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

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

Attaboy Atoboy!

Atoboy

Korean food is turning NYC on its head. There are the wonderful do it yourself BBQ places in Koreatown, the tried and true traditional that are always worth returning to and now some newer spots with a more contemporary focus and a bit of panache have joined the scene, like Her Name Is Han and Don’s Bogam. Gourmet experiences like Oiji and Jungsik opened people’s eyes to a whole other level of Korean cuisine, pitting gourmet Korean against any high end competition. It’s exciting. But now…we have the sublime, convivial, spectacular experience of Atoboy.

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The entry way…

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Atoboy is the first Korean restaurant to offer modern Korean Banchan style food. It’s small plates, essentially Korean side dishes to share, the kind of dishes usually offered at the buffet table but here they are the draw. The basic precept is that you order 3 dishes, lighter to more substantial from columns A, B & C and it’s a flat price of $36 per person, per three dishes. You may add as much food as you like at the a la carte prices, of $7, $9, $12 so there’s no need to feel pressured and start deal making at the table. We succumbed to greed though we really didn’t need to, it was just that good. And cards on the table?  I ended up repeating two dishes.

It’s akin to being in an art gallery lost somewhere in time. Urban zen meets industrial polished peeling concrete, snappy hanging lights, a sea of wooden four tops and copper table accents. Somehow it feels cozy.

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Service is warm, friendly and welcoming.

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Atoboy was started by Chef Junghyun Park, a former Chef de Cuisine at Jungsik along with his manager wife Ellia Park, who’d previously been at Kajitsu, Maialino & Noreetuh. They wanted a kitchen where they could offer traditional Korean techniques featuring seasonal local ingredients but with their own modern take. Chef Park still combines a global roster of elements in his cooking but with his carefully considered plating and sophisticated, discerning hand – he showcases his Korea.

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Iced corn silk tea. My Korean friend who dined with me said this can cure many ills and is not so easy to find well made.

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Pop top sake! Plus you get to keep the glass. I’m planning for a full service.

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Ohmine Junmai Sake. It had the scent and sweetness of white peaches, it’s inexpensive and was definitely fun to drink. Like a Jello pudding packet.

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There were two of us and we shared our six choices. And then some. Starting with the amuse, extra crunchy seaweed nori chips, pickled and fermented vegetables and I knew the Parks were onto something.

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Juicy littleneck clams are set on a bed of creamy avocado coulis, anchored by crunchy rice crackers and accented with the fiery spiciness of the gochugaru based sauce. It’s sensational and the fully constructed bite of hot, creamy, succulent clams against the texture of the cracker was resounding.

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Well, this was something else. Eggplant with snow crab, tomato jelly and lemon. Any photo of it could not possibly convey the true depth and beauty of the flavors. The sweet crab is hidden under the eggplant and then wha what? It’s that unexpected tomato jelly. It’s strange and wonderful, an invigorating bite of summer. This dish was also a repeat. Had to.

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A bowl of white rice comes with your selections or you can opt for the always evolving special rice for an extra two bucks. This night it was seaweed rice, a worthy expenditure.

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Shrimp with kale and garlic in gochujang, a savory, fermented red chile paste was a light, fragrant, spunky palate pleaser. Excellent.

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I could eat this for breakfast or dinner every day. A distinctive, herbaceous egg truffle custard with shiitakes and leeks. Comfort food 2.0. Maybe 4.0. It was deep. Kind of has an addictive mystique. We got this twice.

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Mackerel with green chilies, scallions and radish. What goes on here? The fish is cooked perfectly, it’s soft and flavorful. But then you have this sauce, oh the sauce…a partially sweet yet almost tart essence that’s hard to get enough of.

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Riding the current wing craze, lightly fried chicken on a shoal of spicy peanut butter sauce flecked with fried garlic chips is transcendent, if fried chicken can go beyond a material universe. It’s bright, airy, battered with rice flour and tapioca. This IS actually finger lickin’ good. It defies the photo and the menu description. You’ll be running your finger along the plate when it’s finished, you won’t be able to stop yourself.

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The corn with taleggio, bacon and bean paste won’t last past corn season so if you’re in need of a last big hug of summer delight, this is it. It’s thick, salty, and gooey. It’s my mantra.

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There’s a small very concentrated list of beer, wine, sake, sochu, and four lovely cocktails. including a very tasty pear sangria. After two glasses of my pop top sake, we shared a glass of rosé but then felt we needed a lovely dry sake to finish off the dinner. This tried and true bottle was it. Clean, crisp, balanced, dry – a true match for the food.

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The plates are custom made for them by Solibaker, a Korean based ceramicist and they’re fantastic. The aprons, inspired by traditional Korean clothing, are an integral part of the overall graceful minimalist design.

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The menu is seasonal and that might mean by the week not the four quarters of the year. Dishes vary from visit to visit, highlighted by what’s locally available and tend to be replaced altogether sooner than later. Lunch is planned for the near future as is an in-restaurant cart hosting another level of food choices to enjoy. I might want to live here. Apparently they took their name from an old Korean saying where ‘Ato’ means ‘gift’. That makes sense. These are beautifully presented small plates of food, little packages of joy.    Chef Park is a wunderkind with sauces and since Korean food is not a bread friendly table, you need the rice, because you definitely don’t want to miss a drop.

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Atoboy

43 East 28th Street between Park/Madison Avenue

646.476.7217

Open Monday-Saturday 530pm-10pm

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘A Tapestry Of Rich & Royal Hue…’

Tapestry  (with little notice…CLOSED)

Here’s the thing about Tapestry, it’s exactly that. A mosaic of flavors. It skews heavily towards Indian but don’t you call it Indian food. It’s a warp and weft of global cuisines – French, Mexican and even hints of Portuguese, threads twisting and pulling through old classics and fresh ideas. What do you have after all those strands are pulled together?  A smashing restaurant.

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Suvir Saran has had a long and revered career in food world. Devi, the restaurant that he shared with Hemant Mathur, was the first Michelin starred Indian restaurant in the United States and was divinely popular (as the name suggests) in its time, closing shortly after Saran left in 2012. He’s a chef, he’s written three cookbooks, he’s a teacher and of these last few years – a farmer. American Masala is his working farm in Hebron, NY named for his second cookbook and the fact that he has spent as much time living in the USA as he has in India. Masala Farm, his most recent work, chronicles how an urban chef kind of met his true calling, growing and raising his own food, which led to the natural progression of a restaurant that perfectly embodies the farm, the books, the philosophy. Here he reinvents the familiar with an unorthodox spin, mining every dish and idea for flavor, integrating Indian elements with American food, worldly American food.

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It’s so hard to characterize restaurants these days. They don’t sit patiently in a category waiting to be defined. Cuisines merge, marriages are made, definitions are deconstructed. Saran partnered with Roni Mazumdar of the lower east side’s Masala Wala to open Tapestry and brought on Joel Corona and Aarto Mehta as the chefs de cuisine. It’s win-win-win. Together they elevate tastes to create a new identity. The food is locally sourced, usually from Saran’s farm or his neighboring community and otherwise the prime offerings of locales elsewhere.

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Colorful, elegant Indian art adorns white brick walls setting off a white quartz bar, modern white seating and dark wood furnishings, flawlessly. The tiered rooms sparkle under  hanging amber globes of light, it’s stylish, pleasurable but not cherished.

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There’s an exemplary  cocktail program rather lovingly and very craftily designed by Jessy Peters. The Something Wicked with mezcal, habanero sangrita, pineapple and lime in a smoked salt-rimmed glass was a glass of beauty.

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I tasted my dining companion’s Smash the System with Peter’s own marinated espresso brandied cherries that are then combined with bourbon, brandy & orange. Definitely merits a return.

However on my next visit, I ordered the alluring and intriguing Sela, tequila with saffron, black pepper, lime, cayenne and of course – turmeric. So, it was healthy! Had two and was appreciative of the varied pansy selection.

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Divided into three family style sections, the menu offers shared grazing plates, vegetables and proteins and seems to evolve fairly often so not every dish will be there the next time you go. This is May’s version and had changed somewhat when I returned in July.

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Oh that goose that laid the golden egg…this deviled mixture of chicken and goose eggs, was offered back in May and tasted like…eggs. Egg 2.0. Real eggs. They were fantastic, stuffed with a curried mousse and decorated with a hint of gold leaf. Egg as art. These were special delivery from Saran’s farm, a spring egg fling and light years better than most of us are used to.

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Mango, Pineapple, Grapefruit Salad with honey-toasted sunflower seeds, lime and chile was refreshing and sassy on a warm spring evening.  It had bite, spice, a parmesan tuile and a funky elegance.

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Rick’s Cauliflower and Pappardelle covered in mouthfuls of luscious buttery crumbs, chile, garlic and sage. Spicy and oily. Rome meets Delhi.

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Hakka Spice Roasted Cauliflower in a very invigorating sweet and sour tomato jam was a favorite. I wouldn’t mind the pieces of cauliflower being just a little bigger so they play against the sauce instead of getting swallowed up in it. So to speak. But I still loved it and left nothing on my plate each time.

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Fritto Misto with calamari, shrimp, curry leaves accented with chile, black garlic and cilantro was spot on. Coated in rice flour and cornmeal, the batter was airy and light, greaseless, mega crispy on the outside, leaving you to savor the bits of crunch with the  delicate flavors of the seafood and fried lemon slices.

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Sticky, plush, tamarind glazed chicken wings with a basil mint yogurt sauce were meaty and rich. They rank right up there with the best of the Korean wings favored in this town.

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And last but very much not least, a hint of the old times from Devi, the house signature Masala Fried Chicken with peanut slaw, aloo bharta, (like a lemony Indian mashed potato) plus tomato chutney. It’s ultra crispy, a crust to sink your teeth into and comforting in that all American fashion but with a spicy Indian kick kind of way.

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Banana pudding trifle with layers of caramel and candied nuts was so inviting but just not my favorite. Maybe because I was expecting the thicker, creamier banana pudding I’m used to. This was interesting, more sophisticated but invariably too sweet.

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I didn’t want dessert the next time around, but it’s definitely worth sampling the efforts of pastry chef Crystal Hanks. The Sticky Toffee Pudding arrives in a caramel tulip with salted caramel ice cream and the straw that breaks the camel’s resolve, a smoked Maldon salt tuile. Blood was almost shed for the last bite.  It has the density of bread pudding, each component in harmony and with a bright, fresh flavor. As menu items change often, if there is a higher power with a shred of wisdom, this will always remain.

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A ceramic jewel box arrives with bite size desserts just before your check. A kind of 5 star dining homage and a lovely thank you for being at the table. These were each from my two visits.

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The best restroom door I’ve ever seen.

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Simple and stylish details are everywhere.

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Soon enough there will be a small private dining room downstairs, apparently with a tasting menu that will change daily. That seems to be the way of the future, with chefs exploring their talents and also catering to diners who want a little extra adventure, like Alex Stupak at Empellon Cocina with his 4 person chef’s table offered twice a night. I look forward to this one. And there’s a seated at the bar only menu. Many ways to experience the very sublime food here.

Again, it’s not an Indian restaurant. Clearly there are influences, hometown spices that mingle with counterparts from bordering countries and distant seas, flavors that are enhanced by an Indian ethos but also a farmer’s thinking, old world New York and new world Oaxaca. It’s a harmonic convergence of the food kind. ‘A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.’ *

 

Tapestry

60 Greenwich Avenue at Perry Street

212.373.8900

Dinner Sunday – Wednesday 5:30-10pm and Thursday – Saturday 5:30-11:30pm

* Title and closing sentence from what else – Carole King’s Tapestry.