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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the NY Chowhound community.

For Park Slope, More French Comforts

Park Slope didn’t really need another French restaurant, most locals agree. But there’s always room for one as good as AOC Bistro. Opened over the summer by the owners of AOC in Manhattan, it delivers “very enjoyable French comfort food in a relaxed, friendly setting at affordable prices,” sums up elecsheep9.

Bistro standards—onion soup, charcuterie, escargots with garlic, duck confit (with Grand Marnier sauce and a tasty cauliflower gratin)—hit the mark. Other standouts are herring with new potatoes, bisquelike mussel and saffron soup, phyllo-wrapped seafood in saffron cream sauce, flank steak with potato gratin, and an excellent tarte Tatin. For brunch, hounds recommend French toast as well as ham and cheese baked in phyllo.

famdoc ranks AOC a cut above local competitors Moutarde and Belleville and on a par with Cocotte on a good night.

Not everyone is won over. slslaughter reports a disappointing dinner marred by oversalted coq au vin, a run-of-the-mill cheese plate, lamb shank that sorely needed a sauce, and an overgrowth of parsley on every plate, straight from “the Marriott school of garnishes.”

Ten blocks north, there’s yet another bistro: Canaille, which opened in October in the space once occupied by Red Café. Early word is scant yet promising. dah reports a fine post-Thanksgiving dinner highlighted by tender steak frites and a splendid pot de crème. A salad of arugula, beets, and lardons is peppery and fresh, and lamb chops (with sautéed new potatoes and haricots verts) are tender and flavorful, says cbking, who calls the newcomer “a lovely addition to 5th Ave.”

AOC Bistro (formerly Mekong) [Park Slope]
259 Fifth Avenue (at Garfield Place), Brooklyn
718-788-1515

Canaille (formerly Red Café) [Park Slope]
78 Fifth Avenue (near St. Marks Place), Brooklyn
718-789-8899

Board Links: A.O.C. Bistro–just plain bad…
New to Fifth Ave.: AOC Bistro
AOC Bistro (Fifth Ave) Brunch Report
AOC Bistro: My review
Canaille on 5th Ave, Park Slope

Spanish Explorations at El Quinto Pino

El Quinto Pino is the second tapas joint from the owners of the popular Tía Pol, but it’s no clone. This charming two-month-old bar—“lifted straight from a small alleyway in Barcelona,” suggests ADOC—offers a shorter and less orthodox menu than its big sister around the corner.

One early knockout is the uni panini: sea urchin roe in a warm-pressed ficelle, slathered with butter and mustard oil. guttergourmet pronounces it “MIND BLOWINGLY GOOD!!!!!!” Also excellent (if not upper case–worthy) are gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), stewed garbanzos with spinach, Basque anchovies in tomato sauce, and the gazpacholike salmorejo, a creamy tomato soup with chorizo and hard-cooked egg.

This place does especially well by pork. Rock48nj loves the fried belly cracklings, as well as a wonderful sandwich of braised pork shoulder; “if swine is not your thing you may not be into it,” he warns.

El Quinto Pino [Chelsea]
401 W. 24th Street (at Ninth Avenue), Manhattan
212-206-6900

Board Links: El Quinto Pino–Uni Panini
El Quinto Pino?

In Sleepy Hollow, Greek Cooking for the Gods

To understand why Westchester hounds can’t say enough about Santorini, consider its taramosalata. Lesser Greek restaurants skimp on the fish roe that gives this classic spread its oceany tang. Some don’t even make it themselves but have it trucked in from Astoria. Not so at Santorini, where EHS observes that “you can actually see (and taste) the caviar, and the minced onions mixed in aren’t bad either (nor are they overwhelming). Much more flavorful than the more generic cream ‘dip’ from the other place(s).”

That’s how it is all the way down the menu at this two-month-old restaurant in Sleepy Hollow: Dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves) are crisp outside, and the herbed rice inside is al dente, not overcooked and mushy as at many other places. Avgolemono is fabulous—creamy, lemony, chunky, and nothing like the usual mediocre brew that, for EHS, brings to mind Campbell’s chicken soup tarted up with lemon juice. A combo dubbed the Zeus highlights four hot dishes, all first-rate: moussaka, spanakopita (spinach pie), pastitsio (pasta layered with ground meat and béchamel sauce), and a generous slice of gyro meat. With a round of excellent house-baked pita, this appetizer plate is a meal in itself, EHS says. Others recommend the falafel, tiropitakia (cheese pie),
galaktoboureko (custard-filled phyllo), delicate, well-seasoned keftedes (meatballs in tomato sauce), and a superb rendition of youvetsi (lamb shank and tomato stew).

Charcoal grilled dishes are masterly. Standouts include meltingly tender lamb or pork souvlaki and nicely charred octopus. For a broad sample, try the Santorini platter, an enormous combo comprising gyro, chicken souvlaki, and beef kebab. These and other main courses come with soup or salad and rice or potatoes, and even the sides are exceptionally strong. The salad is huge and fresh: chopped lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, and two stuffed vine leaves. The potatoes are roasted, lemony, and delicious.

Overall, hounds say, this is shaping up as the best Greek place in Westchester—outshining Lefteris in Tarrytown and Niko’s in White Plains, to name a couple. Their only concern seems to be that not enough people are making their way to this off-the-beaten-path restaurant. After enjoying a wonderful early dinner at a nearly deserted Santorini, laylag drove past Lefteris and was saddened to see a long line. “Not that I dislike Lefteris but it doesn’t compare.”

Santorini [Westchester County]
175 Valley Street (between Chestnut and Depeyster streets), Sleepy Hollow, NY
914-631-4300

Board Link: Excellent New Greek Restaurant In Westchester

Superior Fried Onions and an Old-School Burger

Prime Burger flips a reliable old-school hamburger, just as it has for more than 60 years. But even better are the improbably crisp french-fried onions. You won’t mistake them for ordinary onion rings, thew promises: “freeform jacksonpollock fried onion beast is probably closer.”

Prime Burger [Midtown]
5 E. 51st Street (between Fifth and Madison avenues), Manhattan
212-759-4729

Board Link: Best Hamburger

Red-Gravy Italian Without Shortcuts at Giovanni’s

Those hungry for red-gravy Italian will find it hard to beat Giovanni’s in Stamford. Pastas, chicken or eggplant parmigiana, Italian-style wedges (that’s what they call sub or hero sandwiches up there)—all are dependably delicious, promises jfood; “talk about an independent. three guys in their 50-60’s making everything by hand … Love those guys.”

Giovanni’s Italian Gourmet [Fairfield County]
109 North Street (at Franklin Street), Stamford, CT
203-359-4117

Board Links: Slew of Chain Restos coming to Stamford…
Favorite ‘Secret Hole In The Walls’

At Hakata TonTon, Porky Heaven on the Hoof

More than any other restaurant in town, Hakata TonTon puts pig’s feet through their paces. This month-old Japanese place does trotters, or tonsoku, every which way—in stews and salads and pastas and dumplings and gratins and more. But Chowhounds find that less can be more. A strong early favorite is one of the simplest preparations: tonsoku grilled with salt. Deeply flavored, sheathed in lovely crunchy skin, and served with an austere yet amazing accompaniment of citrus-infused salt. “Pig’s feet heaven!” exults misschopsticks.

In contrast, sugar and spice sing out in a robust Korean-influenced hot pot where pig’s feet swim in a roiling broth spiked with kochujang (chile bean paste). As it cooks down, fat and skin and other piggy oddments melt into a thickening sea of porkiness, observes xigua. Other winners are tonsoku consommé—thick, intense, and unexpectedly refined, its richness cut by a touch of vinegar—and tonsoku nimono with sweet potato, a simple boiled dish that delivers pure homey comfort.

Tonsoku shumai are large and subtly flavored, benefiting from a dip in the ponzu sauce that comes with them. They may be most notable for their appearance, which is an eye-grabber: a spear of toenail curving out of each dumpling. This may not be everyone’s idea of an appetizing bite, misschopsticks notes. Which raises the question: Can a restaurant with such an unusual focus gain a toehold in Manhattan? Seeing how pork belly has become a menu staple, xigua figures, “pork trotters may not be as scary sounding as people think. Wish them luck.”

Hakata TonTon [West Village]
61 Grove Street (between Bleecker Street and Seventh Avenue S.), Manhattan
212-242-3699

Board Link: Hakata TonTon

With These Tortillas, You’re in Good Hands

As adamclyde observes, there’s something very different about handmade tortillas. Thicker, chewier, and more rustic, they give a huge lift to the tacos at La Herradura in New Rochelle.

The signature “Herradura” is tremendous, filled with guacamole and strips of deeply flavorful grilled steak. (It joins adamclyde’s pantheon of superior New Rochelle tacos, alongside the carnitas at El Michoacano and Taqueria El Chino and the al pastor at Little Mexican Café.) Herradura’s carnitas is nice and moist, though not the most flavorful. Table salsas—extra-hot fresh chile or chunky roasted-tomatillo verde—are fiery and delicious. And, adamclyde adds, “Big, big points for those tortillas.”

La Herradura [Westchester County]
563 Main Street (between Centre Avenue and Division Street), New Rochelle, NY
914-235-2055

Board Link: La Herradura in New Rochelle

From the Corner Deli, Turkish Takeout at the Ready

A corner deli across from Central Park changed hands not long ago. Now, alongside the familiar sandwiches and salads at Park West Café and Deli, there’s delicious baklava and other Turkish food. That baklava, made with pistachio, is a standout, says hcd: fresh, complex in flavor, not cloyingly sweet like many other versions.

But there’s more than dessert here. The new proprietor, a courtly Turkish fellow proud of his wares, might steer you toward savory cheese boreks, mucver (zucchini pancakes), or stuffed eggplant, peppers, or grape leaves, among other things—all made in-house, and all nice takeout options for Upper West Siders.

Park West Café and Deli [Upper West Side]
477 Central Park West (at W. 108th Street), Manhattan
212-663-5690

Board Link: Grocery stores near 105th and Central Park West

Homey Korean Comes to Port Washington

What was for decades a Greek luncheonette is now a sweet Korean spot called Mama’s Delight. In Port Washington, this is big news. “If this restaurant was in midtown Manhattan,” suggests ericbop, “there would be lines around the corner.”

The food is fresh, spicy, and delicious, reports monalisawoman. She recommends dumplings, rice cakes, seafood pancakes, and barbecued eel or squid, among other things. Don’t expect rigorously authentic Korean chow. Joe, the genial pop of this mom-and-pop shop, is quick to note that Mama’s is accommodating American tastes, as well as working in flavors from Southeast Asia, as in a scrumptious soup of tofu, coconut, and basil.

Vegetarian options abound. Check out ginseng salad, radish dumpling stew, or one of the many takes on bean curd, like Tofu Vegetable Harmony: steamed, sautéed organic tofu with steamed vegetables and a spicy Korean sauce. And Joe brews up deep, soothing teas—ginger, ginseng, plum honey, and more. “It is healthy and satisfying in the way good home cooking is,” says starny. “Eating in Port has gotten a lot better.”

Mama’s Delight [Nassau County]
87 Main Street (near Irma Avenue), Port Washington, NY
516-883-9769

Board Links: Mama’s (Port Washington) is truly a Delight
Favorite ‘Secret Hole In The Walls’
LI Restaurants with Manhattan feel?

A New Barbecue Champ, and Other News from Koreatown

Koreatown’s newest barbecue house is also its best, declares Lau. It’s the Manhattan outpost of Madangsui, a three-year-old restaurant in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where folks know their Korean ’cue.

The house specialty is saeng kalbi (unmarinated short ribs), whose spare seasoning highlights the meat itself; Madangsui promises high-quality, never-frozen beef, a cut above the competition. The result is splendid: buttery, delicious, and better than any other piece of meat in the neighborhood, says Lau, a hard-to-please veteran of LA’s world-class Korean scene. Sam gyup sal (pork belly) is another standout, flavorful and luxurious. Panchan is fresh and plentiful and includes relative rarities like fluffy steamed egg and wine-marinated raw blue crab. The attentive servers might even bring around free portions of kimbap (rice rolls) or denjang jigae (bean paste casserole).

K-town regulars have been talking recently about Third Floor Café, a loungey hangout that overlooks Fifth Avenue and 32nd. Several years old but rarely discussed by hounds, it offers a short menu of snackish bites and comfort food. traceybell likes its seafood dukboki (rice cakes) and omurice (“omelet-covered stir-fried rice with vegetables” on the menu). Other choices include Western snacks (fries, onion rings, cheese canapés), various stir-fries and noodle dishes, the ever-popular Korean-style spicy chicken, Japanese-style fried pork cutlets, and Japanese-Korean-Western mash-ups like doria (rice with cheese, cream sauce, and kimchee, seafood, or bulgogi). bigjeff endorses the Tuesday night happy hour special: $14 for all the Bud or Miller Lite you can drink and all the fried chicken and pork cutlets you can eat.

On a sober note, there’s bad news from 33rd Street. The mostly unsung Yangpyung Seoul Haejangguk, which made nice dumplings and soups—including namesake specialty haejangguk, a meaty brew reputed to cure hangovers—has gone belly up. And it gets worse: Yangpyung’s replacement, a Korean-Chinese place called Beijing, is off to a highly disappointing start. Lau ranks it behind even the hit-or-miss Hyo Dong Gak and Shanghai Mong.

Madangsui [Herald Square]
35 W. 35th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Manhattan
212-564-9333

Third Floor Café [Midtown]
315 Fifth Avenue (at 32nd Street), Third Floor, Manhattan
212-481-3669

Beijing [Herald Square]
Formerly Yangpyung Seoul Haejangguk
43 W. 33rd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
212-629-5599

Board Links: Madangsui–taking the bbq crown
Best Korean Barbecue in Koreatown
anything NEW in koreatown?
Beijing–weak
beijing–korean/chinese on west 33rd