MacDougal Street’s Greatest Hits – Mamoun’s and Artichoke Basille’s

You may, someday in the future, find yourself in Greenwich Village, near MacDougal Street.

You may be wearing a shirt that says “The Peach Pit” and carrying your backpack.

And yet , you are not 19.

But you still want to eat with the cool kids.

So you go here:

20140719_175214Mamoun’s. Where you will hob knob with prepsters visiting from Virginia, tourists from Japan with cameras larger than my bedroom, hospital residents on their 20 minute dinner break, and middle aged New Yorkers just looking for a standing room table and a hot falafel. Don’t miss the sleeper hit – tender, warm spinach pie that is mildly spiced and wrapped in what must be homemade pastry.

This place isn’t my favorite falafel in NYC, but it really does hit the spot and the price can’t be beat.
20140719_175457 Schwarma

Chargrilled with deep, smoky flavors and crispy edges surrounding juicy meat. The meat isn’t as tender as I like it, but when it’s served up with tahini and crunchy veggies in a warm pita, how can you resist? I can’t! The hot sauce her is VERY hot…not a lot of other flavors, but it does liven up the sandwich. 20140719_175509 Falafel

Mmm-mmm good! Soft and wide so it spans the width of the bread – no sad, falafel-less bites in this sandwich! The chickpea patty is gently spiced with fragrant herbs so it blends with the tart radishes and that nutty tahini. I liked this a lot, and for the price -well, it’s sensational.

Also ,these sandwiches are the perfect size – one will fill you up but not make you overstuffed.

That’s why you might want this after a few hours:20140719_203743Artichoke Basille’s Pizza

I mean, of course I waited this long to get to this popular pizza joint – that’s how I roll.

And though it’s not my be all-end all pizza  - I totally get the hype. It’s cheesy. It’s creamy. It’s laden with chewy artichokes and slivers of spinach. It’s salty and garlicky and indulgent. The crust is way too thick and stiff for me, but my husband loved it. I guess it’s to hold up to the slippery, uber thick and rich topping, but I like cracker thin pizza crust.

I mean, I still ate it…it was still pretty great.

Add in the 2 drinks I had earlier that night and you can see why I got the hype.

Trust me, when you are on MacDougal street, you will have had at least 2 drinks too. And then these 2 places will taste even better.

Texas de Brazil and Maoz – My Favorite Salad Bars!

Really quickly: 2 different restaurants that I am loving:

1. Maoz
20140330_122755This casual, counter service import from Amsterdam has some killer French Fries, well spiced shawarma, and the make-your-own falafel sandwich or salad of your DREAMS. A killer salad bar with cumin scented carots, tangy cabbage salad, tabbouleh, roasted cauliflower, and a litany of sauces. Creamy tahini, cooling yogurt, garlic sauce so potent that it might make or break you night, hot sauce so potent and fiery that it makes your toes curl. Herby, bright broccoli and fresh cilantro laden salsa. Don’t forget the inexpensive but delicious hummus and babaganoush you can add to your salad bar. And, of course, the fried eggplant, with silky innards and a crispy shell.

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The falafel sandwich starts like this…

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and should end like this, covered in pickles, sauces, and vegetables from the salad bar. It’s all included (one trip only, except for more sauce), so don’t worry. The falafel is piping hot, fragrant with cumin and parsley, an served in a fluffy pita with crisp romaine. This inexpensive place ain’t Israel, but it surely feds the yen when I am stateside.

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2. Texas de Brazil

Remember I said I had been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Well, I am now obsessed with them and this is the best one I have been to by FAR! Modern, clean (though, truth be told, a little “mall chic”) decor, extremely well informed waitstaff, and the food is about 19 times better that the other place. A smaller but better curated salad bar filled with imported cheeses, all varieteis of spicy peppers, a soup of the day, creamy pottaoes gratin, and a host of other items. Don’t miss those tiny red peeppers that are spicy enough to rip off your top layer of lip skin or the creamy, sweet poatoao salad – almost as good as Hawaiian potato salad!

20140329_194033The meat here is even better than the salad bar. Tender lamb chops, garlicky sausage, and the flavorful, perfectly medium rare house cut ribeye are standouts. Avoid the pork products, but everything else is commendable. And don’t miss the mini chicken Parmesan that comes around on skewers towards the end of the meal.

 I am never going to fit into my wedding gown, am I?

 

Forgoing the Bread at Olympic Pita

One of the first blogs I ever read was Midtown Lunch. Back then, it just covered midtown and it was only in NYC – not this uber famous, national publication that it is now. It was just one guy – Zach Brooks – writing about places he liked to eat his workday lunches. He loved spicy, cheap, ethnic food – hello, my tastebuds.

That’s where I first learned about Olympic Pita. And yesterday, I finally tried it.

Olympic Pita is a kind of funny set up – from the front it looks totally like a take out place, with a long counter where you can help yourself to salad bar fixings and order your falafel and schwarma sandwiches. The back is late 90s bar dining chic – you know what I mean. Real plates, slick lines, and the top pop hits playing on the radio. I wouldn’t come here for a date, but for a convenient lunch or dinner that is nicer than your local pizza joint, it’s ideal.

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Moroccan cigars

The first time I had these was when I was a kid. My parent’s glamorous friend made them – she also introduced me to guacamole, so I guess I have her to thank for the awkward freshman that I experienced years later. I haven’t had them since but the minute that I tasted these, I was transported back to 1994. It was a total time machine. Wafer thin, crispy skins like spring rolls filled with a deeply savory, mineral-y meat filling. They say that it’s beef but it tastes almost like liver. It’s that rich and smooth. Dipped in the nutty, smooth tahini sauce, it is a really hearty appetizer. They are light, crunchy,a nd intensely meaty. Perfect for a wintery day.

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Iraqi Chicken

Oh YES. I haven’t ever had Iraqi chicken before and it is really great. The chicken has a charred, woodsy taste like it is grilled over an open fire. The chicken is ground and mixed with fragrant coriander, garlic, and other spices and herbs before it gets grilled. The result is a very earthy, fragrant sort of kofte kebab – it’s dense and juicy. Delicious.

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The salad bar is another don’t miss. There are tart pickled turnips, turmeric infused cabbage, tangy coleslaw, and some of the spiciest hot sauce I have ever tried – can’t wait to go back and choose some other side dishes.

I can’t wait to go back and try the famous laffa too – who goes to Olympic Pita and doesnt’ get bread, after all!? The food here isn’t cheap, but that’s because it’s kosher. The meat is expensive and it’s also a commodity to be serving Kosher food – so yeah, a sit down lunch will cost around $16 a person. However, the take out sandwiches seem much less expensive – can’t wait to go back and check those out. And for heaven’s sake, get some bread!

 

Sesame Eggplant Dip

I just love summer vegetables. They seem juicier and more vibrant. They take less time to cook than winter squashes and I never tire of inventing new recipes for them.

This eggplant dip is perhaps related to babaganoush, but it’s a little spicier and a lot lighter. That’s because instead of creamy tahini, I use roasted sesame oil. That gives it a roasted, perhaps even more intense nuttiness with none of the thick, uber-rich texture of babaganoush.

Oh yeah..and this uses an entire head of roasted garlic.

You’re welcome.

Sesame Eggplant Dip

2013-08-06 pixIngredients:

1 large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise

1 head garlic, roasted (or you can roast it with the eggplant)

2 tbsp. chile olive oil, plus more for drizzling (or use a drop of hot sauce in your oil)

2 tbsp. lemon juice

drizzle of sesame oil

salt to taste

pix 0231. Cut a cross-hatch pattern in the eggplant. There is no need to cut all the way through the skin, but if you do, it’s no biggie. Preheat the oven to 350F. pix 0242. Drizzle the oil on the cut eggplant and really rub it into the flesh. pix 0253. Place the eggplant skin side up on a baking sheet and put it in the oven for 30 minutes or so. In the upper part of the photo, you can see my foil wrapped garlic, ready to roast right on the same sheet tray. If you want to do this, just lop the top off of the garlic head so a few cloves are exposed, drizzle with olive oil, then wrap the whole thing entirely in foil. This will take closer to an hour to bake, but when it is totally soft and sticky, that is done, too!pix 0384. When the skin has become wrinkled and collapsed and the flesh is totally soft, the eggplant is done. pix 048Let it cool until you can comfortably seperate the squishy flesh from teh skin. The skin itself is an awesome snack – oily and savory and crispy – but you don’t want it in the dip.

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5. Mash together the eggplant, some of the lemon juice, a bit of oil, ENTIRE head of garlic (just squeeze those juicy morsels out of the skin…try not to eat them all plain like I tend to do…), a bit of sesame oil, and some salt. Then stir, mash, blend and TASTE. The sesame oil is potent, so don’t start with more than a teaspoon. I like mine rather spicy and acidic, so I really go heavy on the lemon juice.

pix 0736. Serve warm or room temperature with pita chips. 

This is da bomb.com.

It’s my blog, I can bring that phrase back if I want to. And I do.

This is creamy but not gloopy. It’s spicy but not overly hot, and it’s lush without being a gigantic oil slick. The flavors of the eggplant are really pronounced – grassy and earthy, juxtaposed with the high, tingly note of the chile oil. The sesame oil adds a super nutty taste that makes it almost a main course. This would be great in a sandwich with feta cheese or even over pasta or rice. It is such a wonderful way to let summer eggplants shine.

And it really makes me wish that summer would last forever.

Aroma Espresso Bar – The Delight of a Boreka Surprise

On a weekend, there are a few breakfasts I enjoy.

I love a long, leisurely brunch with plenty of booze and luxurious food.

I love a greasy spoon dive with just a couple of eggs and an Advil to ward off the hangover.

I like an at-home breakfast eaten in my pajamas.

And I like a quick breakfast that is neither junky nor upscale – just wholesome, fast, and super delicious.

Enter: Aroma Espresso Bar.

[ox 638This small chain of coffee shops is serious about their lattes, Turkish coffees (dark and very strong), and other coffee drinks. However, it also has some pretty outstanding food. It is open at 7 AM, even on the weekends, and thought it’s empty early on, it fills up soon. The decor is bright and minimal – totally utilitarian and perfect for a solo or duet meal. There is a plethora of sandwiches and American-style options, but the Middle Eastern specialties are where the kitchen really excels.
[ox 640Boreka surprise

Maybe the best surprise since the finale of Mad Men! This boreka is like a cross between a croissant and phyllo dough – buttery, flaky, crisp on the outside but tender and even moist within. It’s served warm and sprinkled with nutty sesame seeds. Then, it is split and stuffed with tangy pickles, fresh tomatoes, salty feta, and sliced hardboiled eggs. Best of all, there is a drizzle of creamy, nutty tahini sauce. Tahini is what makes hummus so rich – it’s a thick sesame paste that is (to me) reminiscent of a less salty Thai peanut sauce. This sandwich is fresh, hearty but not greasy, and packed with flavor. It’s the ideal meal any time of day.

[ox 641Power bbreakfast

Of course, if you go this route you also get a winner. Two eggs any style you like, a brick of crumbly feta, fresh salad leaves and olives, a bowl of Israeli salad, and a couple of slices of thick multigrain bread. This is big enough for two people to share and it’s vegetarian, to boot! Try spending $12 and getting eggs cooked this well and tomatoes this juicy and ripe in your local diner or hoity-toity brunch venue.

aromaAroma Espresso Bar is so much more than its name intimates. It is fast, competent service. It is fair prices. It is friendly for families but spacious enough to sit alone with your book. Best of all, it is some really delicious and unique breakfast food.

That’s what makes it one of my favorite spots for breakfast, lunch, or dinner any day of the week. 

Bites and Sips Around the City

There is just one burning question every New Yorker needs to know (now that we know that Dan was Gossip Girl):

What are the tastiest snacks, bites, and drinks around town, and where can you get them?

Read on, hungry city dweller:

Hummus Plate at Le Pain Quotidien

Ah yes, this upscale coffee shop/bakery does more than just great breakfasts. Order the hummus plate and you will be surprised at how tasty it is. The hummus is thick and lemony, slick with fruity olive oil. The kalamata olives atop are juicy and soft, the perfect salty counterpart to the hummus.Also on the plate is garlicky, almost velvety babaganoush and quinoa tabouleh that is earthy, herby, and chock full of juicy tomatoes and diced onions. The sour wheat, crusty white, and sweet raisin breads served alongside complete the dish. This is enough for a very satisfying lunch or a shared snack plate among 3 friends. It’s amazing how well this Belgian place does a middle eastern plate.

Foccacia de Recco at Rosemary’s

This locavore west village restaurant is a little too pricey for what you get, but there is one thing worth trying here. The foccacia filled with milky, creamy stracchino cheese is among the best breads in the city. Your order arrives piping hot, slick with slightly spicy olive oil and topped with grains of coarse sea salt. When you tear a chunk off the bread, the first scent that hits you is the rosemary, deep and woodsy. Then, the tantalizing smells of yeast and spicy olive oil hits your nostrils. The taste is as good as the aroma. The bread is pliant and soft, with a thin crust, punctuated by sharp rosemary needles. The inside is filled with that mild, creamy cheese, so soft that it makes mozzarella look hard and pungent. This is like grilled cheese on steroids, and it’s worth a visit to the restaurant to try this.

Any cocktail at The Dutch

I have been here several times, and each time have ordered a different cocktail. Every single one has been exemplary – well balanced, interesting but but not different just to be weird, nuanced and also pronounced in all the right places. The bartenders are knowledgeable but not snobby, and have no problem recommending something that you will like. The bar is small but comfortable and the vibe is extremely laid back. Of course, also order something to eat, but this is a great place to get a little tipsy before dinner.

Beef Carpaccio with Truffle Oil at Slightly Oliver

I know I have talked about this place before, but it deserves more mention because I just love it. The cocktails, the  faux-British vibe, and the tasty small plates make this a real gem on the Upper West Side. This carpaccio, made with tender slices of beef and dressed with a peppery arugula salad with a tiny fried quail egg and toast, is a perfect appetizer or even light meal. The addition of truffle oil just elevates it. Mushrooms and beef are always a win, especially when the beef is filet mignon and the mushrooms are truffles.

#winning

Taim – How Have I Not Tried This Amazing Falafel Before Now!?

Ugh…this is just like that humiliating Shake Shack experience. Why did it take me so long to get to Taim?! I love falafel. I love casual places. I love to eat…why didn’t I go here sooner?!

Just like when I realized what I had been missing with Shake Shack …the embarrassment may never leave me.

Taim is a tiny storefront in the West Village. Really small…only a few seats at the window, and even those are cramped and tiny. It’s best to get takeout or, on a nice day, eat outside. It is possible to sit comfortably if

But however tiny and cash only this place may be, it’s worth it.

The falafel is outstanding.

Falafel Sampler

An uber popular choice that lets you try the three flavors of falafel offered here. Be sure to dip the balls in the creamy tahini, a middle eastern sesame paste that is somewhere between peanut sauce, tzatziki, and heaven.

Green: with parsley, cilantro, and mint. This traditional falafel is special mostly because of its texture – dense and moist, with a very thick, crackly crust. The taste is classic middle eastern, fragrant with the parsley and mint. The hit of cilantro adds a welcome, sharp flavor.

Harissa: mixed with Tunisian spices. This is my favorite flavor. It has the same marvelous texture as the green but with the added slight heat of harissa, one of my all time favorite hot condiments. The paste is fiery but earthy at the same time, akin to a less smoky chipotle. The harissa falafel elevates the chickpeas, adding fire and salt. It isn’t super hot, just a bit spicy for those of us who like to mix it up.

Red: mixed with roasted red peppers. This tasted a lot like the original green falafel, but with less of that fresh taste of cilantro. the red peppers were not noticeable in the taste of the falafel and this was probably my least favorite. That said, it is still heads and tails above most other falafels in town.

Falafel Platter

The way to go if you eat in – if you are going to walk as you eat, go for the more user friendly sandwich. This comes with a selection of those wonderful falafel balls, fresh Israeli salad, a wonderfully lemony tabbouleh, and a few pieces of the most tender, fluffy za’atar dusted pita bread on the planet. No exaggeration, it is the best pita bread I have had in ages…it’s enough to make me realize why Israel is called the holy land.

Be sure to help yourself to some of the sauces served alongside, including the oily, garlic laden s’rug (like chimichurri) and the addictive spicy-sweet mango sauce called amba.

Fried Eggplant

It’s oily. It’s messy. It’s soft and slick and might be too much for some people.

Some people who have no tastebuds.

This overload of creamy, fatty, eggplanty-goodness put the meal over the top. Be sure to get an order.

The food here is incredibly cheap, especially for the quality. Everything is made fresh to order, the staff is courteous and extremely adept, and the food is really, really good. They have a food truck. They have a restaurant. They even have another sit down restaurant that has now made it to the top of my list. There is no reason that you can’t go get some of that falafel this week, right?

Take it from me…to wait one more day before you try Taim is one day too long.

Halloumi Watermelon Salad Pitas

Don’t you love something that can fry on its own without any breading? That’s where halloumi comes in! This Mediterranean sheep’s milk cheese is firm, with a salty feta-like taste and a texture like firm mozzarella. The coolest thing about this cheese is that it can be fried without melting! This means that the outside can get crispy while the inside is just barely soft…incredible! Like a grilled cheese sandwich with a crust of cheese. The flavor is a natural with mild or sweet vegetables or fruit, and when paired with watermelon it results in a complex but easy dish that can be a vegetarian appetizer or a quick lunch. Just be sure to prepare this as close to serving as you can, because the hot halloumi contrasted with the cool watermelon is one of the best parts of the salad.

Halloumi Watermelon Pitas

Ingredients:

2 cups cubed watermelon

1 package halloumi, cut into slices.

2 Tsp. each dill and mint

1 package pitas or mini pitas, split in half

2 tbs. balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Olive oil to sautee

salt and pepper, to taste

1. Dice the watermelon into bite size squares and set aside

2. Put some olive oil into a pan on medium high heat. When it starts to ripple, set in the halloumi.

3. Let it cook for about 2 minutes, or until the bottom is crisp, then flip it. If it sticks a little to the pan, that is okay.

4. Let it cook on the other side for about 1 minute, or until the bottom is crisp. Remove the halloumi and drain it oa paper towel.

5. Dice halloumi in the same size dices as the watermelon. Add it to the bowl with the watermelon.

6.  Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl, and taste for salt and pepper.

7. Stuff into pitas and serve.

This is such a great snack. It is unexpected and really interesting – the way that the pepper plays off the sugary watermelon is really special. The pita soaks up the sweet and savory watermelon juices, rendering it soft and flavorful. And that halloumi – melting and warm on the inside, salty and crisp on the outside. Cool and warm, sweet and salty, fatty and light. This salad is really everything that you desire at one time.

Including cheese that you can fry on its own.

Taboonette – The Homeland of Middleterranean Food

I’m gonna cut to the chase:

Taboonette is the best cheap lunch in the city.

This tiny storefront in the Union Square area specializes in Middleterranean food, that mish mash of all things Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African. Harissa, chickpeas, lamb, pita, and herbs all collide in a cuisine is so cohesive that it seems that it must come from a region.

That region is Taboonette.

Order at the front then wait for your number to be called while seated at one of the long communal tables. The feel is incredibly casual – clean and minimalistic, perfect for a fast workday breakfast or lunch.

Taboon roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, hummus, tahini, and cilantro

The taboon is the large dome-shaped oven that cooks most of the bread and some of the food here. The cauliflower does well in the oven’s heat, becoming crispy and charred in places while turning soft within. It is a wonderful vehicle for the nutty tahini and the creamy hummus. Eggplant is done well here – silky but not slimy, and the rice is outstanding. It must be boiled in chicken broth, because it has a very rich, buttery taste. This dish is satisfying even for a carnivore.

Chicken Shawarma with hummus, thyme roasted Yukon gold potatoes, homemade pickles, tahini and chopped salad

A fantastic rendition of an often greasy and salty classic. This chicken schwarma is rubbed with smoky cumin then grilled to reinforce that deep, woodsy flavor. The chicken is incredibly tender and also tastes of garlic and onions. Mixed with sour pickles, crispy fried potatoes, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and a creamy hummus and tomato mixture, this is just what a schwarma should be. It is na explosion of flavors, textures, and temperatures, all in an almost exceedingly delicious laffa wrap. One of the best parts of the sandwich is right at the end, when the juices from the chicken and the vegetables soak into the soft bread.

Kebab with ground lamb and beef, grilled eggplant, chopped salad, tahini, fresh mint and cilantro

Soft patties of grassy lamb and juicy beef cooked until there is still some pink inside. Redolent of mint and fragrant cilantro, it tastes bright and light with the fresh Israeli salad. Don’t forget to top it with some of the spicy cilantro laden hot sauce on the table – you might, as I did, start taking some of the excellent house baked pita chips and just start eating it straight with the hot sauce. These kebabs are only missing some yogurt sauce, as the tahini on them takes away from the complex, subtle flavors of the kebab.

Taboonette is delicious, fast, and nothing on the menu is over $12! Nothing I ordered was even over $11, and I walked away so full it was uncomfortable.

I love that feeling.

Taboonette is a must-go for anyone who loves Middleterranean food. After all, don’t you want to see its homeland? Well now you can, right near Union Square.

Taboonette on Urbanspoon

Tuscan Hummus

Contrary to popular belief, the great equalizer isn’t education. It’s hummus. Have vegetarian friends? They can eat hummus. Same goes for people who can’t eat dairy, wheat, or nuts. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to make a huge amount. It also couldn’t be easier to make and it’s pretty damn delicious, to boot. That said…If I never see another pita chip again, it may be too soon. Sorry, but the thing about hummus is…since it is so great, everyone does it. It’s time to jazz up hummus, to give it new life and make it sexy and mysterious again. It’s time to take it to San Remo, drive it down the Italian Riviera, and bring it back in its new European outfit. It’s time for:
Tuscan Hummus

Ingredients:
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
3 Tbsp. jarred pesto (be sure to find one without nuts if you are serving those with allergies)
1 head roasted garlic
1/3-1/2 cup apple cider or tomato vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Special Equipment: Food Processor

 1) Dump the beans into the food processor.

 2) Toss in the pesto.

 3) And the garlic
You guys doing ok? I know, I’m really intimidating with all of the incredibly technical recipes I show you on the blog.

 4) Vinegar. Add it. Be aware, you may need up to 1/2 of a cup of vinegar by the time the hummus is to your liking. But start out with 1/3 of a cup. You can always add more later.

 5) Start the food processor, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. You won’t need much because the pesto has oil in it.

tsimis brisket liver hummus latkes 124

Just drizzle a bit in until the hummus becomes a consistency you like – I prefer a consistency that is mostly smooth, but not too thin. Transfer to a container and refrigerate the hummus for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight. Taste for seasonings before serving, and add more pesto, oil, or spices as you see fit.

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 6) Serve.

This hummus is a showstopper. I served it with a drizzle of chile-infused olive oil on top, but it is delicious just on its own. The beans are creamy and mild, and the roasted garlic adds the deepest, sweetest flavor to the dip. The jarred pesto is – if I do say so myself – the genius of this recipe. Two little spoonfuls and you get the most incredible, unmistakably Italian flavor of sharp Parmesan cheese and earthy basil. The vinegar is the kicker here – its brightness and acidity adds another dimension to the hummus.
That’s what this recipe does all around – it adds another dimension to hummus. It is elegant, it is hearty, it is healthy, and it is really, really tasty with a breadstick or crudite.
And, let’s not forget…hummus is the great equalizer.
I know, I taught you that…you’re welcome.