Category Archives: Barbecue

Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
Website

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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

Momofuku Ssam Bar

narrow restaurant

When my friend Austin invited me to her “Pork Birthday Celebration” at Momofuku Ssam, I responded affirmatively right away, ecstatic that I finally found an opportunity to share David Chang’s famous bo ssam (crispy pork shoulder) feast. Despite being Filipino, I am really not a pork lover – in fact, I can’t remember the last time I ordered or cooked any type of pig product, not to mention the whole bacon obsession is beyond me. But this particular pig gathering has been so highly praised in my presence, I knew I had to put all preferences aside and just dig in like a fan – which I did, and regretted more than ever when my food coma finally subsided at 6pm the next day.

menu with least number of courses

Our table of 13 chose the 5 course meal, which at $55 per person, gives you a small portion of raw fish, warm bread with butter and lard, ham and “gravy,” steamed pork buns, bo ssam, and a few giant-sized s’mores. I made the mistake of arriving starving, and after having to wait almost two hours to be seated for our 7:30pm reservation, I was about ready to eat the table cloth. At least we were able to explore the new, albeit tiny, cocktail bar in the back, which uses liquid nitrogen to make a vodka soda. Though you definitely want to be hungry enough to appreciate the food, arriving with an empty stomach is not recommended unless you want to be in the same situation I was when leaving the restaurant (in so much pain that you’re afraid for your life).

There was literally enough food to feed an army, and with all the tasty things that arrived before the grand finale of the pork shoulder, I failed at leaving any legitimate stomach space to really enjoy it. That said, my absolute favorite was his well-known steamed pork buns. While the starters of bread, ham, and raw fish were just fine (still don’t quite understand the bread and lardo situation) – the buns totally filled my void of interesting, hunger-solving food. We also (thanks to Lauren) ordered the bbq buns, which were essentially crispy fried pork with coleslaw in a soft steamed bun. This was phenomenal, and in normal situations, one would be just enough for a solid lunch. But, when in Rome…

corvina

ham with gravy and bread

steamed pork bun

crispy bbq buns - the best

When the pork shoulder arrived I was in shock. The supply of crispy, tender pork meat was endless, as were the delicious sides of oysters, green onion, spicy sauce, lettuce cups, rice, and bok choy. Despite having an entire beer poured on my plate and lap in the heat of the moment, I still had a chance to discover what the hype around this traditional Korean meal was about. It’s the act of not only sharing something so delicious, but also the fun of putting together lettuce cup after lettuce cup with different combinations of sauces.

Bo Ssam

sides

Had dessert notarrived, I would have kept on going. The giant s’more was not what I would recall as delicious. It was composed as a ridiculously sweet marshmellow-y mush sandwiched between two very dense graham-cracker like cookies, which acted as a platform for 3 scoops of sour, labne flavored ice cream. My biggest issue with some dessert chefs is that they feel the need to substitute vanilla ice cream for something totally insane. Why mess with a good thing? Vanilla would have made this dessert amazing, but the cheese flavored ice cream made my lips curl.

s'more

All in all, despite some of my complaints, I would recommend the Bo Ssam dinner at Ssam Bar to any serious pork lover. I have to imagine that there could be nothing better than an endless supply of crispy pig meat to someone who truly loves it. And at $55 a person, the overall experience is quite a deal.

*photo credit to Austin Scott

Grade: B+

Location: 207 2nd Avenue at 13th

Website: http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/ssam-bar

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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Drinks & Apps, East Village, Fun Group Dinner

Ditch Plains Google Party

beautiful skyline at 9pm

It’s nights like these that make the prospect of leaving New York unimaginable. With a warm summer breeze and a 360 degree view of the skyline, all torturous thoughts of subway-sweat attacks and desperate cab searches melt away, and only the impression of Manhattan bliss remain.

What pairs better with a consummate New York rooftop night than a spread of glorified bar food, courtesy of Ditch Plains? Not much. I’ve made drunk munchie pit stops at Ditch Plains once or twice before, but I never considered it a food destination until tonight, after sinking my teeth into the most picturesque and juiciest chargrilled, potato bun burger in my life. It could have been the open fire grill or the meticulous layering of the onion, tomato, and pickle, but whatever the secret, it was good enough to lead me to overdose.

bomb

Kevin with burger number 2 after stealing my burger number 1

Not only were the burgers a hit, but the spread of mini lobster rolls, mini chili dogs, veggies, and chips were almost too easy to go down. Even after a quarter pound of meat the sight of pizza enticed me. The Ditch Plains staff did a great job of constantly refreshing the food, assuring that everything not only tasted but also looked delicious. Too bad wine tends to eradicate any perception of fullness!

mini rolls and dogs

cheesy pan pizza

smorgasboard

I have an entirely new perspective on Ditch Plains. Food may lose out in competition with an incredibly gorgeous cityscape, but tonight’s spread definitely succeeded in making eating a priority.

Ditch Plains: A-

Location: 29 Bedford Street

Website: http://www.ditch-plains.com

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Filed under American, Barbecue, Fun Group Dinner, West Village

Hill Country BBQ

Last night, I went to Hill Country BBQ for a “BBQ and Brews” event with clients. I like to consider myself a fan of all food (aside from mayonnaise), but BBQ is one food category that really doesn’t excite me. I love the idea behind it – the gathering of friends, a self proclaimed master griller turning meat over a smokey pit, good music, cold drinks, and best of all, a summer’s day, – but the crux of the BBQ, the smokey food itself, has simply never appealed to me. Nonetheless, I’ve been itching to explore the marvel of this Texas BBQ restaurant and challenge myself to eat a plate of America’s pride and glory, and was thrilled I finally had an opportunity.

The second I walked into the restaurant, I felt like I had traveled down South to urban sprawl, far far away from the glitz, glamour, and tight knit quarters of New York. The interior resembles a warehouse constructed completely of light wood with wood-panel signs and chalk board menus. Long benches with mis-matched chairs fill the space, and at any one spot you have access to a 360 degree view of the entire restaurant – it’s just that wide open and wall-less.

Upon seating, the hostess passed out “meal cards,” which we were told to bring to the meat order counter. This is a way for Hill Country to keep a headcount at the end of the night, as well as tally up the bill when it’s time to pay. Aside from drink service and clean up, Hill Country is pretty much a self-service operation. What they save on waitstaff they most likely use for their nightly live music and dance lessons that take place downstairs.

For coming off as such a down-home cooking-kind joint, Hill Country’s cocktails were actually exceptional. I started with a drink that consisted of sweet tea vodka, soda, lemonade, and mint. Proud to say it was my own creation, but the bartender crafted it perfectly with just the right proportion of lemonade to soda. For my second drink, I opted for the spicy margarita, one of their many creations. I love drinks with a spicy kick, and this one, albeit sweet, was particularly good. If you’re really lucky your drink will come in a mason jar, but sadly it was not my lucky day.

Generally, if you go to a steakhouse, you can expect a variety of options for the non-meat-obsessed. At Hill Country, there’s no such atrocity – you’ve pretty much got a selection of briskets, ribs, sausages, and chicken alongside a medley of bacon-fat sauteed vegetables. At the meat counter, you’re able to select a variety by ounce, and then you’re sent off to the sides counter where you can select as many sides possible in a choice of three container sizes. Considering our large group, we chose a variety of meat, along with the 20 ounce portions of brussel sprouts, collard greens, baked beans, corn pudding, cucumber salad, and corn bread.

The sides really caught my attention, but they were sadly the most disappointing. One commonality among all the sides (as well as the meat) was that their temperature. Sitting in heated vats, then served in paper cups, they were expectingly luke war. This definitely affected the taste of the collard greens and brussel sprouts, which I would have much preferred piping hot. The baked beans, which were closer to a bean soup than a side dish, definitely could have benefitted from less liquid. The star of the medley was the corn pudding – subtly sweet, creamy, and decadent with a baked crispy layer on top. The cucumber salad served more of a technical purpose than for pleasure, as it was just cold and crisp enough to cut the grease of the rest of my food, and great for bites in between bites of pig fat-laden food.

Keep in mind I don’t love the odd smokey-sweet flavor of BBQ. Coming from an unbiased perspective, though, the BBQ chicken breast was incredibly moist, and immersed in smokey flavor throughout, it was obviously generously marinated and carefully prepared. The brisket was also very tender, but a little too fatty for my liking. My favorite, surprisingly, was the pork sparerib – it was incredibly tender, just slightly crispy on the outside, and filled with subtly salty flavor. The meat was plentiful and I didn’t struggle to bite it off the bone. I’ve never been known to enjoy a rib, and was pretty proud of the fact that I took a few down last night. Another good find was the sausage – just a little spicy and dense with spices and flavor, I probably would have been best off with just one of these.

I was close to rolling up into a ball and take a nap until my eye caught the distant dessert counter sign in maroon writing. On the meal card, a list of pies, cupcakes and ice cream drove me to make my way to order a smorgas board of their best offerings. Unfortunately, they were out of their famous homemade pies (supposedly the owner’s mom’s recipes), so I ordered two chocolate pecan squares, a red velvet cupcake, a peanut butter and jelly cupcake, a chocolate chip cookie, and three dixie cups of ice cream.  The table was overwhelmed by the platter, but we did a decent job finishing it off – especially the warm chocolate pecan bar (not pictured), which was moist and decadent and just heaven on earth next to the vanilla ice cream. The cupcakes were …cupcakes – nothing too rave about, and with typically sickly sweet frosting, I focused most of my time on the bar.

Once finished, the waiter was given the difficult task of clearing our thousand paper plates and….throwing them out. Hill Country is running quite the efficient operation given their staff’s time is devoted to clearing and providing drinks rather than taking orders and transporting dishes. For this reason, along with the fact that the restaurant has a reverberating youthful energy with live music blaring down stairs, it’s a great place for getting rowdy with a large party. If I had a group of male and female friends in town looking for somewhere plentiful to eat with no inhibitions and without the hassle of figuring out the bill, Hill Country would be on my list. But after last night, I can finally admit out loud that no, I do NOT like BBQ and would never pick a BBQ restaurant if given a choice again. 

Grade: Unbiased: B+; Biased, BBQ-hater: C
Website: http://www.hillcountryny.com
Address: 30 West 26th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
*pictures courtesy of Yelp.com

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