Category Archives: Brooklyn

Smorgasburg: a quick assessment and a clear winning vendor

photo

Yesterday my visiting long-lost-New-Yorker-now-San-Franciscan-resident friend Ashley and I decided to do something incredibly adventurous (ridiculous) in the 90 degree (feels like 115 degree) heat. We attempted to walk to Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. After a failed walk, one cab ride to the wrong market and another successful cab ride, we finally made it to Smorgasburg on North 8th and Kent Avenue, smack dab in the center of the glistening sun beating rays in a serious way down my back. I’ve been wanting to do Smorgasburg since it started a year or two ago, but at the moment, with bullets of sweat dripping down my face, the booth offerings – the majority of which were fried, meat heavy, or piping hot – were not as appealing as I imagined they’d be. But, we were there, and we set out to make the most of it.

The biggest stand out of the variety of samplings (including a quinoa falafel, a short rib Takumi taco, and a Bite Size Kitchen chicken bun) we had? By far, as would be expected of my Filipino family, the lumpia sampler from Lumpia Shack. Never would I imagine a hot, crispy roll to taste so good in life-threatening heat, but the variety caught me off guard – in a good way. The truffled adobo mushroom, made with three types of mushroom, lemongrass, and ginger, was a vegetarian’s heaven. The peking duck lumpia with hoisin sauce was the perfect little bite sized meat stuffed bundle. They’re tiny, impeccably crispy, and doused with just the right sauces to bring out their insides. A+ for quality lumpia. The original, with pork and garlic, was just like my grandma used to make.

lumpia shack

a collection of goodies

a collection of goodies

purposefully cut off my sweaty face.

halo halo purposefully cut off my sweaty face.

We also dove into the icey halo halo, made with coconut milk, flan, ube (purple yam), shaved ice, and all the syrupy, candied fruit that every halo halo lover has grown to love. Unfortunately, without the ube ice cream (which you can sometimes find in halo halo), it just didn’t stay as cold as I wanted it to. Not enough ube flavor – only a tad skimming the inside of the cup. That said, it was a nice refreshing alternative to ice cream in that God awful weather.

Smorgasburg? Meh. Lots of carb-covered easy to eat bites, not necessarily the best variations you can find in New York. Probs won’t be back unless I’m really craving some creative lumpia.

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Filed under Brooklyn

Gran Electrica, El Toro Blanco & ABC Cocina: a sampling of modern Latin American fare

Beans, cheese, guacamole
I miss San Fran Mexican
Still can’t get enough.

I’ve been on a Mexican whirlwind lately because, well, I am actually always on a Mexican whirlwind. These past few weeks I’ve sampled some of the most popular Latin American restaurants to date, and while I was overall underwhelmed by my experiences, there were definitely some standout dishes that may entice me to return…should the opportunity present itself.

Of the three, ABC Cocina was definitely the standout. My visit here was very happenstance. I had a satisfying dinner of a juicy kobe beef cheese burger  at ABC Kitchen with my boyfriend, and then we both realized that Jean George’s new restaurant was just across the way. We asked to see the menu, and boom, the next thing we know we were eating our dessert in the form of Latin American appetizers (though note that Chef JG describes this food as “a fusion of tradition and innovation combining yesterday and tomorrow”…). The disappointment was the flavorless, gummy fried peekey-toe crab and corn fritters with chipotle mayo, which I pretended to enjoy as JG nervously walked by (investors must have been in the house). What made up for it were bright and impeccably flakey sweet pea empanadas with yogurt and the delicate sauteed mushroom tacos. The cocktails were absolutely amazing and, as promised, inventive. I had the gin and coconut water, which was served up with ginger in an ice cold martini glass. The energy in the restaurant is vibrant and sexy, and the rest of the menu looks divine so I hope to return for a more honest experience (as opposed to a post-cheese-burger evaluation).

Inside

Inside

peeky toe crab fritters

peeky toe crab fritters

green pea empanadas - delicious!

green pea empanadas – delicious!

I’d say the second best was Gran Electrica in adorable Dumbo, where I literally was able to try almost everything given I was going with a chef and restaurateur for “research” (thank God). Unfortunately the garden was wet and unattainable the evening we went, so I didn’t even get to experience their most attractive asset. On top of that, the double-sided chips were stale, the guacamole was over-smashed and monotonous with minimal “mix-ins”, and the flautas de pollo with salsa verde, though actually quite taste and bright, were served cold. That said, there were things that I loved, like the verduras en escabeche (pickled vegetables), the light romaine salad, the creamy, havarti filled and steamed chile rilleno, the deeply flavorful Frijoles de la Olla (black beans with oregano and queso fresco) and the quesadilla setas stuffed with oyster mushroom, queso fresco and jalapeno. The refreshing Tostada Jaiba, with peekytoe crab, lime, citrus and avocado, was inventive, crispy, and well-balanced, but the tacos overall were low on the flavor scale and just underwhelming. The tres leches cake, hiding a ring of pineapple and served with excruciatingly sweet caramel, was no where near as good as that of La Esquina’s. If you go to Dumbo for your Mexican food, I’d say save it for a day where you can sip margaritas on Gran Electrica’s back porch and focus on the more interesting dishes as opposed to what might be your go-to taco.

outside

outside

my favorite, crab tostada

my favorite, crab tostada. the perfect light meal

carnitas

carnitas

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

awesome salad

awesome salad

fish tacos

fish tacos

Of the three, El Toro Blanco was the most underwhelming food and scene-wise. At 9:30pm on a Saturday, the place was almost empty, and despite their attempt at setting the scene with darkness and music, it just feels a little stale. The chips are served in white bowls, the energy dipped early – it strikes me as the Mexican restaurant for an older crowd. The menu has some interesting options. The tostada chopped salad was actually pretty delicious, filled with romaine, tomato, black beans, corn, avocado, cilantro, chips and lime vinaigrette, and the grilled swordfish tacos and shortrib empanadas were tasty (albeit sweet), but I didn’t finish the meal super excited about my experience. The Sonoran cheese crisp, which was an open faced quesadilla with tomato, tasted like the homemade pizzas I make at home with grocery-store tortillas. The chocolate cake with mini churros and ice cream I do remember being pretty addictive though. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my meal here, I just wouldn’t come racing back when I know I can get an even more exciting Mexican experience at the $5 per taco Dos Toros.

inside

inside

quesadilla - crispy but nothing genius

quesadilla – crispy but nothing genius

My conclusion? Nothing has changed, I still love Mexican food and on most nights would prefer any of these restaurants over that serving any other food group. But against all Mexican / Latin American restaurants I’ve tried in this city (and around the states), I wouldn’t say these ones jump out at me. I’d love to give ABC Cocina another go-round when their “booked for 31 days straight” status simmers down.

ABC Cocina Grade: A-
Gran Electrica Grade: B+
El Toro Blanco Grade: B-

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Filed under Brooklyn, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Flatiron, Fun Group Dinner, Greenwich Village, Mexican, Noteworthy Noshes, West Village

Aska: Williamsburg’s pass at nordic haute cuisine

revconsumedaska_1

I’ll go right out and say it. No matter how beautiful or original it is, I do not want my food manipulated to the point where I’m pretty much eating a science experiment. Pulled apart mozzarella in cream? Wonderful. Eel and tempura shrimp wrapped in layers of rice and nori? Love sushi! But bring me dehydrated pork-blood cracker with berry puree? I might just have flash backs of last night’s meal at Aska and run the other direction.

Had I known a pretty practical bar like Kinfolk Studios would host a restaurant serving such inventive cuisine, I maybe would have gone into the dinner with lowered expectations – I already know I’m uncomfortable eating over-touched food. But when our flanneled waiter served us a plate of unidentifiable wafers with fishy unidentifiable purees as we were sipping wine, my heart nearly stopped. “This is really happening here?” I thought. The night resumed at a very high point when we were finally seated in the tiny back room, which is perfectly humble and quaint, and were served a basket of delicious, golden bread. The brown butter flatbread, uncannily crisp and deliciously salty, called my name between every sip of wine. How could I say no with that schmere of butter glistening at me, yearning to be consumed?

crispy flatbread

crispy flatbread

Well, it was good thing I filled up because I had not one full bite of any of the remaining savory courses. Now, this is not to say that I do not respect and admire chefs who put out this kind of food. I’m simply saying that (needless to say but I’ll say it anyway…”in my opinion”) it tastes horrible. The shell-less oysters swimming in cold broth, the pickled herring with anchovy mousse, the root-soup, the barbecued mussels with burnt hay (yes, it’s true, and it smells like burnt hair), the grease-filled pigs foot with shaved sunchoke, and the monkfish liver with cabbage all turned me off for one reason or another. I felt truly Filipino when I found myself enjoying the crispy herring head most of everything that was served, but while the others devoured the pigs’s feet, I wasn’t pinoy enough to put the shiny gelatinous block in my mouth. This food is just too advanced for me to appreciate. Aska considers itself “Nordic” cuisine, so some of the pickling, curing and smoking with forrest flavors comes from that influence, but after a week of eating pasta and my mom’s home cooking, it was just too tough to stomach. Fortunately, the cardamom ice cream with subtly sweet cream went head to head with the bread course and left all of us on a high note – utterly silky smooth.

IMG_1917

cold oysters with dill and beef tallow

pickled herring with anchovy mousse and potato

pickled herring with anchovy mousse and potato

a pig's foot with shaved sunchoke

a pig’s foot with shaved sunchoke

monkfish with it's liver and cabbage

monkfish with it’s liver and cabbage

delicious dessert

delicious cardamom ice cream with dehydrated whipped cream and hazelnut

I commend this place for taking risks, their very kind service (the waiter laughed sweetly every time he cleared my full plate), endless bread supply, wonderful riesling selection, and quaint quarters. Either way, I will spend my money elsewhere when I’m next looking for my belly to be fed in Brooklyn.

Grade: C+ (+ because avant garde just isn’t my type of food)
Location: 90 Wythe Avenue and North 11th Street in Williamsburg
*first photo from Bon Appetit

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Maison Premiere: dainty seafood in New Orleans’ fashion

My favorite thing about Maison Premiere in Williamsburg is not necessarily its food or its cocktails, but its ability to transcend time and create a feeling truly reflective of an 19th century New Orleans’ absinthe house mixed with a classic Paris-cafe. An unassuming storefront with french country doors, wooden stools, leather booths, a gorgeous marble bar, waiters with curly moustaches, gold-leaf monogrammed white china, and a pull-flush toilet show the owners’ incredible attention to detail in creating a fully-orchestrated experience for their customers. The restaurant was formerly known for its cocktails, but with a new chef and a robust seafood-stocked menu, there’s much more to be found than a long list of absinthe drinks.

dining room bar

seafood (photo from website gallery)

Bar it may be, but Maison Premiere’s food is nothing short of refined. My seafood plateau included an oyster with caviar, sea urchin with gaspacho, scallop with pear and horseradish, razor clam with celery root and apple, bay scallops with lemon grass and thai basil, and geoduck with white soy and avocado. My perfectly coiled raw Alaskan King Salmon with caviar and creme fraiche tasted like the most sophisticated version possible of my dad’s favorite lox and bagel breakfast.  The Lobster with sunchoke, chestnut, and custard was absolutely divine – a large white pot with creamy, soothing lobster broth and hearty chunks of lobster was the perfect thing to finish off my $3 order of home-baked bread and seaweed butter. Don’t expect anything but the raw oysters to be served traditionally here – my autumn salad, which was written sans description on the menu, arrived as a beautifully composed dome of fruit and lettuces, unlike any salad I’ve seen before. Dessert was just as eclectic – the rum-soaked cake and the absinthe panna cotta tasted shockingly more alcoholic than my wine, but the coffee pot de creme balanced out the oddities. And with dirty martinis and wine throughout, I left the restaurant feeling like I had quite a trip to the old bayou where alcohol induced artists and writers were the quintessential product of the times.

Smoked Alaskan King Salmon (photo c/o SeriousEats.com)

sea urchin close up (photo c/o seriouseats.com)

lobster with custard

oyster platter

Everything about Maison Premiere is intricately thought out, from the menu’s vintage font to each plate’s well-incorporated flavors. This is not a place for greasy food and brew. Come here only if you’re craving an experience – not a meal – of perfectly measured cocktails and delicate food in a hipster meets 19th century enclave. I commend this place not only for the inventive seafood, but for also staying true to the perfectly measured Maison Premiere brand. I’ll definitely be back for next season’s menu.

Grade: A
Location: 298 Bedford Ave between South 1st and Grand Street

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Filed under Brooklyn, Drinks & Apps, Romantic Date, Seafood, Southern

Reynards

Whoa!! Living on the edge tonight because guess what, I’m posting about a restaurant in Brooklyn. Given it was one of my BEST friends Sonia Evers’ birthday, I left it up to her to pick the restaurant, and Reynards at the Wythe Hotel it was. I always love going to Williamsburg, I just need someone to drag my homebody-booty there. I don’t venture far  in NYC unless summoned.

Walking down the peaceful, tree-lined Brooklyn streets led me to wonder immediately why I don’t live there  myself. Sure, West Village is quite a Godsend in a city of chaos, but Williamsburg feels like a haven of care-free people ready to make-way as you pass them on the street. No need to worry about getting stuck behind a a group of slow tourists here – there’s enough room to walk around them! And as we entered the wide open restaurant space of Reynard’s in the Wythe Hotel, I confirmed that there’s in fact room to breathe in New York. It’s just hard to find in Manhattan.

*image from Reynard website

10/10 Bday menu

But if Reynard’s is any indication of the food in the rest of Brooklyn (fortunately I know it’s not), then I don’t know if the peace and quiet would be enough to bring me back. While I loved the Joseph Leonard meets Acme cozy brasserie-style of the restaurant, the menu instantly disappointed me. None of the very few options struck me, so I opted for the mixed greens with blue cheese and pecans and the grilled swordfish with okra and pole beans. Sonia went for her emblematic dish – the roast chicken breast with polenta and wilted greens. Our salad had hunks of tasty, creamy blue cheese, but by no means exceeded my standard take-away Pluto’s salad with balsamic dressing. The large, raw filets of swordfish were chewy and slimey. The okra was even slimier. I then drove my fork over to Sonia’s plate to taste the chicken, which was just as flavorless and poorly cooked. Don’t they teach you how to roast the salmonella out of poultry in Cooking 101? The creamy polenta almost redeemed the downfall of the opposite-of-crispy skinned chicken, but the sweet mustard-smothered kale brought it right back down again. Fortunately, we had ordered a side of fries that removed the taste and nauseating feeling of uncooked, flavorless meat .

mixed greens

chicken breast

swordfish

Generally I can make up for a bad meal with an awesome dessert. You’d think this place would have great desserts – there are great chocolate shops and bakeries in the surrounding area, and the casual and comforting vibe led me to believe that they’d have some sort of warm brownie with a huge scoop of ice cream. Instead, they had a sliver of a skinny brownie with a small scoop of caramel chocolate mousse, and while it retained an intense, chocolatey flavor, it just did not hit the spot we needed to make it worth serving as THE dessert for Sonia’s birthday. We left holding on to the positive thoughts of our chilled martinis.

Sonia in a happy state

I’m all about second chances, but given three out of four dishes were just plain bad, I can’t find it in my wallet to forgive this place. My next stop in Brooklyn will be Al Di La – a classic that I know will get me out ahead.

Grade: D
80 Wythe Ave. at N. 11th Williamsburg
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Brooklyn

Chavela’s

They should make a .gif animation for my reaction when someone suggests Mexican food for dinner. It would be something like “I’m all like” and then my arms would raise in gospel, somewhat like Praise the Lord!! I may not be able to clearly describe an image, but it’s true – I become overwhelmed with excitement to eat beans, cheese and rice. It could be the 8lb cheesy burritos from Fillmore Street’s Mi Burrito that my mom consumed while she was pregnant, or their gravy burritos she moved on to feed me as soon as I exited the womb. Or maybe it was the 300 Taco Bell Taco Supremes and Bean and Cheese burritos that sustained me throughout my adolescence. Or could it be that one chimichanga at Desperados in Sun Valley that stole my heart?

Whatever the reason, I have weekly cravings for a combination of fresh avocado, cheese, and carbs, and it’s no easy condition to have in this part of the country. There are of course my favorites that do the trick between my visits to California – Dos Toros, Mole and La Esquina. No, I do not like Empellon, and I rarely have time to venture to Queens for the real deal. But last night, after joining three others for a food-filled meeting at Chavela’s in Prospect Park, I came away mentally adding a fourth favorite to my list.

Don’t get confused when you search online – there’s a Chavella’s that is closed in Prospect Park  but still somehow searchable. Chavela’s is relatively spacious (something my New York favorites lack) and it serves margaritas in high balls – two things I instantly noticed that won me over.  I somehow mistakenly ordered a mango and salsa cocktail that tasted like I was drinking jarred salsa, but I blame the order, not the recipe, and was able to redeem it quickly with a donated (thanks Erica) margarita. The food is really the stand out at this place, and given that it’s ridiculously affordable (a quesadilla is $3, a large platter around $14), we went crazy by listing off pretty much every item we wanted. There’s no over-thinking here, just local ingredients and pure flavors at its core, so everything tastes good. I loved the squash blossom quesadilla, which was more like an empanada in thickness than a griddled tortilla. Covered in crema and Oaxaca cheese, I could have been satisfied with two of these. The jack cheese and corn tamale was another hearty appetizer option, and the massive Plato Don with veggies, beans, rice, guacamole, cheese, and salsa was an awesome alternative to a greasy, sizzling fajita. And for dessert, we asked for all three options – rice pudding, flan, and churros. I’m not a fan of any of these desserts usually, but the piping hot fried churros were impossible to deny.

reachin for that guac

baby quesadilla

delicious platter

Despite the two train transfers required to get to Chavela’s from my house, I definitely plan to be back to fulfill a random craving.  But now that I’m in California for the next two weeks, I see no problem doing that in the immediate future. Gordo’s baby, here I come!

Grade: A-
Location: 736 Franklin Avenue @ Sterling Place
Website

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Filed under Beans and Rice, Brooklyn, Cheap Eat, Latin American, Mexican, Vegetarian / Vegan

Vinegar Hill House

The main theme to the buzz around Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn is that it’s delicious and in the middle of no where. Well, when I decided I wanted to venture across the Brooklyn Bridge this weekend, it happened to be one of the more convenient options on the map. Considering it was already 3pm and I hadn’t eaten more than a bite of a biscuit from Northern Spy Food Co. on the Highline (amaze), I was close to delirious by the time we got to the restaurant. Was I excited for a fat Brooklyn hipster sandwich!

Well, sadly, my dreams were crushed when I looked at the paltry menu filled with a few egg options, a grapefruit with shrimp paste, and a tuna sandwich, my least favorite type. I didn’t want to eat breakfast at 3pm (or fish flavored fruit). I wanted something fresh and green. But, situated in the dessert of Vinegar Hill, we didn’t have much choice but to suck it up and pick the most savory, lunch-esque items on the menu – fried oysters and the tuna sandwich. Though the fried oysters were perfectly meaty, crisp and well rounded with the tangy mustard sauce, I was yearning for a refreshing meal on such a scorcher of a day. The tuna sandwich was laden with runny mayonnaise – mayo lovers may have adored this, but I was traumatized after taking a few bites. Fortunately, it was served with a thick, rich, and flavorful tomato soup that helped fill me up.

fried oysters

All hating aside, the place is adorable and homey a la Freeman’s in the LES, and the back patio seems like the perfect casual place to have an outside supper. The vintage bar leads to the small open kitchen with a wood fire oven, and the well-dressed staff all seem to be accommodating and friendly. It almost feels like you’re visiting your friend’s apartment, and the basic hearty food fits well with the setting.

I will not return for brunch – I need more lunch food variety when I’m starving midday. I would, however, consider going back for dinner if I’m ever in the area. Though I’m usually underwhelmed by the trend of these homey, basic food spots, apparently their desserts are to die for…

Grade: C+
Location: 72 Hudson Ave between Water St & Front St
Website:  www.vinegarhillhouse.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, American, Brooklyn, Brunch, Drinks & Apps

Pies n’ Thighs

I always love an impromptu food adventure (who wouldda thought?). This morning, I texted my cousin Harry to let him know that I’d be in his neck of the woods (Brooklyn), and he invited me to brunch with his co-workers at Pies and Thighs, a place that has been on my mind as a must-try before leaving New York. Pies n’ Thighs is known for it’s fried chicken and waffles, but it actually offers a small collection of other solid brunch options: scrambled eggs, biscuit sandwiches, pancakes, and of course, a wonderful array of pies. It has nothing close to refined food, and with its low prices, diner furniture, and country grub, aside from its hipster waiters, you really feel like you’re in the heart of the south when eating here.

fried chicken and waffles!!!

Our wait around 1:30pm was  45 minutes, but after being seated and placing our order we waited a good 25 minutes before getting our food. Though the place is small, they do things slowly and with care – but it’s worth the wait. The food was ridiculous. I did a good number on the crispy fried chicken and  waffles covered in sweet butter, preserves, and maple syrup. I never quite understood the hoopla over this southern tradition until today, but the sweet and salty carbo-load tastes like magic. Plus, the chicken here is incredibly crisp and juicy, sort of like the crispy chick I remember trying at Jacques-Imos in New Orleans. I also had the special eggs scramble with asparagus and goat cheese, which came with an oversized crispy biscuit, honey butter, and a green salad – very soft scrambled, but very good! And for the table, we shared a chicken biscuit, a sandwich layered with a buffalo sauced chicken strip, sweet honey butter, and a buttery golden biscuit. Everything I tasted was amazing, so far outside the box of what I normally eat.

eggs special

cousin harry gettin' down

Despite my impending food coma, we opted for two slices of pie, because when in Rome…I thought I had tasted the best cream pie from Two Little Red Hens a few weeks ago, but this banana cream pie was a strong contender. With a crust made of buttery nilla wafers beneath a layer of banana and a massive scoop of fresh whipped cream, this was the quintessential, classic banana cream pie. The peanut butter chocolate pie was a dense, thick layer of sugary peanut layered with a thin coating of dark chocolate and peanut. This slice could have benefited from some whipped cream, but that didn’t stop us from chowing down.

Brunch was another sure sign that Brooklyn is a food world worth exploring. I am overwhelmed with places to try before I return to the west coast – but fear will not stop me!

Grade: A
Location: 166 S.4th Street (@ Driggs)
Website: http://www.piesnthighs.com

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Filed under Brooklyn, Brunch, Cheap Eat, Fun Group Dinner

Habana Outpost: Fort Greene

A five mile bike ride and a few moments of shopping are quite an appetite builder, so I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to eat Cuban food after some browsing at the Brooklyn Flea. I’ve had Cafe Habana in Soho on my “to-go” list since I moved to NY, but the constant crowds have been quite discouraging. Habana Outpost is a more casual, stand-up-and-order version of the cafe with a limited menu and a huge outdoor seating area. All food is distributed via a stationary truck with a chef that yells your name to pick up the order. Apparently the place becomes quite the outside party during the summer, but we were able to beat the crowds right at noon.

Anna with a smile

I decided on a plato, which seemed the most substantial of all the menu options. The plate came piled high with grilled chicken, rice, black beans and lime. Grilled chicken runs the risk of being boring but this rendition was spicy, moist, and zesty with the lime juice and buttery rice. The beans were perfect – just like I remember them in Brazil. Yes, this place is Cuban but Brazilians and Cubans alike take their beans pretty seriously.

With no side salad option available, I ordered a main jicama mango salad that came next to a side of deliciously creamy and garlicky dressing that I ended up using for my chicken. The salad was simple, refreshing and absolutely essential with my protein-carb laden main dish.

And just for fun, I ordered a frozen mojito, which was subtly sweet and a life saver in the heat. With no intention of getting tipsy before a bike ride in 80 degree weather, I stopped at a couple of sips once I fully assessed the alcohol content. Gotta love a strong frozen cocktail – such a rare commodity.

frozen mojito

The experience at Habana Outpost is straight forward – pick your meat, pick the style, wait in line to order, and sit on a bench until your name is called. Service is minimal, and with the live DJ mixing Latin tunes, you really feel like you’re in the quintessential Summer backyard barbecue. If you want no frills and a casual setting (and you happen to be in Fort Greene), look no further!

Grade: A-

Location: 757 Fulton Street at South Portland Ave

Website: www.ecoeatery.com

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Filed under Brooklyn, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American