Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Announcing: THE 2008 FORKIE AWARDS





You’ve waited all year, and here they are… in all of their glory!






What the hell are the Forkies?

Well, the Forkies are the awards delved out by myself, sole owner and proprietor of Fork New York. I spend all year roving the city looking for good eats, and well... this is where I can share with you what I think is the best of the best. Lets get started.

To view the 2006 Forkies (there was no 2007).... click here!

To view the 2008 Top 10 Dishes Not To Miss.... click here!

To view the 2008 Top 10 Dishes Under $10... click here!


Best Steakhouse in New York City

This is a debate that will never see a clear cut winner… but for my money in this year, the winner is CRAFTSTEAK. With perfect bone marrow, a killer wine list (many by the glass), both corn and grass fed beef and the most incredible mushrooms in Manhattan, this place is simply pushing all of my buttons.

Runner(s) Up: Keen’s, Quality Meats


Best Chinese Food In Manhattan:

Easy. Szechuan Gourmet on West 39th is making some of the best Chinese food, well, anywhere. Yes, it is somewhat of a hole in the wall… but when you walk in for pork dumplings in chili oil and see Matthew and Sara Jessica noshing in the corner, the place must be doing something right.

Runner Up: Wu Liang Ye (midtown location)


Best Street Food:

Tough one. Of course the famous Chicken and Rice Cart at 53rd and 6th holds a special place in my heart… but the truth is the Biryani Cart on 46th and 6th has claimed my #1 spot this year, simply for their perfect, buttery King Koti rolls.

Runner Up: Moishe’s Falafel (east side of 46th and 6th)


Best Morsel To Put In Your Mouth:

Easy. Ever had a rice ball from Faicco’s Pork Store in the West Village? If not, quit reading this blog, hop in a cab and get there. These gems are fantastic right of the deli shelf in this Italian butcher shop… but even better is getting them home into a warm oven and serving them with a little homemade marinara on the side.

Runner Up: Hen of the Woods Mushrooms at Craftsteak


Best Pizza – Non-Traditional:

And the winner is….. Two Boots. I was sad to see the Rockefeller Plaza store close, but thrilled when I moved to Chelsea and realized they now delivered to my door. The toppings are amazing, but even better is the crunchy, sandy, cornmeal crust.


Best Pizza – Traditional:

Yes they are a dime a dozen, but my money is on the Grandma’s slice at Rosa’s Pizza on 27th and 7th. Ive always loved their stuff but when my movers told me that they drive in from Brooklyn for the stuff, I stopped what I was doing and ordered a large.


Most Delicious and Filling Sandwich:

For those who need 2 pounds of food in their stomach, head to Olympic Pita… the schwarma and falafel masterpiece on 38th. Their pita is good, but their homemade lafa bread, fired in their own stone ovens… are amazing. Filled with hummus, fresh chicken, red cabbage and onions…. well, there you have it.

Runner Up: The #1 Combo from Lenny’s (any location).


Best Sweets:

Beard Papas Cream Puffs. Don’t get me started.


Best Hunk of Cheese to Impress:

And the Forkie goes to…. Murrays Cheese in the West Village, and their wheel of Roomano. That’s right, ROOMANO… and aged gouda with crunchy flecks of magic. Teamed with Eli’s Rosemary and Olive Crackers (also sold there) and you’ve got one heck of an appetizer at your next shindig.

Runner Up: Robusto, at Whole Foods in Time Warner Center, anything from Artisinal



Best Restaurant Appetizer:

Italian eatery Cesca on West 75th has been a neighborhood mainstay for years… and while they aren’t known as an “elite” destination, their Cauliflower Fritti may be one of the best dishes in New York City. Think crisp, fresh cauliflower, delicately battered and fried, sprinkled with fresh lemon juice and served piping hot. For me, a cocktail and a bowl of this stuff is all I really need in life.



Best Baked Item:

Love them or hate them, Empanada Joe’s has an impressive little pie that can hit the spot. Although some of the flavors can be hit or miss, the beef are worth the trip and are sold in boxes of a dozen if you have a crowd at home.

Runner Up: Cheese puffs from Murray’s Cheese



Best Turkish Joint Nobody Knows About:

I still believe Zeytin is serving NY’s best Turkish food, but Akdeniz on West 46th is a terrific place to discover. Their falafel is moist and crisp, their hummus tangy and nearly perfect… and their kababs delicious. The kicker? It’s all affordable.



Best Item to Bring Home and Grill:

I hesitate to write this, as I consider it my secret… but the parsley and cheese sausage at Faicco’s Pork Store in the West Village (home of the rice ball) may be the best sausage in New York City, period. Buy it in their “ring”, bring it home and grill it. The flavor is one of a kind… and that’s coming from a crazy sausage eating Cajun like myself.

Runner Up: Dry Aged Rib Eye Steak from Ottamanelli's on Bleeker.



Best Falafel:

The king, and still champion… Maoz. With a new location on the Upper West Side, more New Yorkers are starting to become believers. If you haven’t tried it, you owe it to yourself to make a visit.

Runner Up: Olympic Pita



Best Slice of Old New York:

Keen’s may have years of history… but a trip to Frankie and Johnnie's in Midtown is like falling into one of the Godfather movies. Yes, years ago you needed to whisper a password through the front door… but today, after a climb up the stairs – a delicious pre-theatre steak awaits… and a decent crabmeat cocktail at that.

Runner Up: Peter Lugar in Brooklyn.



Best Bar to Close A Deal:

Stone Rose in the Time Warner Center may be the sexiest bar in Manhattan. The drinks are crazy expensive, but the view over Central Park is worth the coin…. and the snacks are good as well.

Runner Up: Mini Bar at The Muse on 46th.

Let The Mobile Blogging Begin!

That's right... Fork New York has gone mobile! So stay tuned for faster updates about all of your favorite eats in and around NYC!


Andre

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Danku: Not For Me

As the fast food craze continues, Danku sets up shop and looks for their crowd....




As I have mentioned before, I am all about fast food. Especially fried food. I am from Louisiana. We fry food, then we fry it again.

That's why when I saw that Danku, the new sudo-euro-strangemenu-thingy opened in midtown, I was excited. Yum! Fried stuff.

Well, the excitement didn't last.

What I learned was that the fried egg roll looking thingy was actual a Kroket... a food I was familiar with traveling in Northern Europe... and not that fond of.

What is a kroket? Well, picture this.... a large, egg roll shaped object, fried crispy on the outside, filled with raw goo. And when I say raw goo, I mean pasty, snotty, raw flavored goo.

Danku offers many flavors of their raw goo rolls.... beef, chicken curry, salmon dill, mac and cheese (they were out of this one), spinach and artichoke... you get the picture.

To make matters worse, they offer these in a "meal deal" with a fancy boxed salad.


Let me first say that while I wasn't thrilled that the kroket had emerged in the USA, I went in with an open mind (and palate). Surely, you can make a kroket 10 different ways? But sure enough, this was the same kroket that I had tasted in Amsterdam, and thought... ugggh. That's when I hit the Maoz stand and became a lifelong fan of their falafel, the best in the world.

While I am no big fan of the kroket (and I eat everything fried mind you) the rest of the menu looked ok.... a few satay choices, some salads and sandwiches, etc..... lots of organic garb. But when you hang your hat on serving the kroket, well, you have a problem.




So the final grade? Well, for the kroket itself, I bestow a healthy D+, as while this isn't my thing you may certainly have a taste for these. For the rest of the joint, when you take away the kroket, it becomes one of a hundred "healthy choice" stores that litter Manhattan.

Danku
47 W 57th St - Btwn 5th & 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019

212 888-3777

Thursday, December 11, 2008

FORK GOES FAST FOOD

With A Glut Of New Joints, Let's Take A Look At Who's Making A Mark


Let's face it, we all do it. Sure, I'd like to tell you I had a Chef Salad for lunch, but the truth is I likely had 2 King-Koti Rolls from the Biryani Cart on 46th and 6th.

Fast food, cart food, you name it.... is part of our lives. From the celebrated "regular slice" to the Grays Papaya Hot Dog, NY is famous for fast eats.... and now the marketplace is changing.

For some reason, fast food concepts like trying out their wares in Manhattan. I'm not completely sure why, as New Yorkers can be the most difficult to please in the world... but as the song says "if I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere".

To begin my series on funky new fast food joints, I'll begin with a food that is near and dear to my heart.

Empanadas.

Two weeks ago I was a few blocks west of the office and stumbled upon the new chain of sublime fried pies, "Empanada Joes".

Let me first qualify these remarks by letting you know that I basically exist for anything a. in the shape of a dumpling or pie, and b. fried, baked or steamed in any way (this would include deep fried, pan fried, wok steamed, boiled in butter, etc, etc).

Let's break it down shall we?

THE JOINT

Empanada Joes is a sterile, funky little space. There is no thoughts of a far away land (or even Mexico) and certainly no romance here. There isn't even a comfy seat... but I am guessing they planned it that way - eat your stuff and kindly get out. Grade: C-

THE ATTITUDE

People at the location I went to were overly friendly... which in New York, could get you killed. It is the ultimate cheese factor when management insists you greet some guy at the door 30 feet away with a "Hi, What Can I Get You", when you can't even see the freaking menu much less have a plan of action. Grade D

THE MENU

The menu is poorly designed and conceived. They basically offer an array of empanadas you can order ala carte or with possibly the worst tasting, undercooked side dishes ever created. The menu doesn't offer as many meal options as you would like, or add-ons (extra this or that, without ordering a whole new meal)... and for this they are losing money. GRADE: C-

THE FOOD

Well, here comes the good news. Aside from the side dishes.... and I'll expand here.... a black bean and rice dish that was described as well seasoned if not spicy, was actually unedible.... and nearly frozen as it had been in the cold case for a day or two..... anyway, ASIDE from the side dishes, the empanadas are solid. These pies aren't "oh my god pull the car over there is an Empanada Joe's" good, but I would certainly consider grabbing a dozen of these for a football party.

I had two pies, one Argentine Beef which was very good.... and one "CheeseSteak" which was average, and had nothing to do with a cheese steak in anyway. The verdict?
FOOD: B (except the sides, that get an F)

THE FINAL TALLY

This is a good effort and idea, but these guys need to forget about the bells and whistles and sell freaking empanadas. You should have about 20 different ways to order as many or as few as you want in a value pack, and they should give the nutritional/healthy spin that surrounds this place a rest. Note to Empanada Joe's: YOU SELL EMPANADAS. This eat beautiful, feel beautiful ad campaign you have needs to be rethought. I don't know about you, but after I eat 4 or 5 large empanadas, I don't feel beautiful.

OVERALL: C+ Go for the pie, and forget the rest. And oh yea... get it to go.


UPDATE!!!!! UPDATE!!!! UPDATE!!!!!!

After being contacted by Empanada Joes (who were not actually thrilled by this post) I stand corrected... the pies are actually baked, not fried. So , I offer and extra kudos for their ability to bake and NOT fry these tasty treats..... but please, fix your side dishes... they are still unedible.



NEXT UP: MY LUNCH AT DANKU; WHAT THE HELL AM I EATING?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Dishes That Make New York Great

It May Not Always Be A Restaurant That Makes Your Head Spin In NYC



I consider myself a street scavenger. No matter where I am walking, in any neighborhood... I am fascinated with what people are eating. Local stores, food carts, butcher shops... you name it. It's this food that becomes the fabric of the neighborhood... and shapes the tastes of a community.

For over 107 years, Faicco's Butcher Shop in the West Village has been that place. Situated about 10 feet west of the famous "Murray's" cheese shop on Bleeker Street, Faicco's has remained a constant in a city of change. I can only hope they are around for another 107.

What makes Faicco's great is the pride and skill behind their products. From trimmed pork products to incredible homemade sausages (cheese and parsley which is incredible, broccoli rabe... and sweet italian with fennel to name a few) Faicco's has separated itself from the local butcher shop to a gourmet destination.

As much as I love everything these guys make and sell… the dish that stands out are Faicco's “rice balls”…. known to the world as arancini. It’s hard to convey just how incredible these are, but I can tell you that I have made trips to Faicco's just to buy a bag of them… and from what I can tell, their appeal is no secret to the locals.

What is a rice ball? Well, for any hushpuppy loving Cajun like myself, it is a bite of pure ecstasy. Imagine a perfectly shaped ball (slightly larger than a golf ball and just as heavy), filled with creamy rice and mild Italian cheese, lightly breaded and fried. Hell, I guess it’s the Italian version of the hushpuppy.

How you enjoy this little dude is up to you. The preferred way is to heat them in the oven until warm, and served with a little fresh marinara over the top or on the side (Faicco's sells them room temp in the store). My problem is I can rarely get them home.

These are so good, I usually just rip the bag open and begin eating them right there on the sidewalk in front of the store. Last weekend I got them home, but was so excited I ate the bag before the oven could preheat.

It is truly, one of the best dishes in New York City, and for .75 cents a pop, a good deal at that. If you are having a dinner party anytime soon, these should be secret weapon #1.

By the way, a trip to Faicco's can be about more that pork and rice balls…. their Italian market is charming and offers an array of imported items (from pasta to good tomatoes) to have you cooking all weekend.

So now you know. Faicco's. Just another gem that makes NYC the best place to eat in the world. I’ll see ya there (I’ll be the guy eating rice balls on the street).

Address-
260 Bleeker Street
NYC, NY

212-243-1974



Photos courtesy of Roadfood.com

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MAOZ COMES TO THE UPPER WEST

It’s crowded, confusing and annoying, but it’s still the best falafel in NYC



Being a resident of the Upper West Side for nearly 3 years, I’ve watched in amazement as the area continues to turn into a NYC food destination.

Sure, the opening of the Time Warner Center was the spark, but then entered noted chefs, long time brands, and even…. well, even Shake Shack.

What this means is that the overall feeling towards dining on the Upper West has changed, and so have the people who call it home. Instead of moderately priced average tasting fare, Upper West Siders have made it clear… cook well and we will pay. Hence, the onslaught of swanky new digs (Bar Boulud, Bloomingdale Road, etc).


Well, when the big boys move in and set up shop, so do the less-expensive newbies such as international vegetarian chain Maoz. I have been a long time Maoz lover, having had my first delish falafel outside the train station in Amsterdam about 4 years ago. Since then, Maoz has expanded their euro operation into the US market, and NYC has been the beneficiary of a few locations, including their newest at 70th and Amsterdam.

It took about 24 hours after opening for me to make my way to the new store, a much closer jaunt for me from my UWS digs than the tiny Maoz that opened on Union Square, some 75 blocks south… about a year ago.


As with any opening, there is good and bad, so here we go:


THE GOOD

Well, it’s Maoz. This is the most flavorful, best tasting falafel in New York, period. You may find larger (Moshe Cart on 46th) or cheaper (just about anywhere) but this recipe works so well it converted even me, lover of all meat and seafood, to crave the stuff.

Even better is the homemade bread, and veggie bar, that exists for you to dress YOUR falafel, the way YOU want it. It’s the old “Have It Your Way” Burger King idea, except you dress the thing… more like the old “Burger Chef” chain…. Remember Burger Chef and Jeff? Crap, I’m getting old.

The Belgian fries are good if you eat in… but not so good if you take them home, unless soggy is your thing.

THE BAD


Well, this store needs to get its act together. The lines are long. The menu is confusing as hell. People have no idea how to order. There is no method or flow at the veggie bar, so it is chaos getting to it, and then making your falafel. It’s expensive. The wait is too long.


THE VERDICT


I don’t care. I’m such an addict I would wait for an hour in a blizzard for the stuff. But what I do hope (and have no reason not to believe) is that they get their act together like the Union Square store, and make the place run smoothly.





BONUS

Want a bonus? The store is next door to PinkBerry. It’s falafel and fro-yo on the go-go.

Welcome to the UWS, Maoz. It’s great to have you as a neighbor!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Patsy's Is The New KING OF PIZZA in NYC

It Really Is The Best Pie In New York City



It's wasn't long ago when a friend of mine and I were talking food, and the subject of pizza came up.

"Well, Mr. Fork New York, where do you go?", he remarked.

This is a trick question. Everyone in NY knows there are literally 10 places to get world class pie from... so I thought carefully before I responded.

"Grimaldi's", I answered.

But I was lying. I could have said DiFara, John's, Daniello's, Otto... well, you get the picture.

It was then he confessed to me that he believed the best pizza in the city is on the Upper West Side at Patsy's.

I dismissed this claim until a month ago, when sure enough I found myself walking down the street in front of the very same Patsy's he had anointed King Of Pizzas.

So, of course, I went in.

From the moment I walked through the door, I knew I was in trouble. The smell was fantastic... the crowd was buzzing... the pizzas were flying around the room, landing on small stands that were hovering 10 inches about the tables. Cold Stella filled old draft mugs.

Quickly I sat down, and got started with a terrific arugula salad. (warning, this salad can feed a family of four and still give you enough for a doggie bag home).

But before I ruined my appetite, I ordered a sausage and onion pizza... and waited in expectation.

In 20 minutes, the pizza arrived.... and the rest is a blur.

This was one of the best pizza's I've ever tasted... not just in NYC.... but anywhere.

The crust was perfect... thin, crispy and worthy of holding onto the toppings without falling apart.

The toppings were homemade and terrific. The sauce delicious balance of sweet and bold... and the cheese obviously homemade. The wood burning oven was magical and I could taste the amazing aroma of the oven.

How had I missed this in the past?

I devoured this poor pizza, who didn't have a chance.

So, here, I now profess.... Patsy' as the best pizza in Manhattan.

Until I find the next joint.



61 W 74th St
New York 10023

(Btwn CPW & Columbus Ave)

Phone:
(212) 579-3000
Fax:
(212) 579-7075

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

CAJUN BREAKTHROUGH

Holy Crap, Those People Are Deep Frying Sausage.... Thank God



Leave it to the folks in South Louisiana to push the envelope of culinary creativity.

On my recent escapade to the hot, sticky land we call South Louisiana, I happened upon a new boudin "treatment" that I just have to share.

As many of you who love cajun food know, the "boudin ball" has become a Baton Rouge/New Orleans staple. Plain and simple, a boudin ball is a ball of rice and meat (boudin sausage filling), rolled into the size of a traditional hushpuppy, and deep fried. Most credit the birth of the commercial boudin ball to Tony's Seafood Market, on Plank Road in Baton Rouge. Today, you can find them in hundreds of markets, restaurants and gas stations.

What I learned over the weekend was that you didn't need to shape and fry and boudin ball to enjoy fried boudin.

My friends at Bellue's, a cajun company that primarily makes ready to prepare cajun foods in Baton Rouge, has launched their own fried boudin treat...but not a ball.

It's the entire link.

That's right, you remove the casing, and deep fry the entire sausage link. What you get is a hot and crispy link, slightly crunchy on the outside and moist and hot in the middle. It's genius.

As I quizzed the kitchen staff at Bellue's, they confessed there wasn't much to the magic... they simply removed the casing and fried at room temp. Having fried many a boudin ball in my day, I found this hard to believe (these things like to cook apart)... but they showed me first hand their process... and sure enough, it worked.

As I haven't been in Louisiana on a regular basis for a while, I'm not sure if this method has spread throughout cajun country... but I am guessing it may very well have.

It just goes to show you, there is always something new happening with food down south. This just happens to be my cup of tea.



To read about the best boudin in the world, visit my favorite site on the subject, and what makes their boudin the best.....

(by the way, you can order delicious boudin and jalapeno cheese bread from Bourque's, but the best boudin on this planet is made at Jerry Lee's Kwik Stop)


CAJUN ALERT


If you happen to be driving through the Scott, Louisiana area anytime soon, I would highly recommend you stop your damn car, get out, and eat one of these.



That's right, it's the greatest Pork Chop Sandwich on the planet. A perfect chop.... marinated, seasoned and resting quietly between two pieces of innocent white bread. This is just about as good as it gets.

You can find 'em at Don's Specialty Meats... tell 'em Andre sent ya.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Best Italian in Manhattan?

Andre's Favorite Italian "Traditional" Restaurant of the Year is Da Umberto



As a true Pastafarian, I have long said that there is amazing italian in the most unlikely places....

Sometimes, you have to scream it from the rafters.

There are restaurants in NYC that actual do italian as well as Mario :)

One of my very favorites may in fact be one of, if not the best in NYC..... I visited Da Umberto several months ago, and here is what I thought then.... and now.




Fork New York: The Archive

Before I actually lived in New York, I questioned if in fact New York was the best restaurant city in the world. I had traveled to London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin and others.... and had lived in Chicago and Los Angeles... not to mention growing up 60 miles from New Orleans. But after moving to NYC several years ago, it didn't take long for the realization to set in... NYC is simply the best restaurant city in the world.

A constant reminder of this realization occured only days ago, as I visited a remarkable Italian restaurant... that in many cities would be considered "the best" in town. Of course in New York, it is "one of the best".

The spot?... Da Umberto, the classic destination in Chelsea. And surprise, surprise. This joint isn't owned and operated by Super Mario.

Simply put, Da Umberto is the type of restaurant that makes NYC great. It is unassuming, unpretentious, truly authentic and incredibly delicious. Here's the skinny.

Those NY'ers that are keen to tricks and gadgets will smile at the door of Da Umberto's. Why? At the door you aren't greeted by a hostess stand or stuffy waiter.. but a coat rack. That's right, your are in the foyer of someone's home, and that's how you are made to feel. Come on in.

After a glass of prosecco at the bar (thank you Rocco), we made our way into the middle of the deep, narrow dining room to find a spacious spot. The three of us settled in and began to try and figure out where in the hell those amazing smells were coming from.

With one of our party having a good deal of Da Umberto experience, he put the evening in the hands of our terrific waiter. The waiter suggested a menu of many tastes... a plate of mixed grilled and marinated vegetables (Da Umberto antipasto) with a sauteed jumbo shrimp in garlic cream and a smoky, grilled baby squid that was out of this world.



Next, a plate of sliced proscuitto (perfect), sopressata (one of my favorites), mortadella (simple) and chunks of aged parmigiano reggiano (very high quality, with some salty crystals lurking within).

Not to miss a sampling of pasta, we all received a small plate of remarkable bites... the first, a handmade mushroom ravioli topped with black truffle cream... along side a spaghetti with fresh tomatoes rendered in pancetta fat. Outstanding.

As good as the first three course were, the meats and fish to come were worth waiting for.

The veal milanese, pounded thin, breaded and pan fried was topped with a saute of cherry tomatoes and arugula. The sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula were terrific... but after one bite of the tender veal I realized the cutlet had been fried in pure butter. Wow.

Not to be outdone, my colleagues enjoyed a venison osso bucco... rich and tender over a bed of perfect risotto... and a whole roasted monk fish, grilled to perfection on the bone. Topped with lemon and thyme, the dish was truly authentic and tasted as good as it smelled.


Desert looked amazing... a cart of treats including a 10 pound bowl of tiramisu... a gigantic offering unlike anything I had ever seen. Next visit, I'll remember this and try and save room.

So by now you are likely getting the drift that I like... no love, Da Umberto's. When you combine terrific staff, feel, food and ambiance, it's hard to miss. No, this isn't a cheap night (think $60-80 per person without wine)... but the dinner tab will cost you much less than a trip to Rome. Of course, a few bottles of wine and you could fly coach to Venice, but I'll leave that up to you.

Additionally, you should be dressed. One thing I noticed was there were no slackers waiting for a table, and the crowd was dressed to kill. Nice.

Lastly, call ahead. This isn't a place you can just "drop in" on and get a killer table. This is a special place, so treat it as such.

When the holiday season rolls around, I take time to thank my lucky stars for the things in this life that make me truly happy.


Thank you Da Umberto's....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ocean Grill: A Neighborhood Favorite Shines

It's An Upper West Secret, And Folks Around Here Like It That Way


Without question, the Upper West Side restaurant scene is again a hot topic. With spots like The Mermaid Inn, Dovetail, Bar Boulud and Eighty One getting mucho press, it would seem that the area is evolving into…. wait for it…. a destination-filled neighborhood of quality eateries. Is there really a Shake Shack on the horizon?

Truth be told, there are many solid places to eat on the Upper West…. and even though the area gets hammered by the culinary elite, the locals above 59th like to keep secrets to themselves. One of those secrets may very well be Ocean Grill.

Being from South Louisiana, I’ve never been motivated to eat fish in a restaurant located farther than 75 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Having grown up eating fresh red snapper, drum, grouper, croaker, etc…. I have come to love fish that don’t taste like, well, fish.

But being hungry for a shellfish dinner this weekend, I happily rolled into Ocean Grill (a BR Guest Restaurant) and decided to approach this “north of the border” spot with an open mind.

I was pleasantly surprised.

First, Ocean Grill is a handsome spot. You can dress down, but with a sleek décor you may not want to…. as I noticed most of the people coming in were dressed for dinner.

The menu is a bit strange at first, as most traditional seafood restaurants don’t usually offer sushi, sashimi and maki rolls…. but then it makes sense. If you have a place full of fresh fish, why wouldn’t you serve sushi?

The menu also offers a list of tempting appetizers that include the obligatory Maryland Crab Cake and Fried Calmari, but it was the Bamboo Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (a very close cousin to those found at sister restaurant Ruby Foo’s) that did it for me. Served with a ginger soy sauce and full of freshly minced shrimp, they were a great start.

It was about this time my ordering veered away from standard fare, and went the way of the shellfish.

Next we enjoyed a large platter of Jonah Crab Claws. A pound of these, about 25 claws laid over a bed of crushed ice ($41), were reminiscent of the stone crab claws made famous at Joe’s, one of our Miami favorites. Served with both cocktail and seasoned mayo, the waiter suggested and delivered a cup of melted butter that elevated the dish another notch. These were delicious, and could be a reason we swing by another day for an afternoon treat.

The main course was just arriving, and as you might have guessed, we stayed the course and ordered a couple of 2-pound lobsters. The fine folks at Ocean Grill will either steam, broil or grill your lobster, and we chose the traditional steamed version, likely out of habit. They will also shell and clean your lobster, an option I highly recommend if it’s one of those days you don’t feel like getting your hands dirty.

The lobsters were quite good… firm and tender, prepared just right. Served with roasted fingerling potatoes and garlicky broccoli rabe, the dish didn’t disappoint.

Those who come to Ocean Grill looking for fish will find numerous options, including roasted cod, horseradish crusted salmon, a familiar Chilean Sea Bass, big eye tuna and a crabmeat crusted mahi-mahi. All of these looked great strolling past us, but none made us think twice about the lobster dinner we were devouring.

Deserts are another story, as the list was inventive and impressive. Topping the list was a chocolate fondue that made saying no just a bit more painful…. But we were glad we passed as a perfect draw of espresso was all we needed to cap a perfect early supper.

As we were exiting the space, the hostess presented us with a few treat to take home, a bad of sweet muffins to enjoy later… a nice touch.

I think it’s likely we’ll be back in the future to try a few different items, as the location and quality of Ocean Grill is to good to pass up. Albeit pricy, it’s a pleasant locale…. even for those who are tough to please.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Artisanal: A Murray Hill Gem

Andre’s Brunch Tour Continues… with Cheese



For years I’ve loved the charm of the Murray Hill area of Manhattan, in an almost jealous way. I guess it’s been a question of just who lives there…. and I’ve always looked at the neighborhood in two ways. First….. where the hell is everyone? And second, where the hell did all of these people come from?

Regardless of my musings, the neighborhood has its share of great restaurants, and for my money Artisanal is one of them.


First, for those of you who love walking into authentic Parisian bistros, you are in luck. The room screams Paris, with cozy banquettes, tiled floors and warmly lit glass globes. Thankfully, there is plenty of elbow room here…. An attribute that comes in handy when your table runneth over with cheese.

Speaking of cheese, this is somewhat of a cheese Mecca. It’s like Murray’s, with a restaurant attached. Even for those of us who know our cheese, the well crafted menu can be overwhelming, so do what I did…. solicit help.

The other thing that leaps out at you is the massive wine list that offers every selection by the glass. Fairly priced, there is something here for everyone…. you’ll approve.

My Saturday afternoon visit was one of bliss, as my “brunch tour” of Manhattan continues… and if you are like me and enjoy mixing sweet and savory tastes around 1:00pm on a lazy Saturday, you are in luck.


The menu includes a few items you might expect…. oysters and clams, salads, snails, soups, omlettes and sandwiches…. but throw in a pot of rich, hot fondue with bread cubes, air-dried beef, fingerling potatoes, kielbasa, beef tips and apples… and well, now you’re talking.


If you’re looking for something heartier, you can opt for a plate of soft scrambled eggs with hanger steak, a shallow skillet of decadent macaroni and cheese, a spring vegetable risotto or a pulled Berkshire pork sandwich. Of course those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed with the almond croissant French toast.

So the Fork New York verdict?

Me likey. I found the place fun and delicious, and priced fairly for a restaurant of this quality. The cheese is pricey, but pulling in this amount of artisan fare isn’t a cheap proposition, so I can’t slam them for it. I’d advise going easy on the cheese and heavy on the plate fare if budget is a concern. There are also lunch and brunch prix fixe deals which are good buys.

These guys are easy to find (right off of Park Avenue on 32nd), and offer reservations on Open Table. I’d suggest you throw on a beret and get over there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Madeleine Mae: A Change Of Pace on The UWS

Like It Or Not, I Have An Opinion




This proud southerner has noticed that newcomer Madeleine Mae is causing a stir on the Upper West Side.

Critics have been quick to pan this newly opened restaurant/café, but I am not. That said, I feel the need to fire back, so call this my “rebellious rebuttal” to the over-analyzing food sect.

Attention Bruni lovers and Chowhound faithful: Give it a rest.

First, understand what Madeleine Mae is not. This is not a Creole gem such as New Orleans famous “Dookie Chase”. This is not a Cajun imposter, like the recently closed UWS Jacques-Imo’s. This isn’t really a soul/creole/Cajun place at all. Really.

The feel of Madeleine Mae is that of Carolina breeze. This is home to comfort food with an original, nostalgic twist. An unusual shrimp and grits dish, biscuits and cornbreads, sides of greens, mac and cheese, fish dishes and plates of pork loin. Neatly mixed cocktails and a menu of “Rhum Cures”… (rum that is infused with other flavors such as vanilla, banana, cinnamon, etc). Tempting desserts that are worth saving room for.

All of it slightly overpriced for the UWS (shrimp and grits $15.95 for a small side dish portion), but accessible and often delicious.

I’d encourage you to visit Madeleine Mae just about anytime, but without question, this is a brunch joint. The menu provides an interesting mix at dinner, but the brunch menu is full of real temptation.

I’ll set the table for you.

It’s a gorgeous, lazy Saturday afternoon about 2pm. You and the other have dropped the dog at the “Canine Ranch” for an afternoon of playtime. Needing to unwind from an aggressive week of work tasks you left unfinished (you need a raise, and some of the others in the office to allow you to catch your breath), you wander across the street to Madeleine Mae and to ask for the table tucked inside of the open French doors, facing the sidewalk. You are seated.

You pause and think, “this is all good”.

Instantly, the space smells of yumness. The place isn’t crowded, but there are people. You promptly get a menu, and are asked if a cocktail, beer or Rhum cure is in order. You oblige.

The menu reveals fantastic frittatas, large impressive omelets and thick smoky bacon coked to order. This would be an easy decision if not for the sweet and savory French toast, biscuits and gravy and possibly the best Meyer lemon pancakes in Manhattan. Of course there are fresh fruit options and lighter fare as well. You notice these aren’t “Denny’s” prices, but you also realize that you aren’t at “Denny’s”. For this, you are grateful.

After sipping your last sip of champagne, your brunch arrives… looking and smelling terrific. About that time your Rhum cure arrives, and you begin to slip into your Saturday afternoon in style.

This is the part where you ask to see the dinner menu out of pure curiosity. You note the items that might bring you back, and then dismiss them as you have now named Madeleine Mae “your” brunch spot. The check comes; you finish your last sip of vanilla infused rum, and head for the door. Your companion says, “you see, I told you that you would like this place.”

As you leave, you see a couple… asking for the table tucked inside the French doors, and smile.

So, enough… foodie haters. Take a moment and realize that if the bread isn’t heated to 81 degrees, or if the soup is in a bread bowl instead of a heated cup, the world isn’t going to end. There are many reasons why we can love a space, and for me Madeleine Mae offers me several to choose from.

After all, this is my brunch place.




Madeleine Mae
461 Columbus Ave. (W. 82nd St.)
New York, NY 10024
212-496-3000


Note: My friends at Madeleine Mae have their faults. An unfinished website and no menupages listing is a kiss of death. My message: Get your act together on the digital side and sell your business. You’ve earned it.

Photo Credit: Steven Richter

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happy Birthday Justin

No restaurant review today, just a tip of the hat to a true Louisiana original, Justin Wilson.

Today is the birthday, in 1914, of Justin Wilson, in Roseland, Louisiana.

I first heard of Justin from my Grandmother (my Nonnie) who sometimes spoke of Justin, as she new him as a boy. She was from Amite, Louisiana (just north of Roseland)... and new everyone in the parish. She often laughed when she heard him speak, as she didn't remember the "thick" cajun accent as they grew up.

He was not exactly a Cajun, but that didn't stop him from becoming the world's best-known ambassador of Cajun culture. He picked up most of his style, "speech", and stories while working along Bayou Lafourche as a young man. He first came to public attention with his comedy routines, but soon he started talking about cooking. Wilson's pioneering television cooking shows became among the most popular of their kind. The recipes, it must be said, were less than brilliant. He was not a stickler for using the best ingredients, and never had a problem using canned this or that. But that's quite authentic. Justin Wilson died in 2001, but his TV shows are still in circulation, his many cookbooks still sell well, and his Cajun jokes are still being repeated--I garontee.

Long live the memory of Justin Wilson.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Fork NY Top 10 Under $10

Need Something to Snack On For A Few Bucks?... Here are a few of the best.....





In this city, you can get anything. No, really. Anything. But sometimes, that realization can just be too much. What if you just want fast, yummy and simple?

Enter street food.

I qualify street food as anything you can grab from a small store or deli, foodcart, etc... and consume on the street, upright. While I could have named 10 pizza places as well as 20 hamburger places, I have focused here on joints that do real volume, and care about chatter. The list is a diverse gathering of meals, snacks and sweet treats.


So without further ado, here are Andre's Top 10 Under $10. I'll see you at the counter.




10. Hot Dog, Grays Papaya

This isn’t a copout, but a tip of the hat to the guys who have been the backbone of streetfood in NYC for decades. If you haven’t been as of late, the juice is still cold and the perfect snapskin hot dogs warm and toasty. As inflation goes, still affordable at buck and a quarter.

9. Chicken and Rice, Halal Cart at 53 and 6th
The fun is gone with this once “insiders” 3am dinner stop, but that doesn’t change the fact that their chicken and rice container, heaped with grilled pita and topped with magic white sauce (and a spray of spicy) is pure heaven. By the way, this 4pm to 4am cart still demands lines of a half a block and more.


8. Cheesesteak, 95 Miles to philly

There is something about a really good Philly cheesesteak (other than congestive heart failure) and nobody in NYC delivers better than this shop, on 3rd Ave btw 12th and 13th. The beauty of 99 Miles is that it is the same joint you would find in Philly, with the same taste…. Warm chewy bread, filled with steak, onions and whiz. Love it love it love it.


7. Lamb Pita, Kwik Meal Cart (45th and 6th)

Yes, it’s all that and more. Muhammed Rahman used to be a chef at the Russian Tea Room, and is now proprietor of one of the best street-food carts in NYC. Although you can make very few if any bad choices on this menu, the lamb pita stands out as one of the best sandwich options above 14th Street, and the lines at lunch are a good indication that the locals agree. I also recommend the falafel and chicken and rice plate.



6. Cuban Sandwich, Margon

There are dozens of respectable Cuban dives in the city, but Margon does it without the fanfare and high prices. Tucked away in midtown and a skip from Times Square, this mom and pop serves terrific Cuban food, and what could be one of the best Cuban sandwiches in the city. Word on the street is they are now serving these on egg bread as well…..


5. Creampuffs, Beard Papa’s
OK, I admit it. I have ridden the subway to the West Village to buy a box of these lighter than air creampuffs, and eaten every one of them before I could get them home. Twice. These gems are hard to describe, other than heavenly. Freshly baked puffs filled with light flavored cream, while you wait. Thank god they opened on the Upper West, at least now I have a fighting chance of getting 2 or 3 of them back to the apartment.


4. Caramel Crisp and Cheese Popcorn, Garrett’s Popcorn
I first became an addict years ago while living in Chicago, when the smell of their caramelcrisp popcorn would waft down Michigan Avenue. When they moved to Manhattan recently, I knew the reaction would be incredible, and it was. If you haven’t been, go today…. or send yourself a tin online :)

3. Spicy Hot Chocolate, Jacques Torres
I love drinks you can chew, but this is insane. Imagine a glass of smooth, creamy drinkable hot fudge, add some spice and heavy cream… and there you have it. The best cup of hot chocolate on the planet. Now on the Upper West as well.


2. Nutter Butter Cookie, Bouchon Bakery
There is nothing average with anything that comes out of this kitchen in the Time Warner Center, but the sweets are extraordinary. This cookie is the king of their cookie empire, and the line at the counter is a good example of people who have no reservations about shelling out $5 to get one.


1. Falafel Sandwich with Fries, Maoz
I fell in love with Maoz several years ago in Amsterdam, and when this store moved into NYC, I was there on opening day. NOTE: If you are a falafel fan, there is simply none better in New York. Again, hear me people…this is the best falafel in the city. Add killer Belgian fries and a bar of condiments to make your own sandwich, the way YOU like it, and well…. you’ve made Andre’s “best of” list, haven’t you.








note: Andre steals photos from all over the universe to add to his non-profit food blog. If there is a photo of yours here, please let me know so I can credit you, or ask me to remove and I will :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

10 New York City Dishes You Can't Miss

A 2008 Spring Round-Up of The Best of the Best

Yes, New York is full of terrific spots... but one thing is certain... New Yorkers love to single out their favorite dishes. Let me give you an example.

Friend: "How was your weekend?"
Andre: "Great! We ate at Otto Saturday night."
Friend: "Otto! Well did you have the cheese plate with the truffled honey?"
Andre: "Of course I did, don't be stupid."

Case in point. As good as any one restaurant may be, it's the special dishes themselves that drive traffic.

So below, I give you my early 2008 list of killer dishes.... sit down style. In the coming days, I'll post my "casual" list, but for now here is a checklist for you to work on as you make those reservations!


10. Crispy Tuna Roll, Koi

Made famous in LA, the NY outpost of Koi carries on the tradition with great care. What is it? Well, first you combine fresh minced tuna with fine scallions and mix it in a creamy hot sauce to create a thick tuna mixture you can form into fingers. Next, you take a same-sized finger of sushi rice, and actually “grill” it on an open fire BBQ, giving the rice a crispy, smoky flavor. You place the tuna on top of the rice and finish with a thin slice of jalapeno… and presto… you have the most popular sushi dish on the west coast. I’ll see you there.

9. Plantain Fried Rice with Avocado Salad, Asia De Cuba

Another dish I first tried at The Mondrian in Los Angeles, this terrific side dish can be had in all its glory here in The Morgans Hotel. You’d never think that this combination would work, but the guac piled on top of this heaping bowl of rice is magical.

8. Black Spaghetti with rock shrimp, spicy salami calabrese and green chiles, Babbo

It’s hard to believe that a pasta dish can be one of the best in the city, but when Mario is cooking, look out. This is a dish I had in a pasta sampler a while back, and it knocked me out. If you are interested in eating at Babbo anytime soon, you may find yourself in the bar…. rezo’s are a month at best right now.

7. Texas Pink Grapefruit Soup infused with green cardamon, star anise, and tahitian vanilla, Bouley
Only David Bouley could cook up an idea like this and make it amazing… and yes, this is one amazing dish. So good, it’s part of his award-winning tasting menu. One thing is for sure.. there are few places in the city more special on a chilly Saturday night than settling into Bouley’s “living room” for a killer meal.

6. Roasted Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Craftsteak

Simply put, this is the best mushroom in the world. When you pan roast it in butter and serve it along side a perfectly cooked filet, you have an OMG moment. It eats like a steak itself… with a flavor that will send you searching gourmet grocers across the city. If only I could find them at retail.

5. Corn Creme Brulee, Quality Meats

I appreciate a good, creative side dish… and this one is just that. Fresh, crisp corn in a creamy base and toasted on top… between this and the buttered edamame, Quality Meats knows their side dishes.




4. Truffle Egg Toast with bottarga, inoteca

This has been on my list for 2 years running now, and how can you leave it off? Inoteca is one of the NY's best wine stops, and with perfect panini and dishes like this, it only seems to get better.

3. Sautéed Shrimp frisée, artichokes & capers, Landmarc

The new kid on the block in the Time Warner Center is turning heads… not only for it’s approachability, but for their great tasting dishes. This salad, perfectly balanced with a warm vinaigrette and fresh sautéed shrimp may be the best salad in the city at the moment.

2. Fried Chicken "Blue Ribbon Style" wasabi & honey, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill
Blue Ribbon has always been known for fried chicken, and their best version now lives in Midtown. Crispy and delicate, it’s bizarre location on a killer sushi menu is at first a head-scratcher, until you taste it.

1. Sweet Potato Agnolotti with pecan, craft
I wish I could write something clever here, but words can't sum up just how good this dish is. Yes, this is THE best pasta dish in the city at the moment (sorry Mario) and as an extra bonus, it just happens to be at craft.


COMING SOON: Andre's Top 10 Dishes You Can Eat Standing Up......

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

craft : Is There A Better Night Out?

Now 7 Years Young, A Serious Chef Continues to Prove His Point



As someone who loves food and who has now lived in NYC for several years, I recently asked myself an important question.

How can you have never been to craft?

I’d been to craftbar, craftsteak… hell even ‘wichcraft. But never the jewel, craft.

A few days ago, that all changed.

As a foodie and proud NYC food blogger I am a believer in the skill of Tom Colicchio… and have always believed that one day he too would have his moment in the sun… aside from his sporadic television appearances, that is.

Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for, if in fact this would pull him away from working his magic at his stores, for ‘wich I am truly grateful.

My trip to 19th Street would confirm my irrational fear.

My inagural visit to craft began at 6pm on a Saturday evening. A simple cab ride dropped me at the door, and once inside my dining partner and I were warmly greeted and sat at once.

The menu at craft is a greenmarket approach to dining, and one I love. Truly ala carte in everyway, the menu relies on what’s fresh…. today. Even though the dishes may rotate from time to time, the seasonal approach to this cuisine is refreshing if not highly anticipated.

Even though there is a tempting tasting menu, I went the route of selecting individual courses, which was the right decision. With so many terrific options, I just wanted to “craft” a wider array of dishes, and I did. The service was professional, personal and spot on.

What did we eat?

I started with a pasta dish that literally left me speechless.

The dish was Sweet Potato Agnolotti & Pecan… a plate of delicate pockets of handmade pasta filled with creamy sweet potato and crunchy bits of roasted pecans. Make no mistake folks, this dish was as good or better than ANY pasta dish I have tasted at Babbo…. and if you know me, this is not a statement I make lightly. This was the real deal… and one of the best dishes on any table in the city.

Not to be left out, was the second pasta dish, a Celery Root Ravioli topped with freshly shaved Black Truffles. Unreal… and again, Babbo (or above) quality.

I knew this was going to be good, but I wasn’t ready for an OMG meal.

We added a terrific Friseé and Coppa Salad as well as a plate of beets and fresh tarragon… both terrific but sadly having to follow the pastas which I was still gushing over.

Dinner was a tough choice, but we opted for a Porterhouse for two, which was prepared Lugar style and sliced just right. The steak was on the expensive side, but was tender and flavorful… and accompanied by two roasted bones brimming with rich bone marrow. It just kept getting better.

On the side, we ordered what I would consider a real treat, Hen of the Woods mushrooms… one of the most (if not the most) delicious mushrooms in the world. Pan roasted in butter, the mushroom was crispy and steak-like… and on the money. We added the smaller Velvet Piopini mushrooms (also terrific) with a side of white grits (average) and found ourselves with just about everything we needed. House wines by the glass were spectacular.


So I am guessing by now you are getting the picture… this is amazing stuff. By this time we are 2 ½ hours in, but I am not bailing on dessert. I have come this far, I will not be defeated.

Dessert at craft is special. Sure, you can order Meyer Lemon Beignets, Chocolate Tarts… or Praline Panna Cotta…. but the homemade melt-in-your-mouth donuts along with a sorbet line-up that includes Rhubarb, Tangerine and Blood Orange is the bomb.

But if you want the real show-stopper, pass on all of it, and get a scoop of Brown Butter Ice Cream.

You heard me, Brown Butter Ice Cream. Holy crap.

Now that I have left my own body, it was time to pay the check and float home. Yes, it was a pricy night, but a special one. It’s not every week you get a treat such as this one… and spending 3 hours being pampered and fed like this, well, is just plain worth it.

I can be tough to please at times, but when I have a meal like this one, I feel a profound duty to tell everyone I know.

And now, I’ve told you.




Craft
43 E 19th St - Btwn Bway & Park Ave S
New York, NY 10003

212 780-0880

$$$$
Bring the plastic, you're gonna need it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frankie and Johnnie's: Old School In Midtown Still Works

Quit over-thinking your pre-theatre dinner, and make the rezo



If you are a steak snob, you may not want to read this.

There are good steak houses in NYC, and they don’t have to start with LU and end with GAR’S.

Case in point, my recent trip to the old tried and true “Frankie and Johnnie’s” on W. 45th, right smack dab in the middle of the theatre district.

Why? Well, curiosity I guess. The place has history you know…. the legend has it that it was a speakeasy that used the passwords “Frankie” and “Johnnie”. That’s good enough for me.

Truth be told the steaks are delicious and the space is old New York. Cramped and, well cramped. But you know, on a cold NYC night… it can wind up being just the ticket. Romantic and old school.

First, when you visit, don’t flip out that you have to climb a set of steep-ass stairs. When you open the door of the place, you climb up, check your coat and open the door… to realize that you are now standing in the kitchen. I thought to myself… “I like this place”.

We crawled into our tiny booth space and ordered a perfect martini, and average glass of wine, and two spectacular lump crabmeat cocktails. Being from South Louisiana, I am picky when it comes to shrimp and crab, and this was good stuff. One splash of fresh lemon and I was off.

My steak choice for the evening was the filet mignon with the lobster tail. The steak was cooked perfectly and melted in my mouth. The meat here is dusted in a house spice of salt and pepper (and a few others that don’t intrude) so you don’t need to do much. It was a great cut, cooked perfectly and went down easy.

The lobster tail I could have passed on… as it was of the frozen variety and was overcooked… but the crab was so good, I took a shot. Maybe not next time. I’ll never learn.

My companion had the ribeye and equally enjoyed. With a mountain of lyonnaise potatoes and a platter of average at best broiled mushrooms, we had enough to keep us happy until post-theatre coffee and dessert. There is a decent wine list, but the cocktail and glass of wine seemed to do the trick.

The verdict? Well, I like it. Is there a bigger, better steakhouse in the area?... sure. Could we have walked to another place in the freezing cold?... sure. Is there a better place to eat in the theatre district in relation to the Imperial Theatre? Likely not.

Go and enjoy old New York… get a crabmeat cocktail and a juicy steak… and for the hell of it, knock on the door and say “Frankie”.

You never know… someone just might open it and say “Johnnie”.



Frankie & Johnnie's ($$$$$)

269 W 45th St, New York 10036
Btwn Bway & 8th Ave


Phone: 212-997-9494
Fax: 212-997-6851

Friday, March 14, 2008

KOI: An LA Concept Continues to Wow NYC

But How Much Are You Willing To Spend On Sushi?



There has been a long standing argument between foodies in Los Angeles and New York over sushi. Sure, New York is the steak and Italian food capital of North America, and yes, Los Angeles has simply the best Mexican mom and pop joints on the planet…. but sushi?

Well, the argument can use Nobu as a measure, but truth be told, both cities have outstanding sushi options. The difference is in what the offering is….

As NYC has tried and true sushi and sashimi houses (and newer fusion-type stores, thanks Morimoto), our friends in LA were ahead of the fusion curve a long time ago. I credit much of it to the incredible strip-mall pioneer Katsu-ya in Studio City… and of course, Nobu… but honestly, there are numerous spots in LA that were on this bandwagon a long time ago.

This point is what makes my review of Koi an interesting one. Plain and simple, Koi is an LA sushi house, dressed in hip black clothes, making music in midtown Manhattan. Yes, I know...Koi IS STILL an sushi joint in Los Angeles today... but you must admit, it takes serious guts to open an LA joint in NYC without changing.... well anything.

The dead giveaway?

Well, without question, it’s LA’s most famous sushi dish, the Crispy Tuna Roll. By the way, if you haven’t had a Crispy Tuna Roll, stop reading this review and get your ass down there now. It’s that good.

Where did it come from?? Well, the famous roll is in fact a product of the previously mentioned “Katsu-ya”. What is it?

Well, first you combine fresh minced tuna with fine scallions and mix it in a creamy hot sauce to create a thick tuna mixture you can form into fingers.

Next, you take a same-sized finger of sushi rice, and actually “grill” it on an open fire BBQ, giving the rice a crispy, smoky flavor. You place the tuna on top of the rice and finish with a thin slice of jalapeno… and presto… you have the most popular sushi dish on the west coast.

So, true to form, before I even opened the Koi menu, I quickly ordered 2 orders (8 pieces total)… next time I’ll peek at the menu, since I had no idea that Koi charges $16.00 per order…. holy crap.

I’m being help hostage. But I need my Crispy Tuna Roll so badly, I’ll pay anything… and I did. Are they as good as Katsu-ya?... well, I think so. At $4 per bite? Uh, yea. What can I do?

As far as the other items of the menu, they are solid and expensive. As a matter of fact, it’s all expensive. And let me remind you, I’m not usually the guy who frowns on expensive meals… but there is expensive, and also “damn, that’s expensive”. I think it’s a perceived value thing. None the less, it’s easy to drop a few hundred dollars here for dinner and drinks for two.

So now that you’ve tried your Crispy Tuna Rolls, here is what you need.

The Creamy Rock Shrimp.
Also a dish from LA in origin, it’s one of my favorites. Again, a creamy hot sauce coating hot, crispy tempura rock shrimp. Good stuff.

Tuna Tartare Avocado.
Nice and light, with wonton crackers on the side. Nicey nice.

Sautéed Shrimp on California Roll. Spectacular. Exactly what you think it is, and to make it even better, order it on soy paper instead of nori.

Baked Lobster Roll. Also delish. Pace yourself at this point, there is more.

Cucumber Sunomono. Highly recommended as a meal and palate refresher as you travel from dish to dish. Sweet and sour bites of fresh sliced yumness.

Warm Baby Spinach and Mushrooms. A popular dish everywhere, this one is delicate and well done. Easy to share.

Spicy Seared Albacore with crispy red onions. Another Katsu-ya dish, that gets to shine here at Koi. Love these flavors, and the onions are the bomb.

And last but not least… dessert.

Order what you want, but I am partial to the Warm Asian Pear Bread Pudding with Maple Ice Cream, pomegranate and caramel sauce. Hell yea.

WARNING:

One thing I guess I should mention at this point is that you may need an attitude adjustment before you hop on over to Koi.

The place is ssss-wanky…. and you are reminded constantly. Arrive early with a reservation and avoid the jet setters, and you’ll thank me later. If you want to wait outside in line with a grumpy doorman while others eat your Crispy Tuna Rolls, well that’s up to you. Remember, I told you so. (Rezo’s are available through Open Table).

The verdict… I love it. How can I not? They have my Crispy Tuna Roll. But the truth is they really do all of it well, and it a hip and sleek dining room to boot. Just make sure your Visa or MC has some room on it, your gonna need it.

KOI

Cross Street Btwn 5th & 6th Ave
Visa, MC, AmEx, Disc

Hours
Breakfast
Daily: 7am-11am
Lunch
Mon-Fri: 12pm-2:30pm
Dinner
Mon-Wed: 5:30pm-11pm
Thu-Sat: 5:30pm-12am
Sun: 6pm-10pm

Serves
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Saturday, February 02, 2008

craftsteak: Getting Better With Age

Low and Behold, Tom Colicchio's Meatpacking Gem Continues to Shine




At first glance, it's likely a neighborhood you wouldn't "stumble" upon. Tucked behind the Chelsea Market on a spooky block of 10th Avenue lies craftsteak, one of three quality restaurants located about 200 feet apart (Del Posto and Morimoto sharing the spotlight). It's an area of the Meatpacking District that doesn't get a lot of casual foot traffic.

To those of you who live below midtown, you are likely laughing at my geographical apprehension, but being an Upper Westsider, this block might as well be Siberia.

That said, for food this good, Siberia is nice this time of year.

Living in New York for more than 2 years now, I have finally graduated from my ethnic food binges to the real backbone of NYC cuisine... meat. From a dinner at Lugars to the history of a New Jersey Beefsteak meal, there is no doubt that New Yorker's celebrate a thick juicy steak like no other.

Lucky for land lubbers, New York offers just about every meat experience you can have. Swimming in butter, seared, grilled, baked, pan fried, bbq, raw and shish-kabob. From 114th to Battery Park, the city is brimming with, well, meat.

Entering craftsteak, you can't help but fall in love with the interior. The sleek, earthy, modern design tips you off that this is a place to be taken seriously... and that's exactly how I approached it.

The menu, a massive amalgamation of fresh oysters, aged steaks and creative sides, is frustrating in a sense you can't decide what you want. For some that is a good thing... for me... well, I wanted it all.

Painfully deciding to skip starters and salads, we went straight for the kill.... an aged NY strip, a grass fed ribeye. There are several Wagyu beef offerings as well, but experience tells me that this overrated grade of beef can be a waste of time and money when quality corn and grass fed steaks adorn the menu. I'll save the faux kobe experience for my next trip to Japan.

Now the dinner.

We found the steaks to be way above average. The corn-fed 42 day aged NY strip was tender and flavorful, with a slight char. The flavor of the aging was apparent, but not overpowering...as can often be the case. The folks at craftsteak slice the steak ala Lugar's for sharing, and idea I like.

As good as the strip was, the better option was the grass-fed, a bit milder but decidedly more savory selection. With a perfect amount of fat ribbon, this was a great pick... even at a $55 pricetag (ouch).

You can go nuts ordering side dishes. We ordered four... smothered collard greens, rosti potatoes, celery root puree and roasted Hen of the Woods mushrooms. The collards were as good as any I've had in South Louisiana, the rosti potatoes.. a hashbrown cake filed with caramelized onions was spectacular, the celery root light and delicate... and the mushrooms pan roasted crispy in butter. It made me want to order four more.

If his sounds like a lot of food, well it is. Remember, you get an outstanding amuse with a iron pot of chicken liver spread, as well as a mini-pan of delectable parker house rolls (I had an elementary school flashback). Coupled with dinner, a cocktail, a terrific glass of wine and dessert... and well, you just may need to loosen the belt a notch or two.


I can be hard on restaurants, but to be honest, I just couldn't find any faults in craftsteak. The atmosphere was delightful, the food fantastic and the service attentive and sincere. From the moment we hit the door, there was a confidence and welcome attitude that stuck with you. These are people who understand food and service, and it shows.

Are there better steak joints in NYC? Well, maybe. But for my money, craftsteak belongs in my top three.... a list that changes every six weeks or so.

It may look like Siberia, but with food this good... it's worth the trip.



Craftsteak


85 10th Ave, New York 10011
At 15th St

Phone: 212-400-6699

Saturday, January 12, 2008

B and B Restaurante: Mario Takes Vegas

A Little Taste of Babbo on the Strip


I am one of those people who just love Vegas.

Years ago, it was about playing blackjack, staying up all night and people watching. As I grew older, it became more about eating at the world class restaurants and catching a great show. Ok, maybe a little blackjack....

That said, I have developed a gathering of spots in Vegas that have become favorites, and just getting back from the CES Convention, I have a new entry to the group... B and B Restaurante, in the Venetian.



This partnership between Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich opened quietly last year, but has been knocking audiences dead ever since. Classic and understated, those who know Mario's food will liken this spot to be a clone of Babbo, decidedly not Lupa or Del Posto. Of course for those who love Mario, another Babbo is welcome anytime.


For me, a trip to a Batali store is about the pasta, and B and B doesn't disappoint. The 5-course pasta tasting menu is very similar to the New York experience, witout the 30 day reservation requirement (I called the day before).

Upon arrival, we were sat quickly and greeted right away. We knew coming in that the pasta tasting menu was going to be the call, and instead of getting fall down drunk [airing each course with wine, we opted for a few quartinos of a Piamonte Barolo that was out of this world.

After a delicious treat of chick peas and black olive tapenande as a starter,









We were ready for the main event.... and it didn't disappoint.
The first course:

Ravioli with Bitter Greens in Brown Butter






This was outstanding. Light, fragrant, perfectly balanced mixture in very delicate pockets of pasta. Tossed in butter this was the perfect start.


Next was a very light and refreshing course:

Tortellini in brodo






I liked this course, although I though it may have been programmed strangely here. The pasta was handmade and very fragile... and the broth slow simmered and flavorful.


Next was a rich terrifc dish:

Cencioni with Pancetta and Walnuts







I loved this flavor combination, and the portion was just right. About this time, you start to realize that the small portions don't matter... you are filling up.


Next up was Mario's famous crowd pleaser:

Jose’s Pyramids with “Passato di Pomodoro”




This is a dish I had had at Babbo a few years ago, and loved. The little triangle pockets are filled with braised beef and tomato and are savory. This is a great dish and I am always impressed by the craftsmanship of the kitchen when these gems show up at the table.


Lastly, we asked our served to opt of of the goose liver ravioli (I'm not a liver guy).... the chef subbed this delicious item (and old stand by):

Black Pepper Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu




Rich, heavy and filling... this pasta was the perfect closer.





Desserts were delicious, but by the time I had finished the 5th course, there wasn't much room.... that said, I left B and B full, but not stuffed, which was a nice feeling. It would be easy to pack it in here and feel miserable all night. I prefer the small plates and array of tastes compared to a massive bowl of pasta that sticks with me for 3 days.

The skinny on B and B? Love it. There are now several Mario options in Las Vegas, but those who love Babbo will be happy happy here. Seats can be hard to come by on weekends, so call ahead.... The earliest table on the Wednesday night we visited was at 10:30pm.... ouch.