Tuesday, July 26, 2011

KikaEats Turns One

Celebrating with gorgeous cookies from Eleni's in Chelsea Market 

KikaEats started a year ago.

A deep love of food, a constant quest for the next Tasty Treat Sensation, and support of hungry friends and family got me started.

Since then, I am so grateful that my culinary adventures have been followed by readers from around the world in more than 50 countries. A special shout out to my friends in the UK, Australia, Canada and China!

Food is such a universal connector and source of wonder. The beauty of writing a food blog is the constant discovery in our everyday lives. We all have to eat. I'd love to hear what's on your plate.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Did Your Favorite East Village Restaurant Flunk the Health Department Inspection?

It's been a year since the NYC Health Department introduced its controversial grading policy. A, 0-13 violations; B, 14-27 violations; C, 28+ violations.

I first reported results for East Village restaurants last summer. But after seeing a lot of Grade Pendings (which means the owner is contesting its grade) lately, I knew it was time to do an update. Is your favorite eatery an A student? Or does it need to go to summer school? Here's only a sampling of some of the most popular neighborhood restaurants. For a full list of results, visit the official site:

Grade A                                                                Grade B

7A                                                                         Black Iron Burger
Brindle Room                                                         Black Market
Buenos Aires                                                         Cafe Cortadito
Butter Lane                                                            Esperanto
Cafe Mogador                                                         Northern Spy Food Co
Cafe Rakka                                                            Pata Negra
Cafetasia                                                               Pylos
Caracas                                                                South Brooklyn Pizza
Edi + the Wolf                                                       Two Boots
Good Beer                                                             Westville East
Hummos Place
Luke's Lobster
Mama's Food Shop
Mary O's
Momofuku Ko
Momofuku Noodle Bar
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Mono + Mono
Ninth Street Espresso
Pizza Gruppo
This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef
Yuca Bar
Zabb Elee

28+ Violations as Published on NYC Dept of Health Website

I'm shocked by how many respectable eateries scored so poorly. And I can't help feeling let down by some of my favorites with their hefty violations. The system has been in place for 12 months now. It's not a new exercise anymore. Come on. Customers deserve better.

10 Degrees 35
Back Forty 29
Balade 36
Bourgeois Pig 36
Bowery Beef 52
Death + Co. 31
Flea Market Cafe 32
Giano 29
Goat Town 39
Hasaki 35
La Lucha 54
Otafuku 35
Sake Bar Satsko 38
Supper 34
The Redhead 51
Tree 51

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rockaway Beach's Cool Food Scene

Rockaway Taco started it all

A new foodie destination
Editor's Note: Please read the June 20, 2013 update for the latest status of Rockaway Beach's food scene post Hurricane Sandy.

The expansive boardwalk at Rockaway Beach dates back to 1918. I guarantee you back then there was no som tum (Thai papaya salad), or arepas, or Blue Bottle macchiatos.

Thankfully, this summer a crop of delectable food stands have exploded onto the scene.

Even within a two-week span, I counted three new concessions, from boozy Low Tide Bar to the wryly named Sharon is Karin sandwich cart.

Fried fish boat
Traditional beach food is fast and cheap, and often makes you regret it afterwards. This food may be cheap, but it's fresh and carefully prepared, taking up to 20 minutes per order. But fear not.The wait is worth it. And there are plenty of feasting options.

There are three clusters of boardwalk food vendors: the main one at 96th St and two tiny ones at 106th St and 86th St. Other excellent vendors are scattered along Rockaway Beach Blvd, so definitely explore.

Fried fish sandwich
Boardwalk at 96th St Vendors

Rockaway Taco - The birthplace of Rockaway Beach's cool food scene. While their fish tacos are the bomb, you'll have to venture off the boardwalk a few blocks to the original shack to get your fill. The boardwalk outpost only serves flautas and tostadas. For snacks, grab the fresh chips and guac ($4) or refreshing chili + lime spiked cuke, mango and jicama spears ($4). Wash it all down with fresh young coconut juice ($4), still in the coconut.

Popular Motorboat
Moterboat and the Big Banana - I could eat their fish sandwich ($6) all summer. Hand seasoned fried fish is light and crispy, and topped with a tangy sauce and pickled onions. All the fried fare here gets a big, fat thumbs up. They also do chocolate covered frozen bananas. Expect a wait. It's the most popular stand.

Ode to the Elephants - A sizable menu of authentic Thai fare. Try the spicy som tum ($6) and chicken satay ($4) for a light lunch. The shrimp spring rolls are also tasty ($7).

BabyCakes - The popular LES dessert shop knows how to represent with yummy vegan donuts ($1.25) and frozen brownie sandwiches.

DiCosmos - The cart sells classic Italian ices in refreshing flavors like cucumber-lime and their famous lemon for $2. The company dates back to 1915, so you know it's good.

Low Tide Bar - Craving a cold brew or something stronger? This tiny beach bar-stand just opened last week. Make sure you have an ID on hand.

Boardwalk at 106th St Vendors

Caffeine fix
Blue Bottle Coffee - Just the ticket for your drip brewed caffeine fix. New Orleans styled ice coffees ($4) hit the spot. You can take home the beans too.

Caracas Arepa Bar - A big shout out to an East Village favorite. If you're craving delicious Venezuelan arepas or fried enchiladas, look no further.

There is also plenty of seating in this food area. And the waits are not as long for service as 96th St.

Kick back at Bungalow Bar
Finally, a perfect day at Rockaway ends a few blocks off the beach at Bungalow Bar. This neighborhood hideaway is a gem.

A large outdoor deck overlooks Jamaica Bay and the Crossbay Bridge. Get there in time to grab a cold Heifferveisen ($5) and watch the sunset. Chips and salsa are on the house. You won't have a care in the world. The food and service are well worth it.Try the mussels ($10) and Crabby Patty ($12). Live music on Sundays. 377 Beach 92nd St, next to Thai Rock.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Outrageous Octopus Balls and More

Takoyaki, aka octopus balls, with the works
Great global street food is always on my radar. And even better when it's right under my East Village nose at tiny Otafuku.

Tasty snacks inside
I can't believe I haven't been here before. No bigger than a food truck, the Japanese take out stand serves only three dishes. The food is made to order. And there's always a line. Need I say more? Ok, then, there's:

1. Takoyaki aka octopus balls: tender chunks of octopus in a velvety wheat dough batter

2. Okonomiyaki: dense Japanese cabbage pancakes with veggies and choice of protein

3. Yakisoba: stir-fried noodles with veggies and choice of protein.

I recently read that takoyaki for Osakans is the equivalent of pizza for New Yorkers. I get an order of 6 with a side of edamame for $6.

Ask for 'the works' to get a generous drizzle of BBQ sauce, mayo, seaweed flakes, and bonito, dried smoked fish flakes that literally dance in the heat. It's poetic. It's also so delicious. Hot off the specially cast griddle, one bite gives you a generous chunk of octopus swimming in a slightly creamy center.

Takoyaki on the griddle
My friend and fellow blogger Yoshie comes here weekly and know a good takoyaki. At Otafuku, they are made Osakan style, I'm told. Every home in Osaka has a takoyaki griddle.

The okonomiyaki is equally delicious. Two large pancakes ($8) come with your choice of either seafood or meat. I had the classic pork on one and squid on the other. Pork is thinly sliced and crisped like bacon. Squid is very satisfying too. The same toppings apply. If you can't decide between balls or pancakes, get the combo for $9.
Okonomiyaki fully loaded

The lone bench parked outside sees a lot of action. The regulars accept the 15 minute wait without any grumbling. I sat next to two friends visiting from Vancouver and staying in Queens. They heard it was worth the trek. Like me, they left satisfied.

Note: If you're in the mood for proper sit down Japanese fare, Otafuku has two sister restaurants on the same block - excellent Hasaki and Robataya.

236 E 9th St. (between 2nd + 3rd Aves)
Mon-Fri, 1-10 pm
Sat-Sun, 11 am - 10 pm
212 353 8503

Otafuku on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Todd English's Sexy New CrossBar

Dreamy lobster guacamole
Is it sacrilegious to say one of the sexiest new summer spots in the city stands in a former Gothic church? Todd English's ode to pork CrossBar, in Limelight Marketplace, is undeniable seductive from the second you walk through the shiny red doors.

The interiors, with a fireplace rotisserie surrounded by regal reds and dark woods, look like a scene from "The Tudors." Picture Henry VIII gorging on a spit roast pig.

Lil' pulled pork tacos
If that's your fantasy, starting this weekend your dreams can come true. On July 9th, CrossBar is introducing the all day Saturday Backyard BBQ.

A $24 prix fixe menu gets you roast suckling pig, two sides and house made sweet tea or lemonade. If you don't eat pork, you can get BBQ chicken instead.

Summertime action centers around the lavish courtyard that recalls an exotic Moroccan riad. On a recent outing, the steady stream of gorgeous food - much of it sharable - kept heads turning. And the staff graciously identified everything we kept pointing to.on the "global American" menu: pulled pork bites, duck sliders, elotes, giant pork schnitzel.

Score a cabana
The best seats in the house are outdoors. Two seductive cabanas flank the courtyard. These plush daybeds, adorned with cozy cushions and  discreet curtains are perfect for two. Planning a special date? Book one of these beauties and thank me later.

Now that the mood is set, share some nibbles and tipples. The lobster guac ($16) is meaty, decadent and delicious. The lil' crunchy tacos - which come in four options - tuna tartare, fish, chicken or pulled pork - are also popular sharable snacks. The pulled pork taco ($12) is really tasty. Sticky sweet meat comes alive with soft hominy and fresh jalapeno.

Drink this
Was dying to try the puffed pig's ears with smoked paprika ($8), but got vetoed by the table. Is it as good as the addictive spicy pork rind at Chicago's The Publican?, I ask myself, while sipping my thirst quenching One and Don tequila cocktail ($13) with strawberry-jalapeno mash and lime. I'll worry about that next time.

For now, I'm loving my oversized copper mug just as much as the kicky booze inside. (The beverage menu is carefully designed: cask beers, whisky flights, 'Old + New Testament' wines, and cocktails with housemade infusions.)

Sunday brunch begins July 19th. And daily specials including Confessions after Dark on Thursday nights sound very intriguing. It's luring me back already.

47 W 20th St near Sixth Ave
212 359 5550
Whole suckling pig dinners are available.

CrossBar on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 1, 2011

East Village Trilby's Secret Summer BBQ

Mini short rib sandwiches
The new Trilby in posh Cooper Square Hotel has come up with a great summer concept: the Saturday garden BBQ. And undoubtedly it has one of the best gardens in the East Village. A true hidden urban oasis.

So what's the problem? Getting the service kinks out and getting the grill going.
Secret garden party

We visited on a lazy Saturday afternoon around 5 pm, hoping it wouldn't be mobbed. It wasn't.

Strangely, there's no written menu or promotion of the BBQ specials. The drinks include Pimm's cup ($12), rose ($10), and beer ($5), and rotating meats from the grill. Specials of the day were charcoal grilled burgers ($7) and hot dogs ($4). You can also order from the regular menu, which we were offered. So we opted for some rose, a cheeseburger, and from the regular menu, the mini short rib sandwiches ($12).

Outdoor grilled burger
Service was painfully slow despite the lack of crowds. The grill master was having a hard time keeping the grill going. Lots of smoke and wafts of lighter fluid. The burger took so long it was taken off the bill. It comes picnic-style on a paper plate with a side of potato chips. I'd nix the overly processed slice of cheese.

Otherwise, I'm optimistic they'll find a groove, and the chef will be owning the grill next time.

For a neighborhood summer outing this holiday weekend, the setting is unbeatable. 

25 Cooper Square
Between E 5th + 6th Sts, enter on 5th St
Saturday Summer BBQs, 3-9 pm through Aug
212 475 3400