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

Italian Favorites, Done Just Right

Not that there’s anything wrong with foams or fusion food, but sometimes all you really want is a well-prepared plate of pasta and a decent bottle of wine. Simple pleasures like these are why you go to Po Brooklyn, the month-old Cobble Hill outpost of the popular Village restaurant. “The food was fresh and tasty—not mind-blowing, but filling and homey,” reports Sarah McC. “None of us had anything we didn’t already know and love, but that’s a nice thing.”

Early favorites include roasted beet salad (with endive, artichokes, and watercress); grilled portobello salad (with arugula and shaved Parmesan); white bean ravioli; orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe; linguine with clams, pancetta, white wine, and a touch of chile; grilled balsamic-glazed salmon; and sliced veal sweetbreads sautéed with pancetta and potatoes. Among the desserts, panna cotta with cherries and the Po Sundae (mint gelato, cinnamon-spiced pine nuts, and chocolate sauce) win praise. Portions are generous; delicious polpetta di carne (meatballs with tomato sauce and Asiago), an antipasto, is almost big enough to be a main course, Sarah says. Service has been gracious and assured right out of the gate.

The $50 six-course tasting dinner (salad, two pasta courses, main course, cheese course, dessert) is a fine way to sample the menu—but it’s a ton of food, Nehna advises. Much of her meal was drawn from the regular menu, though there were a couple of surprises, and the kitchen is flexible, including an entrée of sweetbreads upon request, for example.

“All in all,” she adds, “we enjoyed it and could easily see going there often. I was hoping that Po would gamble more with unusual Italian fare—more offal and that sort of thing, the kind of stuff you find at Babbo. I would really love it if the owner decided to take some risks, offering something you couldn’t have gotten on Smith Street before.”

Po Brooklyn [Cobble Hill]
276 Smith Street (between Degraw and Sackett streets), Brooklyn
718-875-1980
Map

Po [Greenwich Village]
31 Cornelia Street (between Bleecker and W. Fourth streets), Manhattan
212-645-2189
Map

Board Link: Po is open for business

High-End Sushi, New School and Old

Picture this: Thin slices of squid sashimi cover a mound of sweet West Coast uni, shaped to look like a sea urchin shell and crowned with shredded nori and a raw quail egg. This signature dish is the kind of thing you can expect at Soto, Chef Sotohiro Kosugi’s two-month-old restaurant in the Village.

OK, it looks fabulous, but what does it taste like? “I must say I was skeptical, but I was blown away,” testifies FattyDumplin. “You had to get a bite with everything in it to really appreciate how all the flavors and textures worked together.”

Other new-style sashimi creations from Kosugi, an ambitious and exacting chef who got his start in Atlanta, include chutoro tartare (with exceptionally good ponzu sauce) and shima aji carpaccio, razor-thin slices of striped jack seasoned with truffle oil, sea salt, and shredded ginger. Sushi is very good to exquisite, though catches strongly advises staking out one of the dozen counter seats, preferably right in front of the boss: “If you’re seated in front of the master, the sushi is discernibly better. Same fish, but the devil, and all else, is in the slicing technique and handling of rice.”

Cooked dishes, from a kitchen headed by Kosugi’s wife, Maho, are exceptional. Look for New Zealand langoustine, a giant specimen split open, broiled to a turn, and covered with thin-sliced shiitakes. Cold steamed lobster is arrayed in a ring with lotus root, layered with uni mousse, garnished with house-smoked uni and caviar, and laid out over thin cucumber rounds. Also recommended: beautifully fried karei (flounder) kara-age and uncommonly light chawan mushi (savory egg custard). “Expensive (even without drinks) but worth it,” says guttergourmet.

Another high-end sushi place, 15 East, takes a more traditional approach. This serene spot opened late last year in the space once occupied by sister restaurant Tocqueville, which moved down the block. In charge of the sushi bar is Masato Shimizu, who first gained a following at Jewel Bako—in part for his enthusiasm and knowledge, which he shares freely. “He’s very informative,” observes foodiechan. “That’s why we had such a good time.”

Sushi and sashimi are top quality; recent reports describe pristine tuna, anago (sea eel), Copper River salmon, sweet white ebi, and Japanese wild bass (which the chef “shocks” in ice water before serving). “No rush, no fuss, just pure sushi heaven,” declares vvvindaloo. Beyond sushi, don’t overlook the short list of appetizers, which includes a knockout octopus dish, tako yawarakani. It’s marinated in sake, thoroughly massaged to soften the flesh, gently poached, and served with a pinch of sea salt. “I have never tasted octopus so milky and tender,” vvvindaloo sighs.

Service is impeccable, décor minimalist and clean, and they take care of the little things (soy sauce is made in-house, fresh wasabi is grated at your table). For quality and price, Wilfrid ranks 15 East up there with high-end hound favorite Sushi Yasuda, though he notes that the newcomer lacks Yasuda’s range of unusual and exotic items. “This does not mean it isn’t very good,” he adds. “It is.”

Soto [Greenwich Village]
357 Sixth Avenue (near Washington Place), Manhattan
212-414-3088
Map

15 East [Union Square]
15 E. 15th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Union Square W.), Manhattan
212-647-0015
Map

Board Links: Soto review
Soto- watch out Yasuda, Masa, Gari, Morimoto and Nobu!
Soto BYOB?
15 East Sushi
15 East: Superb Sushi

Pupusas from the Bronx to Brooklyn to Queens

The pupusas at La Cabaña Salvadoreña sound great. Literally, nerdgoggles insists: After ordering three of the Salvadoran corn cakes, he “heard the magical sound of a Central American lady clapping masa between her hands.”

Food made to order takes time, so expect a wait, but these pupusas are worth it. Cheese is the don’t-miss filling: meltingly rich and oozing out of its seared masa shell. Shredded pork is a close second. All come with a heap of flavorful, coarse-chopped curtido (cabbage slaw) and a cup of tomato sauce. This longtime hound favorite has locations in the Bronx and Manhattan.

In Brooklyn, Peter Cherches reports, the best pupusas can be found at El Continental in the South Slope. They’re fantastic, agrees fat_hot, who adds that soups, flan, and carne con chirimol (marinated beefsteak with salsa) are also worth checking out. To drink, try marañon (cashew fruit), chan (dragon fruit), grenadilla (passion fruit), or other fresh juices.

Borough Park’s El Morro is JohnnyCT’s pupusa pick, in part for uncommon fillings such as spinach, squash, and shrimp. And el chilateo endorses the pupusas at Bahía in Williamsburg, where you can enjoy a relaxing nosh in the inviting garden.

Queens pupusa lovers have homed in on a cluster of Salvadoran restaurants in Jamaica, including Mi Casita, El Comal, and Rincon Salvadoreño. At the latter, ammel_99 urges, get a cup of atol de elote, the sweet corn beverage.

La Cabaña 2 Salvadoreña [Bronx]
3150 Villa Avenue (at E. 205th Street), Bronx
718-367-6810
Map

La Cabaña Salvadoreña [Washington Heights]
4384 Broadway (at 187th Street), Manhattan
212-928-7872
Map

El Continental [South Slope]
672 Fifth Avenue (at 20th Street), Brooklyn
718-832-1327
Map

El Morro [Borough Park]
4018 14th Avenue (between 40th and 41st streets), Brooklyn
718-851-8976
Map

Bahía [Williamsburg]
690 Grand Street (between Manhattan and Graham avenues), Brooklyn
718-218-9592
Map

Mi Casita [Jamaica]
149-12 Jamaica Avenue (between 149th and 150th streets), Jamaica, Queens
718-297-6773
Map

El Comal [Jamaica]
148-62 Hillside Avenue (near 150th Street), Jamaica, Queens
718-657-1929
Map

Rincon Salvadoreño [Jamaica]
92-15 149th Street (near Jamaica Avenue), Jamaica, Queens
718-526-3220
Map

Board Links: Pupusas
Best Pupusas in Brooklyn?
Jamaica Queens?

Simply Perfect Gelato at Long Island’s Baci

Fresh flavors and first-rate ingredients sing out in the gelati and sorbetti at Baci. “Absolutely killer,” declares janie. “It’s simply perfect. Flavors are amazing, and prices are good, too.” Among
the winners are pineapple, pink grapefruit, cappuccino, and mint (the last amped up with chunks of high-end chocolate). Also on the menu: crêpes, shakes, hot beverages.

Baci Gelato [Nassau County]
1136 Willis Avenue (near Plainfield Road), Albertson, NY
516-801-1706
Map

Board Link: Baci Gelato in Roslyn LI is FABULOUS!!

Japan’s Ramen Rangers Take the East Village

We are entering a new era; it is the Ramenaissance, says bokkyo. New York City’s underachieving ramen scene just got a huge boost with the arrival of Setagaya, a Tokyo chain that planted its flag in the East Village two weeks ago. If that weren’t enough good news, another Japanese contender, Ippudo, is preparing to open a few blocks away.

Setagaya’s specialty is shio (salt) ramen: thin wheat noodles in a broth brewed slowly from pork, chicken, seaweed, and dried seafood, including scallop (not so common in ramen), and seasoned not with shoyu but with salt. The result is a deep, alluring soup, relatively light and delicate, in which ocean flavors take the lead over meat—”complex in its simplicity,” writes Silverjay. It’s finished with a powdered blend of dried scallop, fried onion, and grapeseed oil, which contributes more to aroma than to taste. Besides shio ramen, there’s tsukemen: thick, curly, pleasingly chewy noodles served with salty, porky, garlicky sauce for dipping—”a huge contrast to the delicate broth of the shio ramen,” observes berto, “and I mean this in a good way.”

Toppings and sides show close attention to detail. Roast pork is prepared with care: deliciously fatty, only lightly marinated, and cut thick (“I’ll take one slice of this guy’s chashu over three slices of Momofuku’s any day,” Silverjay declares). Menma (dry pickled bamboo) is marinated in the ramen broth overnight to promote harmony with the noodles. Other stuff you might find in your bowl: seaweed, shaved naganegi (Japanese long onion), and a nicely salty, creamy shio tama (salt-cooked egg). bokkyo digs the “gastronomic gestalt,” in which side dishes like the egg and oshinko (pickled vegetables) “not only complement the main dish but, like a good supporting cast in a movie, make the main actor better. ... That was a hot dish to eat on a warm day, but stepping out of Setagaya, strangely enough, I felt blissfully cool.”

If your benchmark ramen is Santoka, the Hokkaido import whose long-cooked, powerfully rich tonkotsu broth has enchanted New Yorkers from across the Hudson at New Jersey’s Mitsuwa Marketplace, Setagaya may disappoint. “This ramen won’t be for everyone,” Silverjay advises. “You won’t be blown away, taste-wise, and the flavor profile is quite subtle on the seafood side. The Japanese impression of American tastes is that we like things strongly flavored.”

Enter Ippudo, a ramen chain from Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu, which has staked out a space on Fourth Avenue and is awaiting its permits. It specializes in a robust Hakata-style tonkotsu broth and offers kaedama service, or all-you-can-eat noodles. “Very good stuff,” Silverjay reports. “Better bring your breath mints. They provide little hand presses for you to crush fresh garlic into your soup.”

Ramen Setagaya [East Village]
141 First Avenue (between E. Ninth Street and St. Marks Place), Manhattan
212-529-2740
Map

Hakata Ippudo [East Village]
To open at 65 Fourth Avenue (between E. Ninth and 10th streets), Manhattan
Map

Ramen Santoka [Bergen County]
In Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Road (near Archer Street), Edgewater, NJ
201-941-1004
Map

Board Links: Ramen Setagaya (らーめん せたが屋) 1st Ave
Momofuku Noodle vs. Setagaya
Setagaya is open.
Setagaya?
Hakata tonkotsu ramen coming to the Big Apple

Two Finds for Forest Hills Sushi Lovers

Ran is an underappreciated bright spot for Forest Hills sushi lovers. “This is a true jewel of a place,” declares Linda. She describes a sashimi combination of impeccably fresh tuna, fluke, octopus, yellowtail, salmon, and mackerel, cut with skill and embellished with seaweed, lemon slices, and other well-chosen accompaniments. Others praise futomaki and ume-shiso rolls, among other things, and rank Ran well ahead of neighborhood competitors like Sato and Mickey’s Place.

Beyond sushi and sashimi, look for a fresh, simple tuna-avocado salad and better-than-average cooked dishes including agedashi tofu, smoky red miso soup, lightly seared tuna in ponzu, tofu steak with mushroom sauce and fresh vegetables, and tender beef short ribs in sweet sauce (“like Korean galbi-jjim, but better!” Linda promises). A handful of Japanese expats appear to have discovered the place, but, still, business remains alarmingly sparse. “I really love it. I don’t want to lose it. Please, hounds, give them a shot,” pleads SuzyP.

At Sushi Yasu, it’s all about the fish. Except for a couple of varieties of miso soup, sushi is all they serve at this friendly hole in the wall. Yasuji Hirashiki, the owner and sushi chef, travels to Hunts Point every day to select his seafood. In fact, his shop was a fish market before it was a sushi bar, and he still sells sushi-grade tuna and other fish.

Dave_G has had pristine toro and day boat scallops, among other things. “Yasu claims the scallops are so fresh you can see them moving,” he adds. “I didn’t see it, but they were very good.” Other standouts include rolls—spicy tuna, salmon skin, toro with scallion, and the show-stopping Marilyn Monroe, which stars those singular scallops plus other ingredients, topped with a smashing secret sauce of uni and mayonnaise. “Trust me, it’s really good,” swears Dave.

Ran Japanese Restaurant [Forest Hills]
103-01 Metropolitan Avenue (near 71st Road), Forest Hills, Queens
718-897-6530
Map

Sushi Yasu [Forest Hills]
71-45 Yellowstone Boulevard (between Clyde and Dartmouth), Forest Hills, Queens
718-544-0942
Map

Board Links: Ran Japanese Restaurant in Forest Hills
great Japanese in Forest Hills
Sushi Yasu in Forest Hills

A Surprisingly Stellar Italian Dog at Attilio’s Kitchen

New Jersey’s latest great Italian hot dog comes from an unlikely place: Attilio’s Kitchen, a homey full-service Italian restaurant in Denville. Ingredients are top notch, hotdoglover reports: beautifully fried eight-to-a-pound franks from Newark’s estimable Best Provision Company and delicious, sturdy pizza bread from JC’s Italian Bakery in Parsippany. Peppers and potatoes are plentiful and nicely fried (hotdoglover passes on the customary onions).

The Italian hot dog, rarely sighted outside Essex or Union counties, is on the menu here only because the owner grew up on them at Dickie Dee’s in Newark. Attilio’s version easily surpasses the one that inspired it, says hotdoglover. More than just a creditable effort for a sit-down restaurant, it’s one of the best Italian dogs around, right alongside Jimmy Buff’s in East Hanover and Tommy’s in Elizabeth.

Attilio’s does much more than hot dogs, as even hotdoglover is quick to point out. He recommends house-made mozzarella and brick-oven pizzas—including especially fine margherita and Gorgonzola pies.

Attilio’s Kitchen [Morris County]
278 Diamond Spring Road (near River Road), Denville, NJ
973-627-6200
Map

Board Links: Attilio’s Kitchen

At Hill Country, True Texas ’Cue

Even hard-to-please Texpats say Hill Country, the three-week-old Lone Star–style barbecue joint, gets it right. “As an Austin native,” declares weegums, “I can say that was the best Texas-style ’cue I’ve had outside of the state, and a good deal better than most places I’ve eaten around the Hill Country itself.”

Brisket is a big favorite: moist, fork-tender, and richly flavorful, with a good whiff of the Texas post oak that’s trucked in to feed the smoker. “Right on and delicious, probably the best barbecued brisket in New York City right now,” raves BackyardChef. Terrific sausages, regular or jalapeño-cheese, come from Kreuz Market of Lockhart, Texas, a venerable barbecue house that was among the inspirations for Hill Country. Pork ribs, beef ribs, and chicken are also recommended. Among the sides, corn pudding and marinated black-eyed pea “caviar” have won praise; coleslaw and green bean casserole have not.

Service is neighborly and relatively smooth, though kinks remain to be worked out. Some find the cafeteria-style ordering system confusing and the carvers not yet up to speed. Others complain that brisket and other popular items often run out.

The room is loud, cavernous, and done up in Texas kitsch—”very un-New York City,” notes fat parish, “but in a good way.” Nostalgic Texans will appreciate old favorites like peanut-bacon brittle, Lone Star beer, and Blue Bell ice cream—if they’re not sold out. “To avoid a tear in your beer, call before and make sure they have them,” advises Westrite.

Hill Country [Flatiron]
30 W. 26th Street (between Sixth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
212-255-4544
Map

Board Links: A Texan visits Hill Country BBQ
Hill Country Tidbit
Hill Country BBQ —Opening Tonight?
News on Hill Country Barbecue and Market?
Rub or Hill Country????

Sweet Harvest in Brooklyn

Baked treats made with seasonal fruit are smart orders at Park Slope’s Trois Pommes Patisserie. One early favorite is the strawberry-rhubarb crumb tart. Another is the blueberry muffin, moist and not too sweet, boasting a crunchy topping and optimal berry-to-cake ratio.

Opened a month ago by Emily Isaac, a former pastry chef at Union Square Cafe, this cozy shop also bakes excellent brownies and smallish but superior scones, delicately crisp on the outside and light and soft on the inside. “What I’ve had so far is pretty excellent, and the people working there are nice as pie,” writes pitu. They make ice cream, too; cbking is high on the creamy, satisfying caramel crunch.

mandmbklyn is blown away by the chocolate cupcake filled with mocha cream. “It looked like a huge homemade Yankee Doodle, and was so much better than Magnolia or Sweet Melissa,” she writes, adding that it’s the size of two ordinary cupcakes and well worth the steep $4 price. Not everyone agrees. “$4 for a cupcake?” sputters famdoc. “Have we not taken this too far?”

Elsewhere in the Slope, the original Two Little Red Hens has renamed itself Ladybird Bakery. The two-store partnership has dissolved, and the hens have gone their separate ways. (The second location, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, still answers to Two Little Red Hens.) This is fine with Brooklyn hounds, who boast that their local shop always had the better baker and cake decorator of the two. Their favorite treat is the Brooklyn Blackout Cake: dark chocolate cake filled with chocolate pudding and frosted with chocolate fudge. “Amazing!” swoons theannerska.

In Boerum Hill, Betty Bakery has won an unlikely convert in funkymonkey. An avowed “down-home baked-goods kind of girl from the ooey, gooey, sticky school,” she’s entranced of late with Betty’s elegant peanut butter sesame cookies: “They’re flat little discs with a vague peanut-ness and lots of sesame flavor from the ton of sesame seeds crammed into each ethereally crumbly biscuit. It’s a wonderful combination of flavors, executed particularly well.”

Trois Pommes Patisserie [Park Slope]
260 Fifth Avenue (between Garfield and Carroll), Brooklyn
718-230-3119
Map

Ladybird Bakery [Park Slope]
Formerly Two Little Red Hens
1112 Eighth Avenue (at 11th Street), Brooklyn
718-499-8108
Map

Two Little Red Hens [Upper East Side]
1652 Second Avenue (between E. 85th and 86th streets), Manhattan
212-452-0476
Map

Betty Bakery [Boerum Hill]
448 Atlantic Avenue (between Nevins and Bond), Brooklyn
718-246-2402
Map

Board Links: Delicious Cupcake at Trois Pommes
TROIS POMMES PATISSERIE PREVIEW
Blackout Chocolat cake–where can I find it?
Two Little Red Hens becomes: Ladybird Bakery
Excellent Cookie Alert @ Brooklyn’s Betty
Betty Bakery Cupcakes

Midtown Lunch Tips

As street vendors go, the Jamaican Dutchy is impressively wired. Hounds who lunch around 51st Street and Seventh Avenue can spot it by its satellite dish and plasma screen. Just why a food cart needs either is a mystery, but early reports suggest that the fancy hardware is backed up by fresh, robust chow.

“Really good, and a refreshing change from the normal Midtown lunch,” says john, who finds its jerk chicken spicy and well cooked. Curry chicken, flavorful but low-burn, comes with sautéed sweet plantains and well-seasoned rice and peas, Puddle reports. The ambitious rotating menu also offers oxtail, curry goat, and several fish dishes—which may or may not actually be available. Service is not quite up to speed, and the wait can be long. Don’t go too late in the day.

On 56th Street a few blocks north—and a world away from Koreatown—a mostly-takeout spot called Pro Bagel serves decent premade kalbi (barbecued beef short rib), bibim bap (with or without meat), and other tasty Korean food alongside the more common sandwiches, wraps, and boxed sushi. “This is not up to the K-town greats,” acknowledges mr_seabass, “but it is a superb quick lunch.” Here, too, they tend to run out of food, so it’s wise to arrive early—”but not that early that they sell out before I can get mine!” he adds.

In the Diamond District, four floors above 47th Street, El Rincon del Sabor dishes up generous portions of hearty chow from Ecuador. maria_nyc is partial to rabo guisado (stewed oxtail), available on Wednesdays. Also on the daily-changing menu: sancocho (meat soups); shrimp ceviche; grilled pork or beefsteak; tallarin con pollo (pasta with chicken); fried trout, tilapia, and other fish; beef, chicken, lamb, or tongue stews; and more, all served with rice, beans, and salad.

The Jamaican Dutchy street cart [Midtown West]
W. 51st Street and Seventh Avenue (northeast corner), Manhattan
Map

Pro Bagel [Midtown]
62 W. 56th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Manhattan
212-397-9104
Map

El Rincon del Sabor [Diamond District]
74 W. 47th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), Fourth Floor, Manhattan
212-840-0101
Map

Board Links: Jamaican Food Cart at 51st and 7th–how is it?
The Jamaican Dutchy
Excellent Korean take out–56th/6th Ave
East Midtown—please save me from another Oriental Noodle lunch!