Bun-Ker. Bunker. Heaven.

Bun-Ker

It’s the pot of Vietnamese gold at the end of the where-the-hell-are-we-anyway rainbow. Even in its second iteration, it’s off off the beaten track.  Finding it however, is part of its charm and worth any missed turn.

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Thankfully, there is a there…there.

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Pulse quickens…

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Magic time.

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Hi ceilings, tall trees, brightly colored stools, one communal table and a smattering of others. The decor has a Tropic Thunder meets a let’s-all-get-high and have a paintball war motif. On an island. With great music.

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An actual pressed juice bar. This makes for intriguing concoctions, very creative cocktails and there’s a killer wine list too.

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Jimmy Tu and his sous-chef brother Jacky have been around the chef block. Their combined history includes Korilla BBQ truck, Tigerland, a Vietnamese spot shared with sister Judy in the East Village, as well as the ultimate springboard – being one of the original opening chefs at Eleven Madison. And somewhere in between, they shadowed street carts in Vietnam too, studying recipes, and finessing tools of the trade that would become a signature, like a Japanese grill with binchotan charcoal.

They ultimately landed in their own seafood distribution company, Fish and Ship, which unfortunately met its match with Hurricane Sandy. Not to be outdone by the storm, Jimmy and his posse of hip-hop loving skating buddies, dried out the space and created a tiny kaleidoscope of a Vietnamese food shack in Ridgewood, Queens. The rest is beautifully defined Hanoi specialties with the essence of homemade street food history.  The new menu is at least double the offerings of the old place. Plans for house-made food products, skating gear, mushroom growing and more abound. It’s fun, loose, and comfortable but the genuine intent behind the food is never compromised.

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I said a hip, hop, the hippy to the hippy, to the hip hip hop, because Roy don’t stop!

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Bun-Ker Limeade, a heavenly nectar of lime, shiso, coconut sugar and basil seeds. It’s remarkably complex and so refreshing.

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Goi Du Du Char, vegan papaya salad with crispy tofu, red onion, carrot, tomato, peanut, and sesame. It has a boldness you don’t always see in the usual mandolined versions, here it’s more thickly sliced so you can really taste each gratifying component. Get it with the illustrious homemade beef jerky if you prefer meat with your papaya. This dish, like many others, can be made without meat so vegetarians don’t get the short shrift.

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Gorgeous greens, fresh herbs and rice crisps for your charcoal grilled pork skewers.

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Now you be the chef…

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Wet your rice paper and let it soften. Add sauce and condiments.

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You did it. Wrap and eat.

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Ultra fresh summer rolls filled with wild prawns, roast heritage pork, vermicelli, lots of mint, more herbs, and of course… peanut sauce. Playfully chewy and then wham, a mouthful of zesty flavor.

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Com Chien Chay, mushroom fried rice with organic mushrooms, organic egg, garlic chives, tomatoes and cashews is lovely. Plus the hints of bright lemongrass elevate rich bites of meaty mushrooms.

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Vegetarian Banh Xeo with turmeric, turns gold and is stuffed with organic shiitakes and a rad collection of herbs. The carnivore version includes shrimp, bacon, egg, and sprouts. Everything is tucked into a crunchy, crispy, succulent, oh so savory rice flour pastry, yet it’s like a delicate soufflé on the inside.  Hits high on the ethereal meter. A drizzle of Nuoc Cham provides the perfect acidity for the icing on the crepe.

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Grilled Lemongrass Black Angus Short Ribs are strewn with sweet, minty shiso leaves and chopped peanuts across the incredibly tender chunks of meat. Slightly sweet and a little smoky.  A splash of fish sauce and it pretty much melts in your mouth.

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Coconut Braised Berkshire Ribs are just that. Tender, falling off the bone meat, redolent of the coconut broth and young fruit it was simmered in.  Served with tea egg and bitter melon, the salty fragrance of the former and the sharpness of the latter are a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the coconut.

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Tomato Garlic Fried Rice is way more interesting than you might expect. Just get it. It’s subtle, sublime and you’d best like garlic.

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Suon Nuong Xa, Heritage Pork Loin marinates for about 8 hours in a mixture of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chili peppers, fish sauce, Chinese xo sauce, oil and palm sugar, and then it’s ready to  caramelize on the grill. Dressed with scallion oil and crispy pork skin bits, plus an organic fried egg and what appears to be a simple execution exceeds any pork dishes you previously worshipped. Garlic Rice rounds out the plate. It’s always the quality of ingredients plus imagination here that solidifies the ace level of cooking and taste.

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Sweet satisfaction as your teeth crack the edge of a golden, deep fried, crispy spring roll surprisingly made from a delicate Chinese egg roll wrap.  It’s bursting with sweet lumps of fresh crabmeat, shaved carrots, and toothsome vermicelli. (The Bun in Bun-Ker is a witty play on vermicelli in Vietnamese) Bright, fresh, and snappy, the extras of lettuce, mint, and chili sauce bring it all together.

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Carmelized Wild Mexican Shrimp with ginger, garlic, basil, and sweet fried shallots in a sublime, sticky, rich sauce tasting of molasses and dates taunts my memory daily. We had this without the addition of roasted pork but by all means… Eat them whole with the shell on. It’s where the flavor happens and no peeling means no having to sneak a lick of your fingers at the table.

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Fried Whole Fish in a tamarind chili sauce. I think this one was 4 lbs, there were three of us and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t an ounce remaining. It was sweet, spicy, sour with crisped skin and I could not stop picking through the plate once it was clearly over.

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Coconut Tapioca Pudding, the pleasing nuttiness of coconut milk amplifies the sweet and sour jackfruit, bits of pineapple, palm seeds. Creamy, cold tapioca pearls refresh and soothe body and soul.

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Vietnamese cookies!

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Where’s Waldo? Where’s here? In case you needed to place yourself in the universe, this might help. Ha.

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The neighborhood may be sparse but the sentiments are graffitied for good.

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And because you may just have over ordered, the indulgence shall continue in the morning.

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Bun-Ker is popular. Hard to believe that when they first started, the group rode around on bikes and dropped off menus to drum up business. 70 seats total inside but you can still depend on a wait. Outdoor garden seating in season increases your chances for getting your hands on that crepe sooner than later. At least in this new spot, the cocktail bar, Honey specializing in mead is next door to shorten the wait time.

This is exquisite comfort food. It’s not your Chinatown inexpensive foray into Vietnamese cuisine. It’s carefully considered classic combinations that use the highest quality, well sourced, organic, grass fed, free range, straight from the Icelandic ocean kind of ingredients. The kitchen turns them into deliriously good concentrated flavors. Chefs use a mortar and pestle often, coaxing the smallest, seemingly least important ingredient into giving its utmost. Flavor opens into more flavor.

All roads seemed to have led the Tu’s back to their roots and ultimately doing what their hearts always knew best. They’ve made a huge success of it. And now it’s our success too, because the food is superb, and you’ll always leave here happy.

 

 

Bun-Ker

99 Scott Avenue

East Williamsburg (just bordering Ridgewood, Queens)

718.386.4282

Open Tuesday-Saturday noon to 11pm, Sunday noon-10pm and closed Monday

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Lalito

Lalito

Unless you’re looking for a late nite bail bond storefront or the defunct cult karaoke bar Winnie’s, little would lead you to this rather desolate street in Chinatown, just a stone’s throw away from windows alive with dead ducks and souvenir kiosks galore. But lo and very much behold – an entrance with old signage indicating food and fun appears with the address you’re seeking. It seems closed. But then you open the door.

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It’s a kind of cool 70’s vibe with a pop soundtrack to match. An arty, quasi romantic space with a very welcoming staff. Mustard colored banquettes hug the walls in curves around the room, formica tabletops offer a modern diner appeal and neon lights frame a seated bar – I like to think Jetsons. It’s got spunk. Until recently the restaurant was called Lalo but because of a conflict with an existing Cafe Lalo, it morphed into Lalito. Helmed by Chef Gerardo Gonzalez who was THE man at El Rey Luncheonette, specializing in a SoCal, healthful, Mexican ethos that caused a mini uproar on the lower east side when it first came to attention. Now we’ve arrived at his new Mexicali with-a-dollop-of-global+mediterranean tinged casual chic eatery. A few favorite dishes accompanied him but have been twisted and turned along the way with his Alice in Wonderland kind of hand.

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There’s a full bar complete with Mexican inspired designer cocktails. I tasted several belonging to dining companions and found them a bit on the sweet side. That can always be altered and the play on healthy but funky ingredients is worth exploration. I went with a French 75 before we moved on to an interesting wine list featuring a mix from California to European including natural wines. They’ve got bubbles and beer, a lovely pitcher of tequila sangria and for the non-alcoholic choices, many a flavorful agua fresca.

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Oh doubtfully shake your head if you must. Everyone will understand. But you’d be missing out on this incredibly good dish of Vegan Chicharrones with hot sauce, vinegar and yuh huh-spirulina. Kind of a subtle homage to Bugles. The table loved it and there were serious doubters. A soupçon of chagrin and then all were reaching for seconds…Puffed wheat dusted with chili powder and pepper, served with ready to squeeze pieces of lime over a piquant dipping sauce of pickled fruit that brought the whole dish and a cadre of new fans together.

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The Black Bean Squid Ink Dip is a mischevious take on classic black bean dip, but under the Mad Hatter’s watchful eyes, the kitchen uses cannellini beans colored with squid ink, tosses on pickled red onions, banana peppers, black garlic and cotija cheese resulting in a lively balance of flavors. It’s vibrant, fresh and fun.

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Shishito peppers are a favorite of mine. Usually a little char, a sprinkle of salt and we’re golden. But Lalito has their own plan and it’s a good one. Stuffed poblanos are officially on hiatus. The Shishitos En Nogada intertwine shaved walnuts in a pomegranate reduction with a generous splash of the arils and the result is buttery, tart, light, and zesty.

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Creamy with coconut milk – Coconut Rice

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Papas Bravas  were a crowd favorite, a nice edge of spice, creamy on the inside, crispy on the outside and practically preening with it’s shards of green herbs, dots of red paprika and a drizzle of crema. These were fabulous.

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The Brown Goddess Cucumber Salad was the only dish that had the ingredients to soar but just didn’t quite cut it for us. English cucumbers, mint, and candied pepitas in a brown mole vinaigrette were earthy but erratic. Maybe the narrative is just too complicated for one small bowl.

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I loved the Seared Sea Bass. Beautifully cooked and combined with curried masa, tomato powder, nigella, sumac yogurt, and chick peas. Sublime. But I have to add a big sigh, a kind of general complaint which extends to a few other plates – portions can be skimpy. The bass is so tasty but vanishes in a few small bites.

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Roasted half chicken demands it’s own table time swaddled in a shimmering spicy hot green pineapple sauce, rich with garlic and cilantro. A Pollo Asada that is uh…finger lickin’ bueno.

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Eggplant a la Plancha just might please your commonplace eggplant hater. Smattered with tahini and adorned with gomasio, a Japanese seasoning of roasted sesame seeds ground with sea salt plus the sweet, mild flavor of cubanelle, a Cuban frying pepper and an impeccable balance of lemon. Hits all the tastebuds.

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House-made, warm, fresh, wish-I-had-more tortillas are the best part of the Pork Carnitas. But followed by a close second on the meat. Offered as a single serving or for “lovers”. The tortillas may become your new paramour after this so I’d go whole hog. So to speak. Smoked, salted, stewed in pineapple juice and beer – tender, savory pork is festooned with rings of pickled red onions, red rimmed radishes, green herbs and lime. A swathe of crema and it’s another venture into wonderland.

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No tuxedo clad waiter with a cart full of anchovies here, this is the – we’re giving you big time umami but with a spirulina, capers, cashews, dulse bread crumbs and nutritional yeast version of a Vegan Caesar Salad. Not what you would have expected from a fantastic Caesar but definitely one you do not want to skip.

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A dip into the luscious rosy broth surrounding the Lamb Barbacoa is necessary. It’s an ingeniously soulful combination of flavors with velvet drops of masa gnocchi and flakes of cumin flavored meat that induces swooning but just ever so slightly.

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Goat Milk Flan with Pomelo, Tarragon and Olive Oil – and a birthday candle. Tangy creaminess with a hint of bittersweet and citrus. The right compliment to all that had come before. On the table and in life!

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The kitchen is an impressive alchemy of craft melding with screwball. Quirky combinations of fanciful ingredients and flavors give depth to Chef Gonzalez’s sly, smart, inventive menu. He takes the familiar, and then veers sharply into unexpected, keeping a diner on their toes. It’s fun, sometimes a little wicked and always oddly comforting.

Lalito

104 Bayard Street between Baxter/Mulberry St

646.998.3408

Open daily 11am-4pm and 6pm-midnight

Whose beki? Uzbeki

Taste of Samarkand

It’s packed at 830pm on a cold almost spring night in Queens. And it’s a Sunday. Kosher-Uzbeki food. Who would have guessed? Inside is a leafy trellised ceiling adorned with bunches of plastic grapes and draped colored sheers framing the crowd below. Two waitresses took turns approaching us in the entry way, each shaking their head sadly and glancing back to the very convivial room and brightly clad tables as if to say – what were you thinking? The buzz of camaraderie, clinking glasses and mouthwatering aromas were preparing to send us back to the black crusted snowbanks outside. We just stood there. We persisted. The waitresses had disappeared to handle fast moving plates and requests from the lucky groups seated and sated. A few moments later, a lovely woman, wearing seniority and not the traditional vibrantly colored caps, kuilak (tunic) and lozim (pants) like the others, came over and asked softly – would you wait 20 minutes? We’d wait longer. I really wanted in.

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Luckily an extended family celebrating their patriarch’s birthday gathered their coats spread over several seats and motioned for us to join them while we waited for a proper table. Immediately they sliced two large pieces of birthday cake for the four of us, which thankfully we elected to save for after our meal. Because we ordered a lot. There were toddlers, adult children and Poppa, the birthday boy. I was on the verge of getting over-excited. It was like being in another country, in another time and the menu – fabulous. Big Poppa pushed an almost full bottle of vodka towards us. We demurred, said we couldn’t but he insisted saying…I have plenty of vodka at home and look at the name on the bottle, I can’t bring that into my house.

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It’s BYO here and name not withstanding, it was especially kind of him.

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Great spout.

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The menu is written in Cyrillic, Latin and happily in English – sometimes with a poetic slant.

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They have three breads and we didn’t skimp. The Noni Toki is thin and crispy, baked similarly to a matzoh, billowy and blackened. It’s 14 inches in diameter and curled just so by baking it on the underside of a traditional bowl-shaped Uzbeki frying pan on top of the oven until it crisps. Sometimes it’s referred to as hubcap matzoh.

Lepyoshka is puffy bread with a chewy glossy crust and an open air crumb. There was enough bread for leftovers at home the next day.

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Their signature bread is Fatir, gratifying layers of buttery pastry dough. Beautiful. I tried to count them like the rings of a tree and hit 25 before I abandoned the plan so I could just eat it.

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Detail of a single layer.

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A splendid version of babaganoush – rich, smokey and creamy. It became a repetitive motion, bread-dip-bread-dip. The hummus was equally good. Had we realized how much food we’d actually ordered, we might have censored the dip-eat motion earlier. Oh well.

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Koreans immigrated to eastern Russia in the 1860’s but in wartime almost 200,000 were banished by Stalin to what is now Kazakhastan and Uzbekistan. What remained of their culture became a significant influence on their food, their heritage merging with their newly adopted land creating a meld of ingredients. There are several Uzbek restaurants around town that focus on Korean/Russian inspired dishes but at Taste of Samarkand, this is the only one. Korean Carrot Salad á la the Silk Road looks so fresh but deceptively unsurprising. Marinated in traditional korean spices, honey, garlic, cayenne, coriander seeds and vinegar, the sweetness and acidity lent itself well to our cavalcade of meat dishes plus it turned out to be one of the best choices of the night.

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A bracing Tashkent Salad is described as a perfect blend of boiled beef tongue, radishes, and greens but is further enhanced with crunchy green bits and crispy onion rings, all dressed with mayonnaise. They looove mayonnaise here.

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Ochor, marinated mini eggplants stuffed with herbs and scallions. The eggplant was a little too cold as well as too al dente to fully enjoy but a lovely combination of flavors.

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Sheepskins depicting hand painted landscapes of The Silk Road are rustically framed with sticks and decorate the walls.

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Maybe my favorite description of any dish on any menu ever. Read the Nakhot Garmack. It’s poetry. And then there’s Jiz-biz…just saying.

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Here’s the Jiz-biz with lamb chops and the kitchen’s very favorite add-in, house made potato chips. They turn up in many a surprising dish.

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Juicy, seared, tender.

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Ahhh, the Veal tail with its leached soul. That menu line from above.

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My second favorite description with the dish below. Twelve hours for ten bucks.

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The hardest working man in Uzbeki show business it seems. Flashy production numbers on the muted televisions and very hard working staff in the kitchen and dining room.

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Georgian Lemonade which seems to be naturally flavored soda and unrelated to lemons. The pear was a bit less sweet than the atomic green tarragon flavor but both were actually good, even for all the tarragon’s nuclear possibilities. Not pictured is the tasty kool-aid looking fruit punch which is made from a mix of real fruits and listed on the menu as fruit compote. Our server graciously left a full pitcher on our table when one person ordered a glass. She said in case we’d all like to try it.

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In contention for the most popular dish at our table of a zillion plates, Samsa  (the Uzbek samosa) is a layered pastie wrapped around finely chopped veal, lamb, onion and spices…coriander, cumin, black and a little red hot pepper. Then they’re baked to a flaky floaty puff topped with sesame.

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Samsa innards…

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Herring with boiled potatoes, onions and lemons. Refreshing and just what you’d expect it to be. Combined with the Lepyoshka bread mentioned earlier, made for a perfect breakfast the next morning.

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Uzbek Manti. Juicy dumplings. More finely chopped veal, lamb, onions and spices delicately wrapped in a fine pliant dough and steamed.

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Smokey charred kebabs were salty and satisfying but I bet the meat skewers are where they shine. Beware the blades. You could duel for a kingdom with these.

Vegetable -Kebab

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Wild Salmon-Kebab

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The plates are beautiful, and the extremely kind staff seems to take pride in how everything looks. Our table must have been quite a challenge for them as our expanded order just kept coming.

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Georgian tea completes everyone’s dinner and green tea is the custom choice. It’s fruity with a distinct apricot aroma.

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Accompanying tea were these lovely bits of candied pineapple, sugared chickpeas and peanuts gilded with sesame and honey.

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We missed out on the baklava as we had the aforementioned birthday cake so kindly shared by the family that let us sit with them. Vodka and cake. We scored. The chocolate was delicious.

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From the outfits to decor and most importantly the food, Taste of Samarkand offers a glimpse and a taste of the ancient influences of the Silk Road from Uzbekistan to Persia, China and India. I was surprised that it wasn’t particularly spicy but no matter, flavors are very distinctive and the food just beautifully prepared.

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This area of Queens serves a large population of Bukharan Jews and Uzbek immigrants. As noted in the New York Times, “Rasul Hoshimov, an Uzbek Muslim from Samarkand, runs the restaurant with David Abramov, a Bukharan Jew from Dushanbe in neighboring Tajikistan. The chefs — Mahmud Shokirov, who handles the meats, and Cholpon Turganbaeva, in charge of everything else — keep the kitchen kosher…” The restaurant is a perfect example in how to get along and a good idea for our present world to follow. Plus a wonderful spot for the rest of us to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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Taste of Samarkand

62-16 Woodhaven Boulevard

Border of Middle Village and Rego Park, Queens

718.672.2121

Open Sunday through Friday for lunch and dinner but only for dinner on Saturday

Special note: BYO

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Milk

Madre Mezcaleria

Dinner. Mezcal. Because that’s our wheelhouse these days. But very luxe having it at the new & still evolving mezcal bar – Madre Mezcaleria. The younger sibling to the much venerated El Atoradero next door. Already over fifty selections with many more to come. Plus you sip & savor with your chapulines & orange slices grazed with sal du gusano. In lay person’s terms we’re talking dried grasshoppers & a little ground worm in the orange slice spice. Spare but warm, charming atmosphere, great music a la Mexico and a small list of nice bar snacks with a raw bar to come. If you need to flavor your mezcal further.

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The delightful Fior Silvestre, a sublime combination of mezcal, grapefruit and St Germain. Bet you can’t drink just one.

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Two of the many bottles offered. The one on the right is of the  Mezcal de pechuga (breast in Spanish) variety. These are made when a finished mezcal is again distilled with local fruits, grains, nuts and the surprise of surprises – a raw chicken or turkey breast hung over the still, soaking in the vapors while also adding to the end result of the mezcal’s flavor. My favorite bottle on the left is safe for the vegetarian mezcal fan!

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The aforementioned grasshoppers and spice. Let the sip of mezcal lay on your tongue for a moment, then a nip into the orange slice and a few bits of the ‘hoppers popped in your mouth. Don’t rinse. Just repeat.

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Toothsome, tasty chips with a great guacamole and a rich black bean dip. The food advantage here is that it’s from the awesome hand of chef Denisse Lina Chavez who again reigns supreme next door. She opened this together with partner Noah Arenstein completing their mini Prospect Hts Mexican empire.

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Excellent bites to accompany all that mezcal. Shredded chicken tostadas with chipotle above and tuna tostadas below. The bar is destination worthy on its own but also works for a drink or two while you wait for your table next door.

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An unassuming oasis along the avenue. Streamlined and uncomplicated inside. The bar seats a baker’s dozen and there’s one banquette with table seating in the back.

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There’s also tequila, wine and beer in case someone joining you is not a mezcal aficionado. I have a feeling they’ll spend a little time here though and experience a sea change.

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Tiles brought from Puebla by the chef give a soupçon of fiesta, of color but always leaving the focus on the glass in front of you.

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Parting shots. Our charming bartender offers and enjoys a shot with customers as you leave. A lovely gesture especially when you need to be armed for the cold. Or even just life.

Madre Mezcaleria

706 Washington Avenue by Prospect Place

718.399.0706

Open daily 5pm – 2am

 

 

n’eat-ness counts

n’eat (neat + eatery)

Cuisine word of the day is…drumroll…you got it. Huzzah! It’s Nordic. The northern European culture of food and ephemera has firmly entrenched itself in New York City. It’s hi end at Agern and Aska, lower end at the Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station and now Goldilocks, we have the bowl of porridge that’s just right, a choice that is smack in the middle. n’eat in the East Village. The intention is to have it be a neighborhood spot albeit with a dash of destination thrown in. The new Nordic, intriguing Danish food but the rustic chic version. Less fancy, less pricey, same substance. Inventive, inspiring and a very good time.

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A Swede and a Dane walked into a bar and we got lucky. Chef Gabriel Hedlund, yet another Noma survivor and veteran of several European restaurants joined forces with restauranteur Mathias Kaer, owner of a few spots in Copenhagen. Together they focused on creating a cool casual restaurant of the Scandinavian kind, making use of local ingredients while staying true to their roots. They pickle, they brine, they smoke, they ferment, importing just a few necessities like moss, seaweed and Danish cheeses. The food is fresh, zesty, flinty, you grasp the terroir.

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It’s fun here. The vibe is on point for the neighborhood and these times. Ambience: check, well crafted wine/beer list: check, excellent service: check, food: check check and major check. And the actual check? Not scary.

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The chef is creating just behind the counter so you can happily grab a stool and be privy to the magic.

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A picnic table just outside the entrance sets the relaxed tone. The front dining section seats about thirty people, there’s the counter seating with that view of the open kitchen, plus a few more tables further back placed before a lovely private room that seats about 20 people and is anchored by a glass walled wine room. The restaurant feels spacious but homey.

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Friendly servers are quick to answer questions and make you feel comfortable while sporting aprons that pay at least a little homage to vintage viking.

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Modern. Spare. Cultivated. Earth tones, light woods, whitewashed walls.

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Blackware instead of silverware. Lightweight, distinctive, stylish.

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The menu has 15 dishes that will adapt with the seasons as well as available ingredients. They’re all $16, just a couple augment a surcharge and we were advised to consider 3 – 5 plates per person. Dishes are definitely not tiny so depending on how many wooden slabs of the fabulous bread you order, you can do 2 – 3 plates and be fine. But…you’ll likely want to keep foraging, it’s that good.

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On offer are five seafood, five vegetarian and five meat dishes so you can design your own meal or avoid an argument about preferences if sharing.

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A little Pet Nat to help with the post election night blues. A highly enjoyable storytelling bottle from the Veneto, akin to prosecco but better. You can taste its whispers of must and tradition as you grab at a little bit of sanity. I’m sure it’s as great any night not following a decimating election.

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The most seductive sourdough bread. Salty crust, a hint of sweetness to the center celebrated by it’s cohort – fermented butter with a sweet velvety tang you might actually cry over. Happy tears.

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A stoneware bowl accentuates the lovely raw mackerel, nasturtium, and horseradish in a chilled green tomato broth. It’s vibrant, acidic with buttery flavorful fish.

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Fried fluke, cauliflower, tarragon with whey is a delight. The fish is more like a pan seared filet, nicely cooked and the cauliflower is rendered into yet another new dimension for cauliflower. I didn’t think there were any left. Lovely dish.

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The lamb tartare with chives and capers had a pleasantly surprising mouth feel, soft and smooth with bursts of buckwheat crunch. Perfectly seasoned so that it elevated the lamb rather than overpower its delicacy.

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This dish is barely there, heavenly and light, but full of flavor and adds up to one of the best on the menu and one of my favorite dishes in recent dining. Delicately cured thin slices of scallops with slivers of radish in a weightless but snappy buttermilk dressing and then the craziest part – frozen mussel snow. A granita really, flavored by the lushness of the mussels and their liqueur. It’s floaty, but the combined depth of flavors make it feel substantial.

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Rehydrated beets, thinly sliced beets, pickled beets with big, juicy luscious blackberries and pine. One bite encompassing each loamy, warmly sweet, slightly tart ingredient is a pleasure.

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Wild mushrooms, Blanquette and Roasted sourdough. We were instructed to take a bite of the gorgeous mushroom toast and then a sip of the sauce following. Mushroom stock, yolks, cream and I don’t know what else but holy all that’s earthy – this was the path. It’s lusty, warm and consoling, especially welcomed this night.

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A lovely $40 bottle makes this the neighborhood place you can afford to be. The wine list developed by sommelier Pernille Folkersen is well priced with an emphasis on natural & organic, but also includes a few bottles of distinction. Plus there’s sake, bubbly, and cider  too, all joyfully complementing the food.

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Dessert list is small but its offerings are exquisite.

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The gossamer walnut parfait companioned by pear granite and hay oil. Of course. Hay. Melts in your mouth.

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This kinds of beats all. Icelandic yogurt, white chocolate, sprays of dill and surprise surprise surprise…

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icy cucumber balls that reveal themselves as if they were the most unimaginable treat in the world. Enchanting. And it’s cukes! This is stellar.

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The art will be jars of pickled things. Edible art.

My only complaint is that the soundtrack does little for the atmosphere or the food. The night I was there the music included My Way and Hopelessly Devoted To You. I wouldn’t allow either on an AM car radio much less backing a beautiful dinner. When I asked about it, I was told it was to inspire memories. Maybe in Denmark these are the songs of good times but perhaps something more unique or interesting would be more motivational for those sublime memories that will surely come after you dine here.

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You can frame your dining experience any way you’d prefer. Go full tasting with all the dishes and make it a luxe evening with friends, dine alone at the bar for a plate or two and a glass of wine, or just pop in to share a few menu items, a few glasses and a pal. It’s the kind of place where anything goes so don’t wait for the right night, just go and let it become the night that it’s supposed to be.

n’eat

58 Second Avenue between 3rd/4th Streets

917.892.6350

Open Sun – Thurs 6pm-11pm  Fri – Sat 6pm-12am

Pinch That Cheek

Fish Cheeks

Thai food has made quite an inroad of late, taking NYC by charge. No more can Los Angeles laud it’s Thai scene over the east coast. We anted up.

One of these new denizens has landed its chic beachy dwelling on Bond Street in Noho and it’s fun, flavorful and very welcome.

It’s a family affair and the brothers Suansilphong, originally from the province of Sukhothai have created something very special. Ohm, previously worked with David Thompson at the revered Nahm in Bangkok, Number 1 Asian on the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants List and Chat, was part of Tom Colicchio’s empire. Quite the pedigrees. They’re sharing their heritage with us, dishes they grew up on, mostly seafood focused plates served family style. Olive Garden no longer leads the polls on family.

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The charming, playful interior takes you right to the edge of the Andaman Sea, the waves lapping up on the sand and onto the concrete of the east village, bringing with them balanced, fragrant flavors for food that tastes effortless and gratifying.

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There’s primary colored seating for approximately 60 people and yes you can dine at the bar.

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The menu is succinct but inventive – while remaining true to the brother’s roots, plus it encompasses many regions of Thailand as well. Especially the coast.

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Shrimp Toast, the good kind that doesn’t taste like styrofoam, is the amuse with a sweet spicy sauce that ramps up your tastebuds for what’s to come.

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An Old Fashioned. Nothing I’d had before with a Thai dinner but this turned out to be on par with any clear liquor libation choice. Mixed drinks here are not to be overlooked.

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Cocktail guru Dev Johnson of Employees Only has designed a great program including house-made drinks that have an Asian bent with fruit, herbs, and spice that match the food. They also have a nice selection of wines by the glass that compliment dishes beautifully.

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Cured raw shrimp in a three crab sauce with lime juice, bird’s eye chilies, garlic and mint is lovely. It’s got…magnitude. Deep, perfectly pronounced flavors that reach far past hot and give us sweet, salty, sour, and that kick of mint. Double your order.

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Sauteed Cabbage with garlic and fish sauce is quietly unassuming but its subtle taste packs a velvet punch. Oddly, this could become the monkey on my back. I’ve developed a small obsession for its earthy smokiness.

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Crispy Garlic Branzino is an IT dish. Splendidly crisped on the outside and flawlessly flaky on the inside. Fried garlic and herbs bring their gifts to the celebration.

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The fish sauce for the divine branzino. Take a nugget of the fish, dip into the sauce and pop into your mouth. There’s no time for a plate. It’s too good.

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One of the hottest offerings on the menu is accompanied by rice so your tongue will happily survive. Southern style Thai Coconut Crab Curry is alive with piquant chunks of King Crab steeping in the dazzling red flecked golden curry. It’s superb, with a refined sweetness amidst an ambrosial combination of coconut, more bird’s eye chili peppers and the grassy herbaceous flavor of betel leaves. The brothers grind all of their spice mixtures themselves and make curry paste by hand with a mortar and pestle, bringing forward the rhythm and melody of the food.

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Seafood Pad Cha definitely registers on the heat index. It’s tangy, ample, succulent. The food here is never meant to shock you with its burn but there’s no pretense either. It’s real. And sometimes you just need that sip of Thai iced coffee to bring you back to terra firma.

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The Thai iced coffee for the table – heat antidote.

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Service is very friendly, from the welcoming front of house to the open kitchen at the back where you can see the chefs at play. The bar as part of the dining room adds to the breezy, inviting atmosphere.

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Simple, graceful Thai influenced decor.

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The family style manner doesn’t actually indicate dish size, plates vary. Service supports a plan that everything should come at once. Dishes arrive quickly and that can be bothersome if you’d like to linger. Perhaps consider ordering slowly.

The surprisingly best part of most fish are the cheeks. They’re the sweetest most tender bites and you’re lucky if you manage to beat out anyone else with a fork. This food is seriously good. Intense, funky, savory flavors that are in harmony with the rich legacy the brothers bring to the table, part of the sweetest and most tender bits of culture and memory. Turns out to be the right name for the restaurant too.

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Fish Cheeks

55 Bond Street just west of Bowery

212.677.2223

Open daily 5-11pm and til midnight Friday & Saturday

Only credit cards accepted – no cash.

 

 

Hail To King

King

Three girls three. That’s how this tale of a boîte-to-be begins. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt were working at the infamous River Cafe in London and they shared a dream. An introduction to Annie Shi, a general manager at the cutting edge Clove Club brought forth a further meeting of the minds, plus some hopes, fantasies and luckily for those of us on this side of the pond, a plan. New York City. As luck would have it, they scored the about-to-be-vacant-after-10-years space belonging to Mekong, and the rest in these short weeks gone…is history. This charming, kicky, cozy, irrefutably sublime bistro is every bit as good as the word on the street has been.

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It’s a concise, continually changing menu leaning keenly on southern Italy and northern France, a modern European take on comfort dishes, classic dishes, dishes with refinement…sparked by creativity.

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There are several tables in the small bar for dining as well as stools for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great cocktails. On the lighter side but that bartender will do a strong classic for you in a second.

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The menu includes the date because at the very least it partially changes daily.

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Carta di Musica, a favorite of mine is thin, crisp, crackling and treated to a pool of buttery oil.

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Highly enjoyable bottle from a well rounded and well priced list. Definitely one to have with food. Big and fruity, good tannins, long finish.

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Salt cod on grilled polenta was a fusion of cool, creamy, whipped, warm, crunchy. Layers of satisfaction with a nod to northern Italy’s favorite carbohydrate and an homage to the preferred dish of the Vikings, baccala, imported from them to the Veneto in the 15th century. The sweetness of the polenta counterbalances the saltiness of the cod. It’s a great bite with a glass of red wine but I think I’d love it for breakfast as well. Breakfast wine up to you.

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Fresh ricotta with lentils and marinated anchovy was lovely. The anchovies provide a umami quality offering depth and complexity to those earthy stalwarts, the lentils. Perfecting the plate is the familiar pair of lush ricotta and bitter greens. All together, comfort at its level best.

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Hand cut tagliarini with chanterelles and parmesan was both hearty and delicate. It gives you that sense of place, maybe a cozy trattoria on a snowy Italian afternoon? Though its hook translates seductively as a contemporary dish of an evening in west Soho.

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To paraphrase a favorite Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve , the halibut roasted over lemon leaves with braised spinach and baby artichokes was a poem. Each bite was a delight, traversing from spinach to fish to artichoke and back again. I couldn’t stop eating it. And the lemon leaves…ahhh. Our lovely waiter suggested we sniff them and then lick them. In all earnestness!  He was right, the fragrant lemony aromatic fills your senses and somehow lends a deeper understanding to the French-ness of the dish.

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Slow cooked Florentine fennel was soft, deep and carmelized. A pleasing side dish.

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Prune and cognac are classic companions and though this prune and cognac tart wasn’t grand, it was definitely good. A thin riser of pastry laid with a cozy cover of custard that suspended juicy prunes and was lightly baked.

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The atmosphere is bright and spirited with the intermingling of a busy kitchen and chatty clientele, almost like a big family dinner with every recognizable character at the table. Except it has an understated elegance, is nothing short of charming and neighboring diners don’t eat off your plate.

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The always evolving menu provides an ideal canvas for the chef’s mastery and style. Their appetite for timeless dishes enhanced with an edgy imagination appears effortless, and offers the warmest of invitations. Flavors are straightforward, satisfying, beguiling. Service is on point, everyone working seems to be having a good time and interested in sharing that with the room.

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Alchemy is in play here, this trio of women, the food they create, the ambience they’ve fostered…the magnetism is inescapable. It’s the kind of place you wish was in your own neighborhood but wouldn’t think twice about hopping an uber to pretend that it is.

King

18 King Street with entrance at Sixth Avenue

917.825.1618

Closed Sunday. Monday-Wednesday 5:30pm-Midnight Thursday-Saturday till 1am