Tag Archives: lunch
No matter how much New Yorkers try to claim their city’s superiority in various areas—culture, music, fashion, 24-hour delivery of anything you desire—there is one category in which we must concede defeat: availability of good, authentic Mexican food. California has always had us beat in this department. It’s not that we are unaware of the problem. It’s just that, like many great quandaries of the day, we don’t know how to fix it.
Fortunately, two brothers from San Francisco, Leo and Oliver Kremer, arrived in the city determined to recreate Mission-style Mexican here in New York. The new Dos Toros taqueria near Union Sqare provides a much-needed upgrade to the Mexican food situation in Manhattan, which, unlike Brooklyn and Queens, hasn’t benefited from the recent uptick in good taquerias. (more…)
One advantage of lobster rolls is that no one can dismiss them as the next burger/pizza/fried chicken: everyone already said that a couple years ago when Ed’s Lobster opened. Defying food trendiness, lobster rolls have remained popular and even inspired an online frenzy when Luke’s Lobster opened last week. Why? Because when well made, lobster rolls are darn good – and provide some justification for living up nahth, as they’d say in Maine.
There are a lot of good things coming out of Brooklyn these days, not least of which is Defonte’s sandwich shop. The only drawback to the first Defonte’s was its location in Red Hook, too far away for most of us to get there for lunch. But there’s a reason for that other than the trendiness of Red Hook: Nick Defonte came over from Italy and worked in Red Hook as a longshoreman before starting up his sandwich shop there in 1922.
Now Defonte’s of Brooklyn has opened on Third Avenue and 21st in a modern, prime corner space with a stainless steel counter and a few granite tables, bringing their specialty hot sandwiches to the Manhattan work force. (more…)
The fact that Kesté Pizza was named the best pizza in New York by both NY Mag and Time Out NY may seem like good news, but you know the unfortunate fallout of that award: many of us won’t be able to eat there anytime soon, because now the other 10 million New Yorkers also know it’s the best pizza in town.
Solution: lunch. Kesté isn’t a take-out shop, but they do turn tables quickly in this casual spot, so you can be in and out of the place in 25 minutes if you arrive when there’s no line. Try a late lunch at about 2:30pm on a weekday. (more…)
What should banh mi be: traditional or new-style? How you answer that question greatly affects which banh mi you’ll like of the many new sandwich shops opening now. Just arrived in the old Bamn space on St. Mark’s (RIP to that noble effort to revive the automat) is Michael “Bao” Huynh’s new Baoguette Cafe, a follow-up to Baoguette, which opened in Murray Hill earlier this year. With its offerings of things like a “sloppy bao” with green mango and curried beef, Baoguette falls squarely in the new-style camp.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I have a relationship with the restaurant featured in this review: The folks at Wawa Canteen prepare delicious food, and I eat it. Several times a week.
When a tiny Korean restaurant in central Greenwich Village closed a couple years back, neighbors were dismayed, expecting the usual NYU-geared smoothie/creperie/coffee shop to open in its place. But what arrived was Korean Restaurant 2.0, with a sleek design comprised of wood counters flanked by modern chairs, tiled walls and floors, and displays of rice and Sapporo lining the back wall. It’s now owned by Philip Rodrigue, who used to own the Cooler in the MPD. (He brought his excellent music collection with him.) What a relief to have an actual restaurant in this spot, and an approachable one, too. The ergonomic layout allows for quick service, because, as Rodrigue puts it, “You ought to be able to eat some decent food for $10 and be in and out in a half hour.”
Eureka. It’s the concept of a diner applied to ethnic food, in this case, Korean cuisine, which is underrepresented in New York compared to the plethora of Chinese, Japanese, and pan-Asian spots. Though Rodrigue says he was going for “generic eating,” the results are anything but. Consulting chef Donna Lee put a California spin on Korean food with home-cooking style dishes like surprisingly light kimchi fried rice.
My first feeling upon biting into the kimchi fried rice with chicken was one of deep regret. Here I’d been eating at Wawa Canteen for nearly two years, and I’d never tried the best dish on the menu until now, in my quest to cover as many items as possible. The kimchi is so good – spicy, sweet, crunchy, tangy – and the sticky, fluffy rice has chili flecked throughout. Though this is traditional home cooking, the type you won’t find in Koreatown restaurant-style food, the presentation is elegant, with fine strips of nori on top. It’s exciting comfort food, and it can be habit-forming.
Kimchi is an insanely popular ingredient here: during the NYU school year, Wawa goes through four 15-gallon vats of it in a week. Like a new pickle, Wawa’s kimchi retains that vegetable crunch that enlivens so many of the dishes here. The soft, barely sweet dough of the kimchi pajun is interlaced with strips of this crispy goodness, all of which goes beautifully with the slightly vinegary soy sauce.
Of course, what kimchi also does is heat things up. Only the intrepid should opt for the kimchi stew, an incredibly spicy, sour concoction that blows away neighboring faux-Asian places whose food has too much sugar and not enough heat. A red slick of chili oil on the soft tofu stew tells you this is one seafood dish that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Thankfully, the white rice served alongside helps put out the flames.
If you can’t take the heat, never fear. Several dishes offer up healthy, vegetable-centric Korean food in a milder format. The best of the non-spicy bunch is the curry rice with chicken and vegetables. (Just ask for both chix and vegetables.) The rich sauce exudes a slow burn that complements the stewed potatoes, carrots, chicken, and beans. Also tasty are the pork dumplings, soft little dollops whose sweetness is nicely cut by a vinegary black sauce. Ramen hits somewhere in between hot and mild; a hint of spice turns up the noodles a notch, and the pork in the pork ramen is plump and juicy.
If you really want to go healthy, go for the soy ginger glazed chicken or the soy and ginger glazed chicken, definitely two of the lighter dishes on the menu. Both of these are barely dressed. The carb-avoidant could even eat just the protein and the very fresh sautéed bok choy and leave the rice behind. There are also plenty of vegetarian options on the menu.
Salads have true substance, like the cold buckwheat noodle salad topped with mixed greens and grilled soy-marinated steak, sliced razor-thin by a Korean purveyor. The dressings here – soy, citrus ginger, sesame – are delicious, and really make the ingredients pop.
But the ultimate Korean dish is a mixture of spicy and mild, hot and cool, animal and vegetable: bibimbop. Wawa’s is a bonanza of hot soy-marinated beef, cold steamed spinach, bok choy, jullienned carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, and rice, with a spicy red barbecue sauce served alongside. All the four food groups are well represented, except one. This is my one complaint about Wawa, and the first question I ever asked there: What about the egg?
I’ll have to ask about it again next week.
289 Mercer Street, between Waverly Place and 8th Street
New York, New York
* Open Mon – Fri. Check website for hours.
The recent DOH shuttering of the popular vegetarian go-to spot Gobo threw downtowners into a tizzy. Gobo has since reopened (and sounds busy), but still… Though I’m not a vegetarian, and will probably return to Gobo someday, I sympathize with the squeamish. What’s a person for the ethical treatment of animals to do?
Fortunately a new rat-free vegetarian take-out place has opened in Union Square, land of the thousand yoga studios. Maoz Vegetarian (pronounced like Mao Zedong), is a popular European falafel chain that’s “dedicated to spreading the vegetarian lifestyle worldwide!” Because I am fascinated by things that are popular in Europe but may or may not catch on here, like David Hasselhoff, Mentos, and Pret A Manger, I decided to give it a try.
Though the space itself is tiny, with seating for just three or four people, the green-and-white tiled interior is very appealing. Squeaky clean and minimalist, Maoz is a vegetarian place designed for the IKEA era.
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a falafel sandwich, but Maoz’s extensive toppings bar is a new twist on an old standard. You can go wild piling your pita with cucumbers and dill, bulgur wheat salad, pickled carrot slices, cole slaw, olives, tomatoes and onions, excellent roast cauliflower, even cilantro sauce or salsa.
Dense, bright green and mildly spicy, the falafel tastes fresh and light. Here, too, Maoz shows more flexibility than the average falafel joint by offering it in several forms: as a Maoz sandwich (5 falafel balls) or a Junior (just 3), with feta, eggplant or hummus, or as a salad topper. The hummus is bland, but the Belgian fries are tasty. Like the falafel, they have a nice slow afterburn of Middle Eastern spiciness.
38 Union Square East, between 16th and 17th Streets
When Blaue Gans first opened last year, chef Kurt Gutenbrunner was criticized for not even bothering to redecorate. The single, high-ceilinged loft dining room originally belonged to Le Zinc, which shut its doors after a suspicious hiatus by the owners “at the beach,” as the chalkboard sign in the window once announced. It was terrible to lose not only Le Zinc’s country-style pork paté with its grainy mustard and little cornichons, but the serene yet stimulating space it occupied. The old posters from art shows past – Clemente at the Guggenheim, Kiki Smith in Vienna – would presumably be demolished to make room for someone else’s idea of cool.
Shockingly, the only thing different about the space are the floors – nicely refurbished with a mahogany stain – and the chairs and tables. The Clemente poster is still there, and the Warhol silkscreen poster of Marilyn Monroe. The music is jazz, the pace is leisurely but efficient, and any people watching is done on the sly. Just walking into Blaue Gans is a relief.
I came here in the first place because a friend recommended Gutenbrunner’s other restaurant Wallsé, which, like Café Sabarsky, I have never tried, Wallsé because it’s fancy, Café Sabarsky because it’s mobbed. Gutenbrunner just left Thor, a restaurant that never seemed to fit in with the rest of his portfolio. Though the food was quite good, the dark, cold space, presumably designed by the Hotel on Rivington, had all the warmth of a Gattaca set.
Try convincing a mixed group to go out for plates of bratwurst. It’s not an easy sell, because sausage and sauerkraut don’t exactly fit into the “lite” theme of the moment. If you can put aside any memories of Christmas at Rolf’s, where each entree represents approximately a week’s worth of food, here you’ll discover bratwurst that is actually light. Gently boiled then briefly seared, Blaue Gans’s bratwurst bears no resemblance to the charred stubs of unchewable links that make their way off barbecue grills every summer. This sausage is a delicately balanced dish, served alongside crunchy sauerkraut and mustard with a real kick to it.
The smoked trout appetizer also demonstrates the same kind of balance: the fish salad is served very cold, sandwiched between crepes. Had I known smoked trout, like riesling, tastes so much better at near icy temperatures, I would never have eaten it lukewarm off a bagel. Next to the trout are sweet cooked beets, the perfect complement to the smoky savoriness of the fish, and a very fresh mache salad. Don’t forget to eat the warm rye bread (this means you, carb-phobes) and order a draft of Hofbrauhaus Oktoberfest beer (ditto). Each flavor goes so well with the next; it is the kind of harmony that is almost always achieved by sticking within a certain region and a certain cuisine.
Which seems to be the real gift to Gutenbrunner’s thinking. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? There is nothing lacking in the old décor, just as there is nothing lacking in the Austrian cuisine he promotes. Instead of aiming for something so new-fangled it hurts, Blaue Gans reintroduces a European idea to New York with its casual, arty atmosphere and expertly prepared food, served in restrained portions on Herend-esque porcelain. Sometimes respecting tradition is the most revolutionary thing you can do.