Thursday, April 28, 2011

Zabb Elee: A Cheap Thai Superstar

Juicy Thai papaya salad
The East Village is blessed to get the first Manhattan outpost of Zabb Elee, a seriously delicious Northeastern Thai restaurant from Queens.

Chef Ratchanee Sumpatboon showcases her heritage from the Isan region with a beautifully presented menu of traditional dishes. What does that mean? No pad Thai and not a green curry in sight. Instead, wake up your taste buds with fiery chilis, fresh papaya salads (som tum) and grilled meats (yang). In fact, chili is the star of the region, so expect a lot of kick. I am in heaven.

Portions are generous (made to share) and prices are shockingly reasonable. With most dishes at $9, Zabb Elee officially tops the KikaEats Cheap Eats list.

There are a half dozen varieties of spicy larb salads - mince meat in a fresh lime dressing with chilis, mint, cilantro and scallions. Along with basic ground chicken or pork, choices include catfish, and vegetarian bamboo shoot.

Fiery chicken larb
The refreshing green papaya salads - som tum - are my favorite and the heat level is made to order. I ordered the som tum Thai (dried shrimp and peanuts) with 'medium heat' for the table and it still made my experienced eyes tear. Traditionally eaten with sticky rice, these salads just burst with flavor, crunch and tang. My dining companions were overwhelmed with the spiciness, so don't be afraid to order it 'mild.'

Pork balls
'Yang' means grilled and there is a variety of meat - heavy on the pork- and seafood options. Only the grilled pork balls - lookchin moo yang - were surprisingly bland and forgettable.

The menu is extensive and the service is attentive and helpful. It was pleasantly low key on two recent evenings. I suspect that will change soon.

75 2nd Ave (between E 5th and 6th Sts)
Mon - Sun 11:30 am - 1 am
212 505 9533

Zabb Elee on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 21, 2011

An Austrian Gem in the East Village

Pickled vegetables
What big eyes you'll have at Edi & the Wolf, an Austrian oasis in the heart of Alphabet City. Open for about six months, the word of mouth has been consistently positive. I can see why.

Austrian executive chefs Eduard (aka 'Edi') Frauneder and Wolfgang 'the Wolf' Ban have created a welcoming and casually chic eatery. Serving rustic Austrian cuisine, they pay homage to the local wine taverns - or 'heurigen' - popular in their native land.

Artfully designed to mimic a rustic farmhouse, its evening diners are bathed in soft, flattering light. The crowd is noticeably grownup, more West Village than East, and even more European. A long communal center table keeps the mood convivial. 

Baby back ribs
Start with a half litre glass of Steigl lager ($7 bargain) and an order of pickles. Not your ordinary pickles, but delicate wisps of root veggies marinated in brine. The menu is eclectic but inviting. The glazed baby back ribs ($13) are tasty.

So is the classic wiener schnitzel ($19) made with heritage pig. My order was a little dry, but the two zippy side salads and tart lingonberry brightened up the flavor. Definitely ask for an order of Brussels sprouts, sauteed with thick chunks of bacon.

Wiener schnitzel

Stick around for an after dinner drink at the cozy and stylish copper bar. It's a good opportunity to marvel at the interior design, especially the inventive 40-ft rope-cum-chandelier salvaged from an old church.

Weekend brunch service just began and offers great value with a bread basket, fresh juice and coffee served with each $14 entree. And be on the lookout for the outdoor seating currently under construction.

102 Ave C (near 7th)
212 598 1040
Mon - Sun, 5pm - 2am
Brunch served Sat - Sun, 11am - 3:30 pm

Edi & The Wolf on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Fried Chicken Steal

Come and get it
I am amazed at how Williamsburg's hipster dive The Commodore continues to churn out expertly prepared fried chicken at bargain basement prices. Honestly, where else can you get a fresh, hot plate of three giant, greaseless thighs and divine biscuits with honey butter for $11?

A side of sauteed kale is a must. Kale (part of the cabbage family) is one of those superfoods we're only going to see more of on menus. Here it's slightly tangy, slightly crunchy, and a delicious compliment to the crispy bird. Plus it's crazy good for you. Whereas fried chicken? Well, you get my point.

I couldn't help compare this dish to the fried yard bird ($18) from a recent visit to Harlem's Red Rooster. I won't knock the uptown hot spot for its vibrant style and vibe. But bite for bite, dollar for dollar, there's no comparison. The yard bird came out with two hefty pieces of lukewarm, nicely spiced but greasy poultry. Only a lemon wedge and spoonful of greens garnished the plate. It gets raves, but I don't get it.

I'll visit The Commodore for my fix any day. Wait, I forgot about Pies 'n' Thighs...

366 Metropolitan Ave.
718 218 7632
Mon-Th, Sun 4pm - 12am
Fri 4pm - 1am

The Commodore on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Burger + Barrel's Meaty New Brunch

Steak frites for brunch
Burger & Barrel just began brunch service, which makes shopping in Soho or seeing a matinee at the Angelika an even better weekend outing.

The brunch menu has appealing all American flair: Smoked salmon + egg 'pizza' ($12), a B+B bacon breakfast sandwich ($12), and even chef Josh Capon's signature Bash burger ($14) is available for brunch. Truth be told, I was not a fan of the Bash burger, despite all the raves. The bacon jam had a strange flabby consistency and tinny after taste.

But if you're craving some daytime beef, the classic steak frites ($27) delivers. A red wine shallot butter slowly melts atop a generous sirloin cut. No fuss. Just good taste.

A mound of short rib hash hides under eggs
The short rib hash ($14) is a standout. You'd never guess by the image. What's hiding under the fried eggs is a generous serving of soft, succulent short rib and cubed potatoes. Add a bit of creamy guac, pico de gallo, and crisp flatbread, and the flavors snap, crackle and pop.

25 W Houston (between Greene + Mercer Sts.)
212 334 7320
Brunch Sat + Sun, 11:30 am - 4pm
Brunch reservations recommended

Burger & Barrel on Urbanspoon