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

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

 

 

Soul Taming fromThe Wild Son

The Wild Son

Wild Son. Dun dun dun dun dun. You make my heart sing. Dun dun dun dun dun. You make everything…groovy. These are the early days of The Wild Son, just breakfast and lunch for the moment, dinner will be on deck by and by, along with some very cool cocktails. But these two meals will do for now and do quite nicely.

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Little in the way of restaurant world makes me happier than that rarity, a perfect neighborhood spot that’s gonna be a destination place as well. In case it’s not in my neighborhood. The pedigree here is strong. Owners aka the chef and the barkeep also own the fabulous and kinda under the radar Goodnight Sonny as well as The Wayland (with live music), two insanely worthy destinations in the east village. Now they’ve ventured west with a new idea. It’s wholesome food but edging the line of decadence. A philosophy of nutritionally dense debauchery.

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Though inventive cocktails have long been Jason Mendenhall’s bent, he’s using his wild imagination to concentrate on crafting a kind of revolutionary non-alcoholic drinks menu. An epic juice list, and a nitro cold brew coffee that he says leaves him up all night after tasting all afternoon. Note to self – when in need, get thee to The Wild Son.

My very refreshing carbonated watermelon fresca

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Followed by an Iced Coconut Latte that was deep.

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Crowd pleaser and all around fab dish, The Grain and Egg Bowl. I’d be hard pressed to not just return and order this again. Crispy fried grains with that crunch and pop lend more than just fiber to your bowl. It’s tiny bites of surprise, addictive and fun to eat. Add in the sunny side egg, greens warmed slightly from snuggling with their bowl mates, chopped seasonal vegetables and a spicy green sauce. You feel your strength coming back, your body making itself whole and it tastes heavenly.

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The Pernil Romero, slow cooked pork in garlic, fennel and rosemary with the crustiest of breads. And wrapped in paper. Like being in some Umbrian piazza by the porchetta truck.

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Divided into sandwiches, salads and plates, time of day matters not. Breakfast til 4pm or lunch at 10am. All good. Check out the Green Tartine description, they’re a humorous clan.

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Whimsy defines the interior. A beach cottage with a wry urban wit.

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So far what I’ve tasted has been beautifully spiced, the right balance for flavor and intrigue and clearly primo ingredients.

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It’s not a scene, but it will have its own cult I’m sure. They’re not trying to be cool casual, they’re just relaxed, curious, imaginative and having fun. And it’s catching.

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Plants, books, albums, art…and they do play really good music.

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Robert Ceraso and Jason Mendenhall. There’s a third partner that I never said hello to but will add his name later. I’m sure he’s wonderful too. Kindest people. Keenly interested in the diner’s happiness.

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I was there on day 2 and look forward to returning asap for their already infamous doughnuts. Baked not fried! Plus I want the buckwheat pancakes (gluten free fwiw), the new morning sandwich (sooo much), and the Mango & Turmeric Sparkling Shrub. Then I’ll work my way down the wish list.

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It’s everything you need to start your morning or end your afternoon.

Wild Son, I think I love you.

 

The Wild Son

53 Little West 12th Street between Tenth Avenue/West Street

212.727.7900

Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-4pm for now

Bar Goto A Go To Bar To Go To…

Bar Goto

Through a glass darkly could be the theme here in this glowy, seductive cocktail izakaya. With the surfeit of lovely places to drink around town, from speakeasies to any raucous downtown scene – you’d think there wouldn’t be need for more. But there’s always room for one more isn’t there? And Bar Goto is more than just another hip bar. It’s a pretty fabulous, intimate, innovative, interesting bar by treasured alum Kenta Goto from Pegu Club fame.

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A warm summer evening and the windows are open to a quiet part of Eldridge Street. The wooden door swings wide, there’s Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack, smoldering lighting, congenial, casually sophisticated crowd and a warm welcome. I’m in.

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You can grab a seat at the lovely walnut bar or stake out a table. It’s a small architecturally creative space and can easily get crowded but it’s generally very comfortable. If there’s a wait, it’s actually a civil wait. Respect and graciousness rule the roost.

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That’s the mise-en-scene, but the stars here are the Japanese tapas-esque plates ready for sharing and of course the signature cocktails that demand to be tasted one by one. Each one sounds fantastic. $15 per drink and you can go through several quite handily. No worries if you want something to be made for you from a favorite assemblage, or you prefer straight sake, wine, beer or your spirit of choice. But the signature cocktails are off the charts. They are exquisite, not meant to send you under the table but to settle on the palate, caress the taste buds, satisfy the soul.

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One of the much talked about cocktails. And for good reason. The Sakura Martini comprised of sake, gin, heightened by a maraschino musk and adorned with a beautiful dried cherry blossom. It’s delightfully velvety and the second one is even better than the first.

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Another favorite for me is The Far East Side (from early Pegu fame), a heady little combo of sake, tequila, shiso, elderflower, lemon and yuzu bitters. Oh, it may not get better than this. It’s not too much of any one thing, perfectly blended…nectar, heaven, divine – the holy trinity of cocktail description. But for real. And with a generously sized muddled shiso leaf.

Kenta along with great longtime bartender (and former cohort) Mat Resler, stand behind the bar liquifying magic. On a second visit sans camera, drank the Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler with gin, watermelon, cucumber, lime, lemon and wasabi salt tasting sublimely better then you’d imagine if the mix was in lesser hands. Summer at its best. The Matcha Milk Punch with matcha, sencha, vodka and half & half. I love that Goto described this drink as a concept bringing together tea ceremonies with the classic milk punch. It allows for the delicate green tea flavor to have prime focus. A relaxed finish to any deliciously alcohol infused evening here.

No perfect bar (or izakaya) could actually be such without food that complements intricately designed drinks…or maybe even dishes that hold their own. As it happens, Mr Goto, who clearly has taken great care and pride with every last facet of his lounge, also has the esteemed Chef Kiyo Shinoki (from semi-secret Bohemian fame) in the kitchen.

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Something as simple as celery becomes profound. The Kobu Celery is fresh celery with salted kobu seaweed, roasted sesame, sesame oil and red shiso flakes. Brilliant. Don’t smirk. This is celery at it’s absolute best. Would eat it every day.

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New York City loves a food phenomenon and currently the top banana, or top pancake is the Okonomi-Yaki, savory cabbage pancakes served with okonomi-sauce, drizzled kewpie mayo plus dried bonito flakes and picked red ginger on the side. That’s just the base. Served in cast iron pans, there are five choices on the menu and I’ve tried two so far. The Fisherman’s version with octopus, rock shrimp, and calamari and the Herbivore with shitake & shimeji mushrooms, nira-leek, carrot and scallions. Loved them both. There’s also a pork belly, seafood, cheese variation, an all grilled cheese with sun dried tomatoes kind, and the Carnivore with pork belly, chicken and bacon. Everybody can be happy.

Love the Pickle bar snack, vegetables done in house are great but it’s that yuzu pepper paste that will drag you back. Gobo French Fries – fried Japanese burdock roots, with shichimi-pepper & sea salt, another snap-them-up-while-you-imbibe-delicacies kind of treat.

Miso Chicken Wings have become a mini legend. Split in two so you nibble off one bone, getting more crunch and popping the flavor. The wings with roasted black sesame, scallions and a miso buffalo hot sauce are knocking socks off all the way around.

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Bar Goto is a cool customer. Chic but beautifully bound in the heritage of its owner. Kenta Goto was a favored bartender for seven years at Pegu. Now a charming and gracious host, his culture and ancestry are clearly ingrained in the man and the place. As a master in calligraphy, he’s included his last name in the bar logo as an homage to his family. His food remarks on a similar restaurant that his mother runs just outside of Tokyo and his grandmother’s 100 year old kimono has become part of the wall art.

In an early interview, Goto essentially said that his plan was to offer a new and evolving perspective about Asian themed cocktails, modernizing the classics and feature Japanese staples like yuzu, miso and shiso. In this smoky, sexy, chill spot – he’s doing just that. I am forever grateful.

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Bar Goto
245 Eldridge Street between Stanton & East Houston
212.475.4411
Tuesday-Thursday 5pm to midnight, Friday-Saturday until 2am, Sunday until midnight

Faro To Table

Faro

It’s cool, creamy, industrial chic, but also like a big-warm-everything-will-be-alright-I swear kind of hug. I’ve been lucky enough to dine here a few times and each visit reminds me that Portland has nothing on NYC. Plus there’s that Roman Gnocchi but I’ll get to that later.

Owned by married partners, Chef Kevin Adey and wife Deborah, who handles the front of house, they have a combined lineage of Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and most recently, Northeast Kingdom, also in Bushwick. Together they’ve created a restaurant with unaffected charm that truly and soundly is farm and grain mill to table. Others may do it, or tease it but these two are living their dream. Wood fired food, ranging from locally grown rooftop vegetables to NY state grown grains that are hand milled in house, a farmer’s ethically produced meat, to local fish and pastas that are conjured from just made grains by the hands behind the counter.

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If you live nearby, likely the streets will feel more familiar and less deserted to you as the “L” or the Uber pulls up. But I love nothing more than having no idea where you are, peering through a dark evening and seeing the light. So to speak. No reservations, and if you encounter a brief wait, no matter. Great staff, splendid food. It’s  worth it.

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Now, a tavola! Started with an on tap NY State Rosé that was delightful and set the tone of pleasure and whimsy for the food. There’s definitely a sly wit behind the range. Plus we added house made warm bread with butter that is just impossible to deny. It’s a menu item and they only make a few loaves a day so you should just go for it. Carbs are not the thing to fear here. Embrace and revel.

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There’s a good list of wines, local beers and twelve lovingly designed cocktails. Apparently the whiskey sour is the one to beat, made with Medley Bros. 102 Heritage Bourbon and with twists and dashes of this & that, it has garnered raves all around.

Two different porridges from two different visits, both divine. At one dinner a friend looked directly into the bowl and asked, where have you been all my life? It’s supreme comfort and tantalizing seduction all at once.

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The illustrious, widely acclaimed Sweet Pea Porridge with local grains, morel mushrooms and foamy whey. Essence of spring. Fabulous. Did I mention that?

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This week it was a lovely combination of corn, chanterelles and scallions. You just wouldn’t have expected porridge in the current dining scene to rate so highly and echo Oliver’s cry of “please sir, could I have some more?”

Several more digressions before we hit what might be considered the main courses. Larger plates? We shared everything each time so it was all just a huge feast to me.

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Fire Roasted Beet with a local farm egg and pistachio pesto sit atop a cream of goat cheese. The four main ingredients are all winners, bringing out the very best in each other. Inspired.

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Tomatoes and cucumbers from nearby Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, in an escarole boat with scattered bits of feta. Simple, delightful, summer.

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Wood fire roasted carrots. Like being in Italy, good Italian cooking is the sum of the ingredients not the now popular foam to table techniques. Another entry from Brooklyn Grange Farm. Truly locavore, even the same boro.

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Peekytoe Crab with corn and a dollop of creme fraiche was fresh and summery but the only dish I’ve eaten here that seemed to be missing a soupçon of something. Maybe because my companions cleaned off the creme fraiche before I got into it and that could have made the difference? Still very nice but it’s in tough competition with my table’s other dishes.

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Corn tortellini with mascarpone, chanterelles and carmelized bits of fresh corn was a late spring entree and it’s salty sweet subtlety still lingers in my mind. The chanterelles were a wonderful counter to the corn’s creamy earthiness, and gave the pasta a peppery finish with a hint of their apricot musk. Hope it returns. June is right around the corner right? Sigh.

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A special pasta the other evening was a delicate garganelli with insanely -can’t worship enough- peppers from the clearly profound fields of Brooklyn Grange Farm. Perfectly folded, toothsome squares of pasta. This almost made me regret the second order of the Roman Gnocchi for the table but I digress.

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An on-the-menu pasta is the somewhat infamous Squid Ink Calamaretti served with Maine lobster in a light coconut curry milk. All of the pastas are so beautifully, brilliantly cooked – it’s almost like the perfect chip, bet you can’t eat just one. The lobster was spot on and we all loved that the pasta shape appears as squid rings so it was not only delicious but amusing. Pasta with a sense of humor. Who knew.

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There is much to be enjoyed from sustainably sourced and ethically produced meats on the menu but we only got as far as the Wood Fired Scallops with peas, bottarga and milled right there by the chef – emmer (farro). These were just great. The ideal sear, charred crust that sinks into that sweet scallop brine as you bite it.

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As much as I enjoyed everything and am clearly a fan, my heart is seated squarely in that Roman Gnocchi. This is just heaven. It’s not a light dish, two large pieces of semolina covered in yet more from Brooklyn Grange gold – swiss chard or kale, depending on what month you dined here. Then cream and salt cured egg yolks. Apparently the egg is smoked overnight in the embers of all that wood-firing and then shaved over the rich, soft grain. I can’t get enough. It’s luscious. Best word I can think of for it. Truly luscious.

The space is big, bright and airy, a former warehouse for Moma art storage. A minimal fifty seats keep diners feeling spacious and comfortable. Decorated (that word minimally applicable here) sparely. White walls, startlingly high ceilings, custom built tables and the coup de grace, locally handcrafted high fire clay plates by artist Sarah Ritz through her company Freundeskreis. They’re all varied, muted hues and beautiful. And as intended, go impeccably with the decor and most importantly the philosophy behind Faro. Local, artisanal, community.

The tables were even custom sized to accommodate the ample plates and bowls, all of which were created to allow for diners with shared plates and glasses to actually have room at the table. So nice to be considered for a change.

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Innovative, outstanding cooking with more than a nod to local and sustainable sources, a celebration of respect and collaboration for regional growers, producers, artists and most emphatically, the food Chef Adey creates himself.

Faro
436 Jefferson Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn
718.381.8201
Open daily from 6pm-11pm

Thai This…

Chiang Mai

By now, anyone who is interested in restaurant news knows that when the originally illustrious Kao Soy opened in Red Hook, Brooklyn, it was much lauded, but then drumroll… a parting of the ways occurred less than a year after it opened. Co-chef Kanlaya Supachana left and started up her own new spot just down the way. It may only park in the Home Made Cafe space for six months while she looks for a more permanent home, but at least we are the immediate benefactors of pop-up land in a big way. This is authentic, contemporary, fierce, filled with heart Thai food.

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The vibe here is great. Brick walls, mismatched tables and chairs, sculpted pigs in the window and a chalkboard where the quote changes daily.

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However, the wonderful soulful vibe has nothing on the food here. This is remarkable and dare I say – meaningful cooking. You can taste her intention, the legacy of her father’s recipes, her technique that is beautifully displayed in the pleasing and very assertive spicing. It’s unique and without compromise.

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We started with Mamuang Nam Pla Wan. Raw green mango with sweet chili shallot dip. Perfectly ripe mango, a soupçon of the good to come.

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Tum Mamuang, green mango pounded with palm sugar, garlic, and dry chili made in the northern style. This one is done with plaa raa, a fermented fish sauce instead of regular fish sauce. It’s refined, luscious and tongue sizzling, served on betel leaves so you can wrap up a few sticks and bite into the filled leaf, for that edge of sweet coolness that is deliciously welcome.

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Jin Som Mok has become one of the most talked about dishes. Grilled fermented ground pork with pork skin, pig’s ear, garlic and chili in banana leaves, served with the usual holy trinity of ginger, shallots and peanuts. It has that addictive salty-sour-lime-peanut-ginger thing that you can’t get enough of. And there’s no reason you should stop trying.

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Krabong – butternut squash, taro and banana blossom fritters with a spicy chili vinaigrette sauce & sweet peanut chili sauce. It’s fried delight all the way around – crunchy, an earthy sweetness and yet light…and those banana blossoms are even better than they were at the former restaurant. Better mood, better blossoms?

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Khoong Yang, delicately grilled prawns with spicy Nam Jim Talay and sweet peanut chili sauce was choice. One of the prawns was a bit overcooked but I forgive. On the whole it was a juicy, delightfully satisfying dish.

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Pla Nueng See-ew, steamed fish filets with soy ginger sauce, Yu Choi, celery and scallions. So simple right? But the broth is sublime, rounded and rich. No thai bread for sopping of course though these are the times when it would be so nice.

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There’s much more to taste here, friends flipped for the hangar steak redolent of thai spices as well as the many other pork dishes available. All the more reason to come back.

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There’s a full beer and wine list. We thought we’d start with a beer and move on to the more than decent wines but our beers were great and perfect with the meal. Good to know there are wines there to choose from though that would compliment perfectly.

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Contributing to the food, atmosphere and the heart here, are the staff. There’s a sweetness and sincerity, an eagerness to please. Much like the aesthetics of the plating. Dishes are served with expected Thai accoutrements like banana leaves and cilantro but here they are charmingly, gracefully arranged on the plate.

I didn’t get to see the back garden, a must before the weather or the pop-up changes but I know the chef grows flowers back there and creates interesting and lovely arrangements in the front of house from her forays to the flower market. It’s that care and attention to every detail that is so prevalent in every bite she offers.

I wish I lived next door. I’d go all the time. This is the kind of place that you want to get to asap and then return to again and again while it’s here. Hopefully Chiang Mai will land somewhere for good and we won’t have to forgive ourselves for not dining here as much as we know we should have. Or at the very least, enjoy it often for the next six months or so and no self flagellation will be required.

Chiang Mai
293 Van Brunt Street between King/Pioneer Street
646.858.5185
Sunday-Thursday 12-3:30 / 5-10:00
Friday-Saturday 12-3:30 / 5-10:30

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