Seersucker

I finally made it to Seersucker, the much-talked-about, Southern restaurant that opened in Carroll Gardens last June. I met two friends there late on a Wednesday night, in the middle of a downpour. After trudging through puddles and torrential rain, I couldn’t have landed in a more inviting spot. Despite its simple, clean, and almost stark interior, Seersucker feels cozy and intimate.

Maybe it’s the dim lights, or the personable staff, or the wood paneling and oversized mason jars on the back wall. Whatever it is, the minute you walk inside, you feel at ease and at home.The young, very attractive waitstaff are dressed in denim tops and bottoms, looking hip but low-key, like the restaurant itself. When you first sit down, you’re offered flat or sparkling water – both on tap. A simple amenity that sets the tone for what’s to come.

Following the wonderful trend about town these days, (or at least the town of Brooklyn), most ingredients are locally sourced from small farms and distributors, and many come from the Carroll Gardens farmer’s market right across the street. We started with an heirloom tomato salad with ricotta that completely blew us away, and the entrees were equally as astonishing. My favorite was the Potato Crusted North Carolina Trout with Zucchini, Virginia Peanuts and Sweet & Sour Tomato.

Serving refined Southern cooking and subtle but deeply felt Southern hospitality, Seersucker brings a freshly foreign flavor to Carroll Gardens. Fitting in with the neighborhood by embracing the local community, Seersucker also brings with it a new and almost ethereal vibe – one that is entirely welcome in this once wholly Italian community that is now pervasively gentrified with the familiar. Its menu changing with the seasons, Seersucker will no doubt stay as fresh as the food and ambiance it delivers.

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!

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

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.

Sunday Brunch at Whitehall

Brunch is for your best friends. This past Sunday morning I got to do brunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends, in the city for a weekend visit. We went to Whitehall, the self-proclaimed “Modern British”Café/Bar and Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue in the Village. After gabbing over coffee and tea for about as long as we could before we really started to annoy the forgiving waitress from who we begged “one more minute” for a little too long, we ordered eggs.

I had Two Poached Eggs topped with Avocado, Olive Oil, Chile Flakes and Baby Rocket over a thick, toasty slice of Country Bread, and my BFF had the Old English Fry Up with Scrambled Eggs, Slow Roasted Tomatos, Buttered Button Mushrooms, and Baked Beans. Both dishes were fantastic; we each loved our meal so much that neither one of us offered up the customary taste to the other. I will definitely revisit this lovely restaurant for another British Brunch, and I’m really looking forward to trying Grub and Grog for dinner. Maybe it’s all the Downton Abbey I’ve been watching lately, but I am really feeling the British menus popping up all over the city these days.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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: 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.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Summer is the season for BBQ, and this summer, Texas BBQ seems to be getting a lot of attention in New York. Hill Country Barbecue Market, which opened five years ago in June of 2007, is in the spotlight once again, after Pete Wells of the New York Times gave it two stars (and “BBQ snob” Daniel Vaughn acknowledged it had all the right pieces but fell victim to one of New York’s biggest clichés: it was rushed). There’s more to Texan cuisine, however, than BBQ, and food-forward Brooklyn is now home to New York’s most recent Texan import: the Kolache.

Brooklyn is the ultimate haven for specialty food shops. From Brooklyn Brine Co.’s pickles to the recently opened gourmet mayonnaise shop Empire Mayo, you can find pretty much any specialty food you want in Brooklyn. Up until two moths ago, however, Texans looking for a taste of home couldn’t find one important part of their morning routine: the Kolache. Czech in origin, a Kolache is a round, doughy pastry with a sweet or savory filling, and is apparently a popular breakfast on-the-go in the Lone Star State. When Texas native Autumn Stanford moved to Brooklyn, she was shocked to find that with all its specialty food shops, Brooklyn was missing these “neat-to-eat” pastries.

Stanford started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what would become Brooklyn Kolache Co., the one and only Kolache establishment in the borough. It opened in March of 2012, on Dekalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue in BedStuy. With its big, open seating area and sizable garden out back, there’s more space and exposed brick at Brooklyn Kolache Co. than you’re likely to find anywhere closer to Manhattan. In addition to Kolaches, you can find Pigs in a Blanket and Cinnamon Rolls — who can argue with that comfort-food combo? Coffee comes from Kitten Coffee, a gourmet coffee roaster right up the street, which, incidentally, founded the firstBarista school in the New York.

I had never tried a Kolache before I visited Brooklyn Kolache Co., and like many firsts, this one was one to remember. I started with a Cherry and Cheese Kolache: the dough was fluffy and slightly chewy, and the smooth, sweet-cheese filling was the perfect anchor for the tart, cherry topping. Next I tried the Sausage, Cheese and Jalapeno Kolache, which I could see becoming an addictive hangover cure.

Whatever the filling, the dough itself is the main event. Slightly sweet, it compliments both a sweet and savory middle, and the ratio of dough to filling — heavy on the dough, light on the filling — leaves no confusion as to who’s boss.

The cafe is bright and casual, with funky art covering the walls and mellow music playing at a perfect volume for getting some work done or for enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Light pours in from french doors that open to the lovely back yard, where more tables can be found for lingering over these decadent Texan treats. Follow their website’s suggestion: “Stop by and try one!” Somewhere between a bagel and a doughnut, a Kolache is a cross between two New York staples, and this Texan treasure is working perfectly in Brooklyn.

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: White Anchovy Crostini from Hillside

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

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


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

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.

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 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…

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.