Spiegel

My wife and I were invited to a press dinner for Spiegel, a downtown spot that opened in May of this year on 1st Avenue at 2nd Street (very close to the famed Nexus of the Universe, ala Seinfeld).

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Restaurateur/owner Shmulik Avital and Executive Chef Dario Tapia (formerly at Westville and Maison Kayser) serve up a truly wide variety of foods with multi-national influences, spanning from classic to eclectic with everything in between. Shmulik spoke with us at length about how he was raised in a mixed-tenant building in Israel, where his neighbors were from nearly every country throughout Europe, the middle east, and northern Africa. Growing up, the mothers would exchange recipes with their neighbors, and soon the building was a true melting pot of international cuisine. His family is Moroccan, but you’ll see influences from all over the world on his menu. Truly fantastic. Shmulik also spoke about his motorcycle trip through Central America, where he gained inspiration to add a fish taco dish to his menu because he loved and enjoyed it so much.

They sport an equally varied wine list, directed by Vino-Man Kirk Struble, featuring selections from across the globe as well as a gaggle of imported beers (I love the Weihenstephan).

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The ambiance is like a cafe, with a nice, large, custom U-shaped bar, oak and fabric seating, decorative brick walls, massive windows and tiled floors. An outdoor searing area that wraps around from avenue to street is set to open in April of 2015 as well.

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The name Spiegel comes from Shmulik’s love of old cinema, particularly Lawrence of Arabia, his favorite film, which was produced by Sam Spiegel. Shmulik intends to have classic film nights in the restaurant to pay tribute to his love of classic, pre-1960s/1970s film.

Also worth noting: if you like what you see and read below, go check this joint out. They’re running a 50% Groupon deal right now that’s $15 for $30 worth of food. You can find it HERE.

Here’s a look at what we gobbled up, in menu form:

spiegel menu

First, some starters and salads:

The zucchini fritters were nice and crispy outside, and flavorful inside. They came with a yogurt type sauce and a small side of nicely dressed arugula.

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The star of the apps was the fried and stuffed mushrooms. Filled with cream cheese and smoked salmon, this was like a dream. Nicely seasoned as well. A real winner.

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The baked feta fish was okay. I wasn’t too much of a fan of the tomato and eggplant sauce here, but the cheese was delightful.

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The Spiegel chopped salad was nice and refreshing. All the veggies were treated superbly. I especially liked the hearts of palm: one of my favorite things to eat outside of the meat realm.

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The kale salad was excellent. Expertly dressed and no bitterness. Sweet and savory all at once. I’d definitely recommend this one.

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Next, a few sides. The carrots had a great cumin flavor going on that really made them stand out and punch up.

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The broccoli had good flavor but it could have benefitted from a bit more salt and maybe some cracked black pepper. Otherwise it was great.

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The star of the sides was the beet dish. I just kept going back at this plate. Really good shit, and beautifully colored.

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Then some entrees. First was the veggie couscous. It packed enough flavor to stand on its own without the addition of any meats. It reminded me of pastina that my mother used to make, only more soupy and less creamy. This was an okay dish, but I’d probably go for something with a bit more substance on a subsequent visit.

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The salmon was perfect. Juicy, tender, brimming with mild flavor. It came on a bed of roasted, chopped potatoes.

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The veal schnitzel was the favorite for me and my wife. The breading was nice and crispy, and it had a great spicy kick to it.

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And then came a pair of burgers, which were prepared specially for me, the meat man (the other dishes were mostly just fish and veg). The first one is called “The Kipling,” named after a patron who always orders it. It has a topping of the same tomato and eggplant sauce from the baked feta dish. To me, it was very reminiscent of a Sloppy Joe in terms of flavor profile. The burger was solid and held together, not like the mushy chopped meat in a Sloppy Joe. I think what took me to that “Sloppy Joe” place was the tomato flavor.  On the other side of things, the french fries were some of the best I’ve ever had. They were absolutely perfect. There was a crisp batter texture to the outside, but the inside was soft and flavorful like mashed potatoes.

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The other burger was the classic. Liberally seasoned beef, lettuce, onion and tomato. I prefer this to the Kipling. The only issues for me were that both burgers were a bit over cooked, and I think this classic burger could have benefitted from some cheese. This plate came with a small chic pea salad which was herby and refreshing, and topped with a little bit of crumbled feta.

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Last, dessert. First was flan, which I really liked because it was firm yet creamy and smooth. The chocolate mousse was killer. I think I may have finished one whole order by myself. Last was the apple pie tart crumble thingy, which was very well executed and delicious. Overall I think the desserts were excellent, and I suppose that is a nod to the head chef’s experience at Maison Kayser.

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I had an espresso, which was strong and tasty, from a roaster in California that the owner knows personally. This shot below is a nice decorative foam on top of a cappucino.

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A quick note on their hours of operation:

Breakfast is 7:00am – Noon, every day.
Lunch/Dinner is 11:00am – 11:00pm Sunday – Thursday, and ’til Midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Brunch is 11:00am – 5:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Happy Hour, with $7 select wines by the glass and $3 – $4 imported beers, runs every day from 4:00pm – 8:00pm.

SPIEGEL
26 1st Ave.
New York, NY 10009

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