Saturday, April 30, 2011
Indomania is probably pretty well-discovered, by now, at least among the set that's serious about eating. This small, unassuming restaurant in Miami Beach is slightly off the beaten track in sceney South Beach, but most weekend nights, it's jam packed with patrons. Tables are set a bit too close together, making it impossible not to overhear (or even participate in) your neighbors' conversations. But on a midweek evening, it's a bit more low key.
Even before we'd ordered, our waiter brought by a plate of slightly warm emping melinjo, faintly bitter, faintly astringent, salty crackers made with melinjo seeds, served with a sweet, brown dip. We'd eaten these in Bali, where the crackers were often served on or with salads. The bitterness and astringency are oddly pleasant and very addictive, and the crackers went beautifully with our beers.
|Chef Kevin Cory Preparing Cobia|
In the most unlikely, lonely little strip mall in Sunny Isles, just north of Miami Beach, a modestly-sized, modestly-staffed and modestly-appointed restaurant called Naoe is serving immodestly good food. The tiny restaurant includes a six-person sushi counter and just a scattering of tables. Classical music recordings play quietly throughout dinner. It's the kind of place that inspires you to lower your voice, slow down and focus on what is really important: the meal.
At Naoe, all dinners are served omakase style. Diners first receive a bento box and after that, a "chef's sequence" of nigiri, which you can opt in or out of, by pushing your plate towards the chef or away from him. After the chef's progression, you can order even more by the piece, if you wish.
Chef Kevin Cory seems to personally prepare all the food (though he had a barely-seen assistant on the night we went, who came out to help plate and serve the bento boxes, and then clear, later): from rice to chawanmushi to tempura. Wendy Maharlika "manages", which includes acting as hostess, waitress and reservationist. It's a phenomenal amount of work for two (or even three) people and it truly seems to be a labor of love.
This was our bento box the night we went:
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I don't know how it took us so long to discover this cute little pub on West Fourth. Many moons ago, before we knew any better, my buddies and I used to go to a cheesy, girly lounge called Absolutely Fourth, for desserty, girly drinks (think key lime pie and chocolate "martinis"), two for one during happy hour. I think the shame of that era -- when a basket of freshly fried potato chips and a few cocktails made for a fine dinner, I thought -- made me avert my eyes every time I walked by the space, even after Absolutely Fourth closed, lost the fuzzy, high-backed red couches, and reopened as a rustic pub with rough, unfinished wood tables and mismatched chairs, called Wilfie & Nell.
On early Sunday evening, the weather was balmy and beautiful. Justin was politely, but firmly, refusing to have more of the chicken soup (a.k.a. Jewish penicillin) I'd made him eat for breakfast and lunch, after he tossed and turned with fever the night, before. Instead, he was politely, but firmly, demanding that we go to Joseph Leonard for dinner. This would've been a great plan, but we are easily distracted. Somehow, on the way there, we ended up popping into the unassuming, low-key Wilfie & Nell, instead.
Inside, Wilfie & Nell has the look-feel of an authentic pub. In some corners, there was the distinct, sour smell of spilled old beer, absorbed year after year into wood. The rough-hewn wooden tables were probably reclaimed from somewhere, but they felt velvety and old, nice to run one's hands over. The bottles of HP sauce (85 pence!) were slightly sticky on the outside. The crowd was a pleasant mix of old and young. And the menu looked like just what we were in the mood for: comfort food with an Irish / Scottish / British bent.
Food-motivated Manhattanites love to complain. We complain about NYC's (and by NYC's, we mean Manhattan's) dearth of good Mexican, good Thai, good Chinese, good Vietnamese, good Indonesian, etc... I'm happy to report that Zabb Elee just gave us one less thing to complain about. Manhattan now has good -- nay, great -- Thai food.
Like its Queens counterpart, Zabb Elee's menu focuses on Isan (north-eastern Thai) cuisine, which shares some similarities with Laos cuisine. Unlike the Queens location, though, the new East Village location on 2nd Ave. does have a part of the menu dedicated to Bangkok rice and noodle dishes.
My fellow food blogger, Au Gourmand, and I stopped by for a meal, recently. Since it's a quintessential Isan dish and a specialty at Zabb Elee, we knew we had to order some sort of papaya salad. Au Gourmand, whom I'm happy to report is a wonderfully adventurous eater, suggested we try the som tum poo plara / papaya salad with preserved crab and pickled fish ($8) and of course I was game. We had the choice of adjusting the spice level from one to five. Not wanting to seem like weenies, we opted for what we thought would be a safe, middling level 3. Boy am I glad we didn't go for level 5. Level 3 had me sweating profusely and crying -- but in a good way. The dish was excellent. It was a perfect balance of pungent, acidic, (barely) sweet and salty, with a mix of crunchy, good quality vegetables and some pieces of perfectly fried, non-greasy pork rind on the side. Diced tomatoes were mostly hard, wintry ones, but the kitchen made up for it by including juicy, ripe grape tomatoes in the mix, as well. I had a hard time eating the preserved crab, since I wasn't sure how to go about getting the innards without a pick. But what I sucked out of the legs was nicely gelatinous and flavorful. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat -- but maybe at level 2. :)
I think hor mok might be more of a southern Thai dish than an Isan dish, but some of my fondest food memories of Thailand relate to scarfing down order after order of hor mok in outdoor markets in Bangkok and Phuket. I'd had a decent, but not wonderful, version at Sripraphai a few weeks ago and wanted to see how Zabb Elee's would compare. I'm glad I tried it. Zabb Elee's hor mok / Thai curry fish custard wrapped in banana leaf ($11; pictured at the top of this post) was fantastic, really one of the best versions I've had anywhere in the world. The custard was very tender and fragrant, without any "fishiness" and with just a light touch of coconut milk (which acted as a nice foil for the heat). At the bottom, there were delicious, tender sweet basil leaves and a bit of what tasted to me like very soft, cooked cabbage, which added a nice texture to the dish.
Our waitress recommended trying the pad tua / sauteed bean sprouts with crispy pork and fresh chili ($7). This was another milder dish that helped us keep from internally combusting after bites of the papaya salad. Bean sprouts were very fresh, white, and crisp, cooked with a little bit of bite left. The crispy pork -- thickly cut strips of I think pork belly -- was initially really quite crispy and fantastic, though it was a time limited ingredient: It became a rubbery as it sat in the moist dish. The sweetness of the dish also helped temper the heat. I'm not sure about the geographic origins of this dish. I know pork belly and fatty cuts are popular in the northeast.
Au Gourmand ordered the larb pla korb / crispy whole Thai tilapia with shallot, mint, cilantro, and chili lime dressing ($14), which was a substantial size, meaty, and served with beautiful, blackened skin and a spicy, sour dipping sauce. I'm not usually a huge fan of tilapia, but this preparation was not "muddy" tasting and the dipping sauce really enlivened the fish. (It reminded me oddly of Africa Kine's Senegalese rendition.) Green herbs had been stuffed into, and cooked in, the cavity of the fish.
Great meal, great company. There is much, much more of the menu I want to try.
75 2nd Ave
(between 4th St & 5th St)
Manhattan, NY 10003
(between 4th St & 5th St)
Manhattan, NY 10003
Zabb Elee Revisited: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/05/zabb-elee-revisited-new-york-ny.html#more
Saturday, April 23, 2011
|The Bar at Empellón|
I think it's fair to say I'm an enthusiastic fan of Empellón. This West Village newcomer, open only a month (since March 21, 2011), is just ridiculously lovable: The food and cocktails run the gamut from good to completely f-ing phenomenal. Our waiter on our second visit, Aldo Camargo, was sincerely nice, warm and dignified, and a very talented photographer to boot. And though the front dining room can be a bit loud, in most parts of the room at most times, the volume feels spirited and fun, not oppressive. Empellón is, in short, exactly the kind of place you want around the corner from you.
This time around, we started with a gorgeous, crackly plate of chicharones with salsa Veracruz (caper, green olive, parsley), a bubbly, talkative concoction as unusual-looking as any dish from WD-50. (They sound like Rice Krispies in a bowl of milk when they first arrive at the table, straight from the deep fryer.) The chicharones were greasy as hell and unblotted, a heart attack on a plate if I ever saw one -- but so delicious, they might be worth taking a few years off one's life. Salsa Veracruz, a slightly sweet, mild garnish, was an interesting accompaniment and included cooked tomatoes, onions and garlic, in addition to the listed ingredients. The chicharones were even more mind blowing with the smoky cashew sauce and arbol chile sauce -- usually accompaniments to the guacamole, I think -- that Aldo was nice enough to bring to the table.
|Chicharones with Salsa Veracruz|
Friday, April 22, 2011
Yesterday, on my way home, I took a slight detour and poked my nose into Oriental Pastry and Grocery on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, just for fun. It smells wonderful in there, with all the spices and olives and teas and coffees. After purchasing a half pound of their delicious, almost fluffy Syrian pistachio halvah that my gut doesn't need right now, I turned around to leave and saw out of the corner of my eye, right next to the vats of olives and pickles in brine, something unusual. Something wonderful. Fresh -- FRESH! -- garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas), still in their papery pods.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Recently, I was at my favorite butcher, O. Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market on Bleecker St., to pick up some dry aged steaks, when the very sweet older butcher there disclosed in hush-hush tones that they had a single rack of venison from New Zealand red deer in the case. Did I happen to want it? Anyone who knows me knows how preposterous this question is: Of course I want it. I'm a total sucker for almost anything off the beaten path.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
|Empellon's Huge Ass Sope (w/ Short Rib)|
Alex Stupak's Empellón opened just a few weeks ago, in mid March, in the former Chow Bar space on West 4th Street, almost directly across the street from Gabriel Stulman's also excellent, recently-opened Fedora. Stupak is better known as the former pastry chef at WD-50, where the desserts have always been well loved, even while savory dishes have sometimes been less so. Empellón isn't really about desserts, though. Nor is it about molecular gastronomy. It is, at its core, a taco shop.