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.

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.

venisonsausage

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.

redpepperbisque

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.

OysterswithLemonAir

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!

Flamenco

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.

 

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.

Le Village: Liberty, Equality, Uh Gluten-Free?!

The mere thought of French food conjures up decadent dreams of heavy cream, warm pastry, and juicy duck confit for me, so naturally, I was surprised at the sound of a restaurant that achieves all this and more. Le Village is a French restaurant nestled within the East village that specializes in vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes while still catering to customers who appreciate hearty meat dishes. While there isn’t a selection of wine or drinks here, the restaurant is BYOB with no additional fee (limit one bottle of wine per two guests), a rarity for the area.

Le Village’s store front is tiny and unassuming, almost blending in with the rest of the quiet block. I’ll admit I almost missed it while walking down the street, but once inside, I found a culinary experience I enjoyed immensely.

Le Village’s owner, Chef Didier Pawlicki, served us a dazzling array of options with several French classics, some original creations, and even a few surprise courses.

In addition to Le Village, Chef Didier also runs two other French restaurants,  La Sirene and Taureau.

In addition to Le Village, Chef Didier also runs two other French restaurants, La Sirene and Taureau.

The French Onion Soup was a bubbling molten cauldron of Swiss cheese over a light vegetable broth. The cheese formed a beautiful golden-brown dome that bubbled over the soup itself. Despite the deluge of cheese, I did not find the dish too salty as the slightly sweet flavor of the onion broth balanced things wonderfully. In terms of texture and flavor, it was one of the best french onion soups I’ve ever tried, and a tremendous portion for an appetizer. Chef Didier also offers a gluten free version that swaps out the bread in the middle.

French Onion Soup (0cb)

French Onion Soup

Next, Chef Didier brought us a surprise course of Foie Gras au Torchon. It was a classically smooth and creamy pate complimented with sweet jam and honey over bread. At first the bread seemed a little fragile, but combined with the spread, it made for a rich, flavorful bite that literally melted in my mouth–a treat I won’t hesitate to order again.

Foie Gras Au Torchon

Foie Gras Au Torchon

The Beet Carpaccio Salad was a welcome vegan reprieve after its luxurious predecessors. I’ve never been very fond of beets, finding their sweetness unsettling in a vegetable. Yet dressed up with red wine-infused raisins and crunchy almonds, the course was a lot more tasty than I had expected.

Beet Carpaccio Salad

Beet Carpaccio Salad

Royan’s Ravioles a la Creme followed, the menu aptly describing them as “sensual.” Little fluffy pillows filled with Comte cheese (think Gruyere but stronger and sweeter) and herbs drenched in surprisingly light heavy cream and garnished with an earthy slice of black truffle, they embodied everything I adore about French cuisine, though I had never tried French ravioli before.

Royan's Ravioles a la Creme

Royan’s Ravioles a la Creme

My inner child has always despised Brussels Sprouts, but Chef Didier’s unique take on Brussels Sprouts pleasantly shocked me. Fried and glazed in balsamic vinegar to the point of caramelization and tossed with ripe strawberries, they tasted like morsels of candy rather than veggies, and I happily devoured them–definitely the first time I have ever done that with Brussels Sprouts.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

For our first main course, we sampled The Coq Au Vin, a traditional stew of chicken, red wine, bacon, mushrooms, and potatoes. The braised meat came off the bone cleanly, moist and tender soaking up the dark brown gravy. One of Le Village’s few dedicated meat dishes, it guarantees that carnivores won’t be left out.

Coq Au Vin

Coq Au Vin

The following main course was a vegan Cassoulet, a thick stew comprised of beans, potatoes, and a trio of mushrooms (Shiitake, Oyster, Portobello). The Portobello was smoked, almost giving it the texture and flavor of meat. Definitely a worthy alternative to the Coq Au Vin for vegetarians!

Cassoulet

Cassoulet

Continuing the trend of alternating vegan and non vegan dishes, we tasted the Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin, another creamy pasta dish with truffles. Slathered in a Mornay sauce and covered in swiss cheese, the gnocchi was like heavier the ravioli’s bulkier older sibling. Chef Didier has dubbed it “The French Mac and Cheese.”

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Our last main was the Choux-Fleur Roti, a roast head of cauliflower served with sautéed greens and sweet potato over quinoa. By then I was close to stuffed so I took a small nibble of the cauliflower (which was gigantic). I really appreciated the quinoa which came with a zesty sauce of pureed red pepper.

Choux-Fleur Roti

Choux-Fleur Roti

For dessert, Chef Didier ambushed us with four homemade sweets: Banana Brûlée, Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream and Ice cream, Apple Tart with Ice Cream, and Coconut Sorbet topped with Prunes. Of these, I enjoyed the Banana Brûlée the most. It added a sweeter, tropical twist to one of my favorite French desserts.

Banana Brûlée

Banana Brûlée

Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream and Whipped Cream

Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream and Whipped Cream

Apple Tart with Ice Cream

Apple Tart with Ice Cream

Coconut Sorbet with Prunes

Coconut Sorbet with Prunes

Ever since going to Europe, my cravings for French food have been intense, and at Le Village, I’ll happily gorge myself downtown with the peace of mind that what I’m eating is delicious, yet a little bit more healthy than other bistros.

Hours: Le Village is open from 5-10 PM on Sundays Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and 5-10:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: 127 East 7th Street, New York, NY

Website:  http://levillagenyc.com

Telephone: : 1-212-539-0231

Take off with Flight!

Braving the harsh January cold, I attended a press dinner at Flight, a fairly new gastropub on the Upper East Side. After my last four months in London, I wasn’t sure if pub food was something I was wanting, but Flight’s eclectic menu alleviated that concern. Named after its various meat, seafood, and beverage sampler “flights”, Flight is an interesting and welcome addition to a neighborhood not particularly known for its dining options.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is much classier than your average pub with hanging lights and pictures of winged creatures and machines in keeping with the theme. Patrons have several seating options, including a full-service bar and a dedicated dining area, though it is the glass enclosed sidewalk café that will catch most diners’ attention.

FlightCafe

There are so many restaurants out there that think a dash of soy sauce or a hint of ginger makes a dish Asian, but Flight really utilizes its eastern culinary inspirations in a meaningful way. Hailing from India, Chef Golam has decades of experience with both Indian and Thai dishes that really shine!

We started off with the mussels. Chef Golam immediately demonstrated his flair for reinventing standard pub grub with this dish as he served it in a curry sauce. The mussels themselves were succulent and flavorful with the curry forming a fiery broth that warmed me up and sustained me for the rest of the meal, drawing me out of my winter hibernation. Golam even garnished the mussels with butternut squash, leveling out the heat with a little bit of sweetness.

Mussels in Thai Curry Sauce

Mussels in Thai Curry Sauce

Next, we were served a taste of the Thai meatball, made with a blend turkey and beef and served in a sweet chili sauce. It was a tender, delicious appetizer that cleansed the palette nicely. The dish was further accented with crispy fried onions for a little extra crunch and a great deal of flavor with a hint of lemongrass.

That Meat Ball

That Meat Ball

The fish and chips were solid and fairly standard. I found the chips a little too salted, but the fish, which was flaky and battered without an excess of grease was more enjoyable than any incarnation of the dish I had tasted in London.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

My favorite dish by far was the Shepherd’s pie. Like the fish and chips, there wasn’t anything distinctly Thai added to it, but it was flawless in execution and a perfectly done pub staple. The vegetables were sautéed and flavorful with ample pieces of meat and a light, savory gravy beneath a bubbling, breaded dome. It was a take on the dish that could almost be likened to a classic bread-crumbed macaroni and cheese.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Flight Shepherd's Pie Interior

Shepherd’s Pie Interior

For our last main course, Chef Golam presented us with his Thai Style Coconut Curry Chicken, served with mushrooms, herbs, and basmati rice. It utilized a similar peppery base to the mussels though not nearly as spicy—most likely a product of the coconut and something I very much enjoyed given my sensitive taste buds.

Coconut Curry Chicken

Coconut Curry Chicken

Dessert came with the Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream in Chocolate Sauce, an enjoyable dessert prepared in-house. After so many hearty meat and seafood courses, the last thing I had been expecting was a homemade pastry treat from Golam.

Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Homemade Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

In terms of drink offerings, Dermot Kelly, the restaurant’s owner and beverage director has cultivated an extensive selection of international wines, spirits, cocktails, and craft beers. He also promises to bring in live jazz music to entertain diners in the immediate future.

Happy Hour Comes with $5 on any Bar Appetizer, Select Draft Beers, House Wines, and Well Drinks!

Happy Hour Comes with $5 on any Bar Appetizer, Select Draft Beers, House Wines, and Well Drinks!

In all honesty, I’m not in the area too often, but the next time I find myself looking for a meal in the Upper East, Flight will definitely be somewhere I’m thrilled to revisit. Comfort food is rarely found in such a classy venue and never in the presence of fun Thai flavors!

Flight

Address: 1479 York Avenue (Between 78th & 79th Streets)

Website: www.flightnewyorkcity.com

Phone Number: (212) 988-5153

Hours

  • Lunch from 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM from Mondays to Fridays.
  • Dinner from 3:30 PM to 11:00 PM from Sundays through Wednesdays. 3:30 PM to 1:00 AM on Thursdays through Saturdays.
  • Brunch from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Happy Hour is 4 PM to 7 PM from Monday to Friday, 10 PM to 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.