• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
Last year, I spent a week on a yacht touring some of the islands of Greece with my boyfriend and three of his friends. One of those friends was visiting NYC last week from Romania, so I wanted to take her someplace new and well-rated. A co-worker happened to mention Bowery Meat Company to me that very week, and not only had the New York Times given it two stars, but it had meat right in the name.
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I try to avoid carbs and sugar in my day-to-day life, so I never let myself have cereal for breakfast. I can’t tell you the last time I ate it, but I’m guessing it was in college, and it was probably something with “fiber” in the name so I could feel like an adult. But I secretly love cereal and was delighted to learn that Kellogg’s NYC opened in Times Square and that I’d need to eat a huge bowl of the stuff in the interest of reviewing it. The sacrifices I make, you know.
Last week, I was surprised by a visit from to Tom Szebeni, the CEO of Duran Sandwiches with a huge box of his handmade European-style open-faced slices of wonder. I knew I was getting a complimentary taste of his creations, but I never expected that the President himself would walk over from their first U.S. location in NoMad to deliver them. But after talking to him for ten minutes, it made perfect sense. The guy just oozes passion for what he’s doing. He explained to me that he worked on the Budapest version of the reality TV show “Big Brother” for years and used to leave the dark studio (and his 48 monitors showing people stuck in a house doing the most mundane things) to get sandwiches across the street at one of the Duran locations. He wanted something more, though, so he decided to leave TV and spend weeks in the shop learning to make the sandwiches so he could bring them to NYC. He kept emphasizing how this is real food. Food that someone cared about when they made it.
I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ve eaten sandwiches before, buddy.” And then I opened the box, and a light shone down from heaven.
Luksus, the Nordic tasting-menu-only restaurant hidden behind a door in Greenpoint’s Tørst beer bar, has been on my list for a long time as a Brooklynite who’d love to never have to leave the borough for her fine dining. I was scheduled to go see my family in Ohio over the July 4th weekend, but when my flight got canceled despite clear blue skies, I consoled myself by booking a table for two there in the hope of getting to sit at the bar and watch the chefs work. The OpenTable reviewers had given Luksus a 4.5, and Eleven Madison Park, which I would call one of the standard-bearers in the city, had a 4.8, so I congratulated myself on my good choice. But when I started talking to my friends, the consensus was that Luksus was good but probably not somewhere they’d return to. I thought about changing my reservation, but then I remembered the optional beer pairings and just had to try it for myself.
The only thing better than being invited to try out a complimentary dinner at a new restaurant is being invited to try out a steakhouse. Rocco Steakhouse is the mastermind of owner Rocco Trotta, who put together a staff of big names from old school NYC steakhouses, including the man who served as the general manager at Wolfgang’s for a decade. (And Wolfgang, of course, started his steakhouse after working at Peter Luger, so you just have to love all of the entanglement within the NYC steakhouse strata.) With another well-known steakhouse on the same block, I asked GM Pete Pjetrovic why he partnered with Rocco and beverage director Jeff Kolenovic to open the space on Madison Avenue; he said he knew they could create a better steakhouse with the best ingredients, the best chef, and the best head waiter.
It seems like the neighborhood agrees. When I sat down right after work, the completely enclosed dining room was nearly empty, but by the time my thick Canadian bacon with just the right amount of char arrived, it was full of regulars. Or maybe that’s just how the waiters treat everyone who walks in the door. I heard lots of “how are the kids?” followed by handshakes and pats on the back. The staff was warm and friendly and let me annoy them for a picture where they wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders like brothers. But of course when it was time to serve the steak, they were all business.
The little group of friends I eat all of my cow stomachs and whole suckling pigs with all love Eleven Madison Park but don’t want to necessarily drop $300 on a tasting menu on a random Wednesday night. Luckily, there’s The NoMad restaurant in the NoMad Hotel, where Chef Daniel Humm is serving the same elevated food for, you know, the same elevated prices, but at least you can only order two or three courses here if you want to save your pennies. The service was as kind and polished as you’d expect from a restaurant by this chef, the atmosphere as dark and cool as you’d expect from a hotel that’s as much known for its bar as anything. As with EMP, most of the food you get at The NoMad is a really great version of a thing you probably already like–I’ll never forget the “picnic” I had there once–but this is also the kind of place that’ll also make you like food you thought you didn’t.
I get restaurants offering me free meals every now and then, and having no soul like I do, I’m usually wont to take them up on that offer. But Industry 1332 tried a different approach: they just asked me to come in. I was talking about empanadas on Twitter, as usual, and their social media person started up a conversation with me. There was absolutely no reason for me to visit a random Latin restaurant in the middle of Bushwick, but it did have great reviews, and their tweets to me were cute and personal, just pushy enough to interest me without turning me off. So I made a reservation for four on a random weeknight and took the G train with my boyfriend to an L stop I’ve never been to before. It was just seedy-seeming enough to be exciting to a couple from the family-friendly part of Brooklyn as we hurried down the dark street beside the building, which seemed to be surrounded mostly by warehouses. Inside, they had used some of that industrial feeling in their design, with exposed brick and beams. Our friends Jon and Lara like to order ALL THE THINGS, so we tasted a good bit of the menu, and the menu sure was good.
I was trying to stick to my low-carb diet that night, so I was bowled over by the fact that this didn’t arrive with any chips. Most restaurants are like, “Here, fill up on these greasy things so you don’t notice we only gave you three spoonfuls of fish.” Industry 1332 was like, “Here, we made this giant bowl of fish for you and didn’t want to hinder the flavor with some dumb chips.” I don’t want to talk in superlatives, but let’s just say that this was an incredibly complex ceviche and is certainly the one I’ll hold up as my standard-bearer in the future. It was fluke marinated in citrus with onions, peppers, mango, cilantro, and fresh avocado. Sweet, sour, and spicy. The mango was sliced almost like a noodle to give the bowl some heft, and the avocado was this amazing creamy mousse that also popped up in some other dishes, because the restaurant must have realized it’s the bomb.
Fresh ahi tuna cubes marinated in a ginger ponzu sauce with an avocado mousse. Looks like watermelon, tastes like the ocean! Again with that avocado, because it should be on everything this restaurant serves.
Mini corn cakes topped with shredded braised beef, avocado, smoked gouda cheese and mushroom aioli.
Tempura fried sole filet, in a corn tortilla topped with pico de gallo and yellow aji aioli.
Pastry turnovers served with a chipotle aioli in beef, chicken, or vegetable.
Sautéed ginger marinated beef, tri-colored fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, green papaya slaw served with basmati rice.
Chicken breast stuffed with manchego cheese, chorizo, roasted pepper sofrito and a cilantro pesto basmati rice. When you’re on a low-carb diet, meat stuffed in meat with a bunch of cheese is your dream. This was all of the flavors of Mexican pizza without any of the carb face the next day.
Sesame ahi tuna, served with roasted vegetables and a mango sriracha chutney. Tasted as beautiful as it looked.
Fried pastry dough rolled in cinnamon sugar served with dulce de leche crème sauce. Tasted better than it looked, my dinner guests told me, although I’m never going to complain about a heaping mound of whipped cream no matter its appearance.
What we initially heard was that the neighborhood was a little upset about Industry 1332 being there, evidently because it’s too “nice” and will attract too many people to one of the still-cheap-ish parts of Bushwick. But now all of the Yelp reviews are by people who live down the street and love it. I’m gonna say it’s all thanks to that avocado mousse.
When I found out that Beetle House, a Tim-Burton-themed bar and restaurant, was opening in the East Village, I immediately texted my best friend in Ohio and asked if that was catalyst enough to make her buy a plane ticket to come visit me. She said, “That sounds terrifying, actually.” So I made reservations right away with my other friends. Not to spite her exactly but because I was still sure it was going to be great. During the first week of soft opening, I was hearing about a man dressed as Beetlejuice leading semi-annoying renditions of “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” and a background soundtrack comprised entirely of Danny Elfman songs. I told my boyfriend that it didn’t matter if the cocktails were expensive and the food sucked, because this was obviously just a novelty bar meant to pull in tourists for one night at a time. These are the same owners of the Will-Ferrell-themed bar, Stay Classy New York, after all. They surely aren’t meant to be taken seriously.
Since Beetle House was still in previews when we went (and will be until May 6th), it was cash only, by reservation only, and serving a limited menu. The menu was pretty cheeky, though, with its disclaimer about their meat supply being innocent New Yorkers and its items like Edward Burger Hands, Charlie Corn Bucket, and Eggs Skellington.
After chatting with the super friendly (not even just by NYC standards) owner who was doubling as our server and finding out it was she who’d developed the cocktail menu, my friends and I ordered all of the available drinks to start:
Alice’s Cup of Tea was their take on a Long Island iced tea and just as strong but with heavy notes of peach that made it perfect for summer. The Barnabas Collins was the whiskey cocktail, not so sweet despite the brown sugar thanks to two kinds of bitters.
Tequila, blackberry, and lime made this really refreshing and easy to drink. All of the cocktails were very strong but well-balanced, so I could’ve had several of these but really only needed one to get to a good place.
Our table agreed that this one was just weird. Bacardi rum, creme de coconut, lime juice, crushed ice, and orange zest. There was no reason it tasted so funny to us, except that we weren’t on a banana-shaped raft off the coast of a tropical island.
A bison burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, quail egg, sriracha cream, avocado, and tomato on a honey garlic bun. The table next to ours got a much better-looking one, but don’t let the mess on the plate dissuade you. My friend the burger snob was impressed that it was actually cooked medium-rare and loved that the quail egg was broken on the side for dipping. The menu didn’t mention that the burger came with a side of garlic whipped mash, which made the $16 price tag make sense.
Smoked BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño jelly, sweet slaw, and pickled egg on a honey garlic bun. It’s a summer picnic in a sandwich, with all of the spicy and smoky you’d expect.
After reading the description of this–cornbread, sauteed chicken, romano garlic cream, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, and jalapeño jelly–I thought it sounded like a kind of chicken pot pie. But our server told me that it was “just everything in a bowl”. Not exactly crystal clear, but I asked my boyfriend to order it anyway so I could see. It turned out to be the best thing I tasted that night (and, you know, I tasted everything). It really was just all of the ingredients in a bowl together, with the cornbread absorbing all of the flavors rather than just sitting on top, as in a pot pie. I’m not sure what kind of magic they throw in there with everything, but it had the flavors of a bowl of Thai curry. Except with way more stuff and way less broth, which is sort of the dream.
I ordered this because I had to know what $24 mac & cheese looked like. It was seven cheeses (seven!), garlic and sea salt breadcrumbs, and sweet stewed tomatoes. It was a massive plate that took all four of us to finish, and it was just . . . special. Even without meat, I wasn’t sad to have spent $24 on it. (That said, I’d sure rather spend $18 on it if this became a regular place for me.) I loved the crunch of the breadcrumbs that added just the right amount of buttery sweetness to the pasta, and then the tomato sauce just put it over the top in terms of comfort food.
They had run out of the Wonka Bar Chocolate Cake with actual chocolate bars between the layers of cake, so we opted for the cherry cheesecake instead, which was not a mistake. One of the owners’ moms makes all of the dessert, and we could taste it. This version had big sour cream flavor and a thick, buttery graham cracker crust. It was $12, which was a bit of a surprise to us when we got the bill, but it was a good-sized slice, and YOLO.
A lot of the initial Yelp reviews dock stars because this place is so small, which I find adorable. Is this your first day in NYC, Yelpers? Yeah, restaurants are small here.
In the end, I left Beetle House feeling like it was nothing I expected it to be and just what I want a good East Village bar to be. There was no costumed Beetlejuice (they tell me he’ll be there on the weekends, along with side show acts, magicians, and zombies). There was no Danny Elfman music. There wasn’t really a whole lot of Tim Burton, truth be told. It was actually, as their website says, “a bar and restaurant in the East Village of NYC with an atmosphere and menu inspired by all things dark and lovely”. I would’ve thought the Beetlejuice guy was kitschy and fun to take pictures of, but I wouldn’t have wanted him there pretending to levitate every time I wanted to casually drink a This is Halloween! cocktail with pumpkin liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, apple liqueur, apple cider, ginger beer, and lime. And hearing the Danny Elfman score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been charming, but listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division was way cooler. It seems like the owners are making this a neighborhood bar during the week and a novelty bar for the weekend. Unfortunately the prices don’t make it the kind of place you can go every night, but I’m hoping they’ll work that out after the soft opening.
To me, the Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily is famous because my neighbor and her husband own it. My boyfriend and I started going there because they offered everyone in our building a free dessert, and there aren’t many places I wouldn’t go for a free s’mores calzone. We kept going to Emily because it turned out the pizza was really the epitome of what great NY wood-fired pizza can be, with an airy, crisp crust that wasn’t hard and overly chewy. And then all of NYC went there, too, not only for the funky pizza concoctions (like the Colony with pickled chilis and honey) but for the award-winning burger that the Internet couldn’t stop talking about. Now there’s Emmy Squared in Williamsburg, an offshoot offering Detroit-style pizza because it wasn’t enough for Matt Hyland to just be a master of NY pies.
These things must be triple-battered, for all of the crunchy stuff that falls off of them onto the plate as you pull them apart. Growing up in Ohio, we asked for “extra crispy stuff” or “more crunchies” at Long John Silver’s to get a little pile of fried batter on the side of our hush puppies. These are the adult version of that. Dip those little nuggets of cheese into your spicy “sammy” sauce or tomato sauce, and don’t forget the crispies.
When I was a kid in Ohio (and truthfully, up until about five years ago), Pizza Hut was my favorite pizza. The popular pizzas in Ohio–Donatos, Massey’s, every mom and pop shop in my little town–had the Midwestern cracker crust, but if my pizza wasn’t piled on an inch of bread, I wasn’t interested. Emmy Squared takes the idea of that pan pizza and makes it so your stomach won’t explode. It has that same crust that rises up along the side of the baking pan, but here, the cheese spills over the side and fries up crispy to give the crust a crunch and a buttery-ness that you can’t get with wood-fired pizza. And the dough at Emmy Squared isn’t a brick that expands in your stomach; it’s a light, airy thing just weighty enough to support the loads of toppings.
I ordered the Roni Supreme to harken back to those days when we used to use the crispy curled-edge pepperoni of Ohio pizzas as bowls for other toppings. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, with clumps of chile seeds to make your eyes water. My boyfriend’s mom got the Angel Pie, because mushrooms are a hot commodity back in her native Poland, where every member of the household is a fungus-picking expert in the forest. We all loved the texture of the ricotta and the sauce replacement of truffle cream. But our favorite was The Emmy, which we added sausage to like hedonists. But of course it was going to be our favorite, because it had all of the best things in life: banana peppers, red onions, and RANCH. Homemade ranch, with extra herbs in it to make it green. I didn’t even know there was a way to make regular ranch better. I couldn’t stop exclaiming about how this was my new favorite pizza. And it wasn’t just the Moscow Mules talking.
Remember GreenBox from an episode of “Shark Tank“? Emmy Squared uses them! How environmentally responsible and convenient!
You wouldn’t know it from reading my blog, but Momofuku Ko is the restaurant I’ve been to most in NYC. I only ever reviewed my first meal there, because their no-photo policy meant that my reviews would just be words, and my dearest friends have let me know that no one cares about my writing. But I loved Ko for its creativity, its super-relaxed atmosphere where jeans were recommended and the soundtrack included everything from 70s prog rock to 80s alternative to current hip hop, and the way its counter seating allowed you to talk to your chef as he used tweezers to top your miso ice cream cone with puffed black rice. It was my favorite restaurant in NYC, so I was understandably worried when what everyone is calling “Ko 2.0” opened with its much-much-huger space, its revamped menu with a higher price and no extended lunch option, and its attempts at wringing that third star from Michelin.
The first big change I noticed when I walked in with my boyfriend is that service seems to be a bigger deal at the new Momofuku Ko. Someone was there to hold the door open for us when we entered, and it wasn’t a long-bearded hipster who would also act as our sommelier for the night. The general manager, Su, then checked the computer for our reservation (there’s no more printing out your confirmation at home and having to show it at the door), led us to our seats at the counter, and made friendly conversation with us.
At the old Ko, the seats were small wooden benches with no cushion and no back. They looked streamlined and minimalist pushed under the counter, but they didn’t seem so cool after twelve courses. The new Ko has tall stools with comfortable seats and leather backs that you can melt into with your after-dinner cocktail and your full belly. There’s also a gorgeous dark-wood counter now that looks richer than the blonde wood at the old Ko, and you’ll now get a printed menu in a textured cover at the end of the meal. So that extra money you’re paying now is being well-spent, and Michelin is sure to notice that Ko is now way, way more comfortable than Brooklyn Fare is.
We started off with a bottle of Riesling
and then took in the sights of the new kitchen and chatted with the chef in front of us while we waited for our first course:
And then, the food:
A Ko classic that keeps evolving, this little fried potato tube was filled with creamy pimiento cheese. Imagine eating a Lay’s cheddar potato chip, only way more delicious. And where you can only have one instead of half the bag.
A sweet little beet ball with the lasting tang of citrus. Followed by a slice of apple with the sting of horseradish, topped with smoky, crunchy rice.
The tiniest “lobster roll” with an unexpected mint finish (though not unexpected if you, unlike me, know what a paloise sauce is) tasted so fresh next to richer–but not any bigger–Caesar salad boat filled with avocado mousse. The woman next to us told me to put my very small iPhone in the shot to show how incredibly, incredibly adorable these little dollhouse dishes were.
This Arctic char roll hit us with jalapeño first, then cucumber to cool it down. The freshness of herbs finished off every bite.
Like the teeniest triple-decker sandwich, this was miniature toasted bread with a little hint of brine. Our palates missed the green tea on top because of the overwhelming toasty taste, but I sure did like squashing the roe with the layers of cracker.
I always think of Ko when I have madai thanks to the plate of sashimi included in their old lunch service that inevitably included some brand new take on the fish every time. Chef Carey wouldn’t tell us what he was misting the bowl with before he served it to us, but the scent of shiso filled our airspace. It turned out to be a spray bottle full of “shiso essence” he had, which we should all inquire about buying from them as perfume. Little bits of jalapeño and lime caviar made for occasional bursts of flavor in an otherwise very subtle dish of consomme jelly.
This was one of the most memorable dishes of the night, which isn’t surprising, since it reminded me of the wonderful halibut in whey I had at Atera. That was back in 2012, and I still vividly remember the experience of eating it. This was a New Jersey(!) scallop with an almond milk sauce that was slightly starchy to give some texture to the dish. The bamboo was tender, not woody, and the little slivers of green pepper packed so much perfectly-paired flavor that I felt I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. I can’t wait to eat this one again sometime.
This was a razor clam for anyone who’s afraid of the way it looks in its long tampon of a shell. This is one of the main reasons I love fine dining: eating things I wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise but having them presented so beautifully that I can’t resist them. The little slices of clam had a little chew to them, while the basil seeds were super slimy. The overall effect was slightly fruity and sweet thanks to the pineapple, but it was missing the little punch of flavor I expect from a good Ko dish, and we would’ve been fine had this been a very small serving, like a shot.
Mackerel sushi with lots of ginger and scallions. A layer of fermented sunflower added a grainy texture.
This broth was made with the bones of the mackerel from the previous course’s sushi, with slivers of onion, king oyster mushroom, and Asian pear. It was really subtle, and we liked how the pear absorbed some savoryness from the other ingredients present in the bowl but a little sweetness sung through every now and then.
This sunchoke with its skin still on was dry-aged in beef fat and did indeed look like a little morsel of meat. It was very sweet, like it was covered in a marmalade. We guessed the flavor to be apricot, but it wasn’t distinctive, just fruity and sweet next to the earthy interior of the choke. It turned out to be blood orange sauce, but we blame the restaurant for not making the flavor pronounced enough, not our own palates for not being able to discern it, OF COURSE.
Sweet soft eggs with an even sweeter dollop of potato, cut with a pop of savory caviar and with crunchy wisps to contrast all of the creamy texture.
This ricotta cavatelli was rolled in a sauce made with stinging nettles to keep it very fresh and light despite the aged cheese flavor. I sort of felt like I was eating mossy caterpillars, but please ignore my imagination.
We got a little overexcited for pure carbs and took a big hunk out of this butter for our bread before I could get a picture. The combination of the bread and black radish butter made this a sour and funky interlude.
More lobster! The super fresh sugar snap peas gave this a bright crunch next to the rich, buttery seameat.
I’ve had this every time I’ve been to Ko and hope to have it every time for life. The foie gras is shaved cold into the bowl and then melts as it mixes with the jelly, pine nut brittle, and whole fruit slices. I thought it was better than ever, and the chef told me it might be because they’re not plating it using cold bowls anymore. I love the idea that something like the bowl temperature could affect the taste for me.
When I got this slice of duck breast, the lady next to me at the counter learned over and told me to savor it. It was sweet and sour, peppery, and had a thick crunchy top and bottom, like there was a piece of brittle on both sides. I never got used to the pungent lime pickle, in that every single bite was as delicious as the first. The side of XO vegetables reminded me of the first time I ever had XO sauce, which also happened to be the homemade one at the old Ko. This dish was maybe the best thing I’ve eaten at Ko yet, and you can bet I did savor it while that lady watched me in envy.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’d taste like if you stuck an entire garden in your mouth, this is the dessert for you. The sorrel ice cream tasted exactly as green as it looked, but its savoryness was offset by the sweet diced rhubarb, which also added texture. The cake had a slightly crunchy, caramelized exterior, and it was entirely unfair that they hollowed out the middle of this for the ice cream, because I needed every last crumb.
I had no idea what bee pollen was before I ate it, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain it to you now. It’s pollen, nectar from whatever the bee was collecting the pollen from, and bee spit, all made into a little pellet by the worker bees for some reason. I have no idea why we would ever eat this, except oh wait, yes, I do–because it’s delicious. It was crunchy and tasted like honey, and this dessert would’ve been nothing without it. The funky creme fraiche made this a challenging dessert if you’re someone who wants ice cream and frosting after a meal, but the huckleberry sorbet was just sweet enough with the bee pollen to top it off.
To finish, we had chocolate cookies that tasted like the herbal liqueur Fernet-Branca and a sunflower macaron that tasted like buttered popcorn. And then we got a little drunker and hung out, just enjoying the sights of the kitchen.
So did I need to be worried about missing the old Momofuku Ko? Well, not really. I did miss some of the cutesy things that Ko used to do, the novelty things like the miso ice cream cone, the bento with the pork fat rice ball, or the lunchbox with fried chicken. It was fun to reminisce with Executive Chef Sean about the soft shell crab sandwich I once had in the early days, and even he seemed a little nostalgic about the magic they made over in that tiny kitchen on 1st Avenue. But Ko 2.0 is legit fine dining now. It’s comfortable, it’s beautiful, and all of the extras–from the printed menu to the mignardises you’d get at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park–are included.
Plus, with the huge kitchen upgrade, so much more food is being made right in front of you now. We watched a duck being carved, fruits being juiced, fish being finished on a Japanese charcoal grill–all things that would’ve happened behind the scenes at the old Ko. Ko used to be about watching beautiful pre-prepared things being plated from little boxes, but now it’s about also watching things actually get cooked.
And the bones of the old Ko are still holding the place up. You’ll still hear Radiohead, The Cure, and Cat Stevens on the soundtrack, and you’ll still get really delicious, sort of Asian, very tiny, extremely imaginative, wildly well-composed plates of food. And hey, with all of the extra space, you can actually get a reservation now.