Vai – The UWS Destination Dining Restaurant

I’ll cut straight to the point:
The UWS has a new destination dining restaurant. Not somewhere you go for a quick bite. Not somewhere you eat because you don’t feel like schlepping elsewhere. Somewhere you go when you have the time and inclination to spend several hours reveling over a wonderful meal. That’s when you go to Vai.

This Mediterranean inspired small plates restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Vincent Chirico.
Did I say chef? I meant chef, owner, sommelier, interior designer, pastry chef, and probably dishwasher if he had his way. Chef Chirico has worked at such restaurants as Jean Georges, Daniel, and Aquavit before opening this restaurant, and his years in top kitchens have led him to doing almost all the work himself. Though this puts a lot of pressure on him, it also means that his vision is always executed perfectly. The atmosphere here is elegant and romantic, with candlelight and modern tableware – perfect for a date or dining solo at the bar.

Bread Service
Though the bread(the only food item not made in house) is unremarkable, the spreads brought with it are anything but. Roasted Garlic Confit is as tender and mild as roasted garlic, Eggplant Spread is creamy and earthy, and Cranberry Bean and Fried Garlic Relish is toothsome and hearty. 
Pear Martini with Pear Infused Vodka, Pear Puree, and Fennel
This drink tastes more indulgent than it really is – thick, creamy, and sweet. It almost tastes like a smoothie – refreshing and energizing but also incredibly light. The kick of vodka is a very good antidote to the naturally sweet pears, and the cocktail has enough booze to really pack a punch.
 Hamachi and Yellowfin Tuna Duo served over Avocado with Preserved Ginger Sauce
This is an example of Chef Chirico’s classical training. He takes a classic dish – tuna tartare – and prepares it perfectly, then puts his own stamp on it with the hamachi and preserved ginger. The fish (which is delivered 6 days a week) is pristine. The hamachi is so fatty and unctuous that the tuna seems clean and light by comparison. The avocado adds a buttery richness, and the sauce is tangy and slightly spicy, adding brightness to the dish. An outstanding and perfectly prepared version of a classic. 
Seared Scallop with Parsnip Mousseline and Capers
The star of the meal. I have never had a more perfectly cooked scallop – a thick, charred, salty crust concealing a scallop that was still barely translucent in the center. That is how a scallop should be – medium well done at most, so that it is warm all the way through but not totally opaque. The capers added saltiness that contrasts with the scallop’s natural sweetness, and the parsnip puree is smooth and hearty, adding depth to the dish.

Charred Octopus with Arugula Jalapeno Pesto, Calabrian Chiles, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
Whereas the previous dishes are subtle and layered, this dish is an in-your-face flavor explosion. Octopus is MADE for the grill. The hearty, rich meat works well with crispy, blackened skin. This eggplant is tender and mild, enlivened by the herbal pesto and those fiery Calabrian chiles. The chiles really pack a punch – if you aren’t into heat, ask for less of them on your dish. Also, stop reading this blog.
Duo of Beef with Filet Mignon and Garlic Confit Butter and Port Wine Braised Short Rib
The steak here is well cooked – thick and cooked to a perfect medium rare with no sinew or gristle. Though the accompanying butter is unnecessary, it is a satisfying piece of meat. But the short rib is above and beyond. Braised for hours in port wine, it has an incredible sweet-tangy-deep glaze on the outside of meltingly tender meat. I can not imagine a better way to make short ribs. This is a must order. 
Passion Fruit Semifreddo
Tart, creamy, and sweet. A multi-layered tasty way to end the meal, with the bright, sour taste of passion fruit colliding with the sweetness of white chocolate.

Almond Pot de Creme
Tasting more of toffee than almonds, this is sweet, buttery, and very decadent. Also, every table gets a portion of this.
Vai is spot on. The prices are right, the wine and cocktail lists are excellent, the service is enthusiastic but not annoyingly so, and the food is just fantastic. This is a serious restaurant – the food is expertly prepared in exciting ways, and the experience is one that is leisurely and inviting. Nowhere on the UWS is quite like this, which is why I say get on a train, a bus, or a pair of sneakers. Whatever you have to do, get yourself to Vai.
*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.*
Vai on Urbanspoon

Gabriela’s Mexican Restaurant

When you need to make a reservation for a bunch of people, your choices are a little slim. 
Even slimmer when you have to keep it curtailed to a certain neighborhood, and when everyone in the party is on a budget. 
Luckily, Gabriela’s took our reservation for nine people, was right on the UWS, and was kind enough to seat our incomplete party.
Okay, fine…I was the late one. I admit it. Are you happy now?

Mini Margarita

This is genius. A mini margarita, enough to get a lightweight quite tipsy, but not so much that she leaves stumbling. Quite a strong kick of tequila with a wonderfully frosty texture and a tart-sweet limeade taste

Chips and Salsa

You know how I feel about complimentary chips and salsa. These chips were freshly fried and still warm, delicious in the fruity red salsa or the much spicier and herb-heavy yellow salsa. The yellow salsa was particularly addictive – it reminded me of Indian food because of its heavy use of cilantro and cumin. Very pungent and very tasty. 

Carnitas Tacos

Once again, Gabriella’s comes through for those on a budget. I had quite a few chips with salsa, so I ordered only an appetizer size of the tacos. For $5 more, I could have ordered the entree size, with another taco and two sides, but there was no pressure from the extremely efficient and competent server to spend more money. I  received two small tacos filled with crisply fried pork. Crunchy on the outside, moist and tender within, these carnitas were as good as any I have had in NYC. The tacos were served with diced onion, fragrant cilantro, and creamy avocado dressing all on a freshly griddled corn tortilla. As soon as I finished the tacos, I wished I had ordered the entree size – not because I was hungry, but because I simply wanted to eat more of them.

Spinach Salad with Organic Spinach, Red Onion, Local Honey-Lavender Goat Cheese, Pumpkin Seed Chipotle Vinaigrette, and Roasted Chicken
Though I can’t truly endorse ordering a salad in a Mexican restaurant, it is nice to have an option to eat healthily when you want to…I guess. Anyway, this was a very good salad – fresh greens, succulent pieces of chicken, and a nutty, spicy, creamy dressing. The standout here was the goat cheese. Incredibly sweet and creamy, I couldn’t taste the lavender, but I didn’t taste the potent, grassy taste that goat cheese usually has either. The lavender must have worked to neutralize that taste, making it a natural counterpart for the savory dressing and fresh vegetables. If you are going with a salad, this is the one you want. 

And if you just want great variety, Gabriela’s is the spot you want. Grab a seat at the bar or a table, and get a mini margarita and a full blown meal, a huge margarita and an appetizer, or just a beer. Though the atmosphere is casual-upscale, it is nothing short of jovial. Unobtrusive music, laughter everywhere, excellent service and food, and very good prices. 

Let’s put it this way…next time, no matter how many chips I eat, I am getting a full order of the tacos. 
And a full sized margarita.
Gabriela's Restaurante and Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

Fish Tag’s Brunch – Smoked Salmon Bonanza

In New York, you have to keep your head down. 
Nope, I don’t mean work hard. 
I mean you really have to position your head downwards in order to see half the great restaurants here. 
After all, if I didn’t keep my head down, I would totally have missed Fish Tag.
 Michael Psilakis’ fish and charcuterie oriented restaurant got mixed reviews when it opened last year, but it sounded intriguing anyway. However, it somehow got lost in the shuffle of restaurants on my radar, until my family and I were walking past it and caught view of it this past weekend.
 Though you must descend steps to reach the restaurant, the main dining space is incredibly bright and clean thanks to larges skylights and windows to a small outdoor garden. The look is clean and minimalist – very Scandinavian. The vibe is extremely quiet – not a place for small children or loud, raucous group parties.
 Grilled Cheese with Pork Belly and Poached Egg
A hearty and well made dish. Crisp bread surrounded mild, melty cheese and tender pork belly. The pork belly was more salty than smoky, which worked well with the cheese’s mild taste and the perfectly poached egg. This grilled cheese could have benefited from a slightly tangier cheese, like tallegeio, but it was a very tasty and satisfying dish.
 Fig, Proscuitto and Manouri Bruschetta
Though the ingredients sounded wonderful, this was very disappointing. The figs were very soft and sweet – delicious on their own, but they rendered the dish too sugary. The prosciutto was in such minute amounts that it did nothing to add crunch or salt to the dish. The best aspects of this were the creamy manouri cheese(like a fattier, richer ricotta), and the perfectly charred bread. 
 Gaspe Salmon with Bagel, Pickled Vegetables, Fennel Salad, and Creme Fraiche
There was a variety of smoked salmons offered, and I went with the gaspe because it was described as lush, delicate, and succulent. I could go on and on about the way the salmon tasted but…why should I? That is exactly how it tasted. It had a firm texture, with a good amount of salt but not too much smoke, which is what I like in a smoked salmon. My father had the Irish smoked salmon. I really enjoyed that one more – it was even less fishy than my excellent gaspe salmon. The accompaniments were all first rate – the pickled cauliflower, briny olives, tart creme fraiche, tangy fennel, and chewy bagel made for a brunch fit for a Jewess*.
 Greek Spoon Salad with Tomato, Cucumber, Feta, Onion, Peppers, Olives, Grilled Kale, Radishes, Red Wine Vinaigrette
This simple Greek salad that would have been good on its own but was propelled to greatness by the grilled kale. The kale became so charred, so rich and meat-like that it added a whole other dimension to the salad. The tomatoes tasted sweeter, the feta tasted sharper, and the dressing tasted brighter. I will absolutely be grilling kale at home from now on. 
Smashed Fries
Not listed as a side dish, our very sweet server let us order a side of these for the table. And they were. DYNAMITE! Made from starchy Idaho potatoes, these were somewhere between roasted potatoes, french fries, and hash browns. Thick as steak fries, but with the tender insides of baked potatoes and the crispiest crust I have ever had…these were phenomenal. Though I don’t think they were cooked in animal fat, they couldn’t be improved upon even if they were. Just greasy enough to remind you they were an indulgence, and perfectly seasoned, these were so good that any dipping sauce was totally unnecessary. A must order.
Fish Tag is a great spot for brunch with your parents. Not a destination restaurant, but the prices are very fair for the amount and quality of food provided. The service is great and the surroundings are nice but not stuffy. The smoked salmon is incredibly delicious, and those fries knocked my socks off. And, most importantly, it reminded me why it’s always important to look down in NYC.
Besides, you know, avoiding stepping in dog poop.
*Jewess (def): A woman, raised in the Jewish culture. She is good at bargain shopping, bad at sports, and can tell a good smoked fish from a bad one a mile away.*

Fish Tag on Urbanspoon

Mama Mexico Brings the Fiesta

I have found pretty good cheap Mexican food in the city, and great high end Mexican food. But I want something in the middle. Somewhere I can have waiter service and good atmosphere, but where I can still order a good ole enchilada and a frozen margarita. Not frou frou, not divey. That’s what led me to Mama Mexico.
 Mama Mexico is a brightly colored casual restaurant that (despite this picture) is extremely popular. When you go in there, expect to encounter boisterous families, friendly servers and (the only part of this restaurant that I truly detest) a mariachi band.
Frozen Margarita
I don’t know how I am going to write the rest of this post, because this one margarita got me tipsy. The first sip was powerful, but the rest of it went down smoothly. Sweet, pleasantly tart, and enough tequila to make it count – this is delicious and a great value. My dining partner got the coconut margarita, which was even better. 
 Chips and Salsa
All Mexican restaurants should serve complimentary chips and salsa. They just should. Though this salsa was a bit watery and insipid, the chips were fresh and blessedly unsalty. Very much appreciated.
Who doesn’t love tableside guacamole?! Something about the theatricality, the festivity of it, puts you in a great mood. You might not even notice when the mariachi band goes behind you and starts playing Mexican folk music (of course, when you do notice, you might blush profusely and down your margarita while you break out in a cold sweat. What, that’s just me?).
 The guacamole was made to our specifications, with plenty of heat and a good kick of lime. Citrusy, spicy, and creamy, with few hits of cilantro, this was actually as good as the one I make at home. Expensive, of course, but this is New York in the wintertime, people. Eating out of season has its cost. 
Chicken Fajitas
This classic American-Mexican dish really hit the spot! The cast iron skillet came sizzling to the table, so hot that it would have burned the tablecloth had it not come on its own trivet. Marinated in a garlicky, tangy sauce, the chicken was tender and juicy, with a caramelized exterior. The onions were soft and sweet, the peppers were crisp, and when wrapped in a soft flour tortilla with some of the restaurant’s excellent vinegary hot sauce, this dish was all I wanted. The refried beans and rice were nothing to write home about, but the rest of the dish was so satisfying, I didn’t really mind. 
Mama Mexico might be my go to Mexican place, for now. The prices are moderate, atmosphere is homey but not dumpy, and the food is just what you think of when you envision classic American-Mexican food. 
Now if I could just pay the mariachi band to ignore me forever, we might REALLY have a hit on our hands.
 Mama Mexico on Urbanspoon

Ed’s Chowder House – Do You Get What You Pay For?

You get what you pay for. Haven’t you heard that your entire life? And yet, there are times when you really don’t. You overpay and get crap, or you pay a little and get something so great. What would Ed’s Chowder Bar bring?
Ed’s Chowder Bar, located in the Empire Hotel, is not a place I would normally frequent. It is 
1) In a hotel
However, it was open Christmas Day. And had reservations and its normal menu. So we went. 
The space was extremely upscale without seeming fussy or stuffy – Ina Garten meets Carrie Bradshaw. Sleek and elegant with nautical touches and a bright, airy feeling. Also very spacious – a huge plus for any NYC restaurant. 
Oyster Crackers and Horseradish
Have you ever wanted to go to heaven? Just split open an oyster cracker with your thumbnail, heap on some horseradish, then replace the top. Then eat. It will clear your sinuses and awaken your tastebuds.
Bread Basket
We also got a bread basket filled with white rolls, cornbread sticks, and jalapeno-cheddar bread. Though it all sounded great, it was merely okay. The rolls could have been yeastier, the bread could have been spicier, and the sticks were a touch too sweet. Best to stick to the oyster crackers here. 
Iceberg Salad with Tomatoes, Red Onions, Pumpernickel Croutons, Blue Cheese, and Buttermilk or Balsamic Dressing
My sister wanted this salad. So we got it – way she wanted it: with almost everything on the side. And, you know what? The server delivered our order perfectly without once making her feel like she was Sally Albright. And the salad, albeit a simple one, was perfectly prepared. Crispy croutons, fresh veggies, light and flavorful dressings, and some of the best blue cheese I have had in a restaurant. Really – it was funky and umami but without having any of that stinky foot taste to it. Instead, it was bright and almost electric tasting. 
Needless to say, I ate it with my oyster cracker sandwiches. 
All the oysters at Ed’s Oyster Bar are flown in daily, and they offer a larger or smaller selection according to what they can get fresh. That’s great. What isn’t so great is that while 3 of the 5 oysters we ordered were delicious, the remaining 2 were not. They weren’t “off,” but they were totally devoid of flavor and that minerally, complex taste that oysters should have. When I am paying $3 per oyster, they should all be spectacular. If the oysters don’t taste great that day, just don’t put them on the menu. The best oyster of the bunch was the Mystic. It tasted like summer in my mouth – light, bright, and salty, just like the seashore. The mignonette sauce was a little bland, but the cocktail sauce was spicy, sweet, and fantastic. I would recommend Connecticut based oysters here. 
Golden Snapper
Having never seen golden snapper on a menu, I had to order it. It was fantastic! If you like snapper, striped bass, or any light, flaky fish, you must get this! It had the crispy skin of char but the delicate texture and mild flavor of striped bass. It was lightly grilled until moist, and with just a squeeze of lemon, was fantastic. 
Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
It was a big horseradish day for me. 
While I tasted only a hint of the spicy, pepper taste of horseradish in these potatoes, they were phenomenal. Creamy, but with a few large lumps, and the red skins mixed in well with the fatty, luscious taste of butter. These were great (and yes, a few spoonfuls of the horseradish mixed in did kick the whole thing into taste nirvana).
So, the food was great, the service was even better, and the surroundings were lovely. What’s my only hangup  about this place? The price. It ain’t cheap. It is going to cost you upwards of $40 here for an appetizer and entree at brunch. And I’m just not sure that a plate of fish and a salad is worth that price, no matter how delicious. Now, that said, I would absolutely come here for a few Connecticut oysters and that terrific bowl of mashed potatoes. And if I were headed to Lincoln Center, I would eat here in a flash.
So, do you get what you pay for here? 
You tell me.
Ed's Chowder House on Urbanspoon

Cafe Blossom – Soy Bacon Cheeseburgers Never Tasted So Great

I did it again. I visited another vegan restaurant. I did it to confront my fear, to show that I can indeed be an evolved person who appreciates different types of food, to bury the hatchet between the name of my blog and those who hate the idea of foie gras…
And I did it because I heard the place had an awesome faux cheeseburger.
Café Blossom is an offshoot of Blossom, a popular vegan restaurant in Chelsea. In case I need to remind you, vegans make vegetarians look like laid back, stuff any old thing in my face truck drivers. Vegans don’t eat any animal product – no honey, no eggs, and NO dairy. The restaurant was lovely – small, modern, dimly lit enough for a date but casual enough for a dinner between friends. 
Mushroom Ravioli with Truffle “Butter”
This ravioli was awesome-no other way to put it. Though the pasta was a  bit thick and doughy for my tastes, the filling was wonderful – rich, aromatic, garlic-tinged…dare I say that it was…meaty? The herbed truffle oil added the perfect touch of headiness to the dish, making it richer and more satisfying. My only complaint was that it was a little small – one more ravioli would have made it perfect.
Seitan Au Poivre
Let’s get first things out of the way first – this is not steak. It isn’t pretending to be steak, and it has no desire to be steak. It is a soft, though not mushy texture, and is a soybean-based protein. Okay, now that we got that out of the way…this was awesome. Peppery, sharp, filled with sautéed onions and thick mushrooms. It even managed to approach creaminess, with none of the vomit aftertaste that fake milk products can sometimes have. The asparagus was grilled until smoky and those skinny shoestring fries were crispy and lightly salted, delicious when dragged through the spicy, wine-flavored sauce.
Soy Bacon Cheeseburger with Tapioca Cheddar Cheese
This burger rocked my steak eating, raw beef lovingegg yolk worshipping socks off. I mean, really…it was  awesome. In fact, if you hadn’t told me, I would NEVER have known that this was a vegan cheeseburger. It tasted like a thin, fresh burger patty, meaty and slightly salty, covered in mild Velveeta cheese, smoky bacon, and creamy Russian dressing. Basically, it was a dream. I kept on looking at my burger and waiting for a strange texture of horrid aftertaste to kick in, but it NEVER DID. It really tasted like a great, greaseless fast food burger, on a soft bun served with a fresh salad dressed in a sweet, mustardy vinaigrette. Don’t worry, you can choose to get fries on the side instead. Sure, the burger could have used a squirt of hot sauce and a couple of pickles, but those are easy fixes. The point is that this burger tasted like a burger. A guilty, bad for you burger. And all that was in it was soy and tapioca. When I was finished, I didn’t feel bloated or like I had a salt lick in my mouth. It was a guilt free cheeseburger!
I hope you still eat bacon. I hope you love foie gras and eat grilled cheese till it comes out your ears. In spite of all that, get yourself to Blossom for excellent service, very fair prices, and a burger that will blow your meat-eating mind.
Cafe Blossom on Urbanspoon

Big Daddy’s Big Breakfasts

When its time for breakfast and you are really, REALLY hungry, you don’t want fancy, precious food. You don’t want a server to explain how the lettuce was grown by 12 year old genius farmers, and you don’t want 13 amuse bouches before you get to the main course. You want hearty, cheap food, and lots of it. Served quickly. Preferably greasy. 
You want Big Daddy’s
This is just a damn good diner. Sure, it has a kitschy pop-culture decor and Trivial Pursuit cards at every table so you aren’t bored while you wait for your food. But don’t let those factors distract you from the fact that this place serves up good ole diner food. The fare here is served quickly, it is cheap, and it is GOOD.
Omelette with Cheddar, Tomatoes, Avocado and Caramelized Onions
This 3 egg build-your-own-omelette is just perfect. By that, I mean that the toppings virtually overtake the eggs. There were so many toppings in there – melty, gooey cheddar, juicy tomatoes, buttery avocados, and sweetly caramelized onions. I could not take a bite of fluffy egg without getting that symphony of flavors. A sprinkle of Tabasco sauce was all that was needed to bring this omelette to life.
Toast served alongside was thick and filled with earthy rye flavor, and the tator tots…well, I have waxed poetic about those crispy orbs of tuber goodness
This isn’t a long review, because this was all I could eat. All day. I finished the plate and then had to nap for a good 2 hours. 
And that’s what a great diner breakfast should do to you.
Big Daddy's- Burgers, Shakes & Tots on Urbanspoon

Artie’s Delicatessen – The Sandwich of My Dreams

Who doesn’t love a deli? If the scents of sour pickles, garlicky meats, and long simmered soups don’t get your engine running, you had better check your pulse, because you’re probably dead. I was raised on corned beef sandwiches, stuffed kishke, and the like, so eating these foods is my trip down memory lane. That’s why I felt especially keen to try Artie’s, a Jewish-style deli on the UWS.

Artie’s is a very gentrified version of the classic deli – cleaner and brighter, with young servers who don’t yell at you if you aren’t ready to order.

Pickles and Coleslaw

Any good deli gives you a little nosh before you know what you want to eat. The dill pickles were excellent – cold, crunchy, and sour with a touch of fragrant dill flavor. The coleslaw was even better – slightly sweet, with a creamy mayonnaise dressing tempered by the tang of vinegar. Two pickles and and a few forkfuls of colelsaw later, I was ready to make my meal happen.

Matzoh Ball Soup

I am not one for ordering matzoh ball soup at restaurants, because I feel like they never compare to the soups that you eat at people’s homes during Passover. That said, after trying my dining companion’s soup, I had to admit that this was surprisingly tasty. The matzoh balls were fluffy but not mushy, with a slight amount of resistance as my spoon slid cleanly though them. They were tender on the tongue, light and infused with a clean chicken flavor. The soup was not too salty(MAJOR pet peeve of mine), but it lacked the rich, gelatinous, savory flavor of truly long simmered chicken stock. Even so, the carrots were sweet and tender, and this is one of the better versions that I have tried from a restaurant.

Brisket Reuben with Sauerkraut, Muenster Cheese, and Horseradish Dressing

This was the most disappointing of the dishes ordered. The brisket was overcooked, rendering it limp and gray. It was saved by the excellent accompaniments – sour, crisp sauerkraut, aromatic rye bread, and gooey muenster cheese. The horseradish dressing could have used more of a sinus-clearing kick, but, then, I will always say that. This sandwich was fine, but not excellent. For excellent, you will have to see exhibit C:

Pastrami and Chopped Liver with Bermuda Onion

Yes. That is right. 3 of my favorite things in one sandwich. Thick slices of garlicky, peppery pastrami. The tender pieces of beef were surrounded by a pearly layer of fat that melted upon contact with my tongue. Creamy chopped liver, iron-y and umami, decadence at its finest. Razor thin slices of Bermuda onion, sharp at first then sweet at the end, to cut through the fat and salt of the sandwich. The chopped liver made the pastrami taste spicier, and the pastrami was so substantial that it made the chopped liver delicate, more like a spread than an overwhelming sandwich component. There was a good amount of meat there without being overwhelming, and the bread used was that same hearty rye. This sandwich longed for nothing.

Artie’s is not the best deli in the world. It’s a little gentrified, and the brisket leaves something to be desired. But the service is great, the menu is huge, and the chopped liver/pastrami sandwich is so good I just may go back for another today.

Just don’t expect anyone to kiss you afterwards-all that garlic is good for the appetite, bad for the romantic life.
Artie's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Awash – My Entree into Ethiopian Food

Just when I think I know everything, that I have tried every food out there and have nothing more to learn or see in the gastronomic world, something new comes up and smacks me in the face.
Case in point…Awash.

Awash is a small restaurant on the UWS that serves Ethiopian food. I feel like I am the only person who has not tried it – well, the only one who HAD not tried it. So, when this small restaurant (heated to at least 85 F) could seat me late one night, I was ready to sit down and tuck in.

I have heard that Ethiopian restaurants are usually casual, communal affairs and I was envisioning a much more diner-like atmosphere. But this was nicely decorated linen tablecloths, and though it is clearly relaxed, it’s not at all “divey.” This is a great place for a date with an adventurous eater(I mean, I was so warm in that overheated restaurant that I almost took my shirt off – what bodes better for a date than that?).

The one thing it doesn’t have – silverware. You eat everything with your fingers and a stretchy, thin, spongy pancake called Injerea, that is faintly tangy, like sourdough. So wash up before you start to eat.
These meat filled fried pastries were my first clue that I was going to love Ethiopian food. The ground meat was spicy and incredibly savory. It had the cool edge of mint, the bite of onions, a spice from chili powder, and a myriad of other spices that made it sweet, savory, warming and lip tingling. It was similar to Indian and Moroccan food in the multiple taste sensations that were going on, but it had some earthy spices that were all its own.  The meat itself was tender and encased in a crisp, greaseless pastry that was similar to that of a samosa. Served with a bracing, vinegary mustard sauce to cut the fat of the beef, it was a delicious appetizer.

Special Kifto

Lean ground beef, jalapenos, and onions, served with Ethiopian butter and spices(mitmita). Served with Collard Greens and Lentils
The collard greens were fine, I’m sure. The lentils were probably great. Who the hell knows, really? Because I could not tear my fingers or tongue away from the kifto. This Ethiopian steak tartare was…dare I say it?…in contention for my favorite steak tartare in the city. Nothing like the traditional version, this had a medium grind, and was laced with rather sweet onions, crunches of very hot jalapeno, and a spice mixture that, while zesty, was warming and smoky rather than tingly-front-of-the-mouth hot. Most of that heat came from the jalapeno, which made the meat taste sweeter and grassier, made the sourdough taste more tangy, made the whole dish fuller and more delicious. The butter was not apparent, which is a great thing – it let the meat shine through as the main component without being greasy or heavy. This was a myriad of flavors – tender beef, spongy injera, crunchy veggies, and scoops of soft vegetables. Really, I can’t say enough wonderful things about this. You can get the mixture lightly sauteed if you are that sort of wimp.You can get the regular Kifto, too – that is the Kifito in the middle of the injera, and it was just great. But there is something about a meal that has mucus running out of my nose that really earns my respect. So stick with the special Kifto. And be aware – you will not be able to finish this.

We couldn’t, and we did our BEST.

Awash is a stand up restaurant – cheap, large portions, delicious food, and service that is…well, the service is sort of laughable. Not rude, but not what I would call…speedy. But the food is so great that I don’t even care. I am officially obsessed with Ethiopian food. It’s spicy, it’s raw, you eat it with your hands.
And we all know that’s how I like my food and my men.
Awash on Urbanspoon

Momoya is Meh

I have been known to like chi-chi sushi restaurants before, so I figured I would give Momoya a try. It seemed a little pricey, but sometimes you get what you pay for, right?
The UWS location, small but not cramped, is upscale but extremely casual – the lunchtime crowd included moms with strollers, business people on lunch breaks, and know it all food bloggers wearing stretchy pants. 
VERY meh. And this is from someone who loves all those standard salads you get at sushi restaurants. This time, the mesclun greens were weighed down by the thick dressing, rendering them limp and tasteless. The dressing itself was far too sweet, without the spicy, pungent, tart quality that makes ginger dressing so delicious. 
Momoya Spicy Yellowtail
Spicy Yellowtail wrapped in Seared Yellowtail with Jalapeno Relish
This was a real conundrum. The yellowtail atop the sushi was incredible – buttery, mild, fatty but not overly so. The seared edges gave it a hearty taste while the rare inside was fresh and soft. The spicy yellowtail mixture, however, was incredibly bland. Was it tuna? Was it yellowtail? Was there any wasabi in there whatsoever? Additionally, the jalapeno relish didn’t have any heat at all. Too bad, because the quality of the seared yellowtail was top notch. 
Amsterdam Roll
Spicy Tuna and Shrimp Tempura Wrapped in Soy Paper
I don’t know what this was. A humongous glob of rice wrapped around some non-spicy tuna and some very well fried shrimp. Relatively tasteless and way too huge to eat in one mouthful. 
I mean, I ate it in one mouthful. But it was way too big, anyway. This was just…odd. Not great. 
Udon with Tempura 
First of all: Wow. Now, THIS is a portion size.  The tempura on the side was great – snappy shrimp inside crisp tempura breading, creamy eggplant and tender-crisp broccoli, all delicious with a sprinkling from the shaker of togashari pepper. The udon was also quite good – springy, chewy noodles with the perfect texture ina mild vegetable broth laden with meaty shitaki and tender enoki mushrooms. This was a great serving size and quite tasty. But the price was ridiculous – $13 for this? No. Sorry. Not cutting it. 
And sadly, Momoya isn’t cutting it. I can eat sushi with cheaper prices and better taste all over the city. Sadly, I can’t recommend this place. But I do recommend you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving – see you after the holiday!
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