Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cluck, yeah. Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken Hits the East Village (Almost).

The 4 piece mix comes with cucumber salad and fries
The early word on the bird: it's all good. It better be after waiting in a line that snaked around Second Ave. for two hours tonight. The Bromberg Bros. are getting the final kinks out of the system before officially opening the doors of Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken to the public. Maybe this weekend, maybe next week. It just depends on when they think the staff is ready to handle the crush of crowds once they hit 'send.'

Judging from the frenzied online chatter, hoards of fans will be hitting the E. Village for the high-end chain's first chicken-only spin off. It's by the subway and it's open til 2am. Tonight the food was free. Here are the highlights:

Trio of chicken burgers
Fried chicken dinners come in a variety of combos or by the piece. The chicken is moist and juicy on the inside, and coated in the signature thick matzo meal crust. The crust is only lightly seasoned and definitely benefits from the flavor boost of honey-based sauces scattered on the tables. Combos come with a crisp cucumber salad and pencil thin fries. The hefty chicken burgers look tantalizing - and feedback from other diners confirmed it. 

Sides and salads don't disappoint. The fried dilly beans - pickled, deep fried green beans - have a sour tang that grows on you. And the blue cheese, bacon topped iceberg wedge makes a sinful side salad.

Fried dilly beans
There are other special menu grabbers like Mexican Sprite and Coke. And for dessert, check out the ice creams in creative combos. Carrot and habanero, anyone?
Behind the magic
Here come the crowds
28 E 1st Street @ Second Ave.
212 228 0404

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What's a Nanaimo Bar?

No bake decadance
A visit to Toronto's InterContinental Hotel introduced me to one of the all time great no bake desserts that no one's heard of. Well, no one outside of Canada, maybe. The Nanaimo bar, named for a random Vancouver Island city, dates back to the 50s, and sandwiches some of the most decadent pairings - chocolate, vanilla custard, biscuit crust.

The addition of ground almonds and coconut in a Digestives cookie base sends me into a blissful sugar coma. After sampling it off the hotel's dessert tray, I immediately Googled recipes and found myself racing to the nearest market to find the only unfamilar ingredient for most Americans: Bird's custard powder, a classic British baking item which creates an egg-free custard (and can be found in the US online at World Market and specialty retailers).

Skip brownies and see how this becomes your party go-to dessert. Warning: it's not low cal and you can't eat just one bar.

There are many variations on the bar. This recipe has been adapted from the town's official visitors site. I used far less butter than originally listed.

Nanaimo Bars

Makes 25 bars in 8” x 8” pan

Bottom Layer
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups Digestive biscuit or graham crackers crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook until thickened and glossy. Remove from heat. In a separate bowl, combine crumbs, coconut and nuts. Fold crumb mixture into melted chocolate until uniform. Press firmly and evenly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan. Let cool in refrigerator while preparing next layer.

  Middle Layer
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup cream or half + half
2 tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Cream together butter, cream, custard powder, and confectioner’s sugar. Beat until light. Spread over cooled bottom layer. Refrigerate to set while making third layer.
Top Layer
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator. Cut into squares and serve chilled or at room temperature. Freezes well. Makes 25 bite sized morsels or 16 large bars.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Top Made-in-NYC Finds at the Fancy Food Show

Big debut for refreshing LifeIce
At last weekend’s Summer Fancy Food Show, home grown vendors showed off some of the coolest new products in a sea of 2,400 exhibitors from 80 countries, reminding us why NYC is a leading incubator for artisanal food innovation.

LifeIce – Creator Paulette Fox turned personal family tragedy into a brilliant product idea. Delicious shelf-stable mini ice cubes come in all natural flavors and are perfect for guilt free snacking with all the benefits of superfoods including mangosteens, Yumberry and kale. GMO-free too.

2013 sofi Gold Award winner
We Rub You – I’ve been a fan of the Chung sisters’ eponymous Smorgasburg stand since they started slinging divine Korean bulgogi sliders coated in homemade sauces. Their Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade just beat out 109 other finalists to be crowned the Show’s sofi Award for Outstanding Cooking Sauce.
The Saucey Sauce – Continuing the trend in small batch international sauces, brother and sister duo Toan and Ken swiped their mom’s classic nuoc cham recipe to inspire their line of all natural Vietnamese dressings + marinades. The Hot Habanero KetJap packs blazing chilies into a blend of fish sauce, garlic and tomato paste for a memorable meat marinade or topper on sandwiches and fries.

Named after the Brooklyn bar where it was created, Floyd Beer Cheese is the self proclaimed “must-have midnight snack cheese.”  I don’t disagree. The original flavor is similar to Southern favorite pimento cheese but with a very important distinction: real aged cheddar is used instead of the processed stuff.

Gourmet MitchMallow, anyone?
MitchMallows -Why eat a boring marshmallow when you can savor a handmade MitchMallow in unorthodox flavor combos that really work. Along with more classic combos such as cinnamon dusted churros, the addictive ginger wasabi or crunch coated pretzels + beer deserve some serious attention.

Lower East Side’s Rick’s Picks, a former sofi winner, added more pickle power to his growing line in brine with the Sweet + Sassy  Mix Italian giardinara.

Not every terrific product I sampled was from New York. Other outrageous standouts, most of which are all available in NY retailers, include Magnolia Avocado Ice Cream, a velvety tropical dessert without cloying sweetness. Biena and SaffronRoad both make crunchy chickpea snacks in exciting flavors such as BBQ and wasabi. I was also glad to see an old English classic from 1814 finally getting some US of A attention. Colman's mustard is one of those secret ingredients where a little goes a long way in so many savory dishes and spreads. Its fiery kick is a favorite of chefs like Nigella and Martha and worth adding to pantry staples.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rockaway Beach Eats Post Sandy

Rockaway Taco standing strong - and delicious

Last fall Hurricane Sandy tragically tore through the seaside community – and burgeoning foodie haven - of the Rockaways, literally sweeping away chunks of boardwalk. As summer officially begins on Friday, here’s an update on the current state of one of my favorite beach day destinations.
Brand spanking new 86th St. beach concession
The good news is that the beach looks cleaner than ever (and so do the revamped bathrooms). The new concrete boardwalk, part of the $140 million restoration, is underway. Rippers, in the 86th St. concession building, is sporting a new lime green look and operating as normal. It's surrounded by a renovated block and gleaming overhang. But so far, it’s one of the few remaining food vendors around after the storm.
The 97th St. concession building is empty for now. Last summer it was swarming with hungry hipsters eager to sample boat-sized fried fish from Motorboat and the Big Banana to spicy Thai som tum from Ode to the Elephants. For now, you'll have to venture a few blocks inland to the original Rockaway Taco.
Rockaway Taco, where the food craze began
Rockaway Taco, a magnet for local surfers and skateboarders, started the beach food craze here. On a recent Saturday, lines were long and the fish tacos as delectable as ever. Make sure you add on the homemade pickles (the sell 'em by the jar too). But across the street stands the Rockaway Plate Lunch Truck, a poignant reminder of the toll Sandy has taken. The truck offers up to 500 free meals daily to local residents.

Word’s out that Bungalow Bar, one of Rockaway’s hidden gems and best sunset hangout on Jamaica Bay, has undergone a major refurb.
Getting there is easier this summer.The Rockabus is a convenient new shuttle to the beach from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Buses leave regularly on weekends.  
 Note: As you hear of more Rockaway food vendors opening this summer, please write in!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Five Star New Orleans Seafood at The Boil

Summertime seafood eating is here

It takes a lot to get New Yorkers to happily wait up to two hours for dinner served in a large plastic bag. But The Boil, an exciting new seafood shack at the edge of Chinatown, deserves to pull it off.

Shrimp + crawfish combo with house sauce
Here's why. The seafood is delicious. The value is excellent. You eat with your hands. The menu is straightforward.

Seasonal Louisiana crawfish, crab, lobster, shrimp, and clams are served by the pound or in generous combo platters. Pick a level of spiciness and your choice of sauce: lemon pepper, Old Bay, or garlic butter.The addictive house blend - a mash up of the three marinades - is the way to go.

Appetizers, including oyster sliders and catfish basket, are tasty enough. But save your appetite for the ridiculously generous combos. I could barely finish my $25 bargain dinner of a pound of peel 'n' eat shrimp and a pound of crawfish. The dinner includes corn, potatoes and sausage. The best part is that literally everything - sides too - is dumped into a gloriously warm bag full of special sauce. The melding of natural juices, butter, and garlicky seasonings creates an unforgettable coating that could keep the entire cast of "True Blood" at bay.

Fresh crawfish is in season through August (but the owners are working on getting them year round). Don't worry if you don't know how to eat the tiny crustaceans. There are instructions posted everywhere. Just make sure you aren't afraid to dig in. Literally. The mess is all part of the pleasure. They have bibs on hand.

The line starts forming nightly at 5 pm. See you there.

139 Chrystie Street
Between Broome + Delancey Streets
212 925 8815

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

30-Second Greek Yogurt Chocolate Mousse

Healthy chocolate mousse in 30 seconds
Fage yogurt, or any thick Greek yogurt, can double as the base for instant, guilt-free chocolate mousse. Just add a squirt of good quality chocolate syrup. I use Trader Joe's organic Midnight Moo, which is fat free too! The yogurt's creamy tang is balanced perfectly by the sweetness of liquid chocolate.

It's super rich, so a few spoonfuls go a long way. I take 2 big tablespoons of 2% Greek yogurt (must be Greek), squirt about a teaspoon (or to taste) of chocolate syrup onto it. Stir well and serve. That's it. If you have time, chill for an hour or so to thicken it. If you want to be fancy, add a chocolate swirl on top. For variations when you're not counting calories, you can add toasted coconut or granola too.

It's pretty addictive and completely effortless.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Malai Marke Hits the Mark

A Malai Marke Indian feast
East Village newcomer Malai Marke is northern Indian slang for "a dash of cream." But there's nothing slight about its impact on the E. 6th Street block known as Curry Row. In fact, its celebration of authentic regional specialties has given waning Curry Row a much needed facelift. Co-owner Roshan Balan calls it a ‘flavor explosion,’ and he’s right.

A tour around the menu introduces diners to hard to find coastal delicacies from Goa, Kerala and Mangalore, all richly influenced by Portuguese settlers. Try the coconutty chicken xacuti and fish ambotik. Murgh makhani and Malai Marke paneer, two signature dishes by chef/co-owner Shiva Natarajan, are robust twists on classics butter chicken and butter paneer. Lamb madras, a staple dry curry on Indian menus, benefits from quality meat and fresh curry leaves. Fresh chili and red onions add another layer of flavor to classic naan. It's the ideal place to venture off the beaten curry path and try something new. You really can't go wrong.
Malai Marke on E. 6th St.

Interiors by Thida Thong Thai are stylishly casual with copper pots from the company warehouse lining the exposed brick walls. And the open kitchen maintains the connection with diners.

Malai Marke is bound to be a stalwart in the team's fleet of restaurants includes Chola, Dhaba, and Thele Wala.

The $9 a la carte lunch special, which comes with two sides and naan, is one of the best steals in the East Village, too. Now you know.

318 E. 6th Street
Between 1st + 2nd Aves
212 777 7729

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fans Fired Up for NYC Hot Sauce Expo

Hot sauce lovers united at Williamsburg's waterfront
My taste buds are still tingling from this weekend's fiery debut of the NYC Hot Sauce Expo. Dozens of incendiary blends with wickedly enticing names like Evil SeedDragon's Blood Elixer, and PuckerButt competed for the local Oscars of hot sauces - the Screaming Mi Mi Awards. 
And to sop up the heat, there was no shortage of tasty vittles from, among others, two East Village newcomers. Empire Biscuit, a 24-hr Southern biscuit shop opening soon in Alphabet City, was doling out fried green tomatoes topped with gooey smoked mozzarella. The upcoming 14th Street addition, The Nugget Spot, wowed with their gourmet Southern fried chicken nuggets and special sauces.

For booze options, KikaEats got to help crown the winning Negra Modelo michelada competition to Crown Heights' Franklin Park.Other local thirst quenchers included The Murph's Famous Blood Mary Mix from Connecticut and whiskey passion fruit cocktails from Tirado, the Bronx's first distillery.

Set along the Williamsburg waterfront, and right next to a bustling Smorgasburg, the setting couldn't have been more perfect. No doubt this expo will be hotter than ever next year.

An afternoon in pictures:

Bhut means ghost
Deliciously evil
Alphabet City's Southern newcomer

Bloody Mary, anyone?
Three Screaming Mi Mis for Oregon's NW Elixers

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Charm of Zoe

Zoe's enticing take on Middle Eastern shakshuka
Zoe is a ray of sunshine on a tiny, quiet block of Eldridge St. I stumbled upon it a few weekends ago while taking a midday shortcut through the Lower East Side.

I heard it first. Windows open, the place was bustling with chatter, people spilling onto the street. Then I noticed the chalkboard sidewalk sign: fried chicken and blueberry pancakes. Ultimate sweet-salty. My kinda brunch.

Homemade creamy labne with granola and apricots
Readers know I am not a fan of the average boozy, prix fixe brunch - cheap drinks, forgettable eggs. Nothing tastes duller.

Chef-owner Zoe Feigenbaum must agree. Everything on her globally inspired a la carte brunch menu competes for attention. Over a fresh ginger lemonade, I agonized between the Mexican shrimp and eggs ($15), the full Irish breakfast ($16), and aforementioned pancakes and fried chicken (which is not actually listed on the brunch menu but always available). On a whim, I settled for the hearty Moroccan poached eggs ($15), a surprisingly mild shakshuka livened with grilled haloumi, eggplant and merguez.

My friend Barbara gushed over her homemade labne (strained yogurt) with granola and cooked apricots. From the flowers down to the cocktail garnishes lining the bar, everything looks fresh and sunny. Service can be scattered, but on a lazy Sunday, nothing should feel rushed anyway.

345 Eldridge Street
Between E. Houston + Stanton Sts.
646 559 5962


Monday, March 25, 2013

Dumpling Odyssey in Flushing

White Bear's award-winning wontons
Love Chinese dumplings? Have 2-3 friends who share this passion? Get yourself to downtown Flushing this spring for a walking tour of some of the finest cheap eats around.

A few months ago, Serious Eats published an essential Flushing dumpling guide. Use it as a starting point, but get inspired to digress as we did on a recent afternoon in this vibrant eating Mecca, where 80% of businesses are either Chinese or Korean owned. For ease of splitting, keep your group to 3 or 4 people as most dumpling servings are by the dozen. And everything is within a few block radius of the Main St.-Roosevelt Ave. intersection.

White Bear is the perfect starting point and has quite a following. Just two blocks from the Flushing 7 train station. Unassuming is an understatement. There's practically no seating in this mom + pop shop. It doesn't matter because it takes seconds to polish off the exceptional pork + cabbage wontons in hot oil ($4.50/dozen). The bits of pickled veggies and chili add just the right depth of flavor. It's very tempting to order a second dozen, but refrain, because there is so much more ahead.

Next stop is the food court wonderland on the ground floor of New World Mall. I recently visited Bangkok where the mall food courts tempted me at every turn. That same rush came right back here. Pork dumplings at Sliced Noodle are first steamed then fried in a thin pancake batter base for added texture.
Sliced Noodle's pork dumplings
At the rear end of sunny Maxim Bakery sits a Taiwanese dumpling counter called My Sweet Home. Sweet it is. Dig in to an order of cigar shaped pork and leek fried dumplings with a side of cold eggplant in bean sauce. Dumplings are just excellent - meaty and greaseless.

Excellent eats from My Sweet Home

As a detour, it would be a shame if you left Flushing without trying the $1 Peking duck bun at the Peking Duck Sandwich stall. So make a pit stop for a two-bite pillow of meaty goodness.
The famous Flushing $1 Peking duck bun
Our final stop was Biang, the upscale sister restaurant to Jason Wang's Xi'an Famous Foods chain. Biang is casually hip. Chunky wooden tables, and exposed brick and lighting keep a trendy crowd streaming in all afternoon. Here the spicy cumin chicken skewers and spicy and sour lamb dumplings do not disappoint. Wash down the tingling heat with sweet + sour hawberry tea.

Stylish Biang has a terrific menu 
Before leaving Flushing, poke around the shops or hit the massive Asian supermarkets including Sky Foods and Jmart.

White Bear
135-02 Roosevelt Ave.

Sliced Noodle
136-20 Roosevelt Ave.
New World Mall food court #12

My Sweet Home
136-76 Roosevelt Ave.

Peking Duck Sandwich Stall
Main St. + 40th Rd.

41-10 Main St.

Friday, March 15, 2013

An Afternoon at Bab al Yemen

Slow roasted lamb haneeth over rice and veggies
When my group of 18 curious diners poured into tiny Bab al Yemen in Bay Ridge for Sunday lunch, we were eager novices to Yemeni food. It paid off.

Scoop up lamb segar with brick oven bread
Our server Viktoria didn't skip a beat in knowing what to suggest for the table. A selection of their most popular appetizers followed by a variety of classics. First came the luscious bread. Blistering loaves of fresh brick oven flat bread. We started ripping it apart even before the appetizers arrived. No matter. Baskets were constantly replenished. The bread is a staple to the cuisine, used as much as a utensil as a filling carb.

Soon after, platters of hummus, each crowned with a fragrant meaty mixture, arrived. One held a giant scoop of lamb segar, tender morsels of spiced meat sauteed with tomatoes and onions. The second, curry yamaani, was our chef's inventive take on a mellow coconut chicken. It all required scooping with chunks of bread. I could have dined on the appetizers alone.

Mild coconut chicken curry yamaani

But wait, there's more. Lots more. A Yemeni omelet of ground meat and diced veggies was served in a piping hot casserole, allowing the freshly cracked egg to cook before your eyes. The fattah b'lahm, a baked lamb which incorporated flat bread with the jus, was so much more than soggy bread. It was hearty and full of flavor. Only the fahsah, a traditional watery lamb soup, turned up bland in comparison to the other excellent dishes.

The bill finally arrived. Under $20 a head. An impossible price for an afternoon of jovial gluttony. At the end of our epic meal, I pulled aside our obliging server with the beautiful black locks and kohl rimmed eyes to sum up exactly what makes up typical Yemeni cuisine. She threw up her hands and said, "I don't know. I'm Polish!" Love it.
413 Bayridge Ave.
Brooklyn, NY
718 943 6961
Open daily 10 am - 11 pm
Friday 2pm - midnight
Bab Al Yemen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Ringing in 2013 with a few of my favorite eats: sweet and sour tamarind snacks from Thailand, shrimp cocktail, roasted anchovies from Thailand  (high in calcium), and Trader Joe's "Good and Plenty."

My recent visit to Thailand and Cambodia reminded me how adventure travel ignites my appetite like nothing else. I can't wait to share my Southeast Asian food experiences and wish you all adventurous appetites this year.