Monthly Archives: September 2006

Zabb City, USA.

(Sorry for both the lack of posts this week and the vagueness of the below review – I’ve had a cold all week and, perhaps as a result, have forgotten some of the more crucial dish details in the intervening week. I wouldn’t post the review except that I feel strongly enough about Zabb City that I NEED to. Sorry in advance.)

It’s not often that I can wholeheartedly recommend a Thai restaurant in Manhattan – something about “making huge rent payments” seems to always corrupt the food or flavors to the point where they may as well have opened a cocktail bar in the space. This time, though, it’s different. Woodside favorite Zabb has opened a Manhattan branch that, while not hewing completely to the menu and high flavor standards of its Queens parent, is a very fair approximation.

I went on consecutive nights this past weekend, flying solo the first night. It wasn’t even a premeditated trip – I recalled reading something about it while riding the L back from a record-shopping excursion and called my friend in California to do some Google research for me. (For the record, it’s called Zabb City, and it’s on 13th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.) The décor differs from its Queens counterpart by emphasizing the rustic rather than the modern. Instead of a wide-screen TV and bare white walls, Zabb City has benches, hand-decorated chairs, and tin ceilings.

The food is, however, top-notch. On my first visit, I tried the pork labb salad (Woodside’s staple catfish lab is not on the menu). Without asking for any special spice alterations, it came back a pleasing heap of pleasantly spiced ground pork – not bland, but not overpowering, either.

This bade well for my second visit, undertaken the following evening with two friends of mine. We came in hungry and ordered up a storm, and Zabb City did not disappoint. Though they were out of several of the appetizers, we found what we ended up with to our liking: the fish cake came sliced with six pieces to the plate, and, while rubbery, made an excellent pairing with the included spicy sauce. The sliced grilled beef appetizer was pleasingly tender and not at all crusty, thank god (skip the sauce).

A dinner at Zabb isn’t complete without ordering some kind of salad, and we opted for the duck iteration. It featured sliced apples in place of the green mangoes, which worked alright, texture-wise. Again, just the right amount of spice.

I can also attest to the peanut curry, which was (who guessed?) delicious without being overpowering. Unlike most times I have curry, there was nary a stray bit of soup left by the time the bowls left the table.

In the “more refreshing than spicy” category was the final dish: the Zabb noodle soup, featuring pork (crumbled similarly to the labb salad) and fish balls in a citrus-leaning broth.

Our bill came to slightly more than $20 a person, and considering it’s BYO (or try the excellent Thai iced tea, available in a swell sans-condensed-milk variation), you’ll save buckets over SEA or any of the other local Thai cocktail joints.


Filed under NYC

Yo, Adrian!

Various folks (Robyn included) have been singing the praises of Crosby Connection, the microscopic sandwich stall that is perched at the top of the eponymous street in NoHo.  Despite its relative proximity to my workplace, I had never gone over there until today, but, feeling a little bored with my sandwich options in the near proximity, elected to take a stroll down Houston Street and soak up some cool breeze and sun.

A few observations: The staff (a two-man team) are friendly to a fault, the menus are photocopied and barely-readable scribblings, and the prices are so low that it’ll bring a tear to the eye of the even the most-jaded Broadway-Houston lunch buyer.  Seriously, most of the sandwiches are $6, the exception being the sans-meat mozzarella sandwich, and the paninis (so upscale!) range from $6-$7.

I tried an “Italian stallion” sandwich today, which featured cappicola, salami, provolone, roasted red peppers, basil, and vinegar and oil.  It also featured tomatoes, which were serviceable if a little crispy, but you could always order the sandwich without (the menu proclaims, “feel free to customize”).  It came to me out of a fridge pre-made, but seemed to be plenty fresh, and the bread (sesame!) was in no way soggy.

It was a good sandwich in the classic “hero” vein – obviously not in accordance with my recent minimalist hero creed, but the taste more than made up for it.  I will certainly be back.

On the way back, I noticed that the space that, until recently, housed the mini-burger place “Burger Joint” and, previous to that, Pop’s Pierogies, has now opened as a western outpost of 3rd Avenue’s 99 Miles to Philly.  It’s not nearly as good a cheesesteak as Carl’s, but it’s nice to see the space get used for something good and greasy (as the previous mini-burgers were).


Filed under NYC

Eating my way through a Coney Island day.

A day on Coney Island brings to mind many things in the eyes of normal folks – the beach, the Cyclone, ticket-bearing arcade games, the freak show, and the ancient “step right up” carnival games.  I certainly did my fair share of the above when I was there yesterday, but I have to say that the first thing that comes to mind when I go to a neighborhood with friends in from out of town is, “where should we eat?”  A sickness, I’m well aware.

However, in between bumper cars, the Cyclone (my friends rode, not I), the Wonder Wheel, and several rounds of skee-ball, we managed to eat extremely well – the decrepit neighborhood surrounding the beach and amusement park actually has several great places to nosh.

The day started, per my friends’ request, at Nathan’s – for the out-of-towners, this is where the hot-dog-eating contest happens every year.  (By the way, out-of-towners, we don’t call chili dogs “Coneys” here.  I find that concept totally bizarre, considering the general filth and decrepitude of the Island, and I doubt Nathan’s invented the chili dog anyway.  What gives?)  While the premises look like a larger version of an old time lunch counter, with its polished steel, and neon signage, the menu at Nathan’s has expanded slightly past its humble roots to include chicken sandwiches, cheesesteaks, and onion rings.  

I didn’t taste any of those, though, sticking with a single and unadorned frankfurter ($2.50).  The sausage is started at one end of the grill and rotated through to the other – by the time it’s ready to serve, it has been slow-heated to perfection, retaining a nice casing snap and consistent juiciness.  Flavor-wise, too, the dog is top notch.  It may be pricy for a hot dog, but it’s worth trying (Nathan’s website has a coupon for a two-for-one hot dog deal – no idea if it applies at the original location, but it’s worth a shot).  The fries are good too (freshly cut daily), though, I’m warning you, there won’t be room enough for your franks if you opt to top the fries with chili and liquid cheese.

After a few rides, some skee-ball, and a lot of wandering around, my friends wanted to check out the freak show.  Not being as much of a carnival aficionado as they are, and being somewhat afraid of being hit by an errant chainsaw, I opted to run up to Neptune Avenue.  There, I hoped to check out list entry A&S Homestyle Catering, as well as pick up a pie at Totonno’s.  

Neptune Avenue is kind of a gas, by the way – completely overrun with car repair shops and gas stations, and all the buildings look totally beat.  Not the kind of place you expect to find any restaurants, much less a pizzeria with Totonno’s pedigree and a Sietsema-recommended cheap spot.

A&S turned out to be closed, unfortunately, and there weren’t even any eye-level windows to peer into (it’s literally on the end of one of the rows of car shops).  So I hoofed it back to Totonno’s and put in my order for a large plain pie ($15.50), and watched the idling cars for twenty minutes (it seems that people will drive down, stop in the bike lane and wait for a pizza – not a huge local clientele).  Also, if you’re a freak about watching your pizza being assembled, this is the place.  Unlike most pizza joints, it doesn’t happen in the back or behind a counter – you can watch your pie being shaped, topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce (in that order!), and chucked in the oven.  Pretty neat, actually, and combined with the atmosphere of the place (the usual array of semi-celeb signed photos and other ancient decorative touches), it wouldn’t be a bad spot at which to eat-in.

Having opted for take-out, though, I brought the pizza back to my friends just after the freak show ended.  We located a table on West 12th Street that happened to belong to a taco stall in the same building as the freaks.  In order to facilitate the taqueria’s owners not shooing us away, I decided to grab a salted beef taco ($2).  Lordy, was it ever good – the dude cooked it up fresh, and it showed.  Just a little hot sauce with the cilantro, onion, and beef – next time I go down to Coney, I’m going to have about four of them.

Oh, yes, and the pizza – while the crust was a tad chewier than I perhaps like, and the tip sag indicative that the pie was a little soggy (in their defense, I wasn’t eating it right out of the oven), the pie was excellent.  Good fresh mozzarella and a sweet tomato sauce, with a little drizzle of olive oil – totally delicious.

I stumbled home and sat on the couch for the rest of the evening – not so much full of food as exhausted from the day in the sun.  Thankfully, Coney Island has enough food options to keep you going all day – and more urban decay and amusement park fun than you can shake a stick at.


Filed under NYC

A working class hero is something to be eaten.

I don’t know how you feel about meatballs.  As for me, it’s not like I grew up in an Italian family with the off-the-boat grandma making the sauce all day, but I’m rather fond of Italian-American cooking and especially meatballs.  Clever and long-time readers may remember this, as well as my worship of a particular ex-girlfriend’s iteration, with the recipe having been passed down from some Sicilian ancestor.

What you don’t know was how much trouble that worship got me into with the (different) girl I was dating at the time I wrote the article. I summarily put meatballs on total menu blackout, lest I have dug my hole deeper.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a single meatball in months, merely because the thought was enough to make me break out in hives for a good long while after the relationship ended.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you this (in fact, I’m fairly certain that I will regret writing it), but I only mean to illustrate how much I appreciate a good meatball, that I’ve suffered for them, and that I have been without a source for good ones for far too long.

Thanks again to the NYT list of heroes, I can say I have an acceptable place to go when I have the urge for a meatball hero: Salumeria Biellese, on 8th Avenue at the corner of 29th Street, is a small lunch-counter-sans-actual-counter kind of place.  Plastic covered tables are available to dine in, with Tabasco and hot pepper flakes being the only condiments, and napkin dispensers being the only other table accoutrement.  While I suppose one could dine in more luxury at the attached Italian restaurant next door, why bother?

The smell as I walked in today was enough to convince me that I’d arrived at the right place, and a quick inspection of the glass case made me even happier.  Sausage, cheesy red-sauced pastas, and a giant parmesan rind gave me great hope that this would be, finally, an Italian-American place that I could recommend as cost-effective and delicious.

The meatballs didn’t let me down.  At $4.75 (75 cents more for cheese), the large meatball hero is a petite-looking force of nature.  The meatballs are ladled out of their receptacle on the steam table and plopped down on a delicious piece of sesame bread, which they then proceed to totally destroy and rebuild as sauce-sop.  This is not a sandwich for mobile eating, folks – get it to stay and peer out the window at the passing crowd of Fashion Institute of Technology students (or eavesdrop on your fellow diners’ conversations – I got lucky and heard about someone comparing their shrink and their analyst today, but that’s neither here nor there).

If you go to FIT, you should be thankful to have a place like this in your close proximity, nearby cafeteria be damned.  As I chowed down on the lovely meatballs and the sauce-and-grease-laden sesame bread, I pondered how often I could reasonably escape uptown for a sandwich.  Fortunately, the round trip took less than an hour, so I feel like the answer is “as often as I choose,” which certainly agrees with my budget.  $4.75?!?  Astonishing.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

42nd Street bizarre?

I will admit to having gone into today’s Conde Nast cafeteria expedition hoping for sensationalist material.  Until today, the sum total of my interaction with Conde has been through the lens of Gawker (i.e. semi-fictional).  Obviously I was hoping for some kind of ridiculous Wintour posse sighting or to at least see clones of Mary Kate and Ashley pecking at side salads while complaining about their investment banker boyfriends’ taste in jewelry.  Instead, I found a fairly typical (if Gehry-designed) corporate cafeteria that, other than its funky layout and slightly reduced grease factor, does little to differentiate itself from a college dining hall.

Outrageous, you say?  I beg to differ.  You’ve got your salad bar, you’ve got your fryer and griddle, and you’ve got your mysterious international specialty food (this week: Moroccan!) and dessert.  All stations are manned by white-clad staff rather more polite than the customers – the concession to being in New York is the addition of a salad assembly technician.  You ‘pay’ for your meal with your ID card, though this time it won’t be your parents that get the bill (the machines to put cash on the cards are immediately outside the cafeteria).  The food is cheap because it’s subsidized, there is Mountain Dew on tap, and trying to find a seat during the lunch rush ensures that you’ll make ‘new friends’ (just like mom and dad promised!).  I bet they even have financial aid students scrubbing dishes behind the conveyor belt – those NYU kids will do anything for an internship.

I had a burger, which may not qualify as the most adventurous possible meal, but it fit within my budget.  For a fiver, I had a burger that was only slightly overcooked (to be fair, it was a thin patty), some lettuce and tomato, and a roll that could have been more on the spongy side – the five dollar deal included fries that had been sitting out for a little while and a 20-ounce soda.  

But, yeah, no ridiculousness.  I guess that’s okay.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Operation roadfood: Peruvian in New Haven.

I didn’t really have a good base for what’s good in Peruvian cuisine until recently, when a stop at New Haven’s Machu Picchu enlightened me to what I had been lacking at the lackluster Smith Street and 5th Avenue joints.  Who says New Haven is just Yalies and proto-hamburgers?

The name belies the restaurant’s atmosphere: it ain’t no rich Inca’s resort hotel kitchen.  Lovably dive-y, in fact, and filled with regulars sucking down Chinese-style noodle dishes, hidden behind plates of chicken bones and rogue napkin piles.

They’re smart, because the most delicious item on the menu is easily the beyond-perfect roast chicken ($12 for a whole), which defies its status as “grilled” on the menu by tasting like it had been smoked!  Easily the most tender and juicy bird I’ve eaten in the last year, and possibly in my lifetime.  I could have devoured the whole plate.

Instead, I went polite and sampled a few of the other things we ordered.  The salad that came with the chicken was hilariously perfunctory, but the fries were good (we sadly didn’t try the salchipapas).  The lomo saltado ($10) improved the fry formula by taking the spuds and using them as the potato portion of a tough beef stir fry that tasted like it had a French onion soup base.   Tasty, in a “tastes like Mom’s fifteen-minute recipes” kind of way, if only mom had access to a fry-o-lator.

Against my sometime anti-seafood-in-a-non-seafood-restaurant bent, I also tried certain parts of the mixed seafood ceviche (it’s unclear to me, as I was not the one ordering, how this differs from the alternately-listed “seafood mix ceviche” – both $12), and found the squid to be particularly well-served by the citrusy brine – I would have ordered it with four-alarm spice levels, though, and the lowering of said made for a ho-hummer kind of experience.  The portion, as with everything, is LARGE.

I would be remiss not to mention the ridiculously good juices, too.  While my papaya was great, the clear winner of the evening was the mango, which came out looking almost jellied.  Both were in enormous glasses and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of two bucks.

I’ve got the menu in front of me here and it’s making me hungry.  Sadly, unlike most of the places I review, it’s a bit far away (not even close to the train) to make a random evening of.  Rest assured that I’ll be going back whenever possible; if you’re looking for a meal not too far off the CT Turnpike in the New Haven vicinity, you ought to try it.

Leave a comment

Filed under New Haven

Nine innings and five dollars later…

Okay, so I cheated a bit on this one.  After a company-sponsored Mets day game, I took the 7 train to Flushing (conveniently located one stop from Shea) and grabbed takeout from Sentosa, the 22nd entry on the list.  I thus can’t really definitively review the place, though I did wait there about five minutes for my dish to be ready – does that make me qualified to comment on atmosphere?

“Like its neighbor, Spicy & Tasty, Sentosa has a coolly modern and clean atmosphere.”

There, I commented on it, and it even sounded like a real food critic might!  I would also like to point out that if you arrive like I did at about 3:30 in the afternoon, you can watch the bored waitstaff making satay from chunks of marinated meat and bamboo skewers.  Looks like fun, guys, and I’d love to help, but I’ve got a hair appointment to get to…er…would you believe machinists’ convention?  Right.

The rendang, which I ate on the G train (the 7 was a bit too crowded to eat impolitely), was probably the best I’d ever tasted.  A lingering, flavorful heat distinguishes the sauce from most others of its type, and the beef is uniformly tender and tasty.  Packed into your take-out container with enough rice to soak up any sauce leftovers, the $5 meal is among the best things you can find in the city for its price (make sure to order the “Beef Rendang & Rice,” as the full portion of rendang is considerably more expensive).

Given my proclivity for Sichuan when traveling so far out, I don’t know if I’ll make it back to Sentosa for a full meal in the near future, but I will certainly consider it more closely now.  And I promise not to make a habit out of doing the take-out thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC

Happy souvlaki time.

I took a group of folks to Spartan Souvlaki (6820 8th Avenue, Brooklyn) last night, and, as usual, fun was had by all.  Having promised them good gyros, I think those who ordered the monster sandwiches ($5.35) were more than pleased.   We also had several people try the spinach pie (with salad, $6.55), which was pronounced to be very good (I didn’t try them or the excellent-looking greens).  

Of our sides, the octopus ($6) was a little disappointing – though chargrilled, the meat was a little chewy and fishy.  The big star of the evening, though, were the French fries – our waitress having informed us about “Greek-style” spuds ($5.35 for a large), we were pleased when an enormous plate of fresh-cut frites arrived, sprinkled with oil and lemon and with craggy feta deposits throughout.  We demolished the single plate and might have made an effort on a second if we’d had but one or two more people.

The other great thing about Spartan Souvlaki – besides the overwrought décor and quite friendly service, that is?  Cheap wine ($20 for a large carafe).  Needless to say, we hardly noticed that the N train was running local by the time we ambled out.

Leave a comment

Filed under NYC