Category Archives: Other

Gotham Burger Social Club

My friends at Gotham Burger Social Club have really started ramping up their presence at food festivals and charity events, offering up their delicious creations for generous revelers and hungry festival goers. If you ever get a chance to try one of their burgers, you need to do it!

They’re deceivingly simple and delicious. Lots of crispy-crusted texture from the smash on the flat top, great creamy melted cheese, perfect ratios of seasoning and toppings, and overall high quality ingredients and meat – whether it’s a Pat LaFrieda dry-aged blend, a Schweid & Son’s combo of chuck, short rib and brisket, or high end Kow domestic wagyu/angus cross.

The first time I ate one, I had the “Cafe Tappi” burger, by George “Tappi” of Booze and Burgers. It’s a double smash with dry aged beef, melted American cheese, caramelized onions and pickles on a toasted potato bun.

This has evolved a bit, sometimes showing itself as a single smash with caramelized onions, pickles, American and a special sauce.

But at most of the events where they pop up, they’re doing a delicious Oklahoma style smash, where thinly shaved onions get smushed into the burger patty and steam-cooked as the burger crisps up on the griddle. They’re topped with melted American, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Check out these videos:

They’re a delicious ode, homage and tribute to the great American roadside burgers of the past. Keep an eye out for these guys at events around NYC and even beyond. I’m hoping for a brick and mortar shop sometime in the future, since these are addictive, every day kinda burgers.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to book them for a party or an event, reach out to Mike Puma at Gotham Burger Social Club on Instagram or at GothamBurgerSocialClub@gmail.com and tell him Johnny Prime sent you.

Sonora Grill Prime

For our New Year’s Eve dinner in Playa del Carmen, we went to Sonora Grill Prime. They offered a set menu price fix meal. Here’s what we had:

The first items to arrive at the table was a baked bean and cheese dip with tortilla chips, and an array of dipping sauces.

And our drinks. Here is my wife’s lychee martini.

First, a pumpkin and squash soup (which was velvety smooth and really delicious) as well as a dried fruits salad with blue cheese (which was also great – I want dried fruits in all of my salads now).

For the entrees, there was a choice of roasted chicken, fish (I forget which kind) and beef. Obviously I got the beef, which was a filet mignon.

Mine was grilled and cooked nicely to medium rare, despite the waiter informing us that all of them would be cooked to medium. I guess they really wanted to streamline the process in the kitchen.

I was glad mine came out medium rare, as all of the beef here is good quality shit from the US.

My buddy’s filet, on the other hand, was taller and skinnier than mine – a completely different shape. And it was rare. He wasn’t pleased with it, but I liked mine at 8/10.

My wife tried the fish. It was “fishy” as they say, but not quite as aggressively flavored as something like a Long Island bluefish. I thought it was fine.

The dessert was bread pudding, and we all liked it.

If I am down here again, I would like to try some of their steaks from the regular menu. When I made the reservation here, I did not know they were offering a special, limited menu. I guess I should have known better, since that’s pretty much what every restaurant does in NYC.

I’ve decided to save a full 100-point review for this spot until I return. For now, I just scored the steak on its own.

SONORA GRILL PRIME
Calle 12 Nte 251
Gonzalo Guerrero, 77720
Playa del Carmen; Q.R., Mexico

Parrilla Urbana

I hit this joint with my wife and some friends when we were away in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Here’s what we had:

First, a bean and cheese dip with tortilla chips:

Next up, Mexican style roasted bone marrow. You scoop it out and eat with tortillas.

This beef tongue casserole was the star of the night for me. You could eat these with the tortillas too.

The rib eye and chicharrones with guac was really nice too.

As were the blooming onion and the shrimp.

We had a pair of salads to pass around as well. Both were excellent.

We had three main meats. Roasted chicken, filet mignon (7/10 for cook temp issues), and braised beef ribs (9/10). All were great, but I think we all liked the beef ribs and chicken the best.

On the side, we had some french fries and mac and cheese, both were excellent.

We also tried three desserts, one of which was a late addition to my best of 2018 dishes (the corn cake).

That corn cake was insane. We also had chocolate cake and flan.

Even the drinks here are awesome. I was really digging the mezcal cocktails.

As well as the straight stuff.

This was by far the best food in Playa del Carmen that we got to try. If you are ever in the area, go here.

PARRILLA URBANA
Avenida esquina Calle 32 5A
Gonzalo Guerrero, 77710
Playa del Carmen
Q.R., Mexico

I Love NY Pizza

This pizza joint up in Schenectady is fairly good. I was expecting something rancid and offensive, so far from NYC. But the crust was nice – airy but crisp, with just the right amount of chew and dough bounce. I went with a mozzarella, ricotta, tomato and broccoli slice. I enjoyed it. If you find yourself in the area, this is a decent shop.

I LOVE NY PIZZA – YOU WILL TOO
1705 Union St
Schenectady, NY 12309

Denny’s

I ate a burger at Denny’s this past week for the first time in my life. I was actually kind of impressed with it. The burger meat needed a punch in the flavor department, and the sauce on the burger was too plentiful and too sweet (bourbon sauce), but over all it was pretty decent.

The burger patty itself was loosely packed (a good thing), and it had a great crisp all over. It wasn’t overcooked either. The toppings were layered on in just the right amounts, and there was good cheese coverage.

The cheddar bun was a big surprise. I was expecting it to flake apart and crumble under pressure, but it was fresh, pliable yet soft, and held up to scrutiny.

I’d eat here again, though maybe I’d opt for a standard cheeseburger instead of the bacon bourbon burger, so as to avoid the overly sweet sauce.

DENNY’S
60 Nott Terrace
Schenectady, NY 12308

The Crimson Sparrow

I first became acquainted with The Crimson Sparrow when I hung out with chef-owner John McCarthy at a mutual friend’s party.

We traded social media info and kept up with each others’ food exploits online. I always thought his dishes looked so beautiful and sounded so delicious, but I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get to try them – John being up in Hudson, NY and me being NYC-based.

Well, it turns out that I was scheduled to go on a farm tour in Ghent, NY the weekend before the 4th of July. Upon checking out the map of where Ghent was, and planning how I was going to get there, I realized I would be passing through Hudson. I decided to make a small weekend trip out of this farm tour, and to bring my wife along.

It was a no-brainer, at that point, that I’d be visiting John at The Crimson Sparrow. We first went in for the tasting menu, late in the evening after we finished up that farm tour in Ghent.

I have to say… Chef John is doing some really amazing things here. He’s clearly inspired by Japanese cuisine; its preparation, its focus, its simplicity, its artistry. And while he does highlight a lot of Japanese ingredients, he’s also drawing inspiration from his local environs in the Hudson valley as well, and even dropping some overt hints of French technique and Korean flavors as well.

John has been all over the globe honing his cuisine. He used to be an attorney, but then ditched that for the culinary arts. He’s French trained, but he spent a significant amount of time in Japan absorbing all he could. He even did a 5-year stint with Wiley DuFresne at WD-50 in NYC before deciding it was time to press out on his own.

The Crimson Sparrow offers an a la carte menu, but the big draw for me was this multi-course tasting menu, priced at just $95.

I was eager to dig in when we arrived, just like how I’m eager to write about the meal now. I hope your mouth doesn’t water too much, because after I finish describing the tasting menu, you’ll have to stay tuned and read on for the incredible restaurant tour and daytime snack bites that I experienced the following day.

Course 1: Maitake Mushroom

This was crispy yet meaty, and had great flavors from the black truffle and lemon. The only thing I was hoping for here was maybe a flake of sea salt as a finishing item – maybe some nori smoke on that salt too.

Course 2: Yukon Potato

This Yukon Gold potato was shredded and fried to a crisp, topped with smoked egg yolk, cheddar and sea salt. This was essentially a creamy, smokey nest of potato chips. Awesome!

Course 3: Cucumber Crab

This dish reminded me of a really fucking delicious version of something like tuna salad, or crab salad, if you will. Really light and refreshing. I found myself wishing this was offered as a lunch sandwich on some nice, lightly toasted white bread with shiso leaf. I could eat that every day.

Course 4: Dashi with Purple Potato

The photo doesn’t do this dish justice. It was gorgeous. Purple potato, dashi broth, bonito flakes, and a nori aoli mix together to form a really refreshing cold soup. There were hints of miso and mustard flavors coming through as well. Nicely executed.

Course 5: Enoki Mushrooms

I love enoki mushrooms. These were treated simply and allowed to shine for what they are; cooked with binchotan (a kind of Japanese charcoal). They were dressed with soy and topped with shredded nori and sesame seeds. Perfect, really juicy, snappy like noodles, but textured and satiating like a meat protein.

Course 6: Soft Shell Crab

I had a bad experience with soft shell crab when I was younger. The crab I had was too far along after molting, and some parts of the shell were no longer soft. They were like shrimp shells, and it grossed me out. But lately I’ve been dabbling more into soft shell crabs, because I know they can be really good. Here at The Crimson Sparrow they are excellent. It’s lightly batter-fried and served with a mizuna corn kimchi sauce. There was a nice citrus and pepper-spice pop to this dish. Extremely soft shell, great fry batter.

Course 7: Abalone with Pine Nuts

This dish isn’t on the regular tasting menu. Chef John brought it out special for us. I’m so grateful that he did, because this fucking thing was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life. I don’t say that lightly either.

Chef John first sous vides the abalone with pork belly and dashi. The pine nuts are pressure cooked with liquid from the bacon and abalone sous vide broth. Are you fucking kidding me? Then an abalone liver and squid ink emulsion is put on the bottom of the plate before serving (the black bits in the photo below).

This dish had such a nice buttery, savory, meaty flavor, and the pine nuts were like farro or barley in texture – like an “ancient grain” kind of starch, or beans. Truly amazing.

Course 8: Shrimp Dumplings

The broth/sauce here was killer: lemongrass, ginger and scallop. Really smooth and rich, and the dumplings were perfectly cooked, like excellent seafood ravioli.

Course 9: Hamachi

These slices of Hamachi exhibit simplicity and Chef John’s respect for the protein, while the cabbage, shiso, shiso oil, nori oil and yuzu broth demonstrates complexity of flavor and John’s extremely impressive skills as a chef. This dish represents exactly what he is doing here at The Crimson Sparrow: simplicity and complexity in the right balance.

Course 10: A5 Wagyu Picanha

Picanha is a Brazilian cut of beef, but it’s the same as “top sirloin cap” here in the states, only with the layer of fat left on that we Americans usually trim off.

This dish was not on the regular tasting menu either. The flavor was wild. It’s beef, but it tastes more like foie gras. It’s very rich in flavorful, oily fats. That large layer of fat can still be chewy, even on A5 Wagyu, but at times you can take it down because it gets so soft.

This beef hailed from the Miyazaki prefecture, which is known as one of the best in Japan for producing highly marbled beef. That little pile of magic dust on the side? Kalamata olive salt. So nice.

Course 11: Pork Belly Congee

This was really tasty. Congee is rice porridge. This one was made with porcini mushrooms and chili oil in the mix, aside from the delicious and tender pork belly. This is perfect “pick-me-up” comfort food right here.

Course 12: Aged Strip Loin

Obviously I loved this dish. It was served with ssamjang (Korean black bean sauce), dressed fresh soy beans and endive.

Here’s what the full plate looked like:

Palate Cleanser: Amazake

This amazake is a young sake made with fermented black and white rice and sweetened with ginger. It was creamy, sweet, slightly bubbly, and really delicious.

Dessert: “American Psycho” on a Plate (that’s my name for it)

This beautiful Jackson Pollock / Patrick Bateman mash-up of plating artistry is a sponge cake with blue- rasp- and mul- berries. There were notes of citrus or yuzu, and even avocado cream in the anglaise. Those beautiful red splatters were done with beet sauce.

Okay so that covers the tasting menu. The next day we came back when John was a little less busy to hang out with him a bit. He gave us a cool tour of the restaurant and kitchen.

Here’s the outside:

The bar is outfitted with some cool things that John salvaged from the property when he first purchased it. Part of the property used to be an old Packard auto shop, and another part was a bakery.

The main dining room is gorgeous. It’s outfitted with some antiques that John either found on the property (like the lamps), or items for which he bartered with local antique shop owners to obtain (like the wine cart).

This part of the property was actually a bakery at one point, and this room was the inside of the massive oven. The table was custom made to accommodate the 9 inch floor slope from one end of the room to the other.

A more private room for larger parties is also available to customers.

The kitchen is housed in the space where Packard used to wash and detail their cars. Those windows you see on the right are massive, and there’s a strip of cool bar stool seats where diners can sit and watch all the kitchen action.

John also showed me the Wagyu strip loin that he’s aging in the walk-in. I think this hunk of deliciousness has been going for over 100 days.

John has a rooftop herb garden as well.

That day we also tried some light snacks in the outdoor garden seating area – a gorgeous space.

This is a pork bun. Really nice flavors, and that pork was stewed to perfection.

These soy beans are similar to the beans on the tasting menu that came with the aged beef dish, but served on a giant shrimp chip.

Also, they serve crisp Orion beer for just $5. Great to sip while enjoying a sunny day on the patio.

 

I think that about does it. You guys need to check this place out if you’re ever in the area. I’m dead serious when I tell you that this was the best tasting menu omakase style meal I’ve ever had, and that abalone dish… Holy shit man. Ask for it when you go.

THE CRIMSON SPARROW
746 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534

Helsinki

Helsinki is a BBQ joint and live music performance venue in Hudson, NY. My wife and I stopped in on our last night in town to try the food.

The space is beautiful; a reclaimed warehouse of some kind, totally refitted in a modern but old fashioned kind of way.

 

The upstairs is an event space for things like weddings.

There’s even a beautiful outdoor space that’s reminiscent of a walking garden path.

Anyway, the menu was really enticing.

Even the sides looked nice.

I had a couple of cocktails, one being a smokey and spicy mescal drink, and the other being a refreshing bourbon smash.

For a starter, we had the baked oysters with pimento cheese. Really fucking good. Highly recommended.

For our entree, we split a BBQ trio platter, which came with lean sliced brisket, Texas links, and ribs.

I really liked the links the best. The ribs were excellent though, and had a nice natural spice to them. The brisket was dry, unfortunately. I get that they are lean cuts, but they should still be juicy.

On the side we had cornbread, spaghetti squash and cherries.

Here’s a shot of my wife explaining the different sauces to me, since I missed what the waitress said while I was outside shooting pictures of the food.

Here she is again, patiently waiting for me to stop taking pictures of the sauces.

The white one, an Alabama style sauce, was my favorite. You definitely need to hit this joint when you’re in town. It’s one of three places I highly recommend here in Hudson.

HELSINKI
405 Columbia St
Hudson, NY 12534

Grazin’

I had heard mixed reviews of this place before going in for a burger, but I have to say: the old timey, class American diner look of the place really drew me in. How can you say no to an exterior like this:

They’re serving all grass fed beef in their burgers, so I was skeptical.

I probably should have ordered medium rare to avoid the slight grainy texture that I experienced, but over all this was a really tasty burger.

The special they were slinging for the few days that I was in town was a romesco burger, topped with romesco sauce (red pepper and pine nuts), smoked mozz, and basil. Very nice Italian style burger.

My wife had a bowl of potato soup, as she was feeling a bit full still from our prior evening of BBQ food, but I added a birch beer float to the mix. Incredibly delicious.

See that? They even have a jukebox in the background (CDs -not vinyl), and they round out the 1950’s theme with some old hamburger ad signage too.

GRAZIN’ DINER
717 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534

Wm. Farmer & Sons

I tried some smoked wings and a burger at this joint in Hudson. The wings were pretty good, but had more of a tomato and red pepper sauce on them as opposed to something more traditional like Buffalo sauce.

The burger needed a bun upgrade, but was otherwise pretty great. Standard double patty style with “special sauce” that was reminiscent of Thousand Island dressing.

Beautiful dining space.

And really nice cocktails and homemade sodas.

WM FARMER & SONS
20 S Front St
Hudson, NY 12534

Cafe Le Perche

Breakfast at this bakery-slash-restaurant joint was pretty fantastic.

I had an amazing lobster BLT sandwich that must have had a pound of good lobster claw meat on it.

My wife’s “little breakfast” was just $9 and had a ton of food on the plate.

The only downer was the side order of truffle fries. They were more like roasted potato wedges, not too crisp, and I think they were simply hit with some truffle oil to give it an aroma.

CAFE LE PERCHE
230 Warren St
Hudson, NY 12534