Umami Café

325 S Riverside Ave. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520 • (914) 271-5555umamicafe.com

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If there’s one cuisine the burbs can’t seem to nail, it’s Asian. Now I hate using that term, because what exactly is Asian anyways? India is in Asia, so doesn’t that count? No. Apparently not. That’s Indian. What about Thai? Nope. Chinese? Sort of. Sushi? Not technically, although Japanese is definitely in the mix. Middle Eastern? While officially on the continent of Asia I think most people liken it to Mediterranean before Asian.

So now that I have no fucking clue what I even mean now, what is good Asian? Pearl & Ash and Momofuku Ko in New York. That’s great Asian. Taking all of the disparate cultural influences and fusing them into the cuisine to create dishes that pay homage to the classics, without necessarily being the classics.

This territory is squarely where Umami stakes its claim (not to be confused with Umami Burger in the City), and in doing so, manages to top the list of attempts I’ve tried thus far. Although, tucked away on an unfortunate corner overlooking an auto repair shop this half in/half out pseudo strip mall eater most certainly doesn’t get by on its looks. That’s where the Peking duck quesadilla comes in. Decorated with hoisin, crème fraiche and kudos. Best of the three dishes I had, and all three were good. The other two are in descending order of likeage- the Ahi tuna won ton tacos, followed by the truffled mac and cheese (pictured) with gruyere, fontina and panko crust. This last one was way more interesting than it sounds, let’s not kid our selves, it’s mac and cheese.

The only miss was actually right out of the get with their sangria. It had a little too much bite, almost as if it were going bad, but not quite. In ned of a little more sweetness and missing that refreshing characteristic that makes sangria so magical on a hot summer day. Granted it was probably a stupid order on my part, because who gets sangria with Asian food? Apparently I do. But I was hoping for a little sake Asian twist. Alas it was not to be. But duly noted upon my return. I will order my beverage with eyes wide open, duck quesadillas (of course), and maybe some noodles or one of those wagyu burgers. Boom!

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

The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!