Nai Tapas Bar: Out of the Test Tube and Onto Your Plate

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Molecular gastronomy is essentially food science, and the study of how chemical and physical transformations might be applied to cooking. In more recent decades, the term has started applying to a culinary movement that favors the direct involvement of these different chemical processes in flavor and presentation.

Under the influence of Chef Ferran Adrià, Spain has become something of a paradise for molecular gastronomy, and Nai Tapas takes this a step further by revitalizing Galician classics with all kinds of technological advancements! Inspired by Adria’s discoveries, a rigorous training in the kitchen from his mother, and studies abroad in Europe Chef Ruben  Rodriguez has cultivated a restaurant that joins simple bar snacks and bites with class and spectacle, breathing complexity and creativity into comfort food.

I sampled a vast array of courses that outnumbered even the most bountiful of Press Dinners I’ve attended in the past. Our first palette cleanser was an olive spherification, an orb of egg yolk-like texture made out of pure olive essence. It rolled and pulsated before bursting in my mouth with rich, salty flavor. This was followed by a platter of cured jamon and olives. The thinly sliced iberico ham was fatty and intense, even in small doses.

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Olive Spherification

 

Next came the Airbags with Manchego Foam. Delicate pastries filled with the fluffy, deconstructed essence of sweet, nutty manchego cheese. The cheese within sublimated perfectly on the tongue, filling one’s senses with nutty, sheep’s milk goodness that continued to float around after the first bite was finished.

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Airbag with Manchego Foam

 

The oysters afterward were topped with their own foam as well in the form of lemon air. The juicy oysters could have come from an enchanted sea of fruit. An air can be described as an even more distilled and isolated type of foam. The tender, savory oysters tasted juicier beneath the citrus clouds , and the seafood dish was as refreshing as a good lemon sorbet! They are served alongside a glass of cava, sparking Spanish wine.

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Oysters with Lemon Air

After that, I tried the sea bass wrapped in toast and topped with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. A very decadent dish, I failed to realize it was fish right away. The fish within almost passed for a very hearty butter. It was just THAT creamy and deliquescent in texture! Between the crunch of the asparagus and the toast and the mingling flavors of meat and fish, this appetizer was unparalleled in complexity and enjoyment for me.

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Seabass wrapped in Toast

There was also a very interesting dish of fresh avocado stuffed with crab meat and topped with crumbled bits of serrano ham. It was a sushi roll with no rice and four times the flavor! Once again, the pairing of the charred bits of smoky ham with cool swirls of avocado and luscious crab meat created a diverse experience.

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Avocado Stuffed with Crab Meat

More conventional but no less tasty was the shrimp in garlic sauce. The shrimp was thick and succulent and went well with the perfectly oiled sauce. Make sure to sop up that sauce with any bread you have–it’s a garlicky, umami dream!

 

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Shrimp with Garlic Sauce

 

The second palette cleanser was a sangria-infused chunk of watermelon that was refreshing and definitely superior to enjoying things the other way around.

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Sangria-Infused Watermelon

The meat courses were as plentiful and fruitful as the appetizers that preceded them. Smoked chicken skewers imbued with the strong taste of charcoal and tempered with an Asian-inspired honey sauce make for a great option. They are plated beneath a glass cover and just wafting with the strong, calming aroma of oak. There were also crispy Brussels sprouts with pork belly in a spicy mustard and spiced baby back ribs.

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Brussels Sprouts with Pork Belly

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Baby Back Ribs

The pork belly with pecans and a crescent of carrot puree was definitely my top pick of all the meat dishes, however. The most mouth-watering, fatty chunks of belly meat paired with nutty pecans, and a summery, light smear of carrot puree all complimented each other in an elegant, flavorful dish. Sugary, fatty, and hearty, I gobbled up every bit of it with no regrets. Very balanced, fragrant, and filling!

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Pork Belly with Pecans

A surprise course of quail egg, chorizo, and Manchego cheese on toast brought us a more traditional tapa, but a well done one nonetheless. It was a perfect Spanish breakfast sandwich in one bite with the itty-bitty quail egg fried expertly so that the yolk was runny and the sides of the whites were crispy and poised to pop into the mouth. The chorizo, like all of the other cured Spanish meats, was flavorful, and fiery in all the best ways.

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Basque Chorizo with Fried Quail Egg

 

Dessert consisted of churros injected with dark chocolate and homespun Pear Cotton Candy. The two were unique treats that further represented the many flavors and intricacies of molecular gastronomy, though I found myself extremely full by the time they arrived.

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Nai also has an impressive Spanish wine collection, cultivated by the restaurant’s co-owner and manager, David Martinez. From 5-7 PM on week days, they offer a Happy Hour that consists of $5 wine glasses, $4 beers, and $22 pitchers of sangria. There’s also live Flamenco dance entertainment on Thursday and Saturday nights!

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Flamenco is on Thursday and Saturday Nights at 8:30 and 10:30

Reuben and David have truly created a foodie’s paradise, demonstrating that the wonders of molecular gastronomy are not solely reserved for the absurdly wealthy, European, or nerdy!

 

Nai Tapas Bar

Address: 174 First Avenue (Between 10th and 11th)

Phone Number: 212 – 677 – 1030

Website: http://www.naitapas.nyc

Dinner is served from:

5 PM-11 PM on Mondays-Wednesdays

5 PM-12 AM on Thursdays-Saturdays

Lunch is available from Noon- 4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays

Happy Hour is 5 PM -7 PM on Mondays-Fridays.

 

Narcissa: From Farm to Table to Paradise

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2016’s Springtime remains a cruelly inconstant lover, gracing us with its presence one day before ghosting us for a week! On terribly cold afternoons, it can be a difficult exercise in restraint not to order my meals through Seamless or Caviar. The middle ground in all this is to brave the elements and make sure I treat myself to something exceptionally exquisite. Lunch at Narcissa is a sacred, soothing ceremony that firmly justifies any midday excursion!

Connected to the East Village Standard Hotel in Cooper Square, Narcissa dwells in one of those architectural marvels that looks more suited to a work of dystopian fiction than downtown Manhattan, though differences between these two urban models are rapidly fading by the week. The space inside is classy and pretty yet inviting enough not to dissuade a casual diner from entering.
Under the direction of Chef John Fraser, Narcissa follows the popular model of farm-to-table (the farm in this case being The Locusts On Hudson). It takes its name from an actual farm cow rather than the Harry Potter character, and themes its menu around meticulous ingredient selection and delicate cooking methods. The result is a simply dazzling seasonal menu!
I ordered off of the Lunch Prix-Fixe menu, a $28 offering that comes with an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. I expected something good if not a bit on the small side–quality trumps quantity in so many of these places, but I ended up being surprised.
I started with the Citrus-Cured Salmon, served with a bit of bread and frisee salad. It was an incredibly fair portion with crisp vegetables and the two very large salmon slabs were rife with salty goodness, the tangy hint of citrus perking up my taste buds while rounding out the entire appetizer. It was wonderfully refreshing and salty at the same time!
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For my main I got the duck schnitzel as I love both duck and schnitzel and had never expected to see them in the same dish. The result was a fantastic marriage of a good crispy breaded exterior and moist, juicy duck leg meat. Beneath it was a pool of golden apricot sauce that mingled with the succulent dark meat. creamy potato salad, and zesty mustard to create a hearty sonata of spring flavors. It was by far the best schnitzel I’ve ever eaten and definitely one of my favorite uses of duck. And I might also add that the amount of duck meat was simply gargantuan. I expect that many of my readers might find two meals in a single entree with this dish, though I could not resist gobbling it all up. Taking it home to microwave later would have been a travesty.
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For dessert, I had the Fruit Tart, a saucer of pastry crust filled with sweet cream that tasted like it was sourced from a magical fairy cow, tart muscat grapes, and slices of spiced plum that could only have been grown in a culinary sorceress’ garden. It was a perfect fairytale ending to a magical meal!
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On a return visit for dinner, I also sampled the Lacquered Duck Breast, a large, incredibly juicy specimen  that was brushed and caked with a mosaic of crackling sea salt and spices. It is creative, exceptional, and worth every cent of its $36 price tag!
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I’ll be honest, when I first looked at Narcissa’s decor, its menu, and its prices, I thought I would be dealing with an overpriced, underplated tasting rather than a decadent, imaginative feast, but I was SO SO SO SO wrong! This place is a Michelin-Starred chef’s playground and correspondingly a diner’s dream!

Narcissa

25 Cooper Square
(corner of 5th St and Bowery)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228 3344

Lunch

Monday – Friday: 11:30am to 3:00pm

Dinner

Sunday – Thursday: 5:30pm to 11:00pm
Friday – Saturday: 5:30pm to 12:00am

Brunch

Saturday – Sunday: 10:30am to 4:00pm

**For the record, I almost called this article “Malfoy’s Mom has Got it Going On!”

The Malt House

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Located on Thompson Street, only a few blocks from my alma mater, I was immediately struck by how crowded The Malt House appeared on a chilly winter week night. From your usual hipster suspects and NYU locals to corporate parties looking to inject some spark into their after-work dinners, there were plenty of happy patrons. In a neighborhood that often finds itself divided by age, vocation, and sense of community, it was fascinating to see a place that attracted all types. Brick walls, sconces, and dark wood furniture all helped to cultivate an atmosphere that felt classy yet lived in.

Owners Darren Shore and Eoin Foyle hail from Ireland, providing an old world sense of charm alongside delicious American comfort food. The lighting is sleepy though the bustling masses of patrons mitigate any drowsiness you might feel going in. It’s a bit like living in a period piece, but everybody has smart phones and the food is more than a set piece.

The meal began with a crispy, crackly bang as we were served a towering appetizer trio of bacon-fried onion rings, fried cheese curds, and fried tempura pickles. Each was golden and breaded with a salty, crunchy outside. I couldn’t get enough of the white cheddar cheese curds, which were perfectly gooey and succulent bits of cheese. Imagine the best mozzarella sticks you’ve ever had, then marry them to your favorite tater tots! Additionally, while pickles usually send my taste buds into sour hysterics (recall that I am a supertaster), I found the Malt House’s to be tastefully sliced and refreshingly delicate in both texture and flavor.

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Bacon Fried Onion Rings, Fried Cheese Curds, Tempura Pickles

Chicken Wings came next, and they were very tasty. The Malt House goes the extra mile and bakes, fries, AND grills their wings. They came with a creamy Roquefort sauce (presumably to mellow out some of the spiciness), but I found them mild and tasty.

For entrees, we were equally spoiled. I tasted the Malt House Burger, the Steak Sandwich, the Lobster Mac & Cheese and the Malt House Salad.

The burger stood out with ample amounts of hickory-smoked bacon, sweet onion marmalade, and a large, baked bun actually branded with the initials of the restaurant. Its medium rare innards were very juicy and slathered with cheese. It also happens to be GIGANTIC! A devilishly delicious selection, and a good choice if you haven’t eaten all day and don’t plan on eating anything later that night!

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The Malt House Burger. Are they going to trademark it?

If the burger was the Malt House King, then I consider the Steak Sandwich to be its princess. Thin slices of steak under a canopy of gruyere and arugula made for a very dainty sandwich, light in texture but filled with rich flavor. In particular, the rich garlic aioli really brought out the fresh ingredients on the sandwich, which I would describe on the whole as buttery and savory.

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Steak Sandwich with Fries. There is a hefty layer of meat beneath all that cheese and arugula.

Made with a blend of white cheddar, parmesan, and gruyere cheeses, the Mac & Cheese can be considered another strong choice on the menu. The noodles themselves were firmly textured and the sauce was thick, but not too rich. The lobster claws on top acted as an odd, meaty garnish. Frankly, it really boiled down to classically good macaroni with some lobster plopped on top. I didn’t feel like the lobster was incorporated in the most creative way, but the ingredients were all tasty and fresh.

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Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

With ample servings of grilled chicken and a zesty balsamic vinaigrette, the Malt House Salad also presents a decidedly healthy option, though I’d probably recommend one of the meaty sandwiches over it. If you want something light, get the steak. Again, it’s a very good salad, but The Malt House is the kind of place where you’ll want to soak up those extra calories of flavor.

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Malt House Salad with Grilled Chicken

For dessert, I tried the Choco Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and the Crème Brulee. Served beneath a ruby curtain of fresh strawberries and blueberries, the Crème Brulee managed to be decadent yet refreshing, and I adored it–easily one of my favorite items on the menu!

 

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Malt House Choco Cake

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Creme Brûlée

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Selection of Craft Beers

Befitting its name, The Malt House has an impressive selection of craft beers and other alcoholic beverages! I recommend the Milk Stout. It’s so creamy it almost tastes like coffee.

If you’re in search of food, drink, or warmth, pay this tavern a visit!

The Malt House

206 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012

Hours: 12 PM-4 AM

Website: themalthousenyc.com

Telephone: 212 – 228 7310

 

 

Tareau: A Fountain of Fondue

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Taureau is the third of Chef Didier Pawlicki’s restaurants that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, and it is definitely the most unique of the trio. Priding itself on a fondue-only menu (something that no other restaurant in Manhattan boasts), Taureau offers guests three courses of cheese, meat ( Fondue Bourguignonne), and chocolate fondue!

Each option is its own rich tribute to France’s deliciously gooey culinary tradition, but I recommend ordering all three with a friend or date for the full experience. Chef Didier allows people to order fondue for two, pricing individual fondues by pot while also offering a three-course prix fixe that runs between $42 and $52 per person.

Chef Didier spent many years honing his cheese fondue concoctions, painstakingly testing and tasting different combinations. Of the cheese fondues, I got to try the Devil’s Whiff, the Old Swiss, and the Perigord.
Comprised of pepper jack cheese and crisp red wine, the Devil’s Whiff managed to pull my tastebuds in as much as it kicked me awake at every turn. It made for a spicy and invigorating first course. The fiery notes of the cheese mixture invigorated my palette while preventing me from succumbing to the heaviness I normally get when I gorge on cheese. Certainly the best option for those who are looking for some heat on a cold winter’s day!
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The Devil’s Whiff

The Old Swiss with 180-Day Aged Swiss was everything you might ever want from a classic cheese fondue. It was hearty and pungent in the most refined way possible with little hints of tart beneath a symphony of savory. This blend is certain to be a crowdpleaser amongst diners with different tastes–this is cheese fondue in its purest, most celebrated form with little in the way of embellishment, but much in the way of traditionally, cheesy goodness. Definitely my favorite of the cheese fondues! Sometimes I like having my expectations perfectly satisfied without anything extra added!
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The Old Swiss

 

Lastly, I tasted the Perigord with Parmesian, White American Cheese, Truffle Oil, and Didier’s signature slices of real black truffle. I really enjoyed this cheese as well as the bits of truffle, but I found my senses bedazzled beyond understanding when I tried it. A small taste was all I needed to appreciate its rich complexity. Perhaps I was worn out from the first two cheese courses, but I found that a tiny bit of this cheese and its powerful blast of earthy flavor went a long way. If the Devil’s Whiff was full of little punches and kicks, the Perigord could best be described as an hour-long, full body massage for your tastebuds.
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The Perigord

Next, we had the meat fondue, where we dropped raw slices of filet mignon, pork, and chicken onto sizzling oil. All three meats were very tasty when cooked properly, but I definitely favored the tender fillet mignon because I could cook it in as fast as 15-seconds (pair it with the truffle sauce Didier offers on the side for something luxurious). There is something magical about laying a cold bit of steak down and pulling up a morsel of medium rare goodness in seconds!
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The chicken and pork were also very good, but as each bite could take close to a minute to cook all the way through, I found myself stressing over every scrumptious bite of them.
If you’re as clumsy as I am, you’ll have to make sure to grip onto the meat very tightly, otherwise you’ll run the risk of it sticking to the cauldron and being overcooked. I had to be more careful with the meats than the cheeses, but I greatly enjoyed them nonetheless.
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Lastly was the decadent chocolate fondue for dessert. I got to try the milk chocolate and the dark chocolate with a colorful  bouquet of fruits, cookies, and marshmallows.
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Rather shamefully, I found myself guzzling the milk chocolate like a schoolboy in a Roald Dahl novel. It swaddled the sweet treats perfectly in a creamy blanket with a silky texture that enveloped each grape or strawberry in a cocoon of cacao that was just saccharine enough to leave me wanting more. In contrast, I found the dark chocolate was just too rich and bitter. I left dessert wondering if I have the palette of a six-year-old–albeit a very refined and well-mannered six-year-old.
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Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that Taureau is unlike Chef Didier’s other establishments, and is not BYOB. However, it has a fine selection of French wines to choose from.
Mark my words readers, I had an absolutely delightful time at Taureau, and I can’t wait to bring my next date here (assuming I get one)! This is sure to be a hot spot for Valentine’s Day and the next batch of cold weather coming in!
Taureau
Address: 558 Broome St, New York, NY 10013
Phone: (212) 228-2222
Hours: 5 PM-10 PM on Sundays-Thursdays, 5 PM-11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
**Accepts Cash, American Express, and Bitcoin Only

10 Below: I Roll with this Ice Cream

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Have you had the pleasure of trying the ice cream at 10 Below yet? Chances are you’ve passed by the Mott Street establishment numerous times on your way through Chinatown, but it’s also likely that you were scared off by the $7 price, or the insanely long lines! Throughout the fall and summer, 10 Below has attracted tourists and foodies alike, many of whom are willing to wait over an hour or more for a taste of the creamery’s Thai-inspired ice cream rolls!

The cool spectacle of watching someone literally turn a dollop of milk into ice cream before your very eyes is a draw that seems to yank crowds by their smart phones (think cool sculpting, but with ice cream instead of your abs), but even when that novelty wears off, there’s something special about the ice cream here. It’s light on the tongue and fresh! Strawberry Ice Cream just tastes better when the ripe, juicy berries were mashed mere moments before your first bite!

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Additionally, 10 Below features an almost limitless toppings policy–I say almost limitless because there’s so much ice cream in one cup, you’ll run the risk of overflowing if you go too crazy with the fresh fruit, whipped cream, and cookies they offer!

 

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Strawberry Shawty with Strawberries, Graham Crackers, Raspberries, and Whipped Cream!

As winter approaches the winding lines have died down tremendously. You can now get your ice cream here in as short a span of time as ten minutes! I’m sitting here on a Monday at 12 PM, and there are no soul-sucking, selfie-crazed sightseers in sight! I recommend you hightail it here ASAP. Seriously, I’m kind of hoping for lines now because otherwise, I just might eat all the ice cream!

 

10 Below Ice Cream

Address: 10 Mott Street, New York, NY.

Hours: 11-10 PM on Sundays-Thursdays,  11am – 11:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Website: http://www.10belowicecream.com/

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Zing’s Awesome Rice is Pretty Awesome

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After another zany night of Improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade East Village Theatre, I found myself stumbling through the Lower East Side on my winding trek home with a ravenous appetite. The area has some food offerings into the wee hours of the night, but cheap pizza or tacos or bar snacks just don’t put a smile on my face these days. Luckily, I came across Zing’s Awesome Rice on Ludlow Street, and after enjoying every visit, I can definitely recommend this specialty “seared rice” eatery!

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The owner, Zing Bai left her hectic job as an attorney to pursue a more flavorful dream. Her seared rice isn’t only an original twist on classic Chinese fried rice, it is also a more health-conscious option!

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Rice is such a ubiquitous food staple, yet before Zing’s Awesome Rice, I had yet to see much attention or care paid to it. Zing painstakingly tested over 20 different rice varieties before settling on sushi white rice (you can really tell in the texture), brown rice, and purple rice.

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Not stopping there, she also claims to marinate and season each grain of rice like a steakhouse does with their steaks. By searing the rice as opposed to frying it, Zing avoids burning the rice or making it too greasy. The result is rice that has a nice crunchy texture on the outside that still maintains some nutritional value as its core.

 

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Continuing to stay on the healthy side, Zing also makes sure each seared rice dish comes in a 1:1:2 of rice to meat to veggie to ensure balanced nutrition, and to limit calories to roughly 600 per plate. She also only sears her rice in olive oil for its heart-healthy characteristics. Lastly, she never salts any of the ingredients she uses, choosing to rely on the natural flavors of spices and meats.

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Cute Menus!

 

I’ve tasted the Chicken Seared Rice, the Sausage Seared Rice, and the Surprise Seared Rice, which turned out to be a very nice fish. Of these, the Chicken and Fish stood out to me the most. The ingredients were just so light and fresh. It was just as filling and tasty as any fried rice, but it didn’t leave me feeling dehydrated and bloated. The chicken was especially flavorful. Zing marinates it the night before in a little bit of sugar and vinegar, resulting in juicy boneless bites with subtle notes of sweet and savory that mingle quite nicely together.

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Chicken Seared Rice

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Fish Seared Rice (Purple)

Lastly, the shop has true New York City hours, staying open on Sundays-Thursdays until 3 AM and Friday and Saturday until 5 AM. “I have friends who get out of work no earlier than 12 AM,” Zing says, “New York is a night-owl city, so I cater to that side of it!” I, for one, cannot even begin to express my happiness at knowing that I can get this delicious rice at almost all hours of the night.

Whether I’m performing comedy, studying late for an exam (ha, I don’t really do that, but you understand my point), or just famished after a night on the town, I’m happy to add Zing’s Awesome Rice to my list of favorite places. Zing’s Awesome Rice IS Awesome–—Sear-iously!

Zing’s Awesome Rice

Address: 122 Ludlow St, between Delancey & Rivington

Website: http://www.zingsawesomerice.com/

Phone Number: (347) 857-7668

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Byblos: A Lebanese Labor of Love

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In 1990, Chef Sabeh Kouchou and his wife Sonia opened Byblos, where they served happy customers for about twenty years in Murray Hill. Unfortunately, in 2010 a fire decimated their original restaurant location. Taking time to regroup, Sabeh and Sonia revived and relocated, bringing Byblos to Midtown in 2012.

Chef Sabeh

Chef Sabeh

Byblos’ name comes from a Lebanese resort town on the coast that in turn shares an etymology root with the word Bible. It’s a name that conveys history and tradition, all the more fitting when one considers Sabeh’s use of his own family’s recipes. Sabeh and Sonia are both natives of Lebanon, though New York is where they met and where have made a home for themselves.
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Byblos’ interior doesn’t try to live up to its Lebanese namesake. You’ll find know coast-inspired decorations or nautical imagery adorning the white walls here, though a few plants and red lighting go far in making an unpretentious oasis-like space.  The restaurant is also unbelievably spacious. I’d imagine that even at maximum capacity, it wouldn’t feel too crowded. Making use of this wide, open space, Byblos features live music and belly dancers on Saturdays!
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Before Byblos, I’d never experienced Lebanese cuisine before. I found plenty of Mediterranean staples here alongside other treats. Lebanese cuisine focuses heavily on Meze (think Mediterranean style snacks/ tapas).
Out of all the meze, the Hummus impressed me the most, which surprised me as it is a dish that I encounter often, and one I do not typically enjoy. Byblos’ hummus is wonderfully light and creamy with a smooth texture that floats off the palette. Despite lacking the chunkiness I normally expect, it manages to be full of savory of the chickpeas mingling with the tang of lemon and nuttiness of the tahini. If you’re craving a little bit more firmness, you’ll enjoy the roasted chickpeas that garnish the top of the spread.
The Hummus--Order this one!

The Hummus–Order this one!

Of the spreads, I also sampled the baba ghanouj and the muhammara. The baba ghanouj is heartier and heavier in flavor than the hummus as it utilizes charcoal-grilled eggplant as its core while the muhammara’s red peppers conjured some VERY strong, spicy notes.
Baba Ghanoush

Baba Ghanoush

Muhammara

Muhammara

Caked with herbs, the Zataar Pies were bites of flat bread that just exploded with zestiness. There was so much thyme, that I felt like I was literally grazing on an herb garden with a warm veil of olive oil around each slice grounding the storm of spices. Despite the wide array of powerful flavors, I found myself popping slice after invigorating slice into my mouth.
Zataar Pies

Zataar Pies

I also tried the stuffed grape leaves, which were filled with more chickpeas, spices, and rice. They were soft yet full and quite sour. Another dish to wake you up lest you fall into a meze-induced coma!
Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed Grape Leaves

The last meze I tasted was the Fattoush Salad topped with grilled chicken. It was just an all-around, delicious and satisfying salad. The chicken was charred and juicy and there was plenty of it. Sweet citrus dressing and crunchy pita bits made for a varied range of flavors and textures. This salad could easily be served as a main dish and leave a party stuffed!
Fattoush Salad with Grilled Chicken

Fattoush Salad with Grilled Chicken

For the first main course, Sabeh served Kibee with Laban, Ground Lamb Meatball in Hot Yogurt Sauce. The meatball was a perfect dollop of spiced and marinated lamb with the yogurt sauce elevating the dish to new heights of decadence.  I never thought a yogurt-based dish could achieve such a warm, velvety Alfredo-like texture. Definitely worth an order!
Kibee with Laban

Kibee with Laban

The second main course consisted of a mixed grill of beef and lamb. The meats are juicy and dressed up rather nicely, and they come on a bed of veggies with rice on a very large platter.
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Grilled Meat

For dessert we had the classic baklava and the Byblos “cheesecake,” which was literally a cake of baked cheese. Both were crunchy, flaky, savory, and drizzled with a lovely mixture of honey and rosewater. The cheesecake reminded me of a sweeter, more syrupy version of Greek Saganaki.
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Lebanese “Cheesecake”

Baklava

Baklava

Byblos is a great spot to dive into Lebanese cuisine–something that too many New Yorkers never experience or taste. Additionally, Sabeh and his team offer catering and delivery services, and a bar stocked with rare Lebanese wines!
 Byblos
Address: 80 Madison Avenue Between 28th and 29th
Phone Number: 212 687 0808
Hours: 11:30-3:00 PM for Lunch and 3:00 PM to 11 PM for Dinner.
Live Music on Belly Dancing on Saturday nights from 9:30 PM to 1:00 AM.

The Scoop on Polpo Gelato

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The summer before senior year of high school is always an auspicious period of time. Most kids spend the season scrambling to find a job–probably at an ice cream parlor if they’re lucky, but instead of leaving his fate in the hands of others, Laguardia High School Senior Harrison Geller planned something bigger and sweeter in beginning his own gelato pop-up.

After honing his craft in Italy, Harrison was determined to demonstrate what he had learned overseas. Named Polpo after the Italian word for Octopus in homage to the eight flavors Harrison offers, the frozen treat store is a welcome visitor to the Lower East Side’s dwindling summer days.

Harrison Unveiling a new Sorbet

Harrison Unveiling a new Sorbet

Aside from its youthful staff (comprised by none other than Geller’s friends and classmates) Polpo Gelato can boast a level of artisanship rarely seen in the industry today. All of its flavors and offerings are made by hand and from scratch without the aid of a machine–an impressive and meticulous feat!

I sampled several of Polpo’s flavors and enjoyed the Ricotta Gelato (which was cheesy and fluffy and unlike any other gelato I’ve ever had) and the Raspberry Sorbet (which pairs nicely with the incredibly tart Lemon Sorbet).

Sadly, Polpo Gelato is only running for a limited period of time. Remember, Harrison and co. still have a busy year ahead of them uptown after all.  The weather will be sticky and muggy in the next two weeks, so do pay them a visit if you’re in the area!

Thanks Polpo Gelato!

Thanks, Polpo Gelato!

Word of Mouth Bistro: The Word’s Deserved

WordofMouthBistro

A Pitiful Preface Regarding my Lack of Nourishment

From cleaner air to a lack of sales tax (hello two new pairs of shoes), my visit to Oregon gave me plenty to enjoy. However, these pleasures were almost lost on me because of how hungry I felt my first night there.

I hadn’t eaten anything on the five hour plane flight except for some grapes that probably cost like $10. Delta was only offering two freeze-dried looking sandwiches for like $10 a pop, so I passed on my inflight meal.

Landing in Portland at roughly 8:30 PM, I thought I’d given myself plenty of time to scurry for dinner, but by the time I’d made it to my Salem hotel and settled in, I realized that attempting to find a restaurant after 10 PM without a car would prove nigh-impossible. New York had certainly left me spoiled in the late night bites department!

Going to bed on a virtually empty stomach, the piercingly brilliant western sun easily woke me at exactly 6 AM. After taking longer than I probably should have to figure out the hotel wifi, I consulted Yelp, TripAdvisor, and several other similar programs all directed me to the same restaurant: Word of Mouth Bistro. I was lucky that it was only a brisk twenty minute walk from the Howard Johnson’s.

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses :)

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses:)

Homecooked Hospitality

Arriving shortly after 7 (it was easy to spot the cozy-looking house beneath the big sign), I immediately found several groups of people queued up to dine–a good omen! I was seated after maybe 10 minutes and eagerly perused the menu.

I learned that the owners Becky and Steve have spent years honing their skills in comfort cooking and that they do all of it themselves rather than trust any other chefs with their beloved recipes. Torn between the Chicken Fried Fillet Mignon and the Plate of Love which consists of Prime Rib Hash and Creme Brûlée French Toast, I ended up ordering both rather than wait another moment without sustenance.

The Prime Rib in the hash was tender and well seasoned and I also enjoyed the onions and mushrooms that came with it. Between the massive serving of fried potatoes and the even larger portion of French toast, I found myself a little overwhelmed. The French toast managed to be as divine as it sounded with its warm fluffy filling and daintily caramelized coating. It also came with two fried eggs!

Plate of Love - Prime Rib Hash with Creme Brûlée French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Plate of Love – Prime Rib Hash with Creme Brûlée French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Before my next course arrived, my waitress informed me that the chefs knew that I was extra hungry and that they wanted me to sample an extra two courses: The New England Clam Chowder (definitely comparable to anything I’ve had East) and the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes (which were totally sweet in every sense of the word). My heart and stomach were both touched by this extremely generous and random display of kindness. They didn’t even know I have a food blog!

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

The Chicken Fried Filet Mignon was definitely my favorite thing on the menu. Breaded and battered like a well-loved schnitzel or, then slathered in the thick, savory house sausage gravy, it thrilled my tastebuds from start to finish. Its crunchy, crumbed exoskeleton could easily have passed for the perfect morsel of fried chicken and the steak within was juicy and medium rare with a lovely, yet faint sweetness in the meat that made the entire dish and its savory charms stand out even more. It also came with another two fried eggs, a buttermilk biscuit (came with a dollop of homemade strawberry jam), and a fresh fruit salad that included blueberries, mango, pineapple, and a ruby red slice of ripe blood orange.

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs - My favorite thing in Oregon

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs – My favorite thing in Oregon

Did I mention that every entree here went for under $15? Recall how they don’t do sales tax here in Oregon.

I was so charmed by that first extravagant meal, I made sure to visit Word of Mouth again during my four day stay in order to try The Incredibly Flying Biscuit with its buttermilk fried chicken. The Saturday rush was really crazy, so I got it for take out, and I was impressed again,

If you’re in Salem for any period of time, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try Word of Mouth Bistro. It can get busy and crowded for breakfast and lunch, but the crazy success is a testament to just how special a place Becky and Steve are running here. You’ve certainly won over this fussy New Yorker!

Word of Mouth Bistro

Hours: Open Wednesday-Monday for breakfast and lunch from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Closed Tuesdays.

Address: 140 17th Street NE  Salem, Oregon 97302

Phone Number: 503-930-4285

Website: http://www.WordofSalem.com

Email Address: WordofSalem@gmail.com

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn't convincing!

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn’t convincing!

365 Days in 365 Ways: James Miille’s Life in the Rabbit Hole Photography Show

Watercolors

What have you accomplished in a year of your life? It’s something that a lot of us don’t (or try not to) think about, and a daunting question for any artist, but photographer James Miille has 365 conceptual portraits to show. Running at the Gallery 151 Annex (199 Mott Street) until this Tuesday, June 23rd, Life in the Rabbit Hole is Mr. Miile’s first solo gallery photo show. With the help of FAME by Alex Mitow, Imagination in Space, and Arte Collective, a spectacle of the senses has been born.

I first had the pleasure of meeting James as a fellow member of the NYU Men’s Glee Club in 2013. Since then, I’ve watched his work blossom throughout the Manhattan area. From scenic glimpses into fantasy realms to personal metamorphosis to haunting nightmares, James’ work touches upon a wide range of eclectic and colorful themes. One even flew straight out of a Roald Dahl novel!

In “Extra Butter,” a moviegoing couple finds themselves frantically drawn within the action flick they’re watching. In “Personal Bubble,” the portrait’s shy heroine literally floats through her own comfort zone. In “Metro,” a hapless damsel is magnetically drawn towards the beacon of light emanating from a speeding train. In “Immerse,” a painter’s imagination floods his reality!

Extra Butter By James Miille

Extra Butter by James Miille

Personal Bubble by James Miille

Personal Bubble by James Miille

Metro By James Miille

Metro By James Miille

Immerse by James Miille

Immerse by James Miille

Expect a lot of puns, some wackiness, and a great deal of charm amidst a maelstrom of cityscapes, nature-inspired locations, and personal crises. Beyond the stunning visuals exists a seemingly limitless potential for emotional poignance. James’ images are much, much more than the magic of Photoshop wrought upon unsuspecting models. In many regards, James is just as much of a director or a painter or a choreographer as he is a photographer. Indeed, some of his best pictures are his self-portraits. You really get the sense he won’t make anyone do anything he wouldn’t gladly do himself, and in a world where most of us are content to slap an Instagram filter on a mere duck face, that kind of passion is captivating. 

Illumination by James Miille

Illumination by James Miille

Something is About to Happen by James Miille

Something is About to Happen by James Miille

Surreality by James Miille

Surreality by James Miille

I’ve even had the pleasure of featuring in a photo or two for James’ project. 

Dream Mist by James Miille

Dream Mist by James Miille (Don’t I look dapper?)

Making things still more interesting, on both Saturday and Sunday from 2-5 PM, Inside the Rabbit Hole will also be featuring some tasty snacks and Californian wine pairings (some of them are actually paired with the photos for maximum artistic flavor immersion).

As a fellow artist, an NYU student, and a friend, I look forward to seeing James continue to prosper on his photography journey.

Don't ask me what Instagram filter I used for this :)

Don’t ask me what Instagram filter I used for this:)

Life in the Rabbit Hole runs from June 18th to June 23rd @ 199 Mott Street.

For more photography and more James Miille, go to https://www.facebook.com/irisism.photo?fref=ts or follow @JamesMiille on Instagram!