Category Archives: Union Square/Flatiron

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

Kokum

I’m generally a pretty simple person when it comes to Indian food. I love a few of the popular and Americanized curries, and almost anything in the saagwala family (stewed spinach). In addition, Indian rice like Basmati is far and away the most superior rice that I’ve ever eaten. And who could pass up the amazing tandoori oven breads like naan, or delicious fried samosas? They’re amazing. But that’s such a limited, pinhole view of an incredibly vast and diverse cuisine.

Kokum opened my eyes and my stomach to items I would never think to order. Most of my experience with Indian food in NYC is centered around ordering delivery. What tends to happen is that I end up ordering the same things from the same places because I know that I will be satisfied. That’s lazy, and it precludes a lot of great stuff from ever hitting my palate. For example, I almost never order fish for delivery, from ANY kind of restaurant for that matter, not just Indian joints. I don’t know what it is, but I just never do it.

So when my wife and I came to Kokum for a press meal, we were pretty amazed at the inundation of flavors we were getting from a pair of Indian fish dishes that we probably never would have thought to order. I’ll get to those dishes in a moment, don’t worry. I just want to keep prattling on about Indian food a bit first, because I’m seeing the greatness of the cuisine with a fresh pair of eyes now; I’m re-motivated about the food, and really eager to dive deeper.

Kokum is a great place to do make that dive. It’s been open for three years, it’s captained by a Michelin starred chef, and it’s been reviewed favorably by top notch, respectable food critics from major publications.

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Chef Hemant Mathur distinguishes Kokum from the plethora of other Indian joints in Curry Hill by representing four regions in southern India: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra. With his newly re-envisioned menu, he offers some items that most casual diners like me don’t often see or wouldn’t necessarily think about when eating at Indian restaurants or ordering delivery.

So here’s a run down of our meal. I’m always eager to try beers from all over the world. These two imports, Kingfisher and Taj, were mild lagers with good flavor. I preferred the Taj for the slightly more malty and round flavor at the back end.

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These little fried calamari-shaped doo-dads are multi-colored rice crackers. They come to the table at the start of the meal and are fun to snack on.

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We were then presented with two shot glasses of warm tomato, tamarind and lentil soup, called rasam. This was delicious, and similar to a hearty minestrone, only with more complex spice flavors. The lentil flavor was strong here, but the soup was strained of any chunks or actual lentils, so it was velvety smooth.

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We started with a pair of potato, cauliflower and pea samosas, These had a great crunchy pastry outer shell, and the inside was perfectly cooked and well seasoned.

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Next up was lasoni gobi: fried cauliflower bites in a tangy sauce. Imagine a cross between General Tso’s chicken and buffalo chicken wings flavors. I was impressed! They had a crispy outside and the cauliflower was soft and tender inside. The sauce had bits of peppers and onions.

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Fish poriyal came out next. This is flaky shredded fish with lime, shallots and mustard seeds, served on a banana leaf. My wife and I really loved this dish. It reminded me of some of the Vietnamese fried rice concoctions that my wife makes at home, only without the rice. Super healthy and very flavorful.

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This beautiful web like thing is called appum. It’s a huge bowl-shaped rice crepe that you basically rip up and eat with curries.

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Another vehicle for delivering delicious curry to your mouth is Kerala parotta, which is a multi layered bread that comes out steaming in a bamboo dumpling-style basket. Looks like onion rings with bits of potato mixed in. It’s cool bread.

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This first curry is kori gassi. It’s a spicy and savory Mangalorean (an ethnic group from the south western coast of India) coconut chicken curry. This was by far my favorite item of the night. It had a great, rich and salty flavor with nicely balanced heat. The chicken was perfectly cooked, super tender, and varied by cut (both dark and white meat portions).

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This next bowl is keerai masiyal: spinach, lentils and red chilies in a savory broth. Since this dish had a more soup-like consistency, it seemed to pair better with the rice. This is definitely a solid choice for you health-conscious eaters out there. It packs flavor and its satisfying, but its low on calories and fat content.

Our final entree was meen polichattu, which is roasted cod that’s wrapped in banana leaf with green masala. It comes with a side of diced, fried banana that serve as a starch element similar to a potato side. It had a nice high level of spice, was really tender and was completely devoid of any bones. Lovely!

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We tried two items for dessert. The first was rasmalai. This is a cold dish of cheese balls in sweet reduced milk (like a vanilla custard soup) with pistachios. I liked this because it wasn’t too sweet.

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In fact, the above cold dessert went really well when you combined it with the warm dessert, gulab jamun. These are warm cardamom dough balls in a honey-flavored and sugary sweet syrup. This was very sweet, so I loved going back and forth with the cheese balls to balance the flavors.

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That about does it. I highly recommend trying this place out. I was really impressed and will definitely be back for more.

KOKUM
106 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016

Metropolis

Metropolis is a new revitalized space that once served as the jazz lounge beneath Blue Water Grill in Union Square. It’s still owned and operated by the BR Guest restaurant group, and it seems that these folks can do no wrong when it comes to quality eating.

While there will inevitably be a few items at any place that a person may not like too much, I have to say that BR Guest delivers great food on a consistent basis, whether it’s Strip House, Dos Caminos, Bill’s or Blue Water Grill.

We came here to celebrate a birthday with another couple. My wife and I arrived early and ordered a drink at the bar, took in the live music and marveled at the amazing cocktail selections and quirky decor.

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Speaking of drinks, my recommendation is to skip the Montauk seawater martini for two. If you’re like me, then you’re a martini purist. When I saw seawater I got excited, because I love that kind of brine for a martini. But this drink is made with sweet vermouth and garnished with a sweet pickled tomato and similarly pickled string bean. Maybe you like a sweet martini. I do not. Perhaps next time I can request a more savory version of this.

The whole ordeal is concocted table side, which is fun, but ultimately the two drinks were shallow. They could have filled it up a bit higher at $35 for the pair.

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Okay so let’s get to the food. We browsed as we snacked on some delicious table bread with ricotta and olive oil.

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This joint’s menu is purposefully heavy on the seafood, and for good reason. It’s below Blue Water Grill and the former chef, who happens to be from Per Se, does an amazing job with the fish dishes in particular. The first things that will pop out at you are the seafood tower selections and caviar items. Take a suggestion from me: the seafood towers are awesome.

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That’s the “Flatiron” tower at $125 for 2-4 people. It contains two styles of oysters (six each of east and west), a dozen Little Neck clams, a char grilled octopus tentacle, seafood ceviche, a king crab leg, a half dozen mussels in tomato sauce and a whole lobster.

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We also shared the surf and turf tartare. This was a bit small and underwhelming, but certainly not bad by any means.

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We ended up going with two fish items and two meat items for our entrees. Let me first address the meat, since that’s what this website is all about. The filet mignon was perfectly cooked to medium rare, but unlike Strip House, it lacked that external char that I love so much. On the other hand, it was sauced with a really savory bacon reduction that blew us away. 7/10.

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The steak came with this little skillet of spinach that was topped with brulee’d cheese. Very nice.

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The real winner is the steak sandwich. It’s made with sliced rib eye steak that was cooked sous vide style in 45-day dry aged beef fat. Then it’s topped with charred onions and roasted tomato, and Velveeta wiz for that authentic Philly flare. Fucking fantastic. Get it.

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It’s served with waffle cut potato chips (crisps, if you’re European). These were okay. I think I would have preferred some standard shoestring French fries instead.

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Now for the fish. Hands down my favorite item of the night was the cod. It was served with an airy, creamy butter sauce and nicely roasted veggies. Then it was topped with a little circle of puff pastry.

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The fish itself was perfectly cooked, juicy, flaky and mild. I’d definitely go back for that.

The cedar plank salmon was excellent as well, cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with sweet roasted tomatoes and basil.

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The table next to us had some nice looking peanut butter and cherry Baked Alaska, so that got us into the mood for dessert.

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However we wanted to try some of the other items. Warm apple crisp pie with vanilla cinnamon ice cream:

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And cheese cake parfait with fruit and graham cracker crumble layers. Beautiful.

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Both were very nice, but I think the winner was the parfait.

METROPOLIS
31 Union Square West
New York, NY 10003

Atoboy

Atoboy is a new Korean fine dining joint with a new concept; you choose three dishes for a $36 tasting with a bowl of rice. The menu is set out in three sections, which are somewhat similar to an app, salad and entree breakdown. You choose one of each, but can add additional items from each section at an upcharge of $9, $12 or $15, depending on which section you’re choosing from. White rice and some kimchi (both cabbage and tomatillo varieties) comes with your meal, but they also offer a seasonal rice for $2 extra. Currently, the seasonal rice is a white rice that’s been mixed with powderized nori.

The portions are a little small, but they’re all really well executed and delicious. Since I came here with Jay from The Dishelin Guide, we sampled an extra entree item as well as a dessert in addition to our three courses each. Here’s what we had:

Eggplant with snow crab and tomato jelly. While this doesn’t look pretty or even sound particularly appetizing, it was actually pretty tasty. I’m generally not a big fan of eggplant to begin with, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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Littleneck clams with avocado cream, rice crackers and gochugaru (red chili flakes). This was pretty good. I’ve never had clams with avocado before. It was pretty interesting. The rice crackers gave the dish a nice dynamic texture.

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Next was grilled avocado with horseradish, cotija (hard cow’s milk cheese) and trout roe. I’ve never had grilled avocado before. I just assumed doing anything to a ripe avocado would result in guacamole due to the softness. Perhaps these are grilled while they’re still a little bit hard to avoid structural breakdown? In any case, this was a tasty and healthy dish.

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This next dish is highly recommended, and was one of my favorites of the night. Squid rings, stuffed with pork and shrimp, then topped with salsa verde. The squid was perfectly cooked and tender, and the stuffing gave a nice salty and fatty flavor. Plus, it was really pretty.

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Now we move on to the big winners from this dining experience; the entree selections. We started with crispy pork jowl on a bed of barley, ssamjang (spicy and sweet sauce/paste) and romaine.

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The crispy skin and under-layer of fat were delicious, and as I bit down into the meat beneath, my mouth came alive with salivation. Great dish!

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Next up was the brisket with melted foie gras, garlic and ginger. This was really hearty and delicious. The beef was super tender and can rival any top notch BBQ brisket you might find out there at a pit smoker competition (though this one was admittedly not prepared the same way with a smoker – it’s just the same cut of beef).

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Our last entree item was the strip steak. This came with a tofu skin and celery salad, and everything was lightly dressed with sesame oil.

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The steak was super tender and flavorful. They marinade the steak with kiwi to allow the enzymes to slowly tenderize the meat before it is cooked. That may be the reason why there was a healthy amount of grey banding around the edges of the meat.

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The outside could use a slightly better crust, but I imagine they need to be careful not to overcook the steak, as it isn’t very thick. This was a big success though, overall, and it tasted like wagyu. 9/10.

For dessert we tried this black raspberry cake with hazelnut and pistachio, which was garnished with fresh blueberries. This is the only dessert that’s made off-site by another pastry person. The texture was almost like mousse, and the look reminded me of Italian tri-color cookies. Very nice.

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Although expensive at $80 each after tax and tip, this was a satisfying, unique and delicious Korean fine dining experience.

ATOBOY
43 E 28th St
New York, NY 10016