Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Tried a nice Margherita D.O.C. at this Soho establishment the other day. The pizza crust of this authentic Neopolitan pie was tender and slightly chewy, the sauce mild and slightly bright, the cheese tasty. This is a very simple dish, done reasonably well. I think I prefer Una Pizza Napoletana's version, and *definitely* prefer Franny's, but this is a tasty pizza, and I enjoyed it.

Stars: 4/5

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pegu Club

An acquintance and I tried Pegu Club in Soho the other night. On the 2nd floor of a building off W. Houston, it's dark, elegant, and kind of mysterious. Low tables, couches and chairs line the restaurant. I ordered a Pegu Club cocktail: gin, lime juice, an orange liqueur, and bitters. This is a profoundly balanced and masterfully made drink. Apparently the Earl Grey MarTEAni, "made with Earl Grey-infused gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and raw egg white" is even better. I'll go back soon and try it.

Stars: 5/5

Piadina: Disappointing

I had dinner at Piadina, a small restaurant for which I had high hopes, since it locates itself on W. 10th St. between 5th and 6th, across the street from Alta, a tapas place I love. The restaurants is effectively split into two portions, with the outer separate from the inner by a narrow corridor adjoining the kitchen. We sat in the inner portion. Here, the ambience is charming and a little rustic, with candles covered with semi-translucent paper wrappers exposed brick, black and white pictures, and lights strung on strings.

For an appetizer, we ordered Piadina, which they call flatbread, and comes in what looks a whole lot like a quesadilla. The flavors of the tomato and cheese inside were good, but not good enough to overcome the fact that the dish was served lukewarm in parts, and downright cold in others.

This was not a trend to stop there, either. Our pastas -- one, a rigatoni with eggplant and the other, a ricotta and arugula ravioli, were also solid in flavor, but served lukewarm. The pasta was a little excessively chewy as well.

So overall Piadina was a letdown, especially given that it has good recipes and a nice atmosphere, but due to disorganization or laziness, cannot serve the food fresh and hot.

Stars: 2/5

A Milkshake at The Stand

The Stand: I had a quick black and white milkshake here, sad that I could not try the toasted marshmallow milkshake it was famous for, because most marshmallows are made from gelatin -- anathema to a vegetarian. So, sigh, I had to compromise and go for a combination of vanilla and chocolate gelato, and experience an incredible milkshake.

The Stand uses il laboratorio gelato, so I'm not surprised it's so good, but you can taste thick, melt-in-your-mouth semi-solid blobs of gelato flow into your mouth as you drink this milkshake. The chocolate and vanilla flavors are weave together and the sweetness is ecstatic, not excessive. A great milkshake by any standard.

Stars: 5/5

Perry St for Brunch;

Perry St: This simple minimalist Jean-Georges restaurant is on the eponymous street, right around the corner from a building full of condos. As I came in, I saw the sparse area, filled with elegant lamps and quietly chattering people, the muted light of a Saturday morning further dimmed by the kind of window shades that look like television static.

When I sat down and got my menu, I was at first skeptical -- it seemed to have few traditional brunch entrees, and the menu was fairly sparse for vegetarians compared to a lot of brunch restaurants.

But my concern was misplaced. The pricing system at Perry St. works by offering two plates plus dessert for $24, with each additional plate for $12. I was offered a choice of wine or cocktail, too, but instead I opted for the -- gasp -- $8 glass of grape juice.

Grape juice? This is no ordinary grape juice. For someone whose last glass of grape juice was Welch, this was a complete revelation. My first glass was a Navarro 2005 Gewurtzheimer grape juice. It's a white grape juice, and it is like ambrosia. It has an amazing fruity, honeyed taste that's mild and clear and light. Later on in the meal I tried the Pinot Noir red grape juice from the same vineyard, and it was even fruitier, with a greater boldness and darkness and depth, though both are phenomenal (in fact, the white is my favorite).

For entrees, I had a tomato soup and a ginger rice bowl. The tomato soup was carefully poured tableside into a porcelain bowl in which a bottom layer of cumin oil was patiently pooled. The resulting soup was homey and slightly tart, with an exotic cumin turn every few sipfuls. The soup was served with a simple strip of grilled sourdough with white cheddar sprinkled on top. The sourdough was crisp initially but turned chewy in the mouth, and worked well to present a contrasting texture to the soup.

The other entree was truly memorable: the ginger rice bowl. This small, exquisitely prepared bowl of Japanese Nashiki rice, gently spiced with ginger (definitely no sting here), each grain delicately separate from the rest and begging to be savored individually, was served with a complement of graceful scallions, a mayonnaise-like emulsion of sriracha with a hit of spicy heat, and an astonishing poached egg, served in a deep fried batter, with a luscious yellow yolk spilling out onto the rice when pierced. The whole thing was amazing in look and taste. Indeed, that was true for the entire meal.

Finally, the dessert kept up the trend of quality. I chose a chocolate pudding, which came served as a multi-layer dessert. Unsweetened whip cream, at just the right soft, smooth texture, covered the chocolate pudding (a chocolate pot-de-creme in reality? probably.), which was a semisweet mixture. The pudding in turn hid a simple chocolate cake at bottom. In one corner of the dessert bowl were piled a small heap of candied violets, which looked nothing more to me than tiny fruity pebbles, which smeared a blue trail behind them as I ate them.

Perry St. is calm and zenlike in its devotion to great tasting food that is pleasing to the eye. Service was similarly professional. Highly recommended.

Stars: 5/5

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reviews: Galanga; Grom

Galanga is a small Thai place off of 6th Ave. on W. 4th St. It was narrow and a little cramped. We ordered a vegetarian spring roll, a papaya salad, a red curry, a pineapple fried rice, and a tofu with broccoli in garlic sauce.

Everything was tasty and light, not greasy. The best dish was probably the pineapple fried rice, with the chunks of pineapple adding just a little sweetness to the nuts and complementing the spices of the rice. The papaya salad was also delicious, although I generally have been a huge fan of papaya salads ever since eating my first one at a street fair in Manhattan a few weeks ago.

The service isn't all that great, with the waitresses barely making any response to your requests, even when they understand them and comply with them. Nor are the waitresses particularly friendly. But for decent prices and good food, that can be forgiven.

Stars: 4/5

Grom, the italian gelato places with roots in Italy, recently opened a second branch, this time in the West Village. I visited there recently, and tasted four flavors: vanilla, hazelnut ("nocciola"), extra noir (dark chocolate), and torroncino (had some kind of nougat in it).

First off, the storefront itself is picturesque, standing there on the corner of the W. 6th and Carmine, two sides open to the night air and the public. The gelato comes in stainless steel tubs that elegantly conceal the cold creamy sweetness within. The line snakes around the side of the store on the sidewalk and ends at the register, where you buy a size -- not a set of flavors. Then you take your receipt and THEN you get your gelato.

The gelatos were uniformly high-quality in ingredients, though not all the flavors were equally delectable. The torroncino was the standout, having a mellow, creamy flavor with just enough crunch in the nougats for variety and pleasure. The vanilla and hazelnut were both tasty, though both were perhaps a little milder than I like. The extra noir really did fulfill its promise and tasted just like an ice-cream-ized version of the valhrona dark chocolate from whence it originates. It has the dark bitterness that dark chocolate has, and that's how you want your ice cream, you'll like it. For me, it looked great but I just haven't developed the taste to love such dark, dark chocolate.

Stars: 4/5

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Walk through Astoria

I've been walking through Astoria recently, and jotting down real quick observations of restaurants that I've sampled across the way. Here are some quick observations:

On Steinway:

El Basurero - columbian restaurant with outlandish decor - bicycles hanging from the ceiling, carnival-esque. Had a cheese bunuelo there, but it wasn't very good.

On Broadway:

Brooklyn Bagel -- had a raisin and wheat bagel here that was very dry. Ugh.

Omonia cafe -- Nice. This Italian bakery had a tasty little rum-soaked sponge cake sandwich filled in with custard. It was soft and moist and alcoholicky -- tasty.

Mundo -- this slightly wacky and small argentinian-turkish joint is filled with paintings that somehow look a little like picasso in 5th grade or something. Anyway, I tried their "signature dish," a set of lettuce wraps with a kind of thick lentil paste with cracked wheat and lemon. This was highly delicious and addictive.

Parisi bakery -- Had an onion roll here, but it was a little hard and dry.

Pao de queijo -- I was a touch skeptical of this little Brazilian bakery just off of Broadway on 30th st. But I tried one of their sugared cornball pastries ("docinho de milho"), and it was a burst of rich, melt-in-my-mouth sweetness! Wonderful! I also had a chewy chocolate ball, filled with a cooked condensed-milk substance ("brigadeiro"), which was also very good. I hope to try their savory stuff sometime soon.

Sac's place -- I had a slice of pizza at this pizza place. I liked the way the slices had sauce and cheese strewn over them, almost in a homemade fashion. And actually, I liked the slices -- but they did remind me a lot of a better kind of homemade pizza, almost like a really much-better version of the kind of white bread pizza a kid might make and heat in the toaster oven. The crust was tender, and the sauce was mild.

On 21st:

Roti boti -- tried a roti from this small Indian buffet, along with a little of their okra curry. Both were competent, but nothing to write home about.

On Dittmars:

La Guli - tried a cannoli at this bakery. All in all, not bad, but the vanilla filling was too rich and dense for me (and I have a pretty high tolerance for rich and dense). Also, the cannoli shells were not quite crunchy enough for me, which is not surprising since they are prefilled with the cream.

Oleput - visited this bar & tried a chocolate chip cookie. Not bad, but it was a shortbread kind of cookie. I don't really like my chocolate chip cookies made out of shortbread. But it was a neat environment, filled with interesting books and mementos, and it would be a fun place to spend some time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wonderful Graffiti Dinner

I had a dinner at Graffiti, and it was wonderful. Graffiti is a sort of Indian-influenced tapas restaurant in the East Village. Entering it, the large stonework representation of Ganesh, the Indian elephant God, catched your eye to the right. The long, narrow, small restaurant is decorated with small mirrors with employees' names written on them, Indian stone and woodwork, and plenty of sticky notes that mention menu items & prices. The whole place is slightly zany, slightly exotic, idiosyncratic, and a find.

The menu is not huge, but they definitely accomodate vegetarians quite well - the chef & owner, who is very charming and was wandering through, greeting (and serving) everyone, helped me with my food and wine selections. I asked for his recommendations for a multi-course meal.

I first got a mango paneer appetizer, which hinted of an Indian mango pickle used in the cooking of the paneer. The paneer was tender, and was served with narrow strips of naan bread scented with cumin, and which were deliciously crunchy.

My second course was a vegetable dumpling dish -- this is normally a meat dish, but the kitchen has a vegetable alternative on request. The dumplings (think tibetan momo-style dumplings) were served with crisp semolina noodle bits (a typical Indian ingredient, though usually in chaat-style snack dishes), and, in a nod to the chef's history in pastry, a touch of grapefruit confit. The spice of the vegetables & the gluten of the wrapper, the crispness of the semolina, and the sweetness of the grapefruit all came together in a surprising and smile-inducing dish.

My third course was a special: an asparagus pizza made with a fried paratha bread with grilled asparagus and wasabi peas. The wasabi peas gave the dish a subtle twist and unexpected crunch. The paratha bread flaked off like puff pastry and melted in my mouth. The asparagus was cooked till tender, and the entree was addictive.

My fourth course was eggplant, beautifully tender and stuffed in between two pieces of Indian paratha bread (not fried like the last course), in a kind of small sandwich. It was accompanied by a lentil soup heavily spiced with mustard seed.

My final -- dessert -- course was a cranberry apple crumble served with black pepper ice cream. I was skeptical of the black pepper ice cream, but it did, as the chef promised, cut right through the sweetness of the crumble, and lend a refreshing contrast to it.

All through the meal I also had a lot of great wine -- the wine list is full of low-tannin wines that are all delightful, from a clean, simple German elbing roter rose to a glass of sherry to finish the night. Well, almost finish the night -- I really finished with a glass of kashmiri tea that had an incredible, sweet almond flavor to it. Amazing.

The warmth of the restaurant, the delightful and innovative cuisine, and the charming owner all the made this dinner a highly memorable treat.

Stars: 5/5

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I went to Elettaria the other night, on W 8th St. between 5th and 6th, just past Macdougal. Its chef describes it as American cuisine influenced by, among other things, Indian spices. The space is a rectangular, with low ceilings made from aged wooden planks, which gives it a homey feeling. At the end of the restaurant opposite the entrance door is the open kitchen, where the chefs prepare the food in a graceful ensemble process. Red velvet curtains frame the staircase leading down to the bathrooms and 2nd kitchen. A large bunch of white flowers and other small mementos pepper the rest of the space, which is filled with small tables, each pretty close to its neighbors.

The menu here is not gigantic -- a handful of appetizers and slightly fewer entrees. I ordered a cocktail off their menu called "8th wonder," which was a bourbon infused with chai and a couple of other ingredients. It was strong and spicy -- not entirely to my taste, but then I need my drinks girly. The complimentary bread was a naan dusted with sea salt, which was chewy, slightly sweet, and delicious.

I ordered a "rice cake" appetizer, which is inspired by the South Indian "iddli" dish. The small rice cakes were ensconced in lentils, tomato, ginger, and garlic. Everything was cooked to the right tenderness, and the combination of the soft rice cakes, the slightly more crunchy vegetables, and the tender lentils made this a delicate and aromatic appetizer.

The entree was a lot more disappointing. I ordered the "mattar paneer" -- in quotes because this dish is actually ricotta malfatti with peas, carrots, and fried onions. The accompaniments were fine, but the malfatti itself was heavy, dense, and kind of flavorless. A poor showing.

Finally, for dessert I got the anglicized "fried milk doughnuts" -- Elettaria's take on the Indian "gulab jamun." They served the doughnuts without the traditional accompanying syrup and instead sided it with a quenelle of chai-flavored gelato. The sweetness of the doughnuts was cut nicely by the cool moist spice of the gelato. The doughnuts could have been more tender, though.

All in all, as much as I wanted to like Elettaria, I was disappointed by it. 1 good dish, 1 mediocrity, and 1 bad dish do not a great meal make. And the prices are not particularly cheap, either. I hope this place grows into itself and becomes more refined over time, but for right now, I can't recommend it.

Stars: 2/5

Friday, April 18, 2008

Isabella's Oven; Boi to Go

Isabella's Oven is a pizza joint that opened up last year in the lower east side, on Grand near Essex St. It's a small and simple place, unremarkable except for the small chandelier hung on the ceiling, a reminder that this place strives for something different. Unfortunately, it does not really succeed. I ordered a pizza that was half "margherita" and half "primavera." The primavera side just had a brunch of fresh olives and cherry tomatoes just strewn on the pizza like a salad. They did not integrate well, and the pizza taste and texture ended up getting overwhelmed. On the margherita side, the pizza was better, but not by too much. The sauce was very bland and the cheese just ok. The crust was the best part, being slightly chewy and toothsome, but it did not redeem the whole. On the whole, the pizza is below-average.

Stars: 2/5

Boi to Go is a vietnamese sandwich shop in Midtown on Lexington between 42nd and 43rd. You can either order a sandwich or a wrap, with a variety of based (pork, beef, vegetable) and sauces (mint curry, etc.), or one of the banh mi sandwiches. It took me several minutes with the guy behind the counter and with the proprietress of the restaurant before they understood my request for a vegetarian version of a banh mi, and they finally concluded that what I should get was a vegetarian sandwich with the banh mi sauces.

It worked, though, and the sandwich ended up tasting quite good. Cilantro, tomatoes, avocado, pickled vegetables, soy and chili sauces, sweet and savory and spicy and crunchy.

This is not a sandwich that ascends to the same heights that Saigon Banh Mi Bakery sandwiches in Chinatown do, but it's still pretty good. It's not quite as cheap as SBMB either -- actully, about twice the price at $8 instead of $4.50. But all in all, still a very tasty midtown lunch.

Stars: 4/5

Monday, April 14, 2008

Williamsburg: La Bonita Bakery, Falafel Chula

La Bonita Bakery is a ninnocuous-looking bakery at hte corner of Grand Union in Williamsburg. It looks like one of many similar bakeries all across New York, filled with cabinets full of pastries that may or may have been sitting there since last May. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try, and had an alfajore, a Chilean/Peruvian crumbly pastry that sandwiches "manjar," or dulce de leche -- essentially a caramelly concoction produced by cooking condensed milk -- between sides of short, cookie-style dough. The dough turned out to be buttery and rich, the manjar sweet and pleasantly exotic. Delightful!

Stars: 4/5 (if I'd tried more this would go higher. though the ambience does leave something to be desired)

Falafel Chula is also on Union Ave, a small joint between Metropolitan and Devoe. This narrow middle eastern establishment, owned by Egyptians, has a short kitchen up front. I ordered the "falafel chula," which was a standard falafel sandwich. This was good but not particularly great falafel. The falafel balls themselves were fresh and had a multi-layered flavor to them. The rest of the salads and sauces, though, were merely good, and didn't come together as well as I might have liked.

Stars: 3/5

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Artisanal for Brunch

I'd been to Artisanal, the cheese-oriented restaurant on Park between 32nd and 33rd once before for dinner. Then I had gougeres (small balls of bread stuffed with cheese), and a pasta dish, both of which had been good but relatively forgettable.

Recently I decided to try Artisanal out for brunch and see if it did better there than for dinner. Artisanal at brunch on a weekend is bustling in a large windowed space. White tablecloths, a large clock above the bar, and an impression of light and motion are what define the space for me.

I ordered ricotta crepes and an eggs en cocotte dish. The crepes came lukewarm if that, and tasted bland. The only accompaniment was a drizzle of sauce around the crepes that simply wasn't enough to flavor the crepes with. The main dish was equally disappointing: eggs en cocotte is a baked egg dish in cast iron. It came with spinach and mushrooms. Unfortunately, they undersalted the egg, and moreover, simply weren't creative with it. My egg was boring.

Service was also decidedly mediocre. Not that it was (entirely) my waiter's fault: he was clearly harried. But when it came difficult to get someone's attention, I knew there was a problem.

Artisanal is a well-known restaurant with a devoted following. Unfortunately, it looks like it's starting to rest on its laurels and letting itself decline. What a pity.

Stars: 3/5

Bellavitae; Al di La


This is a little neighborhood hideaway on Minetta Lane, a quaint offshoot of the fun stretch of Macdougal St. between Bleecker and W. 3rd in the Village. The ambience is casual and a little homey, with a little trattoria-like flair, yellow wallpaper and wooden floors. We had crostini with gorgonzola and chestnut honey. The crostini came out warm, heavy, and spongy. A tasty dish -- though I guess I'm not a huge fan of gorgonzola so I would have preferred a different cheese (though I should have thought of that before I ordered, huh!). And perhaps I would have preferred the bread to retain its structure instead of sogging down. But it was still tasty. We also got a cauliflower dish with pinoli and currants. The cauliflower was cut up into small pieces, bypassing a usual difficulty with roasted cauliflower often being large and unwieldy. The bite-sized cauliflower petals blended crunchily with the other two ingredients. For the entree, I ordered a pasta cacio e pepe, which is a pasta similar to a spaghetti in a cheese sauce with a little black pepper. This rendition is not as good as the dish at Cacio e Pepe in the East Village, but then neither is Lupa's. CeP really should be eaten at CeP. Bellavitae's pasta was aromatic and likeable, but was perhaps slightly hard. Service was friendly and professional.

Stars: 4/5

Al di La

I went to this famed Park Slope Italian eatery, where I sat not at the main restaurant but at the Al di La wine bar around the corner from the main restaurant. That's because I didn't want to have to wait for the main restaurant to give me a table. The wine bar is small and charming, with little arches separating its small entry room from the also-small dining room. Small inverted test-tube lights with exposed filaments (filaments seem to be all the rage right now) compliment candlelight for a vision source.

I was trying to decide between a beet ravioli and a swiss chard/ricotta/egg gnocchi. My charming waitress persuaded me to have both, and, to separate the duo ("to cleanse the palate," she suggested) with a salad. So I did just that, ordering the ravioli, asking for a spring greens salad as an intermission, and then springing for the gnocchi as act 2. The ravioli skin was delightfully thin on roughly-pureed beet with a dark and memorable color. The sauce of the pasta was simple -- a butter sauce, touched with a shaving of Parmesan. This was a simple, subtle dish, and that seems to be Al di La's style. The salad was excellent -- probably the best thing I had.The salad consisted of all kinds of interesting and tasty green vegetables: asparagus, snow peas, peas, string beans, and more, arranged in a deeply verdant depth and dressed in sherry vinaigrette, but not too much. Everything was fresh, crunchy, and refreshing. The bread and butter were excellent too, by the way, with the bread having a beautiful crunch and soft, wholesome inner dough, and the butter being hard but creamy and happily sharp. The bread comes from Royal Bakery in Brooklyn while the butter is standard unsalted French-style (i.e. higher-fat) butter. The final course was the chard/egg/ricotta gnocchi, came in an earthy and richly aromatic brown butter and sage sauce. The gnocchi themselves were slightly disappointing: they seemed a little dull and bitter for my taste, and didn't have the sparkle that the salad had. Finally, dessert was a trio of gelati - cherry almond, fennel, and coffee hazelnut, all of which were excellent (though perhaps the flavors were not quite as complex as I might have hoped) and satisfying. Throughout, service was attentive, friendly, and professional.

Overall, I'd have to say that my meal at Al di La was tasty and satisfying, but did not rise to the godlike levels that I expected. I liked it, but I didn't fall in love.

Stars: 4/5

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jianetto's Pizza Truck

Went to this place a few weeks ago and had some of their midtownlunch-made-famous slices of pizza. It's big, with much sauce and little cheese. The crust had a satisfying oily crunchy-sponginess and the sauce was piquant. What I didn't like was how very fast the slice got cold (I don't think it had been heated long enough in the oven), and the feeling that they had skimped on cheese to save money. This is an enjoyable slice, though, and for a good price.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Quick reviews: Blackhound, Chikalicious

I had tried Blackhound, a cake-oriented bakery, on 2nd Ave. and 14th St. once before and been disappointed. Today I decided to give it one more chance, and stopped in to order a miniature rum cake. These tiny balls were filled with rum-soaked chocolate cake and dipped in an outer coating of chocolate. How can you screw that up, right? Unfortunately, they somehow did. The small ball of what should have been deliciousness turned out leaden and chewy in a boring way. The chocolate did not synchronize well with the alcohol flavor and the whole thing was a bust. Too bad, really.

Stars: 2/5

I also recently tried the express pudding edition of Chikalicious, on 10th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves. I ordered the vanilla custard, and quickly got a warm vanilla sauce into which a steamed apple pudding was steeped. Overall, this was mediocre. The custard sauce was sweet but forgettable, and the mild apple pudding was the same. Not really worth the calories.

Stars: 2/5

Artichoke: Great new pizza place on 14th

I went to Artichoke, a new pizza place featured on Eating in Translation & (the late) Slice New York recently, and really enjoyed my experience. Artichoke is located at 328 E. 14th, between 1st and 2nd Ave.

It caught me by surprise how small the place is. It's almost a takeout joint. Nevertheless, it has a kind of happy disheveledness about it.

I had a gigantic slice of artichoke & spinach pizza, which was indeed warm and creamy and rich. Though I think the pizza is crafted very well and is a highly-memorable slice, I like things a bit tangier than creamed artichoke-and-spinach, so I can't say it's my favorite pizza. But it was very good. And, I found I liked it even better after it had cooled down a bit. I could taste the intricate spice mixture more clearly.

The sicilian slice was excellent, too, and more to my taste. I loved the sauce, the cheese, and the texture.

The crust of both slices was crunchy and bold and hearty - superb. This is not surprising, since possibly the best thing I ate at the restaurant was a free hunk they gave me of some still warm, just-made bread with some Pummace olive oil on it. The many-layered crunch and folds of the outside, the soft inside, the wholesome aromas... this was first-class bread. I could easily have devoured it alone and been content.

And of course the proprietors were really friendly. This is a great, fun place.

Stars: 4/5

The Vegetarian New Yorker