New & Noteworthy

I was trying to picture where the newest establishment from Jody Williams and Rita Sodi was on Grove Street. The website notes that it is located “across the street from the couple’s other beloved restaurants,Via Carota, I Sodi, and Buvette.”  The other day, I was in a taxi lurching through the traffic lights on Seventh Avenue South when I saw the name, large and almost glittering (I think it was glistening from the rain). It is right on the corner and while it is small, like Buvette and I Sodi, it exudes something bigger.  It definitely had the personality of a corner restaurant! 

This week, I am moving Jiang Diner and  Maison Yaki which was recently reviewed in the New Yorker, and adding Ayada, a popular Thai restaurant in Elmhust, which opened up a second location in Chelsea Market.  I have missed the hole-in-the-wall Chelsea Thai which was there for 21 years before closing due to rent increases.  I would forge through the throngs of tourists the next time I am in the Meatpacking District for some tasty Thai.

New & Noteworthy (week of June 24)

Ayada  Opened late-June

Bar Pisellino    Opened mid-May

The Fulton    Opened mid-May

HaSalon    Opened mid-April

Le Jardinier    Opened late-May

Pastis Opened early-June

Rezdora Opened mid-May

New & Noteworthy

I pruned a few restaurants off the list, and added Jiang Diner and Rezdora. I kept Crown Shy on the list as I still want to go and Pete Wells just gave it a great review (though gave it his favorite rating of 2 stars); and New York Magazine’s Adam Platt loved it (86/100).

New & Noteworthy (week of June 17)

Bar Pisellino Opened mid-May

Crown Shy Opened mid-March

The Fulton Opened mid-May

HaSalon Opened mid-April

Jiang Diner  Opened mid-April

Le Jardinier Opened late-May

Maison Yaki Opened late-April

Pastis Opened early June

Rezdora Opened mid-May

New & Noteworthy

This week, I add the long-awaited reopening of Pastis. I literally have not met anyone that has not missed and had kind words about this restaurant. Resy shows reservation times for breakfast, lunch and dinner though, of course, dinner times seem to be booked through month’s end.

Like many New Yorkers, I have my own Keith McNally and Pastis story. After waiting for hours to get into the new opening of Schiller’s, a man approached our group, apologized for the wait and asked if we would consider going to Balthazar or Pastis.  We said Pastis. The man gave us a name to ask for, and when we asked his, he said “Keith,“ we all followed it with “McNally?!“ When we got to Pastis, our table was ready as well as a glass of champagne for each of us.  The quote from McNally, “I’ve learned that if you give a customer a drink on the house once a year, he loves you” is true. The warm welcome stayed with me as I chose to patronize Pastis for work meetings, casual meals with friends, and family gatherings – all stemming from that one glass of champagne.

I also am adding two diners I neglected last week, Golden Diner from a Momofuku alum that I have been hankering to try in Chinatown and the Diner at the Mercado Little Spain.  

As I noted last week, this weekly list is not comprehensive of every new place but a short alphabetized list of new places that I think are notable.  Restaurants that have been opened for more than three months will not be included.

New & Noteworthy (week of June 10)

Bar Pisellino Opened mid-May

Crown Shy Opened mid-March

Essex Market Opened mid-May

The Fulton Opened mid-May

Golden Diner Opened mid-March

HaSalon Opened mid-April

José Andrés’s Spanish Diner at Mercado Little Spain Opened mid-May

Kāwi Opened mid-March

Le Jardinier Opened late-May

Maison Yaki Opened late-April

Pastis (Opened early June)

Van Da Opened mid-March

Matcha, Matcha

I first tasted matcha in Japanese tea ceremonies.  I was about eight years old and my mother would allow me to join her. It was how and where I understood the wondrousness of sweet (wagashi or Japanese sweets) countered by bitter (matcha tea).  I loved it. Matcha is one of the trifecta often found in Japanese desserts (along with red beans and rice in some form) and now it seems to be everywhere. There is a long laundry list of its benefits, from being dense in antioxidants including EGCg which said to contribute to cardiovascular and metabolic health.  It also has a lovely calming scent.

A friend’s birthday was coming up and I knew she and her husband enjoyed matcha, so I began thinking about what kind I should use, and what type of sweets would be best for a party. I headed over to the Ippodo Tea Shop on E. 39th Street. I was told that it isn’t worth spending a lot of $ if the intended use is in cooking and baking so I went with Hatsu-mukashi. 

Hatsu-mukashi Matcha Powder

And after much thought, I then decided on a shortbread and some financiers–both easy to pick up and eat and hopefully a nice complement any other desserts at the party.  

Matcha Financiers

I used a Dorie Greenspan recipe I liked for Brown Butter Financiers and added about 1-½ tsp of matcha powder.  I buttered the pan too liberally so a brown crust developed which I was hoping to avoid to keep the little cakes cleaner looking, but the result actually looks kinda nice. 

Matcha and White Chocolate Shortbread

I used a shortbread recipe from Melissa Clark that is my current favorite. I added matcha and white chocolate.  I had also tested the recipe for a previous Supper Club so I knew it would work.

The baked goods were a hit and I love having some go-to recipes.

That said, I am still on the hunt for more recipes to modify to add matcha. I don’t particularly like matcha sponge cakes but I think pairing whatever it is with fruit would be yummy. Maybe a thinner cookie with vanilla ice cream and berries?

Side Bar: The Best of the Worst

I just read Ryan Sutton’s review of Wild Ink at The Hudson Yards.  The full headline for the Eater piece is “Wild Ink Is an Overwrought Yet Underachieving Fusion Disaster at Hudson Yards:  London-based group Rhubarb’s New York City debut goes wrong at every turn with Frankenstein fusion.”  Ah, this was going to be a good read.

While amazing restaurant experiences are wonderful to read, the horrible ones allow critics to really showcase editorial color and prowess. They are really, really fun to read.  The Sutton piece got me reminiscing so I am now sharing some of my own favorite worst restaurant reviews.  Here are a few of the standouts with a few priceless lines pulled from each review. The one by Jay Rayner of Le Cinq is literary genius.   

Frank Bruni, New York Times review of Ninja (2005, restaurant closed)

  • Ninja New York deposits you in a kooky, dreary subterranean labyrinth that seems better suited to coal mining than to supping.
  • Each party of diners receives its own nook, which quickly takes on the aspect of a jail cell.
  • You are greeted there by servers in black costumes who ceaselessly bow, regularly yelp and ever so occasionally tumble, and you are asked to choose between two routes to your table.The first is described by a ninja escort as simple and direct. The second is “dark, dangerous and narrow,” involving a long tunnel and a drawbridge that descends only when your escort intones a special command, which he later implores you to keep secret. I recommend a third path: right back out the door.

Pete Wells, New York Times review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square (2012, restaurant closed)

  • Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?
  • Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?
  • Why did the toasted marshmallow taste like fish?

Jay Rayner, The Guardian review of Le Cinq in Paris (2017, still has three Michelin stars)

  • The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon. It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a “spherification”, a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger. My companion winces. “It’s like eating a condom that’s been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer’s,” she says. (ed: bold is is mine.I will never forget this line)
  • My lips purse, like a cat’s arse that’s brushed against nettles.
  • We’re told it has the flavour of French onion soup. It makes us yearn for a bowl of French onion soup. It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager’s party.
  • Pictures of plates are snapped. Mind you I also take pictures, but mine are shot in the manner of a scene of crime officer working methodically.

And finally, the review that got me waxing nostalgic about bad restaurant reviews, Ryan Suttons review of Wild Ink.  

  • I winced as I took a bite. Chefs infuse the meat with inhumane levels of sugar and salt  . . the pies are glazed in a creamy white-cheese sauce. It turns mealy and sticky quickly, causing the puffs to adhere to the plate like a gum on a shoe. . . In place of classic bulgogi, diners are treated to a veritable Frankenstein of a dish, an unholy triad recalling microwaveable Hot Pockets, airline Korean food, and hospital-quality Welsh rarebit.
  • General Tso’s sweetbreads, which are more akin to Heinz 57-flavored chewing gum than the Cantonese-American staple.

And the review starts and end with quotes from staff which is pretty incredible.  

  • My server suggested a few dishes on the Asian fusion menu, and then added, without prompting, that she could “not recommend the bulgogi puffs.” It was a curious statement. I hadn’t asked about the bulgogi puffs, nor was anyone nearby tempting me with their puffiness or bulgogi-ness. The waiter simply felt the need to warn me, preemptively, that a signature preparation was garbage.”
  • . . . let me end by paraphrasing the words of my honest bartender: I can’t recommend that you eat here.

And there you have it.  I never dined nor will dine at any of these restaurants but oh, the reviews were a complete joy to read.

New & Noteworthy

In a recent post, I grumbled about my satisfaction with new/hot lists for NYC restaurants.  As I was pondering about my ideal list, I recalled one that I used to refer to a lot was the “new“ list that used to be on the New York Magazine food area. It was simple: restaurant name and one-liner and if memory serves me, it was listed in order of recency.  Like a few spots on nymag.com back-in-the-day, the feed or whatever was populating that list started to deprecate and over time, it was completely useless until it just disappeared.  But I liked it because was not overly editorially random nor injected with manufactured drama of up- and down-movements week over week.  

The prototype of my new weekly list will not be a subjective ranked list cloaked as “trendy” or “buzzy” but simply a short alphabetized list of new places.  The unsexy working name is “New & Noteworthy” and restaurants that have been opened for more than three months will not be included. I realized that whenever I recommend a new place to a friend, I would always include the website and links to a few reviews, which is what I will do here as well.

New & Noteworthy (week of June 3)

Bar Pisellino Opened mid-May

Crown Shy Opened mid-March

Essex Market Opened mid-May

HaSalon Opened mid-April

Kāwi Opened mid-March

Le Jardinier Opened late-May

Maison Yaki Opened late-April

The Fulton Opened mid-May

Van Da Opened mid-March

Supper Club: May and Pets

May brought rain and more rain–I think we ended up one non-rainy day for every ten rainy days. The keywords for this month’s Supper Club  with M and T would be cheer and relaxation. I reconfirmed T’s seafood allergy list and settled on a Hawaiian theme, including a festive pineapple! (thank you Village Party Store)

Menu: How can one not feel on holiday surrounded by poke and a metallic fringed pineapple?! I decided to make one big poke salad and small individual tasting bowls vs. going family sharing platters for everything. After reviewing many recipes, I learned there is a basic “dressing” so it would be easy to mix and match.

Spicy Tofu and Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms over Glass Noodles
Yellowtail with Crunchy Pear and Wakame
Ahi Tuna with Avocado and Wakame

Drink: Crisp White Wine

Dessert: I have baked a lot of shortbread in my life and while each batch was tasty and immediately finished off, I attributed it to more the irresistible pull of butter and sugar. Some were too soft, too tender or too much like a sugar cookie. I would add nuts, lemon and poppy. I finally found one that seems just right  Melissa Clark’s Shortbread, 10 Ways recipe. I opted to add some matcha (thank you Ippudo) and white chocolate. Matcha is bitter so it’s tricky not to get carried away and add too much.

Matcha and White Chocolate Shortbread

Conversation: Pets

We adopted a rescue dog almost two years ago from a great organization called Unleashed founded by Dr. Stacy Radin, who married her passions for girl empowerment and animal rescue.  A neighbor had adopted their puppy from Unleashed and was, unbeknownst to me, sending rescue puppy pictures to my husband.  The next thing we knew, I was filling out an application form, scheduling an interview with Stacy and started getting pictures of potential dog matches.

Adoption Pic

Unleashed prides itself on matching dogs with owners so we were required to meet the rescue pup, spend a few hours with her and get reviewed by her foster host.  Our potential puppy was named Princess Rainbow by the girls. She was coming up from South Carolina that weekend and we could meet her in a few days.

We trekked to her foster home on a hot summer day and got to know her.  And as the story goes, we fell in love and picked her up a few days later.  We literally had adopted a dog in about a week!

We had a list of potential names but the one she responded to was Miette (French for “little crumb” or the tender sweet part of a baguette).

Miette at the Beach

In adopting the dog which seemed all-consuming, M and T got more than an earful (and umpteen pictures) about our new family member.  Neither have been or are dog owners so Miette is our Supper Club mascot.

Miette with Aloha Pineapple

When we have the occasional Supper Club at my place, Miette is the lucky recipient of treats and toys . . . and decorations inspector!

Side Bar

An article in the New York Times Style Magazine by Kurt Soller entitled, “At Restaurants, Thank You for Not Sharing:After a decade of treating every plate like a pie, individual dishes are making a welcome comeback,” caught my eye. For over ten years, I have been attributing a quote I thought I read from Julia Child that she did not share any dishes she ordered at restaurants. If someone wanted to taste something, they would have to order it for themselves; and not having any poor sap with merely one bite after passing it around to everyone.  For the life of me, I cannot for the life of me remember where I read it and I cannot find it online after multiple clever search queries. It seems like something she would say, doesn’t it?

The main point is that I have always agreed that one shouldn’t feel obligated to share; or if you really did just want a bite of a particular dish, then to ask if anyone also wants a bite.  And I do feel that this has started to be more common over the last half decade.

The article goes on with “Living in the “sharing economy,” we are accustomed to apportioning cars, offices and, yes, plates of food. Lately, though, chefs and diners seem to have grown weary of the communal experience.” Seems like quite an enormous leap to lump sharing plates with the sharing economy, as even the author acknowledges that tapas and most Chinese dishes are inherently meant to be shared.  Also, an enormous leap to pronounce that chefs and diners alike are done with the communal experience, let alone sharing a plate. Yes, there is the cubicle dining experience aka Solo Dining Booth at Ichiran. But I still see many a community table at new restaurants, ones short on space like Niche to massive spaces like Tetsu. I also found that ending the piece with fluffy political discourse (socialism vs. democracy) and stringng together random dining annoyances to be neither cute nor clever. It truly bummed me out that what started out as an interesting read, turned into and ended in such a shallow way.

Like I said, I loved trotting out that Julia Child quote over the years and I thought this article would provide more cultural insights or at least a few more quotes for my arsenal.  I do think that sharing plates did seem more prevalent at one time but perhaps that was timed with an influx of casual dining overall. The point now is that sharing is just one way of eating; just a preference by some diners. Speak up if you don’t want to share and use that Julia Child quote as a shield against looking selfish!  

Mercado Little Spain

Observations from my first visit

José Andrés came onto my radar when molecular gastronomy was still all the rage and his restaurant, The Bazaar, at the SLS hotel in Los Angeles received four stars from the LA Times in 2009.  I think I visited not too long after and while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t as bowled over as I was with Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago.  I followed the growth of his empire in the U.S., watched him make guest appearances on TV shows, and his tireless charitable activism.

I prepared for my visit to his Hudson Yards project, Mercado Little Spain by reading Eater critic Robert Sietsema’s early review.  

Atmosphere and design: Unlike most of the rest of Hudson Yards, this place feels warm and happy.  The food stalls are splashed with red; some walls have murals, and many of the servers wear red tee-shirts.  Also, no dark mood lighting or unfriendly fluorescence. Fortunately, the one light setting is on cheerful. Also, even when almost every part of Mercado is bustling, I can hear the wait staff and I can hold conversation in a regular voice.  

Tapas: It was before 8pm on a weekday and the Mercado was full with every seat taken and most of the standing tables occupied. Preferring not to be at a restaurant to allow for some food stall roaming, we had to make a few rounds before we spied two seats open at La Barra.  We each settle for a glass of wine (a rosé, and a white wine from Catalonia) and two tapas (very crisped bread topped with tomato seeds and sardines; and a tortilla topped with white shrimp). Tapas number one was simple and tasty, and we joked we could buy the three ingredients from the market and make a platter at home.  Tapas number two was simple but not so tasty. The tortilla is like a thin egg crepe layer which was asked to be cooked to medium; and topped with six small shrimp. I could not taste any seasoning on anything. And honestly, the soft on soft textures did not work and we did not finish this small plate. The two drinks, two tapas with tip came to $60.  

We headed to the Bravas food stall, ordered patatas bravas with aioli ($8), and sidled up to a standing table and speared the crunchy potato cubes with our toothpicks.  Hot and crispy and hit the spot.

We decided for one more drink and seeing two open stools at Vino, we took our seats on the corner.  Turns out the menu as identical to La Barra. This time we settled on chorizo wrapped in thin potato which was basically like a potato chip rolling a chorizo tootsie roll. And it tasted like you expected: spicy wrapped in crunchy. The two glasses and the tapas and tip came to about $42.

Market: This pickings are pretty small so one cannot compare it to Eataly. It is akin to a gift shop compared to someplace like Despaña in Soho.  

Overall: I may try to visit one of the restaurants but my overall first impression is that MLS is definitely a fun place for drinks with nibbles. It is on the pricey side but the pickings are slim in that neighborhood. The food feels kinda secondary but it does seem like a work in progress so definitely worth another gander.

Side note: While probably not in the purview of Mercado, the access to and from the Hudson Yards shops is pretty depressing. The red carpet looks like a remnant with a few posters hanging on bare walls to provide some connection and transition.  Also, for some reason, fire drills were being conducted without notice so the very sturdy looking gate was down. This was all the more annoying because the escalators were running so you could get downstairs but were only met with a closed gate. Fortunately, a security guard noticed this and keyed the door gate to reopen, and we were met with folks on the other side wondering what was going on.

Mercado Little Spain, 10 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001

Hot New Restaurant Lists: My Gripes (and Hopes)

I love trying new restaurants. I always have.  I was just musing to a friend while sitting at a counter at José Andrés’ Mercado Little Spain how I never became a ‘regular’ anywhere because I preferred to try something new as opposed to eating off the same menu over and over be it in Tokyo, Chicago, the Bay Area, or Washington, D.C or here in New York City.

Eater’s “Hottest Restaurants” and GrubStreet’s “Restaurant Power Rankings” are the lists I check regularly when I want to find a new restaurant to try in NYC.  That said, I also read Florence Fabricant’s from The New York Times’ “Off the Menu” column and occasionally, I’ll broaden a new restaurant search to include Time Out, Thrillist, The Infatuation, and The New Yorker, etc.  Yes, there are the Yelps and Zagats but they focus less on the latest restaurant openings.

What kind of restaurant news person am I?  I admit that food and dining stories are something I read on a daily basis. I will also admit that I am probably an anomaly in how frequently I check these restaurant lists but I’d like to think that means my opinions are pretty well informed. I came to mainly look to these two lists because of Eater and New York Magazine’s commitment to the food category. I trust them because they consistently put out news and I am comfortable with their main reviewers, Ryan Sutton and Adam Platt.  

But now, my overall opinion after following these lists for years and more recently, on a weekly basis, is that they aren’t that aren’t all that helpful in informing of what restaurants are “hot” or “buzzy.”

Eater’s “Hottest Restaurants in Manhattan Right Now”is updated monthly. I am not clear what criteria are using in the ranking list. I get why some of the restaurants are on the list but I really can’t find a rhyme or reason as to ranking.  I appreciate that the list can get random but it seems that the top three should be clearer? Its sister list “Eater’s 38 Essential Restaurants in NYC” also bothers me.  Balthazar was at the top of this list for seemingly years, and when it finally moved, it pretty much precipitously fell off the list.  It did not seem to me that each of the establishments are continually visited, or if they are, the new data illustrating why the restaurants should keep their ranking isn’t clear.  And what criteria are used to make the list? It seems that diversity of cuisine and atmosphere count for something but then it doesn’t make sense that there is any ranking vs. it being an alphabetized list.

As for GrubStreet’s weekly “Restaurant Power Rankings,” they are upfront about the subjectivity of their list and say criteria is mainly buzz which can certainly embody a lot of variables. I started to look at this list a bit more because it is weekly, and seems to be more of a ‘new’ list. I liked that it sems to cull through the myriad of openings and pull out ones from hot chefs, etc.  But then, I started to notice that Adam Platt’s recently reviewed restaurants could sit on the list if he liked a dish or two for weeks. It started to seem that their own buzz and cross-promotion of sister articles affected their list.

In the same way that I made peace with Pete Well’s endless two-star reviews with seemingly random anointment of one- and two-star ratings, I totally get that these lists are subjective and can feel pretty stale, or indiscriminate and arbitrary at times.  

But I am a stickler for managing expectations so I am bummed that these lists are not consistently true to their names, and are not always helpful finding the restaurants that are new and worthy of checking out.  Do I smell an opportunity?