19 1st Ave
New York, NY 10003
E.L. had her birthday dinner here recently. I was pretty stoked because I love Italian food (as you know from my delicious trip to Italy!) and had heard from a number of friends that it was worth going to.
Above average bread quality, but nothing to write home about.
J.L. ordered the Wood Fire Roasted Eggplant ($7.95) with cyprus black sea salt and peperoncino oil. The menu description says it “Melts in your mouth!” None of the other menu items had any descriptors beyond the ingredients, so I felt like this had to be a signature. Also, Wood fire roast anything and I’ll probably love it. Sadly, all of our expectations were way too high. It was mushy, bland, and the skin was really hard, almost like plastic. Not only was it unsavory, the eggplant also lacked its natural sweetness. No bueno!
I had the special, which was a Vongole. Can’t remember how much it was, but all the pasta prices ranged from $12 to $18 ish I believe. I’ve been on a vongole kick lately. As a kid, I never liked non-creamy or non-tomatoey pastas. As an adult, I now love the more subtle garlic and olive oil nuances and the not so subtly infused clam flavor. Deeeeelicious! Spaghetti was thinner than usual, and very al dente. Excuse me while I go wipe off the drool from my laptop… (it’s almost dinner time as I write this, forgive me). Continue reading Lil Frankies: great vongole vongole vongole!
101 St. Marks Place (between Ave A and 1st Ave)
New York, NY 10009
Cafe Mogador is the definition of the type of restaurant that I love. It has all the right components to keep me going back again and again. I’m almost sad that I just discovered it now because it is just that good. It satisfies my criteria of:
- Having really great food (duh)
- Having a speciality food (I hate places that do “all things” because it is impossible to do all things well) – Moroccan specifically (think tagines, cous cous, hummus, babaganoush…)
- Having really reasonable prices (~$20 an entree and ~$10 an appetizer)
- Having the right “mood” that pauses time and allows you to get lost in your food and conversation
The drinks are also strong. There’s really nothing not to like! It’s been around since 1983 so is pretty much an East Village landmark. A colleague of mine said his wife grew up going to Cafe Mogador as a little girl. I can’t imagine growing up in East Village but if it involved coming to Cafe Mogador every weekend, I’d be pretty happy about it.
LAW, B.A., B.P., H.W., and I came on a Friday night and definitely waited a good hour before we got a table. It was warm out (YES warm nights!) so it wasn’t so bad. We started with the Hummus Falafel Platter with green sauce ($12). The hummus is the best I’ve had in the city, not quite at Jordanian hummus level, but very, very, good. Not as machine-made smooth as store-bought… FRESH is how I would describe it. Fresh, light, and creamy. The falafel was also the kind I like: small, crisp on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Hate it when falafels are over fried and have a thick crust and dense filling. Continue reading Cafe Mogador: NYC’s pioneer Moroccan restaurant
113 Loisada Ave (Ave C and 7th Street)
New York, NY 10009
I was lucky enough to meet CutiePatroller last week over dinner at Apartment 13. CutiePatroller is a NYC food blogger recently started working for Tabelog. Tabelog is a review site curated by other food bloggers. The idea is that the reviews you read will be of higher quality and will contain better photos so you can make a more informed decision. You might remember, but I was a judge for Tabelog a while ago for one of their many restaurant awards. It was awesome to connect with CutiePatroller because a) I don’t really ever connect with other food bloggers and it’s great to learn about their processes and challenges; and b) she’s super cool and fun AND has had her own little boutique clothing store (Cutie Room) in NoHo. Needless to say, I had a great time! Now onto the food!
Apartment 13 serves up fusion Japanese, Caribbean, and American cuisine. It’s well rated on Yelp and sounded like it has interesting flavor combinations so I was pretty excited to try it. We started with Mimi’s Maryland Crabcake with coconut crema, sour mango, and scotch bonnet (don’t know what that is) ($13). $13 for a single crabcake is definitely on the pricier side. Given the price and that it was pretty mediocre, I wouldn’t recommend it. It came not cold nor hot, symbolic of our meal to come. At least it was packed with crab and not just filled with breading. Continue reading Apartment 13: Japanese, Caribbean, and American
547 9th Ave (between 40th and 41st street)
New York, NY 10018
This charming, cozy little restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from Times Square. I’m going to be upfront and tell you that Capizzi invited me to come by and try their pizza, but I’m also going to guarantee you that I will always write unbiased reviews, regardless of who is fronting the bill. Having said that, believe me when I tell you that I was very happily surprised that this Midtown West restaurant ended up being a fantastic experience.
I started with a glass of Chianti as I waited for LAW to arrive. They have a bunch of different wines by the glass all for about $13 (can’t remember exactly).
I read the menu and really loved this little bit: “As I got older I realized it’s not just about good food. It was a passion, kind of like a sport, a love affair with food and Nature all rolled up into one.” Definitely resonates with me and the reason I even continue to have a blog in the first place.
When LAW arrived, we started with the special, which was a fresh housemade Burrata with prosciutto, artichokes, roasted peppers, and cherry tomatoes ($13.95). The platter did not look particularly fancy, more just like how you would serve something at home (everything tossed onto a very normal plate). This appetizer represented everything I love about Italian food: super simple and completely determined by the quality of ingredients. The burrata was SO creamy yet light. The tomatoes were perfect: firm, sweet, and juicy. The artichokes and roasted peppers were great as well. I could eat this appetizer all the time. Continue reading A grandmother’s home by Times Square?! Welcome to Cappizi.
103 1st Ave (between 6th and 7th streets)
New York, NY 10003
I love Filipino food. I didn’t really discover this until Jeepney (sister to Maharlika) popped up in my neighborhood and I got to try some excellent Bicol Express (slow roasted pork shoulder in coconut milk). I haven’t blogged Jeepney yet because I never have my camera when I go, but I definitely need to soon. It embodies everything I know about Filipino culture: fun, familial, loud, and delicious. Ugly Kitchen is another Filipino restaurant in the East Village that my friend L.B. is involved with (and even worked in the kitchen!). It embodies the same kind of vibe as Jeepney’s but is a bit more affordable (mains are $10-$15 whereas at Jeepney where they are $15-$20).
L.B. welcomed me and Y.N. with dangerous fruity cocktails that the bartender threw together as a special for the night. The most dangerous part of the cocktail was that it didn’t taste dangerous…
Y.N. asked for the most popular dish on the menu: The Ugly Grilled Chicken ($14), which consists of two pieces of fire grilled chicken with a Korean fusion marinade and a side salad and rice. As simple as this sounds, it tasted pretty damn delicious. The chicken was flavorful, had a strong charred flavor, and was fairly tender. As the chicken cooled down, it got less tender (so eat quickly!), but was still tasty. Great home cookin’ for when you don’t want to take out the grill (or don’t have one because you live in NYC).
L.B. got the Sizzling Sisig ($13), which consists of spicy minced pork belly, liver, pork cheek, all sautéed together in onions and soy sauce with an egg on top. The waiter cuts the pieces up on the sizzling stone plate when the dish is brought over. The bite size pieces are fatty, and super fragrant. It’s a classic Filipino dish that I haven’t quite learned to love just yet but can see why it is Filipino comfort food. Continue reading Ugly Kitchen: where I had balut, a duck embryo. It was great.
228 1st Ave
(between 13th St & 14th St)
New York, NY 10009
FISH! FISH! FISH! I’m so happy that a great, affordable seafood place has opened in the East Village. Taverna Kyclades is a casual seafood restaurant that just opened up where Tepito and David’s Bagels used to be. I used to think that spot was cursed (bad feng shui or something) because the restaurants there never stay long. Three restaurants have occupied that spot in less than two years. I’ve never been interested in trying those restaurants because their reviews have always been super mediocre. Taverna Kyclades opened up late last year, a sister restaurant to the eponymous restaurant in Astoria. The original one in Astoria is so popular that people line up for hours on the weekends to get a taste of the fresh seafood.
Lucky us, the East Village location has not gained that much popularity yet. LAW and I came on a Tuesday evening and only had a 15 minute wait (still wildly impressive for a weekday).
This is the free bread that they give out. AMAZING baguette – crusty, soft, chewy – toasted with olive oil and spices. Huge plus in my book for starting the meal right. I would come just for this bread and wine if I could get away with it.
When you come, you MUST get this. This is the Octopodi: charcoal grilled Mediterranean octopus ($15.95). Prior to this, the best grilled octopus I had had was at Pylos, also a really, really great Greek restaurant. Pylos is a bit fancier. It has prettier decor, nicer plates, prettier wine glasses, etc. Also has really great octopus. But this octopodi was phenomenal. It was even more tender than the one at Pylos and had an addicting smokey finish. It was a bit simpler than the one at Pylos, which had a caramelized balsamic glaze. This one was just drizzled with olive oil and some simple herbs. Continue reading Taverna Kyclades: love me some good seafood in EV
157 Ludlow St
(between Stanton St & Rivington St)
New York, NY 10002
As some of you may know, I was invited to be a judge for Tabelog, a Japanese restaurant review site that is huge in Japan and just starting to make its mark here. The reviews and ratings are generated by aggregating information from the top X amount of bloggers in a given area. The ratings are therefore meant to be more legit. “For Foodies By Foodies” is the idea. I wonder if the reviews will be lower or higher than average Yelp reviews… food bloggers are definitely more critical than the average Joe, which makes me think reviews will be harsher on Tabelog. On the other hand, bloggers also are more likely to be friends with folks in the restaurant business or be invited to blogger events, after which they are almost required to give higher ratings.
For example, Tabelog hosted a blogger meet and greet at SakaMai, a newish Japanese restaurant in LES that opened earlier this year. The entire restaurant was taken out for this private, excluuuuuusive event. I felt pretty boss rolling in with my plus one, Y.N., getting handed a fresh deck of business cards Tabelog graciously made for all of us, and having my photo taken like a celebrity. Okay, my head may have been in the clouds at this point, but I really felt great having my blog be recognized and found!
But back to my point. SakaMai provided us with an open bar of all kinds of sake, wine, beer, and cocktails, along with seven dishes to sample (or stuff your face with if you’re me…). As I am writing this, I feel pressure to give all praise to SakaMai because Tabelog paid for my gluttony that night. But I assure you, dearest readers, I will not. I will only be telling the truth because ultimately, I want my blog to be truthful and helpful.
Dish 1: Carrot Puree with dashi gelee and summer truffle. The puree was naturally sweet from the carrot. Dashi is a simple broth or stock that typically serves as the base for miso soup. It’s meant to be fragrant and light, which is probably why I didn’t taste it. The carrot puree was quite strong and overpowered any other flavors. Summer truffle was beautiful to look at but also overpowered by the carrot. Continue reading SakaMai for Tabelog’s Blogger Event!
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St
(between 4th St & Bleecker St)
New York, NY 10014
There are so many great places to eat in NYC that sometimes I forget to return to my favorites. Pearl Oyster Bar is one of my favorite restaurants in NYC for a number of reasons:
- I love seafood. Especially oysters, grilled fish, and lobster rolls, all things Pearl makes ridiculously well.
- Pearl is unpretentious.
- Something about the space, lighting, and simple furniture sucks me into a vacuum where I forget where I am and how long I’ve been eating.
- Pearl makes the best blueberry pie.
The fourth reason is the reason you must eat at Pearl in the summer months between June and August. Any other time, you are more likely to end up with some kind of strawberry-rhubarb or cherry-something pie. I find their non-blueberry pies to be underwhelming, often too sweet for my taste. Their blueberry pie tastes way less syrupy and more like the actual fruit. Imagine grabbing a large handful of fresh summer blueberries, the kind that is fat and bulbous, bursting with flavor, and eating it all in one monstrous bite.
LAW and I went at the very end of August because I realized I had not had Pearl’s blueberry pie yet and freaked out a little bit. I was excited the entire week for our Pearl meal. On the day of, I reminded LAW at least five times about going that evening. Come 7 or 8PM, I found that he was still working on something he needed to get out by 3AM. All of a sudden I became grumpy and extremely sad that we may not end up making it to Pearl and that I would have to wait an entire year for blueberry pie. LAW must have saw the desperation in my eyes and immediately understood the urgency. He carved out two hours for me as we raced to Pearl on our bikes. The stars aligned at this point. Normally, the wait would have been at least 30 to 45 minutes. There was still a line but there were miraculously two free seats at the bar that no one wanted. Continue reading A desperate call for Pearl Oyster Bar’s blueberry pie
25 Pell St
(between Doyers St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013
If you live in NYC and like Chinese food at all, chances are you have heard of Joe’s Shanghai, a restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown that is known for its soup dumplings. Joe’s Shanghai has over 2,200 reviews on Yelp and a solid 4-star rating. Its sister restaurant, Joe’s Ginger, only has 247 reviews and a 3-star rating. This isn’t because the food is any worse. This is because the people who go to Joe’s Ginger aren’t the people active on social media. (Case in point. Joe’s Shanghai has a Facebook page and Joe’s Ginger doesn’t.)
Joe, presumably the owner, has smartly branded his soup dumplings across two very different consumer groups by offering the same product in two separate restaurants (that happen to be right next to each other). The tourists, the American NYC-ers, the review-chasers all know about Joe’s Shanghai. On any given weekend night, you’ll see a long line of J.Crew wearing hungry customers waiting outside of Joe’s Shanghai. Joe’s Ginger, on the other hand, almost never has a line and is usually just at capacity with Chinese diners.
This is changing as more people write blog reviews like this one. Here is a happy non-Chinese family slurping down soup dumplings at Joe’s Ginger on Friday night. Notice the tacky pinkish glow from the florescent lighting. Reminds me of all the cheap (and delicious) restaurants in China.
This is the classic Pork Soup Dumplings ($4.95 for 8). The ideal soup dumpling has thin, yet chewy skin. It should be just thick enough so it doesn’t break with the weight of the pork and soup. The soup should be fragrant, hot, and light. Joe’s does a decent job, probably one of the best soup dumplings in Manhattan, but is far from great compared to the ones in China. The skin is a bit thicker than ideal. The soup is also too heavy and greasy. Still tastes delicious enough that I keep coming back. Continue reading Joe’s Ginger = Joe’s Shanghai
This is LAW’s favorite dish and definitely one of my favorite ones to make because it is very, very easy, and very, very tasty. Twice Cooked Pork Belly (回锅肉) is a classic Sichuan dish. Every household has its own version of it. Common recipes include scallions, napa cabbage, and bell peppers. Twice Cooked Pork Belly literally translates into return-to-wok-meat because the fundamental part of the recipe is to boil the pork belly first (some use just water, others use broths with ginger, cloves, star anise, etc.), freeze it, then slice it up and return to the wok for stir fry.
My version breaks this fundamental rule but I promise it’s still really good. It’s very quick to make and goes really well with a bowl of steaming rice (下饭). I only use 4 ingredients: Continue reading Homemade Twice Cooked Pork Belly