Monthly Archives: June 2006

We took every seat in the place.

I’m writing this up really quickly before dashing to Penn to catch my beloved Acela, but I wanted to make note of the most successful (in terms of attendance) $20/D dinner yet before shoving off to the Cape for nine days.

I and nine others (would have been eleven others, if not for a sudden rainstorm-induced bout of laziness) barreled into De Guerreros Taqueria last night. Along with one visiting Welshman, whose introduction to Mexican food could not have been more authentic, my friends were as enthusiastic as possible about the array of food.

This enthusiasm translated initially into my ordering two batches of chilaquiles while everyone else perused the menu. Of the two, the red, which I hadn’t previously sampled, was the less spicy – but, of course, I liked the green better. One friend whose mother is Mexican said that he was surprised, considering the ubiquity of the dish south of the border as both leftover catch-all and breakfast(!) food, that it hadn’t caught on up here. I agreed, and so did everyone who tasted it.

Most folks ordered tacos, me included, and we managed to sample three-quarters of the offered varieties: bistec/steak, cesina/salted beef, chorizo/sausage, al pastor/marinated pork, barbacoa/goat, carnitas/pork, suadero/steamed pork, and pollo/chicken. I promise we’ll get to the tongue, ear, and stomach next time. Of them, the cesina was the most surprising to me – definitely really salty, but delicious. It’d make a fine sandwich – a possibility for subsequent visits.

Others’ favorites were the chorizo, which bests Pio Maya’s on flavor, if not freshness, the suadero, which everyone oohed and ahhed over just as I did upon first tasting it, and the al pastor, which was quickly devoured by everyone who ordered it. The bravest among us tried my goat taco and admired the way it simply melted in our mouths – “tastes like the earth,” someone affirmed.

Of the non-taco-orderers, the chicharron (fried pork rind) and quesillo (cheese) gorditas were popular, if heavy, options. Similar corn meal was used to shape the huarache (which looked like a dugout canoe or a long incense burner) and the quesadilla (which bore no cheese, to the great surprise of the person who ordered it). Personally, I liked the tacos better, but you really can’t go wrong either way.

No margaritas are served (though we kidded about taking up a collection for a slushee machine for the place), but grab a beer across the street (one quart of Tecate is $2.75), or at the Polish market on 4th Avenue by the train (where I was charged $1.29 each for several 17 ounce beers with names I couldn’t pronounce). You won’t even miss the tequila.

Thanks to the lovely couple who cook at De Guerreros – they’re damn good at what they do. Go see for yourself.

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A hard night’s fatteh.

Late night hunger pangs got you wondering if there’s an alternative to ordering from Bedouin Tent for the billionth time?  That’s where I was last night, anyway.  I love the Tent, and their delivery times (avg: ten minutes, for pete’s sake) can’t be beat.  I just couldn’t bear to order another merguez, though, so I trooped off through the humid-but-temperate night in search of one of the all-night Yemeni places on Atlantic Avenue.

I had thought to go to Hadramout, which was reviewed in the Voice not long ago, but before I got to the block in question, another place had caught my eye: Sanaa, which is named after the capital city of the former North Yemen.  I’m not any kind of expert in south Arabian cuisine, but the geographical difference (the area after which Hadramout is named is in the former South Yemen) was enough to lure me in.

One point of difference: Sanaa’s cuisine seems to be a bit more expensive than some of the comparable restaurants further down the block, perhaps befitting its new and recently renovated space (though the décor is mostly photos of the eponymous city).  As is true of all Atlantic Avenue’s Yemeni outposts, most of the Yemeni entrees are over ten bucks – you should note, though, that they probably have enough food to be shared.  As I wished to keep my expenses down, I flipped through the menu until I found something that sounded vaguely familiar: fatteh with dates for only $6.  To hedge my bet, particularly since I didn’t recall what fatteh was, exactly, I ordered some French fries on the side.

As sometimes happens when I order somewhat blindly, I ended up with an amazing meal.  The fatteh, which apparently ordinarily is a stew made of day-old pita (shades of chilaquiles, indeed), was completely pita-free, or at least that’s the way it seemed.  Instead, I was treated to a broken pancake made from ground dates and what seemed similar to rice krispies.  The combination of textures and sweet flavor (particularly on the edge pieces, which had a lovely crunch) was perfect.

The fries turned out to be fine examples of the frozen food service type, and were only $2.  Extraneous, though, particularly when you consider the soup that arrived before the fatteh – a kind of lentil soup that reminded me of sambar sans capsaicin.  The lemon wedge on the side doesn’t really add much to the flavor, though, in my opinion.

Take-out or eat-in, this meal is under ten bucks, and is a great change of pace from the usual options.  Fat chance I won’t go back to try the banana and honey & butter fattehs – Sanaa is a new favorite.

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The Nascent brings Baked goods, coffee to my corner.

Normally I wouldn’t flip over a coffee shop, but this one’s too cool and conveniently-located (to me) not to give a shout out to: The Nascent, located at Bergen St. and Nevins St. in Boerum Hill, has recently begun operations.  Previously, the space was a doctor’s office, and they’ve done an amazing job of renovating it to an atmospheric and comfortable hang-out.  Wood-block-style prints and other nature-themed artwork adorn the walls, the countertop is adorned with hand-blown glass pyramids, and the floor sparkles with some kind of inlaid shiny grit.  Quite frankly, like the Brooklyn Circus clothing emporium across the street (where one can lately purchase “Vote for Huey [Newton]” t-shirts), it’s cooler than I would have ever expected a nearby joint to be.  As the owner admitted to me on one visit, the operation is a “labor of love,” and it really shows.

Fortunately, the quality atmosphere extends to quality baked goods and coffee, as well.  Like Baked but too lethargic to make the trek to their orange premises on Van Brunt?  The Nascent carries a healthy selection of their ungodly good treats, including a sugar-encrusted berry-infused scone that falls somewhere on the density scale between a crumbly cookie and a dense cake.  Brownies and cookies also are particularly nice, and the coffee has not yet been burnt on my visits.

I should also mention that The Nascent has wireless internet available, though I don’t know its cost.  So you could theoretically read this review from there – that’s surely a first for this blog.

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Nine months and a day later…fifty tales of mystery and exploration.

Last night, I attempted to make a visit to the city’s most prominent (only?) Tajik eatery, Dushanbe.  Regrettably (for them, especially), I found no sign of a restaurant with that name at 1915 Coney Island Avenue – what I did find was a restaurant called “Night Dreams” that appeared to be shuttered, judging by the amount of mail that was piled on the other side of the locked glass doors.  Oh well, I thought, and trudged back under the Q tracks to grab a doner kebap from Memo.

This morning, pondering a write-up, I decided that I needed to count up how many places I’d been to on the list.  I was suspicious, with Dushanbe a scratch, that I was at fifty, and that some kind of halfway celebration was in order.

Close, but no phyllo cigar, as it turned out: counting Dushanbe and the three other closures so far (Samwongahk, which I didn’t get to, and Pop’s Pierogies and Philoxenia, which I did), I was teetering on the precipice of forty-nine.  Forty-nine, of course, meant that I had no article: unless you’re a multiplication table freak, the number has no special significance.

Thus, I simply HAD to go somewhere for lunch today.  No question, this makes things a bit difficult – while there are some Manhattan options close by that remained un-reviewed, I’ve at least BEEN to most of them at this point, and that wouldn’t help me get any closer to 50% nirvana.  Paging through the list, I noticed only one place, in fact, that I hadn’t been to and that was close enough to stretch out a lunch hour for: Taam-Tov.

Problem was, when I showed up at 46 West 47th Street, the building (as well as the one next to it) looked abandoned and with markings on them that seemed to indicate imminent demolition.  “Yet another closure?” I asked myself.  Walking towards 5th Avenue, I hoped that the address was a typographical error, but alas, decided to walk back on the opposite side of the street about twenty feet from 5th.  Not enough time during the lunch hour to fart around, I knew, and there was always the Kwik Meal cart somewhere nearby…

…then I found Taam-Tov.  It’s merely moved across the street to 41 West 47th, thank ‘hova, and its third floor balcony was a perfectly pleasant, if bizarre, lunchtime atmosphere, when you ponder that I spend more time in outer borough neighborhoods than midtown.  (Note: it’s only open from 10am to 5pm, weekdays.)

I was lured a bit into over-ordering, as is lately usual: $2 fresh-baked lepeshka bread lead to $4 worth of excellent hummus, which begat an order of 2 lula kebabs sided with French fries for $7 (or $3.50 each).  The lula were cooked through but not dry, and had just the right amount of grease.  The fries were fresh-cut marvels with just the right amount of crunch and salt.  To be fair, you could order either half of this array of food and be perfectly happy (I ran out of gas a few bites into the second kebab).  The meat is also about 50-75% more expensive than in Rego Park, but, hell, you’re on 47th Street!  If I worked in Midtown, I’d eat here twice a week, I bet.

So, to summarize, I’m now halfway through the list – fifty of a hundred restaurants sampled, and probably forty of those reviewed by this point.  To be honest, once I committed to the blog idea last September (about two months after I found the list and decided to use it for exploration purposes), I thought I’d have no trouble finishing the list by the time the next one came out.  As it turns out, I was both somewhat stymied by time concerns and by life in general.
Things I’ve learned:

  1. People are either really interested in what I’m doing, or not at all.
  2. Identifying this early in a conversation is critical.  Identifying this early in a potential relationship even more so.
  3. I have fantastic friends and superb readers (those categories have grown to be mutually inclusive, to some extent) who have contributed immensely to this blog’s success, through suggestion, companionship, and encouragement.  This is especially important and unique when you consider that…
  4. …precious few people are actually willing to go to the furthest corners of New York in search of interesting eats and…
  5. …still fewer are willing to do it regularly.
  6. One of those who WAS willing to do it regularly is now my EX-girlfriend, which just goes to show you that there’s more to solving life’s complexities than going out to dinner…
  7. …but not much more.
  8. New York City is a stern, demanding taskmistress, but I love her anyhow.


Now, as to the last fifty: I won’t be able to finish them, I am sure, by the time the next top 100 list comes out.  However, the new edition may not cover the same subject matter as 2005’s, so I suppose I’ll play it by ear as to whether to stick with the current edition or upgrade.  I’m guessing that, if “Cheap Chow Now” is still the theme, that I will have been to quite a few of the included places already, but, again, we’ll see – Mr. Sietsema is nothing if not gloriously unpredictable.

P.S.  I am officially dropping the NY Metro list from this blog’s masthead and objectives list, primarily because most of the rest of their list isn’t cheap enough.  You don’t mind, certainly?

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Grillin’ ain’t easy.

On Saturday, Sophmoricles and I attended the Gothamist-A Hamburger Today “QBQ-BBQ.”  As this will no doubt be one of the most-blogged food events of the year, I don’t need to go too terribly in-depth with my coverage, but I will say that Harry’s Water Taxi Beach is a great spot, even if it’s a leap of faith get there (especially with the 7 out of service).  I’m sure that when LIC is built up, the layout will make more sense, but for now, with the beach at the far end of a parking lot, nobody stumbles in by accident.

As for the burgers – the elk burger arrived from Moscow, Idaho frozen and, frankly, tasted like it.  It was probably a wise decision to cook this one first, and it seemed like most people skipped it, in any case.  Having had great buffalo and venison meats before, though, I wasn’t about to pass it up.  Alas, though the flavor was intriguing, the after-effects of the freeze and the lean-ness of the meat seem to have conspired to make a less-than-appealing product.  I salute Harry and team for thinking out of the box, though.

Both Soph and I skipped the Motz burger – not out of disrespect for Mr. George Motz, guest of honor and active and integral part of the cooking team, but rather out of interest in the last three “specialty” burgers: the “Guber” burger (a recipe from the Wheel Inn in Sedalia, MO), the New Mexico Green Chile/Vermont Cheddar burger, and the Wisconsin butter-burger.

As it stood, we only managed to try the first two of the trifecta before Soph and I had to depart (I to hip-hop karaoke at Southpaw, with special guest star Big Daddy Kane, he to try and catch an express A train back to his uptown headquarters), but I will go out on a limb and declare that the Guber burger deserves to be considered on burger menus outside Missouri.  As easy as the preparation is, with heated Peter Pan peanut butter is applied to the patty at a late stage of grilling, and as good as the flavor is, since the peanut taste and the fatty, slightly crusted burger are a match made in sweet-savory heaven, it seems like an easy crowd-pleaser.  I’ll be featuring these at the Cape later this summer, no doubt.

The green chile cheeseburger was also pretty fantastic (you had me at the Cabot cheddar, guys), though I had the vague sense that I’d probably eaten something like it before out west.  Soph and I agreed that the level of spice was oversold, but I’m a spice freak and he’s a budding medical professional, so perhaps others had different reactions.

I’m sure the butter burger was delicious, too, but we took off after the first three segments of Mr. Motz’s movie had shown.  The film looked quite intriguing, actually, and I’ll look forward to seeing it at some future point.

(Special shout out for the fries, by the way.  I would have come out to Water Taxi beach just for those – fresh cut skin-on potatoes, golden fried with the perfect amount of salt.  Crazy delicious.)

Thanks to Adam, Matty, George, Harry, Jen, and the rest of the AHT-Gothamist-Harry’s team for making this event happen – deliciousness and beautiful views aplenty.

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Taco corrections with a side of pork rinds.

I made a pre-group-dinner re-visitation to De Guerreros Taqueria last night, and it was as good as ever.  However, I may have made a mistake with my earlier article with regards to the meats inside the tacos.  Alas, alack.  Believe you me, I paid for my mistake – with sweat.  It was hot as the blazes in that restaurant last night.

As usual, I over-ordered like a fool, asking for two of the gorditas with chicharron and two tacos al pastor.  You probably actually only need to get about half this much food, for what it’s worth, but I always think tacos are going to be tiny, and I thought that the gorditas would be too.   I was certainly wrong, though, and it’s a mistake I might not have made if I spoke any Spanish – the word gordita means “little fat one.”

At least at De Guerreros, the little fat ones are sort of like pita sandwiches, only smaller, thicker, and made of corn meal.  Chicharron, or fried pork rinds, comprised the primary innards (different kinds of cheese also available, for those who aren’t rind-friendly), with lettuce, salsa, avocado, crema, and really tasty crumbled cheese filling out the top.  Quite delicious, though the rinds are a little skanky for me to order regularly.

The al pastor tacos were where I made my mistake – as I ordered one each of the suadero and al pastor last time, and they arrived without indication, I assumed after doing some Google research that the more delicious of the two was al pastor.  How wrong I was, indeed.  My face fell as I saw what I had thought to be suadero tacos arrive at my table.

However, I was much enthused when the tacos that arrived happened to be MUCH BETTER than what I now know to have been al pastor last time around.  The little cuts of pork look like chopped doner kebap meat, only redder – they’re spiced to be flavorful but with a touch of heat, and they end up looking more intimidating than their taste.  The tiny chunks of some kind of citrus fruit sprinkled within really make the taco tick, though – I have no idea what they were, and I didn’t ask, but in concert with the meat, they were perfect.

At least I’ve got my order straight for next week.

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Flying saucer made of beef spotted on 38th Street.

Occasionally during lunch I get ambitious and decide to travel further than the West Village/SoHo West area that seems to dominate my midday dining.  Today, I went all the way up to 38th Street between 7th and 8th Avs. in search of the Bosnian beef patty known as pljeskavica, to the midtown branch of the multi-borough mini-chain Djerdan.

The premises, a large, uncrowded downstairs room in the last brownstone-style building on the block, look a bit like a Mediterranean tavern.  The menu and business card tout new renovations, which I can’t fault except as they have (probably) impacted prices.  Indeed, the prices are steep for Bosnian this category: $11 for the pljeskavica and cevapi (sausages, ostensibly made from the same ground meat(s) as the patty, but that are touted as being made of veal here), $5 for a burek slice, and desserts that range from $2 to $5.

Regardless of price, the meat can’t be faulted. The pljeskavica arrived on an aluminum plate bearing twin containers of chopped white onions and ajvar, (a red pepper spread that, if I can find a jar or six to take with me to the Cape, will be the hit condiment of the summer with my family).  The patty itself was somewhat contained in a very fresh-looking puffy pita – “somewhat” because the meat was a bit bigger than the bread, and I doubt you’re supposed to eat it with your hands.  Instead, dump on as much ajvar and onion as you want (though it would also be plenty good without), and attack with knife and fork.  FYI for dairy-lovers: there’s some homemade yogurt spread on the bottom half of the pita, too, and an extra cup of it is available for $1.50.

This article won’t go for much longer because of my food coma, but my trip to midtown was well worth it.  Oh, man, was it ever.

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