Category Archives: NYC

Dosa man: dope.

Here’s one you might have gotten to before me: Washington Square Park’s dosa man (near the southwest corner).  He’s a devious one, he is: advertising his cuisine as vegan ensures a steady stream of neo-hippie picky-eaters, and having a carton of samosas ready to go at any time will ensure on-the-go snack traffic.  I could give a flying cluck about a mock chicken drumstick, though – how are the man’s crepes?

I only have a half-remembered trip to Chennai Garden and several Jersey City excursions to compare to, so don’t call me the expert, but other than size (understandable given the size of his grill) and price (slightly more expensive), I’d say the dude has just as much to be proud of as his distant fellow travelers.  These dosas are excellent!

There is also a certain elegance in the way he works – cooking three at a time, never forgetting who ordered a high level of spice (which he works into the actual batter), and always retaining a friendly demeanor in the face of long lines and hungry patrons.  Even with a long line, $4 seemed a bargain for a crepe with spiced potatoes.  You’ll also get the standard coconut chutney (which might be better than Sri Ganesh’s analog) and sambar soup, both of which retain an authentic level of heat.

Looks like I never need excurse to Jersey City unless I absolutely want to, now.  Thanks, dosa man!

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Red Hook, former seaside wasteland/charmingly rundown blue-collar neighborhood, is getting a lot of press lately.  It seems like the august institutions (ie, NYT) have gotten the idea that, with the arrival of Fairway and the impending construction of an IKEA, the Hook is now a destination.  It’s hard for me to argue with that conclusion, though my logic is much different: Red Hook is the closest spot to lower Manhattan within the city borders in which you truly feel like you’re in a different place.

Obviously that feel has changed and will continue to change ever so slightly, but as long as I can still soak up the stiff breezes and sea air smell on the dock by the rusting hulk of a trolley, I’ll feel pretty good about the place.  Not to mention the various and sundry culinary delights that occupy the neighborhood – especially the ball fields (at Clinton and Bay Streets, a short walk from the Van Brunt St. corridor), to which I took my first eating trip this past weekend with a friend.

The season may be winding down, but there was a full or nearly-full complement of vendors there, a map for which can be found at the Porkchop Express (a relatively new and really excellent blog).  I can’t rightly remember where we bought everything, but I know we started at Sosa Juices, where I tried the melon and she tried the pineapple.  The melon in question was apparently cantaloupe, and I’ve scarcely ever been happier with a juice in my lifetime.  Her pineapple was also quite delish.

Toting our enormous cups of juice (which I think were like $2 each – in fact, most of the food items we had were between $1 and $3, with noted exceptions), we proceeded to look over the offerings.  The first thing that caught our collective eyes was a lady grilling up pupusas, which are basically grilled ground corn cakes filled with stuff.  In this case, it was meat and cheese, though other varieties were available at another nearby stand.  Pretty damn good, and the garnish of cabbage was better than the average sauerkraut or cole slaw.

Next up, my friend had a hankering for some ceviche.  So she went and grabbed it while I stopped at Ceron Colombian and made eyes at an enormous yellow doughy-looking ball, which I found out was made of potatoes stuffed with beef and deep fried.  I also noticed a sausage in a rather lovely shade of red-black – being a longtime blood sausage enthusiast, I took the plunge.

Of course, given that my friend is the smarter of the two of us, she ended up with the best-tasting dish of the three that arrived at our seat.  The ceviche ($6), while perhaps a bit mild for my taste, was filled to the brim with excellent shrimp, squid, octopus, and swordfish.  Something about this preparation method makes even sometimes-tough octopus tender, and the squid practically melted in my mouth.

Not that the sausage and stuffed potato (called a papa reyena, according to Mr. Slab of the Porkchop Express) were bad – just not as spectacular as I’d hoped.  The latter’s most attractive feature was indeed its goldenrod hue – the beef inside was rather mild and the potatoes, while tender, didn’t offer much in the way of flavor.  The blood sausage was better, if slightly dry, sided with something resembling stewed yucca and topped with some kind of mystery orange relish.

The last stop on the gutbusters tour was for tamales at Soler Dominican.  Two varieties were offered, and we tried both: unadorned corn and chicken.  Of the two, the chicken was my favorite, but not by much.  The moist stewed chicken and the corn meal combined to great effect, I thought – my friend made a compelling case for the corn meal alone being superior, though.  Something about the difference in preparation made it seem sweet, and almost like a dessert.  Not a bad way to cap lunchtime at the fields.

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The tiniest chicken egg in the world?

I was feeling pretty lazy on Friday, but resolved that I would make a food excursion – I was craving spice, in a bad way.  I’m not sure, then, why I ended up googling Mangal, the Turkish eatery that’s the only Sunnyside entry on the VV list, because even the spiciest doner kebap I’ve ever had pales in comparison to what I usually require when craving spice.

Fortunately, serendipity struck again, and I found a message board thread that dealt with Mangal and its neighbors in Sunnyside.  When I saw the posting that mentioned Natural Tofu Restaurant and its four-tiered spice scale (from “very mild” to “very spicy”), I knew that it would be my evening’s destination.

Literally across the eastbound half of Queens Boulevard from the 40th Street stop on the 7 train, Natural Tofu, like its neighborhood, attracts a virtual United Nations of eaters.  Unlike the Flushing Korean restaurants which seem to attract far a far more homogenous crowd, you’re just as likely to see a table of boisterous young Koreans as older Irish gentlemen.  And, for once, it’s bigger than a breadbox – you could bring a group of people here with no trouble finding a seat.  (Hmm…that sounds like a good idea, in fact.)

It’s easy for me to see why it’s popular across ethnic boundaries – the food is both cheap and delicious.  A bowl of the soft tofu stew known as soondooboo is $8.  The price includes rice (served from a larger version of the stone crock that will hold your stew, brought by a guy with a cart) and a full array of the appetizer dishes known as “panchan.”  Besides the standard kimchee, the little dishes contained sesame-oiled bean sprouts, some kind of crispy minnow, what I think were sliced mushrooms, several slices of a sweet egg concoction, and one other thing I’m forgetting.

The other small dish that arrived had a tiny egg in it – I don’t think it was a quail egg, just a smaller-than-usual chicken egg (I guess all the eggs we buy in the grocery ARE marked “jumbo,” right?).  This isn’t some kind of milkshake additive or raw treat for salmonella-risking daredevils, but something to crack open into your stew when it arrives at your table bubbling with angry orange and red colors (courtesy of the spices, I’m sure).  It cooks!

I tried the very spicy stew, because I’m basically that guy, and I have to say that the heat was tolerable but, as with most things that are both temperature and spice hot, the temperature made the spice level a little harder to take.  I might try it in the “spicy” variety next time to see if it’s easier to eat without waiting fifteen minutes.  Oh, yeah, and it had oysters in it, which imparted a nice seafoody flavor to the broth, but the actual oysters themselves were kind of funky.  It’s also available in standard meat and veggie flavors, though, so never fear.

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Swell up in Harlem.

Despite eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly lately, I still have secret designs on finishing the 2005 list on which this blog has been based.  So when I found myself in the Bronx for a Yankees game yesterday afternoon, there was no question that I would hop off the D train on the way back home to check out the culinary environs of western Harlem and, hopefully, at least one of the two restaurants on the list that are on Fredrick Douglass Boulevard.

Harlem is, as ever, an interesting place.  I thought I had seen a lot of weird juxtaposition of burned out hulk-buildings and new condos in Brooklyn; as it turns out, my borough has nothing on the area between 125th Street and Cathedral Parkway, where tired brownstones and new development stare uneasily across the street at one another.

List entry Roti Plus has crossed from one side of the gentrification divide to the other, it would seem.  The cell phone business that, according to Sietsema, was once located in the front of the place is now gone – replaced with an island-ish décor and a lot of tables.  Pretty sure the staff and most of the customers are the same, though – the lady taking orders demonstrated a considerably developed sense of resignation combined with sass when the folks placing the orders got out of line.  You should have heard her say she was going to knock a customer (not me!) out; it was magical in a way that could only be re-created in Hollywood by Vanessa Williams on valium.

The classed-up environs could, I’m sure, explain why the cost of a roti is higher than I’d paid in the past in Bed-Stuy or Flatbush.  $5 will buy you a potato and chickpea-filled roti skin there, and each additional ingredient drives the price up further (some rotis on the menu cost up to $10).  I’m sure that most of the rotis could feed two, if you’re really concerned.

Even for $5, though, and despite coming not long after the usual ballpark array of hot dogs and peanuts, I quite enjoyed the roti.  Many of the locals ordered their rotis ‘separated,’ which may or may not be the equivalent of a ‘buss-up shot,’ or broken roti skin with the contents piled on top (seriously, I don’t know).  I ended up with the standard filled variety, though.  The skin was freshly prepared (had to wait five minutes, even) and relatively stronger than the usual dough without sacrificing that lovely grit-n-stretch texture, and the interior had been adulterated at my request with some kind of addictively vinegary hot sauce.  It was a standout flavor, for sure – maybe scotch bonnet?

I would have asked after the hot sauce if I still had been in the restaurant by the time I consumed it, instead of on the corner of 125th and Fredrick Douglass.  By the time I finished it, I was so full that I decided to take a walk to shake it off; I ended up hoofing it all the way down to the Fredrick Douglass circle (also under renovation).  I was too full, unfortunately, to check out Florence’s, an African restaurant located on that strip, but I promised myself a return visit as soon as possible, with a possible detour to check out that enormous European-style cathedral located a block over.  Not what I was expecting from Harlem, for sure, but then, precious little of what I saw (including Roti Plus) was.

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Nicky’s branches out.

I was surprised to note the opening of a second Banh Mi parlor in the Boerum Hill area – when I moved in, we barely dared dream about such luxury, after all.  Now we have a branch of Nicky’s, the original of which still exists on 2nd Street and Avenue A in the East Village (and the antecedent of which was on this side of the river in Sunset Park).

How does it compare to Hanco’s?  Well, Hanco’s is pretty good, but I’ll give Nicky’s the slight edge.  Something about the ground pork (perhaps the sweetness?) in their classic sandwich ($4) appealed to my roommate and I more last night, and Nicky’s is a bit bigger and more pleasant a place to wait or eat in, despite its semi-underground location (between Hoyt and Smith on Atlantic Avenue, in a downstairs storefront).  The sandwich was done quicker than Hanco’s, too.

For those who don’t want a mini-hero, Nicky’s also offers a couple basic noodle dishes and salads – the noodles are your basic rice vermicelli with either pork slices or chicken on top ($6.50).  These are presumably the same iterations that would top your sandwich, though the pork I had last night would have been a bit bony to put in the loaf (otherwise, though, the pork was quite excellent).  A bit odd that a de-constructed sandwich (pickled carrots and peppers appear on the side) would cost more than its assembled cousin, but I’ll chalk that up to the increased preparation effort, or something.

I can only think that Nicky’s hopes to capture some of the dining business from the hotel that’s going in on the corner of Smith and Atlantic, as well as avoid Smith Street’s high rents (there certainly are enough empty storefronts to attest to the difficulty of turning a profit on that strip).  I just hope there’s enough market for two Banh Mi parlors in my hood.

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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.


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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).


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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.


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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.

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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.

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