Monday, February 9, 2015

Curry-Ya's Baked Curry is a Crazy Cheesy Casserole of Deliciousness!

So how do you improve upon the traditional katsu or hamburg Japanese curries? Just add cheese to it! The dish is reminiscent of a French Onion Soup...but only better!  The simple addition of cheese baked to crispy deliciousness, along with a poached egg for even additional richness, makes Curry-Ya's baked curries the perfect thing to order when you're in the East Village when you're hungry, cold, or drunk (or maybe all three).  As with all their other curries, it's served with rice and complimentary onions and pickled ginger at the counter.

Their traditional curries are also a great option for a quick meal.  My fiance often gets the Japanese classic beef curry, served in a cast-iron casserole to keep the stew bubbling, and she often orders it with a small side of pork cutlet and hard boiled egg.

210 East 10th st
(between 2nd and 1st ave in the East Village)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 995-2877


Friday, September 26, 2014

Not Your Usual Brunch House of Small Wonder in Williamsburg!

I was looking for a unique brunch spot in the Williamsburg area since my fiancee and I were out there early this summer to see Chvrches play an outdoor show, and House of Small Wonder fit the bill perfectly.

The modest little cafe is nestled next to Zenkichi, right by N6th st and Wythe.  The space is tiny but has cute whimsical decor, and has a tree in the center of the room that extends from the floor to the translucent ceiling that lets natural sunlight through, almost giving the cafe the feel of being in a tree house.  And yep, both Zenkichi and House of Small Wonder are both great date spots because of the ambiance, one for romantic Japanese dinner and the other for a casual brunch.

The menu is also pretty cool, and mixes of French/European cafe and Japanese fare, with dishes like hamburg steak, sashimi don, but also traditional brunch items like French toast and croque madam.  

I settled on the Okinawan Taco Rice, which is ground pork in a chili-style sauce over salad and rice, topped with a fried egg.  Sounds VERY weird, but oddly enough, it works.  

She chose the croque madame; their version comes with scrambled egg on top, with the bread still containing ham and cheese, and your choice of salad.

They also have a lot of small sandwiches and treats.  I also ordered the Nutella banana croissant, cuz it has Nutella, banana, in a croissant! And yes, it's as good as it sounds!

House of Small Wonder
77 N6th st
(between Wythe and Berry St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-6160

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lansheng for some GOOD Szechuan Food in New Jersey!

After a somewhat disappointing meal at Han Dynasty in the East Village a few months ago; the food was pretty good, just surprisingly not spicy enough!  Thanks to Yelp, I was nicely surprised to find Lansheng, a great Szechuan restaurant close to me.

Langsheng serves authentic Szechuan food, and it's location is especially surprising since Wallington, NJ, is a small Polish town with only a few eateries. When I first went there with my folks for lunch, I also noticed that the restaurant was right in the quiet road with not too many businesses nearby.  The restaurant has is clean and the decor is nice, but most importantly, it was also a relief to see other Asian families eating there (as this is often a sign that the place doesn't just serve Americanized Chinese fare).

The food is very reasonably priced and was absolutely delicious.  We started out with a few apps:
Their wontons in chili oil were decent and about on par with others that I've had.  Spicy with just a little hint of Szechuan peppercorns.  Just a sign of things to come for sure!

Their dan dan noodles were also very tasty and pretty similar to Han Dynasty's...but several $ cheaper!

So it's not really a Szechuan dish, but we felt like getting some scallion pancakes! Lansheng's were REALLY good.  

I was pretty excited to have the Mapo Tofu, since I really hadn't had it in a while, and their version was superb!  With the right amount of spice and Szechuan peppercorns to numb your palate just a bit, this dish was sooooo addictive and  had everyone going back for more. It's a must-order dish if you're here.

I had never had tea smoked duck, and this dish was also amazing.  The skin was super crispy and the meat had a very smoky flavor (think a good bbq joint).  Another dish definitely worth getting again!

Service was also great; our server was throwing out one liners like his life depended on it, when was the last time you saw that at a Chinese restaurant?  Everything we ordered was delicious, and I'm looking forward to trying their other dishes, maybe a hot pot perhaps? It's getting cold during the nights and it's only September!

209 Paterson Ave
Wallington, NJ 07507
(973) 773-7100

Monday, September 15, 2014

Turco by Hell's Kitchen for Cheap and Delicious Mediterranean Fare

If you find your self stranded near Port Authority needing to grab a bite and wanting to avoid the usual overpriced Times Square tourist spots, give Turco Mediterranean Grill a try.  It's only a few blocks away from the terminal on 43rd and 9th.  

Though it's basically a quick service spot with zero ambiance with food served on paper plates, what they serve will hit the spot if you want to get your Mediterranean food fix on.  

On a trip a little earlier this year while waiting for an off-Broadway show, my fiancee and I were able to try the cold mezze appetizer. The different salads, including the shepherd, chickpea, tzatziki, and hummus, were all delicious.  Though it's basically a fast food spot, the food really tasted homemade and fresh.

Their homemade bread is served warm and is just awesome!

Their gyro platter is also pretty good.  The accompanying rice and salad were also delicious.  While their hot sauce is a bit on the milder side compared to some other Halal spots I've had, it's still pretty tasty.

Turco Mediterranean Grill
604 9th Ave (by 43rd st)
New York, NY 10036
(212) 510-8886

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Mixed Bag at Talde in Park Slope, by Top Chef Alum Dale Talde

I had been curious about checking out Talde and upon recommendation by a friend after an awesome St Vincent show in Prospect Park, my fiancee and I were fired up for some good eats (well, maybe I was!).
We walked a few blocks over to Talde, which was still packed past 11pm on a Saturday night.  We were able to be seated after about a 20 minute wait though.

Talde is a cozy bar/restaurant that has a small menu devoted to Pan-Asian food--mostly Thai and Filipino.  I was eager to try two of their popular items, the wings and their pretzel pork and chive dumplings.

I thought the pretzel pork and chive dumplings were quite pedestrian.  Yes, you do taste a touch of pretzel mixed into the filling, and the dumpling skin is crispy, imitating a pretzel.  Textural differences aside, at $8 for 4pcs taste-wise it's really not that much different from your $1 dumpling stands in Chinatown.

Now their Kung Pao chicken wings were great.  Tangy and sticky, and the peanuts add a nice textural dimension.  The homemade buttermilk ranch dipping sauce was delicious as well.  I could've eaten another myself!

Lastly, we split their Crispy Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai.  This also tasted great, but take out the oyster and the bacon the dish is just a decent Pad Thai dish.  It still was pretty good and worth ordering if you are there though.

While some of the dishes are hit/miss, I would visit again when I'm in the area to try out the other dishes on their menu.

369 7th Ave
Brooklyn NY, 11215
(347) 916-0031

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Bacon, Egg, and Tomato Arrabiata Ramen at Totto Ramen 51: Go Get It Now!

I finally was able to try Totto Ramen's second location and if their B.E.T. Arrabiata Ramen is any indication of how good their other bowls are.  I'm sold!  The new location is more spacious, has more seating, and seems to be less of a wait than their original spot a block away.

On my visit I tried the B.E.T. (Bacon, egg, and tomato) Arriabiata ramen, an Italian inspired ramen with thick cut bacon, a tomato-broth, fresh basil, and copius amounts of Parmesan cheese.  The cheesy broth is super rich and coats the noodles well, and the soft poached egg adds even more body to the soup.

I usually scoff at cross-over/fusion ramen dishes but this one was delicious!  Go get it now since it's only a seasonal flavor.

Totto Ramen (2nd location)
464 West 51st
New York, NY
(646) 596-9056

Monday, July 21, 2014

Green Curry Ramen From Bassanova in Chinatown!

It's kind of an anomaly to see a hipster-ish ramen spot open right up on Mott St in Chinatown, so I was curious to try this spot out.  Having gone to Bassanova twice now...I can comfortably say that the only bowl of ramen probably worth getting is their Green Curry Ramen.

The Green Curry Ramen has broth that has a deep curry flavor and reminds me a bit of the thai noodle soup dish khao soi.  Bassanova's verion comes with thicker noodles, raw greens (including some raw okra which works well with the dish), some pretty good chashu, and a generous sprinkling of garlic. All the flavors work and it IS a very good bowl of ramen.

I'm not so high on the other items on the menu though.  I've also had a chance to taste two other bowls of ramen, the lemon and black pepper, as well their regular Tondaku ramen, and both were lackluster. Even though it's cash only, the ramen there is also a bit more expensive, and go from $13 to $15 for small-ish bowls.  The service was pretty good, though for a ramen spot it took a bit of time when I was there both times for the food to come out.  I was also there when there at about 6pm after work on a weekday, when the place was still largely empty.

So all in all, if you are a ramen aficionado, definitely get the Green Curry Ramen if you are there. Otherwise, if you are just looking for a place to get a bowl of noodle soup in Chinatown, you have many better and cheaper options.

Bassanova Ramen
76 Mott St
Chinatown, NY 10013
(212) 334-2100

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Union Plaza Diner in Union NJ for Hearty, No-Frills Diner Fare

Along with Tops Diner in Harrison, Union Plaza is one of my favorite diners in NJ.  I used to live and work closer to the diner and have eaten there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  Yeah I was pretty much a regular.  The diner is great since you can get reasonably priced entrees, such as steak, prepared well, with all the diner accouterments, like a soup and salad starter.

Earlier this year when I ate there with my folks for dinner, my brother ordered the steak and shrimp scampi, which was delicious.  The entree was less than $20 as well, and I don't even remember where the last time I saw a surf and turf type dish for less than 20 bucks.  

Even heartier is their prime rib.  Oddly enough this diner is my go-to spot for prime rib! Yep, not some fancy steakhouse!  It's at least a 24 oz cut, a huge portion and I always end up having to take some home.  For a diner the prime rib is prepared pretty well (it's rare that they don't cook it to the requested temp and overcook it, etc.)  At about $17 it's also the most reasonably priced prime rib I've seen.

I also love their Greek salad starter, which comes with a stuffed grape leaf (love em!) and anchovies upon request. 

There's plenty of dining options on Rt 22 in the Union area, but Union Plaza diner is always a solid choice.  

Union Plaza Diner
2466 Rt 22
Union NJ 07083
(908) 686-4403

Monday, June 23, 2014

Get Your Polish Gastropub Fix... At Kristophe in Williamsburg

Polish food is one of my favorite comfort foods.  My favorite Polish spot in Brooklyn is the delicious and super reasonably priced (we're talking almost Chinatown prices!) Krolewski Jadlo.  It's so good I wrote about it twice..HERE and HERE.

I was very nicely surprised to find out that the owners had opened up a second, ,more upscale in the area after a Yelp search of nearby restaurants to eat after a fun and free Chvrches show during a recent weekend at McCarren Park.  Kristophe is the name of the new venture and we were both happy we stopped by there when St Anselm had a wait!

I ordered the pork chop with raspberry wine glaze, parsnip puree, and beans.  The pork chop was cooked well and the wine sauce was tasty.

My fiancee ordered the duck legs with potato dumplings, red cabbage, and a cherry sauce.   The sauce was also delicious and the duck legs cooked well, and were not dried out.  The portion was enormous as you get two whole legs!  The potato dumplings were also delicious and also very filling, and we ended up having to take most of the food home!  For a nice sized duck entree the price was very reasonable at $18.

The meal was great and I would definitely go back!  Kristophe is just a few doors down from uber popular St Anselm and is a great (and arguably better) alternative rather than waiting for a table at that restaurant.  
Just a quick tip that on their website it says that happy hour is daily from 5 to 7pm if you can make it that time...if you do you score some $3 beers, $6 wines, and half off apps.

221 N4th st
(right by Metropolitan Ave in the Williamsburg area
Brooklyn NY 11211

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Big Apple BBQ 2014 Rundown...The Good, The Bad, and The Lines!

Last weekend was my first time heading to Big Apple BBQ after passing up the event for a number of years now.  But since my bro already did all the legwork and bought a FastPass for Saturday I was pretty excited to go.  The way the FastPass worked (this year anyway) was that you bought it for $125, with a $100 credit for food and $25 to get on the shorter lines.  A pass is good for two people, with one wearing the punch card necklace and one wearing a companion pass.  With some of the really popular stands though, the wait still went up to and around 30 minutes.

Even with the waits, it's definitely an event worth trying at least once, and a great way to check out regional interpretations of BBQ.  Here are some of the highlights and lowlights:


Hometown's BBQ Texas Style Beef Rib.  Hometown is actually a local spot--it's a fairly new BBQ joint in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  We didn't even really plan to stop there but walking by the line and seeing the amazing looking chunks of beef rib that people were walking back with made us jump right in line.  It looked even better than it tasted.  Smoky, beefy, and the rub was great.  We actually even got some to go!

Bob Gibson's (Alabama) pulled pork was HELLA good.  Maybe even the best pulled pork sandwich I remember having.  Again it was tender and flavorful with just the right amount of charred bits and their famous white bbq sauce.

Ed Mitchell is also one of the biggest names in BBQ, and famous for his whole hog, which I never had.  It's similar to pulled pork but uses the whole pig and all that cartilage-y goodness.  Even though it wasn't served with a sauce and looked very dry it was still mighty tasty, though I preferred Bob Gibson's though.

We also tried another popular new local spot, Delaney BBQ, (Briskettown is their Williamsburg Brooklyn joint).  The place is well known for beef brisket and the lines for this was actually pretty long.  A lot of care was put into the brisket and sausage sandwich.  The bun was toasted AND buttered.  The sandwich was also served with pickled tomatoes and cukes.  The only thing I would want is more brisket! 


I was really unimpressed with Mike Mills' 17 Street Bar and Grill (Illinois).  They were recommended but their back back ribs were nothing special...

Most things we tried were pretty good, but Martin's Whole Hog BBQ sandwich was just gross..don't let the picture fool you! The pulled whole hog had a grainy, watery texture, and reminded me of canned tuna...blech...

Two items we didn't get to try.  I REALLY wanted to try the famous Salt Lick BBQ from Texas but their brisket was looking dry and sad... My brother also wanted to wait in line for fried pie (probably the only dessert stand), but the line was insane.  I probably won't do the event again, but if you're a BBQ afficionado it's definitely worth trying once.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ivan Ramen in the Lower East Side...Worth the Higher Prices?

I've been eating ramen on a fairly regular basis these days, and Ivan Ramen has been on my radar since they opened up in the Lower East Side over a month ago. Looking at the menu I noticed that the prices are a bit higher than many ramen spots, including apps that were flirting at or over the $10 mark and bowls of ramen range from $13 to $15.  Though for convenience they do accept credit cards which may factor into the higher prices...

I really haven't had a lot of mazemen (soup-less) ramen and the Ivan's Triple Pork Triple Garlic dish sounded great.  The concentrated, reduced pork broth was indeed rich and flavorful, and the char shu and bacon bits inside were good, I wish there was more garlic flavor as advertised.  At $15, I also wish the serving was bigger; it really was on the small side for the price.

I was with my brother for dinner here after work and he ordered their shio ramen and was very disappointed.  I also tried the broth and thought it was somewhat one-dimensional.  My brother said the noodles were also seemed a little mushy/overcooked.

For an appetizer we both loooove okonomiyaki and wanted to try their version, using a waffle and scrapple bits instead of an egg based omelette/pancake.  Pretty interesting and the the scrapple does work well with it, but it tastes too much like just a regular okonomiyaki.  But again, with the price of the appetizer for $12 for a small-ish okonomiyaki it's just simply not worth it...

Would I go there again? Prolly not... While there aren't really many ramen spots in the Lower East Side (only Yuji Ramen comes to mind), in my opinion it's worth the few minutes walk up to the East Village for some great options.

Ivan Ramen
25 Clinton St.
New York, NY 10002
(646) 678-3859 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Great burgers and Even Better Happy Hour at Zinburger in Clifton, NJ

I can be skeptical of chain restaurants, but was nicely surprised when I tried Zinburger. For me the mark of a good burger is how it stands up by itself without needing a bunch of crazy toppings, just to see how the beef stands out by itself.  While Zinburger does offer a lot of customization with toppings and a variety of choices with burgers, their "Plain and Simple Burger" which comes with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, is already solid choice.  Their beef is freshly ground daily and the patties are hearty, seasoned, and cooked well.  

If you're able to beat the after work crowd on a weekday and get there between 3 to 6pm, Zinburger has a great happy hour deal as well--Their Plain and Simple Burger is only $5 instead of the usual $9, and all sides are half price.  Zinburger has a few decent beers with their small beer selection, and during happy hour you can get any pint for $4 (otherwise a very reasonable $5 as well).

Here's a Plain and Simple Burger, cooked medium rare.  You can get a pint of Dogfish 60 or Magic Hat 9 for $4!  A great meal for under $10.

You can see their menu HERE.

They have multiple locations but I have just been able to go to the Clifton spot, and am not sure if the happy hour is good for the other locations as well.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Damn Good Lamb Burger at Rustic L.E.S. in the Lower East Side.

I'm in the Lower East Side often for shows and this tiny restaurant is way too easy to miss since it's on the outskirts of the area on Ridge Rd between Stanton and Rivington (I believe that it's the only restaurant on the block).  Rustic only has a few tables and a bar area that seats about four with a tiny open kitchen , but a great looking menu nonetheless.

The thing to order here however, is the lamb burger, served with duck bacon and Gruyere cheese.  When I went there on a recent Thursday night before a show, unfortunately they didn't have the accompanying duck bacon, but it was still delicious.  The owner offered to add a fried egg, sauteed onions, and mushrooms, but I was happy that I only picked the onions, as it really made the loosely packed and tender lamb meat stand out.  Unfortunately the fries were pretty anemic/soft during my at least during my visit and didn't really stand up to the awesomeness of the burger.  I would still definitely order the dish again though, the burger was that good!

The lamb burger, cooked medium rare.

Rustic L.E.S.
124 Ridge St.
New York, NY 10002
(646) 833-0848

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mighty Quinn's...Great BBQ Makes Its Way to Clifton NJ!

From their humble beginnings at a small stand at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg, Mighty Quinn's opened a brick and mortar restaurant right in the East Village that I never had a chance to try.  I've walked by the location several times though, seeing the lines of people snaking out the door into the street.

In March 2014, they expanded from their East Village location, which had been open for less than two years, right into NJ.  I was able to stop by with my brother just several weeks in, and all I can say that the food was FANTASTIC!  

Not only are the meats, complete with a variety of pickled fixings upon request, delicious, but the food is very reasonably priced too, especially compared to two other BBQ places I love--Fette Sau and Hill Country.  (A serving of meat with choice of pickled vegs runs from $7 to $9)

I ordered the brisket, which is what everyone talks about and is probably the hands-down best meat to get on the menu.  It was tender, moist, and flavorful, and was served with a small charred end piece on top of my serving.  The pickles consist of two types of coleslaw, pickled red onions, pickled celery, pickled peppers (only mildly spicy), and half sour pickles.

The burnt ends were tasty, but it wasn't quite what we expected.  They were simmering in a zesty bbq sauce and felt more like a stew.  This would probably be very good if you order it as a sandwich though.  I was looking for more of that charred carcinogen flavor(!) when you think of eating burnt ends.  

We ordered a side of wings, which were great.  They were crisp and tossed with scallions and sesame seeds, and had more of an Asian flavor profile.

Lastly, sides were ok but not quite least the fries were decent. A small order was only $3.

The broccoli was the only part of the meal that was forgettable...everything else was great.

This was still an awesome meal, and this spot is definitely going to be one of my go-to spots in Jersey!

Mighty Quinn's
850 Rt 3 West (in a shopping center)
Clifton NJ 07012
(973) 777-8340

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Great Meal at Empire Diner, Amanda Freitag's New Restaurant

Growing up in NJ, diners are still a go-to spot for me for a quick casual meal. I'm also a big fan of the show Chopped on Food Network and of Amanda Freitag, but regrettably wasn't able to try her food when she was the executive chef at the Harrison.  I was very excited to find out that Freitag is now the chef at the newly reopened Empire Diner in Chelsea, where she takes modern approaches to reinventing old-school diner classics.  

Freitag's playful riff on the Buffalo wing using the same flavors, but she uses a skate wing instead, which is lightly fried and tossed in hot sauce.  The wings are appropriately accompanied by shaved carrots in a light blue cheese dressing.  Pretty cool concept, with familiar flavors.

The Greek salad with octopus was OK, with a well dressed salad and a grilled piece of Octopus on top.  The octopus was pretty good but I wish the piece was bigger!

The entrees were where things really started to shine.  The "pork on pork" had a huge piece of pork chop topped with bacon and served with beans.  The pork chop was cooked perfectly and the bacon mixed so well with the chop and the beans.

The oyster pan roast was basically a kick-ass chowder.  If you like seared pork belly, oysters, and chowder, this IS the dish for you to order!  The pumpernickel toast  garnish soaks soaks the soup up nicely.

The entrees were great, but man I was so glad we ordered dessert because the cake and the pie we ordered were both outstanding.  First off, the "Impossible Cake" had a very rich chocolate cake with a rich flan "filling".  This was served with a chocolate and caramel sauce.  Rich and decadent, but not overly sweet.

The dulce de leche pie was also amazing.  The caramel mouse filling was super light and fluffy.  

Empire Diner's menu rotates seasonally so I for sure will be going back...If you do end up going, make sure you leave room for dessert!

Empire Diner
210 10th Ave, 
New York, NY 10011
(212) 596-7523


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