Saturday, March 27, 2010

Manhattan's Big Fish Is On A Bun

Filet-O-Fish Lovers, Welcome to Mecca

I’ve always had a thing for the fish sandwich.

Growing up in the south, the fish thing was big. Our everyday fish usually came in the form of catfish, and we ate it every way imaginable. Deep fried, pan fried, sautéed, blackened… well you get he picture. And because of the catfish farms located in the south, as well as other fish from the Gulf of Mexico… the fish was always fresh. Never fishy. Good fish never taste or smell like, well, fish.

That said, in some restaurants in the south, cod and whitefish are popular choices because of their mildness….although not as readily available as catfish, redfish or snapper….

…unless you’re eating a magical McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich (did I just say that?).

I had a slight problem with these a few years back… kind of an addiction. I wasn’t really living anywhere near a place where I could order my beloved catfish poboy, so the only option I really had were fish sandwiches of the fast food variety (how sad is that) and McDonald’s and Burger King usually were the call. I’m not a pillar of health, but I am still surprised I didn’t have a heart attack by the time I was 25.

Well, times have changed, and the fish sandwich has grown up. Lucky for me, the best fish sandwich…. (note I said sandwich and not poboy) anywhere…. Is located right here in New York, at Hillstone.

Hillstone will look familiar to many of you, as the old Houston’s, even though it really still is Houston’s. The chain renamed a few of their top selling stores, added one or two goodies to the menu, and invented Hillstone…. named after a California vineyard. The good news is the food is still as solid as Houston’s…. a chain that really knows their stuff (and I am not a chain guy).

For the longest time, I was a rib guy at Houston’s… mainly because their BBQ ribs were amazing. Fall off the bone, lick your fingers amazing. But a few trips back, I was intrigued by their fish sandwich, and took the plunge. I couldn’t believe what was put on the table in front of me.

Think big, soft, buttery, toasted sesame brioche bun. Inserts a huge, flaky piece of fried whitefish, top it with an outstanding dill coleslaw and a few pickle slices… and well, that is the best damn fish sandwich in Manhattan. Period.

Don’t take my word on this one… you need to try this for yourself. Beware of Hillstone, they are always crowded, so I suggest a weekend late lunch or early dinner.

You’ll be tempted when you get there to bail on the fish sandwich and order a steak, or salad, or burger…. But don’ be swayed. Stay with the mission. You’ll thank me later.


+ This is the quintessential fish sandwich, period.

+ Cool atmosphere and great fresh squeezed juice

+ Big appetites can start with spinach and artichoke dip

- The waitstaff can be to cool for school

- Likely a wait, this place is popular and a good value

- It’s dark, so if not your thing, stay away


378 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10010
(212) 689-1090

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SD26: The Best Italian Food in New York?

Get Ready... Tony and Marisa Will Knock Your Socks Off

The City of New York never ceases to amaze me.

As a food blogger, I have convinced myself that I am somewhat of a “super foodie” when it comes to restaurants. I eat out a lot, talk to people about where they are going… and pretend to have the inside scoop on just about everything. Of course, I know only a fraction of what is happening in this monstrous food scene, but I try not to blow my cover. I am a New York food blogger, you know.

And then there are those nights when you get to go somewhere new, with new friends… and have an experience that is so delicious and authentic, you want to run home and start typing your blog entry on your cell phone in the cab. Glorious.

Last night was this night for me… as I was the invited guest to a dinner at SD26, Tony and Marisa May’s spectacular Italian hotspot on Madison Square Park. Yes, that Tony May… and yes, this is the next incarnation of San Domenica.

Although critics have panned their new space as being a tad eclectic for their fare, I found the room hip and well designed. This isn’t your quintessential NYC restaurant space… there is actually room to move around here… in the bar and in the dining room. A welcome change. Add a very cool wine by the glass cove inside the front window, and you have something unique and special.

As for the restaurant and their staff…. well they treat you as if you are a guest in their house. Even on a nasty, rainy Monday evening, Tony and Marisa were in the dining room, attending to everyone. And for a nasty, rainy Monday night… they had a great crowd.

Which leads me to the food.

Wow. The food.

Very hard to compare SD26 to the likes of Babbo, Lupa, Felidia, etc… because it’s just not the same. Those who have loved San Domenico for years on Central Park won’t be disappointed…. the classics remain. However, with the new space comes updated dishes as well as a few new preparations from Chef Odette Fada who so carefully prepares each dish with such steady, confident hands. The love of this cuisine shines through in brilliant fashion… and the message in all of it, channeled though Tony May is loud and clear. “We know what we are doing.”

And they do. The house specialty, “Uovo” soft egg yolk filled ravioli with truffled butter is an out of body experience. Filled with creamy ricotta and a perfect egg yolk, this dish was the perfect start to a tasting menu that was nothing short of incredible.

Next, another special ravioli made its way to our table, this time in a group of three. These delicate dumplings were filled with braised beef and topped with caramelized onions and lighted sautéed in brown butter. Now things were getting serious.

Main dishes were next up, and didn’t disappoint. As the table had dishes that included lamb chops, braised beef cheeks, venison loin and grilled tuna, I had the pan roasted whole Dover sole… and was blown away. I have always been a fan of sole as I love mild, white fish… but this preparation was so close to a classic Louisiana trout meuniere, I had to contain my enthusiasm. The fish had been pan roasted whole and filleted from the bone, and sauced with brown butter, parsley and lemon (this is fish perfection for me). One splash of veal demi glace and I swear I would have been transported to Baton Rouge where this dish reigns supreme.

Dessert soon followed and wowed the table. Decadent Tiramisu, a polenta with caramelized pears, a perfect pannacotta, a hazelnut bar that I had a dream about last night and an apple crostata..

The verdict? Well, I once thought that my friends at Da Umberto had the most authentic Italian restaurant in New York… but I now have to seriously rethink this. The kitchen at SD26 is talented. Their wares are homemade… and it shows. They cut no corners… and you can taste the difference. Truth be told, this is one of the best Italian restaurants in New York. Period.

So enjoy your trip to SD26….spring weather is almost here, and what could be better to top off a lovely midtown walk than a plate of handmade pasta in tomato sauce with a glass of Brunello?

You’re right. Nothing.

19 East 26th Street
New York, NY 10010-1404
(212) 265-5959

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2010 Best Tourist Eats in NYC

So You're Coming For A Visit?.... I've Got A Place For You!

As many of you know, I am the ultimate foodie. Not just a “food lover”…. but someone who loves the culture, origin and history of all foods. As a nation, we are defined by food… mostly regionally… and those foods and the people who prepare them are the fabric of our communities.

Living in NYC is almost a food misnomer. Nearly every cuisine in the world is represented here in some way, at almost any hour. It’s like living in a Disneyland of food. I love it.

For those of you new to this blog, this blog entry of ForkNewYork is dedicated to tourists. Below is my very own selection of “can’t miss” spots that are so low risk (meaning your chance of having a bad meal are slim to none) that you could close your eyes and randomly select. Being from South Louisiana, I have a secret guide to New Orleans restaurants I have been email friends for years… but mainly for locals. This is a list that should feel universal in appeal.

The list includes restaurants you have certainly heard of, but may also include a few you haven’t. All of them will give you a little insight to why I love them and what to order.

So without further ado, here is ForkNewYork’s 2010 Tourist Gems of NYC!


Make no mistake about it, NYC is a steak and Italian food town. Other than a handful of ripoff Times Squareish steak places (Tad’s anyone?), you can locate and enjoy a spectacular piece of meat. Here are a few that will knock your socks off.

Peter Lugar’s in Brooklyn

Lugar’s tops my list, maybe not for the best steak (although their steals and sides are excellent), but for the history. Lugar’s is the Smithsonian of steak houses. This cash only spot in Brooklyn is a NYC institution, and millions of folks have celebrated everything imaginable here. Don’t Miss: Porterhouse for Two, Medium Rare. Warning: Do a little research before you go, the waiters frown upon using menus, and this place is cash only.

Quality Meats

Since they opened a few years ago, this spot has been a favorite of mine… and why not. The space is sexy, the food incredible and the attention to detail (tableside steak sauce preparation, individual pies for dessert) is top notch. The place is owned by Smith and Wollensky which means the meat is Prime, and throw in a charcuterie in the bar area with freshly sliced salami and prosciutto… well, you get the picture. Don’t Miss: Corn Crème Brulee. Warning: Go early or make a reservation. This is popular.


Just plain old school. Fantastic space (has aged well), simple delicious menu, and midtown locale. Besides top quality steaks and lobsters, Keen’s has been serving perhaps the most famous “Mutton Chop” in America since 1905. This is a can’t miss, fantastic authentic NYC steak experience. Don’t Miss: any Prime steak or the Mutton Chop. Warning: Popular with locals so call ahead.


There are easily 1000 italian spots in the five boroughs alone. Everything from old school Sicilian, to hip Northern Italian, to upscale celebrity joints. Here are a few of my favorites that never dissapoint.


Likely the most popular with locals and tourists, you’ll need to reserve a table a month before your trip…. but it’s worth it. Of all of Chef Mario Batali’s joints, this one still reigns supreme, and the food is consistently terrific. This is a tiny townhouse of a space, but if you can land a table upstairs or down, you’ll be considered lucky. All of the dishes are top notch, but for my money, one of the best values in NYC is here, ordering the “Pasta Tasting Menu”. This 5-course masterpiece is the best way to initially experience Mario’s magic. Don’t Miss: I think you know. Warning: Reservations are a must, or get in line at 4pm and snag one of 4 or 5 tables in the bar, which are first come.


This is one of those gems you see Tom Hanks bring his date to in just about any movie about NYC. Small, quaint, authentic, delicious. Gennero is routed in authenticity, and tasting their menu shows it. From handmade gnocchi to their braised lamb shank, it is a favorite of Upper West-siders who know their food. Don’t Miss: one of their homemade pasta dishes. Warning: Cash only my friends. Hit the ATM before you go…. although this isn’t a terribly expensive meal.


If Mario is the King of Italian cooking, Lidia Bastianich is the Queen. This charming townhouse on the Upper East Side has been open since 1981 and still serves what is likely some of the best Italian food in America. With a menu that can lean toward rustic Italian fare, Felidia has become a special occasion spot (or for those on a company expense account) as the quality of the food can command the prices… recognizing this, the restaurant now features excellent Prix-Fixe options at lunch and dinner which can ease the wallet pain. Don’t Miss: Veal Osso-Buco here is an out of body experience. Warning: It ain’t cheap, but nothing on this level is.


It feels as if there are a million Chinese places in NYC. And all of them deliver to your house. But strange enough, a few really stick out as being truly special. Incredibly authentic and overall spectacular. If you are in NYC and are craving the real deal, you can’t miss with any of these….

Szechuan Gourmet

Quite possibly the best Chinese food in Manhattan, period. You’d never guess it from peeking through the window, but the freshness of the ingredients and the amazing dishes make it’s competitors look like rookies. This is where you can find the best noodles in NYC, and also order duck tongue, sliced conch, tea smoked duck and frog. Getting the picture? OK, so you don’t have to be so adventurous… you can order the sliced pork belly with leeks (think the best bacon you have ever put in your mouth), shredded pork with chives or wok-fried lobster and stay on the beaten path. Don’t Miss: the pork belly is really all that. Warning: they like it spicy here, so make sure you understand the heat level before you order. Special note: last time I was in this place, Sara Jessica and Matthew were inhaling some type of tofu dish that looked incredible….

Wu Liang Ye

I learned about this place soon after I moved to NYC, and have been bringing people there ever since. My first notion that this was authentic, was when I was seated and quickly realized I was the only person from this continent in the restaurant. Like Szechuan Gourmet, Wu features fantastic authentic dishes, but excels in dumplings…. mainly their famous pork dumplings in chili sauce, although I know people who fly across the country to eat their Dan Dan Noodles with minced pork chili vinaigrette. You can get the tea smoked duck here, terrific fish, scallops and shrimp everyway imaginable… but I stick to the basics here and am never disappointed. Don’t Miss: the Dan Dan noodles… are you kidding? Warning: the location by Rockefeller Plaza tends to be the better of the two in NYC, so choose wisely.

Mee Noodle

You’re in NYC. You’re starving. You’re nearly broke. Welcome to Mee Noodle.

My love affair with Mee dates back nearly 15 years… but their food remains solid. The menu alone may be worth the trip, as you can get anything and everything (especially in the noodle world) every-which-way you can imagine. But what really excels here are the soups and noodle dishes, which are fired about 10 feet behind the tiny dining room. Don’t Miss: “Little Bit Of Everything Noodle Soup”, noodles on sizzling platters and scallion pancakes. Warning: the menu is overwhelming…. Bring friends and share. ** super affordable!


If I don’t start to cut this off now, this blog entry will turn into a novella, so I’ll list a few more places that will make your trip uber-special,keep it brief, and pay no attention to genre…..


The wine and small plate masterpiece is still thriving in the East Village and recently opened a new locale near Chelsea. The wines are supurb, the food fresh and amazing… and it feel like a true NYC original…. even though our friends in Barcelona have been eating this way for 500 years. If you don’t eat the truffled egg toast, you have wasted a trip.


Mario’s village mainstay remains terrific and the food inventive and consistent. New hours keep the kitchen open all day.

Da Umberto

Owned by an amazing Italian family, this pricy but charming Chelsea tratorria can sometimes serve NY’s best Italian food.


You know it, you love it. The mushroom menu alone (crispy hen of the woods? Are you kidding me?) is worth the trip, but this restaurant never disappoints in any way, shape or form.


Where else can you eat an amazing Indian dinner for under 10 bucks? Fresh hot Naan bread, the best chicken tikka in NYC, and a selection of biriyani dishes that I crave constantly.

Maffei’s Pizza

It’s a dump. A dive. On a corner. And oh yea, they serve the best “grandma’s slice” on the planet. Think crunchy, buttery crust smothered in san marzano sauce and homemade mozzarella. See ya there.


If falafel is your thing, well, it just doesn’t get any better. I use to frequent the Amsterdam store when traveling in Europe, and low and behold, here they are with two stores in NYC! Love love love it.

Minetta Tavern

You can’t get in, so disregard this. But if somehow you do, get the Minetta burger and the potatoes fried in duck fat. Good lord.

Chicken and Rice Cart at 53rd and 6th

Bizarre I would include a street cart, but when you are as famous as this place is, well you deserve inclusion. The chicken and rice dish here is unreal… a container of spicy rice, topped with curry-grilled boneless chicken, topped with a white-sauce that isn’t of this planet and a shot of the spicy stuff to wake you up. If you see a line that stretches around the block at 3am, that’s the place.... and uh, they have their own website.


I know, I know, I include a lot of Mario’s places… but when you have an Italian wine list like this, you must be on the list. The cheeses drizzled in truffle infused honey doesn’t hurt, either.


This would be your “we’re celebrating our anniversary in NYC” dinner. Bouley recently moved locations, but happily has retained it’s magic. This is high quality stuff… and you pay for it.

Blue Ribbon Bakery

Where else can you get food this quality at 2am? Nowhere. Blue Ribbon stays on course for being the best option… almost anytime… with great food and a hip scene. But make no mistake about it… however impressed you are with the menu….it has always been about the fried chicken.

Well my fellow foodies, there you have it.... my don't miss tourist list of 2010. Well, of March 2010, anyway. Have fun out there and experience the best that NYC has to offer... and drop me a line to let me know what you thought!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is Kesté the Best Pizza In New York?

Grab Your Bottle of Tums, This Is Gonna Get Fun

It’s undeniable. The NYC pizza wars have begun. Again.

And what a time it is. Gone is the local argument about “who has the best slice”….. about “who has the best sauce”….. about “where was the original Ray’s”.

Instead, the conversation has transformed itself into pizza styles, dough and oven temperatures. Trust me, this is good news for you and me.

Don’t fret, your neighborhood slice isn’t going anywhere. But what has evolved in the city is the birth of truly Italian pies, that only a short time ago could only be found on your romantic trip to Italia.

The new trend in NYC pizza has steered away from the 18” pepperoni slice to what most label as “Neapolitan” style pies. No, the Neapolitan pie isn’t new to NYC… but the hype is. Eating trends have shifted to plate sized pizza, and waiting in the wings are a handful of true Neapolitan pie makers who are now reaping the benefits. One of the best? Kesté.

To a pie maker from Naples, Neapolitan style pizza is the only style of pizza that they consider authentic. All others are imposters, or experimental. The Neapolitan pizza is limited to very pure ingredients, tomatoes grown in the Mt. Vesuvius region, and to a perfect blend of simple ingredients that create a dough that can be hand crafted and baked at uber-high temps. Make no mistake about it… this is where the Margherita Pizza was born, and served with red (sauce), white (cheese) and green (basil) ingredients to the Queen herself, who dubbed it her favorite food. Serious stuff.

What may really set these pizzas’ apart may lie on the bottom. As San Marzano sauce and homemade mozzarella go, there isn’t a huge variation. It’s all good. But in the crust, lies fame. And the crust at Kesté is fantastic.

Yes, the pies have fantastic combinations and killer ingredients…. homemade Italian sausage… mushrooms…. lardo…eggplant… it’s all there. But the hand crafted crust, baked between 700 and 800 degrees in a brick oven, produces a special “char” that gives the pizza a smoky, authentic flavor that is indigenous to the Napoli region. Creating crust like this is an art form.

Simply said, it’s the real deal… and delicious.

But is there better pizza out there?

Well, yes. I firmly believe that the best pizza in America is being made not in New York, but in Los Angeles at Pizzeria Mozza, who also specializes in Neapolitan pizza… and use a wood fired oven to cook their magic pies. The biggest difference to me is Mozza’s crust, that tastes almost like something you’d expect to come out of a pastry shop…. chewy, crunchy and almost buttery. It’s really that good.

But that’s an opinion… truth be told, overall LA has horrible pizza. New Yorkers are blessed with everything from John’s, to Patsy’s, to Di Fara, to Motorino… well, you name it. This is the best pizza city in America, bar none.

So get out there, and experiment yourself. And pay attention to the crust, will ya? The folks at Kesté are nailing it.


271 Bleecker St., nr. Morton St.; 212-243-1500

+ authentic Neapolitan pizza, served by guys with thick Italian accents

+ fantastic ingredients and combinations

+ not crazy expensive and fairly fast service

- tight, itty bitty space

- just salad and pizza, that’s it.