10 Below: I Roll with this Ice Cream

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!

TheMagicBegins.jpg

Spread.jpg

IceCreamRolls

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!

 

StrawberryShawty

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/

10Below.jpg

 

 

Advertisements

Zing’s Awesome Rice is Pretty Awesome

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!

Zing's

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!

ZingBai

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.

TypesofRice.jpg

 

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.

 

SearedRice

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.

Cutemenus.jpg

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.

ChickenSearedRice.jpg

Chicken Seared Rice

PurpleRiceWithFish

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

ZingLogo.png

 

 

Byblos: A Lebanese Labor of Love

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.
ByblosExterior
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!
InsideByblos
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.
Grilled Meat

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.
Lebanese

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

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

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

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!

La Sirène: Magical, Classical French Food

Like a secret cove its namesake might dwell within, La Sirène is somewhat hidden on the far western end of Broome Street, close to the Holland Tunnel (make sure to keep to the path on the right, lest you get stuck on the wrong end of the traffic barricade). Comprised of two elegant, nautically-themed dining rooms that each seat no more than twenty, La Sirene has a comfortable, casual atmosphere that belies the sheer strength of its menu. Surviving Soho for eight years and counting is no small task for any restaurant.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of Chef Didier’s newer restaurant, Le Village. While the menu shares a couple items with Le Village, La Sirène undoubtedly brings a more regal and expensive flair to its cuisine while still . In place of the numerous gluten-free and vegetarian options available at Didier’s East Village venue, I found an all-star selection of meat and seafood dishes including Hangar Steak, Rabbit Stew to Lamb in Truffle Jus, Seared Rohan Duck Breast, and Seafood Linguine. The Coq Au Vin and Parisian Gnocchi of Le Village also make an appearance here (you can refer to my previous review if you’re curious about those, though I’ll tell you that I enjoyed them both). La Sirène’s Cassoulet is starkly different from the vegetarian version at Le Village, featuring bacon, duck confit, pork sausage, and foie gras jus.

Of the appetizers, I sampled the Poires Roti Au Bleu Fondant, the Roasted Pear with Melted Blue Cheese and the Tartelette de Chèvre Frais – Baked Goat Cheese Tart.

The pear was warm and filled with gooey cheese that flowed nicely on the palette. While remaining subtly sweet, it was warmer and heartier than any other fruit dish I’ve had recently.

Roasted Fresh Whole Pear with Melted Galbani Blue Cheese

Roasted Fresh Whole Pear with Melted Galbani Blue Cheese

Dressed in shallots, truffles, grape and “a veil” of Swiss that Didier swears was aged for over 180 days, the goat cheese tart was absurdly decadent for an appetizer with a smooth, velvety texture and a blizzard of yummy, salty cheeses amidst a tailwind of tart. Definitely not for the light of heart or high of cholesterol.

Baked Goat Cheese Tart

Baked Goat Cheese Tart

With every entree, Chef Didier serves a plate of four complementary vegetables that vary by season and availability. I must say, like someone out of a fairytale, Chef Didier practically spins his carrots into a puree of gold.

Complementary Vegetable Plate with Every Entree

Complementary Vegetable Plate with Every Entree

For my entree, I made sure to order the Tournedos Rossini, which Didier describes as a “popular signature.” Allegedly crafted by some of France’s finest chefs for the pleasure of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (which chef varies by source, though the name Rossini has always been attached), Tournedos Rossini is a luxury dish that speaks to a fabled culinary tradition that many fear will fade in the coming generations.

The dish is a trifecta of gourmet treasures, combining a perfect pan-fried filet mignon with a slab of seared foie gras on top, garnished and further intensified with slices of black truffle. It is important to clarify that the mere presence of any one of these constituent ingredients indicates an ascended level of culinary class, but all three together truly meld together into something enchanting to behold.

Tournedos Rossini

Tournedos Rossini – Filet Mignon with Foie Gras and Truffles

The filet mignon was meticulously fried with the inside of the meat a lovely, rosy medium-rare. A petit, delicate cut, the tenderloin managed to be incredibly filling. All in all, the cut of beef was so tender, I might have inhaled the entire slab in one bite if not for its heavy, powerful flavor. A sturdy base in both structure and flavor, this steak commanded both respect and recognition, though it still blended harmoniously with the richness of its elegant accomplices.

The Foie Gras was nutty, sweet, and succulent enough for me to remember that it arrives in other incarnations than spreadable pate. Didier’s Foie Gras managed to be dainty in pan-seared crispiness while managing to retain a hearty juiciness–its texture and flavor carried life and vigor I hadn’t previously associated with the delicacy. More creamy than any stick of butter and more thick and savory than any stuffing, it enhanced the meat in every conceivable way.

The truffles hit me both immediately in the dish’s aroma and in the after-taste of the sauce as a lingering note. One might worry that their earthy explosion of pure umami might obliterate the senses, but these truffles were as courteous as they were refined. At no point did I feel that their presence overpowered the other parts of the dish. The port wine sauce rounded out the experience with a hint of sweetness to even out the savory.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I fell utterly, Otter Lee in love with the Tournedos Rossini. It felt like a passionate, extravagant love affair with the full force of France’s culinary tradition. This dish took me by the tongue and whispered sweet, sweet promises in my ear.  “You matter. You deserve this. I love you. I love you. I Iove you!”

At $36 it’s the most expensive item on the menu, but a small price to pay for pure decadence on a plate.

And just like that, my love was gone.

And just like that, my love was gone.

La Sirène also offers a variety of desserts like Homemade Ice Cream, Sorbet, Dark Chocolate Lava Cake, and some BIG Profiteroles (seriously, they’re like a castle of chocolate). As I am a lover of sweet, summery things, my favorite was the Tartlet aux Fraises, a simple yet potent tart of ripe strawberries and some truly fine pastry cream.

Strawberry Tart

Strawberry Tart

Sorbet Trio - Raspberry, Coconut, and Mango

Sorbet Trio – Raspberry, Coconut, and Mango

BIG Profiteroles

BIG Profiteroles

La Sirène allows its patrons to bring their own wine with a $10 corkage fee, but has recently gained its alcoholic beverage license and started offering wine of its own.

I’d call La Sirène an excellent place to bring friends, family, or dates, though I can promise that I will seriously never share any of my Tournedos Rossini with any of you. It’s absolutely divine, so by all means get your own 🙂

photo by Lucy Komisar

photo by Lucy Komisar

La Sirène

Address: 558 Broome Street (Between 6th Avenue and Varrick)

Hours: Dinner only.  5 PM to 11 PM on Sundays-Thursdays. 5 PM to 12 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.

Phone Number: (212) – 925 – 3061

Website: http://www.lasirenenyc.com.

Have a Ball at Balzem!

On a rollicking block populated by numerous restaurants and little shops between Spring and Kenmare, Balzem’s dark and glassy storefront seems to cast a shadow over Nolita, a neighborhood that sometimes feels like it’s becoming too trendy for its own good. Upon stepping inside, one finds the restaurant’s atmosphere starkly different from anything in the area as deep orange lighting from chandeliers and the rugged charm of Balzem’s brick walls set a moody, dusky scene.

Drawing upon classic Mediterranean dishes (some family recipes) and an eclectic selection of tapas and mezzes, Chef Balahan Bobus has carved a unique niche in a competitive section of Manhattan, and I was enormously satisfied with what I sampled of the menu at the press dinner—11 dishes in total!

The chicken orzo soup was a sparkling broth of red and gold and that drew its hues and flavors from both tomato and lemon in a swirl of tang and salt with fresh slices of light chicken breast.

Chicken Orzo Soup - Made from a family recipe

Chicken Orzo Soup – Made from a family recipe

Secondly, I tried the Prosciutto Wraps with Burrata. Combining two of my favorite Italian delicacies I was not surprised to fall in love with the dish, which stuffed an avalanche of gooey goodness within the cured and salted slices, which were sprinkled with a splash of sweet balsamic. This was definitely my favorite of the tapas on the menu!

Prosciutto Wraps with Burrata

Prosciutto Wraps with Burrata

Our third tapa was the  Bronzing Ceviche (Raw European Seabass), served over arugula and dill. The sliced fish had the texture of cooked and tender meat and until Chef Balahan explained what I was eating, I am almost embarrassed to write that I mistook it for a chilled chicken dish—a pleasant one at that.

Branzini Ceviche

Branzini Ceviche

Next, we enjoyed two grilled and spicy seafood courses in the Shrimp and Octopus. I found the shrimp a tad too spicy though it was very well-cooked and complemented the salad nicely. Of the two, I found I enjoyed the octopus more. It was charred with a smokey aftertaste with the insides remaining moist and delicate.

Crevette Grille - Grilled Shrimp

Crevette Grille – Grilled Shrimp

Pulpo - Spanish-style Octopus

Pulpo – Spanish-style Octopus

The last of the tapas was the zucchini pancake which tasted like an Graeco-Italian Latke. If you’re a vegetarian or just love something crispy and just bursting with the strong flavors of fresh herbs, then I wholeheartedly recommend this one. Each pancake was covered in a light spoonful of cream infused with dill, feta, and scallions.

Zucchini Pancakes

Zucchini Pancakes

For the main, we were offered Grilled Brochette (Rib Eye Skewers served with Pita). It was a substantial portion with plenty of juicy, grilled beef. I didn’t really eat much of the pita, but by that point my belly was close to bursting. It might seem like a less exciting choice than the tapas, but it’s a solid and filling one. I usually find meat of this nature to be too dry or greasy, and was pleasantly surprised to find it neither which way.

Grilled Brochette - Rib Eye on Skewers with Pita

Grilled Brochette – Rib Eye on Skewers with Pita

The meat was served alongside a trio of side dishes: Truffle Macaroni and Cheese, Potatoes Au Gratin, and Sauteed Spinach. Of these I adored the Macaroni and Cheese the most. It was breaded perfectly with just the right pinch of spices and copious amounts of cheese—everything you could want out of a side dish and a worthy incarnation of the American comfort staple.

Potato Au Gratin with Truffle Oil

Potato Au Gratin with Truffle Oil

Sauteed Spinach

Sauteed Spinach

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

Truffled Macaroni and Cheese

By the time dessert came around, I felt so full, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go on—just kidding! From the Tiramisu to the Napoleon to the Chocolate Mousse, Balzem had its bases covered for sweets. I was particularly impressed with the Napoleon, which was baked in the French style with layers of creamy cake and raspberry syrup. Each dessert was garnished with a ripe strawberry.

French Napoleon

French Napoleon

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse

Be sure to ask Chef Balahan for his recommendations on wine pairings. He knows good matches for every stage of the meal (special distinction must go to the fragrant Cotes de Provence Rose that accompanied the Prosciutto Wraps). From 5 to 7 PM, he’s offering a happy hour with such joys as $6 glasses of wine and $5 tapas.

Balzem features an extensive list of Mediterranean wines as well as specialty and themed cocktails. There is also a full-service bar.

Balzem features an extensive list of Mediterranean wines as well as specialty and themed cocktails. There is also a full-service bar.

The next time I’m with my friends in Nolita, I’ll be sure to direct them to Balzem, though I’m not really sure if I’ll be particularly charitable when it comes to sharing my tapas.

Balzem

Address: 202 Mott Street (Between Spring and Kenmare)

Website: http://www.balzem.com

Phone Number: (646) 837 7033

Lunch: 11:30 AM to 5:00 PM on Mondays to Fridays

Dinner: 5:00 PM to 12 Midnight All Week

Brunch: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays

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.