Category Archives: East Village

Black Emperor

Chef Jae Lee recently took over the kitchen at Black Emperor, and MAN is the food good. My wife and I tried everything on the menu, so buckle up and read on.

As you can see, the menu is a cross between American, Korean and Japanese food. The bar even serves up a nice Toki Highball.

The yuzu guac and rice cracker comes with a dollop of delicious home made chili oil. Really nice and refreshing.

The numbing cucumber pickles are a must try. I ripped through these babies, all the while wiping up that sesame yogurt at the bottom of the plate.

The blistered shishitos with black sesame caesar dressing are highly addictive, so if you order a plate, be prepared to want more and more.

The honey butter tater tots could use a bit more crisp on the outside so they stand up to the honey and butter lacquer, but the well balanced sweetness  is a great way to cut some of the robust and highly savory flavors in the entrees to follow.

The ramen spice wings are the best things here. They’re triple fried,  and coated in pulverized ramen noodles to give it an unrivaled crispy, crunchy batter. Totally unique. Ramen seasoning is actually used in the glaze.

The Washugyu double American cheeseburger with kimchi mayo is also a big winner here. Just big and savory enough to not need to eat anything other than this and maybe those tots on the side. A masterful stack.

What is Washugyu, you ask? It’s a name brand of beef that’s produced by breeding full blood wagyu cattle with Angus cattle.

The Pat LaFrieda dry-aged burger is a thick single patty, also with American cheese and kimchi mayo. There are only five of these available per night, so go early if you want to try it. I found that the Washyugyu meat played nicer with the toppings and condiments than the dry aged flavors. That dry aged meat by itself, though, is so delicious.

I really liked the food here, and I’ll be back for sure – definitely for the wings, cucumbers, and double burger. Those were my top three items here.

BLACK EMPEROR
197 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Nai Tapas Bar – Revisited

I recently revisited one of my favorite tapas and wine bars: Nai Tapas Bar. They’ve expanded into a two floor location, now on 2nd Ave at 5th Street (they moved from their old location on 1st Ave near 11th Street).

They offer an $89 chef’s tasting menu, which only jumps to $110 with their generous, high quality wine pairing pours for each course (and then some).

Not only is this a great deal, but it’s one of the best tasting menus I’ve had in years. Here’s how it went down.

We were met with a heaping goblet of white sangria…

Followed by a pour of the first white wine…

Which paired with the following bites:

This is truffle mushroom basmati rice with manchego cheese, beets and a perfectly poached egg.

These clams are gently broiled open and then dressed with cilantro, citrus zest and yuzu.

Next up was a pour of another white wine to go with this torched salmon and saffron nigiri and glazed Chilean sea bass (wrapped in crispy fried bread and topped with Serrano ham and asparagus).

After this, another glass of white (Gewürztraminer) came out with my favorite dish of the night (and a possible best of 2019 contender): portobello mushroom carpaccio. The Manchego cheese and crushed marcona almonds really made this pop, and the mushrooms are marinated in truffle oil.

There was a nice sangria-marinated cube of watermelon with mint served at this point, to get us ready for the next round.

After that, a red was poured…

To go along with these three meat courses:

Chicken: what a presentation. Broiled sweet mustard marinated thighs with tobiko, seaweed and champagne picked shallots. There were three kinds of sauces too.

Pork: braised marinated baby back rib.

Beef: prime rib eye katsu sando with Hokkaido milk bread and aioli, over shishito peppers.

After that, a palate cleansing cava came out, and then a glass of dessert white…

To go with this lemon tart and chocolate-stuffed churro.

What an amazing meal! There are so many more dishes I want to try on the menu. I’ll be back here again soon for sure, and I highly recommend you go as well. The price is low, the food is great, and there’s even live flamenco music.

NAI TAPAS BAR
85 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Madame Vo BBQ

The talented couple behind Madame Vo recently opened this joint as a way to introduce NYC to Vietnamese BBQ, which, from what I understand, is very popular in central Vietnam.

Be aware: this is not the same as American BBQ, which we all know is characterized by slow and low smoker cooking. This involves a high-heat metal mesh grill and various cuts of meat. Fast and hot, no smokers.

Also: this isn’t Korean or Japanese BBQ. While they use a similar cooking method with the grill, the flavors, preparations and beef items are obviously entirely different.

What’s really unique about Madame Vo BBQ, and what I feel sets Vietnamese BBQ apart from other grilled meat establishments, is that the traditional “Beef 7 Ways” or “Bò 7 Món” feast in Vietnamese culture really lends itself perfectly to this style of cooking.

So what is “Beef 7 Ways?” Sounds like a dream come true, right? It is. It’s also really not that difficult to figure out from its name.

“Beef 7 Ways” in Vietnamese cuisine is generally a large format family style meal where various cuts of beef are served, obviously, in seven different ways. Almost always this will involve some thin sliced beef that’s grilled or dipped in a hotpot broth. There will also almost assuredly be a spiced ground/minced beef application, often wrapped in a betel leaf. And surely there will be a finishing dish of some form of starch with beef. But all throughout, there are “summer roll” rice wrappers on the table – along with various veggies, herbs and even fruits – for you to wrap up with the beef as you eat your way through all seven courses.

Madame Vo has done a great job of elevating that traditional “Bò 7 Món” concept, refining it, and presenting it to New Yorkers in the familiar grill table format. Here’s how they present their version of “Beef 7 Ways:”

1st Way: Eye Round Carpaccio

This was great. I’ve always thought that eye round would be perfect for a carpaccio application. This Viet style carpaccio was so delicious. Great pops from the herbs, spices and sauce.

2nd Way: Meatballs

These are technically not beef; they’re pork. But delicious nonetheless, and still part of the seven.

3rd & 4th Ways: Ground Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaf & Thin-Sliced Short Rib with Onion

These are both grilled, and the betel leaf rolls were my favorite of the seven courses. They have a great fresh green kick to them from the grilled leaf.

5th Way: Five-Spice Beef Tongue

This was awesome. They’re cooked through and make for the perfect filling in those rice wraps with veggies and herbs.

6th Way: Dry Aged Strip Steak with Marrow Butter

That marrow butter was absolute crack. Here’s a little video of it getting smeared on.

7th Way: Oxtail Congee

I really liked this. It was a close pick for my favorite of the meal.

Madame Vo BBQ offers this “Beef 7 Ways” for just $59/pp. I think that’s a great deal considering the quality of the beef, the amount you get, and of course the deliciousness of the whole experience.

We didn’t stop there, though. We also had some amazing seafood apps (not included with the “Beef 7 Ways”).

Giant Oyster with Uni Mayo

These things were huge, and that uni mayo was really addictive.

Maine Uni with Special Fish Sauce Beurre Blanc

Beautiful, sweet and delicious.

Grilled Prawns

These were nice and big. Tasty heads too!

BBQ Quail

The tamarind sauce on this really made it unique.

Short Rib & Marrow Spring Rolls

Loved these. I could eat a dozen easily.

And because I’m like a wild animal, I wanted more beef. We shared the Pat LaFrieda dry-aged tomahawk rib eye. At $95 for about 40oz, this is a steal.

Really beautifully presented too.

I highly recommend this place. Go with a group so you can try lots of stuff. Trust me – you won’t be disappointed!

MADAME VO BBQ
104 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Mister Paradise

Mister Paradise puts up an awesome burger! Their 25% dry-aged patty comes from Master Purveyors in the Bronx, but it also includes suet in the mix. This gives it a characteristic and deep, robust beefiness.

To top things off, the cheese is infused with bacon! It comes with slices of pickle on the side, and some caramelized onion on it as well. This is a top burger of the year for sure. Go give it a try.

MISTER PARADISE
105 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009

Boilermaker

I finally got to try the burger at Boilermaker this week. I had heard great things about this for a while.

I went with the single patty with American cheese. Each burger comes pre-dressed with thin sliced tomato and red onion, as well as a special sauce and slaw. The slaw and sauce are what really make this burger pop. Despite the unmelted cheese, I really liked this one.

BOILERMAKER
13 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003

Hunan Slurp

I came to Hunan Slurp with a group of friends, so we were able to sample a bunch of shit. Here’s what we tried:

The “Mala Beef” noodle dish was nice. It was slow cooked shank meat that was really tender. The egg noodles were perfectly cooked.

This dish contained pork and beef, and was served with rice noodles that were similarly perfectly cooked. Also shank meat, cooked very nicely.

This noodle soup was the spiciest on the menu, a pepper beef dish, which was really intense and flavorful. I wish this also contained the shank cut beef, as the stuff in this dish wasn’t as tender as the above dishes.

This next dish was cold “Hunan Charcuterie.” It contained bits of pig ear and tripe, among other nice off-cuts. This was my favorite dish of the day, and easily a contender for top dishes of 2019.

The smoked sausage plate was nice, but I wish it had more crisped texture to it.

This eggplant with “thousand year egg” filling was delicious. I’m generally not a big fan of eggplant, but I loved this. A must try here.

The beef skewer dish had a great cumin aroma, but ultimately the majority of the beef in the dish was chewy and tough. Pass on this one.

Most of the dishes were pretty spicy, so these sweet riblets were a great way to cool down and cut the heat.

We also tried stewed fish noodles, and a potato and duck egg dish (both not pictured) which were also very nice. But the last item I have here for you is winter melon, served warm and savory with ground pork. Very interesting.

Give this place a shot. I liked it.

HUNAN SLURP
112 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009

886

I came in here for a quick bite, and left a very happy man. Here’s what I tried:

1) Sausage Party

This is a sausage that’s nestled in a sticky rice bun, but the bun has been fried to achieve a nice crunch outside. Awesome.

2) Fried Chicken Sandwich

Currently on my list of best dishes for the year, this baby is made with perfectly golden fried leg/thigh meat, and has a nice kick to it from the pickled daikon and chili pepper slaw on top. Get this ASAP.

3) Clams

Nicely cooked, good quality seafood. The broth/sauce is great with rice.

886
26 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10003

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