Cafe Mogador

101 St Marks PlNew York, NY 10009 • (212) 677-2226 • cafemogador.com
 

I don’t mean to sound like that obnoxious guy in the movie BIG, but “I don’t get it.” This place is at the top of virtually every food blog’s list in the city and it is mediocre at best. I mean c’mon, there are SOOO many other middle eastern and mediterranean joints that are far superior. And it’s not like the vibe is anything special either, dressed like your typical bistro. So what am I missing? The tagines aren’t even served in tagines and are decent at best. 95% of menu lacks inventiveness, not to mention excellence. I mean sure it’s good, but since when does good make it amongst the best Manhattan has to offer?

  

The only things that impressed me were the spicy carrot app and the baklava. Both are worth getting assuming you still wind up here. Beyond that, the tagines and the falafels, lamb kebab and the kofte were all quite good, which apparently mean “eh” in England. Just learnt this and trying it on for size. Thoughts? Confusing?  Well welcome to the club, because the love of this place has me almost as baffled as I was after dining at Uncle Boons. 

 

 

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Fuku

163 1st AveNew York, NY 10003 • eatfuku.com

Normally I’m a pretty big David Chang fan, but Fuku is definitely missing the Momo mojo. The concept is fried chicken. In sandwiches, fingers and bites, with various builds in between. I went with the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich and despite the pickles and supposed habanero, it’s hopelessly bland. In fact, I emptied an entire ramekin of Saam Sauce (David’s answer to Sriracha) just to make it worth eating.

For those of you thinking, but Ferocious, it’s figgin’ chicken, how much flavor can you expect?! MUCH more. Just try the one at Son of a Gun and R+D Kitchen, both in LA. I realize neither are very convenient for a New Yorker, but if you’re ever out that way, my case rests in the City of Angels.

The bites are in the same bland boat, so let’s not waste your precious time reading about these balls of blandness either.

There is a silver lining on the TryCaviar menu however, should you choose to ignore my advice. The salad. Yes, salad. It’s a kale base, loaded with broccoli, shishito peppers and edemame peas. It’s the bomb.

And speaking of explosions, the Compost Cookie is always a strong go-to. Granted I feel like it’s not quite as good as the ones at Milk Bar. And even if it were, my advice to you, if you’re ordering on the aforementioned TryCaviar, get your cookies Dominique Ansel Bakery instead. You’ll thank me.

Bruno Pizza

204 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 598-3080 brunopizzanyc.com

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As a rule, it’s generally frowned upon to like your in-laws, much less love them, but when they find you gems like Bruno’s it’s kinda hard not to love the bejesus out of them. A “hot list” mention in Turkish Vogue (yes, there’s a Turkish Vogue), my mother in-law decided to give it a whirl. And then another and another, and before she knew it she was a dervish going back and forth to this restaurant five times in an eight week period. And while I had never even heard of the place myself, if it’s one thing my in-laws know- well, it’s probably diplomacy. But if there are two things, it’s food. So, I made it priority and grabbed wifey to head down for a bite.

The place is much hipper than most pie places, but the subway car-shaped dinning space with white on white box seats that double as a torture device and a music selection that does the same, it starts to make you feel like you’re in Guantanamo being forced to balance your ass on a cinder block whilst being exposed to shrieks and shrills that try to pass themselves off as music.

So already docking one star for setting, the food was going to have to do a ton of work to climb back out of the hole they were starting in. And my glass of wine wasn’t helping things either. Not because the wine itself was bad, in fact it was a very nice Syrah, but it was served in a glass reeking so heavily of the detergent it was washed in that it took away form the bouquet of the vino.

And then suddenly Bruno went on a tear, opening with an Ultimate Brussels sprouts, every bit as good as Ilili, but without the fried guilt, which so many other restaurants are doing now, loading up the sprouts with bacon and other goodies to the point where they are more like French fries than vegetables. But not Bruno. They let the sprouts shine through, with just the right amount of pizazz to make them special. Pizazz courtesy of apple butter, shishito peppers and puffed black rice.

As for the pies themselves, both were outstanding and both were served up on a whole wheat crust, shockingly enough. But not your typical, earthy, over-powering whole wheat. This is done in such a subtle way that you get all of the good and none of the bad, leaving you with a crust that rivals some of the best you could ever name.

The first of the pies was the Tasso Ham topped with smoked blue cheese, thinly sliced Fuji apples, sage and shallots. It’s excellent, but being the heat-seeker that I am, I found that it needed crushed red pepper to give it balance.

On the other hand, the Mushroom pie doesn’t need a thing other than your mouth, and is the best shroom pie I’ve had since Oenotri in Napa, CA. Topped with a blend of locally sourced fungi ranging from shitake to cremini, paired with a decadent béchamel, chives and chiles.

And to finish off, while the options are slim, they prove to be all you need. A refreshing duo of gelatos of which we opted for the Meyer lemon variety. But Bruno doesn’t do anything expected, serving it up with freshly sliced kumquats, mulberries, lemon curd and meringue brittle. It was so much more than we expected, capping the night on the highest of highs.

If you fashion yourself as a pizza connoisseur, then you need to hop your bones in cab and head to Bruno’s, presto!

4 teeth

BaoHaus

238 E 14th St. New York, NY 10003(646) 669-8889baohausnyc.com

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I didn’t actually dine here. We only ordered take out through Trycaviar.com, which has lost a step as of late, I am sad to report. Taking much longer than their already lengthy estimate and then delivering only three quarters of the order correctly. But to be fair, that’s Trycaviar’s problem, not the Baohaus.

As for Baohaus’ problems, it doesn’t travel well, so I can’t recommend ordering it as take out or delivery. But seeing past the limitations of transit, I can tell there is promise in those buns. The most promise being in the Chairman Bao (a.k.a. pork belly). Even after an hour and a half on a bicycle, riding around the city, it still tasted executive worthy (with the addition of Sriracha of course).

The Birdhaus Bao (fired chicken) was just okay by comparison, but against pork belly that’s to be expected. It was also pretty dry as a result of the city bike tour, again to be expected I suppose. But even as dry as it was, it still bested the fried fish bao, which was disturbingly rubbery and chewy.

Making up for the fish bun, however, were the taro fries. Now I wasn’t exactly sure what the hell taro was, but it sort of looks like the eggplant in a bag of Terra Chips, only in fry form. Turns out, after looking it up, taro is a root vegetable from Asia. And while by themselves the taro fries are quite boring, the haus sauce they serve them with is amazing. So good, in fact, it makes up for the fact that they were soggy as hell.

So, as much as I love the name, not to mention the school of design, Baohaus is teetering on the edge of two and three knives. But because my sampling was tainted by Trycaviar, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt…. on the haus.

3 teeth

The Black Ant

60 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 598-0300blackantnyc.com

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for restaurants named after colorful animals. The Purple Pig in Chicago, Yellow Dog Eats in Orlando, The Golden Goat in Eze, France… And there are many more where those came from- Well, now you add yet another to the list, The Black Ant, and while black is technically not a “color,” (it’s a value) if you can find it in a box of Crayolas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a color.

The place is very cozy and charming inside, playing to its name with a gigantic ant mural and ant wallpaper. And the service is rather jubilant (note the clever use of an adjective containing the word “ant” within it- two points for me!), a noteworthy plus to the dining experience, because it becomes infectious and it’s almost impossible to have a bad time here because of it. Well, because of that or the margaritas. And actually just the smoky jalapeno margarita, which was spicy and smoky as one might expect. The blood orange variety is actually a bit of a miss if you ask me. Much better ones to be had at ABC Cocina in the city or Truck in Bedford, NY.

As for the guac, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find better, or as interesting, made so by loading it with goodies like chipotle, black ant salt, quesillo and garbanzos done in a way that is very reminiscent of corn nuts, all waging a textural tango on your tongue, between creamy and crunchy.

The fries are also done with a cultural flair, foregoing the potatoes in lieu of cactus. Now I can’t exactly say I’ve had a plethora of cactus fries in my life to compare these with, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this is probably the most joy a cactus has ever given someone since peyote.

For a taco, I definitely recommend the enchapulinados (fried shrimp). But again, Black Ant doesn’t seem to do anything the easy way, so instead of coconut or panko these shrimp are crusted with grasshoppers. No, not the cocktail. The insect. Accompanied with habanero, garlic aioli and cabbage slaw, all lovingly dolloped on a homemade tortilla. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it is quite good.

As for my entrée, this was the biggest let down of the night, other than the blood orange margarita. I followed the recommendation of the waitress who suggested the buñuelos de pato, which are essentially fried wontons filled with duck, smothered in mole and cotija cheese, served up with a kumquat salad. It’s not bad I suppose, but after her two previous fried recommendations I started to get a little fried on fried things. And I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t recommend that short rib looker above or the stunning fish dish you’ll find on their website. I can only assume she just has a thing for fried foods, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility that she was trying to kill me.

Well, I would’ve thought that had she not followed it up with the best recommendation of the night, the Piña Loca for dessert. It’s a warm cake and ice cream served over a caramelized pineapple pancake and all I can say is muy bien!

Definitely a worthwhile visit and I look forward to returning with wifey. But when I do, I’m skipping the duck.

3 teeth

Burp Castle

41 E 7th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 982-4576burpcastlenyc.wordpress.com

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The only way to describe this place is one part Disney, one part Trappist monk brewery and should you venture inside, you will quickly see why. Scratch that. You can see pretty clearly from the sidewalk, because the facade is a medieval castle. Think Excalibur Casino in Vegas, but only one story high and about 1000 square feet inside. Fortunately the decor is not as garish as Excalibur, but still most definitely themed with servers dressed as “brewist monks” in fully cloaked pageantry and Renaissance-style murals on the walls (pictured) that depict a rather un-Disney-like scene, more like Caligula, with the aforementioned monks gallivanting about with topless nymphs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it is, however, worth noting.

Also worth noting is that this is not the place to go if you want to get pissed. These monks like it mellow, so should you get too boisterous prepare to be shushed.

As for the beer itself, it’s very, very good. It kind of has to be for this place to still be around for over twenty years. And true to the Trappist way, they engage in a healthy worship of beer, stocking the place with interesting selections on draft that tend to rotate from time to time. But even with the rotation, you’re always sure to find the staples, like lager, pilsner, tripel, stout, wheat, etc… What you won’t find, however, is the same ole, same ole bar experience.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Soup (Cold)

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Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

Let’s be honest, head to head cold soup is pretty much a nonstarter compared to hot soup. The way hot soup warms you to the core, the aromas wafting up from the bowl in ribbons of steam, the way the spices and herbs infuse the liquid as it cooks. And then there’s gazpacho, which is more or less a bowl of salsa in disguise.

Well, Momofuku Ko just proved that gazpacho isn’t the only game in cold soup town with their honeydew melon and avocado soup. Accented with macadamia nuts for a nice textural contrast. It was so creamy and refreshing and about twenty other adjectives I am sparing you from, because this isn’t about my knowledge of the thesaurus. It’s about cold soup finally being hot.

99 Miles to Philly

94 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-270099milestophillyeastvillage.com

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As you wrap your chomper around this cheesesteak, your lips will practically jump off your face and run up a flight of stairs, Balboa-style. You, on the other hand, will remain firmly planted in your seat, because damn is it heavy. And I mean, maximus heavius. But lord is it worth it. Like little Liberty bells of joy ringing in your ears as you chew. I’ve had Cheesesteaks in Philly that should be ashamed to have been beaten so badly by a NYC joint.

Then there’s the chili cheese fries. I couldn’t even finish half of them, but they were equally gut-busting delicious, in a I-know-this-is-killing-me-with-every-passing-bite sort of way.

And while you’ll probably wish you were in Philly, so you could jog the 99 miles back home to help burn it off, it’s also nice that you can get your Philly finest in less than 99 meters.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Tofu

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Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan you probably don’t think it’s possible to swoon over tofu. And to be fair, the degree of difficulty is most certainly steep being that it’s basically a flavorless curd brick. But to some, it’s also a blank canvas. Here are two masterpieces painted on that canvas…

Sushi Roku – Santa Monica, CA

In the midst of such a tempting menu filled with stone-seared kobe beef and baked lobster rolls its hard to pull your eyes away long enough to notice the seared tofu appetizer, much less bother to even give it a second thought. But for those who do, I promise you will not be sorry.

Marinated in a wonderfully savory miso sauce and draped in a blanket of shitake mushrooms, the tofu takes on such a substantial flavor you’d almost swear you were eating meat. And this isn’t like when you get “chicken” or “meatloaf” at other places that are a poor man’s version of the original. This dish makes no apologies about being tofu. And then smacks you upside the head for having been prejudice in the first place.

Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

If no one told you there was tofu in this dish, you would never know it, swearing on your life that it was creamy cheese inside those perfect pockets of pasta. But being wrong never tasted so right. And the sweet corn ragu they smother it with will have you dancing like a giddy school girl on prom night- and that’s not just the increased estrogen levels talking either. It’s just that mind-altering good.

Boulton & Watt

5 Ave A New York, NY 10009(646) 490-6004boultonandwattnyc.com

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I heard about Boulton & Watt thanks to Thrillist, which is a great blog for foodies. They always seem to be listing the best new restaurant openings. Best brunches, etc… And while I don’t always agree, I still love the tips.

And speaking of not agreeing, sadly Boulton & Watt would fall into that column. Which is unfortunate, because I was practically drooling when I read their amazing menu, loaded with temptations. Unfortunately, I always seem to forget that menus are just words, and in this case, only a few dishes lived up to the expectations those words set in motion.

The first being the pickle jar we ordered, jicama with chili and lime. Such a simple, fun concept. They have tons of pickled options. Each very inventive and from our sample of one, very good.

We also really like the fried green tomato caprese. Great merger of two iconic dishes.

But perhaps the best thing of the night was the banana bread pudding in a chocolate whiskey sauce that was goo-riffic! Warm, oozing everywhere. And even though I was full, I powered through it. After all, no pain, no gain as the saying goes. Albeit that’s probably not the original intent of the colloquialism, but you have to admit, it fits quite well, unlike my jeans the next morning.

And now for the shortcomings. And by “short” I mean the short rib and bone marrow toast. I mean how do you screw this up people?! It’s a layup! Like missing the culinary broadside of a barn. Tasting like mediocre sloppy joe with the consistency of Alpo.

The curried mussel pot proved to be just eh, especially by comparison to the Belgian Beer Café in the Flatiron, which handily bests it.

And the duck carbonara was flavorless. In dire need of some heat. Either cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, arugula- anything to give it some pepperiness. Of course I added copious amounts to make it worthy of my mouth, but to serve it in such a state is just careless.

Definitely a mixed review for certain, teetering on skip it. However, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to return, I might give it another shot if I were shopping in Nolita. It’s got a great industrial décor reminiscent of All Saints and lots of energy, a.k.a. noisy as all hell, so if you don’t like yellversation or you have a bad case of laryngitis, I’d strongly urge you to take a pass. If, on the other hand, you want a cool bar for good drinks and don’t care too much about the food, you could do a lot worse.

2 teeth