Archive for Restaurant Reviews

Brunch at Morandi

Weekend holidays tend to disorient me for the rest of the week, and Easter Sunday was no different. So this post is going to be short and to the point, because I also can’t let another day go by without describing the fantastic brunch I had at Morandi in the West Village a few weeks ago with my dear friend Cheryl.

When Morandi first opened in 2007, it received pretty mediocre reviews, a first for the Keith McNally empire that includes favorites such as Balthazar, Pastis, and Minetta Tavern. But before anyone could try a second plate of spaghetti at this stylishly rustic Italian restaurant, chef Jody Williams was fired and Tony Liu took her place. Now, since I hadn’t eaten at Morandi until a few weeks ago, I can’t talk about whether it’s better or worse than before. All I can say is that Cheryl and I had the best brunch ever when we ate there.

Of course we started with the carciofi alla giudea, or fried artichokes ($12). Lightly dressed with lemon juice, they were light and crisp, the delicate leaves protecting the soft center choke. They were also surprisingly un-greasy for a fried dish, and Cheryl and I ate them all in just a few minutes.

Everything on the menu from the egg-based dishes to the salads sounded amazing, and it took me forever to choose my main dish. I finally went with the fazzoletti di ricotta, warm buttery crepes filled with lemon ricotta and topped with strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries ($13). Think of them as the Italian equivalent of the much-loved blintz. The crepes were thick and doughy, the lemon ricotta light and airy. Combined with a dusting of powdered sugar and fresh fruit, this was the perfect breakfast dish.

Cheryl had an equally difficult time choosing her meal, but finally went with the classic spaghetti carbonara ($15). Morandi’s was one of the best versions of this dish I have ever tasted. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the egg was just slightly cooked from its heat. Small chunks of pancetta hid between the egg-coated spaghetti strands, but believe me, none went to waste. Did I mention yet that Cheryl let me eat the last bite? If that doesn’t prove our friendship, nothing does.

We considered ending our feast after our main dishes, but then quickly requested the dessert menu. The crespelle di cioccolato, or chocolate crepes, could not be denied ($9). Topped with chestnut gelato and a sweet citrus-based sauce, they were delicate and decadent at the same time. As Cheryl and I lingered over our coffees, we saw so many dishes pass by our table that we wanted to try; we almost ordered a second meal then and there. But the tempting focaccia “occhio di bue” (cracker-thin focaccia topped with a sunny-side egg, pancetta, and pecorino, served on a gorgeous wood serving tray) will just have to wait until another visit—which will be sooner rather than later. We’re already looking forward to our next shot at the best brunch ever.

Morandi, 211 Waverly Place at 7th Avenue in the West Village, Manhattan. T: 212-627-7575

Comments (7) »

Lunch at Mimi’s Hummus

Most rainy days find me curled up on my couch, watching TV or flipping through the pages of a magazine in order to avoid the terrible weather outside. But during last Saturday’s torrential downpour, I actually left the apartment, for a very important reason: My dear friend Rachel was taking me out for a belated birthday lunch at Mimi’s Hummus in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. This tiny Israeli-inspired restaurant, with its warm orange walls and high ceilings, has received much positive attention lately, and I couldn’t wait to try it. Even the driving rain and high winds couldn’t keep me away.

We started with much-needed cups of hot mint and sage tea ($1.50), and snacked on complimentary olives and pickles while deciding what to order from chef Mimi Kitani’s varied menu. Five types of hummus with intriguing toppings such as mushrooms, tahini, and ground beef with pine nuts made it difficult to choose just one. But we finally settled on the fava bean version ($8), and ordered a basket of whole wheat and white pita bread to accompany it.

As soon as the hummus arrived, Rachel and I tore off bits of pita from the soft, pillowy rolls and eagerly scooped away at the spread. Creamy, light, and silky smooth, the hummus was simply amazing. The warm fava bean stew, nestled into the center of the spread, added an extra layer of richness, and I was so enthralled with the dish’s texture that I barely noticed the delicate lemon garlic dressing.

Next we split the shakshuka eggs, a piping hot, bubbling pan of eggs, tomatoes, red peppers, and spices such as turmeric and cumin ($9.50). It reminded me of a more fiery, Middle Eastern version of the Eggs in Purgatory I made a few weeks ago. Once again we put the pita bread to good use, swiping away at the sides of the cast iron pan so that none of the eggs or the deep, yolk-infused sauce went to waste. A crunchy Israeli salad, with cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs, added a cool freshness to our meal as well ($5).

As Rachel and I chatted and sipped more tea, our waitress asked if we’d like dessert. After a moment of surprise—we had been so engrossed in our food and conversation that we hadn’t considered it—we went with the mysterious punchim ($3). Crushed chocolate graham crackers coated with coconut, these punchim were soft, buttery balls of chocolate decadence.

We took a peek at Market, the adorable food shop next door that is also run by Mimi’s owners. A quick tour revealed Brooklyn favorites such as McClure’s Pickles and Brooklyn Brine Co., as well as an array of Middle Eastern ingredients, specialty cheeses, and cured meats. Later, as I walked to the subway in the growing storm, I realized I was already thinking about my next visit to Mimi’s. Even if it’s raining again, I have four more types of hummus to try.

Mimi’s Hummus, 1209 Cortelyou Road between Westminster Road and East 13th Street in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. T: 718-284-4444. Market is located right next door, at 1211 Cortelyou Road.

Comments (11) »

Artisanal Junk Food: Roberta’s and Bark

Last weekend was all about the junk food: pizza and hot dogs, I am sorry to say. Now, before you get all upset about my unhealthy gluttony, can I explain that said junk food was made from primarily local and seasonal ingredients? That the purveyors were true artisans who cared deeply about their high-quality hot dogs and pizza? After all, transforming once lowbrow food items into more gourmet fare—such as the fried chicken craze currently storming the city—is certainly the trend right now. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at what we sampled last weekend:

robertas

Roberta’s
Jim and I began our weekend on Friday night at Roberta’s in still-gentrifying (yet very hip) Bushwick, Brooklyn. Open only since January 2008, Roberta’s immediately garnered attention for its pizza topped with high-quality, seasonal ingredients in unique flavor combinations. Its young owners Carlo Mirarchi, Chris Parachini, and Brandon Hoy even shipped a wood-burning oven back from Italy in their quest to make a great pie; it occupies the front of the long, warehouse-like space. Although the menu has gradually expanded to offer more refined items such as hen of the woods mushrooms and orecchiette with duck ragu (Roberta’s now offers a fried chicken platter as well), Jim and I were there for the pizza. But in a concession to slightly healthier eating, we started with the kale salad. The deep-green, curly leaves were adorned with thick chunks of guanciale, sweet pickled onions, and pecorino cheese that packed a flavorful punch with each bite ($9). For our pies we decided to stick with the house-suggested flavors instead of creating our own combination of toppings. I selected the RPS, which came with creamy mozzarella, tomato, roasted red peppers, and soppressata, while Jim ordered the Crispy Glover, a pie covered with tomato, taleggio cheese, guanciale, onion, breadcrumbs, and pepperoncini oil (both $14). We both found the flavor combinations a little too strong overall—in particular, the red peppers on my pie overwhelmed all other flavors, and Jim’s guanciale was burned—but we agreed that the crust was practically perfect. Light and crispy, with just the right amount of char at the edges, it was the best part of our pies (gourmet toppings included). 261 Moore Street at Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. T: 718-417-1118

bark

Bark Hot Dogs
The next day we finally tried the artisanal hot dogs at Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Made from a combination of pork and beef by Hartmann’s Old World Sausages in the Finger Lakes, and basted with smoked lard and butter, these were some serious wieners. Owners Jeff Sharkey (formerly of Cafe Grey) and Brandon Gillis (formerly of Franny’s) have put their personal touch on every aspect of the place, from the house-made toppings to the recycled wood tables. As at Roberta’s, instead of choosing my own toppings I let Bark guide me: I started my lunch with the Pickle Dog, which was covered with house pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise ($5.50). The tart toppings didn’t obscure the light, almost sweet flavors inside these snappily cased sausages. Jim and I also split the NYC Classic Dog with mustard and sweet and sour onions, while Jim’s Bark Dog came with sweet pepper relish, mustard, and onion (both $4.75). Each delicately flavored hot dog paired wonderfully with the Bark-suggested toppings, and I was grateful that I didn’t strike out on my own. The onion rings, on the other hand, were a bit of a disappointment. Coated with too much batter, I was left searching for the onions within ($3 for a small order). As a quick side note, I did find the list of food and beverage sources on each table a bit precious. I am all for organic, locally farmed produce and free-range meat, but putting this extensive list on repeated display seemed like overkill to me. But damn, those dogs were good. 474 Bergen Street at Flatbush Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. T: 718-789-1939

Comments (7) »

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

I know, I know. Every time I get on a roll updating the blog, I suddenly disappear again. Believe me, I’m as tired of the excuses as you are. But this month I endured a series of seemingly endless travels for work (Florence and Singapore, again) and family reasons (Pittsburgh), and I am only now starting to catch my breath. (In fact, I am currently home ailing with a sore throat. I think all this jet setting has finally caught up to me. Cough, cough.)

haybales

But in the midst of all these crazy journeys, at the beginning of the month Jim and I escaped to New York’s Finger Lakes for a weekend. The sparkling lakes and waterfalls, gorgeous green hills, and quiet country roads—along with the local wine, farmers’ markets, and amazing restaurants—were just what we needed before summer said its farewell and autumn appeared at our door.

winery

Let’s start with the wine. There are more than 100 wineries clustered around the region’s eleven lakes. Winemaking has been a tradition here for over 150 years, with most of the well-known wineries situated around the three largest, oblong lakes: Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka. With a climate that has often been compared to Germany’s Rhine region, the Finger Lakes are primarily known for cool-weather whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer; however, we found that the reds were surprisingly deep and sophisticated. As Jim and I visited the wineries around Seneca Lake, we picked up bottles of Riesling and Cabernet from Standing Stone vineyards, as well as Viridescens and Cabernet Franc from Red Newt Cellars.  The Celsius iced wine from Atwater Estate vineyards was too sweet to resist, and we ended our tour with a few bottles added to the backseat of the car.

danos

We revived our weary palettes with some delicious dinners around Seneca Lake. Our favorite meal by far was at Dano’s Heuriger, a modern, glass-encased, Viennese-style restaurant right on the lake. We started with some of the unique spreads, all of which were visible in the glass counter near the entrance. The liptauer, a tangy Austrian cheese-based specialty, and the hotel sacher, made from capers, mustard seed, and anchovy paste, were incredibly intense, while the pumkinseed oil spread from my German-themed bento box blew me away with its smooth texture and flavors. As you can tell from the photograph below, the bento box gave me a small taste of everything the heuriger had to offer: fresh, vinegar-laced salads and potatoes, as well as various forms of juicy pork. Jim declared the wiener schnitzel the best he had ever tasted, and we immediately started to wonder if we could justify coming back for lunch the next day.

danos2

Another food-related highlight of the weekend was the Ithaca Farmers’ Market on Cayuga Lake. Here I need to thank Amy Maltzan of the wonderful blog Eggs on Sunday, first for her posts inspiring us to visit her local market, and also for the personal dining suggestions she provided for our getaway weekend. Amy, your farmers’ market didn’t disappoint. I was amazed by the sheer number of small local farmers selling their fruits and vegetables in the wood-beamed hallways of the market.

market

From one end to the other, down the side halls and in between, I browsed through piles of garlic, berries, cherry tomatoes, greens, and beans. Jim enjoyed a local cider tasting, and we bought some ham from a cute little butcher called the Piggery, as well as bread and cheese for snacking between wine tastings. I was a little surprised by the absence of fish mongers, and the relatively small number of cheese and meat vendors, but I loved how local crafts such as pottery and wood furniture were included in the market.

shopping

In addition to all this eating, drinking, and shopping, we visited some beautiful natural sights around the Finger Lakes. If you plan to head up there anytime soon, must-sees include the waterfall at Taughannock State Park, and the incredible rock formations in Watkins Glen State Park. The Corning Museum of Glass also deserves a lengthy stop. As you can tell from this post, you certainly won’t go hungry or thirsty during your travels.

Comments (6) »

A Day at Citi Field

Last weekend Jim and I hopped on the 7 train to Citi Field to watch the New York Mets duke it out with Jim’s beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets destroyed the Pirates by a score of 10 to 1, but it didn’t bother me. Baseball, shmaseball. I was there for the food.

In case you haven’t heard, Citi Field is the brand-spanking new stadium for the Mets in Flushing, Queens. Ever since it opened in April, the revamped food court has been garnering as many headlines as the Mets’s inconsistent onfield performance. As soon as our tickets were scanned and we entered the pink-hued behemoth, I was on the prowl for lunch.

2009_0509morepics0018

My first stop was at Catch of the Day, chef Dave Pasternack’s seafood stand. Among the many options from Esca’s head chef are grilled shrimp po’ boy sandwiches and fried calamari, but I couldn’t resist the lobster roll ($17). I waited to the side of the cashier for my freshly-prepared sandwich, practically jumping in the air with excitement. I couldn’t help it; I love lobster rolls. However, I almost cried foul when the cashier handed the roll to me, as there was less lobster meat than I expected on the bun. But I’d like to give Catch of the Day the benefit of the doubt: Perhaps the Pasternack crew was trying to ration out the lobster meat so that they wouldn’t run out before the end of the game. As for the sandwich itself—which I ate in four quick bites—it was fine overall. The meat was lightly dressed with mayonnaise and was obviously very fresh. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I was still hungry by the time I joined Jim and our friends on line at Shake Shack.

shackburger

Danny Meyer’s two Shake Shack locations in Manhattan have attracted crowds for their burgers, hot dogs, and fries for as long as they’ve been in business. The lines at Citi Field are fairly long as well, but they move quickly. Also, since Shake Shack anchors the Taste of the City food court near left center field, you can actually watch the game while you wait on line. (If you’re into that sort of thing.) My Single Shack ShackBurger—a single beef patty topped with American cheese, crisp green leaf lettuce, juicy plum tomatoes, and Meyer’s Shack sauce—was compact, smoky, and just a little bit messy ($5.75). Served in a simple wax paper bag, it was the perfect baseball food in taste and spirit. The fries were crispy and deliciously salty ($6). Jim and our friend Diego indulged in Shack-Cago dogs, a riff on Chicago’s famous hot dogs but with some New York-produced ingredients such as Rick’s Picks relish ($5.75). As predicted, our food from Shake Shack was a home run.

Also included in the Taste of the City food court are Blue Smoke for barbeque options like pulled pork sliders and chipotle chicken wings; El Verano Taqueria for carnitas and tacos; and Box Frites for Belgian fries. I’ve read that favorite vendors from the old stadium like Daruma of Tokyo and Mama’s of Corona have also made the move to the new stadium, so I’ll have to check in on them next time.

guyswithdogs

As you can tell by now, at Citi Field you’ll find more than typical, pre-frozen, stadium junk food. Sure, there are still Cracker Jack and beer, but there’s also a new focus on good, fresh ingredients, infused with a bit of baseball spirit. Food this fun can only be good for the game.

Comments (5) »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.