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

Modern Japanese, Rich and Refined, at Lan

Serious deliciousness is bursting out at Lan, a Japanese restaurant that’s gotten little hound attention. This East Village spot recently introduced eight-course tasting menus, a chef’s version and a sushi version. E Eto says both are inventive, well conceived, and a relative bargain at $58 and $68, respectively.

A rich, complex dish that comes midway through one of the set dinners is a good illustration of Chef Takanori Akiyama’s take on modern Japanese food. A wedge of foie gras, infused with miso then grilled, is poised atop a layer of ground, miso-seasoned duck. Both are served over a round of daikon, simmered in the traditional way with dashi, soy, and mirin. “It worked well,” E Eto reckons, though he allows that some will find it too busy. “The miso marinade gave the foie gras a pleasantly sour finish, and the duck paste provided a sweet element to go with the sweet daikon.”

Another highlight of the chef’s menu is Kobe beef, gently simmered shabu-shabu style, then arrayed in a salad of baby arugula and other greens with sesame dressing. Duck pâté, flavored with miso, gets a lift from sansho pepper, whose citrus note plays nicely off the earthiness of the liver. A comforting chawan mushi (steamed egg custard) is put over the top by foie gras and duck scallion sauce. At times, the chef seems to be trying too hard: Miso-marinated broiled black cod, a Japanese standard, sits in white miso foam that really isn’t needed, though it does add sweetness and miso intensity.

Japanese expats know Lan as a meat specialist—Akiyama put in a stint on the grill before being elevated to executive chef—but it also comes up with first-rate seafood. The sushi tasting menu includes a sashimi course, which on E Eto’s visit comprised excellent o-toro from Spain, botan-ebi (large sweet prawn), and snapperlike ma-dai. Later in this dinner comes assorted nigiri sushi, which might include relative rarities like ma-saba (Japanese mackerel) and Hokkaido bafun-uni (a variety of sea urchin). In between, there’s a sunomono course; E Eto enjoyed a refreshing rendition made with zuwaigani (snow crab) sashimi, with cucumber and jellied vinegar.

Both tasting menus wind down with tart, sweet yuzu sorbet, followed by a soufflélike molten chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream, decent but disappointingly pedestrian. Finally: matcha-flavored French-style macaroons, thick with green tea flavor yet without the bitterness, “a great finale to a very good meal.”

Lan [East Village]
56 Third Avenue (between E. 10th and 11th streets), Manhattan
212-254-1959
Location

Board Link: New Tasting Menus at Lan

Eye-Opening Frozen Yogurt at Öko

“I just love frozen yogurt, but as far as I’m concerned, I’d never eaten any until now,” declares redgirl, whose world was forever changed by the Greek-style stuff from Öko. “It was transcendent, the best frozen yogurt in Brooklyn right now.”

Like LA import Pinkberry, Öko eschews the gums and stabilizers that lend artificial creaminess to some competitors. It also holds the sugar to a minimum, allowing actual yogurt-y sourness to come to the fore. “Addictive—nicely rich and tart, and not too sweet,” reports pitu. “Not like cheesy fro-yo Tasti D-Lite places.”

Not cheap, either, at nearly $4 for six ounces before toppings. redgirl says she justifies the expense by ordering a couple of flavors (it comes in plain, berry, or Key lime), crowning it with plenty of berries and walnuts, and making it a light lunch. Other toppings include coconut, dried apricot, and dark chocolate pieces. The Park Slope shop—others are reportedly in the works—also serves decent coffee and organic specialty teas.

Not everyone has fallen for Öko. “It was pretty good. But sadly, it is no Pinkberry,” writes alicemunro. “Pinkberry is lighter and doesn’t leave an aftertaste.”

Speaking of Pinkberry, the empire from the coast is preparing to open its fifth Manhattan shop, in a potentially lucrative space near the Columbia campus. “Ooh,” frets haleyjen, “I live right there … that could be deadly!”

Öko [Park Slope]
152 Fifth Avenue (near Douglass), Brooklyn
718-398-3671
Location

Pinkberry [Morningside Heights]
To open at 2873 Broadway (between W. 111th and 112th streets), Manhattan
Location

Pinkberry [Herald Square]
7 W. 32nd Street (between Fifth Avenue and Broadway), Manhattan
212-695-9631
Location

Pinkberry [Chelsea]
170 Eighth Avenue (between W. 18th and 19th streets), Manhattan
212-206-0352
Location

Pinkberry [Nolita]
41 Spring Street (between Mulberry and Mott), Manhattan
212-274-8883
Location

Pinkberry [Upper East Side]
1577 Second Avenue (near E. 82nd Street), Manhattan
212-861-0574
Location

Board Links: Anyone know where OKO is?
ohhhhh..OKO!!! yowser
Pinkberry Comes to Columbia Main Campus

Simple Summer Pleasures at Malatesta

Malatesta, a West Village favorite year-round, is even more appealing these days—partly for its outdoor tables with views of the Hudson, but especially for its spaghetti alla chitarra. This near-universal hound pick is simple summer perfection: faultlessly cooked pasta with chopped tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. “Absolutely their best pasta dish,” declares vvvindaloo.

This friendly, midpriced trattoria gets high marks across the board for rustic, authentic Italian. Salads are a highlight; try the Caprese, grilled portobello, or orange, arugula, and Parmesan. Also recommended: grilled calamari, veal meatballs in tomato sauce, spinach gnocchi in Gorgonzola sauce, rosemary-and-garlic-scented grilled lamb chops, and panna cotta for dessert. “I love Malatesta and find it more similar to dining in Italy than most Italian places here in the city,” sums up billyeats. “Its laid-back style, casual but attractive atmosphere, and fresh, simple dishes just hit the mark.”

A step down in price and atmosphere, yet equally satisfying on its own terms, is the Pepe Rosso minichain, allenbank reminds us. The Sullivan Street original—best of the Pepes, in his book—dishes up some of the city’s tastiest home-style pasta “at prices to make you do a double-take.” allen’s favorites include penne with spinach and ricotta ($6.95) and garlicky penne with tomato and basil ($5.95). “And where else,” he asks, “can you get a nice-sized plastic cup of easily drinkable wine (red or white) for $4.50?”

In other Italian news, SoHo’s Ravioli Store has closed its doors. But a sign in the window promises that its pastas—filled with beets, squash, spinach and artichoke, and wild mushroom and truffles, among other things—will still be made wholesale and sold in other stores. Check the website (not yet updated at press time) for further info.

For an old-school alternative a few blocks north, sing me a bar recommends the venerable Raffetto’s, which has been rolling out dependably good spinach-ricotta ravioli and other fresh pastas for more than a century.

Malatesta Trattoria [West Village]
649 Washington Street (at Christopher), Manhattan
212-741-1207
Location

Pepe Rosso to Go [SoHo]
149 Sullivan Street (between Houston and Prince), Manhattan
212-677-4555
Location

Caffe Pepe Rosso [Grand Central]
In the Grand Central Terminal Dining Concourse
101 E. 42nd Street (at Park Avenue), Manhattan
212-867-6054
Location

Raffetto’s [Greenwich Village]
144 W. Houston Street (between MacDougal and Sullivan), Manhattan
212-777-1261
Location

Board Links: malatesta trattoria
Malatesta…I almost forgot!
Here’s the real dope–TOMORROW IS D-DAY
The Ravioli Store

In the Bronx, Fabulous Vietnamese Chicken Soup

For those keeping track of the multiplying Southeast Asian chow options in the Bronx, here’s something to look forward to. Phung Hung, a grocery store that also served great, homey Vietnamese food, has unfortunately closed for renovations—but its owner swears it’ll reopen in September as an actual restaurant.

When it does, rose water advises, check out its chicken soup: a light, delicate, fragrant, chicken-y and lemony broth, with tender shreds of chicken, scallions, and loads of fresh cilantro. It comes with lime, jalapeño, mint, lettuce, and mung bean sprouts, a big satisfying bowl for $5. Past reports praise shrimp summer rolls, grilled lemongrass chicken over rice, banana-rice sweets, and house-made lemonade, among other things.

Phung Hung Market [Bronx]
2614 Jerome Avenue (at E. 193rd Street), Bronx
718-584-5228
Location

Board Link: Bronx recs: Up for a (cheap) adventure?

Bites and Beverages, Three Ways

“Have you ever been to a place where you feel you could just sit and linger at the bar all night and be perfectly content and relaxed?” asks roze. Lately she and other hounds have found contentment and relaxation at Bar Stuzzichini, a two-month-old trattoria with an all-Italian wine list and a menu long on small plates.

You can sample any five of those small plates, or stuzzichini, for $22. Those who have say the best bets include chickpea crostini, fried artichokes, grilled prawns, arancini (fried rice balls), eggplant caponata, ricotta with saffron and honey, and supertender grilled octopus. Among the larger pastas and secondi, hounds endorse orecchiette with fresh peas; tagliatelle with pistachio, pecorino, and lemon zest; gnocchi all’amatriciana (with guanciale, tomato, onion, and chiles); and swordfish alla Trapanese, grilled and stuffed with pine nuts and raisins and topped with a Sicilian-style pesto. Wines, sold by the bottle or the quartino, are well chosen and priced, psp reports.

Some are underwhelmed. “I liked everything just fine, but nothing was particularly memorable,” shrugs Bob Martinez, who adds that the delicious exception was pleasingly peppery polpette (meatballs). zEli173 finds the popular stuzzichini combo less of a bargain than it appears, given the smallish portions, and complains that the larger plates are overpriced. He also faults the décor and vibe; far from the warmth and intimacy that would suit the rustic, shared-plates menu, the mood falls “somewhere between Bull and Bear and TGI Fridays.”

Another newish spot for bites and beverages is Casellula, where it’s all about cheese—30 or so kinds selected by fromager Tia Keenan, who chose cheeses at the Modern. They’re served alone, in flights, or in cheese-centered small dishes like St. Marcellin fondue with Parmesan crisps; brûléed Cabrales with cherries and Parma ham; and wild mushroom flatbreads with Laura Chenel chèvre from California. Cured meats and a handful of desserts, including a standout lemon tart with pistachios and goat cheese ice cream, round out the menu.

The wine list ranges from Europe to South Africa to Australia to California to Long Island (Wölffer Estate’s Merlot). A short, eclectic beer lineup emphasizes cheese-friendly Belgian and Belgian-style beers (Lindemans and Boon from Belgium, Ommegang from Cooperstown, NY) as well as craft brews such as Magic Hat from Vermont and Hitachino Nest from Japan.

“Great cheese selection, cozy space, small but varied wine list, and a very welcome addition to the neighborhood,” says adam, who faults only the prices. He cites the Pig’s Ass sandwich (ham, cheddar, and Fol Epi cheeses, pickles, chipotle aioli), tasty but tiny for $12.

In the Village, the newest outpost of the Blue Ribbon empire is packing them in—which isn’t hard when around 20 people will fill up the room. Yet hounds say Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar manages to be a relaxed, convivial place. A gracious and knowledgeable staff pours a wide selection of wines (in glasses or flights as well as bottles and splits) and serves snackish dishes and desserts.

Cheeses are a strong point; try toasts with Manchego and Mexican honey (one of the artisanal varieties sold at nearby Blue Ribbon Bakery Market). Also recommended: pâtés, well-seasoned deviled egg “shooters,” sweetbreads with mushrooms, salads (arugula and butternut squash, or smoked trout, Bibb lettuce, and potato), and bread pudding with crème anglaise. “The food is great. Service is warm, informed, casual. The room is cozy. It’s a good trip all around,” says jsmitty.

Bar Stuzzichini [Flatiron]
Formerly Komegashi Re-Construction Cuisine
928 Broadway (between 21st and 22nd streets), Manhattan
212-780-5100
Location

Casellula Cheese & Wine Café [Clinton]
401 W. 52nd Street (near Ninth Avenue), Manhattan
212-247-8137
Location

Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar [Greenwich Village]
34 Downing Street (near Bedford), Manhattan
212-691-0404
Location

Board Links: Great meal at Bar Stuzzichini
Bar Stuzzichini- mini, mini review
Bar Stuzzichini–Very Mediocre
Casellula
Blue Ribbon Wine Bar (Downing Street) Brief Review
What’s opening at 34 Downing Street?

Hunting Buffalo’s Beef on Weck

“It’s not like it was,” laments houdini, “a good beef on weck in just about every corner bar.” For the uninitiated, houdini is talking about an endangered Buffalo original, a sandwich of juicy rare roast beef, sliced thin and heaped onto a kümmelweck, a hard German-style roll crusted with caraway and coarse salt. There might also be horseradish in there. There should be.

Two go-to spots for a beef on weck are Bar Bill in East Aurora and century-old Eckl’s in Orchard Park. “Both are worth the trip from downtown,” promises ridgel. “They really are best of kind.”

The popular Charlie the Butcher minichain also has its fans—and its critics. Its beef delivers the goods, most agree; so does its horseradish. But it stumbles on the all-important roll. “Charlie the Butcher doesn’t know what a kümmelweck roll is,” houdini huffs.

Two other contenders are Schwabl’s—credited by some with inventing the beef on weck, this old-timer recently changed hands—and Brennan’s Bowery Bar, which piles on the beef and spikes it with kicking horseradish, reports more is never enough.

Like the beef on weck, another Buffalo tradition, the Friday fish fry, is getting harder to find. But some good ones survive. jmoryl recommends Sterling Place Tavern, which comes up with relative rarities like pike. The wide-ranging craft beer selection includes such regional favorites as Great Lakes Brewing from Cleveland.

The venerable German-Irish hybrid Ulrich’s Tavern does first-rate fried fish—nice big pieces with crispy batter, jerryc123 reports—and offers spätzle or German potato salad on the side, plus another excellent beer lineup.

And Viking Lobster (better known for, you guessed it, lobster) also lays out a surprisingly fine fish fry, houdini confides.

Bar Bill Tavern [Erie County]
185 Main Street (near Hamlin), East Aurora, NY
716-652-7959
Location

Eckl’s Beef and Weck Restaurant [Erie County]
4936 Ellicott Road (near Chestnut Ridge), Orchard Park, NY
716-662-2262
Location

Charlie the Butcher [Erie County]
1065 Wehrle Drive (near S. Cayuga), Williamsville, NY
716-633-8330
Location

Charlie the Butcher Express [Erie County]
In the Ellicott Square Building
295 Main Street (between Swan and Division), Buffalo, NY
716-855-8646
Location

Schwabl’s Restaurant [Erie County]
789 Center Road (near Union), Buffalo, NY
716-674-9821
Location

Brennan’s Bowery Bar & Restaurant [Erie County]
4401 Transit Road (at Main), Buffalo, NY
716-633-9630
Location

Sterling Place Tavern [Erie County]
1487 Hertel Avenue (at Sterling), Buffalo, NY
716-838-2448
Location

Ulrich’s Tavern [Erie County]
674 Ellicott Street (at Virginia), Buffalo, NY
716-855-8409
Location

Viking Lobster Company [Erie County]
366 Tonawanda Street (between Austin and Hamilton), Buffalo, NY
716-873-1079
Location

Board Link: BEEF ON WECK IN BUFFALO, NY

Brunch Discovery at the Tasting Room

In many parts of New York City, brunch is the weekend pastime. And at crowded downtown destinations like Prune and Clinton Street Baking Company, it’s a contact sport, requiring quick reflexes and bold jostling for position. So kayonyc was pleasantly surprised to find a delicious brunch with no waiting at the Tasting Room in Nolita.

As it does at dinner, the restaurant offers dishes emphasizing seasonal and artisanal ingredients, in “taste” (appetizer) or “share” (entrée) portions. The 10 or so brunch choices included exceptional French toast: an inch-and-a-half-thick slice of moist brioche, topped with wild blackberries and slightly sweetened ricotta. Rich, silky fried duck eggs (other choices are chicken, pheasant, and goose) were served over kashi and accompanied by an English muffin. A good-sized piece of Red Wattle pork, nicely seasoned and cooked, came with a perfect soft-fried egg and caramelized baby leek and carrot.

Service was friendly and genuine, kayo reports, and her party of three paid around $54 including tip—not the cheapest brunch around, she notes, but in line with Clinton Street’s prices. The Tasting Room serves brunch from 11 to 3 on Saturday and Sunday.

The Tasting Room Restaurant [Nolita]
264 Elizabeth Street (between Houston and Prince), Manhattan
212-358-7831
Location

The Tasting Room Wine Bar and Café [East Village]
72 E. First Street (between First and Second avenues), Manhattan
212-358-7831
Location

Board Link: Yay! Finally an alternative to Prune and Clinton St Brunches!

A Divine Soup from Taiwan, and Other Chinese Finds

True Taiwanese chow—much hungered after by New York hounds, but rarely found—has surfaced in homey, authentic form at Excellent Pork Chop House. HLing says this Chinatown hole in the wall recently began making an herb-scented restorative called Four Gods Soup. It’s a long-brewed, light-flavored broth full of tender slices of pork stomach, enriched and flavored by lotus seed, dried mountain potato, barley and other grains, and a dash of rice wine.

“Fantastic!” HLing declares, “even better than what I had in Taiwan at one of the night market places. It is a very calming tonic, great in the winter but good any time you feel you need to calm your nerves.” But, she adds, it is not for everyone: Its slight medicinal bitterness may put off those unaccustomed to Chinese herbal soups. It’s $5 a serving, and for an extra buck you can get a side of cai fan, Taiwanese-style rice mixed with pickled vegetables and ground pork. Four Gods Soup is not on the menu; just point to the colorful Chinese sign at the counter or ask for “Si4 Shen2 Zhu1 Du3 Tang1.”

This restaurant has earned mixed marks over the years—even its namesake pork chops are not universally beloved—but right now it appears to be on a roll. Lau says the place is enjoying a renaissance that has gotten the attention of Chinese locals: “I’ve been going there for a long time. This was far and away the most crowded I’ve ever seen it. People kept coming in, almost all Chinese, mostly Mandarin speaking.” Highlights of his recent satisfying meal included dried tofu with marinated seaweed, refreshing cold cucumber in garlic sauce, and big, tasty steamed wonton, served in hot oil and topped with chopped garlic and cilantro (“very Taiwanese-tasting, similar to things I’ve had at street stands”).

In other Chinese news, hounds are racing the calendar in search of soft-shell crabs, whose season is almost over. At Phoenix Garden, the crabs are salt-and-pepper-fried and garnished with sliced garlic. Plump and juicy, these are the best soft-shells Peter Cherches has enjoyed since the memorable version at Chinatown’s late, much-missed Sun Golden Island.

Yeah Shanghai Deluxe also has them, but they’re listed only in Chinese among the blackboard specials. “This made my day,” exults batterypark, who describes a large platter of scrumptious, deep-fried crabs, served over a bed of lettuce, scallion, garlic, and peppers. “My plan,” he resolves, “is to slowly eat my way through the blackboard specials.”

Finally, let us set down our chopsticks and observe a moment of silence for two recent Cantonese casualties, one old and one new: Nice Restaurant on East Broadway, a banquet destination for decades, and Dragon Palace on Centre Street, whose dim sum won some hound love during its run of less than two years.

Excellent Pork Chop House [Chinatown]
3 Doyers Street (between Pell and Bowery), Manhattan
212-791-7007
Location

Phoenix Garden [Turtle Bay]
242 E. 40th Street (between Second and Third avenues), Manhattan
212-983-6666
Location

Yeah Shanghai Deluxe [Chinatown]
65 Bayard Street (between Mott and Elizabeth), Manhattan
212-566-4884
Location

Board Links: The best Taiwanese 疇�算�疑岑汀壅阬授珍兩� ̄汕嗽�, now at Excellent Pork Chop House!
Softshell crabs at Yeah Shanghai Deluxe–Not on the English language menu, but really great
Phoenix Garden has soft shell crabs
Dim Sum or not to Dim Sum–that is the question?
What Happened to Dragon Palace (Dim Sum)?

Crêpes à la Bretonne at Café Triskell

Breton-style crêpes are the specialty at Café Triskell, and they’re great, says nebby. Good bets among the savory options include tomato, caramelized onion, and the Bénodet (mushrooms, Swiss cheese, herb butter).

No reports yet on the dessert crêpes, which range from the simple (butter and sugar) to the lavish (poached pears, house-made chocolate sauce, toasted almonds, whipped cream). Quiches, salads, soups, and croque monsieurs and other sandwiches round out the menu. This tiny spot, which seats just 16, was opened a couple of months ago by a French pastry chef, Philippe Fallait, in the space once occupied by Lil’ Bistro 33.

Café Triskell [Astoria]
Formerly Lil’ Bistro 33
33-04 36th Avenue (at 33rd Street), Astoria, Queens
718-472-0612
Location

Board Link: Putting together a date in Astoria

A Masterpiece in Maple

If Good N Plenty to Go is baking maple cookies, you must get one. allenbank loves everything about them—their optimal four- or five-inch size, their perfect sprinkling of walnuts, the way their intense sweet maple frosting is balanced by a not-too-sweet, soft, caky cookie. “It is in my opinion the best baked good (at least in my top three) in town,” allen declares. They’re $1.95 apiece, and they go fast.

Good N Plenty to Go [Clinton]
410 W. 43rd Street (between Ninth and Tenth avenues), Manhattan
212-268-4385
Location

Board Link: Maple ice cream and desserts