Category Archives: New York

NYC Honorable Mention

This trip to NYC was quite enjoyable thanks to my friends, Mr & Mrs Software, a couple I worked with and The Critical Thinker, a former neighbor and wise-beyond-years 20-something. They are truly enjoyable and being younger they are not opposed to simply wandering and discovering. Having a plan is one thing, it certainly can add direction to situations calling for cat-herding but wandering leads to discovering, which is good.

IMG_1481Case in point, as we wandered back from Central Park, making our way down to Nolita, we stumbled across this UES coffee house, Joe. I scream when I get within several blocks of a Starbucks, too commercialized, too luxuriously bland, so my coffee radar only focuses on small independents and family-owned venues like Joe.

We liked. Cramped and chaotic like many NYC venues however still inviting. My cortado was authentic enough and the barista can craft some wicked foam designs, consistently and quickly.

Outposts are scattered throughout the island.

Coffee: 29 Sept 2013

Joe | 1045 Lex | NYC 10021

Massawa

IMG_1472Last year I went to  Columbia U’s Ethiopian venue, Massawa, with two African natives, one being from Ethiopia. The Ethiopian ordered for us all in the native language. The meal that arrived was so memorable that I returned over the weekend. It’s a clear  winner for spicy food lovers.

Atmosphere
Its interesting, when you exit the 1 train to doorsteps of Columbia U, it does feel as though you’ve left Manhattan. Its quiet and relatively sedate, that is, if school is not in full swing. Massawa likewise feels calm and sedate. Warm, earthy, casual.

IMG_1469 IMG_1471

Food
With two Indian vegetarians I was curious how they would react to Ethiopian food. They loved it, claiming that the spices are similar to their regional Indian favorites. Come to think, that’s true; no matter what you order, likely you will pick up onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and coriander.

The other carnivore and I ordered the meat combo: Lamb, Chicken, Beef. Each of the dishes is a stew presented over ingera, the region’s teff-based bread, which is a thicker, spongier version of a tortilla with a pleasantly fermented flavor. Tear off some ingera, pick up some of the combo, relish in the spicy, savory flavors. The vegetarians were thrilled with their vegetarian combo.

We also ordered sambusa, which are the Ethiopian version of samosas – delicious. Crispy, filo-esque casing containing the filling (meat or veg) which is highly spiced with what I assume is bebere, the ubiquitous hot-pepper spice used in many an Ethiopian dish. Two dippings sauces accompany; one blisteringly hot, the other cooling.

Definitely try the Ethiopian coffee, which is a medium bodied coffee mixed with Chai spices. Surprisingly good!

Service
Its casual and friendly. There was only one person taking and delivering orders but the process was efficient. If you are in a hurry, you are probably at the wrong place but they will do their best to accommodate.

Price
Reasonable. Combo meat, sambusa, Ethiopian coffee – $25 per happy, full person.

Lunch: 29 Sept 2013

Massawa | 1239 Amsterdam | NYC 10027

Dirt Candy

IMG_1466This blink of a space in Alphabet City  will make even the most steadfast carnivore seriously consider defecting to vegetarianism. Love this place.

Atmosphere
At most it seats 12, which is why reservations are essential and those are best made 2 months out. Despite its small size and minimalist interior, it shuns sterility and claustrophobic overtones. Inviting, intimate, celebratory.

Food
Excellent. Our 4-top ordered all of the appetizers and entrees in a culinary blitz . With two lifelong vegetarians at the table I was thrilled to hear applause in the form of minimal conversation and excessive ooh-ahh. The menu in front of us was slightly smaller and different than the menu online; in the end it mattered not.

I won’t cover the 9 dishes we consumed but the highlights for me were …

IMG_1460 IMG_1463
IMG_1464 IMG_1461

Jalapeno Hushpuppies: 
Be warned – do not eat too many of these super dense but flavorful nuggets, they will prevent further consumption. I loved the spicy jalapeno flavours combined with the accompanying lightly sweet maple butter.

Portobello Mousse: 
Portobello mushroom crafted into a dense flavor-popping mousse with the texture of pate, served with sauteed portobellos, truffled crisps and a peach compote. A surprisingly rich app which could easily make a light meal. Good balance of fruit and savory with truffle adding depth and complexity.

Smoked Broccoli Dog
My favourite. The broccoli spears had been smoked in what tasted like hickory wood. Served in a “bun” with broccoli-kraut and broccoli rabe that was crispy, salty and vinegar-y. I liked the flavor play – smoky, salty, vinegar-y. I liked the textures – crunchy, chewy, soft.

The potato dish and the tofu dish featured in the photos were also good. We finished the mousse before I could snap one off.

Service
Solid. Infectiously upbeat. Knowledgeable. We were each asked about food restrictions and preferences, obvious inference that meals here can be highly tailored to accommodate individual needs.

Price
High but not ridiculously so. 4 apps, 4 entrees, 4 drinks, 1 dessert – $75 a head.

A Dirt Candy redux is on the radar but in the meantime I will ooh-ahh at the cookbook I picked up at the restaurant and maybe, just maybe, I will try to recreate the smoked broccoli dog at home.

Sucky photos courtesy of my dirty-lensed iPhone, dark lighting and too many glasses of wine. You’re welcome!

Dinner: 28 Sept 2013

Dirt Candy | 430 E 9th St | NYC 10009

ilili

Wedged between Flatiron and Koreatown near Madison Square,  ilili, which is billed both specifically as Lebanese and generally as Mediterranean, turns out seriously delicious tapas-sized plates.

Atmosphere
Warm, calm, softly modern and for NYC, quite spacious. Good spot for conversation without screaming.

IMG_1448 IMG_1451
IMG_1450 IMG_1454

Food
I won’t drone on about each of the 10 dishes but the highlights for me were …

Strawberry Aleppo Margarita:  I love fruit and pepper in the same glass. Fruit from the muddled strawberry blends and is electrified by the tequila and Aleppo pepper; contrasting salt rim adds dimension.

Beef Kibbeh: Different prep than I’ve found in the middle east. This is more a dumpling; spiced beef with hints of onion, garlic and pine nuts stuffed into a casing of what tasted like finely ground kasha, fried greaselessly then served with a cooling yogurt sauce.

Lamb Meatballs: Gorgeous sumac-spiked tomato sauce infused the dense lamb spheres, which should only be picked up with the fresh baked pita.

Service
Unassuming, knowledgeable, good judges of pace.

Price
Reasonable. 10 plates, 4 drinks, $160

ilili’s heavy use of sumac and aleppo may cause some people to think Syrian origins while others may think Lebanese. Culinary distinctions are difficult to partition into countries when talking about the middle east but this does not detract from ilili’s net effect – a good dining experience.

Lunch: 28 Sept 2013

ilili | 236 5th Ave | NYC 10001