Category Archives: Union Square/Flatiron

Blue Smoke at the Big Apple BBQ

Union Square Hospitality Group invited me to the Big Apple BBQ Block Party this past weekend to help promote for Blue Smoke, the famous jazz and BBQ joint that they represent for PR purposes.

I had been to Blue Smoke in the past and loved it. The food is great, and the jazz is fun. But I hadn’t been there for a long time, probably since before I started this website.

Anyway, the BBQ Block Party is a sick destination for NYC in the summer. Tons of BBQ joints take over a park and set up smokers and tents, where they serve the hungry masses.

Blue Smoke was doing a big crawfish boil, as well as some brisket burnt ends.

Everything was really great, and I’m psyched to get back down to the actual restaurant for more BBQ selections, and to watch some jazz.

BLUE SMOKE
116 E 27th St
New York, NY 10016

Camacho’s

Camacho’s is a new Mexican joint with great cocktails and a fun cantina vibe. Named after the executive chef, it features a variety of classic Mexican favorites, including tacos:

Clockwise from top: shrimp, steak, short rib, cod.

Excellent guac and chips:

Tasty Mexican corn:

A nice, filling taco salad:

Yucca fries:

The “Bad Hombre” drink, a mezcal based margarita-ish concoction that’s served in a smoke-filled glass skull:

Tons of DOTD sugar skulls on the walls:

Crazy dessert shakes:

And even a suggestive neon sign that’s all the rage on Instagram:

They play some fun music too, if this is your thing; a throwback to mid- to late-90’s rap and hip hop. I dug it, and I’ll definitely be back.

Note: I was invited in by the bar’s ownership to take some photos and do some Instagram posts in exchange for a free meal.

CAMACHO’S
118 E 15th St
New York, NY 10003

Stinky Cheese Week

FREE DESSERT ALERT!!!

Stinky Cheese Week is actually a thing! To celebrate, L’Express and Cafe D’Alsace (and all restaurants within the ownership’s group) are offering a special menu of selections that feature various stinky cheeses.

Okay so I said something about free dessert up above… Well, here is the explanation: I was invited in to try some food in order to let my readers know all about Stinky Cheese Week. If you go into one of their restaurants and mention the words “say cheese” and my blog or instagram account, they will comp you with a free dessert! The participating restaurants are Cafe D’Alsace, Le Monde, L’Express, Nice Matin, French Roast (both uptown and downtown) and Marseille.

Below are my reviews for both L’Express and Cafe D’Alsace.

L’EXPRESS
249 Park Ave S
New York, NY 10003

My wife and I shared the raclette cheese and salumi platter as an app. This was pretty great. The cheese was stretchy and warm, and the meats were good quality.

I had the rib eye steak frites for my entree. The fries were nice and crisp, and the steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

While the steak was thinly cut, this isn’t a bad deal for just $29. The cap was tender and there wasn’t much gristle on it. The roquefort cheese and onion sauce really kicked this thing up a notch too.

My wife had the stinky cheese plate for her entree. Some of these fuckers were really funky!

And for dessert, a stinky cheese panna cotta that had a jam topping. This would have been perfect on a bagel, as the panna cotta was thick and had a texture and flavor similar to cream cheese.

CAFE D’ALSACE
1695 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10128

I started with a glass of mint tea. This was a really nice way to start a cheese-centric meal.

A buddy and I shared the frisee salad with bacon and egg. Very nicely done, and I was impressed with the addition of pork rinds.

For my entree, I went with the hanger steak frites, of course.

It was topped with a melted morbier cheese, caramelized onions and a red wine sauce.

I liked this steak more than the rib eye from L’Express. It had a great texture and thickness to it, and it was cooked perfectly with a nice crust on the outside as well.

The fries were great! Very crisp and nicely seasoned.

My buddy ordered the duck l’orange. It was pretty good but the steak was definitely the winning dish for the entrees.

For dessert, we shared an apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Not only was this beautiful, but it was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend ordering this.

Roki Le Izakaya

Japanese Brasserie ROKI Le Izakaya held a soft opening this past weekend. The menu features some really great stuff.

We tried pretty much everything that you see on the menu above, except for the veggie ramen. It sounds pretty good, though, and I’d like to go back and get it soon.

Canape are small bites of proteins set atop a bed of fried sticky rice. Each one is like an amuse, or hors. I tried three: uni (sea urchin), kani (crab) and ahi poke (dressed tuna). All were excellent, especially when eaten with the shiso leaf, but my favorite was the uni.

The quinoa salad with crab meat was the only menu item that seemed a bit out of place. It had a cumin spice to it, and it felt more middle eastern than Japanese. It was still very good, however.

Next up was the amberjack carpaccio. This was so clean and flavorful. t was perfectly dressed. I could eat this all night!

The duck chasiu was intense! And when the waiter came over with shaved foie gras on top, I knew I was in heaven.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Shrimp gyoza were next. These were tasty and perfectly cooked.

A big crowd pleaser, though, was the pork buns item.

They were decadent and so tender. I mean look at that meat!

The star of the night, for me, was the ramen. I typically don’t get down on shoyu broths. I prefer a tonkotsu (which they will have on their full menu – this was just a soft open with a limited menu selection). But this shoyu broth was deep and rich! I loved it.

The toppings were also really fun. Fried lotus root, bamboo shoots, arugula, fresh pepper, fried crispy baby shrimp and char siu pork. Oh and of course, that perfect egg…

I can use a bowl right now, actually, as I sit here writing this review.

The roasted white sesame seed ice cream was awesome! It was just right for dessert – not too sweet at all. It was coated with a nice crisp, and then topped with a sesame and honey cracker. And drizzle that thick sauce on top to bring it home!!!

I will definitely be back here soon. This was a fantastic meal!

ROKI LE IZAKAYA
12 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10010

Feast

As many of you know, I occasionally gather with various friends to devour entire carcasses of animals. We call ourselves The Carcass Club. This latest “meating” went down at a joint aptly called Feast.

A buddy of mine, NYCFoodFomo, organized this as an Instagram influencer meal. It was on the house, given that we were going to glaze Instagram’s face with our “cam-shots” from this “pork-fest.”

I used “quotes” there so that you knew I was actually making a reference to something else besides food photos…

Anyway, here’s what you get at Feast, for just $75/pp:

First Courses

Flat bread with fried egg, smoked gouda, arugula and horseradish cream.

This was nice and crispy, and the arugula is even lightly dressed, which was very nice. This dish would make for a great breakfast, actually.

Brussels sprouts with lap cheong sausage, creme fraiche, grain mustard, dried cranberry and cider vinaigrette.

The sausage really works perfectly with the sprouts. Instead of the typical bacon, this swap for lap cheong was smart, because it has a similar meaty sweetness.

Second Courses

Suckling pig with gravy.

I was shocked at how well the flavor of their 24-hour brine penetrated the flesh of this 28lb pig. The meat really took on the peppercorn flavors. And one of their secrets is to use the whey byproduct from their homemade cheese making process as a tenderizer in that brine. So awesome.

They break the pig down for you and plate it into sections: head area, shoulder area, rib area, and ass/legs area. Apologies for not getting a shot of that stuff for you. It wasn’t super pretty, but it was pretty cool to see piles of meat and a pig skull.

Chicharrones with lime.

They also give you a bowl of the crispy fried skin, which some would say is the best part of the suckling pig.

Kabocha mac n’ cheese with gruyere and toasted pumpkin seed.

The sweetness of the pumpkin in this dish threw me off a bit. Perhaps I just needed to be in the Thanksgiving holiday zone to fully appreciate this one. Nonetheless, it was tasty.

Taro fries with miso aioli.

It’s always a challenge to get taro fries good and crispy. The sauce was excellent, but the fries themselves were more like mashed potato logs. Not a bad thing: just not crispy like a French fry.

Smoked mushrooms with a soy glaze.

These were fucking incredible. The smoke added such a great woodsy flavor to an already earthy and woodsy mushroom (oyster). This was my favorite item of the night.

Indochine ratatouille.

I’m generally not a huge fan of ratatouille, but this had some nice robust and savory flavors.

Dessert Course

Chef’s seasonal selection, which, during this visit, was a caramelized apple cobbler with cold maple whipped cream and pomegranate seeds. I think there was even some diced up zucchini mixed into this unique dessert.

That about does it. I highly recommend giving this feast a go. You’ll need a minimum of eight carnivores to take it down.

FEAST
102 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10003

The House

Pulsd was running a flash deal for this joint so my wife picked it up. The deal gave us a bottle of wine, a shared app, two entrees and a shared dessert. Not bad for under $70.

Our app was this nice smoked duck salad. The duck was nicely cooked and the romaine lettuce was dressed just right, and garnished with walnuts, raspberries and persimmon.

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My wife picked the cassoulet for her entree. It sounded great; duck confit, wild boar sausage and lamb. However, the beans seemed to reign supreme. The meat was all shredded rather than left in chunks. It had a good smokey flavor, but the “baked beans” texture left a bit to be desired.

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I went with the Pat LaFrieda black Angus strip, for a $6 up charge.

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That’s a garlic and herb butter on top, and roasted fingerlings in the back. It wasn’t bad, but my first cut revealed a few lines of sinew that were really chewy and discouraging.

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Other cuts were better, as you’ll see below. but overall there was just too much chewy bits for my liking. Strips always have that one side with a hard line of gristle too. This was no exception. Flavor was nice, but it could have used a bit more seasoning and searing. 6/10.

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For dessert we went with a cheese plate that included five different styles. All were good.

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THE HOUSE
121 East 17th Street
New York, NY 10003

Tortaria

Type 2 Creative and Be Fat Be Happy threw an awesome holiday bash at Tortaria to help promote the restaurant. But it ended up being the sort of unofficial holiday gathering for all of us foodporn slingers on Instagram.

Everyone slapped on hats and ugly sweaters to crank up the “festive” levels. This one, worn by @StuffBenEats, was by far the clear winner:

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And he was even sporting some nice Mexican corn there, which looked like yellow Christmas trees covered with cheese-snow.

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Here’s my sweater, in an awesome guac photo that Ben took:

A photo posted by Ben Hon (@stuffbeneats) on

The guacamole here is tight, speaking of. Lots of flavor, and good restaurant quality chips and salsa to go with.

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And the pitchers of margaritas? Slammable!

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A few interesting new menu items were trotted out for us; the tortas (sandwiches). This one is made with thinly sliced fried eggplant, and topped with chipotle sauce, bacon and avocado. Really nice.

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The one I was drawn to most, however, was this short rib torta:

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This, too, is topped with avocado. There’s also lettuce, fried onion and jalapeno peppers on there as well.

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And of course, tacos!

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I’ll definitely be back here. This is a great place to just get blasted and eat your face off. Nothing pretentious about it!

TORTARIA
94 University Pl
New York, NY 10003

Laut

A friend of mine invited me to this Malaysian and Singaporean joint for an Instagram influencer event. The crew of us obnoxious food shooters sampled a bunch of tasty stuff and shot the living shit out of it for our websites and Instagram feeds. While many of the dishes may not look especially gorgeous, they certainly all tasted excellent.

Fried squid:

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Fried okra:

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Summer roll:

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Fried soft shell crab: delicious.

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Breads/Roti: really good.

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Chicken and tofu satay skewers, chicken bites, egg rolls, fried noodle wrapper items and wontons: the red ones were the best.

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Veggies:

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Chopped chicken:

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Drunken noodles: great texture, heat and flavors.

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Amazing spicy fried soft shell crab soup: a lot of depth.

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And one of my favorite things from this cuisine, Laksa. This was coconut curry laksa with squid and fish balls. Warm, comforting and really satisfying with the wide noodles.

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Dessert in a take-out box!

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There aren’t enough restaurants dedicated to this cuisine. Everything I tried was good, so I definitely recommend giving this place a visit or two.

LAUT
15 E 17th St
New York, NY 10003

Bocca

For less than $79, my wife and I scored this Groupon deal for Bocca, which gave us $120 to spend. In reality we probably paid about $68 for the Groupon, since we almost never buy them unless there is an additional discount code.

Anyway this Italian joint had some pretty interesting items on the menu. Here’s what we ordered:

Salmon Crudo

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This shit was really fresh and clean. It was a great way to start this incredible meal.

Grilled Octopus Crostini with Chorizo, Kalamata Olives and Chic Peas

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The octopus was perfectly cooked, and when I took a bite with a little bit of everything together, the flavors really exploded. Such an awesome Mediterranean dish.

Strozzapreti with Nduja

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This was amazing. If you don’t know what nduja is, its a spicy, fatty and spreadable sausage product that lots of people eat with bread in southern Italy. Here, however, the geniuses rendered it down  with tomatoes into a  decadent sauce. Highly recommended.

Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti alla Chitarra in Pepper and Cheese Sauce)

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This was prepared table-side, and was absolutely delicious.

It’s a really simple dish, but sometimes that’s all you need for a winning food item. It’s no wonder this dish is all the rage in NYC.

Hanger Steak with Mushrooms

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This fucker was awesome. Seriously. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the selection of wild mushrooms (I think Hen of the Woods and Porcini) really brought out the earthy flavors of the beef, which happened to be black angus from Creekstone Farm. 9/10.

Another thing worth mentioning is this great beer they serve.

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This is right in my wheelhouse, since it’s an unfiltered, super bubbly Belgian farmhouse wheat beer.

BOCCA
39E 19th Street
New York, NY, 10003

Natsumi Tapas

When I see something that’s marketed as Japanese-Italian fusion, the first thing that comes to my mind is Super Mario Brothers, one of the best video games ever released by Nintendo.

From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net
From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net

But now, since having this meal, the next thing that comes to mind is Natsumi Tapas. Natsumi is the latest venture by Barbara Matsumara, and it focuses on small plates for grazing and larger plates for sharing. She consulted with Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao to create a dynamic menu that gets increasingly interesting the more you look at it. I was invited in for a press meal with Jay from The Dishelin Guide, so we got to taste a lot of stuff. Here’s what we had:

First, a nice pour of sake from this very cool bottle that houses the ice inside the center without touching the sake and thereby watering it down.

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This place also mixes up some really nice cocktails too, by the way, like the EMW, which is made with shiso leaf, sake and gin.

We started with this filet mignon, which was served sliced, tataki style, with a ponzu, garlic and truffle sauce. The truffle and garlic really brought an awesome fusion flavor to an otherwise Japanese flavored dish. While this wasn’t a traditional “steak” in the sense of a steakhouse cut or portion size, I’m still going to score it since it was worth discussing. 8/10. I definitely recommend this dish.

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Next up was the tuna tartare martini with avocado and caviar. The orange layer at the bottom definitely had some tobiko mixed in for a nice change-up in texture. Very smart. The mango and basil pesto sauce really made this pop with unorthodox and surprisingly good flavor combinations. Also recommended.

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While the flatbread wasn’t exactly the pizza dough crust that I imagined (it was more like a puffy cracker), it did pack a lot of flavor. We tried the spicy tuna caviar flatbread. It wasn’t as much of a fusion as some of the others seemed to be, like the seared salmon flatbread, but it was really delicious nonetheless. If you’ve ever had “sushi pizza” before at some other restaurants, it is somewhat similar to that, and always a crowd-pleaser.

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This bowl of green tea gnocchi with asparagus and capers in a light butter sauce was absolutely perfect. Definitely my favorite item of the night, by far. While it leaned a bit more on the Italian side, it was probably one of the better gnocchi dishes I’ve had in town. The green tea flavor was very mild, but the sauce was drinkable. I highly recommend this dish when you go here. Not only was it tasty, but it was also beautiful.

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We finished our savory courses with the Squarano roll; seared tuna, seared salmon, kani, avocado, scallion, pepperoncini and green tea aioli. This was pretty tasty, and nicely nestled into the fusion realm with the addition of an aioli and pepperoncini from Italian cuisine. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of their special roll selections. They all looked great.

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For dessert we tried the cheese cake tempura, which was nice and crispy outside, and soft like mashed potatoes inside. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and the berry compote on the plate was the perfect way to incorporate a sauce element.

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Definitely give this place a shot. It just opened in March and the place was packed to the gills when we went on a Tuesday night at 7pm. The ambiance is comfortable, not too dim, not too bright, not too loud and very spacious, which is a welcome addition to the NYC Japanese restaurant world.

NATSUMI TAPAS
323 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10010