Category Archives: NYC

Tofu au Naturel.

Last week, I took a few of my friends to Natural Tofu in Sunnyside.  As I suspected, they quite enjoyed the massive $8 tofu bowls, as well as the lovely array of panchan (though not everyone thought kimchi was a good idea – heathens).  But we tried a few other things, too.  The barbecued squid ($12) that I had noticed on my first visit was a must – unfortunately I found it a bit disappointing.  Some pieces were admittedly lovely, but some were a bit funny in the flavor department – similar to squid ink’s funky flavor, maybe.  I’d probably eschew ordering it again.

Much better, and also $12, was the enormous plate of what they called “spicy pork fried,” or pork bulgoki.  If you’re annoyed at how little meat you get in a typical serving at an average Korean restaurant, never fear – the heap of pork is big enough to feed two, and you’ll have none of that lettuce stuff to crowd the table with.  The sauce is a little mustardy and perhaps not spicy enough, but the pork is blessedly chewy (none of that melt-in-your-mouth stuff for me on this dish, thanks!).

My friend was also pleased with his dolsot bibimbap, the rice and additions dish that you mix together in the same kind of stone crock as the tofu, though I didn’t have enough of a taste to feel like it distinguished itself from any other iteration of the dish.

One other interesting wrinkle from the rice department: as we were a party of four, we apparently merited our own crock of white rice, which was initially ladled out to us in shiny individual bowls.  But, after that, instead of whisking away the crock, a clear liquid (which I later found out was tea) was poured in with the crust of rice that had accumulated on the crock.  Instant dessert!  The rice took on the faint sweetness of the barley tea and was a nice palate cleanser after stuffing ourselves silly.

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For that "adventurous" third date.

Mabat, located just off Kings Highway in…Midwood, I guess…falls into the category of restaurants that are “cheap for their category” or “could be cheap if you order carefully.” That didn’t hinder a friend and I, though, as we shared a table and perused the menu last night, noshing on freshly produced pita and a pickle plate. The assemblage bore eerie similarity to the same pitas and pickle plate at Hummus Place – the difference being the salsa-like concoction that accompanied the olives and pickles, as well as the separate plate of scallions, tomatoes, and radishes. “What the hell are you going to do with a scallion all by itself,” I thought.

In addition to the copious complimentary apps, we ordered small plates of hummus and masbacha ($4.50 or so each), the chunky eggplant/red pepper combination. The former bettered the latter, but the aubergine was no slouch, to be sure.

We opted for the $22 two-skewer-and-two-side combination – it’s only a couple bucks more than two skewers by their lonesome, I was told. Opting for the ground beef kofte was a smart choice, as it is among the most flavorful ground beef products I’ve tasted recently. The grape tomatoes that separated the portions of meat on the skewer were deemed “perfect” by my cohort, too. The lamb was equally satisfying – the tender morsels did not succumb to dryness.

I wouldn’t say the sides were as good – the rice with lentils and onions was fine, if not particularly noteworthy (the onions redeemed it from total mediocrity). The best part of the ostensibly home-cut fries was the crispy bits at the bottom of the bowl – that, and dipping them in the hummus, I guess. Flavor was only so-so.

I should also note that the premises are date-worthy – this is not a pit by any means. We decided that the walls were a deeper shade of green than we had Crayolas, and everything seems quite well-polished. The service was mostly quite nice – our primary waitress (they seem to team a bit) even brought me out a sample of a special fish soup when wasn’t sure whether I wanted to commit to a full bowl, and was quite nice when I decided that I liked it, but had ordered enough food already.

Save room for dessert, if you can – though I didn’t try it, they seem to have some kind of trick for packing sorbet into hollowed out pieces of fruit (for example, a quarter pineapple). The cake in the refridge looked excellent, too, even though I wasn’t quite sure what they were using as a substitute for dairy in the trimming. Mabat, being a kosher steakhouse, has no dairy on the premises.

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Not my usual sandwich.

Taking a lunch break from my recently borrowed 24-disc Radiohead unreleased tracks collection (which, by the way, is a ridiculous amount of music), I trooped up to Pio Maya to see what was going on. They seem to have an array of specials now, or at least “things on the exterior chalkboard that aren’t on the menu,” so I forewent the usual tacos and tried a Torta Milanese.

Milanese is generally like schnitzel, although it was tough to tell if this was breaded or merely pounded – probably the latter. At any rate, it was a new and unique spin on the usual steak sandwich – particularly liked the slightly spicy peppers and the layer of refried beans. Cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato and avocado rounded out the toppings.


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Chill chilaquiles.

I must once again commend the hangover-curative powers of De Guerreros’ green chilaquiles.  After journeying to the Time Warner customer service center a few blocks away to turn in my cable modem (no home internet any more, for reasons I’ll explain in a few weeks), I needed treatment for the previous night’s epic antics.  Finding the taqueria open was great; eating another al pastor taco for an appetizer was greater, but the chilaquiles were, as always, amazing.

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Taco and pastry goodness.

Craving tacos last night, I was dismayed to find the Guerreros Taqueria shuttered. I hope it’s not permanent, but in the case that it is, I’m happy to note that you can find virtually the same menu across the street at the Guerreros Deli (5th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets). I figured that the guy wasn’t going to have time to make me chilaquiles, and was proved right, but that’s hardly an insurmountable problem. Instead, I ordered the longtime favorite al pastor, which I maintain is TO DIE FOR when it’s freshly griddled, as last night’s was. Suadero was good too. Three tacos, one guava drink: seven dollars.

I thus had some bread left over for the bakery that’s a few blocks up on the west side of the street (between 21st and 22nd, I think?). I never know what the hell I’m ordering in those places, but usually I end up with some kind of cookie that explodes into Pecan-Sandie-like dust upon first bite. Not my fave. This time, though, I struck gold. In the two tastes that taste great together department, I ended up with something resembling a denser cupcake, only without frosting and ringed with the flakiest pastry dough I’ve ever had. A cakestry? A pastake? Whatever it’s called, it was magical, and I almost turned back and bought the lot of them – which, at 50 cents apiece, wouldn’t have cleaned me out.

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Crispy skin and Redskins.

With my roommate’s brother moving in on Washington Avenue on the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights (and, incidentally, my roommate moving out – CRAP), I took the opportunity of a stroll up and down the nearby Vanderbilt Avenue strip. While there aren’t many cheap eats kinda places there (the theme of the strip seems to have skipped from nothing to upscale bistro in a few shakes of a lamb’s tail), at least one is worthy of consideration: Mitchell’s, located between Bergen and St. Marks.

Mitchell’s is another of the fried chicken places covered in the VV article that introduced me to Ruthie’s, but I have to say that the chicken probably isn’t as good as that hallowed establishment. Not that the cooking technique and skin aren’t great – the actual base of the chicken is just dryer than it needs to be. I tried yam and collards for sides, and while the collards may be a bit better than Ruthie’s by virtue of their moist-ness, nobody beats her yams as yet.

That said, a thigh-leg and two sides portion of food is only $7, and, if you stop in on a Sunday, as I did, you can watch football on the TV in the corner (choose seat strategically, if possible, otherwise a thick Plexiglas partition will blur your view) with a local clergyman and his family. God bless the fresh fried bird, and may it always triumph over the red devil KFC.

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Is there parking for the Rolls nearby?

My inbox is sometimes a source of unexpectedly and unintentionally delightful press releases.  I give you an excerpt of the latest, restaurant name removed (like hell I’m going to plug this place, even Gawker-style humorously):
The falling of leaves marks the annual transition from the lighter fare of summer to earthier, richer flavors that come with autumn. [REDACTED] has scored one of this season’s most coveted culinary accouterments—the white truffle.
Not for those of unaccustomed palates (or light pockets), [REDACTED] will be offering a special eight dish tasting menu, each including a shaving of this Italian delicacy, for $1000 per person, but make sure to bring someone along to keep you company— this menu is only offered with a two person minimum.  And should you become a bit parched, a wine pairing is available for an additional $500 per person. 

It literally made me choke-laugh.


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Kimchee is sacrosanct at this Temple.

Continuing with our “places you’ve possibly heard of and that aren’t too hard to get to” tour (which, I assure you, was unintentionally assembled), I’d like to yak a little bit today about Korean Temple Cuisine, number 49 on the estimable list, located on St. Marks just west of 1st Avenue.  I went for the second time over the weekend with my roommate and a friend visiting from out of town – the first time I went was in the brief period just after finding the list and before starting the blog (that would place it over a year ago, for those keeping score at home).

Unfortunately it’s still more expensive than most of the places on the list (only cheaper than AQ Café and the late and lamented Philoxenia, off the top of my head), but I’m sure that the lunch deals are more cost-effective, and it might well be cheaper than the average 32nd Street place.  The décor is nice, though, and my roommate described it as the perfect date location.  That is, as long as your date likes kimchee.

Happy to say that the food hasn’t changed from what I remember – never truly transcendent, but it’s definitely quality stuff.  I had the succinctly-monikered “pork,” which actually would be called pork bulgoki in many places ($14).  It presents a skillet full of pork in a chile sauce, a side place of lettuce to wrap them up in, and a little dipping sauce.  It kind of comes off like Korean fajitas, I suppose.  

Heathen alert: I usually eschew the lettuce part of the equation, feeling like it’s too much work for too little reward (and because the first place I ever had the dish wasn’t the kind of place that served lettuce with it).  My roommate, who actually bothered to put a wrap together, said it was a good contrast of temperatures and textures.  Bully, him!  Temple’s iteration is significantly less spicy than others I’ve had, though, if this makes a difference to you, it’s a heck of a lot more tender than average.  Despite the lack of spice, I was still happy that the meal came with a large bowl of white rice, as the portion of meat was perhaps slightly smaller than would be ideal.

My roommate ordered the bibimgooksu, a cold buckwheat noodle dish with veggies in a citrus-pepper sauce ($10).  It packed quite a kick!  The noodles themselves were quite thin, which was a refreshing change from the dreadnaught noodles that some places serve with their cold dishes.

My friend from Boston, a first-time Korean diner, was very brave to order the grilled eel dolsot ($14) – she’d never had eel before, either.  Fortunately, this is an excellent preparation to try it in, and it was probably the best dish of the evening.  White rice in a stone crock with slightly sweetened eel filet on the top, but you’re supposed to mix it up into a mishmash of flavors and textures (the rice hardens when it’s next to the stone, providing a nice crunch).  Definitely delicious, and the portion of rice is huge enough that you’ll get a bite even if someone else at the table orders it.

The panchan that came out only a few minutes before the mains were good, though I missed the non-gringo-favorites like fried minnows and mystery egg soufflé – this one substituted a potato mixture.  The cold cinnamony concoction that is served after the plates are cleared, too, is delicious – can’t tell if it’s liquor or tea, but I’m leaning towards the latter.

Definitely more of an atmosphere place than a hardcore ethnic destination, but that’s okay – if you’re tired of taking all your dates to the Shake Shack and want to add a little spice to a second or third date with someone you think can handle it, Temple will fit your needs perfectly.  

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Danny and the Juniors know best.

Let’s be honest: There is NO bad time to go to Wo Hop. There are times, though, at which you can waltz in and sit down, and there are times that you’ll be squeezed in at the front of the restaurant wondering if the facsimile restaurant of the same name upstairs could really be as bad as everyone told you. Last night, pleasantly, was one of the former, and as my first trip back to Wo Hop since starting this blog, I can say that I’m extremely pleased with both the quality of the food and that my opinion of American Chinese food hasn’t suffered for exposure to the real deal.

I can’t believe that Wo Hop has been around since 1938, but that’s what the menu claims, and I don’t doubt that the cramped basement space COULD have been around that long. It seems to have practically 70 years of photos and memorabilia tacked to the walls, including (in a weird reality/fiction mix) a photo of Mike Bloomberg filming an episode of Law and Order while standing next to former Senator and actor Fred Thompson. No word as to whether the Senator was attending in an official or fictional capacity.

Our food was certainly for real, starting with what my dining partner termed “the best” cold sesame noodles he’d ever had. They were certainly light-years better than the peanut-buttery crap I was served at the last American Chinese place I went to. We both had to be careful not to fill up on them, as we had also ordered an array of mains: the unique honey crispy chicken and pork fried rice for my friend, while I went adventurous with salt and pepper squid.

First, my cephalopod: it sort of reminded us of a Chinese fried calamari, except in bigger chunks and a bit chewier than perhaps is ideal. Nonetheless, the batter is as salty as advertised, with the necessary hint of pepper (though you may want to add more), interspersed with green peppers. You could certainly eat an ocean of this without feeling grease-laden.

Also thrilling was the honey crispy chicken, which takes a barbecue-flavored sauce and uses it to put a new spin on the classic sweet and sour chicken. Thankfully, all of the pieces of chicken are actually identifiable as such, and the batter is neither constructed of cement nor soggy. You might want to slosh your rice around in the sauce when you’re done.

We certainly did our fair share of sloshing, though the pork fried rice would have been fine unadorned. Just the right amount of grease and quality pink-tipped strips of pork distinguish this rice from the average iteration. Again, the only limitation to how much of this rice you could consume is your stomach’s size – not feeling ill after half a plate is always a plus.

I declare Wo Hop (at 17 Mott Street – the upstairs one is apparently the Canal Street handbag of Wo Hops) to be the best American-style Chinese in the city. As we all know, though, my opinion matters for naught – just get over there on a random weekday night and try it for yourself.

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Viva La (Beef) Revolución!

Have you ever had a really, really good steak?  If you’re like most people my age, the answer is probably no, and here’s why: they cost a boatload.  Unless you’ve got a rich uncle or gourmand grandparent (or, to be fair, are better at saving money than me), you may or may not ever get to sample the sumptuously spectacular Peter Luger porterhouse.  

So it’s that much more valuable that any schmuck can walk in to the afore-mentioned temple o’ beef and get a taste of heaven on a bun – that’s right, the Luger Burger.  I’m here to tell you that it tastes like fine steak, only in burger format.  That is, a hell of a lot like the aged porterhouse that will set you back three-quarters of a hundo or more, all for the bargain price of $8.50 (for the unadorned).

Reservations are probably a good idea at Luger’s, which is one of the only times you’ll hear me say that in an entry, but a friend and I waltzed in unannounced at 1:30 on a Saturday and were seated within half an hour.  From there, we planned our attack: burgers medium rare with cheese, fries, and two slices of bacon on the side.

When the beef arrived, it looks strangely unimpressive.  The seeded bun is a bit bigger than the burger, and almost looks too chewy for its own good.  Then you take a bite, and the juices go EVERYWHERE (hope you were leaning up – your mom wasn’t kidding), and you see why perhaps a bit more structure to the bun than is ordinarily necessary benefits you.

And the flavor.  Oh, lord, the flavor!  Aged beef might be a slightly acquired taste, as it has a stiff aroma and earthy palate, but this is the true sign of quality.  It’s surely indicative of the blandness of most of our beef products – do you expect pork or cured meats to be without flavor?  Maybe your average chicken, but that was made bland so that people who don’t like to eat would have something to sauté with frozen veggies (proof: real fried chicken is far from tasteless).

I think the cheese thing is a personal decision, but I don’t regret it in the least.  However, you will be richly rewarded if you load a few of the white onion bits onto your bun.  Most beef (see preceding paragraph) would be overwhelmed by the strong onion, but Luger’s has both good onions and strong-flavored beef, and the flavors are as complementary as peanut butter and jelly.

By the way, the fries are relatively forgettable – if you need additional starch, spring for a plate of au gratin potatoes or something like that.  And the bacon shouldn’t be loaded onto the burger, despite it being offered that way on the menu.  For the same price, get a slice or two on the side and enjoy that perfect pork product on its own.

Good beef on a budget?  It’s the greatest thing since the hamburger bun.  But, in the words of LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it: you can afford to find this out for yourself.

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