And Now… Pok Pok Phat Thai

Just two weeks old, Pok Pok Phat Thai has officially replaced Pok Pok Wing, swapping the now famous Ike’s Wings for rice (or flat) noodles in the dish we were all, if secretly, missing from Andy Ricker’s New York outposts. I know this dish from my sister, Sarah, she usually for her kids every weekend (alse check the newest article of her blog – kids outdoor playhouse). Ricker explained that in Thailand, phat thai is typically a street food – hence its absence at Pok Pok NY. But he found a place for this fawned-over noodle dish in Pok Pok Wing’s old quarters, which is now dedicated to phat thai. For me, this news was a slice of heaven, delivered.

You can still get the amazing Ike’s Wings at Pok Pok NY, but the Lower East Side’s subterranean Pok Pok is now serving noodles – with ground pork, prawns, ground pork and prawns, or served vegan. For the full experience, don’t miss the drinking vinegars in flavors like tamarind, honey and apple. Housemade vinegar mixed with soda water provides a sharp, lightly carbonated, refreshment to ready and relieve your mouth for a heaping pile of noodles.

Popbar!


I’ve been wanting to try Popbar for a while, and on Thursday night, I finally did! A make-your-own popsicle store, Popbar is ideal for New Yorkers who want it their way and on the go.

You start by choosing your popsicle flavor: gelato like coconut and gianduia, or sorbet such as blood orange or lemon mint. Next, you decide if you want your popsicle dipped in the likes of white chocolate, dark chocolate or caramel. Finally, do you want a topping on that? Crushed almonds or shaved coconut?

I chose a mixed berry sorbet pop, half-dipped in white chocolate coated in pistachios. It was simply delicious and I will definitely be trying more mix-and-match popsicles over the summer.

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!

Family Recipe


I love the story behind Family Recipe. Chef and owner Akiko Thurnauer built an ode to her father in this homey, Japanese-fusian restaurant that opened earlier this fall in the Lower East Side.

Inspired by the foreign ingredients her father used to bring home from his world travels, and from the fine dining he would treat her to, Akiko melds home-style Japanese cooking with exotic flavors and techniques. You can feel and taste the sweet, simple and sincere roots when you step foot in this unpretentious gem of a restaurant.

Two girlfriends and I went to Family Recipe on a recent Friday night, and enjoyed a Sake tasting while we waited for a table. With our meal we tried – and loved – a bottle of Poochi Pooochi, a Sparkling Junmai Sake.

My favorite dishes were a Konbu Cured Fluke with Field Caviar and Ginger Oil; a Kale salad with Pomegranate and Candied Pistachio (Vegan); and a Mushroom salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette.
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Effortlessly blending styles, the restaurant itself is both quaint and sophisticated, and the food is homey but refined. Many of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, but nothing lacks flavor – a feat I love in the rare restaurant that can pull it off.

Family Recipe is a lovely, little restaurant with a refreshingly sweet back-story, and the food to match.

Stuck in the City This Summer? Spend a Night on the Canal

That’s right: the Gowanus Canal. Sure it’s a Superfund site, but all the more reason to show it some love. As a neighborhood, Gowanus is transforming. Like other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Gowanus has seen factory spaces and warehouses repurposed as lofts and condos, a new chapter beginning in 2005 when a residential boom took off against much of the community’s wishes to retain the industrial purpose and feel of their narrow neighborhood. Three years later, the Bell House, a converted 1920s warehouse turned music venue and event space, opened its doors, and today, while it’s not quite like neighboring Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill, — all indisputably gentrified at this point — Gowanus is moving further and further from its manufacturing roots.

Two recent additions to the neighborhood are accelerating Gowanus’ otherwise gradual transformation.Littleneck, a seafood joint on Third Avenue, and freshly opened Lavender Lake, a massive bar with a laid back vibe, are both a stone’s throw from the charming draw bridge that crosses the canal. The grimy water and vacant lots nearby only amplify the lure of both restaurant and bar.

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Littleneck serves clams, of course, but highlights include the Maine Lobster Roll, well-priced oysters and the tastefully nautical theme. The door handle is a dock cleat and inside fishing accessories deck the walls, but nothing risks feeling overdone. The short, straightforward menu leaves little room for error. Fries are a necessary side to the meaty lobster roll, which is served with only a touch of mayonnaise. The New England Clam Chowder is light on cream and heavy on potatoes, and a Pea Shoot Salad with golden beets makes a refreshing appetizer or side to any dish.

When dinner’s over, around the corner awaits two-week-old Lavender Lake. Between the enormous, double-decker patio and the even larger bar hall, you won’t have trouble finding a place to sit, but you may never want to leave once you settle in. An old horse stable, the space itself really impresses, and the backyard is the perfect place to kick back and forget you’re in the city for a few hours. Wooden planks render the feeling of sitting on a dock, and umbrellas shading picnic tables heighten the lake-side experience (Also check the best foldable picnic table reviews).

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If you’re lucky and can take a peek behind the wood picket fence, try to steal a glimpse at the largest garden gnome you’ll ever see. Apparently it was sitting upright, peering over the fence onto the patio when the bar first opened. But the owners thought it might detract from the ambiance, so the gnome had to lay back down, out of site. While admittedly creepy, the gnome would certainly have marked Lavender Lake’s territory. I hope they keep it around for special occasions.

Occasion or no occasion, if you’re looking to escape the city for a little while but can’t make it out of town, a great night awaits you down by the Gowanus canal.

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Sichuan and Bowling in Sunset Park

I’ve only been to Sunset Park twice, and both times I’ve followed the exact same itinerary – and what a worthy one it is. I can’t wait to return and continue exploring, next time, to be sure, with a different line up. Regardless of where my next visit takes me, however, I have a feeling I will always recommend my twice-tried plan to any visitor; remarkably, it’s a plan that would suit pretty much any group size and appeal to pretty much any age group.

The plan is a simple one: a two-stop trip with a nice, long walk in-between. Chinese food, followed by a walk in Sunset Park – the actual park, not the entire neighborhood- followed by bowling.

You’ll begin at Metro Cafe, a friendly, causal and delicious Sichuan restaurant on Eighth Avenue (at 50th Street), which has become known as the Chinatown of Brooklyn. The texture of the spicy Mapo Tofu will woo even a non-tofu eater, and the divine, sweet and sour Pork with Eggplant in Garlic is a perfect accompaniment. Wash it all down with a Tsingtao or two, and you’re ready to bowl.


To get to the bowling alley, take a digestive walk through Sunset Park, where the views of Manhattan are real. The elevated vantage point is such that you might feel you are on a mountain, looking down on the city from across an expansive body of water. And I do mean expansive. If you felt like the trip down to Sunset Park was leading you too far from home, this view will not soothe your separation anxiety. When you are done admiring the views and the great distance, Melody Lanes awaits.

Melody Lanes is an institution. I imagine it feels just the same as it did the day opened. Heavily patterned carpet covers the floor of the entrance, where on one side sits the sign-up desk and shoe exchange, and on the other side sits the barroom, where the infamous bartender, Peter Napolitano, resides.

Mr. Napolitano is a verifiable hoot. He sports a bow-tie, suspenders, and the fattest chops you’ve ever seen. He’s ready to launch a minimum ten-minute-long-story to anyone that nears his tap. Deservingly dubbed a “bartender-philosopher” by The New York Times in a wonderful exposé from May, 2009, Peter Napolitano is one of a kind. During my last visit to the bowling alley, my lovely boyfriend and I got to hear Peter explain how the house he grew up in backed right up to the hospital where he was born. On a paper napkin, he drew a diagram to show us how the window of the room where his mother gave birth literally faced his childhood bunk beds, and although they have since built a building in-between the the hospital and his house, Peter could show us the alley-way that would still permit a clear pathway from window to window. Peter is a spectacular storyteller and a truly congenial man. Although I still didn’t want to ask for his photograph, he’s the type of person who wouldn’t think anything of it and would gladly agree with no suspicion or reservations. If only everyone was so unassuming and trustworthy.
One side of the bowling alley are the disco-bowling lanes, flashing lights, music, disco-ball and all. These are the lanes for the recreational bowler, and where I’ve bowled both times. The opposing side is reserved for the leagues and professional bowlers: the lights are fully iluminated and the sound of ten pins falling in one fell strike is the primary noise coming from this side of the room. As a layman, it’s fun to watch the other side, although I did feel somewhat intrusive even at the full distance of five, empty lanes away from the action.

But Melody Lanes is a friendly place; everyone is there to have a good time, and it was refreshing, for me, to hang out among people of all ages and backgrounds in one, communal space. If you still have room after a Sichuan feast, have some curly fries, a beer, and a gum ball, and maybe feel like you’ve gone back in time for a brief moment. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to hear a tale from the legendary, Bay Ridge-born bartender.

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!

Roberta’s

I tend to dismiss most things Williamsburg and Bushwick because of the Disneyifying Hipsterdom that has completely taken over. I’m partial to any part of Brooklyn that isn’t ‘right off the L train.’

But when I finally got out to Roberta’s, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pretension and hipster-tude, and was completely wowed by the food and ambiance. Roberta’s really does deserve the hype.

I’m obsessed with Margherita Pizzas – they’re always the best, wherever you go – and Roberta’s Marghertia definitely won a spot on my top ten list. Their special calzone, made with Pesto, Roasted Red Peppers, Ricotta, Prosciutto, and magic, was fantastic that night and equally good the next day. Finally, their Prime Flat Iron Steak with Grilled Potatoes and Charred Lettuce was devine, cooked to juicy perfection.

I think I might finally be getting over my deep-rooted distrust of hipster Bushwick. And I will have to owe it, of course, to Roberta’s. I can’t wait to visit again.

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.

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 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 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.

Meal on-the-go: GranDaisy Flatbread

If you find yourself needing to eat on the go (as I do far more often that I would like), and you find yourself in Tribeca (or Soho or the Upper West side- see below for exact locations), the flatbreads at GranDaisy Bakery are great.

My go-to is the Pizza Zucchini, which is served on a thin-crust flatbread with gruyere cheese. Their Pizza Cauliflower, also made with gruyere cheese, and Pizza Pomodoro, which, with nothing but tomato sauce, is as perfectly simple as it gets, are also favorites. For something different, I go for the Pizza Sciacchiata, whose sweet Champagne Grapes and Anise compliment the salty crust really nicely.
One makes a great snack, and two a fine lunch. For eating on the go, GranDaisy Bakery is one of the best bets I’ve found for something relatively light, not too unhealthy, and always supremely delicious.

Tribeca: 250 West Broadway, between Beach and North Moore
Soho: 73 Sullivan Street, between Spring and Broom
Upper West Side: 176 West 72nd Street, at Amsterdam

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.

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: 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 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.

Battersby

The curse of a small kitchen is a burden most New Yorkers must bear. We take it in stride: ordering in, eating out and keeping it simple. The more ambitious of us quickly learn to get creative, enabling surfaces not otherwise meant for cooking, using as few containers as possible, and discovering the art of substitution.

The tiny kitchen becomes a whole different ballgame when you’re cooking for customers. Restaurants likeSmith and Mills, which cooks on hot plates, and Prune, which has only two ovens and one countertop, have mastered the closet-sized kitchen. Now, a new, Brooklyn based restaurant can join the ranks: Battersby, on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, whose kitchen is akin to a walk-in closet. Chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern both left their recent posts at Anella in Greenpoint, and opened the doors of the lovely Battersby just a few weeks ago.

How do they cope with their small kitchen? Only a few tables, and only the experts doing the work. That’s right. Ogrodnek and Stern, the creators of what will be a seasonally relevant, contemporary American menu, will be the only two cooking.

Their Marinated Fluke with Apple, Avocado, and Lime was perfect. A simple but unique combination, it tasted so right it could be the new beet and goat cheese salad. A creamy but not too heavy Chestnut Soup with Roasted Mushrooms and Quail Egg, delicious to the last drop, and Handmade Parpardelle with Duck Ragu, Taggiascia Olives and Madeira Wine were excellent, and perfect on a night when winter came a little too early. There’s no question that the two very gifted chefs know exactly what they’re doing in their very little kitchen, which, by the way, they built themselves.

Chuko

No one knows how to dress these days. Is it hot out or cold today? Should I wear jeans and a t-shirt, no jacket? Flats and a sweater? Or will I be burning up and wish I’d worn a skirt? But my legs haven’t seen the light of day in months! They aren’t ready for exposure! So what does one eat when one doesn’t know what to wear? I’ve shivered on a patio trying to enjoy early summer fare and felt itchy and unseasonable sporting wool socks and spooning a slow-cooked, root vegetable stew. The other night I had a Goldilocks moment: Eating a crunchy, spicy brussels sprout salad and a steaming bowl of ramen in the stark interior of Chucko — a ramen joint in Prospect Heights which opened in August of 2011 — seemed just right.

Chefs and owners, Jamison Blankenship, David Koon and James Sato, of the meatpacking district’s Morimoto, have traded glitz for simplicity, with a straightforward menu — bites and ramen — and not one piece of decoration in their “sauna-esque storefront.” There’s no alcohol to be had, but bars aplenty surround the restaurant — perfect for grabbing a pre-dinner drink while you wait for a table.

It was a tough decision between the Kale Salad and the Brussels Sprouts, and next time I’ll get both, because while I vowed to try the kale on my next visit, there’s no way I could walk into Chuko and not order the Brussels Sprouts. Fried in fish sauce and sprinkled with roasted peanuts, this crispy dish is a firey wonder. Mix and match your ramen broth, noodles and toppings, but take the sage advice of the waiters, who are as enthusiastic about the food as you will be by the time you finish your meal. If there’s one perk to cold weather, it’s an excuse to eat ramen at Chuko. But even as the weather warms — or does whatever it’s doing these days — I expect to be dining at Chuko all year round.

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!