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.

Beverage of Choice: The Barton Hollow

It’s been a long while since I’ve sought out a perfect cocktail. For the last few months, it’s been a lot of red wine for me, in the comfort of my own home, on my wonderfully dependable couch. Last Friday, however, saw the confluence of a perfect storm, and I hit the East Village to find something daring but delicious, unique but classy to take the edge off. I found my match at The Wayland, a new bar on Ninth Street and Avenue C. It was called the Barton Hollow.

The Barton Hollow
Pimeton-infused honey, Vodka and Lemon.

Courtesy of The Wayland
Massive ice cubes and a hefty basil leaf consume most of the small glass, leaving little room for the drink itself. The strength of the lemony concoction, however, more than makes up for its volume, and the ice cubes compel one to sip, making this little drink last.

The Wayland is hip and old-timey, striking that perfect 19th century note that’s been all the rage in recent years (and that Portlandia captured so well in “Dream of the 1890s”). Skip the cheese and charcuterie plate and order the brussel sprouts instead, and if you’re into live music, check out the fitting mix of bluegrass and rock – banjos, bass and all – that hits the bar Sunday through Wednesday. Most importantly, slip slowly and enjoy!

Meredith Marks Jewelery

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Meredith Marks’ trunk show at the Gramercy Hotel.  Meredith Marks is Chicago-based jewelry designer whose line combines practicality with exoticism for a wearable but glamorous look.  A former model who also happens to hold a JD and MBA from Northwestern and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, Meredith’s own beauty and smarts come through in her work.

I am no expert when it comes to jewelry — except that I adore it like any girl does — but Meredith seems to have created a very special line: one that has struck a  perfect balance of exoticism and simplicity.  From dangly earrings to bangles, from studs to cuffs, every piece is somehow both bold and delicate. The simplicity of her designs makes even the most ornate jewels into everyday pieces.  

Much of her collection is inspired by Indian jewelry, which is typically quite opulent — the more, the bigger, the better. Meredith’s pieces, however, are stripped versions of these often over-the-top, magnificent ornaments, making them accessible for daily wear. Her signature earrings sparkle femininity, and have caught the eye of a growing list of celebrities, including Courtney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler. I was instantly drawn to the Indian-inspired design channeled through a clean and basic composition. Try as I might to pick out my favorites, I was constantly finding new ones that took first place.

Meredith’s jewelry is as inspiring as she is: a mother of two, she built the business from scratch in just a few years and her pieces are now popping up in boutiques from LA to Chicago. I have my eyes set on these smoky earrings for now, but as soon as I keep scanning the collection, I know I’ll find something else that steals my heart.

Rucola

Rucola is my favorite new restaurant. On a quiet, residential corner in tree-lined Boreum Hill, Rucolo seems like it’s always been a part of the neighborhood. Decorative but homey, it’s the restaurant version of all the wonderful, federal-style town houses down the block. A few precious tables sit outside the ornamental, cast-iron facade of the restaurant – a facade spotted with picture-perfect, tin flower pots. Inside, a long, communal table, surrounded by smaller tables on three sides and a bustling bar on the other, foster a convivial vibe. The friendly staff make you feel at home under the rustic, wood-paneled ceiling and milk-bottle chandeliers.

I’ve been twice now for dinner, and can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner again. Both times I’ve gone for dinner, I’ve started at the bar. And both times, I couldn’t resist my summer liqueur of choice: Aperol. The first night, I ordered the Basil Bite, which was an elegant and tasty mix Gin, Aperol, Cynar, Orange Bitters, and Basil. The second night, I ordered the Tirulian Schpritz, made of Gin, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon, Grapefruit. While the Basil Bite may have won my heart, I loved both Aperol-flavored cocktails alike.

For dinner, I’ve had the Caponata – Eggplant, Currant, Caper, and Olga’s mint – which was flavorful and wonderful on crispy, French bread. Twice, because it’s so delicious, I’ve had the Crudo – Bronzino, Toasted Pistachio, Pickled Rhubarb, Herbs, and Ligurian Olive Oil, sliced thin and drizzled with spicy oil. It was explosively flavorful but light enough for me to enjoy the buttery, cheese sprinkled corn at my side.

I’ve also loved the Market Squash Salad – English Cucumber, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sesame – and the ultimately fresh Strozzapreti – Green Garlic Pesto, Zucchini, and Grana Padan (a hard, Italian cheese). I’ve tasted the LI Duck, whose seasonal ingredients – Fresh Cherries and Braised Swiss Chard – made what I often think of a wintery meat, light and summery instead.

Perhaps the most special part of Rucola is This Batch, a customizable CSA of sorts that the restaurant offers. I’ve just signed up and am eager for the weekly emails that will announce the week’s produce offering. I’ll be able to choose whether or not I want to purchase it, at a single or family-size portion, all for a discounted price. Sounds pretty great to me! I’m challenging myself to cook a Rucola-worthy dish with whatever ingredients I get. It may take me a few decades to perfect food so good, but I have no doubt the restaurant – an instant, neighborhood classic – will be around long enough to see me try.

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.

Cockle-Doodle-Don’t


I didn’t love the Red Rooster. It was good, but I was a little disappointed. I went with my parents, wonderful dinner partners with a knack for getting reservations, (and who, incidentally, like to pick up the bill!).

We got the Fried Yard Bird, the Mac & Greens, and the Blackened Catfish and Black Eyed Peas. We started with Gravlax on toast, which was my favorite, creatively mixing flavors and culinary styles. We finished with Coffee and Doughnuts. Everything was really well cooked and pretty delicious, but I’m afraid there was some seasoning which threw me off- something which I’m sure others appreciate but for which my palate isn’t properly fined tuned. The place also felt a bit factory-like, a habitual problem for restaurants of that size and popularity. I didn’t love it like I wanted to.

I love the concept and was sure I was going to love the food, especially because Aquavit, – Red Rooster chef Marcus Samuelsson’s wonderful Scandinavian restaurant – is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, andAugust, owned by Mr. Samuelsson, is another fave! Still, I really loved the ambiance and the menu – lexicon, design and offerings – and the staff was extraordinarily friendly. I would really love to return for the Jazz Brunch because, I think, like it’s namesake, the Red Rooster may be at its best in the morning.

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 Dutch: part two

Supper at The Dutch is still a party. While it may no longer be the newest hotspot, (Ok, it’s definitely not- it’s been open since April of 2011, which, in NYC Restaurant Years, means it’s something like a teenager), The Dutch still delivers on great food and a fun vibe in some gorgeously sleek interiors. You will still feel that bustling energy when you step foot in the place, and you will still find yourself looking over your shoulder to check out who might be at the next vanity table.

A lot of people hated that Sam Sifton named The Dutch the number one restaurant in New York in 2011. And that Adam Platt named it in his Ten Best New Restaurants of 2011. And that it won Eater’s Restaurant of the Year in New York. I’m a lover, not a hater, and would argue that while a slew of other hot newcomers are just as worthy as The Dutch, I’m sure it earned its throne for a while when it first opened in early 2011. Like all once-hyped restaurants, The Dutch may have lost some of its sparkle by now. But the restaurant shouldn’t be banished from court just because the fervor died down.

I, for one, have had two great meals at The Dutch – brunch and supper – and would love to return for a special occasion with a big group to dine in their private room downstairs. After eating brunch at The Dutcha few weeks ago, I happily returned for dinner a few weeks later. The Fried Chicken Chicken Wings with the house Corn Bread are a great way to start Supper, and although I didn’t try it, I was enviously eyeing the Winter Salad with Country Ham, Vermont Cheddar and Pear at the next table. The Pecan Duck with Celery and Organic Dirty Rice, and the Steamed Branzino with Mussel-Lemongrass Curry and Peanuts tied as winners in my group. The Beef Ravioli with Porcini, Robiola and Black Truffle came in a close second. I’m not a huge fan of Banana Cream Pie, but this dessert was fantastic- I would definitely recommend it or whatever Fresh Pie of the Day they are serving.You can’t be king forever – especially in this city. But who says you can’t be king for day (or 2011, in The Dutch’s case), and then settle back, let someone else take the reigns for a while, and just continue being really, really good? In my mind, The Dutch is just that: still really, really good. If it hadn’t been so hyped, I bet The Dutch would still be feeling the love.

Kutsher’s Tribeca

Kutsher’s Tribeca, which opened in November, is “a modern Jewish American deli.” Inspired by a classic Jewish country club in the Catskills — Kutsher’s Country Club — it landed on one of the hippest restaurant blocks in the city. On Franklin between Hudson and Greenwich, Nobu Tribeca is down the street, Tamarind Tribeca is kitty-corner, The Harrison is a block south and Locanda Verde and Smith and Mills are a block north. Despite this fierce neighborhood competition, Kutsher’s is holding its own. Its secret? It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Fourth-generation Zach Kutscher opened the restaurant with chef Mark Spangenthal and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow (of Asia de Cuba — a fave of mine when I first moved to the city and fancied big, over-the-top, clubby, Manhattan restaurants. Asia de Cuba has since closed, thankfully marking the end of that decadent habit I shared with my girlfriends.) The food at Kutsher’s is an upscale — but not fancy — version of the Jewish comfort food I wish I had had more of growing up. A Country Club Chopped Salad was perfect with the usual components — butter lettuce, chic peas, apples, walnuts — and some Jewish flare: challah croutons. The Cured Salmon Trio was my kind of heaven, with nova, grave lox and pastrami cured salmon served with a chive spread and pumpernickel bread.

My favorite appetizer was the Crispy Artichoke Alla Judea: fried to a crispiness that didn’t sacrifice or disguise the delicate artichoke leaves and seasoned with lemon, garlic, parsley, greens and shaved parmesan, this dish was impeccably prepared.

Meaty entrees were succulent and sizable. Red Wine Braised Flanken Style Short Ribs, which came with schmaltz mashed potatoes and glazed root vegetables, was enough for two, tender and incredible. Braised Lamb Shanks served atop lentils, roasted tomatoes, currants, parsley and Middle Eastern spices were, as my faux-cousin Casey described them, Fred Flinstone-esque in size and presentation, and as complex and wonderful as they were hefty.

Crispy Potato Latkes are a necessary accompaniment to any meal. My aunt ruined potato latkes for me because hers were so amazing that nothing could ever compare. I stay away from ordering them in restaurants, because I know I will just be disappointed. Not only did Kutshner’s latkes not disappoint, they totally wowed me and take second place in my rank of favorite dishes (first being the artichokes).

Growing up, dessert was a key element to any meal for my family. My grandfather owned a Tastee Freeze in Akron, Ohio, and my mom grew up on soft serve and milkshakes. My dad grew up loving – and to this day adores – rainbow cookies. So I really had no choice but to order the Rainbow Cookie Hot Fudge Sunday, served in a traditional, tall ice cream glass with vanilla and almond ice cream, marshmallow fluff and almond brittle. It was everything I could have ever wanted it to be and more: the perfect nostalgic treat, with a contemporary spin, to top off a perfectly nostalgic but contemporary meal.

A mixed crowd heightened the laid-back vibe at Kutshner’s. I saw a family with kids under the age of 10 and a socialite I recognized from the society pages. The restaurant’s country club roots translated well from the Catskills to Tribeca, its campy origin channeled and upgraded with a sleek, city feel. Birch, brass and geometric beams and sconces, produced an almost futuristic lodge, and, in keeping with many moves to the city, it felt like Ikea had a hand in the furnishing.

I’d like to be a regular at Kutshner’s, and I feel like that’s exactly how they wanted me to feel, in the sincerest possible way.

Saraghina

I’ve been wanting to go to Saraghina ever since I learned about it over a year ago. A beautiful, rustic pizza restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Saraghina is a destination-eatery well worth the trip. Enjoy the simple and charming interior, or better yet, the vine-covered garden out back, and by the end of the night, you’ll be hard pressed to remember you’re not in Italy.

Alex, my handsome boyfriend, and I shared a green salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette, followed by a Prosciutto & Funghi pizza. We each had a glass of Lambrusco – my
summer-time favorite for Italian, and year-round favorite for pizza. The pizza’s crust was simple and fluffy and the toppings were so fresh there was no doubt the pize had be crafted from start to finish minutes before arriving at our table.

I can’t wait to return to the garden before it gets cold, and then when the weather cools, to try out the warm ambiance inside. Could this enticing restaurant be named after Felini’s prostitute, La Saraghina, in the movie 8/12? Watch this classic after visiting the delightful oasis that is Saraghina and you’ve got a perfect date night.

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 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!

My Favorite Matzo Ball

What makes a good matzo ball? It’s an age-old question that has stood the test of time and the duration of many a Passover Seder. Should they be light and fluffy or dense and hefty? Should they be the size of a golf ball or a fist? Should they sink or swim? Should they flake and fall apart or stick together at the slice of a spoon?

Some say the key to a good matzo ball is using seltzer water, which makes them extra fluffy. Others swear by whipped egg whites to get that light-as-air consistency. Still others say the secret is using enough schmaltz, or chicken fat, and one Jewish food aficionado claims the best matzo balls on earth are made not with chicken fat but with goose fat. The techniques and opinions on what makes matzo balls great vary, but one thing that all matzo ball lovers can agree on is that their mother makes them best.

For all of us New York transplants who can’t enjoy our mothers’ matzo ball soup this Passover, luckily we’re in the right city. From Katz’s Delicatessen to 2nd Avenue Deli to Barney Greengrass, there is no shortage of great places to find matzo balls, just like your mother makes them.

My favorite matzo ball hails from Lobel’s, one of New York’s oldest butchers. A five-generation family business since 1840, Lobel’s is known for its high quality beef. The butcher shop has been located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan since 1954, and in 2009, Lobel’s debuted their now-famous steak sandwich, which has earned a dedicated following, at Yankee Stadium. Just last week, on Monday, March 18, Lobel’s expanded its reach once again with the opening of a second location in Manhattan, on Third Avenue at 61stStreet: Lobel’s Kitchen.

The new spot serves prepared foods — like rotisserie chicken, cheeses, smoked salmon and sandwiches — as well as raw meet. You’ll find their classic steak sandwich on the menu, along with their signature steak, the Wrangler — a cut that the Lobels patented themselves. Light and spacious, with floor to ceiling windows, Lobel’s Kitchen has a significantly different feeling than the original butcher shop — a compact space lined with wood paneling –but both are marked by the same dedication to high quality.

While beef is their main business, Lobel’s also makes a great matzo ball soup — an unexpected gem.

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The ingredients for the matzo balls are simple, but, as co-owner David Lobel says, “it’s the technique that makes all the difference in creating the perfect matzo ball.” The matzo balls are made with matzo meal, eggs, pepper, canola oil and a little chicken broth, and once they are shaped into large rounds, they’re carefully placed in boiling water, which is then reduced to a simmer. The key is treating them gently to avoid breakage. When they’re ready, they must be carefully removed from the boiling water and delicately spaced out on a sheet, far enough apart so that they don’t stick together.

The matzo balls are solid and don’t flake apart, but in the soup, the exterior soaks up some of the chicken broth so that they’re slightly soft on the outside but retain their texture on the inside. Pepper is the only discernible spice in the matzo balls, and it’s very subtle. I love the matzo balls for their simplicity, but mostly because they remind me of childhood. My family’s long been a fan of Lobel’s for their beef, chicken noodle soup and of course their matzo ball soup. It’s this taste of home that keeps me coming back, which is why I’ll be serving Lobel’s matzo ball soup tonight at my seder.

No matter how you like your matzo balls, matzo ball soup is the ultimate comfort food because it is first and foremost about family and tradition. It stands to reason, then, that Lobel’s, a five-generation family business, serves up some of the best matzo ball soup in New York City, and definitely my favorite (except for my mother’s, of course).

This post was originally posted on the Huffington Post. See here for more photos.

Walter’s

Every day it seems like some Manhattan-based restaurant opens an outpost in Williamsburg. Just recently, a restaurant from Williamsburg opened an outpost in Fort Greene. Walter’s, of Williamsburg’s Walter Foods, opened a few months ago on prime real estate, on the corner of Cumberland and Dekalb, facing the park.
A welcome addition to the neighborhood, Walter’s is open late, unlike most of Fort Greene’s dining establishments. The food lives up to high neighborhood standards. The Deviled Eggs are perfectly spicy and the Crab Cakes with Sherry and Cayenne Aioli are lightly battered for a crispy outside and moist inside. A Roasted Half Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Market Vegetables and Tarragon Gremolata is tender, juicy, and excellent.

An extensive and wondrously nostalgic cocktail list offers standbys like the Singapore Sling (Gin, Cointreau, Cherry Liqueur and Pineapple), a Sazerac and a Mint Julep. Unique, masterful takes on other old favorites include the Bramble (Gin, Lemonade and Blackberry) and the Fig Sidecar (Aged Rum, Fig Syrup, and Fresh Lemonade).

A large, oval mirror on the wall behind the bar illuminates the long, gorgeous interior, as well as the beautiful, bohemian Brooklynites clustering in lively pockets from the bar to the back booths. I’m thrilled that Walter’s is only a block away. The bottom of the menu reads: “If you love us, tell Danny. If you don’t, please tell Dylan.” Well, Danny, I love you guys.

Francesca on Clinton

Frankies 457 is pretty close to perfection as far as restaurants go. The food tastes like it was made for you alone, and the atmosphere is elegant but cozy, inside surrounded by exposed brick and outside in their wonderful garden. I haven’t been to the west village outpost, Frankies 570, but a few nights ago I visited what used to be Frankies 17 on Clinton Street, and what is now Francesca, the new venture from the same Frankies Sputino team (who also own Cafe Pedlar in Cobble Hill and the amazing Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens).

The Frankies Sputino Italian is so exceptional that I could only have had sky-high expectations forFrancesca, which serves Basque cuisine. I liked Francesca; I didn’t love it. But it’s hard to love anything that you compare with an original that you simply adore. An enchanting nook in what has turned into one fratty neighborhood, Francesca — and much of Clinton Street — is like a little oasis. The menu, like so many new menus today, is designed for sharing. Small Pintxos, Jamones, Para Picar, Salads and Small Plates offer a myriad of ways to start your meal, and if you make it that far and still have room for more, you have another round of choices with Raciones, followed by Cheese and Dessert.

I loved the White and Green Asparagus with Ali Oli and Migas, but could have skipped the Cream Fideua with Idiazabel, which was nothing more than a glorified Craft Macaroni and Cheese (and I specify Craft, because the noodles were identical to those short, skinny cylinders. Following what seems to be the trend of this post, I’ll take the original, please). The rest of the menu was intriguing — I am hardly familiar with Basque cuisine — and the setting so inviting that I would definitely go back (even if I wished I was going back in time to when Frankies 17 occupied the space).


My one Basque experience was a surreal one, a few years ago when a friend and I had stopped in Biarritz on a road trip from Bordeaux to Madrid, and eventually to the Naussannes, a tiny village near Bergerac in the South of France by way of seaside Cadaques. Biarritz lies in a Basque region, and on our night’s stay in the town, we decided to drive to nearby Bayonne, a Basque town across the border in Spain. We weren’t quite sure what we happened upon, but the entire town was celebrating in city center — parades, music and fireworks abounded. We had no choice but to join in the fete, although we had no idea what we were celebrating!

Francesca may not have quite lived up to this surreal Basque festival — or its sister restaurants — but it’s definitely worth a trip, if for nothing else than respite from the circus the Lower East Side becomes every night.

Beverage of Choice: London Buck

The London Buck

Dry Gin, Ginger, Fresh Lime Juice, and Chilled SeltzerCourtesy of The Beagle

Learning the ABCs has never tasted so good. A most wonderful new addition to Avenue A is the Beagle – a beautiful Cocktail bar and restaurant that opened in May of this year. A few weeks ago, I met two friends there for a drink, and it took everything I had to keep it to just one. The London Buck is a fabulous summer refreshment, and served with a metal straw (that you can purchase for $3 according to the menu), felt just right.

So now one repetition for memory’s sake:

On Avenue A, it’s the Beagle for Cocktails.

Next time I’ll add a D for dinner.

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: 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: 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 Dutch: part one

Sam Sifton voted The Dutch his number one restaurant in 2011 in The New York Times this past week. I had the pleasure of eating there for brunch on the last day of 2011 with one of my closest friends and best companions for dining out in the city. (She’s leaving us soon for another great food town – L.A – so we’ve been getting the important stops in before she departs, and before I’ll have to visit her for more culinary excursions on the west coast). Beating the brunch crowd by about half an hour, we got a table right away and were able to enjoy the great people-watching out of the big windows of this corner restaurant on Sullivan and Prince.

The Soft Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Sable, Trout Roe and half of Toasted Sesame Bagel was perfect, served salty and buttery in a bowl. The Honey Butter Biscuits were to die for. Three are served warm on a wood board, covered in an incredible, sweet Honey Butter, alongside whipped butter and a light, tangy jam. What a fantastic finale to 2011!
Lucky for me I get to try dinner at the Dutch in just a few weeks. Stay tuned for part two…