Friday, October 29, 2010

Winning Korean Fried Chicken in East Village

There's only one thing I love more than fried chicken...Korean fried chicken. The problem is I have yet to taste any in NY that rival the best of the best - a KFC temple called Crisp in Chicago. If you're ever in the Windy City, put it on your to do list. Rich, bold flavors. The meatiest, most succulent wings. Lip-smacking magic in your mouth.

But that doesn't mean NY can't serve up a great alternative. Turns out it's now here in the East Village at the new Mono + Mono restaurant. Owner MJ Chung has not only given the former Jeollado space a splashy new makeover, but he's also injected some clever personal touches - like his private collection of 30,000 jazz LPs that adorn the walls and rotate through the impressive sound system.

Now back to the food. Obviously go for their "Famous Korean Fried Chicken." Double fried means the fat melts away leaving a crunchy, paper-thin skin. Two sauce choices - a satisfying soy garlic or hot spicy  - give the juicy pieces a slick, sticky coating. My one let down was the pieces are small - small enough to single out. A 10-piece order ($16.95) includes two drumsticks and a mix of 8 petite drumettes and wing portions. The serving is accompanied by a refreshing side of traditional pickled daikon radish, and small corn salad. If you order the chicken, get the Mexican corn appetizer ($7.00), too. The hot grilled cob is smothered in just enough cotija cheese and paprika to make it sinfully delicious, and a great compliment to the chicken. The Mono + Mono salad ($8.95) is also a fresh and light prelude to the main event. Coated in a ginger dressing, succulent Asian pear, pickled beets, asparagus and smooth avocado give the spinach salad a satisfying zing.

The food was consistently delicious, service was excellent and the vibe is very East Village. What's not to love? Next time I'll grab a group or a hot date, and check out some of their sophisticated special rolls (our server said the Angry Salmon roll is to die for).

116 E 4th St. (between 1st + 2nd Aves.). Sun - Wed, 4pm - midnight and Thurs - Sat, 4pm - 2am.

Mono+Mono on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

London's Hottest Italian Gem

Weeks before my recent trip to London, my English foodie friend Emma gave me the heads up on Polpo, an Italian bacaro. Unanimous rave reviews. Amazing value. I must go.

Delicious selection of cicheti
Polpo means 'octopus' in Italian and I wish I had eight hands to wrap around all of the food on their exceptional tapas-styled Venetian menu. Located on popular Beak St. in the heart of Soho, it's about a year old. Polpo has just spawned a sister restaurant called Polpetto, also getting raves, and a third offspring is expected next spring. All in Soho.

Flank steak with porcini cream
The owners are on to a good thing. It's my idea of a perfect dinner spot - small, buzzy restaurant, impeccable tapas, beautiful people eating greedily...and offers great value. 

Oh, does Polpo deliver. There was a short wait for our table, made very civilized with a glass of Prosecco by the bar and a constant parade of the food to come. My friend and I could not stop ordering, not because we were still hungry, but because we wanted to taste everything - and it wouldn't break the bank.

Roast pumpkin, prosciutto + ricotta salata
The seasonal menu starts with two-bite cicheti such as arancini, decadent fried rice balls (£1.5), anchovy and chick pea crostini (£1), and fig, prosciutto + mint (£2).

A short but extremely appetizing selection of meat, fish and vegetable plates follows. 

Beetroot, rocket and walnut pesto
Our choices included the polpette, three savory meatballs in a rich tomato sauce (£5), a show-stopping roast pumpkin, prosciutto + ricotta salata (£6.5), and a perfectly grilled flank steak with porcini cream (£7.5). These plates was followed by a superb mackerel tartare with horseradish cream (£5.5), flavorful mozzarella, bobby beans + cobnuts (£6.5), and beetroot, rocket + walnut pesto (£5), among the best beets I've ever eaten.

Even the selection of fresh breads such as wild mushroom piadina (£5.5) should not be missed. Tapas portions are very generous and easily serve 2-3. Sadly, there was no room for dessert this time, but be assured next time, I will be savoring a slice of the chocolate salami (£2), maybe two. I can't wait to go back.

Note reservations accepted for lunch only. 41 Beak St. at Carnaby St., Soho. W1F 9SB

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The World's Greatest Food Market

Borough Market

London's Borough Market is one of my favorite food destinations in the world. And my visit last week reconfirmed why:

1. It's brimming with the best traditional British purveyors (exceptional international vendors too) - demonstrating why London's food scene is world class. Gorgeous pork pies, famous English produce, mouthwatering artisanal cheeses and traditional game. Classic Britain.

2. The maze-like setting oozes charm and history. It's located in the shadows of Southwalk Cathedral, and originally dates back to 1276. Go hungry and get lost in time.

3. Cool British films like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Bridget Jones' s Diary," and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" were shot here. It just looks like a movie set.

4. The sights, smells, tastes and variety are out of this world. One stall in particular just sells French Comte cheese. That's it. And it's incredible. Then there's the famous cheese shop Neal's Yard Dairy. Take one whiff inside and you're floating in cheese heaven. Tasting is encouraged so take advantage of it. Vendors are excited to share their passion and knowledge.

5. Every corner holds an edible work of art. Even hanging rabbits and pheasants look like a still life masterpiece.

And if that's not enough....

Here are a few more mouthwatering reasons why it's unmissable:
A giant vat of Thai green curry

Fish and prawn wraps from Applebee's Fish Shop

Grilled chorizo sandwich from Tapas Brindisa


Anything from Roast To Go

Monday, October 18, 2010

Picking the Best Apples in the Hudson Valley

Garden of Eden?

It's one thing to buy your apples from a farmer's market. It's an entirely elevated experience to pick them yourself at an orchard in the glorious Hudson Valley. This weekend's visit to DuBois Farms in Highland, Ulster County, was such a treat. Plucking a ripe apple off an abundant tree is a sheer delight. They crunch and snap and explode with extra flavor when you pick them yourself. They just do.

The apple season at DuBois Farms runs daily through November 7th, but it's best to call ahead to make sure there are apples left. Current available varieties - all at .99/pound - include Fuji, Empire, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Lady. Rent an optional apple picker for $2 to catch the high growing fruit. Enjoy the weekend barbecues, pumpkin picking and tractor-pulled wagon rides. And don't leave without trying one of their freshly baked donuts.

DuBois Farms may never have existed. A few years ago it was an abandoned orchard, land targeted to be sold for development. Thankfully Dave and Jolee DuBois had a different vision when they bought it and transformed it into one of the most popular pick-your-own farms in the Hudson Valley.
Quick Apple Crisp Recipe Courtesy of DuBois Farms

Peel and slice 4-5 large apples into a baking dish. Sprinkle with a crumb topping of 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tractor-pulled wagon gets you to and from the orchard

Fall bounty at DuBois Farms

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fonda Nolita Heats Up Taco Truck Wars

Taco + VW Combi = Tacombi
Dario Wolos knows how to one up the current food truck craze: bring it indoors. Not just the concept, the entire truck. The Monterrey, Mexico native recently moved to NYC to open Fonda Nolita. And brought his beloved vintage VW bus - dubbed Tacombi - along. Tacombi, a blending of 'taco' and retro Volkswagon model Combi, is his culinary brainchild, and since 2005, it's been one of three mobile taquerias he set up in seaside town Playa del Carmen.

Now in its new Nolita home, a transformed 2,100 sq. ft. former clothing store, the same chilled beach shack vibe is recreated indoors - down to the festive strings of lights, metal chess tables, and tropical plants. Oh, and the Tacombi sits in the center of it all, serving up fresh, tasty tacos day and night. The staff is charming, making chatting with the cooks part of the dining pleasure.

On a recent visit the seasonal taco menu (all at $4), included a flavorful short rib, generous roast pork with red cabbage, and corn and poblano, which could have used more kick. Ingredients are locally sourced, including the homemade salsas on each table. Locally brewed house brand beer (liquor license is pending) and sodas are also on offer. For breakfast tacos, try the chorizo/potato or cactus/poblano. It's a seductive little hangout, perfect for meeting up with friends (bring a deck of cards), lazing and grazing on tacos and beer for a few hours. As the weather only gets colder outside, there's comfort in knowing Fonda Nolita offers an endless summer inside.

267 Elizabeth St. below Houston. Open daily, 8am - 2am.

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 4, 2010

New School's Urban Foodie Exhibition Opens

Grow a garden in a bag
As urban dwellers, ever wondered if you can raise bees or chickens in the city? Or start a farm on your roof? These and more curious urban agriculture questions are answered at The New School's enlightening exhibition Living Concrete/Carrot City open now through December 15, 2010. Carrot City showcases doable possibilities of everyday urban food systems - projects like the Vacant Lot Grow Bag that not only efficiently produce fresh food for the community but look really cool too. A host of public programs on urban agriculture are held Wednesdays at 6:30pm. Visit the site to download an interesting Sustainable Food Guide to the Lower East Side.

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. 5th Ave. at 13th St. Open daily 12-6pm. Admission is free.