New York, New York--January 2008

Can you believe on this last trip I ate at ~MOMOFUKU~ twice? Yes, the pork buns really are that freaking delicious (especially with a squirt of the warm sriracha that has a lingering, beastly heat--be sure to request it). The buns demanded a repeat performance the very next day. David Chang's noodle (and more) outpost in the East Village has total cult status, and every chef I know seems to love this place--yup, there's a lot lot lot of hype hype hype, and I'll be damned, it's quite deserved.

The menu is a ridiculous tour de force of animal scrumptiousness, from the spicy tripe and bacon braised with carrot and onion; Manila clams in a thick stew-like broth with sunchokes and parsnips; and the grilled beef tongue with mustard and a side salad of frisee dressed with pickle juice and topped with thinly sliced cold tongue totally rocked--the salad tasted like the best tongue sandwich. Ever. And you get to try their perfect pickles, too. The pork neck ramen dish we ordered didn't really do anything for us, in fact we didn't even eat it since it was so blah, but the kimchi stew the next day with pork shoulder and rice cakes was the bomb. Wash it all down with some spendy Hitachino Ale ($11). Hoot.

Don't bring a vegetarian--there are no substitutions, and there is only one noodle dish they could eat. It's all communal dining, with everyone crammed in at the sleek and minimalist tables or the long counter… love the rock blaring, like the Clash. Trick: go for a super late lunch midweek, like around 3:15pm, and you should waltz right in.

171 First Ave.
Cross: 10th St.

Sun-Thu 12pm-4pm, 5:30pm-11pm
Fri-Sat 12pm-4pm, 5:30pm-12am

Just around the corner, famed SF Blue Bottle barista Jamie McCormick has opened his charming little café, ~ABRAÇO~, and I am thrilled to see how well he has already ensconced himself in the neighborhood. Terrific coffees, natch, from the individual drip coffee to a café cortado--and they are even making almond milk that is supposed to be extra-delish warmed up. Everything tastes all smooth, like the Brazilian records playing. Chef Mario Hernandez is turning out some tasty little bites, like pressed panini, and don't get me started on baker Elizabeth Quijada's olive shortbread (there are all kinds of house-made morning and sweet treats too).

86 E. 7th St.
Cross: First Ave.

This place is almost kitty corner to Abraco and totally pinged on my radar, but I was so damned full from my lunch at Momofuku I just couldn't indulge in one single arepa. Nary a bite. Jamie at Abraco said the arepas at ~CARACAS~ are just incredible. And they're wheat free, crazy. Next time I am all over one, perhaps the version with roasted pork shoulder and a spicy mango sauce. You can even make your own combo, but there are 14 to choose from. Empanadas too. And juices, like a coconut milk shake with cinnamon. Mreow.

91 E. 7th St.
Cross: First Ave.

Over in the West Village, I had a nice time hanging out at the charmingly rustic ~GOTTINO~, the brand-new enoteca from Michael Bull and Jody Williams (the chef of Morandi). The place smelled like cheese. Heh. The crostini were ridiculously tasty, like the one of walnut pesto with Parmesan and thyme, and another with bottarga and a poached egg. I purred over the savory bread pudding of pig trotter and chestnuts. There are a variety of well-chosen Italian wines by the glass, and you can crack some complimentary nuts (like walnuts, yo) while sippin' at the marble counter. Ideal place to hang out for an early (or late) evening bite and catch up. Order an espresso and they put sugar on top of the coffee before drawing your shot from their gleaming Faema machine. Wild, man.

52 Greenwich Ave.
Cross: Perry St.

After checking out the killer Richard Prince show at the Guggenheim, my friend and I had fun walking across the park and catching an early dinner at ~KEFI~, an unassuming Greek place under chef Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia on the Upper West Side. We got a kick out of the West Side scene packing the room, all outfitted in black and some in furs. I wouldn't make a special trip uptown, but if you're in the 'hood, the price is right. And in SF, we really don't have much Greek, so I was happy to check it out.

We dug the stuffed cuttlefish with a sweet and sour honey glaze as a starter, and the gnudi that were lightly pan seared, served with pine nuts, tomato, spinach, and a spicy lamb sausage--I decided this sauce would make a perfect pizza topping (both $8.95). My grilled branzino was juicy but needed salt and lemon--when all is said and done, the two hearty filets with olive, potato, and tomato were a downright steal at $15.95. My friend's pan-seared striped bass was too oily and under-seasoned, so no comment. Good Greek wines for crazy cheap (like, $6!). Service is brisk and the tables are packed, with even more people waiting to eat, so don't expect to hang out.


222 W 79th St.
Cross: Broadway

Also had lunch at Michael Psilakis's other outpost, ~ANTHOS~ (with partner Donatella Arpaia, who was actually hanging out when we arrived). The $28 prix-fixe lunch menu seemed swell until we were told the famed lamb burger was 86ed. Rats! To the main menu. I couldn't resist the bizarrely intriguing combination of grilled Hawaiian prawns, saffron orzo, smoked chicken, and a six-minute egg. The flavors were rustic and kind of smoky-haunting, but what a pain to shell the prawns in the clay pot it came in. And at the lovely Midtown business lunch price of $18.

The grilled (with the head still on, yay!) loup de mer ($29) was cooked just-right and oh-so-juicy, but the side little crock of winter vegetables was actually kind of a crock: under-seasoned, and too underdone. Why not have them on the plate? And again, a total mess to try to eat out of the crock. The room was kind of blushed, with cherry blossom art, and the first time I saw a base layer of pink table linens in a restaurant. Service wasn't very fabulous, especially considering the prices--a not-ready-for-primetime kind of lunch squad. Dessert was unique (chocolate mousse and ouzo syrup anyone?), but the true charmer was the goat's milk butter we scarfed with our bread.

36 W 52nd St.
Cross: 5th Ave.

When I went to Tales of the Cocktail last year in New Orleans, I met this swell woman from Liberia who promised to take me out for some real African food the next time I was in NYC. Yay, I took her up on it, and headed up to Harlem to ~AKWABA~, a quirky little place run by women with a menu of West African fare, mostly from Senegal, Guinea, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. I loved the new flavors, like attieke (ground and fermented cassava that is almost like a couscous), palm oil, alloco (plantains), and I had my first taste of Maggi, a bouillon cube that is supposed to be a West African staple. We had a delish grilled fish (poisson braise), yassa (fried chicken with grilled onions and a tangy lemon sauce), and some dibi (fatty grilled pieces of lamb with mustard and onion). Cheap, and a fun and filling adventure.

62 E. 116th St.
Cross: Park Ave.

After taking in whatever is showing at MoMA, I don't know about you, but museums make me hungry and ready to take a seat for a little while. All you have to do is head downstairs for a bite off the afternoon menu in the low-slung Bar Room at ~THE MODERN~ while relishing a little Danny Meyer hospitality. We savored a glass of Ruinart rose over the scrumptious tarte flambée, a thin crust Alsatian tart with crème fraîche, onion, and bacon. No, that did not suck at all. Dessert was also gorgeous, namely the hazelnut dacquoise with milk chocolate chantilly. Pretty! And quite artful itself.

The Modern
The Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street
Cross: Fifth Ave.

I also was having fun checking out some galleries in Chelsea, but after some laughable gallery attitude from the knob working at the Cheim & Read gallery who fancied himself smart AND handsome, I had enough. I needed a coffee and a bite. I remember a tablehopper reader telling me about ~LA TAZA DE ORO~, an authentic little Puerto Rican diner. Within five minutes of perching on a stool at the counter, it totally won my heart, and was perfect to counterbalance the vapidity I experienced not 15 minutes before. Everyone on both sides of the counter was friendly, curious, and had something to say. So New York. I dug into my pastele (banana meat tamale for a whopping $2.50) and finished with a café espresso ($1, thankyouverymuch) wishing I could come back for some of their daily specials. XOXO.

La Taza de Oro
96 Eighth Ave.
Cross: 15th St.

Some more cheap eats I was fired up on were the chive and pork boiled dumplings (8 for $2) at the ~DUMPLING HOUSE~. No, not the best, but for $2, who's complaining? Even better though was the warm sesame "pancake" sandwich stuffed with roasted pork and loaded with cilantro and pickled carrot, for $1.75. I'd be here every week, perhaps more than once. I think a lot of other people feel the same way. Good thing they just moved into this new location that is quite a bit more spacious.

Dumpling House
118A Eldridge St.
Cross: Broome St.

Mmmm, caviar. I was convinced caviar cream cheese was going to be the shiznit, but after trying it, it sadly wasn't anything major. However, just the experience of going into ~RUSS & DAUGHTERS~ made me happy. Oh, and the Super Heeb was pretty tasty (whitefish/baked salmon salad with horseradish cream cheese on a bagel, with wasabi flying fish roe). In fact, all the lunch sandwiches look rather stellar. This joint has been around since 1914, and I wish I could swing by the counter each week and order half a pound of gravlax, a pound of sable, and some pickled herring to keep in my Lower East Side apartment fridge. Some day.

Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St.
Cross: Orchard St.

Ah yes, more fish please. Kitties like fish. A $65 omakase linner (that's lunch/dinner) at ~BLUE RIBBON SUSHI~ in Soho was one of the better sushi experiences I've had in a while. And for $65, compared to the crap you can spend that money on in NYC, well, I say spend it here. We were presented with a stunning array of freshwater eel, horse mackerel, hamachi, perch, toro that almost had a weird hint of beef, urchin opened minutes prior, the tiniest and sweetest creamy ama-ebi I've ever had, smooth amberjack, smoked yellowtail topped with shiitakes (genius), giant clam, snapper, maki of toro and scallion… criminy, it was all so gorgeous.

This place continues to hold it down, with the groovy touches of its sauna-style bathrooms, mellow reggae music, well-worn wood, friendly and professional staff… Again, a great place to eat at for a late lunch/early dinner during the week (like we did at 4:30pm, because we could) since you'll walk right in. Otherwise you will WAIT, my friend. I loved it years ago, even before I knew what good sushi tasted like, and am happy to say I think I love it even more now.

Blue Ribbon Sushi
119 Sullivan St.
Cross: Prince St.

I had a fun hipster dinner with a pal dining at the counter at ~RAYUELA~, a stylish Lower East Side joint under chef Máximo Tejada. The name means hopscotch (you'll see the motif throughout the restaurant's cool design)--there's also a lovely olive tree that starts downstairs near the boisterous bar where you'll find some clever concoctions, and extends up to the spiffy second floor.

The menu is kind of pan-Latin/Spanish (freestyle Latin, as they like to put it), with ten ceviches to choose from (I liked the corvina with carica and red onion)--the version with the sea urchin was a bit disappointing after my recent memory of the über-fresh urchin at Blue Ribbon. Hey, more carica! I still don't see it much in SF; we had stuffed carica with duck confit and spinach in a Pedro Ximenez duck sauce, tasty. And the grilled steak tenderloin (churrasco con camarones) topped with shrimp chimichurri was cooked to the requested medium rare, why thank you. I luuuurved the Spanish cheese custard with an odd kick of olive compote and basil mousse (for dessert!).

165 Allen St.
Cross: Stanton St.

I know, didn't I have a drink? Of course, darlings. If you really want to get away from it all, descend into the ~124 RABBIT CLUB~ in the West Village, a warren of a bar with an incredible selection of beers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, and more. Quite staggering, that list. I had my first Rodenbach sour red, not for everyone, but perfect for me. You can also get a sandwich made with pretzel bread (there are four kinds to choose from, like roast beef and boursin). The place is a narrow one, with low ceilings, brick walls, a brass bar, Flaming Lips and Violent Femmes playing, flocked wallpaper, candles, and exposed light bulbs in trippy little industrial cages. I can't imagine what a firetrap this must feel like when it's full. Not for the claustrophobic. But definitely for the friendly. And beer savvy.

124 Rabbit Club
124 Macdougal St.
Cross: Bleecker St.

And yay, I finally got to experience ~PDT~ (you can read about my attempt during my last trip, and how this East Village speakeasy entered through the phone booth in a hot dog place all works, here). You can call at 3pm the same day to make a table reservation, but then you'd miss the opportunity to snag a seat at the bar and watch the bartenders do their thing.

I was thrilled to take a tour of the new winter menu, including the Black Flip, a killer concoction of Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and a whole egg; Fallen Leaves, an Audrey Saunders dream of a drink; a Rittenhouse Old Fashioned; a Harvest Moon that was total cocktail couture; and a Cinema Highball, with buttered popcorn-infused Flor de Cana Silver Dry Rum and Coke, a total winner from bartender Don Lee. After all that, I was so grateful to be able to order a Chang Dog (a deep-fried dog wrapped in bacon with kimchee puree, yes, it was brilliant except for the non-toasted bun), and the ghetto fabulous mountain of tater tots with cheese and jalapenos from Crif Dogs next door. Ahhhh, saved. Otherwise the next day I would have felt like some of the stuffed taxidermy in the room, like the jackalope.

In Crif Dogs
113 St. Marks Pl.
Cross: Avenue A