Va beh’

On Dean Street in Brooklyn, between Fourth and Fifth Avenue, you can find yourself in Italy for an evening. Va beh’, a new restaurant on the south side of Dean and somewhat eclipsed by the mounting Barclays Center, is discreetly tucked away from the chaos that surrounds it on all sides. It almost feels like you’re entering a secret passageway when you step through its doors.

What you find inside is a true, bustling Italian restaurant, where wine and sparkling water run from taps on the wall; the menu is scrawled in romantic, black script on a marble wall, the volume’s on high and a slightly chaotic frenzy fills the room with a communal sense of excitement and frivolity.

The wait and bar staff are Italian, adding to the sense of authenticity. The food leaves you wondering whether or not you have, in fact, somehow been transported to a little kitchen in Milan. A rarity in any restaurant no matter the locale or cuisine, the dishes are not too salty, which makes them actually taste homemade. A smoked trout crostini is meaty but light, melting in your mouth with the accompanying lightly grilled and olive-oil-brushed hunks of fresh country loaf. The pastas are divine, as to be expected. As are the meatballs. Nothing is too fancy, and it’s all made with the highest quality ingredients — exactly how Italian food is meant to be.

Owners Michele and Qiana Di Bar and Andrew Alari wanted to recreate the casual, everyday dining experience they had growing up in Milan, and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished. With only a few tables (you can see it at here – www.kidfriendlyhome.com/best-cheap-vanity-table-reviews/), be prepared to wait a little while; But you’ll be offered a glass of the best wine they have open and a dish of olives while you wait. The lines will only get longer as word gets out, so run, don’t walk, to Va Beh’ where it really is all good.

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.

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.

Can’t Wait for Thanksgiving? You Don’t Have to!

New Yorkers may be known for a lot of things. Patience isn’t one of them. We like our lines short, our take-out fast and our coffee on the go. If you’re wondering who’s standing in an hour-long line for a cupcake, it isn’t a New Yorker.

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Henry Public’s Turkey Leg Sandwich.
Photo Credit: Dan Hallman
 

Some things, however, are worth waiting for, and on this short list, Thanksgiving will always make the cut. New Yorker or not, we all look forward to that joyous day when we gather our loved ones and stuff ourselves with turkey and gravy. Maybe we’ll watch a parade or some football, or maybe we’ll completely unplug for the day. Whatever we do, the feast is always the main event. It’s a day, and a feast, worth waiting for… Unless you absolutely can’t.

If you simply can’t wait for the last Thursday in November, or if you love this day of gluttony so much that you need a sneak preview — an amuse-bouche, if you’d like — then fear not. There is bounty of restaurants serving Thanksgiving fare all year round in this wonderfully impatient, 24/7 city. Thanksgiving at a restaurant. How New York. Yes, flocks of New Yorkers will be eating their annual feast in a restaurant this year, like they have in years past. If you’re looking for day-of Thanksgiving dinners, restaurants from Williamsburg’s new Reynard to the classic Katz’s Delicatessen will be serving grand feasts this year.

But if you need a quick, Thanksgiving fix before the big day, you can find what you’re craving if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites for Thanksgiving a la carte:

Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, one of last year’s hottest restaurants, serves a buttery corn bread to every dinner table. If it’s mashed potatoes you love, the ever-expanding Meatball Shop serves a decadent side of creamy, mashed potatoes that’s not to be missed. If you’re looking for something a little different, Westvilleserves a great plate of pesto mashed potatoes. I’m still searching for good stuffing — the king of Thanksgiving, in my book. Homemade stuffing is really hard to contend with. Any recommendations on restaurants serving great stuffing?

For turkey, look no further than Henry Public, the charming, antique-filled bar and restaurant where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 19th century. Henry Public’s turkey leg sandwich is legendary among Brooklynites. Braised in milk, the meat is so tender it’s almost shocking, and this sandwich is definitely worthy of all the hype.

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts will be dawning many a Thanksgiving table, and these days they’re practically everywhere you look. Some of the best can be found at Alta, served crispy with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. For a totally unique version, Prospect Height’s Chuko serves spicy, crunchy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts.

Some of the best pumpkin pie hails from Hill Country Chicken, which has its very own pie menu. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope, selling whole pies or by the slice, also makes a mean pumpkin pie — as well as other Fall pies like salted caramel apple.

And if you want it all in one, Momofuko Milk Bar‘s Thanksgiving croissant couldn’t get much better.

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Hill Country Chicken’s Pumpkin Pie
Photo Credit: Hill Country Chicken
 

The best part is, when the day finally comes and goes, and you’ve plowed through the last of your leftovers, these Thanksgiving staples will still be around, for the best of Thanksgiving, all year round.

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.

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.

Brooklyn Edible Social Club

Ricotta & Duck Prosciutto Terrine
Peppermint, Sweet Pea

It’s been over a month since my first underground dining experience, and I keep putting off writing about it because nothing I could say could quite do the meal justice. I suppose I literally can not find the words to describe it.
But the whole experience was such a pleasure, I’m forcing myself to put something down on this page- something that won’t begin to live up, but will just have to do because I really must share it.

On a rainy Saturday night in early June, my lovely boyfriend and I trotted down the road of impending gentrification from Fort Greene to Bed-Stuy, and landed at a stranger’s apartment, greeted by ten other strangers, a chef and a host. We had arrived at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club, a supper club I had stumbled upon during some light internet reading one fateful afternoon.


Chilled Strawberry Salmorejo

Basil, Piperita Mint, Almonds, Chevre

The Brooklyn Edible Social Club belongs to two kind, generous and fun souls – she a former DJ turned graphic designer and overseer of the supper club; he a jovial and intuitive chef, passionate about locally sourced food and the exquisite master behind the meal.
Host and chef aim to keep the dinners small, at only twelve people per night, to encourage a communal environment where everyone talks to everyone. Sitting across from two school teachers, next to two documentary film-makers, down the table from a banker and even further down from a symphony musician, my lovely boyfriend and I did, in fact, get to know everyone.


Steamed Mussels

Young Garlic, Smoked Pepper Beurre Blanc

Garlic Scape Biscuits

The table shared the different wines we had each brought, shared anecdotes about the most outrageous food we had ever eaten, and definitely shared our utter astonishment at the quality, originality and superb taste of each dish. I can’t event pick a favorite they were all so outstanding.
Before each course, our gracious and humble chef, dawning denim cut-offs, suspenders, and a bandanna around his thick, dark hair, explained what we had prepared for us. Every ingredient was seasonable and fresh – having been grown and bought locally. Every dish was unique but accessible, and indisputably incredible.

Portions were perfect, leaving time to explore and linger over the flavors, but leaving you wanting more, with room for the next course. Everything was cooked to perfection. No one left a crumb on a plate or a drop in a bowl.

Roasted Hanger Steak
Chipolata Sausage, Radishes, Sauce Verde

The menu followed a wonderful succesion, commencing with an ever-so-slightly chilled Ricotta and Duck Terrine which blew everyone away, an exciting harbinger of the extraordinary meal to follow.
The Strawberry Salmorejo, a chilled soup made of strawberries, was slightly sweet, slightly creamy, but somehow definitely a savory dish; the blend of basil, mint, almonds and chevre producing an exceptional flavor. I’ve never tasted Mussels cooked so right, and in a sauce just enough buttery, tangy and spicey, everyone spooned up every last drop.

The Hanger Steak was phenomenal – tender as could be and accompanied by pickled radishes and a green sauce that no-one could quite identify or get enough of. Finally, the flaky, crusty Rubarb Tart Tatin had just enough salt to bring out the flavor and maintain the sweet.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

Hibiscus & Prosecco Float

The bar set unreasonably high for my first supper club experience, I am afraid no other supper club will quite compare! I have decided, however, to take upon the grave responsibility of finding out, the night at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club having undoubtedly reved my curiosity engine for supper clubs, despite my sneaking suspicion that nothing could top this first trial.
It was one of the most special dining experiences I have ever had the fortune to take part in, and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I’d put it in the “Best Meals I’ve Ever Had” book.
At the end of this too-delicious-to-be-true dinner, I asked the chef how he developed his recipes. He didn’t use recipes, he told me. He just thought about what ingredients would work well together and how, went to a few farmer’s markets to see what was available, and composed his dishes by intuition. A true artist.

As we sat and listened to records selected by whoever felt like playing a tune, sipped on coffee and chewed Mary Jane candies, the communal enthusiasm for food, new friends, and taking a chance permeated the room. Ten strangers, a chef and a host, and my lovely boyfriend – the loveliest dinner date of them all – knew they had just shared an evening no one would forget.

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.

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.

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.

Tribeca Trails

Last night Alex — my beloved boyfriend who tirelessly humors me in my endless pursuit of new restaurants — and I ate at a lovely, little restaurant in Tribeca: Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs. The three-story restaurant and bar is impeccably decorated: elegantly rustic without feeling contrived, the restaurant, and bar upstairs, are as charming as the people in it. Matt Abramcyk, former owner of the now-closed but forever-famous Beatrice Inn, hit the nail on the head with this landmarc Tribeca townhouse turned cute and cozy restaurant filled with antique chairs and walled by perfectly distressed, exposed brick, wood and tin.We shared burrata on toasted baguette with arugula and rhubarb mustard- the mustard was the best part. I had grilled hake, which, with a slightly battered coat and perfectly soft inside, was delicious on top of a white bean spread and arugula. Alex had the hanger steak, served on crispy, cubed potatoes. The simple menu is refreshing, and the food is tasty and not overwhelmingly heavy. The china is floral and, of course, antique. Our cocktails – I had The White Lady, made of muddled raspberry, vodka and soda water; my lovely one had a Whiskey Sour – were delightful and not too strong. Tiny’s is quiet and not overwhelming in anyway, which is actually a delightful treat in a city where sensory-overload is the norm.

Unintentionally, we ended up at another one of Mr. Abramyck’s Tribeca establishments after dinner. En route to a comedy show at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca – a variety show featuring the hilarious Kristin Schaal, we were searching for somewhere to have an outdoor cocktail, and spotted the one and only outdoor table at Smith and Mills: it was free and calling our name. Round two of sipping drinks among Mr. Abramyck’s beautiful, just-so decor speedily commenced. Although I’m afraid it’s a little passé at this point -Gasp!- Smith and Mills is still one of my favorite bars. I’d more-than-happily go for their dark and stormy any winter night, and their champaign cocktail and salmon tartar any summer evening.

 

Sipping our pre-comedy show cocktails, we realized our table was directly facing the booth where we sat at Locanda Verde the weekend prior. Having salivated over Locanda Verde since its opening, I was thrilled to finally take a great occasion to dine at this still-hot spot last week. Alex and I had met for a drink there a year ago, and when we returned this time, the restaurant was just as vibrant as ever.
I loved my cocktail, loved our bottle of wine, and loved our appetizers: Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Crostini with Sea Salt and Herbs, and Warm Asparagus with an Organic Egg and Pancetta and Truffled Vinaigrette. And while my lovely boyfriend’s Girandole with Homemade Duck Sausage, Chickpeas, Escarole, and Fiore Sardo was very good, my Grilled Branzino with Roasted Sunchokes, Dandelion and Salsa Rossa was less than wonderful. It almost tasted like it was microwaved, even though I know it couldn’t have been, could it?!
I thought, for a moment, that I might have been better off sticking to cocktails and appetizers, which usually proves the best route at many restaurants of Locanda Verde’s size. I think, however, that I was just a little unlucky and perhaps a little over-excited, and will next time only order Branzino if it’s a special. At last, despite my somewhat disappointing main course, the appetizers, drinks, and incredible ambiance made for a fantastically festive evening, and if I can get another reservation, I certainly would love to return.

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 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…

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!