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Harlem hipster joint serves craft beer and kick-ass food

26 Feb

HPBurger

Harlem Public is like a little piece of Portlandia uptown. On Broadway at 149th, it is small and cozy—and full of hipsters. But nice ones! And who can blame the locals when a place like this was so badly needed among the area’s fast food, barber shops and laundromats? Hardly a seat to be had on a non-special Sunday afternoon, since patrons tend to stick around for a few hours. They bring books. They bring laptops. They make friends and order another round. They practically bring their sleeping bags.

My point is, this is not just a bar—it’s a hangout. Maybe it’s the cast iron fireplace. Or the 16 craft beers on tap starting from $7, like Clown Shoes, Allegash Triple or Blue Point Blueberry. Or the food. The menu is clever enough to make you forget how heart-attack inducing your meal is about to be. Brunch offerings include a crazy sandwich with peanut butter, cream cheese, honey and housemade raspberry preserves, topped with bananas ($10). From the regular menu I picked the most indulgent grilled cheese ever: New York cheddar and jalapeno jack on thick and ridiculous Grandaisy Sourdough ($9). Get it fully loaded ($12) with avocado, thick-cut brown sugar bacon and … Doritos! Whaaaaat ? (Do not think for one minute that it was gross!) People also go nuts for HP’s peanut butter burger, as well as the avocado fries (deep-fried in panko). Goodbye diet, hello heaven. Hello, Harlem!

Grilled cheese: Looks messy, tastes awesome.

Grilled cheese: Looks messy, tastes awesome.

Midtown lunch spot that won’t make you want to punch someone in the face

15 Feb

Finally got to LT Burger on 40th b/t Fifth and Sixth. This place is solid for what it is. I had  the $10 Veggie (nicely spicy with avocado, jack cheese and wheat grass) and my friend had the $12 Turkey (yogurt and fresh herbs), and we shared fried pickles (damn good). We each indulged in a milkshake, but I did not feel bad about myself because everyone was doing it!! I think it was the choice of flavors: Beyond the traditional vanilla/choc/strawberry/Oreo, choices included S’mores, American Puff (with Cocoa Puffs and Reese’s), Gone Bananas (bananas foster ice cream with dulce de leche), Rice Crispy (their spelling, with butterscotch) and more. And they were not gigantic, gut-busting, insulin-spiking, mega milkshakes (although they were $7), rather, the perfect amount for a treat. Back to the burgers: Generously portioned, they come with a large half-sour pickle spear (I prefer full-sour, but what can you do); fries are extra, but at least the hand-cut are perfectly thin and crispy. This place also serves things like salad and curried lentil soup—but I have ZERO to say about that.

LT Burger was full at lunchtime but you can make a res, and it’s one of the few places in the area where you can actually sit at a table and order from a server without spending two hours or $200 on fancy sushi. In fact, it might even be a good pre-theater spot, although the 5pm-7pm happy hour is supposed to be quite crowded—not a surprise given the location, $5 beer specials and cheap app menu, featuring slightly reduced prices on brisket nachos ($8), mini Kobe hot dogs ($9), smoked gouda curly fries ($5), etc. There is a large bar that probably fills up quickly, thanks to 14 beers on tap, including Duvel, Blue Point, Ommegang and Green Flash. Another 14 are available by the bottle, and 5 in cans.

If loving Laurent Tourondel is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Not a Harlem Shake.

Not a Harlem Shake.

Just when you thought red velvet had jumped the shark …

10 Feb

… I did too, I swear! But then I had  a piece of RV cake from Ladybird Bakery. I think my faith in the flavor has been restored by the Park Slope institution (FKA Two Little Red Hens). Buttery and moist inside with a touch of cocoa, it’s topped with cream cheese frosting—not a single bite too cloying.

The $42 no-frills treat was devoured by about 15 partygoers. You know how people usually enjoy just a sliver of cake, nibbling on the part they like best (perhaps the flower, or the frosting, or the insides, or the ribbon of caramel, or whatever), and leave the rest? Well as we cleared cake plates, they were EMPTY. Licked clean. There were no discarded, disliked, so-sad cake remains. Some people even came back for more (rare in the cake world, where there definitely can be too much of a good thing).

So, the moral of the story is that it’s the best red velvet cake I’ve had, and the flavor is here to stay. Still not convinced?  Head to Ladybird and indulge for yourself. Just bring me back a piece for breakfast.

I realize this photo would be more helpful if it were a side view of a slice, but this will have to do!

(This would be more helpful if it were a side view of a slice—sorry!)

Sotto 13: Good for groups (and wallets)

30 Jan

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Sotto 13 is a great choice for a group dinner (I’m talking 8 people, not 15, although the place is pretty accommodating and could probably manage whatever you want). First, it’s centrally located on 13th near Seventh in the former Bigoli space—convenient no matter where your friends are coming from. The low-lit interior is cavernous without being too dark/creepy. Menu features Italian-style tapas (yeah, I know we’re not wild about the term) perfect for sharing: crostini, salads, wood-fired pizzas and other small plates like meatballs, zucchini strings, stuffed artichoke, burrata. Bottles of wine hover around $40.

Our group of 7 ordered plenty of food, left perfectly full and racked up a mere $200 tab (before tip), which is totally reasonable for a Tuesday night catch-up. I can’t imagine a big group of dudes eating here, but it’s a solid choice for a girls’ din or a date (low-lit in back, nice big bar up front for mutual nibbling and $12 cocktails).

The one bad thing about small plates? No leftovers.

A waiter from Cannes, a bony rabbit and a $10 glass of Bordeaux

28 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-28 at 12.17.08 AM

OK, so apparently the rabbit could have been meatier (I did not partake), but overall we loved our experience at the new French bistro La Villette in the West Village. Totally unpretentious with a low-lit, lively atmosphere and a comfortable bar for waiting, it was full on a Friday night and all guests seemed to be enjoying themselves. The menu is standard: moules, foie gras, escargot, etc. My filet de boeuf  was well seasoned and appropriately portioned and came with a tiny bit of peppercorn sauce on the side; frites were served in one of those tin cups. The vanilla bean crème brulee was light and lovely; we felt welcome and happy from the moment we arrived until we paid the bill.

Two more plusses: 1. reservations accepted 2. the warm bread basket (olive as well as traditional baguette), served with delicious olive oil into which we sprinkled coarse sea salt to our liking.

Does the city need another one of these places? Not really. Is it nice to stumble upon a pleasant surprise every once in a while? Mais oui.

Too much chocolate is a myth

31 Dec

jacques_torres_poster

You may think getting a hot chocolate and a chocolate chip cookie at Jacques Torres Chocolate is excessive. I can happily report that is not the case. First of all, the super-rich beverage comes in a small cup, so you can feel good about that. I got the “Wicked” version, which has just enough bite (ancho chili, smoked chipotle chili, cinnamon, allspice) without being too overwhelming. (They also have Original, Caramel, Peanut Butter, etc.). And the cookie, well—the cookie is so special that it would be unfair to your taste buds not to try one. Super buttery and surprisingly flat with chocolate chunks, it is available HEATED TO PERFECTION!

I sat at the cutesy counter on Amsterdam Ave. feeling like a sophisticated 12-year-old. I tried to read my book but was too distracted by sips and bites to turn pages. On my way out it took extraordinary effort not to purchase additional chocolate covered malt balls, milk chocolate covered pretzels and salted caramels. Amazingly, the thought of more chocolate did not make me want to vom at that point (although spending an extra $40 on fancy candy did).

Yum Jacques Torres yum.

With at least six locations around the city, you’re never too far from cheating on your new year’s diet.

Solving your Penn Station problem

7 Dec

“Near Penn Station” always seems like a convenient place to meet for food or drinks when someone is coming or going—until you remember it’s actually a wasteland of crowded sports bars overrun with rush-hour douchebaggery. Well, I found a spot! Not necessarily a destination in itself, but a yummy, spacious, well-decorated, clean, much-needed option in that area: CASA NONNA.

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Order light Italian bites like salami, cheese or antipasto platters to go with the focaccia-like table bread: little triangles of crispy, garlicky, cheesy goodness. A wood-fire oven churns out perfectly thin-crust pizzas (from $15), and the pastas (from $20) are made in-house. Main dishes (carne/pesce) are a little pricier. The arancini, by the way, are perfect.

Casa Nonna‘s location (38th b/t Eighth and Ninth, but closer to Eighth) near Times Square also makes it convenient for pre-theater. In addition to the huge, marble pizza bar, there’s also a comfy beverage bar in front, where you can get free snacks with the purchase of a drink during happy hour.

This venue happens to be strikingly huge—good for groups, office parties or events. It’s so big that I wondered how they afforded the lease, until I realized it’s owned by ESquared Hospitality, parent company of BLT Steak/Burger/Prime/Market/Fish Shack, etc.

Ultimately, this is the best place I know of in the area for dependable food in a warm and inviting space. While it’s not cheap (it’s still midtown, after all), you won’t feel completely hosed. They also take reservations, which are prob unnecessary … but may be worth the peace of mind if one of your drinking or dining companions has a train to catch.

Four months ago I ordered brisket. Two nights ago I ate it.

28 Nov

Daniel Delaney was just a dude with a dream (a seriously carnivorous one). He wanted to bring Texas-style BBQ to NYC, so he went down there and brought back a smoker. When I got word of his Brisketlab project over the summer, I pre-ordered a pound of meat for $25. Yup, I just gave this guy my money, without any idea of when, how, or—let’s be honest—if he would MEAT his obligation and deliver good on his promise. Turns out I wasn’t the only a-hole; in 48 hours he sold 2,500 lbs of brisket (kind of nauseating when you think about it that way). Until you taste it!

I was finally able to collect my pound of flesh (ew) at his brick-and-mortar Briskettown location in south Williamsburg. It was AWESOME! Better than Dino, better than Hill Country, better than Blue Smoke, even better than Fette Sau. And certainly better than anything I could ever make: tender and peppery and smoked just right!

Lucky for you, Briskettown is now open to everyone (but go early because the meat often sells out by 8:30). The place is very small—not much more than a storefront—with no bells and whistles. Expect only brisket, pullman slices, pickles, onions and maybe some ribs and potato salad, depending on the day (sometimes they even sell pie). Right now it is BYOB. You have to wait in line for your cut because Daniel himself is up there at the counter, slicing your meat and chatting with hungry brisket lovers and generally being awesome.

I don’t know why this guy’s story makes me so happy—it just does. At least that’s what my stomach told me to say.

I couldn’t be a hater at Anejo Tequileria

26 Oct

Having grown up in San Diego, I get irritated at upscale Mexican food. The quesadillas we ate as kids cost $1.75 at Cotija and they tasted rad. But even when my palate evolved to beachside fish tacos and rolled tacos with a perfect blob of guacamole and a side of tongue-searing, this-can’t-actually-occur-in-nature hot sauce, I never paid more than $5. So I am skeptical when two tiny New York tacos cost $15 and there is nothing else on the plate.

Still, I visited Anejo Tequileria in Hell’s Kitchen the other night and was totally impressed. The food menu is not extensive (the choice is in the tequilas, which I did not get to try), but flavor pairings were unique and seriously enjoyable. The guacamole had pomegranate and pumpkin seed and charred poblano! The salad had sweet chili cashews! The corn cake had Oaxacan cheese and jalapeno! The short rib tacos were braised in cocoa! The pork tacos were really bland so let’s move on! The churros were served with not only chipotle chocolate but also dulce de leche!

All in all, it was a great meal by Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Portions are small, so don’t come starving. The flip side to that is you don’t leave stuffed. The vibe is loud and lively; expect the typical New York scene where you’re eating on top of your neighbor but pretending like you don’t mind because you’re at a cool place in pretty much the best city around. Tequila or no, your life will feel pretty good. And so will your stomach. (Your wallet will feel just OK.)

Where to take visitors after the High Line

16 Oct

It’s fall! In the city! It’s awesome! Aaaaand suddenly, everyone wants to come visit. And because you are a fabulous friend/niece/daughter-in-law, you welcome them with open arms and guarantee a great time. At some point you’re sure to end up at the High Line (because “nice view from up there” and “it’s free” and “we can get some exercise.”) But what to do afterward? Continue your hostess duties with these three nearby stops:

1. Shop at STORY (Tenth Ave. at 19th St.). Called a “permanent pop-up” when it first opened, Story is a NYC-themed “retail space that has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Its rotating themes always have a New York hook; right now the place is showing the work of local fashion designers. The last time I visited I left with a bag full of products made by artisans from the five boroughs.

2. Eat at COOKSHOP (Tenth Ave. at 20th St.). An oldie-but-goodie, the food, space and service here will impress any out-of-towner. Marc Meyer’s American menu features seasonal ingredients, many of which are cooked on a grill, rotisserie or in a wood-burning oven. One more reason to love this place: Before diving into your starters (including brussels sprouts pizza) and mains (local swordfish, spit-roasted sasso chicken, etc.), you can order from the “snacks” portion of the menu: Choose from little delights like spice-fried hominy, a pickle plate and, on a recent night, pulled chicken mini-tostadas. Oh, and if you leave without ordering the coffee cake sundae, your life may be a little more sad. P.S. They take reservations.

3. Drink at THE HALF KING (23rd b/t Tenth and Eleventh). Sure you can go to Biergarten at The Standard, but the scene might be too loud, young and frat-astic for some. As you lead your guests to The Half King, name-drop Sebastian Junger as part owner, then get ready to get comfy in this low-key, cozy pub with a nice beer list. If it’s too crowded, leave your scarf on and head to the intimate backyard garden—have one more $4 beer during happy hour from 5pm-8pm and you won’t even notice the fall chill.