Shinsen Bowery: A Chinatown Sushi Eatery With Style And Substance

Crushes happen so easily in the summer and for me, restaurants are no different than people. I find a place, discover its secrets and delicacies, then make it a part of my routine. Shinsen Bowery has all the best qualities you’d want in a crush: it’s hip, high-quality, and still hidden away enough that you don’t have to worry about fighting for a seat… yet.

The exterior of the restaurant looks more like a traditional Chinese bakery or coffee shop than a sushi restaurant. The neon pink lighting, tiled floors, and cozy furniture make for a nice, upscale experience. You can sit at the sushi counter and watch them craft your food or lounge at one of the large tables.

High quality sushi is difficult to find in the Chinatown area, and it’s an expensive commodity wherever you go in the city. Shinsen offers the popular luxury options: uni, wagyu beef, and fatty tuna all make very fetching appearances on the menu. Both the wagyu rice bowl and appetizer give substantial portions of buttery, juicy seared meat petals.

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However, Shinsen also has plenty of really yummy comfort food options for those who can’t afford to eat like a daimyo. I highly recommend the spicy salmon roll and beef/chicken udon, and the oyakodon (chicken and egg over rice bowl).

I find the oyakodon to be my go-to when I order here. The morsels of chicken are marinated with a sweet sauce that complements the fresh onion and chives wonderfully. Swirls of soft, scrambled eggs give the dish an airy and creamy texture. The dish manages to be extremely filling and savory without being too salty. Other oyakodons throughout NYC, while tasty in their own way, overdo it on the dashi stock, and leave you thirsty for hours afterwards. Shinsen’s oyakodon is light and springy.

Oyakodon

The chirashi bowls, named Canal, Soho, and Mulberry after the surrounding streets, offer different bouquets and permutations of very fresh fish fish and seafood over expertly cooked and seasoned rice.  True to their names, the Canal has portions of traditional salmon, tuna, and shrimp whilst the Soho and Mulberry feature scallops and other more bougie sea creatures.

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Concluding my bowl coverage, I greatly enjoyed the Uni-Ikura bowl–the lunch time portion was extremely generous with servings of delicate urchin and roe.

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Another exciting dish is the Ahi Tower, a literal tower of spicy tuna, sweet crab, and creamy avocado on a seasoned sushi rice base that will entertain both the eyes and the tastebuds of your group.

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Of the specialty sushi rolls, my favorite is currently the Tuna Maja Roll, which combines perfectly crisp shrimp tempura with pepper tuna and spicy tuna. It’s crunchy and fiery, and the shrimp are bursting with umami flavor. There’s also the Hokkaido roll for those looking for a low carb option; it swaps rice out for onions.

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While Shinsen is a little more pricey than what you’d normally be paying for in Chinatown, the delicious Japanese food and refined atmosphere are an excellent value and I highly recommend it for either lunch or dinner–especially with a larger group of coworkers or friends.

You’ll find Chinatown natives, tourists, and even the occasional celebrity here. I dined next to Jeremy Lin, just the other night. As word gets around, I predict this place will get a lot more busy and that you’ll want to make reservations if you plan on getting dinner.  Secret spots this yummy and trendy don’t stay secret for long.

Shinsen Bowery

Address: 44 Bowery, New York, NY. 10013.

Website: BoweryShinsen.Com

Phone Number:  (347) 688-5404

 

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Chouchou: A Romantic French-Moroccan Rendezvous

Hidden behind a sultry, unmarked storefront, Chouchou is easy to miss, but impossible to forget. No sign or lights mark the way to this secret corner.

Gaining its name from a French phrase that acts as a term of endearment, best likened to “darling,” the restaurant has plenty of critical praise and positive press despite its unassuming façade.

I can honestly say that Chouchou a place I would never have found if I had not been invited to a private tasting dinner.

Its Moroccan menu primarily offers two sets of either meat or vegetables: tagine and couscous. It looks very limited, but between the execution and the parade of familiar Mediterranean appetizers, it’s a charming and engaging journey. Executive Chef Meryem Michra is talented at all the classics, but also has plenty of twists in store.

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Hummus, baba ganoush, pita, and shakshuka all make an appearance here. I found them simple yet well executed in the standard fashion.

The most exciting of the appetizers were large deviled eggs filled with paprika and other spices. Mostly known as being a European appetizer, Chouchou’s version has plenty of personality. They were creamy and smooth with a lightly peppery yet satisfyingly umami flavor that contrasted with their cool temperature. They served us three halves that I would have gladly devoured all by myself. When a fellow diner admitted they were allergic to yolks, their portion found a most happy home in my gullet.

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Amongst the entrees, I was most impressed with the chicken and lamb tagines.

The chicken tagine was pleasing in both appearance and flavor. Its golden skin was streaked with crimson. Chef Meryem told me she bastes it with herbs then cooks it in the olive sauce before baking the flavor into it again. The result ends up being moist morsels of mainly dark meat encased in a crispy cocoon of skin.

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If it weren’t for the bones, I would have thought the lamb was more liquid than solid. It slid off that easily. Served with plump apricots and prunes sweet as candy, it was a savory, refreshing oasis devoid of gamey toughness or bitterness.

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For dessert, we enjoyed some tiny almond cookies and other assorted pastries. With hints of aromatic spices between each breaded bite, I felt a bit like I was carried on a desert wind.

I would like to give special mention to the green tea, which was poured in the traditional, flashy Moroccan fashion—from a great height. It acted as the perfect palette cleanser between courses and very much both woke me up and welcomed me with invigorating doses of sugar. It was so lively and refreshing I opted to skip out on the wine in favor of more of that sweet, sweet tea.

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Between the meat, the tea, and those luscious deviled eggs, Chouchou is definitely a restaurant I hope to revisit. For now, it will remain in the shadows, but seldom does a secret spot like this stay that way for long.

Chouchou

Address: 215 East 4th Street (Between Avenues A & B)

Website: http://www.chouchounyc.com

Phone: (646) 869-1423

Hours:  5:30 PM-12:00 AM Midnight from Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Mondays.

Paname French Restaurant: Where Classic Parisian Cuisine Meets NYC Creativity

The name Paname is meant to evoke a hip, trendy Parisian insider’s outlook on the City of Lights, referencing the popular Panama hat. The architectures, furnishings, and artwork which fall under the flowery category of Art Nouveau, do just that. Illuminated by adorable patterned sconces, the atmosphere is classy without ever feeling overwhelming.

Chef Bernard Ros is the mastermind behind the restaurant, acting as its executive chef, sommelier, and pastry chef. His classical French cooking showcases many decades of experiences that have made him a hardened, capable chef. However, it’s his attention to detail and accommodating adjustments to the classics that really set his cooking apart from similar restaurants.

Of the starting courses, my favorites were an amuse bouche that consisted of smoked eel that tasted more Japanese in its sweet and salty flavoring than French, and an octopus appetizer.

Served on a bed of haricot blancs (they tasted like chickpeas to me) the baby octopus was perfectly cooked. Not too crispy or chewy, it had a satisfyingly firm texture and savory flavor from a garlic sauce to back it up.

For main courses, I would most definitely order the Bouillabaise and the Beef Borguignon again.

The Bouillabaise in particular was an invigorating, savory elixir of crimson broth. Bursting with plenty of mussels, squid ringlets, juicy shrimp, and flaky bits of cod that all seemed sweet and delicate compared to the stew itself.

I immediately could taste and smell a hint of aromatic spiciness hovering over the dish. Chef Bernard shared with me he uses the Eastern spice anise to add extra fragrant notes instead of wine. Many of his most loyal customers are unable to consume alcohol regularly because of medication or other health concerns. It made for a wonderful substitution. His bouillabaisse is the perfect cure for a frigid December night.

Beef Bourguignon is one of those classical French dishes that can fall prey to its own decadence. Chef Bernard’s beef was exceptionally tender and juicy with cuts of bacon and their rendered fat making the meat even silkier and more flavorful. Garnished with pearl onions and fresh carrots (as opposed to slow cooked and mushy), the vegetables allowed the dish to have a crisp, spring-like aftertaste in every bite.

Dessert was a creamy, refreshing Violet that I find difficult to put into words. The flavor of the violet manifested as both fruity and milky for me. Imagine milk, sugar, and a kiss of fragrance from a field of flowers all swirled together into one marvelous bit of dessert.

There was also a freshly baked apple tart with strawberries that I found more familiar and standard, but very well executed nonetheless. The caramelized apples had an intense yet measured sweetness.

Paname has only been open for the last three years, but I am told that Chef Bernard has cultivated his loyal customer base for over forty years.I believe Paname’s success lends itself to Chef Bernard’s combination of both skill and improvisational talent.

I was surprised to see so many people here on a cold Tuesday evening upon arrival. After tasting the menu, however, I feel as if I am in on a juicy secret.

Paname French Restaurant

Address: 1068 2nd Avenue (Between East 56th and 57th Streets)

Website: http://www.panamenyc.com

Phone Number: 212 207 3737

Sel Et Poivre Revisited: The Game Festival

Three years since visiting and reviewing Sel Et Poivre, I was invited back to taste some new and varied offerings on the restaurant’s traditional French menu.  The restaurant was busy and lively as ever with a surprisingly packed dining room for a chilly winter Tuesday night.

For the rest of February and well into March, Chef Christian will be serving a variety of rarer meats as part of the restaurant’s annual game festival. In addition to classic French fare like duck, steak, and veal kidneys, you can expect wilder visitors such as venison, quail, and even antelope!

The meal started with two game sausages: one made of pure venison and the other a mix of venison and wild boar with cheese and jalapeno peppers ground in for extra flavor. I had never tasted venison before, but had heard that it can taste quite gamey when not hunted or prepared properly. Gamey flavor, often described as musky or pungent, and tougher texture come from meat being left out for a time after hunting.

The venison sausage I tasted was salty and filling with flavors that reminded me a bit of spiced lamb though the texture was a little bit firmer. The wild boar variant was both peppery and a little sweet with a mouth feel that felt lighter and more traditional for sausage.  I would not call myself a game enthusiast quite yet, but I found the pure venison sausage to be pleasant and different in an earthy way.

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Venison Sausage and Venison and Wild Boa Sausage

 

Next I tried the escargot, which was slathered in garlic butter and parsley, a classic combination. It was a delightful appetizer bursting with succulent juiciness, savory flavor, and a light spring breeze of herbs. The texture of the snails was melt-in-your-mouth rather than chewy–delicate enough to make me forget what I was slurping!

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Escargot in Garlic Butter and Parsley Sauce

The third course was both the simplest yet the most enthralling for me: a creamy red pepper bisque. With a kiss of cream and a dollop of potato, the dish had a wonderfully viscous texture whilst still remaining relatively light and frothy. I cannot stress enough that I really dislike bell peppers, but I adored this soup. The dish carried the full-bodied summer aroma and sweetness of the pepper, but bolstered and grounded it with a rich swirl of cream and salty potato. I’m sure Chef Christian could work wonders with any vegetable, but this seasonal bisque special was a total treat for me.

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Red Pepper Bisque

The first main course we tried was cod served on a bed of lentils. Despite an intense aroma of fish stock around the dish, I found the fish flaky, light, and just right in terms of saltiness. Covered in cream and garnished with little peppery punches of mustard seed, the lentils made for a strong and filling contrast as a side.

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Cod and Creamy Lentils

The second main course we enjoyed was quail stuffed with goat cheese in a port wine sauce. The quail was delicate with crispy,  seared skin and savory meat without a trace of gamey flavor.  Quail is a bonier, smaller bird than chicken with more delicate morsels of meet. The sweet, slightly acidic sauce mingled beautifully with the billows of melted, salty-tangy goat cheese nestled within. It was served with wild rice and pureed sweet potato that balanced out the decadence nicely.  I’m told you get a pair of quail to gobble down when ordering off of the regular menu!

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Quail Stuffed with Goat Cheese, with Wild Rice and Pureed Sweet Potato

 

We began dessert with the smoothest creme brulee I’ve ever tasted. It was garnished with a perfectly ripe raspberry. I only wish it had been topped with more.

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Crème Brûlée

Following that was an incredibly fluffy apricot crepe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Chef Christian attributed the meticulous, eggy delicateness of the crepe’s thin layers to a simple flick of his wrist. The apricots were warm and spiced, melted down to a heavy syrup that had been expertly drizzled over the crepe to impart their flavor without leaving it soggy. It was a dazzling yet wonderfully understated dessert.

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Apricot Crepe with Ice Cream and Mint

My second visit to Sel Et Poivre was a forest full of flavor. Between the game animals and artful arrangement of fruit and vegetable flavors, at times I felt like I was enjoying courses from the king’s last hunt at a medieval court feast.

Sel Et Poivre

Location: 853 Lexington Avenue (Between East 64th and 65th Streets)

Website: www.seletpoivrenyc.com

Phone:  212 – 517 – 5780

Lunch 12 PM-4 PM on Mondays through Fridays

Dinner is 4 PM-10:30 PM on Mondays through Thursdays, 4 PM to 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, 4 PM-10:30 PM on Sundays.

Brunch is 12 PM-4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.

The game festival runs until mid March!

The Malt House Fidi: A Gourmet Gallery

Fidi is one of the super cool faux trendy neighborhood names that realtors and Taylor Swift are trying to popularize in their quest to make already famous locations easier to hash tag. In the 140 character era, “Fidi” just seems cuter and less imposing than “The Financial District” or “Wall Street!” Nomenclature aside, the area is filled with both business people looking to relax on their off-hours and tourists that hunger for the next hot spot.

Last winter, I had an opportunity to visit The Malthouse’s West Village location, and its Fidi branch managed to be a completely different experience for me, set over three expansive levels and sporting a revitalized and reinvented menu thanks to Chef Armando Avila. While many of the dishes I enjoyed uptown were offered here, the majority of what I tasted had been improved or altered in some big ways.

The décor was nothing short of stunning with brick, wood, glass, and steel all interlaced together in a massive building with the space between the floor and the ceiling feeling almost limitless at times. It’s an impressive, architectural feat, considering the building was once a mere deli. The bar in particular stands out as a shimmering crescent of wood against a rainbow ocean of bottled wines, beers, and spirits. Definitely one of the best places in the city to have a power luncheon!

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The Food

The meal began with some tiny mushroom bites, tasty hors d’oeuvres that consisted of a duxelle, a mixture of minced mushrooms and onions, served atop bread with a bit of umami truffle aioli. Like a kind of inverted stuffed mushroom, the dish was packed with savory flavor, heightened with the aioli. The truffle flavor made my taste buds flutter. I only wish they had been more than bites.

Mushroom Bites

Mushroom Bites

Our second snack was a simple and elegant cheese plate consisting of pungent Tallegio and creamy Camembert. The two cheeses complemented each other well and were served with ample fruit preserves and nuts. While French fries and cheese curds still make an appearance here, there definitely are more upscale offerings at the Fidi location.

Tallegio and Camembert Cheese Plate

Tallegio and Camembert Cheese Plate

The third appetizer was a corn chowder. Amazingly, despite its creamy and viscous texture, it was made only from pureed corn and garnished with crispy onions and chives that added crunchiness and zest.

Corn Chowder

Corn Chowder

Next came slow-braised Short Rib Sliders and Truffle Fries. The sliders were packed with meat. The fries were covered with perfect amounts of herbs, truffle oil, Parmesan cheese, and salt. Again, while The Malt House Fidi certainly exudes higher class, it’s grittier American comfort options continue to be excellent and high quality in their execution

Pork Sliders

Pork Sliders

Truffle Fries with Blue Cheese and Malt House Sauce (Ketchup + Mayonnaise + Diced Pickles).

Truffle Fries with Blue Cheese and Malt House Sauce (Ketchup + Mayonnaise + Diced Pickles).

The main courses followed in rapid succession with Fish Tacos and Salmon Po Boy on the lighter end of things. Blackened, spicy salmon, meaty swordfish, and delicate mahi mahi all highlighted Chef ‘s talent in choosing and preparing fresh seafood, with the fish tacos peppered with latin-inspired spices and salsas that varied from sweet to fiery.

Fish Tacos, made with the Chef's seasonal pick from the market!

Fish Tacos, made with the Chef’s seasonal pick from the market!

However, it was the revitalized Malt House Wagyu Burger that captivated me the most. All the toppings just coalesced together in a brilliant symphony of seasonings and flavor. The bacon was crunchy at first bite, but succulent as a whole, melting into the tangy, creamy pesto, which was in turn complemented by the ripe acidity of the sweet tomato, which contrasted with the tangy but not unwelcome kick of pickles.

I haven’t even gotten to the meat yet, which was so tender and moist it bordered on deliquescent, the hallmark of a good piece of wagyu meat. Wagyu is Japanese for Japanese Cow, but in the states, it specifically refers to specially bred bovine that enjoy a luxurious lifestyle of fresh beer and massages. Put simply, the muscles of a wagyu cow are relaxed and tender to the point of being buttery. One bite is enough to really understand what it means to eat something and say it melts in your mouth.

Sandwiched between two piping hot and sturdy buns, the Malthouse Burger is a monstrosity and a marvel that I could not recommend more. As someone who has been avoiding red meat lately, I can say that this burger is a perfect poison that you will never regret while you are savoring it.

The Malt House's Wagyu Burger

The Malt House’s Wagyu Burger

For dessert, we were offered luxurious Manchego-filled crepes and cheesecake, both covered in berries and berry sauce. I had little room in my stomach left, but I was extremely impressed by the complexity of the crepes, as they took salty, full-bodied Manchego and caramelized the cheese into a filling that was salty yet saccharine at the same time.

Manchego Stuffed Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream

Manchego Stuffed Crepes with Vanilla Ice Cream

Malt House Cheesecake

Malt House Cheesecake

Once again, owners Darren Shore and Eoin Foyle have made magic in Manhattan. I’ll definitely be returning to The Malthouse Fidi for my next celebration dinner (even if I have to invent something to celebrate).

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The Malthouse Financial District

Address: 9 Maiden Lane (Between Broadway and Nassau Street), New York, NY.

Number: (646) 682 – 7577

Website: www.themalthousefidi.com

Hours:

Monday-Friday: 11 AM-12 AM Midnight

Saturday and Sunday Brunch: 11 AM-4 PM

Saturday and Sunday Dinner: 4 PM- 12 AM

Happy Hour is 4 PM – 6 PM on Week Days

On Sundays, all bottles of wine are half-price!

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

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.

Churros

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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

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!”

Ponty: A French Bistro with African Roots

As Spring bathes us in warmth and light and a desire to walk, I find myself increasingly able and willing to leave my home downtown and traverse the streets above 14th. Located in the Gramercy area on 19th and 3rd, Ponty Bistro is an excellent reason to do just that.

Owing its namesake to an avenue in Senegal (a country in West Africa), Ponty was dreamed up by cousins and culinary duo Cisse and Chekh, who have cooked together since their formative years. Trained in the classical French tradition of cooking, the two aimed to imbue their dishes with their African roots through the addition of certain fruits, vegetables, spices, and other creative accents. After several years of success, the two expanded to a Harlem location with Chekh overseeing management and executive chef duties uptown.

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse and his cousin, Chef Chekh

Chef Cisse was actually a contestant on Season 3 of the Food Network reality show Chopped, and a finalist. His high placement in the competition is a testament to his creativity, improvisational skills, and ability to work well under pressure. On his home turf and free of TV’s limitations, Cisse’s artistry is even more evident!

We started off with a small taste of the Lobster Bisque in a tea cup. Despite only being a sample portion, there was plenty of lobster. Garnished with red caviar, it left a dazzling impression on me. Despite a saffron color and aroma, Chef Cisse tells me he whipped up the decadent, silky bisque with a simple blend of onions, celery, and carrots–known in more refined circles as a mirepoix. I feel that this one is a must order if you enjoy seafood. Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

Next we had the artichoke and green bean salad. Dressed up with parmesan cheese and truffle vinaigrette, the greens were quite easy for me to devour. If you’re expecting something super healthy for your salad, you’ll probably find the huge amount of parmesan off putting, but it’s a deceptively light extravagance that rolls off the palette nicely.

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Artichoke Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Our first main course was the Saint Jaque du Che –  A Seared Sea Scallop with roasted beets and asparagus in orange marmalade sauce–a dish that seemed so colorful and creative, it might have been something crafted on Chopped! Like a splash of fruity sorbet, the citrus sauce cleansed the palette, allowing for even greater appreciation of the crispy and savory seafood. This dish exemplifies what sets Ponty aside from other bistros as it takes a French seafood staple and mixes it up with a kaleidoscope of fruit, color, and flavor from Africa. I was thrilled to taste one of these, though normally you get five per order.

This was definitely my favorite thing on the menu, and if a guy named Otter says the scallops are good, you know they are good!

Saint Jacque du Chef - Pan Seared Scallop

Saint Jacque du Chef – Pan Seared Scallop

The second main course was the Poulet Tagine (chicken cooked in an earthenware pot), the most African of the dishes that night. On a bed of sweet and filling couscous and served alongside celery, carrots, and onions, it was a spicy, hearty dish, and Cisse’s take on North African cuisine and curry. If aromatic spices and desert heat make you drool, this is definitely the dish for you.

Poulet Tagine

Poulet Tagine

The final main course was the L’onglet A Echalotte, a tender slab of hanger steak in a bordelaise (my sources tell me red wine and onion with bone marrow) sauce. It was an all-around charming and tasty French steak. The accompanying Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and sautéed greens also rounded out the rest of the dish nicely. Perfect for anybody craving standard French bistro faire or just a really juicy steak in a sweet wine sauce! Chef Cisse took that Bordeaux wine and glazed it into a pool of deep red velvet.

L'onglet A Echalotte

Anyone who watched Chef Cisse’s Chopped episode will know that the panel of judges was most blown away by his desserts, and I was impressed with the two he brought out for our table : A Creme Brûlée and a Tiramisu! Adorned with ripe strawberries, the desserts showed off Cisse’s talents as a pastry chef. The Tiramisu in particular was divine for me as it remained light and summery with only the tiniest trace of liqueur beneath the fresh clouds of cream.

Creme Brûlée and Tiramisu

Creme Brûlée and Tiramisu

In terms of drink offerings, there is a variety of global wines and other beverages, though it is Ponty’s unique martinis that seem to be the most popular with tropical accents like Lychee and Hibiscus!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Lychee Martini. As sweet as it sounds!

Ponty Bistro is an excellent choice in a neighborhood known more for its luxury housing at the moment than its restaurant offerings. Whether you’re looking to pick up something Senegalese or fancy a more familiar French dish, it’s certainly deserving of a visit!

Ponty Bistro

Address: 218 3rd Avenue (Between 18th and 19th)

Website: http://www.pontybistro.com

Phone Number: (212) 777 1616

Hours: Lunch is from 11 AM to 4 PM from Mondays to Fridays, Dinner is every day from 4:30 PM to 11:30 PM, Brunch is 10 AM to 4 PM on weekends. Happy Hour is 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM and offers 2-for-1 Martinis.

Sticks and Stones and Soup From Bones: Brothfest Recap

On a rainy, muggy Saturday, a crowd of NYC’s most enlightened eaters (or should I say slurpers?) journeyed to South Street Seaport for the Battle of the Broths, determined to find the one in seven that would warm their bones and their souls. Planned as a collaboration between FAME by Alex Mitow and Greg T. Spielberg’s Imagination in Space with additional backing from Yelp and the Howard Hughes Corporation, the event appears to have been a soupy success. The famous Katz’s Delicatessen offered a classic chicken-matzoh broth dating from the restaurant’s earlier days in 1888. It was a smooth, simplistic throwback with little artifice that carried a great deal of salty and umami flavor.

I had a chance to meet Jake Dell, Katz's current owner, and a proud legacy of a deli dynasty taking over for his father and grandfather.

I had a chance to meet Jake Dell, Katz’s current owner, and a proud legacy of a deli dynasty taking over for his father and grandfather.

Using their Magic Bullet (only like my favorite as-seen-on-TV product), Belle Reve whipped up a Blackened Butter Bone Broth splashed with a shot of Wild Turkey bourbon. It was intensely creamy and decadent with a harsh, smoky aftertaste, and one of my favorites.

Paula Deen would be proud of all the butter in this broth!

Paula Deen would be proud of all the butter in this broth!

FAME by Alex Mitow had the  “Sake to Me,” a concoction of Kobe Beef broth dressed up with lemongrass, herbs, dry sake, and chive oil. The ingredients were fresh and well-chosen, and they all noticeably popped, but I found this elixir too over-the-top for my appreciation. Baz Bagel prepared its own variation of a chicken matzoh ball soup that was salted nicely and came with an adorable baby matzoh. It was definitely the most recognizable broth in the bunch, and a safe choice. Bone Deep and Harmony gave out both beef and chicken broths, allowing visitors to choose their own spices and condiments to customize their cup. I tried mixing in some chimichurri, but turned out to be a poor judge of how much to mix in. Spur Tree brought in its “Fish Tea,” a fish-based broth with garlic, scallions, and even a little bit of tropical fruit. It managed to be fiery and sweet at the same time with very delectable bits of boneless fish that melded swimmingly with the broth. There were even some crispy wonton chips  for a crunch with my slurp.

The Fish Tea was well-stocked with fish, veggies, and flavor!

The Fish Tea was well-stocked with fish, veggies, and flavor!

Caracas Arepa Bar had a traditional Venezuelan San Cocho  with beef shanks on the bone. The heat and the spice were overpowering in contrast to the tender morsels of beef. It wasn’t really my cup of broth, but the beef was absolutely delicious and it slid right off.   Sancocho Spur Tree’s “Fish Tea” ended up scoring the most votes (including mine), followed by Belle Reve (my second choice), who was just four shy. I seldom think of my tastes as conventional, but my picks apparently were the consensus.

Spur Tree was the winner!

Spur Tree was the winner!

Between cups, there was plenty of beer, clothing boutiques, and live music provided by gypsy band Sylvana Joyce and the Moment and DJs Andrew Andrew. Alex Mitow even took the stage at one point to spin a few playlists of his own as DJ Mouthlove.

Oddly enough, I didn't hear any Bowling For Soup

Oddly enough, I didn’t hear any Bowling For Soup

With this year’s weather remaining as hostile and chilly as ever, it doesn’t look like the bone broth trend is ready to simmer down just yet (and neither is Shailene Woodley). Broth Fest was a fun way to fan the flames of this fad, and I’m excited to see what’s up next. Hopefully Spring!

Photo with Alex Mitow and fashionista Leo Gugu. Photo by James Miille.

Photo with Alex Mitow and fashionista Alotta McGriddles. Photo by James Miille.

Interview with Chef Alex Mitow: DJ, Caterer, and Broth Brahman!

This exceptionally biting winter has birthed a new foodie craze in the form of bone broth by the cup. While I have yet to fully immerse myself in this soupy tradition, I’ve always found that a little meat stock and a lot of love does wonders for the body and soul.

No stranger to the funky food fads of New York, Chef Alex Mitow has masterminded a melting pot of epic proportions in conjunction with Greg Spielberg and fellow NY pop-up star Imagination in Space. This Saturday, March 14th, the inflatable Sugarcube pavilion at South Street Seaport will be transformed into a bouillon cube to host Broth Fest, a toasty warm pop-up that joins several eateries like the famed Katz’s Deli. Other participants include Baz Bagel, Caracas Arepa Bar, and Spur Tree.

Last year, Alex thrilled me with his All-American Diner pop-up, and on separate occasions, I’ve been wowed by his work at events like The Big Cheesy and The Thrillist Taco Knockout! His Taylor Swiss Grilled Cheese with Truffled Duck Mousse was proof that one can teach an old concept new tricks.

Previously the owner of Colombian Hot Dog restaurant Los Perros Locos, Alex has recently shifted to promoting his event planning company FAME and hosting art shows and fairs at his LESpace pop-up.

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a chance to interview Alex despite his busy schedule.

1. Why broth?

Broth is the hottest (no pun intended) NYC food trend this season, and there is a lot of debate about it. Is it just glorified soup? Is it a magical elixir? The new Gatorade? We decided that rather than just speculate, we’d hold a pop-up around the broth craze and let the public decide! No matter what the outcome, the eight chefs we have involved are sure to whip up a delicious spread of broths!

2. What’s your favorite dish that you’ll be serving at Broth Fest?

Of course I’m excited for FAME’s “Sake To Me”, a dry-sake based broth with kobe beef bones simmered with lemongrass and other assorted herbs. Besides that, we’re super psyched for the new TriBeCa spot Belle Reve’s Blackened Butter Broth as well as the old school matzoh ball soup version from Katz’ Deli.

3. How did you first find yourself in the world of cooking?

I grew up sleeping in booths at my family’s restaurant in Florida and cooking just sort of came about as a natural consequence. These days I’m spending more time behind my laptop and on my feet about town than in my commercial kitchen, but I still experiment at home and play with ideas on paper that our FAME team turns into reality.

4. How do you experiment with flavors/choose combinations for your dishes?

I’m a big eater and have been exposed to so many tastes. With cooking and flavor combos, a lot of the time I’m not so much trying things physically so much as putting together ingredients and combinations that sound like they’ll work well together on paper or in my cell phone’s note pad. The New York Times quoted me as saying that I wrote the menu for Los Perros Locos “in fifteen minutes on my cell phone” but I’m not that big of a douche. It was more like an hour.

5. What made you shift from Los Perros Locos to FAME/ LESpace?

I’ve spent ten years on and off doing brick and mortar restaurants and it’s kind of an addiction. It’s hard for me to walk by an empty space and not see it as some type of concept restaurant. LPL was one of those. However, the day to day grind and constant worry of a restaurant combined with the astronomical costs and questionable city policy in NYC wore on me. At the same time, I was producing more events and enjoyed that more, as well as getting deeper into the arts and music world (I own a gallery and also DJ on the side) so I decided to transition into something that capitalized on my F&B background while allowing me the creative freedom to do what I enjoy.

6. Got any funny kitchen/catering nightmares?

Way too many to list! People think the events business is glamorous, I beg them to imagine the owner of the events company biking through the Lower East Side with a suckling pig on the handlebars looking for an oven to cook it in because the oven at the pop up venue isn’t working.

7. What’s next?

FAME stands for Food, Art, Music, and Events and we have events coming up in all of these spheres. Food-wise we’re big fans of single-food festivals like Broth Fest and have a whole bunch more up our sleeve in the coming year, spread all around downtown. We’ve also been planning a monthly Night Bizarre* event that would combine food, fashion, as well as live art and musical performance, into a one night extravaganza at a yet to be named downtown space. Besides that, we’ll be continuing to provide bespoke catering for the arts and theatre community, as well as producing some awesome art events and gallery shows in the next few months. As I always say, big things poppin’, lil things stoppin’!

* Yet another clever pun!

Photo by James Miille of Irisism Photography.

Photo by James Miille of Irisism Photography.

Tickets for Broth Fest are available at this link with tastings selling for $33 in one hour chunks: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/broth-fest-at-south-street-seaport-tickets-15880705618