Monday, December 24, 2012

Restaurants in NYC in the Last Six Months

I will be the first to admit that I have been a little lazy with the blog recently.  My posts are becoming shorter and shorter and some just never make it up there.  For instance, Alex and I had two great meals at City Grit (one with Paul Qui as the guest chef and another with Ricardo Zarate as the guest chef) and I never posted about either.  We also tried a number of other restaurants that somehow never made the cut, even though we really enjoyed our meals there.  Sorry everyone.  I know there is no real excuse for being so delinquent.  I have decided to post at least a few of the pictures of the meals I enjoyed most over the past six months or so with some (brief) commentary.  
First and foremost, City Grit is one of my favorite discoveries of this year.  It calls itself a "culinary salon," which really boils down to the fact that they host a few dinners a week in a furniture showroom connected to a parochial school (no joke - you actually use the parochial school bathrooms), some of which feature guest chefs from all over the country.  Paul Qui won the last season of Top Chef and we had an amazing meal at Uchiko in Austin earlier this year.  So when I saw him on the schedule at City Grit (and I honestly have no idea how I came across City Grit) I knew we had to go.  We had a number of memorable dishes that night - my favorites were the tuna jamon (raw tuna wrapped in lardo with melon) and the pork jowl (pictured below).  I also really enjoyed the "tomato water" (a tomato consomme with mussels, celery and basil - pictured above) and the sunchoke dashi (pictured below).  So that was Paul Qui.  And then a few months later Ricardo Zarate came to town and I bought tickets to his dinner.  I had never heard of him before, but his restaurants in LA sounded really interesting and we don't have a lot of good Peruvian in the city so I decided to give it a shot.  When the meal kicked off with a kampachi ceviche with leche de tigre jelly, I knew we were in for a fun (and delicious) meal.  The next two dishes - a Peruvian bouillabaisse with crabmeat and a raw quail egg (pictured below, although my picture was taken before they added in the broth) and a scallion and uni tiradito (also pictured below) were my two favorite dishes of the night.  That night I was introduced to a crazy Amazonian fish called paiche that is apparently among the largest freshwater fish in the world and is similar in texture to Chilean sea bass.  The meals at City Grit take forever and the air conditioning leaves a lot to be desired, but it is a really fun experience.

 More after the jump!

 Sunchoke Dashi

Another great restaurant that we tried in the past few months was Ootoya in Flatiron.  For an incredibly paltry sum, we had a lunch there fit for a king.  All of the entrees on the lunch menu are served as part of a set with rice (or noodles), miso soup (unless you are already eating a soup or stew like I was), homemade pickles, and chawanmushi (a savory egg custard) that I still dream about.  It was so wonderfully rich, soothing and eggy.  I took one bite of my custard and was instantly thrilled with the meal.  I had the Buta Kim-Chee Nabe (steamed pork back rib, kim-chee, tofu, egg and chives in hot pot).  Alex had some sort of ground chicken over rice with a poached egg on top.  It was cold and gloomy out when we were at Ootoya and the meal was the perfect warm, comforting and delicious meal.  I left totally content (not to mention stuffed to the gills).  And all that food, plus some homemade tofu to start and a pot of green tea, only cost us about $45 including tax and tip.  For the amount of food we had it was crazy.  Alex walked by the restaurant last weekend around 5:30 pm on a Sunday night and said that the line was out the door of the restaurant and down the block.  Ootoya got a lot of hype before it opened and clearly the hype hasn't died down since.  According to the internet, another location will be opening near Times Square sometime soon.

Another restaurant that has been getting a lot of hype since it opened and we finally visited was Talde in Brooklyn.  The chef there is Dale Talde (who was on Top Chef several seasons ago), who is making some really intriguing and sometimes delicious Asian-influenced food.  We tried the Saigon crepes (otherwise known as banh xeo if you are at a Vietnamese restaurant), the pretzel pork & chive dumplings, the oyster and bacon pad thai, the Korean fried chicken and the market vegetables in green sambal (long beans stir-fried in what tasted like green Thai chili paste).   My favorite dish of the night was the banh xeo, which had a fabulously crispy texture to the pancake (almost like a really good dosa and not eggy like most banh xeo) and a perfectly seasoned filling of ham and shrimp, topped with fresh mint.  Alex's favorite was the dumplings, which were also totally delicious.  Oh and the beer selection was great.  Talde was totally worth the trek out to Brooklyn and then totally worth the wait for a table.  

One meal that we had very recently that I loved was dinner last weekend at Cocina Economica, which opened sometime in the past few weeks.  The owners of the restaurant used to have a nice, upscale greenmarket-driven American restaurant called Recipe in the space, but they decided to close Recipe and open a Mexican restaurant in the space because there isn't a lot of good Mexican on the UWS.  I was pretty sad when they closed Recipe, but now I am thrilled that they did because I can't wait to go back to Cocina Economica - there really is nothing else like it on the UWS.  In terms of the sophistication of the flavors and dishes, I would compare it to Empellon Taqueria downtown.  I didn't take any pictures of our dinner, but I plan on going back over and over again because it is both right around the block from our apartment and totally delicious.  Alex and I shared the avocado cornbread (served with a sampler of different salsas), cactus (nopales) salad, short ribs and braised pork shoulder.  The collards and other vegetables served with the short ribs were amazing.  I told Alex they were the best collards I have had by far in New York City.  They were so flavorful.  The cactus salad was light and delicious.  I was worried about the texture because I have heard that nopales can be slimy but these were wonderful.  The couple next to us raved about the braised vegetable side dish so I am definitely going to try that next time.  And there were a number of other appetizers and entrees that I am really interested in trying during our next visit.  Yay!

The very last restaurant that we tried in the past 6 months that I think bears mentioning is Fatty Cue.  It seems mildly like cheating to mention Fatty Cue on this list because we have been going to (and loving) Fatty Crab for years.  However, it was just too good not to mention!  My favorite dish of the night was the pork cheeks with grits and herb salad - it was totally amazing.  The pork cheeks themselves were good (meltingly tender and porky), but those grits underneath were just mindblowing.  I could eat those grits happily ever single day.  And I went to college in the south so I know all about grits.  These were perfectly cooked and so flavorful - rich, creamy and savory.  We also tried the chiles and cheese appetizer (salted chiles, farmers' cheese and toasted rolls), which were surprisingly delicious.  It sounds odd, but it really worked.  We tried a few other dishes, including the brisket, the seasonal kimchi (green papaya kimchi, which I have never seen before), the smoked scallop and pork dish and the chocolate thunder dessert.  We finished every last bite of every dish - it was that good (and we are that gluttonous).   

We have tried a bunch of other restaurants in the past few months, including one called Andanada 141 that had the strangest take on patatas bravas I have ever seen (pictured below), another tapas restaurant on the UWS that served a flatbread topped with chard stems (genius and totally delicious) and a restaurant in Chinatown that served pan-fried soup dumplings.  But none of them stuck out quite as much as the restaurants listed above.  Given that it is already Christmas Eve and next week promises to be a busy one at work, we probably won't have time to try any other new restaurants in 2012, but I have already started thinking of a list of restaurants to try in 2013...

Pork jowl

 Kampachi Ceviche with Leche de Tigre Jelly

Peruvian Bouillabaisse with Crabmeat and a Raw Quail Egg

Scallop and Uni Tiradito

 Buta Kim-Chee Nabe

Ground Chicken over Rice with a Poached Egg

Patatas Bravas

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