Yerba Buena’s Bueno Brunch

When I first started this blog, I went to Yerba Buena Perry for restaurant week. Though my meal was outstanding, I haven’t been back since – nothing personal, just too many restaurants in NYC, too little time.

When some girlfriends invited me to brunch at Yerba Buena’s Lower East Side branch, I was anxious to check it out. First things first: this place is tiny. There is a downstairs room, but the upstairs in miniscule. Not cramped, but it is very cozy, while somehow remaining hip. However, the excellent waitstaff does everything it can to make your stay comfortable, from removing your coats to giving you and extra table for all of your dishes.
 
Sangria
If you, like me, avoid sangria because it is a weak, sweet drink that gives you no buzz and a massive hangover, then this is the sangria for you. Really, it’s the anti-sangria. I am sure from the orange aroma that there is some Grand Marnier in there, and from my buzz that there are other liquors, too. There are herbal, cinnamon-y notes throughout the drink, and it is grounded by the earthy red wine. 
Guacamole
Portion? Small. Taste? Outstanding. Very citrusy, without too many mix-ins to distract from the buttery richness of the avocado. Tart from limes and hit with the perfect amount of salt to bring out the avocado’s inherent sweetness. Served with a sprinkling of cheese and thick tortilla chips, this was a delicious, albeit pricey, appetizer.

Huevos Rancheros 
Let’s break this down:
Eggs – cooked perfectly, with thick, runny yolks and creamy, just-gelled whites
Tortilla – thick and crisp, adding crunch and gently absorbing the flavors from the eggs, salsa, and beans.
Queso Fresco – mild, melty, delightfully stringy.
Black beans – NOT the stuff from the can. Cooked al dente, with the perfect amount of chew. Sweet with onions, hearty with cumin and other spices, earthy and incredibly meaty. A worthy counterpart to the richness of the eggs.
Salsa - Unbelievable. So good I actually wiped my finger around the dish to sop up every last bite. At first, it is mild and sweet. Then it is savory with garlic. Finally, there is the unmistakable high, fruity, spicy note of the cascable chiles that leaves the tongue tingling and the lips slightly burning. I could happily eat this as soup every day of my life.
Crema, Jalapeno Relish – excellent soothing and fiery accompaniments, respectively.
Once again, Yerba Buena impresses. Chef Julian Medina is obviously devoted to producing nuanced, high-end versions of well known Latin American and Mexican dishes. The prices are a bit high, but considering the quality of the food and service, and that you can order bottomless drinks (for an hour) for just $13, it is a worth a visit.
For me, it was actually worth two visits. And I can’t give any compliment higher than that.
Yerba Buena on Urbanspoon

Katz’s Pastrami – In a Class of its Own

Sometimes you want to get a bunch of dishes to try everything at a restaurant. Sometimes you want to get a tasting menu so the chef can show off his/her technique. And sometimes, you go to a place where there is really just one thing to order, and to add too many supplements to it would just be slapping a masterpiece in the face. 
Katz’s is that place.
Made popular to the masses by When Harry Met Sally to New Yorkers by their grandparents, Katz’s Delicatessen is an institution. Operated since 1888, this Jewish-style deli is open 24 hours a day on the weekend, operates via a ticket system (take a ticket when you come in and order at counters, then pay at the end), and is so casual you could come in wearing pajamas and nobody would bat an eye. Katz’s serves deli staples like omelettes, grilled cheese, and fries, and for all I know, those things are great! I wouldn’t know because I haven’t ever ordered them. 
Because I have respect for places of worship.
I mean Katz’s. 
Is there a difference?
Stuffed Derma (a.k.a. Kishke)
Ignore the naysayers – this isn’t made with intestines like in the old days. This is just stuffing made the fatty, garlicky, Jewish way. Matzo meal, herbs and spices, mixed together into a highly spiced, savory, carby indulgence. And schmaltz. Plenty of glistening, orange tinged schmaltz gives the kishke a luxurious mouthfeel – velvety, smooth, and thick. It really is the world’s best stuffing. Dipped in plenty of thick chicken gravy, it wants for nothing. 
Dill and New Pickles
The dill pickles are crunchy and sour, but the new pickles are the really special thing. Firm and cold, they burst in the mouth with a vegetal, clean flavor, more like a cucumber than a pickle. It just has a vague hint of brine – a perfect accompaniment to the main attraction. 
 Pastrami on Rye with Extra Mustard
When you order this at the counter, the man slicing it will give you a few pieces on a plate. No need to ask for the sample – it will just be there. The first bite you take of the pastrami, steam rising off of it, pepper and grease clinging to your fingers, is the best. That first taste is of pepper and garlic. The hearty flavor of the beef. The texture – it really chews like steak. 
Placed between slices of soft, fragrant rye bread and liberally sauced with spicy mustard, it hits many points on the palate: spicy, meaty, aromatic, and salty. I mean, it really is salty – it doesn’t taste salty at the time, but you will be gulping water all night. 
It will be worth it. 
Katz’s is stupidly expensive  -this meal cost about $30. The place can be crowded, the atmosphere is more brusque than romantic, and absolutely everything here will give you heartburn. 
And blocked arteries. 
And joy. 
No tasting menu in the world can compete.
Katz's Deli on Urbanspoon

Fatta Cuckoo: The Best Restaurant You’ve Never Heard Of

Restaurants like Fatta Cuckoo are why I am in love with NYC. A tiny restaurant, only big enough for a few stools and tables, offering haute Southern food at incredibly reasonable prices. I hadn’t ever heard of it, and still wouldn’t if it weren’t for my social media guru friend and dining partner-in-crime who both invited me there for a tasting. That is because the chef refuses to spend any money or time on advertising that could better be spent on the food itself. Chef Chris Mitchell, of The Breslin and The Meatball Shop, is making his stamp on the New York food scene by staying true to his beliefs: fresh food, local vendors, and the Southerm flavors of his youth mixed with the sophistication of his classical training. He spent time with us during the meal and explained every dish, talking about how each element worked and what inspired him. Though I can’t imagine that he does this for every diner, his love and commitment to making each dish a wonderful experience must surely be on every plate.

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The restaurant is, as aforementioned, diminutive, but the causal space manages to feel comfortable and hip. Be aware that none of the seats have backs, so this may not be ideal for someone who needs a lot of room or back support during the meal. But, if they can suck it up, your friends will be in for an very special gustatory experience.

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 Sweet Potato Hush Puppies with Chili Lime Aioli
All summer Chef Mitchell prepared dish with sweet corn, but when corn went out of season, he refused to buy frozen or subpar corn. His solution was to use a sweet potato in the batter instead of the corn. Tiny brunoised sweet potatoes, creamy and soft, melted into slightly sweet cornmeal batter. The result was a light hush puppy, crispy on the outside and  fluffy on the inside. The fritter could have been a dessert with powdered sugar, but the zesty chili lime aioli brought the dish to a savory place. The fact that the vegetables were brunoised shows Mitchells’ commitment to quality – it takes FOREVER to brunoise vegetables, but that is the only way to make sure that there is texture to the potatoes and that they are all cooked through evenly. No one saw the tiny, even dices of sweet potato, but the perfect way that the croquettes were fried were the result of that attention to detail. This sweet and savory starter was just the beginning of a sensational meal.
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Black Bean Soup with Roasted Poblano Crema and Crispy Tortillas
Any dish that is remotely Mexican piques my interest, and this black bean soup was the best I have had in recent memory. The soup was hearty but not heavy, with a slow burning spice that made it perfect for the wintry night. The poblano crema was creamy and smoky without being too spicy, and the crispy tortillas…well, when is anything crispy not delicious, right? I could have eaten a bowl of this, easily. Or two.
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 Burrata and Fried Egg over Roasted Tomato Sauce with Chile Oil
The flavors here were all wonderful – milky burrata, rich egg yolk, spicy chile oil, and deeply earthy roasted tomato sauce. Though I would have preferred the tomato sauce to be hot instead of room temperature, the combination of flavors was so rich and totally comforting that it won me over. The chile oil was especially important in keeping this dish bright and interesting.
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 Lobster Ravioli with Marechiara Sauce with Lemon Zest and Chives
This was my second favorite dish of the night. The homemade ravioli was tender and thin, but with a bit of chew that contrasted with the sweet lobster and fresh chive filling. The natural salinity of the lobster was complimented by the spicy tomato sauce and that incredibly fresh, vibrant lemon oil. The lemon oil was a total shocker – it made the tomatoes sweeter, the lobster richer, and really electrified the whole dish.
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 Butternut Squash Risotto with Fried Sage and Butternut Seed Oil
I’ll be frank: this dish blew my mind. I have had butternut squash risotto, and this had all the qualities of a good one – creamy rice, sweet squash, a touch of woodsy sage. But the butternut squash seed oil knocked this out of ordinary territory right into the hall of fame. It tasted reminiscent of both peanut butter and tahini – deep, nutty, meaty. A little went a long way towards giving the dish depth. I plan to make this at home and experiment with other roasted nut oils – it was a major eye opener.
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 Three Chile Rubbed Pork over Sweet Potato Mash with Roasted Pasilla Chile Sauce
THIS was the dish of the night. Maybe the dish of the month. This is undoubtedly the best pork loin that I have ever eaten, mostly because it was cooked perfectly – medium rare. Not at all red, but rosy throughout, so it retained the inherent sweetness and tenderness of the pork. This was almost as succulent as pork belly, but without any of the salt or smoke. It was purely sweet, pure pork flavor, surrounded by a zesty, peppery spice rub and lacquered in a smoky roasted chile sauce. This was not hot at all, just spiced – someone who doesn’t like incendiary food could certainly enjoy this. The mash, creamy and sweet, were another example of how Mitchell loves to use what is in season. The sweet potatoes absorbed the pork’s many juices and that wonderful roasted chile sauce.
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 Braised Short Ribs over Sweet Potatoes
Want to see what perfection looks like?
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This. This is what a perfectly cooked short rib looks like. Melting off the bone, with booming beefy flavor within and a sweet/salty BBQ glaze without. Roasted sweet potatoes, with their mineral-y skin on sopping up all the luscious bovine juices. This is a standard on the menu, and the regular portion is Flinstone sized, replete with a giant bone. I can’t make better short ribs than this.
You have no idea how much it pains me to admit that.
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Dessert Sampler with Coconut Cake, Key Lime Pie, Cheesecake, Lemon Pistachio Cake, and Tortoni
Well, this was a great way to end a gut busting meal – with four slices of delicious cake and a sweet, almondy ice cream. The lemon pistachio cake was particularly wonderful – dense, moist, and more rich than sweet.

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Fatta Cuckoo is a hell of a spot. The food is seasonal, locally sourced, and outrageously delicious. The portions are huge. The prices are fair. Perhaps most importantly, the chef is a guy whose establishment you want to patronize. He so loves food, he loves feeding people, and he loves doing it in a responsible, seasonal way.

And all that is why Fatta Cuckoo is the best restaurant you have never heard of. Until now.
Fatta Cuckoo on Urbanspoon*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*

Saxon and Parole – Special Enough for NYC?

When a new restaurant opens, you can wait until the reviews come out to see if you want to attend, or you can chance it and see what you think for yourself. If reservations are not too hard to come by, I prefer option #2 – never trust someone else’s opinion, I say. 
 Saxon and Parole is Brad Farmerie’s ode to locally, humanely raised and produced food. That is a huge fad in NYC that shows no signs of going anywhere, but Farmerie is well known for his Michelin starred game menu at Public, and I was interested to try his spin on the fare here. 
 The restaurant, in the old Double Crown space, is a large, hip restaurant that is teeming with lovely people who have no qualms dropping serious dough on upscale comfort food. 
 Sourdough Bread, Butter and Foie Gras Butter
Warm sourdough rolls with chewy, crackly outsides and moist, sour insides, as good as anything I have had on the West Coast. While it was good with a pat of salted butter melting on the pliant dough, it was even better with a generous smear of the whipped foie butter. Airy and fluffy, almost like mousse, the taste at first was purely butter – rich and creamy. Then, as it warmed on the bread, a meaty scent wafted up and the unmistakable umami, minerally taste of foie gras entered the scene. All too soon it was gone. The combination of rich taste and light, almost ethereal texture was perfect. Little did I know it would be the single best bite I had all night.
 Prince Edward Island Mussels with Fire-Roasted Piquillo Peppers, Capers and Tomato Broth
These mussels were all sweet and opened, with a gentle brininess and very mild flavor. So mild, in fact, that the broth totally overtook the mussels with charred, smoky, salty and acidic flavors. Mussels are delicate creatures, and can’t be thrown with harsh, abrasive flavors. This had no cream, sugar or butter to temper the tastes of the broth. The garlic and salt onslaught had me thirsty all night, and though it was tasty at the time, the broth just did the mussels no favors.
Meat and Cheese Plate with chicken Liver Mousse, Country Pork Terrine, House Smoked Lavender Ham, Coppa, Salame, Mangalista Ham, Various Cheeses and Accompaniments
This plate was…how can I put it? Nothing was bad. Some things, like the delicate lavender smoked ham, which married floral with earthy, and the chicken liver mousse, which was sweet, rich and incredibly meaty, were quite good. But by and large, it was…blah. I enjoyed it, but I can’t remember it. The cheeses were good but not great, the accompaniments were tart and sweet as they need be, and the meats were properly salty and silky, as they should be. But it wasn’t memorable. Every joint in this trend-crazed town is doing charcuterie, and for $30 a plate, yours had better be the best. This wasn’t. 
Unfortunately, that is how I felt about Saxon and Parole. It just wasn’t the best. The food was good, but for the price point it wasn’t a great deal and it wasn’t memorable enough. The service, while kind, was somewhat lacking – this simple meal took well over 3 hours, and not because we were lingering, but because there seemed to be miscommunication between the servers – there were seemingly hundreds of them wandering around, but we couldn’t get anyone to refill water glasses. Saxon and Parole has potential, but it is priced too high and the menu is too unrefined. If this restaurant was in a small town or if the price point were different, it would be a must go. As it is, I would stop in for a drinks and people watching and go elsewhere for dinner. 
Saxon & Parole on Urbanspoon