Saturday, November 25, 2006

2006 FORKIES: The Best Of New York

Well, it’s that time of year. The leaves are falling, holiday decorations are appearing and the last month of the year is upon us.

About this time every year I open up my Outlook calendar and review exactly what I’ve done and where I’ve been. I’m always amazed by the amount of stuff I have checked off my list… and the amount of it I have forgotten about.

But one thing I love to do is reflect on the fun stuff… and compile a list of favorites.

In honor of the more popular award shows… I hereby present my 2006 “Forkies” … the very best (in my humble opinion) of New York spread over many different categories.

And the FORKIE goes to…..

Parsley and Pancetta Salad, Lupa
It is tremendous in its composition… but when the waiter comes to the table with a rendered pot of hot bacon fat, well, it really doesn’t get any better. This dish rotates on and off the menu, so if you visit and it doesn’t appear… complain!

Black Tagliatelle with Roasted Corn, Babbo
Part of the pasta tasting menu, this amazing dish if simply the best pasta dish in NYC. The freshness of the corn with the light sauce and grated cheese are a work of art. Make a reservation… you’re gonna need it.

Quality Meats
I know, I know… Lugar’s. But the truth is as great as Peter Lugar’s is; the experience is old school NYC. I love it, but I truly love an evening at Quality Meats, an operation run by the Smith and Wollensky folks. Details?... how about tableside BBQ sauce and individual homemade pies for desert?

It’s situated in a busy Chelsea neighborhood, but don’t let its simple setting fool you. The room is hip, and the food is fresh and delicate… Nobu style. Except, the check is about half of what you might expect.


Café Lalo
I know. It’s crowded. Touristy. But the steamed eggs with Brie are the best in the city, and the artisan breads are baked in house. I’d love to complain, but the food is too damn good.

St. Andrews Pub
There is something about a bunch of guys wearing kilts. Not only are the bartenders authentic, the tap includes a selection of beer that draws a huge crowd of European alcoholics. For me, I belly up to the bar and drink as much Tennants Lager as I can muster.

Two Little Red Hens Bakery

The cup cake thing has really spiraled out of control, and mostly with hype. Having tried all of the “popular” spots, I finally had what is hands down the most amazing cupcake in NYC at Two Little Red Hens Bakery, on Second Ave on the Upper East Side. Sure their Brooklyn locale is well known, but the Manhattan spot is no less popular, and with decadent carrot cake cupcakes, I can see why.

Del Frisco’s
I have been talking about it all year, so I won’t beat a dead horse. Just go. Order a martini. Order the steak tips (which are filet mignon heaped over a mound of homemade mashed potatoes). Call and thank me later.


Café D’alsace
Top Notch food. Great wine. Superior setting. The folks who bring you Nice Matin bring you NY’s best new French hang, on the lovely Upper East. You’ll love this place.

Sir Harry’s, Waldorf Astoria
Ever find yourself wanting to hide in a dark mahogany bar at 2:30 in the afternoon? This is your place. You can hear the ghosts in here, and they still love the place. Splurge, you’re worth it.


The Allen Room, Time Warner Center
Part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Complex, this is hands down the most remarkable setting in NYC to listen to live music. The view over Central Park through the glass-draped stage doesn’t hurt, either.

Jackson Hole

Sure, you think you can eat it. You pick it up, close your eyes and try and shove it in. But, trust me, it won’t fit. These are 4 inch tall patties, steam grilled to your liking… and delish. You can always find a better burger… but this one should be on your short list.


Toasties Deli
This was a hard one, as I love classic deli sandwiches. But every time I eat a sandwich from Toasties I find myself saying… this may very well be the best sandwich in NYC. And now I am convinced, it is. The House Combo and Downtown Special are unreal… and why this place doesn’t have 5 locations in the city is a real headscratcher.

Bin 71
Is it the food? The great beers? The superb wine list? Well, yes… I guess it is. If only I can get a seat at the damn bar. The Upper West Side never had it so good.

Come on, you know it’s true. Mario gets it, and he delivers at Otto with a selection of cheese accompanied by three dipping opportunities for the stuff… including honey and truffles. I think I have stolen more stuff off of his menu for my own home entertaining than any place in NYC.

Halal Cart, 53rd and 6th
So we all know about this place now, and the line down the block is legendary… but for good reason. The chicken and rice is the best deal in town… and the tangy white garlic/tahini/yogurt sauce they squirt across the top is downright illegal.

Beard Papa’s
Is there anyone who doesn’t love a good creampuff? Beard Pap’s popped up early in the year, and now boast and UWS locale as well. The puffs are baked hot and fresh, and the cream squirted inside the thing while you wait. Unfortunately, I have problems getting these home.

Dinosaur BBQ
It’s a funky spot you need to visit for the hell of it anyway, but don’t be fooled… some of the grub here is quality stuff, and the pulled pork qualifies as best in it’s category. It’s slow roasted tender, and with their tangy and slightly spicy sauce and pickles, is a throwback to a sandwich you might find in South Carolina….


Wu Liang Ye
They have terrific dishes… including great noodles… but lets not beat around the bush. The Sichuan Pork Dumplings with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette are worth a cab ride across town.

Neptune Polish Diner
Sure they have diner food here, but why would you eat it when you can order a plate of sauerkraut and mushroom pierogies with sour cream for $5.85? By the way, their red borsht is the best you’ll ever eat.


Alain Ducasse at the Essex House
OK, so I didn’t pay the bill here… but if I would have had too, I would be working a second job rather than writing this blog. It’s snobby, pretentious and frilly… but remarkable in everyway. Note: Alain is moving this spot downtown as we speak….

Bouchon Bakery, Time Warner Center
As much as I love Chelsea Market, I love the specialty sandwiches and wines by the glass. And oh yea, other than something out of the deli at Whole Foods (in the basement), it’s the only place I actually afford to eat while shopping in the Time Warner Center.

We all have our favorite bagel joints, and this one is mine. They are everything you would expect from a perfect Manhattan bagel… warm and chewy on the inside… crusty on the outside. Add their amazing flat bagels (sesame for me) and you get the perfect breakfast. Or lunch. Or whenever.

Jacques Torres
It’s no secret that one of the best chocolate makers in the world resides in NYC… but what many don’t know is that he also makes the best Hot Chocolate known to man. The powered mix, lumped full of chunks of gourmet chocolate should be a required addition to every New York kitchen.

Hudson Bar and Books
I know… it’s the size of my closet… but where else in the city can you sip a scotch older than your brother while enjoying a Romeo and Juliet? Skip the food here… this place is meant to smoke.


I still don’t understand how Florio’s can legally allow folks in the bar to smoke, drink and eat… but they do. I don’t ask questions. Recommended: anything in their vodka sauce.

Ten Ren Café, Chinatown
You can get bubble tea almost anywhere these days… but this location of Ten Ren offers a frozen variety with giant gooey bubbles. Yum.


Yes, the novelty is beginning to wear off… but the truth remains that Chipotle offers fresh, hot food for very few $$.

So….. there you have it! The 2006 FORKIES. Grab the Pepto and get going!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Dining With The Turks at Zeytin

Could the Best Turkish Food in NYC Actually On The Upper West?

I am an international man of mystery.

Not in my adventures, but my culinary tastes.

Sure, I’ve had the chance to travel to some 30 countries… and I’ve never been shy about trying the local fare (no monkey brains for me, thanks). But what I’ve never been able to figure out is how I can love the food of one nation and really hate the food of another.

One cuisine I love is Turkish. Maybe because it’s closely linked to Lebanese, or Israeli… or Persian… or maybe because I love the “meze” style of eating the stuff. No matter how much I eat… I never get tired of this food.

My recent obsession of falafel has led me to start exploring the gabillion offerings here in NYC, and low and behold I found one of the best Turkish offerings in my own Upper West Side neighborhood… a true gem named “Zeytin”.

Zeytin as a word means “olive” in Turkish… but in this incarnation means fantastic food.

I found myself at the restaurant on a cool but not freezing November night… and opted for a table outdoors… a patio we would have to ourselves. We began with a cocktail (uber large martinis poured happily) but could have easily ordered a glass of wine from a solid but unspectacular wine list. All is well.

Making food choices at Zeytin can prove challenging. The truth is, the cold and hot appetizers are so terrific, you can (and next time we will) make a meal of them by themselves.

Wanting a large sample, we ordered the mixed plate of cold meze and were blown away. The hummus was top shelf… rich and flavorful with the perfect balance of chick pea and tahini. Along side was a bowl of tangy Cocik… a thick yogurt sauce with diced cucumbers and garlic. On the plate as well was maybe my favorite, Hoydari… a scoop of thick strained yogurt with dill, mint and garlic… as well as delicate grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, black currants and herbs… and eggplant salad, grilled smoky and mixed with fresh tomatoes. Terrific.

If it sounds like a lot of food, well, it is. And coupled with the numerous slices of delicious homemade flat bread, we were getting full. But of course, we had ordered dinner, so we decided to tighten our belts and move ahead.

The main courses at Zeytin and well prepared, and beautifully presented. A mild (almost bland) stuffed chicken breast arrived filled with rice, pistachios, peppers and currants. It was a nice dish, but didn’t quite live up to the quality of the meze we had experienced.

That said, the second entrée did. Iskender, a dish of roasted lamb and beef, served atop crispy pipe bread, topped with a spicy tomato sauce with browned butter and yogurt was terrific. The meats were tender, and the dish was a perfect blend of Turkish flavors. Highly recommended.

Of course there are salads, hot apps, desserts… but the experience I would recommend is this.

1. Call someone you like.
2. Find a cozy table at Zeytin.
3. Order a bottle of wine.
4. Order the Mixed App Plate, and a few hot apps.
5. Skip dinner (unless you are a big eater, then split a chicken shish)
6. Split a wonderful dessert
7. Enjoy a brisk evening walk in a charming Upper West Side neighborhood.

That’s the word. Zeytin. An true gem, and simply fantastic stuff.

519 Columbus Ave- At 85th St
New York, NY 10024

212 579-1145

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Andre's Secret: Bin 71

Sip, Nibble and Be As Hip As You Wanna Be

I hate to even write this.

It seems every time I stumble across what I would call a “gem”, I open my big mouth, and the word gets out. Not that I can take responsibility for setting culinary trends in this fair city mind you, but I do know that enough people read this blog to spark some chatter (or so my email tells me)… or at least drive someone to a plate of fried chicken somewhere. But good is good, and I just can’t keep this one to myself.

So in lieu of keeping the marvelous secret to myself, I hereby blog, Bin 71.

Where to start.

Bin 71 is everything that makes New York great (did I just write that campy little nugget?).

It’s a wine spot with terrific vintages and surprisingly good and hard to find beers on tap (think Blue Point, Double Chocolate Stout and hearty German Pils).

It’s a cozy meeting place to meet your “other” and never be seen.

It’s a gourmet hang with small plates of crudités and large bowls of spicy stew.

It’s a plate of toasted Tuscan bread smothered in warm Nutella chocolate.

All of this, and only 22 seats. 10 of which I would call rather cramped.

You see, Bin 71 is a tiny, charming space that may be the size of your living room (if that). When you enter you realize… the space is about 12 feet deep, and about 25 feet wide.

Around the handsome bar are Sunday afternoon regulars, sipping wine, reading the paper in utter sophistication… commenting on the topics of the day… over a glass of Malbec. This is heaven.

No college rats, no fluff. Neighborhood folks, doing their thing.

It is the spot the tourists seek but never find, the place you can convince yourself that you and you alone discovered.

And where is it?

Well, the surprising fact is, it is an Upper West Side hang. Yup. Really.

You’ll walk in and snicker for sure, as it looks and feels about as West Village as a place can look… if not Nolita. But sure thing, it is a UWS joint, tucked in an unassuming block of Columbus between 70 and 71.

Here comes the bad news.

The place has been open a while. Which means, unless you are targeting an off-peak visit, you are going to have trouble getting a seat. Folks like to hang out here, and waiting for a seat to open up can take a while.

Attached to the outer walls of Bin 71 are small counters and stools, but there is no mystery… the bar boasts the most coveted seats in the house. This place is s-m-a-l-l.

Is it worth it??

Well yes, it is.

My Sunday afternoon visit was maybe the best weekend “re-set” I’ve had in months. For those of you with stressful jobs, you know all about weekend resets. That moment when you can put the week behind you, toast your partner and think of bigger and better things. You forget the parents, the pesky unassuming neighbors, the late subway train, the line at Dunkin Donuts.

Places like Bin 71 are made for just the occasion. Or just about any occasion when you need to hunt down a tiny, charming space… and escape to New York.

Bin 71
237 Columbus at 71st
Daily until 1am