Archive for Restaurant Reviews

Anselmo’s Pizza

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On Friday night Jim and I drove over to Red Hook to check out Anselmo’s, Brooklyn’s newest coal-oven pizzeria and contender in the local pizza wars. With opponents like Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza in Carroll Gardens, there’s currently some fierce competition in the neighborhood. We wondered if this highly anticipated spot could hold its own in the gritty artisanal pizza bracket.

Anselmo’s is simply decorated and well-lit, with some small improvements—such as the wall hangings and exposed lighting—still in progress. Small tables line the left side of the room, while a bar along the right provides additional seating and leads to the coal-burning oven at the back. The attractive wood floor is actually constructed from old ceiling beams found in the space. Pizzaiolo Anselmo Garcia and his family bought the building intending to turn it into a bakery, but after finding the pre-existing brick oven, they shifted their dough-related plans to include tomato sauce and mozzarella. From what I tasted, they made the right choice.

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Pies come in two sizes, the 14-inch ($14) and the 10-inch ($6). Calzones are also on the menu. Extra cheese, vegetable, and meat toppings, as well as some changing daily specials, are available ($1.75 per topping on a large pie). Jim and I ordered a 14-inch pie and loaded it up: hot peppers and cherry tomatoes for him, artichokes for me (of course). Anselmo’s is awaiting approval for BYOB privileges, so at the moment the only drink options are fountain sodas. 

The first thing we noticed as we bit into our pie is that Anselmo’s produces a deliciously saucy and slightly spicy slice. Creamy, fresh mozzarella tempers the heat, with slivers of fresh basil as welcome accents. Jim and I both enjoyed our toppings, but after a few bites, we turned our attention to the crust.

Coal-burning ovens are notoriously difficult to control—look at the criticism South Brooklyn Pizza received about the intense char on its first coal-fired pies and the problems once faced by Lucali’s with its wood-fired oven—but our pie was expertly cooked, with just the slightest amount of char on the crust. As for thickness, the crust on Anselmo’s pies is not very thin nor too thick. Unfortunately, it winds up in the non-distinct middle, with somewhat of an identity crisis. I am sure that with some time, Garcia will figure out the ideal thickness, but a decision needs to be made. Apart from this issue, these pies definitely show promise.

If I had to choose, I’d say that Lucali’s is still the hands-down champion in the Carroll Gardens/Red Hook pizza challenge. But Anselmo’s, with its distinct brand of pie and family feel, is an up-and-coming opponent. Lucali’s and South Brooklyn Pizza better keep their eyes on this young upstart.

Anselmo’s, 354 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn. T: 718-313-0169. Anselmo’s does not deliver and is cash only. It is closed from 5 to 6 pm so that the oven can be cleaned.

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Artichoke Christina Barcelona

I am dying to go to Spain, particularly Barcelona. I’ve been obsessed for months now, reading Mark Kurlansky’s Basque History of the World and Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s amazing mystery The Shadow of the Wind. The movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, viewed on my last plane flight, only fueled the fires of my travel bug.

Unfortunately I don’t see this trip happening in my near future, so I’ve tried to indulge in the next best thing: food. I started by experimenting with Food & Wine’s squid- and chorizo-infused farro salad, a recipe that emits its own particular brand of Spanish spirit, at least in my mind. Although farro is usually associated with Italian cuisine, the addition of smoky chorizo and plump squid transforms this dish into something that might be inspired by the Iberian Peninsula. I’m not expecting to find this meal in Spain, but in my Brooklyn kitchen, it did just fine.

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This dish has an almost mysterious edge to it, introducing me to exotic flavors I don’t normally encounter in my everyday life. Jim and I used more squid than called for in the original recipe, as our fishmonger sold it by the pound and we didn’t want to waste it. We substituted dried oregano for fresh marjoram, and at the end we couldn’t resist throwing some fresh arugula into the mix. The peppery greens added a welcome note of freshness to the combination of smoky meat, chewy squid, and nutty grains.

We ate this for two nights in a row before heading out with friends to Soccarat, New York City’s new paella bar. Jim and I had amusingly observed that although our salad used farro instead of rice, the rest of the ingredients were quite similar to the traditional paella we were about to enjoy. No matter. At this festive sliver of a restaurant, we shared the arroz negro, a pan of luscious short-grain, squid-inked rice filled with shrimp, scallops, and cuttlefish. After one bite, I can honestly say that it transported us—in mind and spirit—to Spain. The word “soccarat” actually refers to the caramelized rice on the bottom of a perfect paella, and it was indeed the best part of the dish. Our waitress even scraped the pan for us with a large spoon, to make sure we didn’t miss any of it. As we ate one forkful after next, leaving nothing in the pan, I realized that my Spanish obsession isn’t over. Between the farro salad and our visit to Soccarat, I am more than ready to go. Where’s my suitcase?

Recipe for Farro Salad with Squid, Chorizo, and Arugula (adapted from Food & Wine magazine, April 2009)

  • 1 cup farro
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry chorizo, skinned and sliced (about 2 small links of chorizo)
  • 3/4 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings, large tentacles cut in half (We used 1 pound of squid, but 3/4 is probably just right)
  • salt
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 small bunch arugula, washed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • freshly ground pepper

Place the farro in a bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the farro, cover and simmer over low heat until the farro is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chorizo and cook until sizzling, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the squid and cook, stirring, until just white throughout, about 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of the rings will start to turn in a bit when cooked as well. Do not overcook the squid. Remove the pan from the heat and season with a bit of salt.

Using a slotted spoon, add the chorizo and the squid to the farro. Add the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, vinegar. Tear the arugula leaves in half and add them to the salad. Add a few glugs of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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Dinner at Prime Meats

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There’s a powerful duo transforming Carroll Gardens these days. The partners in crime sport beards, are known simply as “the Franks,” and are opening restaurants left and right on Court Street. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about neighborhood wonder twins Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, the owners of local Italian favorite Frankies 457 Spuntino. With the recent openings of Prime Meats and the Viennese-themed Cafe Pedlar, a soon-to-open retail store, and plans for Delightful Coffee Shop in Red Hook, the Franks have casually built a Brooklyn empire over just a few months.

None of these new projects has aroused more curiosity than Prime Meats. Although it will eventually operate as a full-scale restaurant, the smaller bar room opened a few months ago as a sort of underground speakeasy, serving Prohibition Era style drinks that Jim adores (his favorite is the absinthe-fueled Sazerac). I’m not much of a cocktail person, so while I’ve enjoyed hanging out among Prime Meats’s exposed brick walls, beautiful pressed tin ceiling, and dark wood bar for the past few weeks, what I’ve really been waiting for is the food. When we heard that the gas was finally turned on last week, Jim and I excitedly walked over to sample the abbreviated Germanic-themed menu.

As at Frankies, Prime Meats lets simple, high-quality ingredients speak for themselves, albeit with a focus on Central Europe. Even the wine and beer menu reflects this regional slant, with German beer and Alsatian, German, and Austrian wines. An abundant salad of raw red cabbage, lightly seasoned with lemon, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower oil, and crunching with walnuts, was a refreshing start to our meal ($7). Jim indulged in the säkrüt garnie, an overflowing platter of pork belly, kassler, and smoky sausages served with potatoes on a bed of tart sauerkraut ($14). I hadn’t seen this much pig on a plate since our vacation in Alsace eight years ago. Prime Meats plans to make its own sausages—the new kitchen at the back of the restaurant will be equipped for on-site butchering—but the wursts are currently procured from experts in Yorkville, Manhattan’s once primarily German neighborhood.

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I went with the Hungarian style pork gulyas, a peppery, tomato-infused pork stew served with a side of buttery, creamy, herb-infused spätzle ($12). Did I mention that the spätzle were buttery? Topped with friend onions, they were wonderfully decadent and authentic, better than some that I’ve tasted in Germany. We’ll have to make another trip to try the weisswurst ($9), the homemade pretzel with Bavarian mustard ($3), and the desserts (currently limited to a selection of artisanal cheeses).

Once the main restaurant opens in a few months, the menu will expand with more similarly-themed Central European selections, as well as additional vegetarian options. If the Franks are indeed building an empire, I am more than happy to live in it—as long as I am guaranteed a table at their restaurants.

Prime Meats, 465 Court Street  in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-254-0327

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Dinner at Tarry Lodge

On Saturday night Jim and I hopped in the car and headed out to Port Chester for dinner. What made us break our usual weekend pattern and leave Brooklyn for Port Chester? Well, a few months ago Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich—of Babbo, Esca, and Del Posto fame, to name a few of their many restaurants—brought their formidable talents to the suburbs and opened a casual Italian eatery called Tarry Lodge. We were celebrating my birthday, and knowing what a fan I am of Mario Batali’s cuisine, Jim had surprised me with the reservation.

We arrived at 6 pm for our 6:30 reservation. Tarry Lodge has been around for over 100 years in various incarnations, at one point even operating as a speakeasy. Each room of the massive, sub-divided space was already packed from wall to wall and from one end of the beautifully restored bar to the other. Although we were early, we were quickly seated in a warmly decorated room near the kitchen on the second floor.

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We made our selections from the traditional offerings of antipasti, pizza, pasta, and secondi, and noted signature Batali ingredients such as fennel pollen, chiles, and guanciale on the menu. To our disconcerted surprise, the appetizers arrived about three minutes after we placed our order. I turned first towards the marinated calamari, always one of my favorite dishes ($8). Mixed with small, pearl-shaped pasta, capers, tomatoes, and garlic, the squid exuded a refreshing lightness of flavor and texture. Soft chunks of fennel soaked in blood oranges were accompanied by briny olives and pomegranate seeds that popped with each bite ($5). Although obviously pre-made, both of these Mediterranean-infused dishes had me reaching for more. I looked for our waitress, as I wanted to ask her about the pasta used in the calamari salad. “Excuse me…” I began, as she rushed passed the table. A few minutes later she walked by again. “Excuse me…”

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Jim and I both decided to go with pasta for our main course. I settled on the linguine with clams, chiles, and pancetta ($17). To be fair, our waitress had warned me that the dish would be salty, but I was overwhelmed with its saltiness from the first bite. A brown broth mixed with the pasta was obviously contributing to the effect. As my waitress drew near, I loudly said, “Excuse me, I was wondering about this broth…” I almost felt the wind on my face as she breezed by without a second look.

Jim enjoyed his black fettuccine with lobster and chiles ($24), and a quick taste confirmed that it was a more gentle and luxurious pasta than mine. As I neared the end of my bowl, I suddenly realized that our artichokes with mint had never made it to the table ($7). Somehow we got our waitress’s attention and the artichokes arrived a few minutes later. From the first choke we could tell that they had been hurriedly thrown on the stove and then onto our table; they had absolutely no flavor whatsoever.

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By the time we ordered dessert—a decent if unremarkable chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream ($8)—it was obvious to both Jim and me that we were being rushed out of the restaurant. This was more than confirmed when our waitress took our check and ran to process it, not noticing that she had flung our credit card across the room in her haste. I scrambled after it and asked someone else to return it to our waitress. As expected, she was long gone.

I’m sure you can tell that at Tarry Lodge I was let down by both my meal and the service. I felt that the food was prepared in the simplest manner possible for maximum efficiency. Every effort seemed directed towards getting me out the door quickly so that the tables could turn over. Perhaps my expectations were too high: In this interview Joseph Bastianich states that Tarry Lodge is meant to be a spot for casual, trattoria-style dining in Westchester. If that’s indeed the goal, then the restaurant is fine and solid. But there are plenty of other Italian restaurants in Westchester filling a similar purpose. To me it seems like a lost opportunity that could have brought a special destination Italian restaurant—perhaps on the level of Blue Hill at Stone Barns—to the area. In any case, I expected more from one of my favorite chefs. I’ve never written a negative restaurant review on this blog before, and I’m sorry to do so now. I didn’t come close to sampling half the dishes on the menu, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll return to Babbo one day, but for now, Tarry Lodge is off my list.

Tarry Lodge, 18 Mill Street, Port Chester, New York. T: 914-939-3111. Reservations are recommended but not required. 

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Dinner at Buttermilk Channel

During the weekend I love to stay home. I know that might sound boring, especially for a young(ish) woman living in New York City, but I can’t help it. All of my favorite shops and restaurants just happen to be within walking distance of my Brooklyn apartment. Months can pass without Jim and I visiting the same spot twice. When the new restaurant Buttermilk Channel opened in the old Cafe Scaramouche space on Court Street, it took us several weeks to get there, but we recently took a long stroll around the corner to check it out.

All memories of the dark, drab cafe disappeared as soon as we walked through the door. Bright white walls tempered by gentle candlelight, a beautiful wood bar, and multiple windows facing the street immediately made us feel at home. Helmed by chef Ryan Angulo, previously of the Stanton Social, the restaurant embraces the seasonal, local food movement of the moment while also celebrating the unique spirit of the neighborhood.

Take, for example, the “snacks” section of the menu. Buttermilk Channel is serving handmade mozzarella from Caputo’s Fine Foods—my favorite Italian specialty store just a few blocks away—with chunks of buttered bread, basil, and a wonderfully salty anchovy sauce ($5). I loved experiencing one of my regular Caputo’s purchases in an entirely new way. Jim and I need to return to the restaurant for an Esposito’s sausage sandwich ($10), but we have no doubt about its greatness, as we are frequent visitors to this Court Street shop as well. Even the drinks display local pride: The beer list is firmly rooted in New York, while the U.S. based wine list offers a glass of Merlot from Brooklyn Oenology ($10).

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The rest of the extensive menu branches out beyond the neighborhood to offer intriguing twists on comfort food. Stand-out appetizers included spice-rubbed baby back ribs, their meat so tender it fell gently off the bone ($10). A delicata squash tart was a light, buttery surprise, as I had been expecting a quiche-like dish ($9). Instead, I received a ring of sweet, roasted squash perched on top of a flaky crust, accompanied by smooth buttermilk ricotta and a green salad.

Without a doubt the star of the second courses is the fried chicken with cheddar waffles and vegetable slaw ($18). Juicy meat nestled in a thick, crisp, buttermilk coating was perfect on a cold winter night, although the waffles were a bit bland in comparison. I also tried the warm lamb and romaine salad, a combination of tart capers, cauliflower, lamb, lettuce, and a soft-boiled egg ($14). As one of the lighter dishes on the menu it held up well against more robust fare such as the braised beef short rib and anchovy mashed potatoes. Similar to the baby back rib appetizer, the dark, tender rib meat simply dripped off the bone and onto my fork, which also returned time and time again for the tangy spiced potatoes ($22).

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For dessert I couldn’t deter myself from Doug’s pecan pie sundae ($7). Unfortunately, the caramel simply overwhelmed the dish, and it sorely needed a pie crust. Apple cider donuts—warm, fried, and spicy, and served with their donut holes—fared a little better ($7). Perhaps next time I’ll try one of the Blue Marble ice creams, another one of my neighborhood favorites ($7). After all, it’s much more convenient to walk to around the corner than to Atlantic Avenue. Although for Buttermilk Channel, I’d be willing to make the trek.

Buttermilk Channel, 524 Court Street at Huntington Street, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. T: 718-852-8490

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