Tag Archives: soho

19 Cleveland

My wife and I went to 19 Cleveland – a newish Israeli/Tel Aviv joint – for a friend’s birthday. I’m not quite sure of the names of the dishes we had, as so many small plates came out and some aren’t necessarily on the regular menu. Everything was really good so I’m just going to do a pic dump and highlight my favorites with some extra words.

The falafel and starters were all great.

The hummus was awesome. Probably the best I’ve had other than the fave bean and olive -based one at Coco J’Adore.

I really liked this crispy kale, beets and farmers cheese dish. It reminded me of the one I loved at Le Turtle.

Incredible schnitzel. A top dish of 2019 contender for sure. Make sure you get this. It comes with a platter of greens too, to make it into a Milanese of sorts.

I also really loved this lemony and buttery pasta that came with a fried poached egg on top. DELICIOUS!

Roasted cauliflower.

Branzino.

Awesome halva ice cream on this first dessert plate (the stone great color).

That about does it. I’d definitely come back here again and I highly recommend it. Fun spot.

19 CLEVELAND
19 Cleveland Place
New York, NY 10012

Raoul’s

I’ve been meaning to try this spot for about four years now, and I finally got around to it. At least for the burger, anyway.

The Raoul’s burger debuted in 2015, and it has taken the burger world by storm ever since. This au poivre style masterpiece comes with sauce on the side, as well as a nice crispy set of French fries.

On top of the burger is some dressed spinach, sliced gherkins, red onion and a blob of triple-creamed French cheese that reminded me of a soft, velvety and mildly tangy goat cheese. The bun is a soft yet supple challah from Amy’s Bread. Perfect.

The bartender told me to cut the burger in half to make it easier to dip into the au poivre sauce, and he even cautioned me to ration some sauce for fry dipping. Wise words. However, this revealed that the cheese was relegated to one spot in the middle of the burger, and not spread evenly from edge to edge. I didn’t mind much, as this made for slightly different flavor experiences with each bite.

I loved this burger, and it’s easily in my top five at the moment. While the price tag was steep, I thought it was worth every penny.

I’ll be back for the strip steak au poivre very soon.

RAOUL’S
180 Prince St #2924
New York, NY 10012

Houseman

I saw some Instagram photos of a great looking burger from this joint, so I had to go check it out.

The Houseman burger is a double patty with melted swiss, griddled onions and mushrooms, all cooked perfectly and slapped in a toasted potato bun.

Really flavorful, and dangerously easy to crush two or three of these in one sitting. For $20 it comes with fries, and you can get a $2 beer with it as an add on. Great deal.

HOUSEMAN
508 Greenwich St
New York, NY 10013

Bo Caphe

Vietnamese food is a tough nut to crack in NYC. Most of it sucks here, and the few places that people rave about just don’t really do it for me. I’ve been to places where they get one dish right, but fail on others. They have a great sandwich, but the soup in bland. You can literally go to almost any other city in America and find better Vietnamese food than you can in NYC, which baffles the living shit out of me. New York is the best at everything, so why not Vietnamese food? Who knows. The answer eludes me. Maybe the Vietnamese community just isn’t big enough here, or there aren’t enough courageous Vietnamese chefs that are willing to stretch their neck out and take a financial risk in the highly competitive and quick-to-closure NYC restaurant scene.

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Goddess Kali: house sake, sparkling wine, chia seeds, hibiscus, lemon and pineapple.

In any case, Bo Caphe isn’t like those lame joints that attempt to offer traditional Vietnamese food and then fail to deliver because there is not one single Vietnamese person on staff who would know how to make the dishes. Bo Caphe is embracing the non-traditional by proudly offering fusion dishes that you can get excited about, like the Bao Burger with taro chips.

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The burger had a nice char on the outside, with what seemed like diced onions mixed into the grind. It was juicy, and the steamed bun was the perfect Asian version of a soft and pliable yet strong potato bun. The addition of cilantro and green pepper sauce made it pop. The taro chips were a nice touch as well. They were thin, crisp, well seasoned and only occasionally greasy.

Being a French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant is nothing too outside the box, since binding the two cultures makes sense from a historical/colonial perspective. But Bo Caphe dives a bit further into French territory by offering a few selections that feature cheese, something largely not featured in Vietnamese cuisine, let alone Asian cuisine generally. Both the spring roll menu and bun menu featured cheese. The spring roll item, Vach Kiri, which literally translates to “laughing cow,” is a fried rice paper wrapper that’s filled with cheese and quinoa.

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The fried chicken bun had some goat cheese. I enjoyed it, as it added a different texture and flavor combination to compliment the pickled carrots and daikon on top, but I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

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The braised beef bun, on the other hand, was pretty straight forward and delicious. No cheese that I could taste. And while I was eating this one I remarked that I was surprised the Bao Burger didn’t feature any cheese. Of all places to have it, that seems like the most proper fit for cheese in Asian cuisine.

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The noodles here were fantastic. We tried two styles: one was cooked lemongrass beef, and the other was raw diced salmon. The salmon dish was reminiscent of a poke bowl but with noodles and fish sauce for dressing rather than soy-based sauces. It was refreshing and tasty.

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The lemongrass beef was my favorite of the two. The beef was really tender and packed with great lemongrass flavor and aromas.

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Both noodle dishes were topped with peanuts, shredded carrot and cucumber, fresh mint and a veggie spring roll.

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The next two dishes we tried run the gamut from traditional Vietnamese to traditional French. No real fusion here; two dishes in the style of two different countries. The first, of course, is pho.

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This aromatic, comforting soup is not bad for NYC pho, but my wife and I are just spoiled by the soups we had up in the mountains of SaPa in Vietnam. Nothing can compare. In any case, if you need a fix, this is not a bad bowl. The noodles are slightly different than the usual flat style (these are square spaghetti shaped, like “alla chitarra”), but the aromas are great and they use cilantro, which is what we saw in Vietnam fairly often. If you dress this bowl up with some hoisin and sriracha, you should be good.

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The second dish is a marinated skirt steak with salad.

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The steak was largely French-inspired, even down to the mustard seed sauce (which I liked very much). The steak was a bit over-cooked for my liking, but it packed a lot of flavor and was charred nicely on the outside. I’d order it again, for sure. 7/10.

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The watercress salad featured some nice ripe avocados, tomatoes and red onions.

The dessert menu has some interesting selections. First was a molten chocolate lava cake with coconut. The lava wasn’t very melty, but the sauce that came with it was delicious. The coconut here was similar to the inside of a mounds chocolate candy bar.

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This black sesame ice cream was more like a cream ice of shave ice texture and flavor; light, refreshing, icy rather than creamy. It was delicious, especially with the toasted sesame seeds on top.

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This next dessert was an interesting take on the avocado shakes that I love to get from Vietnamese restaurants. This was a chocolate avocado mousse. You could taste equally the avocado and the chocolate, which was a flavor combination that I never thought or expected to like. It was great!

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The only down side was that they didn’t have the spicy pineapple, sumac and mint salad dessert item. I was really looking forward to trying that out. Also just FYI: I was invited to this joint as an “influencer” – basically free food in exchange for pics and an honest review. So there it is.

BO CAPHE
222 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10012

Pasquale Jones

The Charlie Bird restaurant team recently opened this joint, and since opening it has gotten a lot of hype and attention from the food fanatic community. Namely, for the pizza and the pasta.

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My wife and I came here with a crew of other food instagrammers so that we could try a lot of stuff and snap a bunch of pretty pictures.

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The menu isn’t too extensive, which I liked. It listed a bunch of eye catching stuff that I wanted to try. I was also happy to see escarole make an appearance here in the greens section (though I didn’t get to try it out).

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We tried three starters: pane carasau, cuttlefish and sugar snap peas. All were good, but slightly small in terms of portion size for the price point. While this is a “no tipping” restaurant and one should expect higher pricing, I felt that they went a bit too far. Based on my accounting of things, I’d say they are charging about 40-50% more per item. If you figure a 20% tip into the math, then you’re still overpaying by 20-30%, depending on the particular item in question. So while the idea of a no tipping restaurant may seem great, the real loser is the customer, who can no longer adjust their tip downward for low food quality or poor service. Our waiter was kind of a dick, and I wasn’t super impressed with the food either. As such, I felt like I over-paid for several aspects of the meal.

The pane carasau is essentially what you might get for free in a bread basket at a high end Italian joint. It was really just thin, crispy bread chips with a small dollop of delicious, warm honey and black pepper ricotta. $9.

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The cuttlefish was steep at $18 for this plate:

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The pickled peppers on top were a nice hit of heat, and it was cooked nicely in terms of texture, with only a slight bit of it being, perhaps, a bit overcooked and chewy. It tasted clean, though, and the charcoal grilling method added a nice earthy ash flavor to it.

The snap pea dish with watercress and cream was probably the best of the three, but, again, extremely overpriced at $17.

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The peas carried a nice sweetness, but I was hoping for more cream.

Now for the pizza (category 1: full pies only, no slices available). We tried two pies: little neck clam and the special pizza of the day, which was a morel mushroom and cheese pie. The clam pie had good flavor, but it felt a little sparse on the actual clams and toppings. That means the diner feels ripped off when paying $24 for six small slices. That’s a hell of a profit margin when you think about how cheap it is to make this shit!

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The morel pizza could have used more toppings a bit closer to the edge of the crust. That wasted real estate also translates to the feeling of being ripped off when the bill comes. This was, however, the better of the two pies, in my opinion. The morels had a meaty quality to them, and a good amount of earthiness.

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On the pasta angle, we went with the baby goat pappardelle. This was a delicious dish. The meat was very tender, and the pasta was well dressed with sauce. The texture of the pasta was just right. While the portion size felt a little bit small for $23, I didn’t mind as much because it was top notch quality.

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For the meats, we tried two dishes: pork shank for two, and dry aged rib eye for two. Let’s start with the pork.

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This was delicious. While a bit small for two, the price of $48 wasn’t too bad. Well, I mean, when you compare it to the outstanding crackling pork shank with firecracker apple sauce at Maloney & Porcelli, which only costs $36 and can feed two people with extra to bring home, then, yeah, it’s way overpriced here. But given all else on the menu, I felt this was probably the best bargain. The flavors were outstanding and it had hints of sausage spice from the fennel and rosemary. This is a must-order if you decide to come here.

You can pass on the rib eye, however. It definitely delivered on the dry-aged flavor, but it was very small for two people to share at $125. If I had to guess, I’d say this was about 22oz on the bone. Maybe 24oz. For that size steak at a steakhouse, you pay between $50 and $60. So here, I would have expected to pay about $75 to account for the tip being included. At $125, we are looking at a massive fucking mark-up.

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Contrast this with the best rib eye in Manhattan over at Osteria Morini, just around the corner, which offers a steak that’s more than twice the size of this thing at 52oz, with 120 days of dry-aging flavor, and accompanied by two generously-sized sides for just $145. Uhh… no brainer. Anyway, this steak had a bit of chew to it. Not as tender as we had hoped and expected from dry-aging.

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It was cooked perfectly to medium rare, and it had a great crust on the outside. The crispy meat surrounding the bone was excellent as well. However there was no rib cap to speak of. Perhaps it was butchered off for some other use. 7/10.

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The steak came with this nice roasted onion:

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And something came with this side of citrus-dressed arugula:

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But the highlight of the night, aside from the pork shank, was seeing Michael J. Fox and Dennis Leary in the dining room, eating together with their wives.

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To sum up: skip this place unless you are focused on the pork shank. If that’s not your thing, then stick with the pizza and pasta, but I, personally, would still go elsewhere for those even though both were pretty tasty.

PASQUALE JONES
187 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012

Taureau

Taureau is a French fondue joint down in SoHo that’s owned and operated by the same badass chef dude, Didier, who runs neighboring La Sirene and cross-town East Village gem Le Village.

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My wife and I were invited here to round out a trio of press dinners for Didier’s restaurants.

The atmosphere here is cozy, with dim, warm lighting. Taureau derives its name, logo and decor concepts from the Taurus zodiac sign. It’s an earth sign specifically, and everything served and used for decor is of the earth (no fish on the menu, lots of natural objects for decor, dark wood and earth tones for the seating and tables, etc).

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The concept of fondue is pretty simple: melted cheeses, hot oils, mulled wines and melted chocolates, in which various meats, veggies, fruits, breads and other items are dunked and dipped prior to eating. It’s not complicated or messed with here at Taureau. As with his traditional French bistro La Sirene, Didier has kept his fondue concept restaurant straightforward, and I believe it’s the only fondue gig in town.

The fondue experience is inherently communal. No guys: there’s no LSD, cult leaders, hippies or outdoor multi-day music festivals. I only mean “communal” as in everyone is using the same cooking vessel. As such this lends itself to be a good place to go both with a group of friends, or even for an intimate date. After you share cooking vessels, you can share a bed together. And with music like Barry White playing during the meal, the mood for such behavior is subconsciously set. One caution I will give you is this: be prepared to come away with a scent of cooking oil on your clothing. Didier has some good air circulation in the restaurant, so it wasn’t as thick as I expected. However sometimes the fondue pots can smoke up a little bit, and the oil smells can cling to your fabrics – JUST the oil smells though; the cheese and chocolate smells don’t cling. So even though Barry White may have lubricated your libido while you were indulging in chocolate covered strawberries with your lover, you both may come away with a “fast food employee” smell on your persons that could ruin the mood. I suppose you can simply double down on the sexy and eat topless if you want; then there will be no smell on your clothing. However, while it’s perfectly legal to go topless in NYC, it may be frowned upon by the restaurant and its diners, and if you drip hot oil, liquefied cheese or melted chocolate on your nipples, you may regret the topless dining decision very quickly (unless, of course, you’re into that weird shit).

I have to be honest here: I had been to a fondue joint out on Long Island once and I didn’t like it very much. It felt over-priced and the food was underwhelming. But here, I knew I was in good hands with Didier. Everything I have ever tasted from his kitchens was high quality and really delicious. As such I was excited to dive in.

Okay so, basically, you choose your price point and fondue accompaniments (very reasonably priced, ranging from $43/pp to $52/pp), and soon the food starts to come out as the fondue pots heat up on built-in electric heaters that are embedded in the tables. They serve wine too, so you can pair your cheese fondue with white, and then transition over to red for the meats:

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The first course is a salad along with some croutons, which is unlimited if you choose to gorge yourself:

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The salad is mixed greens, lightly but evenly dressed. The croutons are for your cheese fondue course that comes out with this. We tried four different cheese concoctions. The first was a nutmeg-infused cheese, which smelled like fall:

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Then a combination of various Swiss cheeses:

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And a cauldron of Monterey jack and cheddar cheese:

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But my favorite was this earthy truffle perigord cheese:

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It went perfectly with our side items for dipping, which consisted of broccoli, chorizo, fennel sausage, and portobello mushrooms:

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In particular, the mushrooms with the truffle cheese was an incredible “double-down” on the earthy flavor notes. And the chorizo went really nicely with the nutmeg cheese. The spice of the sausage was off-set and balanced by that touch of sweetness from the cheese. We kept diving in, dipping food, and dodging and ducking from any errant drips of melty cheese as we reached over and across each other. Dodge, dip, dive, duck and dodge. Just like the five D’s of dodgeball, from the Dodgeball movie:

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Some drip-catching plates could have been helpful, I suppose, and I guess we could add a 6th D for the dodgeball reference, for Didier. He has truly created some really amazing cheese combinations, and that truffle cheese was the big star of the show for the evening. I just kept going at it, even when all that was left to dip was the broccoli!

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After about 15 hits of truffle cheese, I thought I might be full, but then the meat course came out. Our cheese fondue pots were swapped for four new pots: red wine, vegetable oil, olive oil and peanut oil. The idea here is to dunk your meat in for varying amounts of time (depending how thoroughly cooked you want it), and then add a little sauce to it before eating. The sauces included a dijon cream, truffle red wine reduction, peppercorn gravy, gorgonzola cream and Hollandaise.

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The sauces paired in unique ways depending on which meat you chose, and which fondue pot you used for cooking the meat. The meats are all marinated and pre-sliced, by the way, for maximum tenderness. Our meat selections were as follows:

Pork (cook for 45 seconds):

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Chicken (cook for 45 seconds):

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Filet Mignon (medium rare 15 seconds):

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Hanger Steak (medium rare 15 seconds):

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My favorite pairings were (1) hanger steak cooked in olive oil and topped with the truffle red wine reduction sauce; (2) filet mignon cooked in red wine and topped with the gorgonzola sauce; (3) pork cooked in red wine and topped with the peppercorn gravy; and (4) chicken cooked in peanut oil and topped with the dijon cream sauce. Really good shit.

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Dessert, as you can imagine, involved copious quantities of melted chocolate. We tried both the milk and dark chocolate varieties:

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We were served a plate of sliced fruit and dessert breads for dipping. Bananas, pineapples, apples, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, banana bread, white chocolate bread and even marshmallows were all involved.

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You can mix and match to your heart’s desire. I was actually surprised to find that I liked kiwi with milk chocolate. Pretty interesting.

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But you can’t really beat the simplicity of a chocolate covered banana or marshmallow:

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That about covers it for this really fun fondue night. If you’re up for something unique and different for dinner, this is definitely the way to go. When you go, tell Didier that Johnny Prime sends his regards.

TAUREAU
558 Broome St.
New York, NY 10013

Adoro Lei

I was invited here for a press event pizza party by a friend of mine who works in the food business.

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I’m always on the hunt for good pizza, so I was psyched to try this place. But this joint is more than just pizza. They have great cocktails, a really nice menu, and a good beer selection as well.

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That’s the pizza oven up top, and just underneath, you can see this dude rolling out the pizza dough with a wine bottle. That’s some old school type shit!

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Let me guide you through this awesome meal. First, we had the “Burrata Divine,” which is a nice tasty blob of burrata cheese on top of eggplant with some grape tomatoes and arugula, drizzled with a truffle honey.

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This was some good shit. The burrata was soft and flavorful, and the truffle honey was a nice touch of sweet against the peppery arugula.

Next up was “Chianti Kale,” a kale, spinach and shitake mushroom salad with shaved ricotta and fried salsify, tossed in a Chianti-sesame dressing. I’m usually quick to mock kale, but this was actually an awesome salad. It had depth to it from the sesame and Chianti dressing.

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We also had the “Sous-Vide Beets.” The beets were warm and plated at the base of the dish, with arugula, frisee, candied walnuts, goat cheese and blackberries on top. This was tossed with a walnut dressing.

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This was earthy, sweet, hearty and savory all at once. Now that I know beets are this good when cooked sous vide, I’ll definitely be throwing them in my homemade machine at the old Johnny Prime Food Research Lab.

We snacked on some grilled shishito peppers with shaved almonds while waiting for the next courses to arrive. These were lightly salted. Very nice, with a mild heat to them.

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My favorite items of the night were these “Adoro Sliders,” which were essentially braised veal and pork meatballs with a tomato sauce and sheep’s milk ricotta on a slider bun.

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The bun was soft and strong, as you would expect from any good burger. The meat was tender and juicy, just like a really good meatball. This was the perfect Italian burger. I loved it. They’re a bit pricey at three for $14, but well worth the money in terms of taste.

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Another star dish was the “Lovers’ Purses.” These were pasta dumplings filled with cheese, and served with pear, brown butter sage sauce, roasted walnuts, arugula and parmesan shavings.

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They were dense and cooked al dente, but they weren’t heavy.

The last of the pre-pizza items was the “Espresso Tuna.”

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Cooked to a perfect rare / medium rare, this tuna had an espresso dry rub and was served on top of spinach and fingerling potatoes, and topped with toasted pistachio nuts and roasted red peppers. The pomegranate Thai basil reduction sauce was what really set this dish apart. The acidity was perfectly balanced against the sweet components, and despite the distinctively Asian ingredients, it really tasted like a natural Italian dish. Nicely done.

Okay so here comes the pizza. I will start with the least favorite – which is by no means “not good” – and work my way to the best. This first pie is the traditional tomato sauce and cheese style, called “Casanova” at this joint.

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The flavors were good, just not as robust as some of the other items from the night. This pie was a bit limp in the center, where the sauce and cheese were heaviest, so any lack of stiffness in the crust will cause some concern.

Next up was the “Veronica” pizza. This had burrata, kale, grape tomatoes, pecorino and basil.

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Not a bad pie, but also just not as memorable as a good traditional or a really unique specialty pie. The crust was nice and crisp, and the toppings weren’t too heavy or overpowering of one another.

The big winner was the “Pietro.” This is essentially an arugula and prosciutto style dry pie, topped with marinated cherry tomatoes, basil, pecorino, shaved parmesan and truffle oil.

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The use of truffle oil was delicate and skilled here. It wasn’t overpowering. The cheeses were perfect with the prosciutto, and despite this being bold on flavor, it never overwhelmed my palate. I’d come back for this any day. Look at us going bonkers with the photos and ooey gooey slices!

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We also got to try some dessert. First was this nutella pizza, which was sweet dough on top and bottom, sandwiching a nice layer of nutella and topped with powdered sugar.

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Be careful not to breathe in when taking a bite. That powdered sugar can be a coughing fit in the making!

There was also a really nice fried dough item called nutella fingers, which consisted of logs of fried dough served with nutella, blackberries and whipped cream. Simple and delicious. This was my favorite of the two desserts. The dough was crisp on the outside but pillow-soft on the inside, and nice and warm the whole way through.

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All the while during the meal we were having a beer tasting. We tried six different brews. My favorite ended up being an Ommegang, with the Bluepoint Toasted right behind.

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Get down here for some food. You will definitely go home happy!

ADORO LEI
287 Hudson St.
New York, NY 10013

Burger & Barrel

This place easily comes in as one of my favorite burgers in the city. I tried the bash burger (bacon and onion jam), and the classic (lettuce and tomato). Both came with American cheese as the standard, and both were fucking amazing: great bun, and astounding meat flavor. The fries were perfectly cooked and seasoned as well, and the batter on the onion rings was so crisp and delicious.. I’ll definitely be dining here again, especially for the prime rib dinner.

The bash burger was so good that you didn’t miss the crunch from the lettuce or the coolness of the tomato:

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The classic was firing on all cylinders. Every aspect of this thing worked. Tomato was sliced a little thicker than I normally like, but it was not unwieldy because the other stuff was all the right thickness.

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It’s no wonder this place, which is run by the same folks at Bowery Meat Company, is running away with all sorts of burger awards.

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UPDATE 4/20/15

I went back yesterday with my wife and my parents to celebrate me and my wife’s 6th wedding anniversary.

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We did the prime rib dinner for four, which you will need to reserve in advance because they need lots of time to prep the roast (I think it cooks for 8 hours). Check out the menu:

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We started with a few brews since we were walking around a lot that afternoon and needed some refreshments:

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The family style apps were pretty delicious. First were these little chicken lollipops. Super crispy skin, some Korean style BBQ sauce drizzled over with sesame seeds and some greens. These are addicting. I only wish there were eight instead of six in the order, that way we each could have eaten two. They’re a little too good to stop at just one, despite the massive amount of food yet to come.

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The tuna tartare was nice, light and refreshing. It was topped with an avocado spread and served with waffle-cut potato chips. Everything was just right on this dish.

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Next up were the individually ordered salads. Since there were three to choose from, we had one of each and then an extra that was doubled. So we ordered two of the beet salads. The beets were perfectly roasted, and the toasted walnuts gave good texture and crunch to the salad. The goat cheese was so soft and velvety, and the orange segments added a citrus pop that really made this salad stand out as the best of the three.

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The kale salad had butternut squash, faro and cranberries. This was dressed nicely with a honey mustard vinaigrette.

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The last of the salads was apple and arugula with shaved fennel, pine nuts and parmigiano, lightly dressed with a light apple vinegar.

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The star of the show is this Creekstone Farms roasted prime rib.

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This is a LOT of beef for just four people. The waiter said that it comes out to about 14oz per person, but that is a serious understatement. I think my cut alone, which wasn’t as big as my dad’s, was about 24oz.

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So thick and juicy. The seasoning got way down into the meat, and the crust of spices along the outside edges was incredible. The fat was pretty much all edible meat jello – so tasty. Not one bite became monotonous or boring, as is the case many times with prime rib. This had a ton of character. I can’t even describe to you how amazing the restaurant smelled when they carried this bad boy out to us. They also served it with two sauces: bordelaise and peppercorn poivre sauce. Both were great but I tended to hit the peppercorn sauce a little more often.

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Even the sides were amazing here. First, I’ve never tasted a tater tot so good in my life. They were perfectly crisp, and herbed up nice with rosemary flavor.

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The brussels sprouts were crispy and light, but packed a ton of flavor. I could eat this like a snack while watching TV.

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The spinach was perfectly seasoned and sautéed in garlic and oil – no heavy cream to weigh down the meal.

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And the potatoes were so unique. They seemed like they were ripped up, baked and fried fingerlings with caramelized onions. They had a really dynamic texture of crisp and soft mixed throughout.

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Finally, for dessert we had apple fritters with chocolate truffles, topped with ice cream and caramel sauce. These were like little doughnuts made from apple. Nice and crisp on the outside, with a perfectly cooked apple on the inside. I’m usually not a huge fan of chocolate but that truffle was excellent!

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The staff was really great here, and they brought us out a complimentary pair of mini bottles of rose champagne when they overheard us talking about the fact that we were celebrating an anniversary. Really nice touch, and the champagne was tasty!

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Overall this is one of my favorite places to eat in the city right now.

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The bar has a great, fun atmosphere, and every item I’ve tried here is pretty much an example of the best I’ve had. This doesn’t come as much of a shocker though, because all of the restaurants in their group as just as amazing. If you haven’t been here yet, get your ass down here ASAP and try some of the items pictured above. I promise, you will not be disappointed.

UPDATE 3/26/18

Unfortunately two subsequent return trips to B&B for the prime rib caused me to lower the score on the meat. The first return was the same sized rack, but boneless and for six people instead of four. It was still tasty though. Lets call that 9/10 instead of 10/10.

On the second return, the rack was a slight bit smaller still, boneless and for four people. However the real problem is that we didn’t get the whole rack. The four slices we received were thin – much too thin to add up to the full rack that was presented.

Additionally, the meat kinda sucked. It was grainy, overdone, and flavorless.

Let’s call that a 5/10. So that averages out to an 8, but I’m taking it down to a 7 due to the disppointing downward trend in the prime rib here over the course of a few years time.

My suggestion: stick to the burgers here. I can no longer recommend the prime rib, despite it being a low price tag for the amount of food you get.

BURGER & BARREL
25 W. Houston St.
New York, NY 10012

Balzem

I was recently invited to a press dinner at Balzem, a little Mediterranean spot near the corner of Mott and Spring in Nolita that opened in the Spring of 2014.

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The dining room is rustic, with an airy 12-foot beamed ceiling, old mirrors, iron hanging light fixtures, and lots of reclaimed wood.

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The surprisingly roomy bar offers a wide selection of Mediterranean wines (40 different wines!), imported beer, and even some wine cocktails like the Hot Cab Manhattan, the Balzem Fizz, and the Ginger Ride. I tried the Efes beer (Turkish pilsner), which was nice, light and refreshing.

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The bar crowd definitely picked up at around 8:30pm, and it was actually getting pretty crowded by time we left at 9:30pm. Also worth mentioning here is the fact they they offer happy hour specials EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK from 5:00pm-7:00pm, where they have $6 Mediterranean wines, $5 beers, $1 oysters and $5 tapas/mezzes. That’s freaking amazing! I’ll definitely be back on weekends, for sure.

Here’s a quick shot of Mehdi (left), wine director and general manager, and Balahan (right), owner and executive chef.

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The menu features lots of tapas and mezzes, even some pizza, in addition to a smaller selection of entrees. Here’s the tasting menu we had for the press dinner, along with the wines that were paired with each course:

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The table bread was a nice crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, country style loaf, sliced and served with olive oil (with a variety of olives swimming in the dish):

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The chicken breast and orzo soup was really tasty. Made from a light tomato broth with Turkish red pepper paste, it packs a great flavor that you can accent with a squeeze of lemon. This dish was based on a family recipe that Balahan’s mother used to make.

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That red pepper paste, by the way, is not made from bell peppers, but a different kind – more like a Cubanelle – that’s red instead of green. It’s something that Balahan made as a kid growing up in Turkey, when his family would retreat to the mountains to cool off during the hot months. There, they made red pepper paste, pastries and breads. Sounds like a great way to spend the Summer – sign me the fuck up!

Next were the prosciutto wraps, which was my favorite item of the night. The meat was thin and perfectly cured. It was soft, and not too salty. The burrata cheese was perfection as well. High quality ingredients presented in a very un-fucked-with manner so that they shine.

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Basil leaf, balsamic reduction drizzle and some roasted red peppers is all they added. The green you see beneath the wraps are actually flattened pieces of pepper. Very nice, especially when paired with the clean rose we were served.

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We jumped out of order here to try the other cold dish; the branzini ceviche. This was really mild, despite being cured in lemon vinegar. This is the first time I’ve seen branzino prepared in a ceviche. I really liked how it wasn’t a soupy bowl of tart citrus, like you get in most joints. It was cleanly presented with some arugula and dill.

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Next up was the grilled shrimp dish. These were beautifully presented on a slice of grilled zucchini with parsley and garlic dressing, and accompanied by an arugula salad with tomato and lemon vinaigrette. There was a swipe of chipotle sauce too, so this dish was spicy. The sweet white wine we had with it was the perfect compliment to balance out the spice levels.

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The shrimp were cooked just right.

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My next favorite dish, after the prosciutto, was this octopus fucker. It was braised for 45-50 minutes in white wine that was spiced with lemon, bay leaf and black pepper. Then blasted on the grill for a nice charred and crispy outer edge, and finished in butter. So soft and light, yet meaty and satisfying.

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These zucchini pancakes were fucking great. Part of me wanted a more crisp texture, but when I got down on them a little more I didn’t mind. They’re made with feta, mint, scallions, parsley, dill, eggs and flour, then topped with a yogurt cream sauce. I could actually go vedge (vadge) with food like this. Awesome.

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Last of the small plates, and my least favorite of the small plates, was the Italian meatballs dish. The garlic tomato sauce was nice; velvety, smooth, sweet yet tangy and spicy… but the meat was a little dense for my liking, and I wasn’t a big fan of the pine nuts and raisins within. The ball itself was made from good quality veal, worked with thyme and basil. I just have a very picky sense when it comes to meatballs: it’s very difficult to compete with my mom’s. I did really like the sleepy-time red wine that was served with the meatballs (Nero D’Avola, Mortilla 2013).

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Now for the entree – lamb skewers with flat bread and some sauces. Yes!

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The sauces were mint, parsley, garlic, oil and vinegar (left) and yogurt (right).

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The lamb was cooked perfectly. It was light, flavorful and soft. No overly gamey flavors, no chewy sinew, nothing. Nice and simple, but well executed.

We sampled three sides with the entree. First, and by far the best of them, was the truffle mac and cheese. It wasn’t over the top like some “truffled” items are these days. This was a gentle and proper use of the truffle, with perfectly cooked fusilli pasta and quality cheeses.

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Same goes for the presence of truffle in the potato gratin side – not too aggressive. I liked this dish too – it just needed a little pinch of salt as you went down into the deeper layers of potato.

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The last, and least liked of the sides (and probably our least favorite overall) was the wheat and veggie rice. It had good texture, but the flavors were a little flat, it was a bit dry, and it just didn’t seem to go well with our entree.

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And just when you thought you tried too much food, along comes dessert. All ye fat men rejoice, for there is chocolate ahead in thy future:

Chocolate layer cake (this ended up being my favorite of the three despite my usual hatred of chocolate cake). The cake itself was a slight bit dry, but the hint of salt really made it work in terms of flavor.

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Chocolate mousse cake. Nice texture, creamy and flavorful.

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And finally, tiramisu. You could taste the rum in this bad boy, but it wasn’t overpowering. It was moist and flavorful. The others liked this dessert the best (I was outnumbered).

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That about wraps it up for Balzem. Highlights of the meal were definitely the prosciutto wraps, the octopus and the ceviche. Those would be absolute must-try items, especially if they’re only $5 a pop at happy hour. That shit’s a no-brainer. The ambiance is also killer here. Really nice inside. And when you go (you will), you should chat with Balahan and Mehdi. Both guys are really awesome, friendly, and hands-on. In fact, the service in this joint is top notch and classy. It makes a great date spot, a great pre-game spot for food and drinks, and it has that amazing happy hour. I will definitely be back as a paying customer. Most likely I will head down for happy hour, but the brunch menu looks enticing, as well as the lunch deals ($12 for soup/sandwich or soup/salad).

BALZEM
202 Mott St.
New York, NY 10012

Pizza $1.00

I walked by this little joint on Hester while I was on a stroll through Chinatown. I hit it up. Apparently it is also known as “Hakki Akdeniz” or “KF Hester Pizza” according to some Google searching. Not bad, but there are better spots up by me for the cheap pizza hunger fix. I’d say that the sauce, cheese and crust were all middle of the road in terms of the dollar joint / category 3 standard (they do serve other pies as well).

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PIZZA $1
84 Hester St
New York, NY 10002