For years, my answer to "where should we go for steak" has always been the same: the Argentinian, of course. The Argentinian in question is Mario José, the man behind El Gauchito, a steakhouse and butcher shop on Corona Avenue between Corona and Elmhurst. It's not just my favorite steak-on-a-budget restaurant; it's my favorite place for steak, period.
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Marietta is the latest Brooklyn-esque Southern restaurant from the people who brought us Peaches, the Smoke Joint, and Little Brother in and around Bed-Stuy. As with those places, the focus is on new (and not-so-new) takes on Southern classics, with nods to premium ingredients and reasonable pricing. You've heard this story before, but Marietta is one of the few restaurants of its kind where the ingredient-driven cooking actually pays off, and where the prices really are reasonable.
In interviews, Michael Psilakis has made clear that MP Taverna, his casual restaurant brand now in Astoria, features a more visceral, less cerebral approach to Greek food. That doesn't mean the menu is dumbed down or made less "ethnic." It means you're happy that the kitchen is generous with that pita, because those stray licks of olive oil on the plate won't finish themselves.
"You want a bottle of red wine or white tonight? Or maybe rosé for the weather?" our waitress asked shortly after wedging us into a four-top no bigger than a couple of folded newspapers. Her delivery was spectacularly close to the Billy Joel song lyrics, which may have subconsciously influenced me into spending the rest of the meal thinking to myself, this has got to be the most neighborhood-Italian-y of neighborhood Italian restaurants in the city. I have a couple of friends who got married two weeks ago and used to live on 84th and Amsterdam. I asked them if they'd ever been. "It's where we had our first date!" said the newlywed wife. It's that kind of a place—one that engenders equal parts pride and nostalgia.
If you want a taste of Georgian food in New York, a cuisine unlike anything else in eastern Europe, you better get ready for a trip down to Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, or Brighton Beach. But here's Oda House, right in Alphabet City. It's been called the only Georgian restaurant in Manhattan, which is not strictly true, but it's certainly the most welcoming. The young restaurant has already become something of a hub for younger Georgians who don't live in south Brooklyn, and it serves some damned fine cheese bread.
Even the prettiest new restaurants don't always nail the food. And even those new restaurants that do nail the food, often don't nail the service. Charlie Bird gets all of the above and more; it's one of my favorite openings of the year.
Like its neighboring restaurant ABC Kitchen—also a Jean-Georges/Chef Dan Kluger tag-team—the menu is eclectic but seasonally based, simple to read, but interesting in its details. Though I've spotted Jean-Georges and Dan Kluger in the kitchen on a few occasions, the ship is helmed day-to-day by chef de cuisine Ian Coogan. Every single dish sounds like something you want to eat (and for the most part, is).
Wylie Dufresne's new venture Alder—his first since wd~50—is a subtler place, casual in its setting and more reined in. Dufresne is a master of the baroque—you don't make noodles out of seafood without dreaming big—but he also knows restraint. He has stayed with wd~50 for a decade, an eternity in today's New York restaurant years, avoiding television fame or branded pasta sauces so he can keep to his work. This new restaurant (with executive chef Jon Bignelli) and bar (director Kevin Denton) takes the best of that studied creativity and deploys it with great care.
Ambitious but unfulfilling small plates restaurants are a dime a dozen these days, so leave it to Dufresne to school them on how it's done. Because Alder may be the very definition of a great small plates restaurant. It's fun here. You can drink well. The food is exciting even when it's not perfect. And you can eat to feel nourished, not just entertained. People have been calling Alder a "pub," which is wrong both for pubs and for Alder, but the restaurant makes a strong case for better living, and drinking, through chemistry.
I've got to admit it: I did not like Uncle Boons the first time I went. At least, I thought I didn't. The staff was friendly as could be, the space was fun, I even made friends with some folks at the bar, but the food just seemed... off to me.
Things started fine with a Lon Jai ($10), a Thai version of a michelada that looks like a glass of sriracha with a peppered rim. The cold Singha beer bubbles up through the hot sauce and then—what's that?—coriander wafts up to your nose along with something more mysterious and musky. "It's salted pickled lime juice," the bartender tells me, as he puts a plate of their chopped lamb salad in front of me. Laab Neuh Gae ($14) comes on strong out of the gate, with an unmistakable lamb-y aroma and richness that makes you wonder, is lamb really the best choice for laab? It tasted heavy, fatty, not refreshing, until... wait a minute... Okay, suddenly I got it. Those slices of cucumber and pickled onion aren't just garnishes—their bracing sourness allows you to focus on the flavor of the lamb, not the fat. The dish, surprisingly, worked.
The first thing to notice in your average New York barbecue joint is the design. Earth tones. Distressed wood. Painstaking efforts to make the place feel more casual than its position in the ruthless New York restaurant world would suggest.
That's not the case at Alchemy, Texas, a barbecue joint in the back of an old man sports bar in Jackson Heights. The wood's been there for a while. So have the balding men drinking at the bar. I get the impression that the plastic red-checker tablecloths were bought to fancy up the place.
And the 'cue? On a good day, it's up there with some of New York's great smoked meat. On other days it disappoints. As the two-month-old spot settles into a groove with its customers and works through the quirks of its smoker, that success seems likely to improve. In the meantime, go early in the evening. And spring for the beef.
I've never been to Sukiyabashi Jiro, the restaurant featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi so I can't attest to its quality, but the concepts of simplicity, a strive towards perfection, and the humility of a chef who is in service to his ingredients and not the other way around that the movie represents so effectively is the hallmark of all of great sushiya in Japan.
Likewise, having no basis of comparison, I can't really say that Chef Toshio Oguma at Tanoshi Sushi is doing Jiro-level sh*t, but conceptually, he hits every mark, so I'm going to say it anyway: The sushi at Tanoshi sushi is some serious Jiro-level sh*t, the likes of which I haven't seen anywhere outside of Japan. It's a hole-in-the-wall, run-down-before-it-even-opened sushi bar in the public transportation limbo just below Yorkville on the Upper East Side, and it serves one of the best omakase meals I've had anywhere.
Nightingale 9, Rob Newton's new effort at Vietnamese cooking in Carroll Gardens, seems poised to bridge all sorts of gaps, such as the false one between traditional Asian cooking versus modern and the more real one between casual eating and studied cuisine. Though his food veers towards traditional Vietnamese forms, there's something about his cooking that reminds me of Tien Ho's tenure at the then-Vietnamese-esque (and damn good) Ma Peche. It's thoughtful, precise, and pretty original.
As a casual neighborhood with greater ambitions, the restaurant doesn't fail. But it doesn't fully succeed either.
Chef Shai Zvibak soaks his dried chickpeas overnight, rinses them, then simmers them with baking soda "to accelerate the cooking" for five or six hours. He purées them with tahini—no olive oil—and some spices he brings over from Israel. He tops the finished hummus with warm spiced chickpeas, starchy fava beans, or spiced ground beef. Then he does it again two hours later.
His Local 92 is an East Village hummus bar with aspirations beyond a hummus bar. There's a wine and cocktail list, appetizers, entrées of schnitzel and meatballs and fish. The roomy, casually pretty interior is a far cry from most of the city's cramped hummus and falafel shops, including Zvibak's own attractive but slender Hummus Shop on the Lower East Side. But it's the hummus, indeed made every two hours so it's always fresh, that keeps me coming back.
A little over a year ago I wrote about the meal I had at Kajitsu. Based on the principles of shojin-ryori—Japanese Buddhist monk cuisine—it started out as an attempt to find a halfway decent vegan restaurant in New York. It turned out to be not just decent, but indeed the best, most memorable meal I had all of last year. It was the kind of restaurant that you could easily bring a meat-eating friend to and not worry that they will be missing anything, so complex, interesting, and vibrant are the courses.
Since then, the restaurant has undergone a few major overhauls. There's a new location and a new chef, and if Kajitsu 2.0 doesn't quite meet the standards of its predecessor, it's far from a disappointment.
Gabriel Stulman's string of successful West Village restaurants—his Little Wisco restaurant group is up to six and counting—makes you both admire and fear a little bit for the man. How many times in a row can a band release a hit album? Surely there's bound to be some stumble upon the way, one place that doesn't quite hit the mark. Montemartre, in our experience, has been the weak link in the chain.
Use "home cooking" to describe a restaurant's menu and you give it a kind of death sentence. The comfort food is familiar and well meaning—and ever so slightly boring.
That's a shame, because we all know at least one home cook who isn't like that at all—whose cooking is raw and unafraid, maybe a little off-kilter and all the better for it, who uses a few too many lumps of butter or extra licks of salt. What they lack in cheffy respect for balance they make up for in pure conviction, and you always hope they invite you over for dinner.
At Lao Cheng Du, chef Big Sister Zhu is that cook. And her fiery take on Sichuan cuisine is on the menu.
Xixa, in Brooklyn's Williamsburg, strikes me as a very good restaurant in need of an editor, an excellent restaurant hiding inside the body of a less-excellent larger one. Any one of the best dishes here is worth a return trip; but occasional missteps mean it's hard to give a blanket recommendation.
Look at where Mexican food succeeds in New York and you'll find three general categories of food business. One is the hole in the wall gem: the taco truck that does great goat stew, the taqueria in the back of a grocery store. Another is the high-end, like Alex Stupak's modernist take on tacos at Empellon Taqueria and Cocina. There's lovable Tex Mex too, like the lively El Toro Blanco or the weighty burritos at Dos Toros.
But in the middle of these extremes—the high-end, the low-end, the gringo-end—there's so much room for growth in New York's affordable Mexican cooking world. And so little of it that is thoughtfully done. Which is what makes Cocina Economica Mexico—on the Upper West Side of all places—something of an odd egg.
Having visited Mayfield only three times I can't say whether it's always as lively and friendly as I've seen it. But if my experiences have been any indication, this is a neighborhood spot that's filling a void—it's as successful a bar as a restaurant, gathering place as eatery, with a menu I'd eat from any day of the week.
We first encountered Hanjoo on its home turf in Korean Flushing, when our man Chris Hansen lavished praise on its crispy and succulent crystal-grilled pork barbecue. We don't see much of the style of barbecue, a shame given the simple brilliance of the concept: Cook pork belly on an inclined plane of quartz over a gas burner. Let drippings fall into a pile of kimchi. Take delight.
So when another branch of Hanjoo opened in the East Village on Saint Mark's Place, we paid a visit quickly, and yup, there was that barbecue pork again, still awesome. But on our first visit and three subsequent trips, the restaurant has been more than half empty during peak hours. This street is a madhouse at night, and neighboring ramen joints and Chinese restaurants do well enough. So why aren't people going here?