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.

 

 

Opalescent Dining

Mother of Pearl

There’s something glimmering in the distance, light casting itself off a small shiny trend it seems…what is this iridescence, this possible culinary treasure? Why it’s the vegan movement! Suddenly and without warning, vegan restaurants are a hot commodity. And even our favorite carnivores are having a good time. One of the grand promoters of this dining trend in NYC is Ravi DeRossi, a cult leader in speakeasy/cocktail bar world. Having opened one of the early and more revered hipster spots, Death & Co, as well as the tequila/mezcal themed Mayahuel and the intimate bitters bar Amar y Amargo, he’s definitely made a splash. With varying partners, he has over fifteen drinking and dining places in his anthology with onward and upward plans on the way. Cienfuegos, his rum focused passion project is right next door to Mother of Pearl, a half tiki bar and now half fantastical vegan restaurant. I say fantastical because it’s akin to being inside the pages of a winsome child’s fairy tale or maybe someone’s electric kool aid acid test. It’s a confection.

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Mr DeRossi’s semi recent spin to revamping virtually all of his restaurants as vegan seems to have born itself of a revelation he had when life events crossed with the realization that it was necessary to amend his personal habits. And then there’s the Earth to consider. A longtime vegetarian then ultimately vegan, Mr DeRossi spent weeks with his dying cat, Simon last Christmas and had the time and focus to consider the life-planet-future connection. His personal philosophy measures a myriad of reasons for all to consider a plant based diet though naturally there are the headliners – animal rights, the environment/global warming and health. As cited in Jeff Gordiner’s profile piece in the NYT, “he attributes his success to dumb luck and random impulses.”

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Mother of Pearl is just plain heavenly. After all, it’s really more about the food than the trend anyway. Dinner and brunch are equally delightful. Chef Daphne Cheng has created a Polynesian inspired menu that is disarming and intriguing. The cocktails and even the wines are made with only plant based ingredients. No fish scales, no cream. The beauty here is that vegan dishes are the star not the offhand we’ll throw you a (non)bone hastily fixed sub par version of some classic meat dish. In this particular tributary of his vegan empire, the savory dishes and drinks are fruit based. And they have decorative flowers. Food as beauty, healthy indulgence and fun. Plus so so good.

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There are whimsical, eclectic, tasty cocktails designed by Jane Danger. My extremely wonderful Tide Is High pictured above is a combination of mezcal, reposado tequila, cashew, pineapple and lime. Below is the almost infamous Shark Eye (and the glass is available for purchase) with passion fruit, lemon, tiki bitters, curaçao and bourbon.

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This is a get down-good time vegan menu. The food is bright and colorful and there are many fetching options to choose from, maybe because it feels kind of new. This menu is not your average bear. (No carnivore humor intended!)

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Fried guacamole. Yes, I said fried. And it works. It’s got crunch, it’s got fluffy, it has spicy avocado velvety happiness with house made caramelized crispy plantains.

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With black bean puree, sriracha and adobe aioli.

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Potstickers rule here. The Lychee version come with a black vinegar sauce and thai basil. Delicate crisp sour/sweet bite.

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Mushroom and Cabbage Potstickers with ancho chile bbq sauce have the right tooth to crispness pitch with a very flavorful loamy filling and then that saucy spicy zing.

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Kalua Jackfruit and Shitake Mushroom Buns with ginger aioli and five spice ketchup are layered with spice and earth, they’re golden and gratifying.

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Crispy Coconut Tofu with adobe aioli, chimichurri and pineapple relish, vegan island comfort food.

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Green Mango Poke with tomato, jicama, crispy rice and macadamia is not to be missed. The waiter said to get it, I hesitated, he was right. It’s mango, tomatoes, jicama, macadamia nuts and an array of sesame oil, lemon juice, rice wine and and and. It’s a wild composition of flavors but also civility.

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On another day, a great meal once again for brunch.

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The Indus Valley with pineapple, toasted sesame oil, lime, sugar cane syrup and gin. Plus green and red pepper flowers. I feared sweetness, nope, I feared too fruity, nope, I was surprised by toasted sesame oil – now I want it in every drink. This was divine.

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The non alcoholic Forbidden Fruit with orange, grapefruit, lemon, ginger, turmeric and oregano. Apparently as satisfying as a glass with liquor. So much flavor, the inebriation wasn’t missed.

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Panikeke Lapotopoto aka fried pancake balls are a find. The menu lists ambrosia fruit, coconut cream and a pineapple rum sauce. It doesn’t tell you that these are the giddy version of pancakes. Light, fanciful, fruity but with resonance.

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Avocado French Toast with ricotta, sriracha maple syrup and fruit. We thought okay avocado on French toast, yeah we can skip that for now. Yet another time when I succumbed to our waitress who said – the dish you’re missing is this one. The sum is way more than its parts. Sweet, savory, crispy, creamy. Fan-frigging-tastic.

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Jackfruit Hashbrowns sweet and spicy ketchup. Potatoes lightened up with much jackfruit so not only interesting and satisfying but guilt free fried potato eating.

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The panorama…

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Located in East Village central, it almost looks like we’re in some (albeit) urbanized Polynesian paradise.

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It’s important to note that DeRossi is a major player in the animal welfare universe and has a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats of his own. His non profit called BEAST, Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today focuses on altering perceptions of how being involved with animal rights is defined.

For all of the commitment and seriousness of his passion and animal politics, he’s created a whimsical, distinctive, exquisite Polynesian oasis to revel in. Dine, enjoy late night cocktails, you can find your own passion here.

Mother of Pearl

95 Avenue A at 6th street

212.614.6818

Daily hours 5pm-1am Sunday-Tuesday and until 2am Wednesday-Saturday.  Weekend brunch hours 11:30-3:30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truly Avant Garde Avant Garden

Avant Garden

It started with the olives bathed in herbs and warm oil. An enticing welcome. And a signpost for the enchanting meal to come.

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So, it seems that vegetarian is the new thirty…or some variation on that theme. Like dogs became the accessory du jour a few years ago, being vegan/vegetarian, at least having a BFF who is, or even honoring meatless mondays is pretty much on trend. A welcome trend (as are dogs!) but sometimes the fare that supports the philosophy is less than amiable. There were a scant handful of decent vegetarian restaurants in NYC for many years. Candle Cafe, Blossom, Souen led the pack and when Dirt Candy came along, carnivores and herbivores alike experienced a paradigm shift. And now, with the advent of Superior Burger, Chloe and the coup de grace – Avant Garden, we have definitely left late night tv’s Ronco Vegematic in the dust. We’ve gone beyond dicing.

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A shiny new jewel in the crown of restauranteur/bar owner and almost lifetime vegan, Ravi DeRossi, he also has the infamous Death & Co, lovely champagne and wine bar Riddling Widow, tiki bar Mother of Pearl, tequila bar Mayahuel, bitters bar Amor y Amargo and the fish focused restaurant Bergen Hill among others. He brought along his longtime and very notable executive chef Andrew D’Ambrosi, who has created an inventive and fabulous menu.

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It’s glowy and romantic. An exemplary staff, spirited and kind, not so easy when navigating a lightly cramped space. Love sitting at the petrified wood bar on a cozy chair stool, watching the alchemy take place. You can preview the goods as you watch them being made, each dish looking tastier than the last, desperately trying not to keep adding to your order. It’s easy to linger here as dishes arrive one at a time, meant to be shared and savored. A few glasses of the lovely dolcetto, good conversation and of course the food – that congenial dining atmosphere becomes a brilliant evening. Our server Ryan and Jack, the chef in front us, were very friendly and we appreciated their direction.

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The menu is in three sections, our first arrival was a Toast as the menu refers to them. The vegan term for bruschetta? There’s a bountiful selection making it hard to choose so I look forward to many return visits. Apparently the Tomato Jam IS the jam and voted Miss Congeniality by most patrons with its Pickled Peach, Tomato, Almond Ricotta & Basil. But we went for the toast coated with a smoky eggplant puree, dotted with calabrian chili, crushed black olives, nuggets of celery and the very perfect goose to the dish – pickled rings of shallots. Deep rich flavor balanced by that smokiness and heat on bread from Balthazar no less – and of course the snappy shallots. Ambrosial, autumnal, gratifying. And accompanied by that luscious Dolcetto – Marziano Ablona, Papa Celso 2013 from Piedmont – which we happily stuck with for the evening.

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So, from hot and smoky to cold, creamy and sublime. Cold, the Second Section. Beautifully designed plates of imagination and whimsy. Cubed red beets, delicate wisps of mango, on a perfectly whipped cloud of avocado, crunchy bits of rice cracker, swirls of black sesame, tamari, tobanjan, a spicy bean paste & lime. Fantastic. Gorgeous pops of colorful swizzles and flecks. This is the Peter Max of the Cold section.

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Then we shared three of the larger plates from the Hot column or aka, A Hug In A Bowl section. Started with a dazzlingly devised dish of King Oyster mushrooms, Maitake mushrooms, in a kind of Smoked Macadamia pesto with Crispy Leeks. Added snippets come from what’s in season at the market, we had the now very popular but still pleasing watermelon radishes. Definitely a contender for my favorite dish of the moment. Avant garde comfort.

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Farro Risotto with Butternut Squash, Baked Apple, & Sage Pesto was warm, seductive, wonderful, the crispy sage a pleasure. Toasting some of the faro added an unexpected texture that was ideal.

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And though I thought over indulging by adding the Spaghetti Pomodoro with capers, basil and bread crumbs seemed unnecessary in a non-Italian vegan eatery, our chef heard us discussing it and said – well, you won’t be disappointed. Right again. A delicious and homey dish – bread crumbs used in place of grated cheese was clever and the memorable right touch.

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Only one dessert is offered each evening and changes when it does. Ours was a lovely warm bamboo rice pudding with mango and sorbet. The blanket of heat against the cold tart sorbet was excellent, a simple but sanguine finale.

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Dining here is intimate, eclectic, inviting and it’s all in perfect harmony with nature being trumpeted on the plate and in the ambience. Plus, it’s just really fun.

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Avant Garden
130 east 7th street between Avenue A/1st street
646.922.7948
Sunday-Thursday 5pm-1045pm / Friday-Saturday 5pm-1145pm

Oh Gee Babu Ji

Babu Ji

I opened the door and stepped into the small crowd waiting for tables. But I didn’t care who was ahead of me or how long I might have to wait (not long at all as it happened), because I was in swoon mode. Holy cow, scents twirling around me, the headiness of aromatic curries, tandoori, inhaling the perfume that is Babu Ji catapulted me off the East Village streets and into Indian street food territory.

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Eating here is like living in a Venus Paradise coloring set (only a certain age group will get that) This is the most brilliantly bright food I have ever seen that’s actually real, no red dye #2 here. I wanna look like this food, it’s gorgeous.

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Right? This ravishing Anjeer Kofta of fig and pomegranate in a cashew and shallot curry was superb. For the vegetarian at the table or the devout carnivore, I defy anyone to avoid its embrace.

We’d started with the Gol Gappa, the crazy little balls of tamarind and spices that you are asked to put in your mouth whole. An epic moment, a crunchy explosion of cool, pungent, sweet. And I mean explosion. The pop rock of Indian street food offered to us by the dynamic husband-wife team that chef/own this place. Your taste buds are seriously aroused by the complexity of flavor and ready themselves for the beauty to come.

It’s been said that we eat with our eyes first, well feast away!

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Raw day boat scallops in a turmeric, mustard seed, coconut milk based curry is a revelation both here and in the original location in Melbourne. It tastes as bright as it looks, sweet and spicy and I find myself thinking about it often. They also do a vegetarian version with roasted squash which I bet is great.

I don’t have a photo of the  much heralded butter chicken marinated in ginger, garlic & yogurt in a tomato, fenugreek curry or the slow cooked Lamb Rogan Josh, that’s done with fennel seed and black cardamon. But I had to toss out the suggestions here because a friend who ravaged them remains transfixed and no one should miss out on that.

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Maybe not as rainbow colored in pictorial glory but gorgeous in name and flavor is the tandoori charred whole rainbow trout. It’s buttery, flakey, zesty right down to the crispy skin. Redolent of spice and herbs, it’s a poem.

But back to technicolor…

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Punjabi Khadi was a delight. Cauliflower chickpea flour fritters in a yogurt and turmeric curry.

The food here is an elevated and twisted turn on classic village food. They don’t embellish with oil and ghee, everything tastes fresh and clean with carefully layered flavors and you get to truly experience each level.

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Even Babu’s Daal, black lentils simmered all day in ginger and garlic is a better than great version along with the aged basmati rice with cumin and lemon.

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The feathery naan is a cut above the competition and comes in a big basket of wonderfully mixed flavors – sesame seed, garlic, plain and onion.

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They have a lovely wine list that pairs well with the food but the very popular self serv beer fridge seems to be where it’s at. Over fifty beers to choose from and there’s always a group pointing and discussing before helping themselves. They have a wide selection of craft beers, Belgian, IPA’S, Porters, Ales, seasonal choices, ciders and more.

Whimsy shows up everywhere – in the rampant beer selection, the copper serving bowls, the traditional metal plates and cups, the fabulous portraits hung around the room, the old hindi silent film projected on the wall..

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You can dine at the small bar if a table wait isn’t your thing.

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The coup de grace though is the out of this world Kulfi. Two variations forthcoming of ice cream on a stick will be available but right now it’s the imperative cardamon, honey & pistachio. Rich, creamy, fragrant, substantial and much fun to eat. It arrives in a classic metal mould that you have to warm between your hands in order to release the kulfi. That’s little effort compared to the chef’s labor intensive process. It takes almost a full day to create with cooking and blending all the ingredients, hours of constant stirring and long freezing time but lucky for us it’s the right finish to a most enchanting meal.

Jessi and Jennifer Singh have a stable of successful restaurants in Melbourne (hence many Australian wine and beer selections) and are so lovely, making most people feel like old friends coming by for dinner. They’ve created a chef’s tasting menu for $50 per person as long as the whole table enjoys it together and it would give any diner a perfect overview of all the possibilities this menu has to offer – many of which I need to return to experience.

NYC has certainly bestowed a lively buzz around the duo and their restaurant. And why not? If unique, colorful, brilliant and bright are meant to be buzzed of and celebrated, start here.

Babu Ji
175 Avenue B at 11th street
212.951.1082
Dinner 6pm-late but closed on Mondays
Brunch on Saturday & Sunday from 12pm on

A Little Bit O’ Seoul To Put You Right

Oiji

Another review I’ve been meaning to write for awhile and suddenly news of its success is everywhere. Huzzah. Oiji deserves to be lauded.

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They say refined and authentic, I say stylish and classically innovative. All describe it perfectly.  In any case, not your Oh-ma’s late night barbecue. The food here is thoughtful, graceful, ethereal – words I’m pretty sure don’t come up often in the parlance for Koreatown. And I love Koreatown. But this is like a hip hop waltz verses drunken karaoke.

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Adding to the new, urbane East Village dining scene, these two Korean born co-chefs/co-owners are Brian Kim and Tae Kyung Ku bringing their distinctive pedigrees including Bouley and Gramercy Tavern. They’ve created an eclectic menu of 17 items that lovingly reflect their rustic chic ambience.

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If I had to choose one word to describe the essence here, I think I’d say fragrant and then I’d add…pine. It’s in the food, in the air and in my exquisitely refreshing cocktail.

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The Namesan Pine, white rum, pine extract, honey, lemon, egg white and lavender. You actually taste the pine and it’s surprisingly not intense, just misty, green woodsy and fabulous. I had two.

We ordered an array of plates, little works of art gone rustic, not food fancy. They are definitely plates meant to be shared though there are more than a few I would have gladly had for myself.

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Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Preserved Ramps. It’s refreshing. Cold. Toothsome noodles with bite, pickled spring onions, garlic, all bound together with the creaminess of the oozing egg.

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Jang-jo-rim with Buttered Rice and Soft Boiled Egg. We ordered it without beef because there was a non meat eater at the table, so they gave us extra mushrooms, luscious lightly marinated thick mushrooms and cubed daikon to provide the crunch and acidity that perfectly complimented the buttery rice. My Korean dining companion protested this dish on the menu, butter not being traditional in Korean food. But she let go of custom after one bite.

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Homemade Tofu with Scallion Soy Vinaigrette was expected, tasted exactly as you might imagine. Did like that sauce and luckily it found it’s way into the crevices of the crumbly tofu, elevating the dish. It’s just that a similar tofu dish at Danji in midtown is extraordinary with melt in your mouth tofu and this doesn’t measure up for me. Had I never eaten the Danji tofu, I would be much more generous.

But that was the tiniest glitch. Here to restore my faith in dining and delectable dishes everywhere was this…

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Pine Leaves Smoked Mackerel with Citrus Soy – which you glide over the fish with a pine needle brush. This could not be better. Crispy skin that crackles around your tongue and reveals flakey, meltingly good meat. Simple but elegant plating, a real life pine accoutrement and just absolutely divine taste.

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A little break for Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice. We almost ordered more to stuff in our purses for later. Seriously. Date slivers, shredded burdock and teased with a soy-honey sauce. Epitome of Korean comfort.

Closing in on the finale and knowing there were more dishes to return for, we went splashy. By subtle Korean goes modern standards anyway.

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Chil-jeal-pan, Dish of Seven Flavors.

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It’s hard to tell exactly how delicate each of these rice flour crepes are until you gently peel them back. They’re paper thin and you can wrap a chosen flavor or go wild and gloriously combine it all – the mushrooms, carrots, egg whites, yolk, cucumbers, beef and pickles with the ravishing mustard sauce. Fluffy, delightfully soft tacos. A rapturous puff in your mouth.

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And no meal here would be complete without the insane Honey Butter Chips. Apparently all the rage in Korea and all over instagram. They’re sweet, softly crispy, smothered in butter (the new age of Korean cooking) honey and a soupçon of cayenne pepper. They’re meant to be eaten at the end of the meal as they are the only semi dessert offering. I couldn’t wait to try them so they appeared early in our dinner and provided fun bites between courses. So sweet, I swore after each chip that it would be the last. But this is the truest version of – bet you can’t eat just one. Made all the better with sips of pine of course. A Korean party romping through a mystical forest.

Oiji
119 First Avenue between 7th/ St Marks
646.767.9050
Tues Wed Thurs 6pm-11pm, Fri Sat 6pm-midnight, Sun 6pm-10pm

Bruno’s…On Fire

Bruno Pizza

Sometimes you light a fire with a match and sometimes you get really lucky and a couple of talented chefs rub their hands together and sparks fly. That’s what we have here. The combo of Dave Gulino, Justin Slojkowski (formerly the innovators at Box Kite) along with partner Demien Repucci have lighted a blaze that is igniting the pizza community, as well as focusing on just downright imaginative beautiful food. These guys are beyond creative and the hands on, charming, low profile attitude infuses every bite, every design flourish you ingest. This is no foam to table enterprise.

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There’s whimsy in this plywood lair. From the wacky yet no nonsense tables and chairs hand built by the guys themselves to dishes that include ingredients like black cashew cream, succulents and yes…handpicked by some of the posse members in actual Bushwick, Brooklyn…mulberries. Locavore at it’s dastardly finest.

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The dishes, the actual plates…I mean really. Love them.

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We started with three out of the current six appetizers and I don’t have one favorite, I have …uh huh…three. Damn, they’re all good.

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Local fluke with snap peas, uni, ocean herbals, mulberry and quinoa. Glorious. But here’s the thing, this is where the mulberries come into play. Chef Dave and cohorts picked them in Bushwick. They had an idea and they ran with it. The inspiration and thinking that goes into their menu is what makes their particular world tilt on its axis and you happily roll with it. They’re tap dancing through their kitchen on the head of a pin and suffice it to say – lick it and stick it.

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Fairytale Eggplant was so simple but perfectly constructed and absolutely delicious. With shishito, opal basil, nutritional yeast and black cashew. The black cashew, which included an aspect of vegetable charcoal was reminiscent of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song where they sing “…black gold, Texas tea” and this here is black gold.

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Definitely some of the most perfectly cooked diver scallops I’ve ever had. Served with local beans, sheep’s milk yogurt and amaranth.

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Something that Bruno’s brings to the pizza tavola is their new and very impressive Kickstarter raised machine for milling their own 00 flour, which is also domestically sourced. I’m proud to say that I made a minimal but supportive contribution and got a free pizza for my efforts. Very kind. Their months of developing the right recipe and techniques for their flour/crust was well worth it. Whatever they’re doing with that machine in the basement, they’re doing it right. A soft crackle as your teeth grazes the edge of your slice, and then that neapolitan chew of delight, a pillowy inside to the light crunch, with a flavor of wheat berries and a hint of whiskey.

We had three pizzas and I look forward to trying the others before their seasonal menu likely changes. Any of the pizzas can be made as vegetarian too.

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And the detail…

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Local mushrooms, béchamel and scallions. Holy funghi.

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Summer greens with ricotta, carrot top pesto, zucchini, noodlefish, chili.

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A Margherita that broke the routine barrier for several reasons. Astonishing mozzarella from Capouto Brothers, canned tomatoes, fermented tomatoes and whaa?? lovage. These guys invite you to dine to the beat of their different drum.

Because that wasn’t enough food, ha! we had to add a pasta. A distinctive, toothsome, wondrous pasta.

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The Bucatini with fresh corn, gold bar, squash blossoms and spring onion is summer on the plate, and a pool party in your mouth.

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Olive oil gelato with charred blueberry compote, borage powder and cashew was layers of softness shrouded in pings of varying flavors and made for a meltingly gorgeous finale.

Design elements are perfunctory chic. A cacophony of plywood and innovation. It’s spare, thoughtful, practical, not entirely uncomfortable (!) and provides the canvas for the stellar cooking which is really why you came.

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Bruno’s has employed the burgeoning idea of a no tipping policy recently done at Dirt Candy. Customers pay a 20% administration fee included on the check in lieu of any gratuity. More forward thinking, pay your employees fairly. Also, at the moment it’s BYOB. I’m sure that will change soon when their liquor license comes through but it’s always fun to bring your libation of choice.

I had arrived earlier than my two compatriots for a girl’s night and had time to peruse the small but engrossing menu. As my first pal arrived I said, here’s what my dream ordering would be. It might be a lot, but I don’t think I can give anything up, think we can handle it? She glanced through the choices and said, oh yeah, we can do this. So glad we did.

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Bruno’s Pizza
204 East 13th Street
212.598.3080

Monday – Saturday 630-midnight