Category Archives: East Village

Fish Cheeks

My wife and I came here for a friend’s birthday lunch. Here’s all the stuff we tried:

DRINKS

Watermelon Spritz: Aylesbury vodka with Aperol, fresh squeezed watermelon juice and Prosecco.

Thai Old Fashioned: Mekhong Thai spirit with Angostura, orange, kaffir lime and spiced chocolate bitters.

APPS

Calamari: fried calamari, cilantro, dried red chili, tamarind and fish sauce glaze.

Zabb Wings: fried chicken wings with chili, lime and mint.

Shrimp in 3 Crabs Sauce: lightly cured raw shrimp with lime juice, garlic, bird’s eye chili and mint.

Yum Som-O: pomelo, cilantro, fried shallot, apple blossom, toasted coconut flakes, peanut and tamarind dressing.

Grilled Pork Cheeks: Compart Duroc pork cheeks served with Jeaw sauce.

Market Oysters: served with fried shallots and nam jim seafood.

ENTREES

Coconut Crab Curry: southern style curry with crab meat and sea beans.

Short Rib Massamun Curry: grass fed short rib braised for 12 hours, potatoes and peanuts.

Crab Fried Rice: crab, rice, egg, scallion, cilantro and cucumber served with nam jim seafood and prik nam pla.

Steamed Fish with Thai Herbs: whole striped bass, chili, lime, mint, cilantro, cilantro and lemongrass broth.

Seafood Pad Cha: stir fried shrimp, scallop, squid, wild ginger, green peppercorn, basil, string beans and Thai eggplant.

SIDES

String Bean & Pork Cracklings: sautéed with dried chili and garlic.

Sautéed Cabbage: with garlic and fish sauce.

Spicy Corn: with grape tomatoes and string beans.

DESSERTS

Sticky Rice & Mango:

Coconut Ice Cream:

Okay, so that would be a shitload of dishes to review individually. I can tell you honestly that every single dish I had here was incredible, and that’s even including the vegan and vegetarian dishes. My favorites were the calamari, wings, shrimp in 3 crabs sauce, pork cheeks, crab fried rice, steamed fish, seafood pad cha and beef curry.

FISHCHEEKS
55 Bond St
New York, NY 10012

Chouchou

Chouchou (pronounced “shoe-shoe”) is a relatively new (eight months old) Moroccon restaurant in Alphabet City. The name is a French term of endearment; a word that you might use to refer to your spouse, like “babe,” “doll face,” or “sweet tits.” Actually I think it translates more easily to “little love” or something. But I wanted to use the word “tits” there somehow, because I talk about breasts quite a bit in this review.

In any case, the restaurant is cozy inside, and decorated in such a way that it transports you to the middle east. With cavernous archways on the ceiling and faux-ancient stone walls, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped off the streets of NYC and into a quaint, rustic and romantic dining space in Morocco. Even the sweet mint tea that they serve in small glass cups smacks of authenticity.

The place boasts a very impressive wine menu, which can be seen via PDF HERE. They also have a small selection of really deliciously described craft beers.

The first thing that struck me about this joint, aside from the amazing decor, was the simplicity and focus of the food menu. There are a handful of couscous dishes and a handful of tagine dishes, utilizing largely the same set of proteins: chicken, lamb chops, kefta (seasoned meatballs), merguez (spicy lamb sausage), lobster, a veggie option, etc.

I came to learn that this is how Moroccans traditionally eat: a basic array of starters; some sort of meat item, either with couscous or slow cooked in a tagine; and simple desserts. I like it.

Each entree comes with a collection of starters or mezes included in the price.

Warm pita bread with baba ganoush, hummus, shakshuka, and harissa-spiced almonds, to be precise. Of these, my favorite was the hummus (left of the pita).

While I don’t believe the tagine dishes are actually cooked in tagines (health department and fire codes likely prevent this in NYC), they are presented in beautiful decorative tagines.

I tried the savory lemon and olive chicken tagine, as well as the sweeter prune and lamb tagine. Both were great. The chicken tagine came with a generous half chicken, bone-in. The skin was crisp, and the meat was tender and juicy – with the exception of the breast meat, which was slightly dry in parts. It happens.

I think if tagine cooking were happening in NYC, dry knockers would be a less likely outcome. Tented, closed-vessel cooking preserves juiciness and airborne vapors, while oven cooking involves a dry heat. That being the case, perhaps a Dutch oven technique would be better for these dishes.

While I enjoyed the savory flavors of the chicken tagine better than the sweet-ish flavors of the lamb tagine, I liked the juiciness and succulence of the lamb better. It was almost like a braise, perfectly cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness. No dryness whatsoever.

The couscous dishes come with a beautiful plate of couscous, your desired choice of protein, and a bowl of stew juice that contains potatoes, beef, lamb and peppers.

I tried the mixed protein option, called “royal.” This came with chicken, lamb chop, kefta and merguez.

All of the meats were good and juicy, again with the exception of the chicken being a bit dry in the jugs. But when you mix the meats together with the stew juice and couscous, there’s not much to worry about in terms of dry mammaries. It was delicious.

Desserts here are made in house, and consist of a variety of traditional Moroccan pastries and cookies. I was only able to try two – an almond pastry and an orange flavored cookie – but both were excellent.

Dry chicken hooters aside, I would definitely come back here again, and I highly recommend this place for a romantic date night. And again only parts of the chicken (boobs) were dry. The rest was perfect.

NOTE: A public relations professional invited me and a group of food writers to Chouchou to taste the food and review the place.

CHOUCHOU
215 E. 4th St.
New York, NY 10009

Prune

My wife and I went to Prune for brunch. We started off with some nicely crafted Bloody Mary drinks (which come with a Red Stripe beer back).

Mine was made with gin and garnished with a pickled egg, and my wife got a vodka based one with some southern spices, caper berries and pickled beans. I actually mixed my beer into the bloody when I was about halfway done, to make what was almost like a michelada.

For my entree, I had the famous fried monte cristo sandwich (ham, turkey, and cheese, breaded and deep fried). It was amazing – like a French toast sandwich. It came with two eggs and a berry jelly.

That coil of sausage we ordered as an extra side. Home made lamb sausage to be exact. It was incredible.

While the bill was a bit steep, we were satisfied and the food was delicious.

Incase you’re wondering, those are little licorice schnauzers that come with the bill.

PRUNE
54 E 1st St #1
New York, NY 10003

Hanoi House

My wife and I went to Hanoi House with some friends. I wasn’t expecting such a great showing of Vietnamese food, as NYC is notoriously not that great for the cuisine. I was pleasantly surprised.

We started with a beef tongue sandwich that we split among the four of us. I didn’t shoot it, but man was it delicious. The tongue was braised and super tender, and dressed with chili, lime, cilantro, and a coconut curry type sauce. Just the right balance of savory, spicy and sweet. A must order.

We also shared an order of summer rolls, which were filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and crispy egg roll skin (all inside the soft rice paper wrap). These were the best I’ve had in NYC (I also failed to get a photo of these – apologies).

The pho was fantastic. The broth was more robust and murky than other places I’ve been. While many pho bowl slingers strive for a clear, almost consomme-like broth, this place embraced the opposite. I could taste the herbs and spices that simmered for hours.

I added the marrow and braised oxtail into the mix, which upped the cost by $8, but it was totally worth it. This is currently my favorite bowl in NYC. Hands down.

My wife ordered this beautiful and delicious lobster noodle dish, which also had some pork roll in the mix as well. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the portion size was generous, especially considering it was a good sized lobster.

I highly recommend this place for anyone looking to get their Vietnamese food fix.

HANOI HOUSE
119 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10009

Shabu Tatsu

Shabu Tatsu is a Japanese shabu shabu (hot pot) and yakiniku (grilling) restaurant in the East Village. They offer up a variety of really great thinly sliced meats to sear up on the butter-basted skillet, or dip into their kombu and vegetable broth for a quick cook.

Some friends of mine brought me along on their dinner where they were meant to feature Kirin beer with the food, in hopes to promote Japanese cuisine and tourism with an Instagram contest. Here’s what we had:

YAKINIKU

Their mixed platter of meats for grilling contained beef tongue, liver, short rib, and rib eye, as well as pork.

The beef tongue was probably my favorite. These babies cook up quick since they’re thin, so you just want to get a good sear on them for color and flavor.

We also grilled off some wagyu rib eye. This stuff was so highly marbled and decadent.

SHABU SHABU

For the hot pot portion of the meal, we had some nice thinly sliced beef rib eye and pork loin.

I still prefer Chinese hot pot over this style, because the broth flavors are more robust and powerful. This broth was mainly water with a small kombu leaf in it, and then you load up some veggies in there as well. It’s still really good, just a preference for me.

The best part of the meal, however, was the starter course! We tried three apps: grilled squid, braised pork belly and dumplings.

The pork belly was incredible. It was cooked in a thick citrus sauce and had a great kick from the spicy mustard on top. I highly recommend that dish.

SHABU TATSU
216 E 10th St #St1
New York, NY 10003

Madame Vo

Madame Vo is a Vietnamese joint on 10th Street near 2nd Avenue.

My wife and I have been itching to go, since we have been on a quest to find good Vietnamese food in NYC since the early 2000’s. I think we finally found it here, so let me give you the rundown of our meal.

First, Autumn Rolls. These are soft rice wrappers filled with jicama, egg, sausage and shrimp. The brilliant thing about these is that they’re sauced with a brush of hoisin prior to wrapping. Just a little hit of sri racha and you’re all set. They’re delicious.

Next up, the “Madame Pho” soup. This is served with short rib.

Awesome deep, rich beefy flavor. No sauces needed whatsoever. The broth is on point. And the meats are all high quality. It has a variety of cuts like flank, brisket, meatballs, eye round and marrow. But that short rib! So good. And the noodles were cooked perfectly.

The Bun Bo Hue, however, was even better. It’s very hard to find good pho in NYC, but it’s even harder to find good bun bo hue.

So many times, bun bo hue noodles are overcooked and fall apart when you try to pick them up with chopsticks. Here, they are nicely cooked and hold up to pulling and grabbing. The broth has a great pungent richness, bright with herbs and lime, and really deeply satisfying. Just the right amount of heat, too.

Last, the rib eye Bo Luc Lac, or “Shaking/Shaken Beef.”

I’ve often seen this made with lean cuts like sirloin and sometimes filet. This is the first time I’ve seen it made with rib eye, and also the first time I’ve seen it served with an egg.

The result is a nice sticky sweet molasses flavor, with a great sear from the sizzling cast iron skillet. The fat rendered out nicely, making for a delicious sauce sludge through which to drag your rice. I really enjoyed this dish, and it’s a perfect example of what a good chef can do with a choice grade cut of beef when he – in this case, Jimmy – knows how to coax out great flavor. 7/10.

For dessert, we shared a nice avocado shake. While pricey at $8 (avocados are expensive these days), its filling and well made. Not too sweet, and super creamy.

MADAME VO
212 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003

Esperanto

Esperanto is a fun, brightly colored Brazilian and South American food joint on 9th and C.

The open and inviting bar boasts a nice selection of unique cocktails, like the mazcalita, made with mescal, lime juice and ginger (right).

There’s even some hard to find Brazilian beers available, like Xingu and Itaipava.

For just $2 you can get these all served michelada style (with lime and tomato juice, which I love).

The first thing that Chef Cesar brought to the table was this really nice country style bread with their house made dipping oil, which is also available for sale by the bottle.

It’s infused with peppercorn, garlic, fennel, red pepper and herbs. It is absolutely delicious. I’ll definitely be going back to buy a bottle of this delicious potion.

My wife and I started with two apps. First was the fried goat cheese salad with cashew pesto.

This was really awesome. I’m usually not a huge fan of goat cheese, but this was so smooth and creamy inside. It was a great contrast to the crisp outside. And that pesto? Green gold!

This next app is far and away the best preparation of mussels that I’ve ever eaten. They’re roasted in a half shell and baked with garlic, paprika, butter and parmesan cheese.

Similar to escargot, this dish really packed a wallop of flavor, especially when you hit it with some of the fresh lime and cilantro. The parmesan turns into a really nice, crust over the top, adding another textural element of crunch.

It’s funny, too, because I was just explaining escargot to someone the other day who had never eaten them. I described it as being like mussels, but baked with butter, garlic and herbs as opposed to steamed in a pot.

We tried two entrees. First was the moqueca, a traditional South American stew made with coconut milk, ginger, cashews and spices.

We chose shrimp as the main protein, but you can also choose snapper or a mix of snapper and shrimp. This dish reminded us of a Thai or Indian curry dish, but less spicy. However, the “fixins” will set that distinction aside some, as this dish comes with a jar of pickled hot peppers and farofa (cassava meal starch, for thickening the stew is desired). Add one or both to your desired levels of spice and/or thickness.

We also tried the Argentinian style grilled hanger steak.

This comes with homemade guacamole and chimichurri sauce, a side of rice, and a side of stewed black beans.

The steak comes out pre-sliced and cooked to a nice medium rare. When you slather the sauce and guac onto a slice of steak, you’re entering a blissful and exciting meat eating experience. The flavors really pop!

For dessert we tried two items; the homemade coconut flan and the chocolate lava cake. I’m usually not a fan of lava cake, mostly because it is never executed correctly and the middle firms up too much. That wasn’t the case here. The inside was warm and ooey-gooey, and the vanilla ice cream was the perfect way to cool down after each mouth-warming bite.

The coconut flan was awesome! It had a really nice firm, custardy texture. It had threads of fresh coconut mixed into the custard too, to offer an additional pop of coconut flavor with each bite.

This was a great meal, and I look forward to going back. Esperanto has daily happy hour specials, and nightly entertainment like bands and DJs. It’s really a great place. They even have a fresh juice bar off to the side of the restaurant.

Give this place a shot!

ESPERANTO
145 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009

Bo Ssam Feast

I recently teamed up with @LetsDutch to organize a large format meal and promote the awesome service that they provide for their users. In case you missed it last time, I’ll explain a little bit about what Let’s Dutch is again.

Have you ever wanted to partake in a group experience but had trouble rallying your friends to join? Well, now you don’t have to miss out on that event. Let’s Dutch allows you to host or join in group events, curate a guest list and securely pay for things ahead of time. It can be used on anything from super luxurious vacations to simple discounted group rate experiences around town.

You’re essentially crowdfunding your fun, sharing the experience and splitting the cost.

The cool part is that you get to know people with similar interests. For example, in the two large format dinners I’ve done through Let’s Dutch, I’ve cultivated at least a half a dozen friendships.

So for this “meating” of the Carcass Club, we had a beast feast with some pork shoulder at Momofuku Ssam Bar. This is known as their large format Bo Ssam feast, which feeds 6-10 people. Let’s Dutch President Vincent Paradiso and I stacked the seats with four or five Instagram influencers, and then held a sweepstakes giveaway for the remaining seats.

Here’s how the meal went down.

We started with the famous pork belly buns. These were fantastic. Super tender, highly flavorful.

Then the Bo Ssam items started coming out. First the lettuce wraps and Korean sauces.

Then the oysters, which are meant to be placed into the lettuce wraps along with the pork and sauces.

And finally, the massive hunk of pork shoulder.

Pictures don’t really do this thing justice. To get the scale of it, you should really see it as it is being pulled apart with tongs.

The meat was tender and delicious, especially the fattier parts that held in a lot of juiciness.

We also had some nice mushroom soup with lotus root. This was absolutely delicious, and might have actually been my favorite part of the meal.

And then some dessert: green tea creme brulee with miso and blueberry crust.

And toffee cake with brown sugar ice cream.

The toffee cake was the big winner as far as desserts go. Great meal, great people, great service. I highly recommend both the large format feasts at Momofuku AND the Let’s Dutch service.

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Ikinari Steak

Formerly the location of Prime & Beyond, Ikinari switches up this dedicated steak spot from Korean to Japanese, only this joint lowers the price tag “big league” and creates a casual, standing-only environment.

What a great bargain for good quality meat! All of their beef is choice grade from Aurora Packing in Illinois, and wet-aged at least 40 days. Most importantly, the beef is cooked properly and treated with respect. But what’s surprising is that, for a “fast food” style joint, this place can actually compete with mom and pop restaurants (and even some big name steakhouses) on quality and flavor, for sure. And definitely on price.

Here’s how it works: You pay 8-11 cents per gram, telling the butchers exactly how thick you want your cut of steak. They offer filet, sirloin and rib eye.

Naturally, I had a proper sized steak cut from each:

I’m fat. Here’s what my bill would have looked like, had this not been a press/media event:

There are a variety of sauces and condiments to use for both your salads/sides and steaks. I was prone to keep hitting the wasabi.

The Ikinari sauce is thicker and sweeter, while the hot steak sauce has a little bit of spice and is a thinner liquid. Both are soy based.

The onion and pepper dressings went nicely with the radish salad. This was a small size:

So after choosing your cuts, the guys cook it up for you and you wait for them to bring it over to your standing/eating area.

Very casual! The steaks then come out sizzling on a cast iron plate with corn and onions.

Here are some more shots of that sirloin:

They serve the steaks rare, so that you can continue to cook it to your desired temperature directly on the hot skillet. I pretty much left mine as-is.

Here’s the filet:

Freaking HUGE for just $27.

And cooked perfectly inside.

My rib eye was cut a bit on a diagonal, and thinner than the other two, but no matter. It was excellent, and since I ate all of these steaks myself, like a real man, I didn’t mind so much.

The filet was tops, with rib eye close behind (if not tied), and sirloin next. If I had to put numbers on them, they’d all be in the upper 70th percentile for flavor, especially if you add some of the earthy sauces into the mix.

When you think about how much steakhouses are charging for on-par and sometimes lower flavor scores than these, it makes you question the entire steak scene!

Another thing worth mentioning: the pepper garlic rice was wildly tasty! It even had bits of steak thrown into it, and it also comes out on a sizzling cast iron plate.

Mix it all up and then let it sit and sizzle, so that a good, tasty crisp develops on the bottom of that rice.

Essentially, this place is everything that you wish Tad’s could be. You go into a place like Tad’s (do you even go in?) with high hopes and a hunger for steaks while you’re on the go. But, without question, it fails you, every time. The meat sucks, and  it’s cooked like garbage.

Ikinari won’t let you down. I’ve eaten hundreds and hundreds of steaks in this great city, and I can tell you that this is a fantastic value, striking a bizarre but fascinating and attractive balance between steakhouse quality and budget dining. Give it a shot! Just don’t go there when your feet ache, because, as I said earlier, STANDING ONLY!

IKINARI STEAK
90 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003

Momofuku Ssam Bar Brisket & Let’s Dutch

The head honcho over at Let’s Dutch reached out to me to introduce himself and his service. Essentially it’s a place where people can host and organize group activities, and one of the things they facilitate is large format dining. That’s right up my alley, given my creation of Carcass Club, in which I and some friends try to get together to take on the various whole beast feasts that are peppered throughout this fine city.

Naturally, I was interested. The service is great for both city newbies, who are looking to meet new people with similar interests, and old fogies like me and my wife, who are just looking for seats at the feast when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to peg down a date and time among all of our friends that might be interested.

I was especially pumped when Vincent (the aforementioned head honcho) informed me that they’d be doing the new brisket feast for 10 people at Momofuku Ssam Bar. Fuck yeah.

So the meal is pretty simple. You get a massive hunk of delicious, tender, slow cooked brisket, along with lettuce for making wraps, and various sauces and kimchi items for toppings.

I highly recommend this meal to anyone who loves brisket or BBQ, as it is quasi-BBQ in nature. They even created a secret seven-spice blend for this baby. I absolutely loved it.

You may already know that I’ve been to Momofuku for their large format feasts in the past: duck and rib eye. This brisket feast is the best of the three I’ve tried, and I think they’ve also added a fourth, pork shoulder (bo ssam). I’ll have to try that one soon.

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR
207 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003