. These ultra garlicky sausages are made of beef, veal, and enough of the strong stuff to knock you on your back. They are juicy and meaty, with a coarse grind and a heavy dose of black pepper. The texture is a little too rustic for me, but others who like rough, country sausages will love this.

pix 046 Latkes

They look like the frozen crap that you find in cardboard boxes at the supermarket.

They taste like dense hash browned potatoes, loaded with sweet onion flavor and a light, thin, crispy crust. It is creamy and rich and crunchy and perfectly salty. Load it up with some sweet fried onions. It’s different from the latkes I make, but at least as delicious.

pix 048 Roumanian steak

The proudest Romanian export since Nadia Comaneci. This skirt steak comes hanging over both sides of the plate, doused in a garlicky, peppery, salty marinade. It is highly seasoned and incredibly tasty. The meat is fatty, though, and rare enough to statnd up to the seasonings – not bloody, but very moist and pink all the way through. I defy you to stop eating before you are sick to your stomach.

It’s just what you want when Dani up front starts asking which diners are shiksas.

pix 049 If you order the ribeye, just eat it off the bone like my Grandpa does, and leave the carcasses in a pile on the plate.

pix 053 Egg creams

Not my favorite dessert (because, really, who needs carbonated chocolate milk), but when the server brings you an entire carton of whole milk, an old fashioned seltzer bottle, and a brand new bottle of U-Bet chocolate syrup (the best chocolate syrup ion the planet)…well, you have to get a sip.

pix 054 Plus, you can always fortify dessert with the warm, buttery, chocolatey rugalech on offer.

pix 035 Sammy’s is a trip. It’s gonna cost you $50 per person without alcohol, there aren’t any nice bottles of wine on offer, and you may get bullied into singing, karaoke style, Hava Nagila. You pay for the privilege of eating homestyle Eastern European Jewish food in an atmosphere that is fun enough for your friends and familiar enough for Great Aunt Esther. It’s the place of all of my family reunions and some of my most fun party dinners.

To me, it’s home.

Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Pizza a Casa is Pizza School for Dummies Like Me!

This post is going to be a 2 parter…

The first part is about a place you need to go to learn about how to make pizza.

Pizza a  Casa is a G-dsend for people like me who just can’t, despite public claims they make on their blogs, seem to be able to pull it together to make a good yeast bread.

Or, in this case, pizza crust.

Mark Bello has created a pizza school for the yeast challenged  They partnered with Sam Adams to teach us how to make pizza dough with beer, but more on the recipe later.

The pizza school itself  on the Lower East Side  is very small with a long counter in the middle where you sit, drink a beer, and learn how to make pizza.

Bello measures out all of the ingredients for you, so all you have to do is concentrate on the technique.

He is patient, funny, and totally hands on. He walks around to each of the 20 or so students in the class, making sure that each one understands how the dough should look smooth, how it should feel rather dense by the time that you are done needing, and making sure that everyone who wants to has a glass of wine or beer.

He explains why it’s important to use finely granulated salt (so it melts better) and how to slide your pizza off your peel onto the stone (the secret is semolina flour). He lets you know that your home oven can produce a wonderful pizza and that your supermarket carries every ingredient you need – no need to invest in olive oil so expensive that it makes you take out a second mortgage on your home.

Best of all…he teaches you how to make some totally delicious pizzas.

Like one topped with ricotta, parley, and crab (he uses canned crab meat and it tastes incredible).  Very light and non fishy). The ricotta puffs up and creates this lightly salty, very creamy topping on a wonderfully tender pizza crust.

Then there is one topped with spicy red pepper and mozzarella paste – kind of like an Italian pimento cheese. The secret here is some Sriracha in the pesto. Topping it with pepperoni brings out the even saltier, spicier tones, and makes those high notes sing.

Or one topped with raw bell pepper, red onion, and basil on a mozzarella and tomato sauce pie. Simple, vegetal, and totally delightful.

Though I took the class for free, I would pay for it again . In fact, I am thinking about taking it again soon. After all, the pizza I made at home did turn out pretty darned well thanks to this class…

To Be Continued…

*Disclaimer – I did not pay for this class. I was not required to write about my experience and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Mandarin Court – Small Scale Dim Sum in Chinatown

Aaah, dim sum. That wonderful New York City tradition of schlepping down to Chinatown with $20, waiting in line for 15 minutes, being seated in a huge banquet hall, then stuffing yourself silly with fried, steamed, and boiled dumplings passed on silver steaming carts.

Or, as we members of the tribe call it, Christmas Day.

We celebrated Christmas early this year with a little trip to Chinatown. We tried out Mandarin Court, as a member of our party remembered it fondly frm years past. This small dining room is dingy but clean,with many individual tables (unheard of in much of Chinatown’s dim sum parlors), a large menu, and a small enough crowd to ensure that you rare served quickly and often. After starting with the obligatory tea, we really got down to business.

Spring Rolls

The best in town, no question. Piping hot with exceedingly crisp wrappers outside a vegetarian filling, crunchy and caramelized at the same time. Ask for some duck sauce on the side to remind you that yes, you are in the Chinatown of your parents’ youth.

Char Siu Bao

A favorite with kids or dim sum newbies. Soft, sticky rice flour outside sweet bbq pork. The char siu bao here are a bit one-dimensional for my taste – soft and sweet, without any sour or toothsome notes to break up the monotony. However, for our dim sum version, these were a major highlight.

Spare Ribs

Yes they are bony and yes there is cartilage and yes you may have a globule or 2 of chewy fat. But, wow…if you can get past that, these are great. Simple and sublime nuggets of pork, steamed until it is tender and juicy. Served in a slightly salty broth with bits of hot pepper and scallions, this is on the lighter side of dim sum fare, savory without being heavy.

Yep, I just described pork as light. Welcome to dim sum, kids.

Pork Puffs

Crispy and puffy without, yielding to a chewy, purposefully doughy wrapper. The pork inside is moist and flavored with aromatics like ginger, and the result is something unexpected and extremely tasty.

Turnip Cake

This first time order for me is now a bona fide addiction. This sticky, chewy cake with bits of sweet roasted pork and salty crisply fried vegetable is just awesome. Salty, pleasantly chewy, and decidedly filling, this is the mashed potatoes of the dim sum world. It is comforting, it goes great with meat, and it will put you into a food coma immediately following the meal.

Shrimp Rice Rolls

Some of the best in Chinatown. Clean and pristine tasting shrimp, vaguely salty, enveloped in thin rice noodles, slippery and squishy. Served in a bath of soy sauce and vinegar, these are savory, tart, and the definition of umami. Also try the rolls filled with beef.

Sticky Rice with Roasted Pork

One of our very few homages to non-dumpling dim sum items. Good, but not memorable sticky rice. Sweet, meaty with roast pork, studded with vegetables. A bit dry and lacking true taste beyond saltiness. Next time, I would just get another order of turnip cakes.

And there will be a next time. While Mandarin Court may not have the biggest dim sum offerings, the place is clean, the servers speak impeccable English, and the food is just what you want on a blustery winter’s day.

Can’t wait for Christmas Day to roll around to go back for more.