Monday, March 18, 2019

A Stroll Down Bleecker Street

Even before my first trip to New York, I was somewhat obsessed with Bleecker Street. It all started while I was in college, studying visual communications. A very famous illustrator who probably made pretty good money was a guest speaker at my school. During his talk, he dropped the fact that he lived on Bleecker Street in the West Village. Though I knew I didn’t quite have his talent, my life goals suddenly involved living in NY in an apartment on Bleecker. Looking back, I realize: 1) I had a bit of a crush on the guy; 2) He probably lived over a restaurant and existed in a constant fug of melted cheese and oregano. But what’s so bad about smelling like pizza all day every day? (I could probably rationalize it then. Now, not so much.)

I never did move to New York, but most of my visits to that city involve a stroll down Bleecker. In the days when a friend of mine worked at a now-defunct restaurant in the West Village, I liked to explore the neighborhood before meeting up with him for dinner. I would emerge from the Christopher Street station and, ninety-nine percent of the time, walk down a block and turn left onto Bleecker. A right turn would mean walking up the more expensive end of Bleecker, the one lined with clothing boutiques that are far less-interesting to me than restaurants. If you’re a Sex and the City fan, the original Magnolia Bakery is on that end, at W. 11th Street, but that’s about it as far as food is concerned. Unless you want to want to purchase pricey togs and accessories, head southeast.

There are also boutiques on the next two blocks of Bleecker, and I skip them all. Let’s face it--I’m a realist. I know I can’t afford anything in those shops, so there’s no use torturing myself by looking at any of it. But there are restaurants, too, like A.O.C., a little French joint where one can sit in an outdoor garden and enjoy a croque madame or duck confit while pretending to be in Paris. Modern Greek cuisine is offered down the street at Nisi Estiatorio. I like that I can get baklava oatmeal or grilled octopus for brunch and lobster moussaka for dinner.

Continue down to the next block for more food, though the walk can be mildly confusing with the criss-crossing of streets. The next intersection involves both Barrow Street and 7th Avenue. As you’re heading south(-ish, Manhattan isn’t on a straightforward N, S, E, W grid because the whole peninsula slants to the northeast), you’ll see Hummus Place and Bleecker Street Pizza on the left, though both are actually on 7th Avenue. Just keep walking straight. Once you’re across 7th Ave, you’ll see O. Ottomanelli & Sons, an old-school meat market that has been around forever. Next door is Ghandi Cafe, where the rather large menu of Indian favorites belies the rather cramped space. Bantam Bagels comes next, but you won’t find the NY classic with a schmear here--they specialize in bite-sized bagel nuggets filled with flavored cream cheese. Across the street you can eat sushi at Kumo, or, if you prefer your seafood cooked, there’s Fish next door. Craving pizza? John’s of Bleecker Street has been making coal-fired pies since 1929. You can’t get a slice there, only whole pies, but it’s worth a visit if your ultimate goal is similar to mine: taste all of the pizza NY has to offer (a lofty goal, I know.)

If you’ve ever had a hankering for ice cream flavored with, say, corn, or maybe sweet potato studded with bits of brie cheese, then you should hit up Cones. This shop specializes in helado--Argentinian ice cream similar to gelato--and sorbets, sometimes in unusual flavors. But also more familiar ones like pistachio, mint chocolate chip, and passion fruit.

Back across the street is Kesté, but this time the pizzas are wood-fired and Neapolitan-style. The crust is thin and blistered or “leopard-spotted,” and the toppings are plentiful. The menu boasts over 40 variations of white, red, and specialty pizzas including ones topped with housemade truffle burrata or porcini mushrooms and a walnut cream. There are over a dozen gluten-free pizzas, and a cheese-free vegan pie available, too. Also on this side of the block is my favorite tea shop, David’s Tea. The Canadian chain has three locations in Manhattan, but this one is my favorite. I like to snag something iced (or hot, depending on the season) to sip as I wander around, but usually end up buying quite a bit of loose tea as well. (Cardamom French Toast black tea and Coffee Pu’erh are two of my current faves.)

Murray’s Cheese is in the next block, next to Amy’s Bread, the perfect places to stock up for an impromptu park bench picnic in one of the green spaces nearby. If you’d rather eat your cheese indoors, Murray’s has a Cheese Bar up the block. The menu is predictably cheese-tastic, with items ranging from fondue and lobster mac & cheese to brie and mushroom soup, Buffalo cheese curds, and raclette for two. The dessert menu includes cheesecake, of course, but also s’mores made with a Spanish cheese called Arzua Ulloa. And now I’m seriously craving cheese, but as I’m on Whole30 right now, it’s verboten. [sad emoticon] [crying emoticon] [cheese emoticon]
A massive slice at Joe's
I have a couple of favorite places in the next block: taco joint Tacombi (with other locations in town if you can’t make it to this one); and Pasticceria Rocco. Going to Rocco’s is practically a tradition in my family; my Dad used to bring home boxes of their Italian cookies when I was a kid, and now I do the same. Their vaguely chewy hazelnut biscotti are one of my all-time favorite cookies, and I have a soft spot for their pignoli and meringue cookies as well. Rocco’s has gelato, too, but if that’s what I’m after, I go to Grom, on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets. I’m a sucker for the pistacchio, but am happy with any flavor they offer. On that same block of Carmine is Joe’s Pizza, home to one of the best slices in the city.

While there are lots of tasty places on Bleecker itself, don’t be afraid to wander down one of the side streets. The first cross street after Christopher is Grove Street, and if you don’t wander, you won’t find Buvette or Via Carota, serving French small plates and rustic Italian fare, respectively. Turn left on Carmine after visiting Grom, cross 6th Ave, and you’ll find yourself on Minetta Lane which takes you to Macdougal Street and Minetta Tavern (home to one of the best burgers in the city), the enormous slices at Artichoke Pizza, plus several other eateries and cocktail lounges. The whole area is lousy with bars and restaurants that make up the many reasons I find myself exploring this area over and over again.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Flashback Friday - St Patrick's Day Eats

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 17, 2014.

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Despite our last name, we are not Irish in any way, shape, or form. Consequently, we don't partake in drinking green beer or dressing up like leprechauns on St Patrick's Day. And we normally don't eat corned beef and cabbage, at least not together. So the recipes I'm going to share with you now are only vaguely related to the holiday. Around these parts, it's as good as it gets.

"Cabbage," aka bubble and squeak made with brussels sprouts.

Korean-style Rubenadas, aka empanadas stuffed with corned beef and kimchi.

Even better than making your own corned beef at home - go to Attman's and get a pound or three and feast on that.

Lamb stew with Asian flavors and sauteed cabbage

And finally, one of my all-time favorite ways to eat cabbage - okonomiyaki. Nobody will tell if you want to put corned beef in it, too..

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Manhattan's K-Town

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I am not a New Yorker. However, I visit on business (and occasionally pleasure) several times a year and always try to stay in the same hotel. Or at least in the same neighborhood--Koreatown. This little one-block square area in Midtown Manhattan runs from 5th Avenue to Broadway and includes 31st and 32nd Streets, which actually makes the “block” a trapezoid. There’s a bit of spillover to the other side of 5th Ave, too. In any case, this compact area is studded with restaurants, bakeries, and bars, a handful of hotels, and is a convenient 2-block walk from Penn Station. That was the original selling point for me, the proximity to transportation, but after staying in the area a few times, I realized that if I were ever too busy to think about where to eat, I could have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks without going very far in any direction. (Truthfully though, there has never been a time in my life that was too busy to exclude thoughts of food.) I also discovered that the alleged “city that never sleeps” does indeed roll up the sidewalks after dinner, at least in Midtown on a Monday night. On one occasion, I emerged from the Herald Square subway station at 1am after spending most of the evening elsewhere in the city. I was somewhat alarmed to realize that I was the only soul on the street. Fortunately, my hotel was nearby, in the middle of a block that is always busy, thanks to the surfeit of 24-hour Korean BBQ restaurants and late night karaoke bars.

Bibimbap at New Wonjo
 Among those 24-hour BBQ joints are The Kunjip, New Wonjo, and missKOREA, all on 32nd Street. missKOREA involves three floors of bbq, each with different decor and separate menus. The first floor has a somewhat naturalistic, hanging-out-in-the-forest, vibe, the second is more serene and modeled after traditional Korean study rooms, and the third floor is contemporary and spare. Diners have the option of ordering bbq both in set menus and a la carte, but also as part of multicourse feasts that include starters, a course of either hot pot or crepes served with meat and vegetables, the bbq main dish, a noodle or rice preparation, and dessert. The Kunjip and New Wonjo are both more casual restaurants with fairly straightforward menus that include stews, noodle dishes, and bibimbap as well as bbq cooked at the table.

Matcha latte at Grace Street
Three other restaurants, Gammeeok, Shanghai Mong, and Abiko Curry, are also open around the clock. Gammeeok specializes in seolleongtang, a rich soup made by simmering beef bones for many hours so all of the marrow, fat, calcium, and collagen are extracted, broken into tiny particles, and suspended in broth which turns a milky white, rather somewhat like tonkotsu ramen broth. They also serve bossam (braised pork belly, sliced and served with kimchi and usually cabbage leaves in which to wrap it), housemade sundae (blood sausage), and a few kinds of Korean pancakes. Shanghai Mong bills itself as an Asian Bistro; in addition to Korean dishes, they also serve pad Thai, udon, pho, and many Chinese-restaurant-style dishes like General Tso’s or sweet and sour chicken. If you like Japanese-style curry, and you like it spicy, you’ll probably enjoy Abiko Curry. Curry was introduced to Japan by the British, and it’s flavor is closer to the yellow-hued curry powder in your pantry than to that of Indian dishes like vindaloo or rogan josh, yet it’s also very much its own thing. Abiko simmers their curry for “100 hours” and offers a gravy-like version served with rice or noodles, and a thicker cream sauce mixed with pasta. Dishes can be customized with toppings like fried squid, raw eggs, pork cutlets, and cheese; the spiciness can also be ordered to taste, but be forewarned that even “level 2” packs some real heat. I like the donburi bowls, a mound of rice topped with some sauce, lots of sauteed onions, and a protein of your choosing. It’s not spicy at all but completely delicious.

Donburi at Abiko Curry
Several other BBQ joints dot the K-town landscape on both sides of 5th Avenue: Jongro; Her Name is Han; Dons Bogam; Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong. All have more limited hours than the round-the-clock places, and each has its fans. On quite the opposite side of the spectrum; rather than piles of meaty goodness, mushrooms and tofu are the stars at Hangawi, the rare Korean vegetarian restaurant. They also have what might be the ultimate Instagrammer’s meal: a hot stone bowl filled with rice, vegetables, and...avocado. Beats avocado toast any day.

If you’re in the mood for something sweet, you’re in luck. Everything from green tea lattes to fancy French-style cakes can be found in Koreatown. My favorite bakeries are Tous Le Jours and Paris Baguette. The former has a wide variety of pastries, both familiar and not. Croissants are big and brown and beautiful, but the much more homely hot dog encased in a squid ink roll with cheese inside and out has its merits, too. There are also French baguettes and loaves of fluffy Korean milk bread, donuts, and flaky pastries filled with everything from red beans to chocolate to sausages. Paris Baguette has a smaller selection of similar products, plus fancier layer and roll-style cakes. Both bakeries offer specialty coffee drinks as well. More coffee can be found at Grace Street, an expansive cafe that has an equally large menu of hot and iced coffee and tea drinks, including matcha, milk tea, and cocoa. Grace Street also serves waffles with various toppings, and something called shaved snow, a light and feathery frozen dessert made from blocks of flavored ice milk shaved into silky ribbons.and topped with things like red beans, condensed milk, or mango puree. Across 5th Avenue one will find Besfren, a dessert shop with a much smaller selection of pastries, but also delicious giant triple chocolate chip cookies, matcha/taro swirl soft serve ice cream, and a selection of ginseng products. Only want tea? Gong Cha is a closet-sized space that serves a seemingly infinite number of hot and cold tea drinks in flavors like familiar Earl Grey and Oolong but also wintermelon and taro. Order your tea topped with simple milk foam, or with boba, red beans, basil seeds, coconut or herbal jelly, or pudding (somewhat like flan)...even with all of the above. Don’t forget to grab a wide straw to suck up all the solids, because a regular straw simply will not do the trick.

If you’re not sure what exactly you want to eat, step into Food Gallery 32, a food court where you’ll find everything from Korean fried chicken, bibimbap, and ddukbboki to the savory Chinese crepes called jianbing, churros, and frozen yogurt. Seating is communal and the place always seems crowded, but it’s great for the undecided among us.

Fried dumplings at Mandoo Bar
And that’s not all, folks. There are at least two gastropubs in K-town, Itaewon and Osamil, and restaurants specializing in fresh tofu (BCD Tofu House) and Korean dumplings (Mandoo Bar), plus a somewhat more fancy restaurant called Gaonnuri. Located on the 39th floor of 1250 Broadway, overlooking Herald Square, Gaonnuri has some of the best panoramic views of the city. They offer both tableside bbq and entrees like bibimbap, but also fish dishes involving black cod, sea bass, and monkfish. I like the seasonal tasting menu, which at $115 per person isn’t exactly a bargain, but it does include 6 savory courses and dessert. There’s also a more economical $55 three-course prix fixe that includes bbq, but the whole table must participate.

I’m sure I’ve missed more than a few places, but I hope I’ve hit on enough to lure you into a stroll through New York’s Koreatown. There’s no shortage of food (there’s even an H Mart if you are in the mood or have the ability to prepare a meal for yourself) in this relatively small area. Shops too, if you’re into Korean beauty products. It’s definitely a neighborhood worth a visit.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Flashback Friday - Creamy Chorizo, Chicken, and Corn Chowder

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on February 17, 2014.

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Nothing hits the spot on a frigid winter day like a bowl of soup. Especially a hearty soup made with a bunch of stuff that I usually keep on hand: frozen chicken thighs, chicken, and corn; canned tomatoes and chipotles; and chicken stock. A loaf of freshly baked bread is the perfect accompaniment.

If you don't have chicken, chunks of beef stew meat would work well, just cook the soup longer to ensure the meat is tender, adding additional stock if necessary.

Creamy Chorizo, Chicken, and Corn Chowder

2 links Mexican chorizo
1 cup chopped onion
salt
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 chipotle en adobe, plus 1 teaspoon of adobo sauce
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes and their juice
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
honey (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove chorizo from casing and place in a 3-quart pot along with the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until the onion is translucent and the sausage has browned and broken into small pieces. (There should be more than enough oil in the sausage to cook the onion without burning; if you have some weird super lean chorizo, add a dribble of oil.)

Stir in the chicken and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer translucent. Add the chipotle, tomatoes, stock, and corn. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer soup for 45-60 minutes, until chicken is very tender. Add potato and cook an additional 10-15 minutes, until potato is done to your liking.

Pour in the half and half and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add a bit of honey if you think the soup needs some sweetness (I did) and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 2-4

Posted on Minxeats.com.