Bites & Pieces

Fairfax

Even though it’s the same crew as the previous resident, this is no Perla 2.0. Longer review soon but suffice it to say – it’s pretty great and very chill. Half Woodstock living-room, partly regular restaurant, and a lot lounge-y.

This Bite is about the completely scrumptious soft boiled egg. They got this. An auspicious soft boiled egg with the meltingly best soldiers I’ve come across. Herb splashed butter with parmigiano on sourdough toast. Sublime. Sun filled windows, comfy chair. Almost like everything is just fine with the world.

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Fairfax
234 West 4th Street
NYC
212.933.1824

Open daily Sunday-Monday 8am-10pm, Tuesday-Thursday til 11pm, Friday-Saturday til midnight Breakfast til 11:30am and Weekend Brunch til 3pm

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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

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

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

 

 

 

Hilife At Lowlife

THIS RESTAURANT HAS SADLY CLOSED

Lowlife

New frontiers in NYC are harder and harder to come by. Back in the old days, friends and I would go on epic walks about town. We were kind of penniless but looking to be entertained, so our disappearing days would involve strolling through neighborhoods still un-gentrified and discovering a random cafe, makeshift art gallery, something fun to do with the balance left from whatever small cache we had – once we’d bought a copy of the New Yorker. Often the ‘hood we found ourselves in was the lower east side, then full of worlds now defunct, filled with arty riffraff and jetsam. Luc Sante captures it beautifully in his powerful book, Low Life about the New York of the seventies and the city that replaced it.

And this brings me to the now, the lower east side and Lowlife 2.0. Named for the book as well as the New Order album, Lowlife is a charming, casually elegant restaurant on Stanton just off way east Attorney St. So for the densely dining populated LES, this is slightly off the beaten kitchen pass. I first went in November and followed with one additional visit soon after. I’m remiss in writing about it and slightly forgetful on a few details, but I still remember how good it is.

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It’s a knotty pine and brick walled world with romantically muted lighting, a soundtrack that allows for conversation, reclaimed wood tables, mid-century modern chairs by designer Jens Risom remade in nylon and the most important news – delightful food and a knock out wine list.

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Created by partners Hugh Crickmore, formerly of Mas and the Tarlow empire of Brooklyn restaurants and Chef Alex Leonard of Blanca, it’s a gratifying meld of industrial chic meets Scandinavian cool casual and a seasonal, ingredient driven menu divided into three sections. You can share, you can hog.

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Started at the bar with a glass of wine while our table was being prepared. 25 wines by the glass plus a variety of European and domestic beers to consider. Intriguing. But then there’s that pour. Huh? I appreciate that they’re hoping tiny tastes will allow the diner to explore the eclectic list with abandon, but then they might consider charging to allow for customer indulgence. It’s not an inexpensive glass.

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There’s a front room, a 10 seat chef’s counter for tasting menus and a raised back area that create the backdrop of lakehouse swank for the 70 seats now filling this old tenement factory.

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Artful plates adorn the rustic table and then there’s a warm sourdough pain d’epi fresh from Robertas in Bushwick. Complimented by an in-house made grassy butter, I could have stopped here and been thrilled. Chef also does his own in-house vinegars, pickles, kimchee, and cheese. And as it happens, much of the harvest comes from a farm owned by Mr. Crickmore’s brother in the Catskills. Local, familial, cozy.

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An amuse of radishes with gremolata sets the tone. Bright, simple, earthy. And then the borscht arrives. Not your bubba’s beet soup but an ingenious nod to – if these tenement walls could talk.

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A colorfield of three glorious quenelles shine brightly in a ceramic bowl. Icy beets were roasted in olive oil, herbs, then pureed with dashes of fish sauce and sherry vinegar. It would be stellar on its own but paired with sweet local cream and glistening lightly smoked trout roe, the combination of the mixed bite makes a brilliant pop of salt, sweet, cold, creamy…heaven.

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Celeriac Remoulade, a classic bistro dish done up with just a bit more interest than usual. How often do you get to say – sensational – when having an upscale slaw? It’s ultra fresh, crunchy and the combination includes apple, pear and cranberry beans. Come…on.

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Another small plate but very tasty share is the Fluke with Hackleback Caviar and Coriander. Gently aged fluke’s sweetness is enhanced by the briny caviar and a smoked dashi. Add in the aromatic of charcoal oil and these are the details that elevate simple dishes to something thoughtful and worth a return trip.

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Beautiful, considered plating of plump bay scallops, romanesco on a bed of nutty grains, tricked out by the pouring of a light lemongrass sauce table side.

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Piquant herring and sardines are lightly grazed with a roasted pine nut milk and chimichurri. One of my favorites of the evening. Tart and tangy.

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Cubes of tuna and salmon roe with crisps, pungent and sparkling.

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And then there’s that now famous Sasso Chicken Yakitori. An edge of char, crispy skin, it’s brined, it’s roasted and then grilled over fancy Japanese charcoal and served with smoked cabbage and green onions. It’s the talk of the town dish and served in half or a whole portion for $54. Eat it. You’ll talk about it longingly.

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Probably the dish you’ve bought your ticket for, Guinea Hen. Not on every menu these days. People have called it a sausage of sorts, a mousse stuffed inside a crispy casing, reconstituted hen, a ballotine – but however you see it, you don’t want to miss it. Served inside it’s own crispy skin, delicate, flavorful and cooly arranged on the plate with roasted baby carrots and bitter greens. The greens are the perfect antagonist to the rather acerbic bread sauce made from house made yogurt and day old sourdough bread. You can’t get enough.

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The wine list curated by the lovely Dhrubo Mazumdar is considerably longer than the menu. Small producers abound, interesting and sometimes affordable choices but all support the menu perfectly.

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One of the several wines we had, a white anjou from the Loire, truffly, creamy, minerally to compliment both the scallops and the guinea hen.

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Always a delight for the finish. And speaking of finishes…

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The apple galette is a poem. A surprisingly old world dessert with layers of crispy cloud like dough, loaded with butter, fruit and  a soupçon of ginger ice cream on the side.

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Panna Cotta is everywhere at the moment but this one was just frothy loveliness.

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Lowlife is a neighborhood spot in what still feels like an old world NYC neighborhood. Plus it has the added label of fine dining but definitely not the attitude. It’s very congenial and Chef Leonard’s way of presenting a creative take on time lauded pleasures we thought we were sure of, is distinctive as well as outstanding. Art from Mr Crickmore’s personal collection adorns the walls sparingly but it’s the choices in the bathroom you don’t want to miss. Ken Kesey? Neal Cassady? Seriously. With these wines, this food, you’re either on the bus or off it.

Lowlife

178 Stanton St between Attorney St/Clinton St

212.257.0509

Monday – Saturday 6pm-1030  Closed Sunday