Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tapas: Tia Pol and Alta

Even though I don't talk about tapas all that often, I think they are my favorite cuisine. I love hacking away at a big piece of steak as much as (or probably more than) the next person, but the endless parade of fun, inventive plates brings a variety to your meal that you can't get otherwise.

Aside from the Japanese tapas we get at Bozu, the only real (read: Spanish) tapas places I ever go to in the city are Tia Pol and Alta. I definitely need to expand my horizons in this area. Each of these spots have their merits and their drawbacks. I've been to Tia Pol maybe five times now and don't plan on stopping my occasional visits; I visited Alta for the second, and probably last, time last night.

Tia Pol, located in Chelsea, is unfortunately very tiny and they do not take reservations. Not an ideal setup when you want to catch up with someone, as the crowded group of waiting people are literally breathing down your back (at least in the seat I always seem to get) and the waiters are clearly rushing you out. BUT, Tia Pol has the greatest sangria I've ever had in my life. Their crispy hot patatas bravas with aioli are insanely addicting. Chorizo and bittersweet chocolate on toasted bread bring the sweet/salty combo to a new level with crunchy, soft and chewy textures all in one bite. Their lamb skewers are incredibly tender, and their ham and cheese croquettes almost cause chaos at the table -- we normally order a few plates of that.

But then, Tia Pol isn't perfect. They have a few dishes that are merely "eh," even if I'll order them again and again. Rob loves the "garbanzos fritos" (fried chickpeas) but even through the salty greasiness I feel as though something is missing in them. The deviled eggs aren't any better than I can make myself. The Spanish almonds are standard.

If you're feeling particularly patient, I'd definitely recommend giving this place a go. Just be prepared to wait maybe an hour or so on a weeknight. The sangria helps make that wait worth it, even if you're nose-to-nose with a stranger the entire time.

Tia Pol
205 10th Avenue (between 22nd St & 23rd St)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 675-8805

Last night Tia Pol was having a private party, so Rob and I and a few friends met up at Alta in Greenwich Village. Although Alta can get terribly crowded -- and LOUD -- the place is pretty big with upstairs and downstairs seating. We sat in a more secluded area; two small rooms accessible only by walking through an upstairs kitchen. Those chefs must get pretty frustrated by that constant interruption, right? You would think.

The menu here is longer and more involved than Tia Pol's, but by no means better. There is no patatas bravas. The sangria is fairly terrible. Most dishes are good, but forgettable. Not like Tia Pol where you'll walk around mumbling "lamb skewers!" with stars in your eyes a week afterwards.

Here's a breakdown of the twelve dishes we shared:

Fried Goat Cheese -- Must have been made in those takoyaki pans as they were perfectly round and crispy on the outside. Menu says its served with lavendar-infused honey, but I didn't taste the lavendar.

Smoked Trout Croquettes -- These were actually creamier and less salty than I expected. I wish they had more of a selection of the croquettes, but the trout was pretty good.

Lamb Pastrami "Sandwich" -- Crispy bread and tasty lamb. I'm not sure how I felt about the blood orange cole slaw they served with it; it was a little too acidic for a cole slaw but still very interesting.

Carpaccio of Beef -- The creme fraiche foam served on top of the beef was sinfully good. The beef itself was good, but overpowered by that foamy topping.

Tunisian Spiced Roasted Beets -- Cut way too small. Served with toasted hazelnuts, which is a nice compliment, but also with a lot of greens on top that seemed sort of like a filler.

Sauteed Broccoli -- Standard broccoli with a light cheese sauce.

Grilled Gulf Shrimp & Chorizo Skewer -- I don't remember the "avocado cream, warm garlic & sherry vinaigrette" its supposed to be served with, but the shrimp and chorizo themselves were very good. I'm not normally crazy about shrimp but big, juicy and perfectly cooked to my taste.

Chicken Wings -- This was one of the few dishes where I could taste the little additions they advertised. The agave glaze was surprisingly sweet and the wings were perfectly crispy. Ok, I admit that I don't remember anything about the "chile spice blend."

Pulled Pork Empanadas -- The pork in these weren't fantastic, but I really liked the crispy dough. Served with a cilantro dipping sauce. I can't remember if I dipped or not.

Skewer of Grilled & Maple glazed Duck Breast -- A nice, succulent bite of duck with a foie gras emulsion and Marsala reduction that I do not remember. But the duck itself was tender and fairly juicy.

Sea Scallops -- These scallops were served in a way I'd never seen before. It looked like one of those awesome blossom cutters went crazy on two scallops. Menu says it was served with romesco sauce, scallion fondue, vanilla oil and Greek basil but again, these flavors played a minimal role. The scallops were soft and fresh. Sand was minimal but present.

Ricotta Parmesan Gnocchi -- One of the disappointments of the group. The gnocchi was so soft it was almost mushy, and the foam served on top -- "parsnip lemon puree, Prosecco almond espuma" -- was a weird accompanyment.

For dessert, we had chocolate cake and panna cotta. The panna cotta had a weird sort of spices and citrus strips I wasn't crazy about, but the texture was ok. I only had a bite of the chocolate but it was pretty bangin'.

Anyway, I guess its pretty obvious that I wasn't wowed by the food, but I had a great time catching up with friends. Sitting with my back against a small corner of a small room was appreciated over having strangers standing over my shoulder. In the meantime, I'll be on the hunt for a new go-to tapas Spanish tapas place when I don't have the patience for Tia Pol. Anyone?

64 W 10th St (between 5th Ave & 14th St)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 505-7777

Another Reason to visit Le Bernadin...

When we visited Le Bernadin in March, everything from the food and wine to the service was impeccable. While I thought the sommelier did a fantastic job paring wines for each course, I had no idea he was considered the World's best until I read this article from Food & Wine magazine. The publication hired Frank Bruni to become the most difficult diner imaginable, challenging poor Mr. Sohm to think on his feet. While we were all very happy with the parings he gave us, it's pretty cool to know he can come up with an aged rum to match the Kobe beef and a beer to match a chocolate dessert.

Like you needed another reason to visit Le Bernadin!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where to Buy Cured Meat, Cheeses, Coffee, Fish, etc.

Like I mentioned before, Rob and I hosted our first Thanksgiving this year. We were determined to make it the best tasting Thanksgiving ever, so when shopping for the big event we had to rely on a few old favorites while seeking out a few new places, too.

I know Murray's is pretty much the standard as far as NYC cheese shops go, but Rob and I usually prefer the East Village Cheese Shop instead. Even though its cash only and they don't give out tastes, its easier to get to and (usually) less crowded than Murray's. They have a great selection, great prices, and the smaller space bumps up the funk factor. For Thanksgiving appetizers we bought some bleu cheese, a hunk of brie, walnut-studded gouda and my current cheese favorite, manchego. I gave the brie and gouda a little pre-Thanksgiving test with crackers the night before. All four kinds were wonderful, and just like I suspected, the walnuts worked great in the smoked gouda.

East Village Cheese Shop
40 Third Ave (Betw. 9th and 10th)

Greg was in charge of the pork this year, and hit Emily's Pork Store for pre-meal soppressata and pancetta to spruce up the brussel sprouts. I haven't actually been in here before, but both meats were fantastic. I HAVE, however, been to the nearby Model T. Meats and cannot recommend their huge $5 skirt steak enough. They also sell excellent whole chickens (great for roasting), huge and juicy pork loins, and standard stuff like eggs, butter and frozen octopus.

Emily's Pork Store
426 Graham Ave (between Frost St & Withers St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Model T Meats Corp
404 Graham Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211

And while we're on the topic of meats, I have to spotlight the Nassau Meat Market for its insane collection of kielbasa. I wish they spoke better English there, but it's part of the charm to be the only non-Polish grandmother in their huge Saturday morning lines. We've tried to ask a few questions about what they have, but so far all we know to ask for is "double-smoked." Can anyone come with us and translate sometime?

Well, in case you're wondering, the double-smoked works great in mac 'n' cheeses, red sauces, potatoes, scrambled eggs and pretty much anything else that could use some cured, salty meatiness.

Nassau Meat Market
915 Manhattan Avenue (between Greenpoint Ave & Kent St)
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Two days before Thanksgiving and we set out to buy our Tom Turkey in Red Hook, at Fairway Market. Rob had been before so I knew that I should brace myself for grocery store madness, but I was not expecting a full-on food funhouse. This place had everything and anything. Like bizarre looking tomatoes.

And jars of pink Himalayan rock salt (remember when I had some in my gelato at Grom?).

They had a huge cheese selection. They had a crazy olive bar. They had cuts of beef so big I'm fairly sure they were whole quarters of cows. They had oysters. They had lemon salt. They had all kinds of truffles. They had our organic, never-frozen turkey too, of course ("Murray") and a crazy selection of house-roasted coffees for post-dinner sipping.

Fairway Market
480 Van Brunt St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

Thanksgiving came and went in a blur, and Friday morning we woke up hungry and exhausted. Since it is very rare that we have Fridays off, we made our first trip to Acme fish market for smoked fish to go on our bagels. We've had Acme fish at Roebling Tea Room and probably at a lot of other places, but they only open their wholesale warehouse to the public on Fridays. They have a few samples out and I tried a bit of smoked tuna. We stuck with the salmon.

Acme Smoked Fish Corp
30 Gem St.
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Omakase at Kanoyama

Well, it's that time of year again: Rob's birthday month. And by now I feel it is tradition to start looking for a suitable place to take Rob for an above-average place for sushi.

When I started doing my research earlier in the month, Kanoyama kept popping up. At first I didn't really want to go there, it seemed too obvious. It was reviewed in the same Frank Bruni article that inspired me to take Rob to Sushi Azabu last year. But then I started to realize what he meant when he called both these places "bargains." It's super difficult to find an omakase deal with fresh sushi, flown from Japan for under $200 a person. And in some cases, its nearly impossible to get reservations. Luckily, its easy to make a reservation at Kanoyama, and their lowest "omakase" starts at $32 (which really just means an assortment of fish on one plate). The price range beyond that is limitless. Just tell them how much you're willing to spend, and they'll bring you as many courses as that price range allows.

Since we're stressed out with hosting our first Thanksgiving this year -- and since Kanoyama is closed for renovations next week -- we did the birthday dinner early this year. The fish was great and very fresh, the sushi chefs were very skilled and fun to watch. It was a little hard not to compare this experience with Sushi Azabu, though. Last year we tried a bigger variety of food, we were given a good deal more, the service was nothing less than completely hospitable, and the ambiance was unbeatable. This year, the service was a little unsteady; our second course came before we were done with the first and then we waited a good while for #3. Most of what we ate this year was sushi, even though that's what we specified when they asked if we wanted more sushi or more kitchen appetizers. We shouldn't have to make decisions like that! I felt like after we said that, we limited ourselves in terms of variety.
Those slight complaints aside, here's an overview of the fantastic meal we shared:

1) Kaki GomaAe (Winter Persimmon with Sesame Tahini) -- The presentation of this was beautiful -- melonballs of persimmon lightly coated in tahini and served in its own core. I've never had persimmon, but I couldn't even distinguish its flavor from the tahini it melded together so well. It had a crunch kind of like a pear. I expected its flesh to taste softer since it looks so much like a tomato. This was a great starter.
2) Cod Roe with Ponzu -- I always think of tiny, bright, glasslike balls when I think of roe, but cod roe is different; its more like a chicken egg. This was lightly fried, like tempura, with runny whites in the middle. The ponzu definitely played a key role in the flavor here.

3) Sashimi -- Here we each were given a finely adorned selection of three things -- striped jackfish, white yellowtail and pike eel roe with dashi. The plate (and by "plate" I mean giant shell from a mollusk on ice) contained a small dish of dried kelp, and we were instructed to unroll the sushi, put the kelp inside, re-roll and dunk in a small amount of house made soy sauce. The kelp was oddly chewy but it gave the fish a new dimension. I didn't like the eel roe; it came like a square glob of jello and I still don't get what made it this way. The flavor was nice and light, kind of like champagne-flavored jello, but the texture was too weird for me.

4) If you take a look at the post I wrote on Sushi Azabu last year, I called what comes next as "grand finale of sushi." However, it came too soon this year to be a grand finale; this time it was more like the main event. They served it the same way, though: one piece at a time. Last year they plunked each piece right in front of us. At Kanoyama, they put it up on the counter so you have to make sure your chopstick skills are steller, lest you drop your fish during the 12 inches it travels from its dark granite home to your outstretched neck.

There were quite a few similarities from last year, which I enjoyed. Many of these things I haven't had since last year, and now I'm somewhat familiar with them to know what a treat they are. Namely, uni and toro. I would like to find a way to incorporate more uni and toro into my life.

Here are the seven fishes:

a) Fluke -- Topped with a little bit of salt and lemon juice. Great flavor, but very chewy.

b) Japanese Mackerel -- This one was the fishiest of all and therefore, probably my least favorite.

c) Sea Scallop -- I love the texture of fresh, raw scallops. A little citrus and wasabi hid beneath the fish and the rice and made it even better.

d) Jackfish -- Topped with lots of sesame seeds. This combination was surprisingly good.
e) Toro -- It's always a treat to have the non-translucent tuna. The way it hugs and rice and then melts in your mouth... wow.

f) Uni -- I thought of a passage from the book Motherless Brooklyn when I saw this. Somewhere it is mentioned that uni is the national food of Japan and that a Japanese family must eat it at least once a week to maintain self-respect. That sounds as good an excuse to indulge as any; I LOVE the taste and texture of sea urchin. It goes down so easily without being slimy or too wet. How does it do that?

g) Sea Eel -- We each got a whole, huge eel. I know these are delicacies but I wish we could just stick with the good, cold stuff. The glaze they put on top is too sweet for me and I don't think it helps that I can never get the creepy grimmaces of those things out of my head.

5) We ended with a bowl of matsutake mushroom soup. It smelled sort of like an old wood cabin; in a good way. Apparently these mushrooms are delicacies as well but I really don't like the springy texture of most mushrooms.

Well, we should have been done here but we wanted one more thing: an oyster we saw going out a few times with uni and orange roe on top. It was a huge bite, but so good -- a great combination of wet uni and oyster and popping, flavorful roe. Oysters are a relatively new thing to me and having bizarre combinations like this is a good getting-to-know-you exercise. One of the things I'm liking about oysters are the way they linger in your mouth, kind of on the back roof of your mouth, like you just jumped into the ocean, face first. In a good way.

We finished with a scoop of ice cream -- red bean for him and green tea for me.

While I don't think we'll be doing any more omakase at Kanoyama, I do think we'll be back at some point to try a few things we didn't get to have here -- lobster miso soup, sliced duck, and the ankimo, which looked amazing. I may have to get a little toro and uni, too. You know, for self respect's sake.

175 Second Ave (at 11th St.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cafe Grumpy at its Grind

Remember last fall when I talked about how great Cafe Grumpy was? You probably don't, but I did. And I just found out, they're even better now!

Rob and I stopped in on Friday night for a sweater movie. What is a sweater movie, you ask? It's their fall season movie celebration where you win a prize for the best woolly top (in Friday's case, a pack of glow in the dark stars). A nice festive way to spend the evening. Cafe Grumpy was projecting Coraline that night, and I must admit I haven't been that scared by a kids' film... ever. What kind of fearless kids are we bringing up these days? Wasn't the Wizard of Oz bad enough for most of us?

Anyway, we happened to notice the presence of a new counter in the back room we hadn't seen before, with an industrial-sized roaster. Naturally, we asked the barista if they were roasting their own beans now. Yup, he says, we just started last month. As of right now they are roasting two kinds of beans: a Finca Chichupac (from Guatemala) and Finca El Carmen (from El Salvadore). How cool! I would have opted for one had I not really been in the mood for a sweet mint tea. Probably a good choice... I think caffeine + Coraline would have been a bit much for my faint heart.

I'll be back to see Christmas Vacation. Until then, I'm on the hunt for the best holiday sweater I can find. Maybe one with reindeer?

Chasing Cupcakes

New Yorkers love moving targets. The fact that gourmet trucks are always so popular is proof of this. You feel a sense of pride when you finally locate that elusive banh mi cart, you feel lucky when the falafel cart regularly parks along your commute. And when the cupcake truck graces you with its presence, maybe you dash down the street like a little kid that heard the faint ringing of the ice cream truck.

The Cupcake Stop truck finds a new home each and every day, and fans can track its location on Twitter. Last week the truck happened to be a few blocks away from the office, so I went out and got a red velvet one. The cupcakes were much smaller and far less sweet than Crumbs, which was a welcome surprise after a big lunch. They bake them fresh every morning and you can tell, the cupcakes were way moister than any cupcake I've ever gotten from Buttercup.

Here's hoping the Cupcake Stop truck and I cross paths again someday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fresh Air and Fiery Chili in Portsmouth

I think most people in NYC can understand the need to get out of the city and breathe sometimes. For Rob and I, that place of refuge is Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It's the perfect New England port town with eclectic shopping, cozy coffeeshops and, of course, great food. We probably pay our sanctuary a visit about once every eight weeks or so. I can't think of many places I'd rather be.

We almost always start our day off at Colbys. This cozy little establishment has a fireplace, warm red walls and local art hanging on the walls. We partially come here because there aren't many other breakfast choices in the area -- the Friendly Toast always has a wait and isn't even very good, and while Popovers has puffed pastry the size of your head, they don't offer table service, or much beyond your standard bakery fare for that matter. Colby's it is, then.

But aside from the lack of choices in the area, Colby's has something very special to offer -- Lobster Benedict. It's on the specials list about 80% of the time, so there's always the fun anticipation of waiting to see whether or not it will be a lobster benny morning. They give you tons of lobster meat and top it off with lots of hollandaise, and for $12.99 a plate I can tell you that you'll pay a lot more for a lot less in Brooklyn.

105 Daniel St.
Portsmouth, NH 03801

Our most recent visit was a perfect fall day, with the sun shining, a tiny chill in the air, and beautiful folliage abound. And because Porstmouth is a real-life Pleasantville, that Saturday just happened to be Portsmouth's Chili Fest day.

The chili here came in all shapes and sizes. Some were beef-based, some were chicken-based, some were made from pork, one was even made from steak (and, it should be said, not that good). They came with beans and without, with or without scallions, any variety of salsa, with or without cheese. Some had onions. Some had stations where you can add cheese or sour cream til your heart's content. Some were served with tortilla chips. One even had a zinfandel reduction sauce (it was actually served on the steak chili and again, not recommended). The chilis here saw no limits. My favorite was a simple ground beef chili, with beans and a lot of chili powder, that left me breathing fire. Oh, you wanted a water? You'll have to wait in that gigantic line over there to buy a ticket for $2. Well, everything has its price I guess.

On the plus side, we did meet some pretty nifty new friends.

There is so much more to say about Portsmouth's dining scene. Espresso-coated filet mignons at the Green Monkey, lobster rolls at Lobster in the Rough, pizza at the Flatbread Company, crab cakes at Cafe Mirabel, fresh flounder at Jumpin' Jay's. I'll have to save those for future Portsmouth installments. Or maybe you'd like to join us for our next getaway?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sandwich Obsession Deconstructed: Marlow & Sons (& Daughters)

My sandwich kick went strong for awhile, and now here I am at what I consider stage 2 of sandwichiritis: the deconstruction. Cured meats and cheeses are now best enjoyed separately, so as to enjoy the subtle differences that come with preparing the same foods in different ways. And restaurants always throw in some chewy bread, so you still get the sandwichy effect. It's a happy disease.

A few weekends ago Rob and I finally went to Marlowe & Sons in Williamsburg. It's gotten so much hype but I never really felt like going. Their specialties of charcuterie, oysters and soup just seemed like a boring way to spend the evening. I was so, so wrong and I'm glad. It was one of the most memorable meals Rob and I have had in a long time.

We went on a Saturday night and they don't take reservations, so we had to wait at the crowded bar for quite awhile. It was annoying being right in the servers' way but as soon as we got a stool at the bar, we were treated well during our wait. They asked if we wanted to start with any appetizers on the house, so we went with the olives. Two minutes later we were presented with a huge bowl of all sorts of shiny and briny olives in all shades and shapes. They were some of the meatiest olives I've ever had. In a good way. The perfect accompanyment to our 1/3 bottle of wine.

After waiting a little over an hour we get a seat, and luckily its towards the back of the room. Lots of people are sitting about four feet away from the bar. There's not a whole lot of room for personal space here.

Marlow & Sons switches up their menu every day based on what's fresh in their kitchen that day. I think there are a few constants, like the brick chicken. We decided against the idea of getting any of the three entrees and went for a little bit of everything else. First, a meat plate and two kinds of cheeses. The memorable cheese was a Point Reyes from California. We savored this stuff like it was the last thing we were ever going to eat. It was a little smokey with a familiar aftertaste that neither of us could identify. We would alternate taking bites, trying to nail down what it reminded us of. We couldn't come up with anything. The other cheese was good but not nearly as mystifying, so I guess it lost out on the allure of its brother cheese.

The meat plate was made up of five kinds of cured porky wonder: toscano, soppressata, finnochiona, nostrano and prosciutto. Finnochiona is a salami with fennel, or finnochio (one of the few Italian words I actually know and use!) Each and every type of meat blew me away with its lush spices and meltiness.

To finish our deconstructed sandwich, we ordered the crostini of the day. On this particular day the crostini was topped with housemade butter, goat cheese and Concord grape compote. Before we tried it, we were thinking "Bread and butter with a little cheese and a little jelly, sounds kind of boring and maybe a little weird." The crostini was neither of these things by a long shot. After one bite, both of our eyes shot up. First the warm, sweet housemade butter runs down your throat. Then the strong, acidic taste of the supergrape fills your mouth. You crunch on the grape seeds while the taste of the goat cheese comes through, a bit overpowered but still present. It was truly amazing. The idea that these simple ingredients can form into something so powerful was nothing less than inspiring. I almost cried a little.

But we're not done yet. We had read pretty stellar reviews of the Parmesan soup, another constant on the menu. We were expecting a rich, cream-based soup, but it was actually cloudy broth with housemade croutons and greens, though I don't remember what those greens were. The soup wasn't much to look at but it was light, salty, cheesy, buttery. Score.

And since we were there, we might as well try their oysters. We tried one kind from New York and another from North Carolina. I've never been too fond of oysters but this place has converted me into a full-on oyster believer. The New York oyster was a bit overpowering in its briny punch but I found the North Carolina ones to be just right.

At this point we were both too full for dessert. But this didn't stop us from getting the chocolate tart with sea salt and caramel to go. I think it may have lost something in the way of texture (and temperature) after a day in the fridge, but the flavors were still there. They definitely did not skimp on the sea salt, making for a sharp contrast with the rich chocolate and smooth caramel. Even non-sweet toothed Rob enjoyed this one. Well, at least the bites that I let him have.

I can't wait to go back so I can try the pork belly, the brick chicken, the fried corn and chicken liver pate. That is, on top of everything else that we have already tried.

Until our next visit, there is always Marlow & Daughters, the small grocery store/butcher next door. Like Marlow & Sons, the prices are a little steep at the store devoted to the female of the Marlow offspring, but I bet it's worth it.

Marlow & Sons
81 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 384-1441

Marlow & Daughters
95 Broadway (between Bedford Ave & Berry St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-5700

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm Examining!

Some semi-delayed news -- I've finally branched out my food writing beyond the scope of this blog. I am the official Brooklyn Brunch Examiner for! I started towards the end of August so I only have a few articles at this point. Check me out if you get a chance, and keep checking back for more updates. Brooklyn is a big place and brunch is more or less a universal restaurant thing, so if anyone has any tips or ideas to share, please pass them my way!

Also, if there are any writers out there, Examiner hires all sorts of people to cover sports, fitness, animals, etc. I can hook you up!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Creepy Jello Salads and More

I was blog-surfing a few weeks ago when I came across something hilarious: Weight Watcher's diet recipes from the early '70s. Take a look.

Warning -- You WILL lose your appetite.

A Sandwich and Gelato; Perfected

This past weekend I found myself wandering around a winding street fair in the West Village. It's impossible for me to shop without getting hungry, so Rob and I began searching around for something quick yet quality to eat. He suggested we hit up Faicco's Pork Store, next to Murray's Cheese Shop. I thought it was an odd suggestiong seeing as how I didn't even know they provided quick meals like sandwiches. But they do. And it is amazing.

There are tons of fantastic meats to choose from here, and they aren't just limited to pork. There's housemade roast beef and frozen pastas and other fantastic looking treats. But mostly pork. Cured meats, bacon, sausages, even a pork roast, which is a juicy little slice of porky heaven. I know because I came back to try it.
We finally settled on the hot sopressata with fresh mozzerella and artichokes, drizzled in olive oil and topped off with lots of pepper. Wow. When they handed us each a fresh piece of meat right off the slicer, we knew we found a quality place. The sopressata had the right amount of lean and fat, the perfect amount of spice that gets you in the back of the throat. We get to eat a whole sandwich of this stuff?
This quick meal sparked a sandwich obsession that has lasted all week. I constantly wanted meat and cheese on a baguette, or something equally crusty yet hard to bite. After a few lame deli sandwiches, I finally caved and went back for my second visit to Faicco's today. I ordered the same exact thing, except unfortunately they forgot the artichokes this time. That's okay. Still amazing, even though the artichokes lended a good amount of moisture and a subtle taste that complemented the fresh cured pork and cheese well.
I don't think the sandwich obsession will stop here, although I sort of hope it will. There aren't enough good sandwich stops in midtown or Greenpoint that cut the bill, especially now that I have been spoiled by Faicco's.

After the sandwich today I stopped for some gelato at Grom. I've had gelato here a couple of times now but nothing has stood out as much as the caramello -- carmelized sugar with pink Himalyan sea salt crystals. I thought the sweet/salty combo would be a bit overpowering, but it was actually quite creamy and mellow, with a soft aftertaste that was maybe vanilla or egg yolks. The pink salt wasn't visible, but that's ok. You have my heart anyway, Grom.

Faicco's Pork Store
260 Bleecker St. (between Cornelia St. & Morton St.)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-1974

Grom Gelato
233 Bleecker St. at Carmine St.
New York, NY 10022
(212) 206-1738

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Westville: Not Your Typical Diner

Last Wednesday, Rob and I met up with a few friends for dinner at Westville East. I did some quick research before heading out the door that evening and saw that Westville (and its Avenue A branch, Westville East) was perceived to be a sort of health food diner with salads, sandwiches, and lots of vegetables. We went in with fairly low expectations, and were pretty amazed with what we found.

We had to wait about half an hour at 8pm. On a Wednesday! And people were still waiting for our table at 10pm. I think this speaks pretty loudly about Westville's loyal following.
Luckily for us, they'll give you your wine or beer in a paper cup so you can take it outside while you wait for your table. This definitely makes standing outside a little (ok -- a lot) easier to do.

The atmosphere in Westville East's corner spot is simple, with white walls and a few decorations. It's the people that give Westville its true bustling, hearty feel.

Now I'm not crazy for vegetables or anything, but their list of market fresh sides was almost overwhelming. I tried the chicken, mostly because it came with two sides. I finally settled on fennel with parmesan and green peas with shallots and bacon (their "Add Bacon" sign in the front must have gotten to me). I was a little sad that I had to pass up on the lemon grilled asparagus, beets with goat cheese, snopeas with sesame and ginger and cucumber dill salad. Next time. At least, I hope next time -- they switch up their listings every day based on what's fresh at the market.

The grilled lemon herb chicken was thin and unmemorable, but the sides were pretty fantastic. Luckily they didn't skimp on the veggies in the least. Rob had the porkchop topped with onions and mushrooms and chose the cauliflour dijonaisse for his side. The cauliflour was fairly plain tasting and the porkchop was a tiny bit overcooked, but the smothered topping was pretty tasty.

All those healthy veggies set off my sweet tooth, so I had a bowl of "world famous Bassets" mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. It was nice and creamy and they gave me a lot, like the kind of dish I would scoop up for myself if I were home. I still do not know who Basset is.

Exciting news for them -- they are currently in the process of opening up a new branch in Chelsea. Now they'll have a Westville East, West, and.... Northwest?

Westville East
173 Avenue A (at 11th St)
New York, NY 10009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wine 101

The other night I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time: I took a wine class! I learned a lot about the things you'd expect to hear about (acidity, tannins, etc.), but I think the biggest takeaway, for me at least, was learning how to detect different flavors in wines. Did you know that wines are made up of chemical compounds that actually match up to organic matter? So while there isn't actually any lychee or smoke or pepper or any of that other stuff in your wine, the chemical compounds mimick those flavors, so its pretty close. Definitely more scientific than I ever thought.

We got to try ten different wines (4 whites, 6 reds), and a cheese was paired for every two wines. These cheeses were stinky and flavorful and my mouth is watering just looking at this really bad iphone pic.

From the top going clockwise:

1) Vermont goat cheese, pared with 2 different kinds of Sauvignon Blanc. Very goaty, very good!
2) Sheep's milk from Spain, paired with 2 aromatic whites. Too gritty on the tongue for me.
3) Cow's milk cheese from the Netherlands, aged 4 years. This one was my favorite, slightly carmelized, sort of like cheddar. Paired with a Pinot Noir and Domaine de Montrieux.
4) Raw cow's milk from New York, paired with a Merlot and part Merlot, part Cabernet Sav. Savory, matched the oak-y Charles Smith Merlot. Yeah, oak, which is supposed to taste like "smokey, toasty caramel." Another thing I would have never known otherwise.
5)Sheep's milk from Spain with a quince paste, which is sort of like an apple jam. I kept really good notes on all the other cheeses but by the time I got to this one I was ten wines in and just wrote "YUM." Paired with a Shiraz and another red. I was skeptical, but the quince paste actually worked really well in the wine-cheese equation and had a great texture -- more solid than the jelly I was expecting.

What a great class. Learned a lot and got to meet some wonderful people as well. Can't wait to go back and try their more advanced classes (especially their 16 Wines, 18 Cheeses one).

NYC Wine Class

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Plain Vanilla at Anella

I don't mean it in a bad way at all. In fact, it's a really great thing that Anella keeps things so simple. It's refreshing. Nearly everything on their brunch menu is served on bruschetta and topped with fresh ingredients from their herb garden -- tomatoes, basil, parsley, mint, etc. If they don't grow it, it probably comes from local Rooftop farms. No hollandaise or anything to mask it. Just plain, simple and delicious.

It was super hot today and we needed something cold and refreshing, but nonalcoholic. Luckily they had a few really great sounding virgin cocktails. Rob had the orange basil spritzer (it usually features grapefruit instead of orange, but they were out). It was perfectly balanced with simple syrup and club soda.

My mint mulberry lemonade was refreshing as well, with just the right amount of sweetness.

The interior is made up of two long skinny rooms with lots of charming old wood. There's seating in their garden out back and lots of light throughout. I could see us coming by here for a drink, just to get a change of scenery. The bar area is semi-rustic and reminds me of an old ship, for some reason.

They brought out complimentary scones with just the right amount of frosting before our meal. It gave our sad blood sugar levels a much-needed boost.

Rob had the salmon with chive cream cheese, tomatoes, some kind of marinated red onions (maybe it was soaked in vinagrette?), and capers on bruschetta. He loved it, but the red onions made it a bit too acidic for my taste.

I had the spinach with prosciutto on bruschetta with tomatoes and basil. It was like biting into a fresh garden. The proscuitto tasted more like serrano ham to me, but no complaints on that, obviously. Each dish was served with roasted sliced potatoes that seemed homemade (some pieces were crispy, most were soft in the middle). My only complaint was that they weren't salty enough, and there was no salt on the table. Rob pointed out that asking for some would be an insult to the chef, but people are entitled to their own personal saltiness tastes, right?

Overall, it was a great, quiet place that had a nice secretive quality to it. It was nice to eat in the sunshine without baking in it, too. Can't wait to try dinner; their pastas and grilled veggies are supposed to be amazing.

Anyone else notice that everyone likes to name their restaurants slightly asymmetrical names (Anella, Anissa, Perilla)? I'm starting to think it's the mark of greatness.

222 Franklin Street (between Freeman & Green St)
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 389-8100

Friday, August 14, 2009

Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches at Peter Pan Bakery

I know I've been on a burger kick these past few Fridays, but today I decided to one-up myself and eat the unhealthiest thing you could possibly think of: a donut ice cream sandwich. Peter Pan bakery, Greenpoint's best spot for an old-fashioned donut, recently added this insane concoction to the menu to help us cope with a boiling hot summer. Isn't that nice of them?

They have a whole selection of cake donuts and ice cream flavors to choose from. Then they make it fresh: slice the donut, scoop the ice cream and put it back together. I had the red velvet/vanilla ice cream combo.

I speedwalked home as fast as I can to save my little donut friend from getting all melty, but alas, I failed. It ended up tasting like a warm donut dunked in really cold milk. I bet if you eat the thing on premises, it would be much more refreshing. The red velvet donut was a good choice; I don't normally like cake donuts (and prefer my red velvets in cupcake form) but had a great soft texture with just the right amount of chocolatey taste.

Yeah, it's basically a stomachache between two pieces of stomachache. But where will you ever find a better, colder or more unique donut than this? You better get one before autumn gets here!

Peter Pan Bakery
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 389-3676

Cody Utzman on Chopped!

There are two major things I like to do on evenings: watch the Food Network and drink beer. So when I heard the nearby bar t.b.d. was hosting an evening to celebrate our local celebrity Cody Utzman's appearance on the Food Network's show Chopped, of course I showed up to share my love of food, tv and beer with my fellow Greenpointers.


Cody, who opened Brooklyn Label a few years ago, the Mexican street food spot Papacito's last summer and the gourmet bodega Brooklyn Standard even more recently, made the best sort of appearance possible. He cooked each course of the meal as it appeared on Chopped, starting with the appetizer (sausage, new potatoes, broccoli, red jam vinagrette), the entree (chicken, polenta, dandelion greens, starfruit, chutney) and dessert (which I left before I tried because a) it was getting late and b) I wasn't too eager to try a grape leaf dessert). I was in foodie heaven. How often do you watch a show on the Food Network and think, oh gee I really wish the chef were here right now to make it for me? Very awesome to have that reality.

Cody Utzman

Another cool thing about watching Cody prepare meals on the Food Network was to see his little personal flares shine through. It wasn't surprising that his go-to chicken accompanyment was polenta; he uses it as a base in two great brunch items found at Brooklyn Label and Papacito's. He also criss-crossed two chives across the meal to finish his plating on the show. You'll see the same thing on any plate at Brooklyn Label.

He won and made Brooklyn proud. It was great to be apart of such a fun experience!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Combining Two Loves: Food and Muppets

I stumbled across an article today that made me smile. Sixty-four year old Swedish chef Lars Kuprik Backman claims he is the inspiration for THE Swedish Chef, mainly based on what he described as a catestrophic live appearance on Good Morning America back in the '70s. While they don't offer any video footage, I can only imagine it involved pots and pans being flung around the room while he murmurs things that sound like "Sumee borkabork and a swermee wermee!"
The resemblance is uncanny, don't you think?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Burger Fridays

There are so many good burgers to be had in the city. Just ask the Burger Club from the NYTimes, read one of the latest articles from NYMag or check out Grub City's list of the city's 82 most notable burgers. It seems sort of overwhelming, as I want to try them all and not compromise my recent attempts to eat healthier. I think I've found the perfect plan of attack though: Friday afternoons, one new burger spot. I have half day Fridays in the summertime so its a great time to just sit and relax. Plus, I've found a burger with lots of bacon and cheese to be a pretty good reward for eating well during the weekdays.

I had my first burger of the summer at Dumont Burger. This place is fairly well-known as Williamsburg's favorite spot for a good bun and patty, so of course I felt the need to verify this loose claim. But honestly I wasn't terribly impressed, though it was a good, high chunk of meat. The ingredients were all very fresh (I tried mine with guacamole and grilled onions) but the meat was a bit overcooked. The saving grace here was the mac 'n' cheese -- simply incredible. My favorite kind of pasta (radiatore) that perfectly holds the thick cheese and crispy bacon in its folds, saturating it with cheesy perfection. I'm not usually a fan of heavy duty mac 'n' cheeses, but this one was amazing.

Dumont Burger
314 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 384-6128
Next stop was Joy Burger Bar in Harlem. Rob works near here and comes here a lot for lunch, so I joined him one Friday after work. Maybe I'm a tough burger critic, but again I wasn't all that impressed. There's no table service, you just wait in line and order at the counter. Very similar to Goodburger, although I have to admit I like Goodburger more (even though its crazy overpriced). Even if its slightly crowded when you get there, you'll have to wait forever because they make each burger to order. Munch (3 oz), midi (5 oz) or maxi (8 oz), then topped with whatever sauce you want (and they do have a nice selection of those). On my first visit I got the midi with garlic mayo and sauteed onions. The garlic mayo was pretty watery, and I couldn't even detect any garlicky taste. The burger was flat and the overcooked parts were gray and dripping with grease. My stomach didn't feel so great afterwards. On my next trip I swapped the mayo for some chimichurri sauce, which definitely improved the overall taste, though the meat was still flat and grayish. I think the medium-sized patty was too slim for it to have any hope of pink after it was ordered to medium doneness. It's too bad, but my stomach fared much better this time, even with a half order of mozzerella sticks. And at about $6 for a medium sized burger, the price is right here.

Joy Burger Bar
1567 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10029
(212) 289-6222

Well, I guess the third time's the charm, because Prune absolutely blew me away. Maybe its because Prune figured out the perfect calculations for an ideal mound of ground meat: 80% beef and 20% lamb. Maybe its because I felt confident ordering the burger the way I really like it: medium rare. Maybe its the parsley-scallion butter that pares so well with the cheddar. Or maybe it's because of the English muffin. I've never been a big fan of bready hamburger buns -- they never add much to the burger equation anyway -- and I found the English muffin to be a great bun substitute. The greasy pink juices (which squirt out every which way upon every bite) settle into the crevices nicely, and the thin halves take up minimal room, so much of your bite is straight up beef and lamb. Put a small slice of cheddar cheese on top and a strip of bacon on the bottom and I think I found my favorite NYC burger yet. Much better than Five Napkin. Better than Luger's, even. Yeah... I said it. And I'm not taking it back.

54 E. 1st St.
New York, NY 10003