Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Cardinal - New Southern Comfort in the East Village

A serious dinner spread at The Cardinal
With Irene a distant memory, let's get back to our normal weekend activities. Planning to catch the current number one film, "The Help"? Then follow it up with a big helping of Southern comfort at the new East Village eatery, The Cardinal.

Named for the North Carolina state bird, the bi-level Alphabet City BBQ joint is brimming with promise and hospitality. And a lot of meat. And the former head chef of Bubby's.

It's easy to see chef-owner Curtis Brown's passion for Southern cuisine and his North Carolina roots. He orders the locally sourced meat (grass fed beef + Heritage pork) whole so he can create everything from hot links to the ridiculously juicy burgers and bacon in-house.

I'd easily come here with a friend, a date, my mom, a group outing - even with kids. It's neighborhood casual and won't leave you hungry. That's for sure.

Plates are generous. The wet or dry rubbed BBQ plate ($19) could easily feed two or more. Or just me. It includes three meats: North Carolina pulled pork, Memphis ribs and Texas-style brisket. Homemade sauces on the side. Fried chicken ($15) is three crisp 'n' juicy pieces of bird. The fried pork chops smothered in red eye gravy ($15) are also moist and tasty.

Neighborhood charm
Each dinner comes with a choice of two sides. Mac N cheese is a standout. Baked beans and greens are both a close second. But, seriously, it's all mouth watering. And the prices definitely won't break the bank. Three platters and three beers: $75. How's that for a happy ending? Now smack your lips and pass the napkins.

Cool fact: Curtis Brown used to be the front man for hard rock band Bad Wizard. His old bandmate Stephen Tanner is the chef-owner of another classic comfort food spot, The Commodore.

Currently open for dinner and weekend brunch. Weekday lunch service coming soon.

234 E 4th St (between Ave A + Ave B)
Mon - Thurs 6pm - midnight
Fri 6pm - 1am
Sat 10am - 1am, Sun 10am - 11pm
212 995 8600

The Cardinal on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Feasting Weekend in Chicago

Scallop spiedini with chickpea aioli from The Purple Pig
Not getting our waitlisted table at Alinea wasn't the worst thing that could happen while on a recent trip to Chicago.

Yes, it would be nice to eat at the finest restaurant in the country. But I certainly wouldn't be left starving in the abundant Windy City.

First stop, Crisp, my all time favorite Korean fried chicken joint. Since my sister Nadine introduced it to the family a few years ago (and changed my life), it's developed a famous following. But the fare still satisfies. The sticky, sesame flecked BBQ chicken (kicked up with a side of sriracha mayo) manages to set your mouth on fire and leave you begging for more. The mild ginger-soy Seoul Sassy is another fine coating for the bird. Sauces are all homemade.

World's greatest Korean fried chicken wings from Crisp
Dinner is a swanky night out at Cibo Matto ("crazy food") in downtown's uber hip Wit Hotel. Dishes emerging from the open kitchen are eye candy. Attention to detail is everywhere in the chic, modern dining room, even down to the placement of each artisanal bread roll.

My beautifully pan roasted striped bass made up for the out-of-place 'chicken and waffles' amuse bouche. Afterwards, checked out the Wit's Roof bar for a nightcap and spectacular skyline view.

Lunch at Miller's Pub, a Chicago institution since 1935, is a slice of tasty nostalgia. Under the gaze of hundreds of famous folks framed on the walls, I wolfed down a classic Reuben sandwich that had a civilized ratio of meat to bread, not some mile high gut buster I'm used to seeing back home.

Sensational Armenian meze at Sayat Nova
After a long day at work, I couldn't help indulging in a refreshing Effen Cucumber cocktail and Armenian meze platter at exotic Sayat Nova. This lovely family run eatery has been a fixture off the Mag Mile for the past 40 years. The tabbouleh, lamb kebabs, and baba ganoush are among the finest anywhere. So is the tantalizing Armenian steak tartare called raw kibbee, studded with onions, cracked wheat and fresh parsley.

It would have been nice to sample the runaway hit Girl and the Goat, but even visiting at 10 pm yielded an hour and a half wait. The food did look as gorgeous as the crowd. And I got a sweet smile from chef Stephanie Izard as we walked away reservationless. Sniff sniff.
Juicy pork blade steak with nduja and honey

Fortunately, The Purple Pig was the final stop on the culinary field trip, and ended it with a bang.

A Bon Appetit top 10 winner in 2010, this bustling small plate eatery delivered its promise of cheese, wine and swine. The pork blade steak was juicy and succulent and served over a slice of nduja, a spreadable spicy pork salami from Calabria. The pork liver pate was robust. The seared scallops in chickpea aioli were equally delicious. Only the potato and speck croquettes were bland and forgettable.

Fresh baked savory pies
Middle Eastern delicacies
I always leave Chicago with a stash of edible souvenirs. Often it's from Middle East Bakery  & Grocery, an Ali Baba's treasure trove of delicacies. This time my luggage was stuffed with an assortment of freshly baked meat and spinach pies, lahmajoun, a favorite Armenian pizza with spicy minced meat, and homemade red pepper relish. Bright and lemony, the crimson topping is delicious on everything from omelets to sandwiches. The shop is filled with many hard to find ingredients, spices, dried fruit and nuts.

Thanks, Chi-town. You never disappoint.

Alinea, 1723 North Halsted
Cibo Matto, 201 North State St.
Crisp, 2940 North Broadway
Girl and the Goat, 809 West Randolph St.
Middle East Bakery and Grocery, 1512 West Foster Ave.
Miller's Pub, 134 South Wabash Ave.
Sayat Nova, 157 East Ohio St.
The Purple Pig, 500 North Michigan Ave.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Best Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Fresh and fabulous

If you love the tangy lime dressing in Thai papaya salad, this recipe is for you. I adapted it from Nigella Lawson's Vietnamese Chicken Salad recipe, and it's a classic in my repertoire. Light, spicy and refreshing, it's a perfect meal in itself. You can either poach the chicken breast or use the white meat from a rotisserie chicken (great for leftover cold chicken). Definitely use breast meat only.

Mix dressing ingredients and let sit for 10 minutes:
1 jalapeno pepper (or Thai chili for more heat), seeded and minced
juice from 1/2 lime
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 scallions, finely sliced

Allow dressing ingredients to meld flavors for 10 mins

1/2 cup cooked chicken breast meat - or about 1/2 of a breast - cubed or shredded
*1 cup shredded white cabbage
*1 cup shredded purple cabbage
*1/4 cup shredded carrots
handful chopped cilantro

* As a shortcut, you can also use bagged coleslaw mix, but it's best if it's thinly sliced. I buy mine from Essex Farm Fruits in the wonderful Essex St. Market in the Lower East Side.

Gently mix til thoroughly coated. Let sit 5 minutes to develop full flavor. Serves 1-2. Best if eaten immediately.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Savoring NYC's Oldest Dim Sum Parlor

Feasting at Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Entering Nom Wah Tea Parlor in the heart of Chinatown is an unforgettable walk back in time.

It's the city's oldest dim sum parlor dating back to the 1920s. You almost feel like you're on a classic movie set. And indeed it has made its way on to the silver screen. All of this ambiance just makes for a richer dining experience.

Plump fried dumplings
Even without the old world charm, the fresh and fabulous dim sum alone is well worth a visit. And you will eat like a king for under $20.

On a recent Sunday brunch visit, two of us gorged on a selection of dim sum, dumplings, and chef's specials.

The requisite pan fried pork and chive dumplings were among the best I've tasted. The plump, juicy mince bursts with each bite.The mountain of Chinese greens ($7.95) is bright and delicious, as is the generous mound of salt and pepper shrimp ($7.95).

More stuffed eggplant, please
But the real standout (and bargain) was the stuffed Japanese eggplant ($3.50). Sandwiched between the thick purple slices is a deep fried briny mixture of fresh and dried shrimp and a hint of squid. The plate rests in a pool of black bean sauce and every last bite is creamy, salty and delicious.

Wilson Tang is the latest generation to take over the family restaurant. His uncle Wally Tang had been at Nom Wah for the past 60 years. Wilson has recently ugraded the kitchen and spruced up the dining room with bright checked tablecloths, but otherwise has retained the classic vintage feel. He keeps a warm, efficient staff serving a busy dining room.

A slice of disappearing Chinatown
While you're waiting for your food to arrive, impress your friends with some fascinating history trivia.

Nom Wah is located on Doyers Street, a tiny elbow shaped speck on the map, named after Hendrick Doyer, an 18th-century Dutch immigrant. Doyer owned a distillery which now houses the drab post office on the block. But what really shocks is the street's ominous former nickname: the Bloody Angle. At the turn of the century, this corner saw vicious violence from Chinatown's gang warfare. Hatchets were the weapon of choice, inspiring the term 'hatchet man.'

Good thing all you have to worry about today is pacing yourself from exploding.

13 Doyers Street
Sun - Thurs 10:30 am - 9 pm
Fri - Sat 10:30 - 10 pm
212 962 6047

Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The World's Most Expensive Ham at Pata Negra

Delicious Spanish chorizo plate
Tiny Pata Negra sits on an E. 12th Street block in the East Village packed with quality international eateries.

There's French Resto Leon, Thai Terminal, Motorino pizza and S'MAC mac-n-cheese. The unassuming Spanish tapas bar deserves serious recognition.

First, the name: pata negra refers to the finest Spanish ham, and world's most expensive.

Membrillo topped goat cheese - a must
The famed 'black hoofed' ham is produced by a special breed of Iberian hogs native only to Spain and fed a steady diet of acorns. The real deal has only been approved for US import for three years. Pata Negra is one of the few places in NYC that you can order it. And it's $150/lb. You can get a plate here for $40.

As a chorizo fanatic, my eye is drawn instantly to this smokey tapa. The plump, juicy sausage comes from Despana, which means it is fantastic. It's accompanied by a delicious selection of seasonal veggies ($10).

The patitas sampler ($7) is classic taste of Spain. Five toast points come with a variety of fine Spanish hams, boquerones (white anchovies), pequillo peppers, Manchego, and membrillo.
Spanish charm and style
The fairly priced selection of Spanish wines rotates regularly. The genial staff will gladly guide you through it.

And they remember you when you come back. You will come back.

345 E 12th St.
between 1st + 2nd Aves.
Open Tues - Sun from 5pm
212 228 1696

Pata Negra on Urbanspoon