Best of Last Week

Best of Last Week

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week – Garbanzos Fritos from La Vara

The best thing I ate last week was a bar snack from La Vara, an elegant and sophisticated Spanish restaurant in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn that opened last year. Waiting for a table late on Friday night, Alex and I ordered olives – served warm in a jar of oil – and garbanzo fritos — fried chickpeas. Crispy and coated in spices, these chickpeas were addictive. I’d like to eat them all day long.

Garbanzos Fritos at La Vara
Photo creditL: Serious Eats

Luckily the chickpeas didn’t fill me up too much to enjoy the terrific meal to follow — which included olive oil cured sardines with charred bread, asparagus topped with egg and fried baby shrimp, salt-baked dorade, and a cucumber sorbet over an incredible pineapple carpacio. Serving innovative and cutting-edge Spanish cuisine, La Vara is not afraid to push boundaries, unlike, perhaps, some of the other Spanish restaurants that have been opening up in the city lately, which may be playing it too safe. Still, despite La Vara’s progressive thinking, one of its simplest dishes was the best.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto

The best thing I ate last week was really a corn soup I ate over a long weekend at home, but a longer blog post about this weekend of home-cooked, summer meals is on the way, so this post goes to something equally as delicious that I ate last week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto from Fort Greene’s new restaurant, Lulu and Po.

Lulu and Po is a tiny, new small plates spot on Cartlon Avenue just below Myrtle. The kitchen is proportional to the dining area — tiny too — but the flavors in and caliber of each plate are anything but. The Warm Pizza Dough, cut into triangles for dipping into pesto and creamy but light-as-air ricotta, was savory, crusty, and fluffy all in one. I would go back to Lulu and Po for the tender, Iron-Pressed Upstate New York Firehouse Chicken with Celery & Eggplant; the house made Fettuccini with Corn, Mushrooms & Sage; and the ambiance – a beautiful L-shaped bar and only a handful of vanity tables, lit by funky, stand-alone lightbulbs and chandeliers made up of a cluster of lightbulbs, hanging like upside-down bouquets from the ceiling. The Warm Pizza Dough, however, was the standout plate of the night. I’m wary of it becoming an addiction. Lulu and Po is a great spot for small groups – not only because of its size, but also because of its menu of small plates (see Pete Wells’ gripe with small plates and the Twitter talk that followed). I’m excited to see this family restaurant become a staple in the neighborhood.

The Best Things I Ate This Spring

It’s been over three months since I’ve written a “best of last week” post, so I thought I’d collect a bunch of highlights from spring, and share them all at once. I’ve written here and there about some great highlights from this season, but here are a few more, in no particular order:

>> By the way, let’s visit my friend’s blog for mom and baby ^^ : best car seat & stroller combo

Fried chicken dinner at Momofuko: This large-format dinner at Momofuko’s noodle bar is worth planning for: reservations go almost instantly once they’re available online, a month out. Tables get two, whole fried chickens, one southern style and one (which I preferred) Korean style, with pancakes, sauces and vegetables. Ramen, wings and buns will win every time for me at Momofuko, but this dinner is really fun.

Clam pizza from Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven: New Haven is known for its clam pizza, and Pepe’s Pizzeria is the place to find the best of the best. I went with my girlfriend for an early lunch – ok, it was breakfast – after a late night, and honestly nothing could have been better. I’ll drive two hours any time for that pie.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Spicy Tuna Takumi Taco

I finally made it to Smorgusburg this past Sunday. With the original Brooklyn Flea three and a half blocks west of our apartment in the Winter, and three and a half blocks east in the Summer, I have never felt much need to trek up to Williamsburg for the Flea relocated there, and have never held much desire to see its food-centric offshoot, Smorgusburg, which opened last year in May, 2011. On a lazy Sunday, however, when it was a little too cloudy for the beach, Alex and I decided to venture north to the ‘Burg for a gluttonous morning at what has become the quintessential, open-air, artisanal Brooklyn food market.

The highlight from Smorgusburg was the Spicy Tuna Taco from Takumi Taco. Japanese-Mexican fusion: an epic combo in my book. And no wonder I liked it so much. Founder Mark Spitzer is the executive chef atBond Street, one of my favorite Asian-fusian restaurants in the city, home to the Wasabi Bloody Mary (with Citrus Vodka, Wasabi, Shichimi Cucumber, shaken and served in a martini glass), the Spicy Crispy Shrimp (with Yuzu Calamanci Vinaigrette and Chipotle Aioli) and the swanky ambiance that has kept my girlfriends and me coming back for years. Takumi Taco packs the same punch of flavors into fusian street food, and it works perfectly in the Spicy Tuna Taco: Sashimi grade big eye tuna with jicama, avocado, cucumber and spicy mayo in a crispy gyoza shell. It took a lot of willpower not to go back for a second. Luckily, there were plenty of other tempting items to try.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Brunch at Buvette

The best thing I ate last week was brunch at Buvette. Jodi Williams, the masterful chef behind this charming, self-described “gastrotheque” on Grove Street and Bleeker, is also the chef of my all-time favorite: Gottino, the “Gastroteca” not far away on Greenwich Avenue. Two of the most lovely establishments in Manhattan, Buvette and Gottino are oriented towards small plates for any hour of the day. Brunch at Buvette is full of butter – and why shouldn’t it be? The food is french-inspired and the beautiful, 50-person two-room space, with a communal table in the back, feels like an elegant kitchen straight out of Provence.

We started brunch at Buvette with Anchoiade – a tartine with salted butter and anchovies; Pesto Di Noci – a walnut pesto tartine with parmesan and thyme; and a fig and honey tartine. Next I had steamed eggs with smoked salmon and creme fraiche on buttered toast, while my neighbor had Les Oeufs Americaine — sunny-side up eggs and bacon on toast. Everything was heavenly. As its website says, “I love Buvette.”

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: White Anchovy Crostini from Hillside

Covering only six blocks, Vinegar Hill is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Nestled between the Navy Yard and Dumbo, the tiny Historic District is comprised of three, distint stretches of cobble stone streets, lined by brick, Greek Rival row houses. On Hudson Street at the corner of Water Street sits theVinegar Hill House, one of my all-time favorite restaurants in the city. Elegantly rustic, the restaurant is cozy and beautiful, and the menu, changing weekly “based on the best ingredients purveyors are carrying,” offers exquisit comfort food.

Two months ago, Vinegar Hill House opened Hillside, its sister restaurant next door. While Hillside works as a great place to wait for a table at Vinegar Hill House with a glass of wine or an appetizer, this wine bar, with its little but lovely menu, is a wonderful destination on its own. Last Thursday, Alex and I met there on a beautiful summer night, and watched the sky grow dark over the old smoke stacks and brick buildings outside the window. Over a few glasses of Muscadet, we shared a summery dinner that confirmed this little sister restaurant is already as brilliant as its elder. We started with a Peach and Ricotta Salad with baby heirloom tomatoes, followed by an Anchovy Crostini, and finally Pork Ribs with Apricot over French lentils.


The Anchovy Crostini was far and away the best thing that I ate last week.  A thick, white fillet almost melted onto a thin spread of slightly sweet butter on top of a slice of toasty bread. A garnish of roasted red pepper tied the sweet and salty flavors together. It was perfect. If you’re dubious of anchovies, the rich, meaty fillet in this dish will quell any skepticism. While the menu may change like its sister restaurant, I hope they keep the anchovy crostini on a regular rotation!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Steve’s Swingle

The best thing I ate last week was at Atlantic Antic this past Sunday. After shuffling down Atlantic Avenue – closed to motor traffic, overrun with foot traffic on the 38th Annual Atlantic Antic festival, a day of celebrating Brooklyn’s finest on a ten block stretch of Atlantic Avenue – I spotted the stall I had been waiting for: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Steve’s Authentic makes outrageously good key lime pies from their waterfront bakery in Redhook. Seeing it closer to home on Sunday was almost too good to be true. Having passed by food stalls the likes of Mile End, Rucola and Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, I almost felt like Steve’s stall at the end of the line was something of a mirage.

I had only ever tried the regular pies (which converted me from being an occasional fan of key lime to a die-hard one), but ever since I heard about the Swingle, I’ve been dreaming of trying one. The Swingle is a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. If you’re wondering, it’s unquestionably as incredible as it sounds. Atlantic Antic, the street fair of all NYC street fairs, is a wonderful event, bringing local businesses and neighbors together for a fantastic day of music, food, crafts and community. Yesterday, it brought me together with the Swingle, my new favorite dessert and definitely the best thing I ate last week.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Jewish Deli-Themed Dination Supper Club

The best meal I ate last week was the best meal I’ve eaten in 2013, and actually, in recent history. Good friend Daniel Meyer has started a supper club, for a good cause. Dination combines two great things: sharing a good meal with friends and giving to a good cause. The basic concept is simple, and the results have been extraordinary thus far. You get a group of friends together for a meal, choose a charity or cause to donate to, and as long as you raise more than the cost of the meal – be it any amount, small or large – you’ve done a good thing (or two, actually, because you’ve gotten a great meal out of it!).

I was lucky enough to attend Saturday’s Jewish-Deli-themed dinner, and words can’t do the evening justice. We raised $300 for the Food Bank of New York City, and walked home — bacon peanut brittle in hand — buzzed on great food, loud laughs, Dr. Brown’s Dark & Stormy’s and giving to a worthy cause. See below for the menu and see here for some photos of the exquisite food.

Daniel, the brainchild behind this outrageous menu and the awesome dination, is a self-taught, brilliant chef. Yes, the bagels were homemade. Yes, so was the smoked bluefish pate. Yes, the gravlax melted in my mouth with the creme fraiche dressing, and were elevated to new heights with a crunch of pumpernickel crouton and the crisp watercress. Yes, the chicken-liver crostini was perfect for dipping in the matzo dumpling soup, which was better than my mother’s (sorry, mom). Yes, the pastrami short ribs were smoked with wood chips and coals out back on Daniel’s grill and yes, the caraway mashed potatoes were pure genius, offering that jewish rye flavor that fits so right with pastrami and (yes, homemade) pickles. For a lover of cinnamon raison bagels who is constantly coming to their defense, the cinnamon raisin bread pudding with (YES!) cream cheese ice cream blew me away. Adjectives or descriptions won’t do any good here. Sign up for a dination dinner and see what I mean. I know this is just the first of many for me!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Salt-Baked Branzino With Caramelized Lemon

Il Buco is one of, if not my absolute, favorite restaurants in the city. When Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria opened last year, I couldn’t wait to try it. Wait I did, however, until finally last week I was able to go, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I didn’t take any photos. An article about cameras in restaurants was fresh on my mind, and to be entirely honest, I fall into the camp that hates taking photos and seeing photos taken in restaurants. It’s obviously a continuous conflict for me, seeing as I happen to blog about food…

Anyway, I didn’t break out my camera at Il Buco Alimentari, and so I have no photos of this incredible Branzino. But I couldn’t resist sharing it and noting it on my “Best Thing I Ate” list because it hasn’t really left my mind. The salumi della cassa (housemade salumi) from Flying Pigs Farm and the Ricotta are runners-up, but the salty, sumptuous Branzino was out of this world. Underneath a signature, custom-made chandelier – Il Buco was originally artist Warren Muller’s studio and the restaurant is decorated with his amazing, funky chandeliers – I was in total heaven. I love Branzino – a Mediterranean seabass – and this one tops every one I’ve ever had.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Smoked Duck Salad From Ducks Eatery

I blew right by Ducks Eatery the first time I tried to find it. I was distracted by neighboring Motorino — one of the best pizza joints in the city — and by Luzzo’s around the corner — one of my favorite pizza joints. Apparently pizza was on my mind. (But when isn’t it?) When I finally found Ducks’ door, however, and saw the sign reserved for Tuesdays, reading “We have brisket,” pizza evaporated instantaneously from my mind and I knew what my night had in store: Texas-Barbecued brisket. No question about it. The brisket, cooked with palm sugar, fish sauce, and apricots did not disappoint. It was good enough that you’d want to return only on Tuesdays. But the eclectic menu at this innovative, Vietnamese/Texan BBQ-inspired restaurant left me wanting to come back every day of the week.

My favorite dish from the night was not, in fact, the incredible brisket, which has become famous in the mere three months that the restaurant’s been open, but the even more incredible Smoked Duck Salad, served with arugula, pomegranate seeds, black sticky rice and goat cheese, all mixed together for perfect, complete bites. Like the rest of the menu, the duck salad combined a slew of textures and flavors that played surprisingly well off one another in odd but unquestionably delightful combinations. As the New York Times aptly describes, “the feeling [at Duck’s Eatery] is part bayou barbecue joint, part backpacker pipe dream, curiouser and curiouser.” I’ll happily keep tumbling down this rabbit hole if more brisket, creamy cocktails,  oyster nests and, of course, duck salad await.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Fried Chicken from Hill Country Chicken

The best thing I ate last week was fried chicken from Hill Country Chicken.  Devoted to fried chicken, hand-cut french fries and pies – oh the pies! – Hill Country Chicken pays homage to the founders’ childhood memories of eating Texas-style homemade grub: “hearty, crave-able comfort food served lovingly, casually and unpretentiously.”

In a town where trying too hard is the number one offense and a surefire way to looking uncool, manyrestaurants – and people – run the risk of overdoing the “unpretentious” thing. By trying to be too carefree or “low-brow,” they often come across as inauthentic and out-of-touch. Hill country is neither one of those things. It succeeds in its mission of serving food “casually and unpretentiously,” with cafeteria-style service and a short, straightforward menu. The restaurant’s homey decor with a hint of kitch is inviting, in that it’s quaint and cozy but also playful.

Photo Credit: Serious Eats

Like its older sister Hill Country (serving what many call the best Texas BBQ in town), Hill Country Chicken hits the nail on the head. The classic fried chicken is brined in buttermilk and herbs, and fried with the skin on.  Mama El’s recipe, also brined in buttermilk and herbs, is dipped skinless into a crunchy batter. Both styles are outstanding, and both the Hill Country Classic Fried Chicken Breast and the Mama El’s Fried Chicken Thigh are the best things I ate last week.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Arugula Pizza from Graziella’s (and OBAMA FOR THE WIN!)

The best thing I ate last week came from one of my favorite and certainly one of the most underrated restaurants in Fort Greene: Graziella’s. A casual Italian spot on Vanderbelt just above Dekalb Avenue, Graziella’s is a family restaurant where groups, large and small, and of all ages, can relax over a brick-oven pizza and big bowl of pasta – no frills, just reliably, great food. With a dessert counter in front and a foyer with a bar just as you enter, Graziella’s, as a friend pointed out, has a slightly suburban feel. Noticeably different than so many of the other restaurants just around the corner, it has a classic, timeless feel. It’s casual Italian American at its best.

With a big, rooftop terrace, tucked away from the bustle of Dekalb and offering views of Manahattan and Queens, the summer is my favorite time to eat at Graziella’s. But the brick oven downstairs and the friendly vibe make it a great winter spot too.

The arugula pizza with shaved Parmesan is my favorite, and it was the best thing I ate last week. With a thin crust, just enough sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese topped with a heaping pile fresh arugula and thin slices of Paremesan cheese, it’s my go-to whenever I eat at or order in from Graziella’s. Last week, the pizza was particularly good and really hit the spot after a week cooped up in our apartment (and no complaints there- I’m thankful that we had electricity and heat all week, unlike so many New Yorkers. Fort Greene, for the most part, was relatively unscathed after Sandy, and we are all very lucky.). I love this pizza and I love this restaurant, and I hope, despite all the changes that our neighborhood has seen and will continue to see, that Graziella’s and its arugula pizza never change.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Sushi at Neta

It’s really a toss-up this week among a few, incredible dishes. I don’t typically eat out as as much as I did last week, but with a few friends in town and my birthday this past Saturday, Indulgence with a capital I became the word of the week. I took the opportunity of a friend in from L.A. to try Rosemary’s for a leisurely lunch. The Foccacia di Recca filled with Straccino cheese is one of the runners up for the best thing I ate last week. The sharp, melted Straccino is sandwiched between two, fluffy squares of salty foccacia for a decadently delicious starter. The chopped salad at Rosemary’s is perfect, as is the olive oil cake.

I took the opportunity of another friend in town and my encroaching birthday to grab a glass of wine and crostini at what is perhaps my favorite wine bar in the city: Gottino, where the food and ambiance are impeccable. The crostinis — from Acciughe E Burro salted anchovies and homemade butter, to Pesto Di Noci walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme, to my favorite, Carciofi E Mentuccia slow cooked artichokes, mint and pecorino – make the perfect appetizer or after-work small plate.

Photos of Neta, New York City
This photo of Neta is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Alex and I took a wonderful trip to Vermont, full of foliage, crisp air, vistas of rolling hills spotted with red barns and farm silos, and of course, a lot of food and wine. We stayed at the North Hero House for two nights, a beyond charming bed and breakfast on North Hero island on Lake Champlain. The kitchen at North Hero House sources almost all of its ingredients from local farms and purveyors, listing the sources on the menu so that you know where most, if not all, of your dish came from. The almost startlingly tender Free-Range Misty Knoll Chicken cooked two ways: slow-roasted breast and crispy leg confit, served with summer vegetable succotash and roasted chicken jus is another runner-up for the best thing I ate last week. We also spent a night in Middlebury, where we ate at the classic favorite of my college friends:American Flatbread, which was doing the farm to table thing before it was a thing. The pizza is cooked in a big, earthen oven in the middle of the restaurant and sliced into sticks as opposed to pie slices. And I couldn’t leave Middlebury without a sandwich from another old favorite: Otter Creek Bakery. It was a perfect, Fall weekend, mixed with new sights (Mount Mansfield, the North East Kingdom, the Champlain islands) and nostalgia (long drives, slow walks, and my college town).

But the meal that takes the birthday cake for this week comes from Neta, a new, upscale sushi restaurant in Greenwich Village. Where do I begin? Elegant, sophisticated, fresh. The words don’t do the food or the restaurant itself justice. Alex and I tried King Mushrooms with spicy pomme frites and serrano peppers; sushi so fresh it not only lives up to but essentially epitomizes the restaurant’s name (Neta means “the fresh ingredients of sushi”); and a few “omakase” or “chef’s choice,” including lobster and fluke wrapped in cucumber. Delicate touches to each dish elevate but never upstage the freshness and quality of the ingredients. From small plates to sushi, our whole meal at Neta was the best thing I ate last week.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Caramel Sticky Bun from Roberta’s

The best thing I ate last week was a burnt caramel sticky bun from Roberta’s Bread. Every Saturday and Sunday, Fort Greene residents are blessed with a special delivery from the one and only Roberta’s to the one and only Greene Grape.

Around 8:30 a.m., neighbors start furtively dashing into the Greene Grape, where an almost nervous crowd starts to hover around the counter in anticipation. These sticky, buttery, chewy, salty caramel buns are one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets; neighbors are addicted, and now so am I. “They’re like crack,” I’ve been told on two, separate occasions by cashiers at the Greene Grape.

And they know best – they see the same Fort Greene residents weekend morning after weekend morning, coming in to get their fix. We all have our vices. Add to my list these to-die-for sticky buns.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam

The best thing I ate last week was a Masala Dosa and Vegetable Uttapam from The Dosa Place in Jackson Heights, Queens. Admittedly, it was my first time in Jackson Heights, so I’m well aware that I have many more places to try, but The Dosa Place really did blow me away. This is what I’ve been missing by not venturing into Queens more often! While I may never be able to make up for lost time, I’ll certainly try to make up for missed dosas.

Both Dosa and Uttapam were served with a traditional side of sambar — a slow-cooked, vegetable stew — and a variety of chutneys, including a subtle and soothing coconut chutney. The dosa was light and crispy, wrapped around potato and onion curry, and the uttapam was thick and fluffy. I love Indian food of all varieties, from all corners of the country, but one of the most wonderful things about South Indian food is that you don’t leave feeling weighed down. The dishes are far less oily than some found in other regions, which, of course, makes it easier and excusable to eat more!