Hanoi House in East Village

what’s on the menu at hanoi house?

The trend of new wave Vietnamese food continues with the opening of Hanoi House, a Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village run by two alums of the Stephen Starr restaurant empire (Buddakan and Upland) and chef John Nguyen. As you might expect, a meal at Hanoi House will be a slightly more elevated experience compared to one at the more traditional Vietnamese places. It certainly has a stylish “Indochine” look and feel about it, in which old school dark wood and palm fronds coexist with whitewash brick and other modern design elements. The space is already generating buzz and tables were hard to come by late on a Wednesday night. Luckily there were some seats at the bar, although even those went quickly.Read More

Virginia’s, Class Act on Ave C

Ave C is where the East Village starts being less East Village and more Alphabet City. Some parts can be a little dodgy, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend walking through Tompkins Square Park late at night. Which is why I was surprised to hear that Virginia’s, a new, upscale restaurant run by Charlie Trotter’s alums, was opening in the area.

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Maybe it’s the Midwestern influence, but Virginia’s has a very classic, old-school vibe about it. It’s a refreshing change from the ultra-hip Brooklyn-esque Edison bulb motif that nearly every new restaurant has been going for, although some of the furnishings are almost downright dowdy–whose idea was it to install orange booth seating and vases filled with cattails? You certainly don’t feel like you’re in Alphabet City, much less New York City. Kansas City, maybe.

caramelized romanesco, smoked pine nuts, clothbound cheddar, speck
caramelized romanesco, smoked pine nuts, clothbound cheddar, speck

The decor may be a little outdated, but the menu is very new American, featuring seasonally-driven small plates. You’ll find classics like hanger steak and roasted duck breast, along with unexpected surprises like caramelized romanesco. To be honest, I didn’t even know what romanesco was, I thought it was some variation of lettuce, but it ended up being a green thorny cousin of the cauliflower. It was also unexpectedly delicious and surprisingly meaty, perhaps that was the speck doing the talking, served in a sweet, jammy glaze and cheddar cheese that evoked the pleasures of biting into a piece of sweet and sour chicken.

atlantic striped bass, saffron, cockles, new crop potatoes
atlantic striped bass, saffron, cockles, new crop potatoes
duck breast, fermented soy bean, breakfast radish, plum
duck breast, fermented soy bean, breakfast radish, plum

With the roasted duck breast, we knew exactly what we were getting, and it completely lived up to our expectations. The breast meat was perfectly plump and lined with that essential layer of fat and skin to deliver on the promise of richness. The high level of technique was also present in the preparation of the atlantic striped bass, in which the skin was perfectly crisp while the filet inside was tender and flaky. The caliber of cooking here is impressive, something you might find in the esteemed restaurants of Midtown East, not on Loisaida Ave. There goes the neighborhood–Ave C is getting classed up!


Virginia’s
647 E. 11th St (between Ave B and Ave C)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 658-0182

 

Flinders Lane: Australian in Alphabet City

Flinders Lane sounds like it came out of the pages of an adventure series. Like Diagon Alley or Enders Game. It’s actually the name of a restaurant in Alphabet City, one that cooks Australian food with a multicultural bent. The cooking is whimsical and thoughtful, making a trip down Flinders Lane a very memorable one.

While there are a myriad of cultural influences here–British, continental European, Middle Eastern, Asian–the flavor profile of our dinner was predominantly Asian. Some of that was deliberate. I was instantly drawn to the curry laksa and the tandoori rabbit, while other dishes were more ambiguous.

flinders lane - oysters kilpatrick
oysters kilpatrick – cooked with worcestershire sauce and chinese sausage
flinders lane - soft shell crab 2
soft shell crab

For instance, the oysters kilpatrick sounded like it would be fully Aussie, seasoned with Worcestershire sauce the way they like it down under, but the chorizo-like Chinese sausage threw me for a loop. It was as if a Chinese and Aussie chef crashed headfirst in the kitchen and decided to leave the chaos as is. While the unexpected flavor pairings here aren’t intuitive, they somehow work. I personally like my oysters a little less dressed, and not cooked, but I couldn’t really complain while eating them. The soft shell crab arrived in a chili sauce a la Singaporean style, and it too may have been a little heavy-handed with the sauce and seasonings, but I could live with that.

diver caught scallops
diver caught scallops with the most amazing relish

The diver scallops was another example of a dish where a myriad of influences prevailed in the seasonings. The seared scallops themselves were prepared in a pretty standard way, but I couldn’t really place my finger on the origins of the accompanying macadamia-chili relish. There was something Asian about it, especially the chestnut like qualities of the macadamia and the heat of the chili, while the chopped carrots and vegetable bits resembled a French mirepoix. All I knew was that it was incredibly good, and I wished that they would serve it with some rice so that we could mix the relish throughout.

tandoori rabbit
tandoori rabbit

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the tandoori rabbit, which was my favorite dish of the night. The rabbit meat was so springy and tender and flavorful. It resembled a hybrid of the best cut of pork loin and chicken breast that money could buy. It was fantastic with the crisp, matzo-like naan bread, and the creamy, spiced yogurt enhanced the moist, tender qualities of the excellent rabbit meat.

If you haven’t noticed already, the chefs here use a lot of strong spices. You would do well to order a refreshing cocktail to balance the meal out. The cocktails are distinctive in that they feature vegetables as the main ingredient. Ruoxi commented that our drinks looked like they came from Liquiteria, cold pressed, only with alcohol.

from left to right - smoked carrot margarita, seasonal daquiri, sugar snap pea smash
from left to right – smoked carrot margarita, seasonal daquiri, sugar snap pea smash

Our drinks–the sugar snap pea smash, the smoked carrot margarita, and the seasonal daquiri–looked like they had been picked right out of a farmers’ market. The pea smash was refreshing with a pleasant natural sweetness, while the smoked carrot was much more intense and thick, although this was due more to the smokiness of the mezcal rather than the carrot itself. The daquiri wasn’t the creamy concoction you find at a spring break bar–it was much lighter in texture, like a celery juice. Again, it’s impressive what you can do with a few vegetables lying around.

I truly did not find a dish I didn’t like at Flinders Lane. The curry laksa, perhaps it wasn’t as thick and robust and spicy as the version you’d find in Malaysia, but I actually preferred this refined rendition. The coconut milk curry was light and spicy, making it extremely drinkable, and it provided a nice base with which to coat the rice noodles and huge tender tiger prawns.

curry laksa
curry laksa
giant grilled shrimp
giant grilled shrimp

Did I also like the grilled lamb rack? Like a broken record, yes. I do have to say that I was expecting a huge rack of meat, but what arrived were two small lamb lollipops over harissa-spiced red peppers. The lamb was so tender, juicy and devoid of gaminess, I almost forgave the restaurant for being so stingy with this awesome rack of lamb. This was definitely the palme d’or winner of the night.

grilled lamb rack--more like tiny lamb lollipops
grilled lamb rack–more like tiny lamb lollipops

I haven’t been so excited by a meal since eating at Flinders Lane–it’s one of those places I feel so strongly about that I need to bring it up in conversation at all times. The cooking at the restaurant is spirited and inventive, but in a very accessible way. You’ll try something new, but it’s always rooted in something familiar, and it retains a comfort food aspect about it. Plus, the price point is good and the service is relaxed and remarkably on point. I expect to make multiple trips down Flinders Lane this summer.


Flinders Lane
162 Ave A (between 10th and 11th St)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-6900

Brunch Roundup: Bikinis in East Village

Bikinis Photo Shoot
courtesy of Bikinis restaurant.

Stuff Stylish Women Like: weekend brunch. good food. fashion. black and white photos. trips to europe. spain. spanish men.

Which means they’ll love super cute East Village restaurant Bikinis, obvi. This small eatery, which is run by former fashionista Karina Correa and her fiance Petrit Pula, serves Spanish fare in a stylish setting reminiscent of a chic cafe and art gallery. You might find the name Bikinis a bit odd, since the only signs of a two-piece are in the nostalgic, glossy photos that hang on the walls. However, it is actually the name of a type of sandwich served in Spain, which was apparently invented in the 1950s at a dance hall called Sala Bikinis. The place started serving its guests triangular shaped croque monsieurs which were soon dubbed “bikinis” since they resembled the bottoms of the notorious swimsuit. You can learn more about the colorful origins of this Spanish sandwich here in a video interview with owner Correa.

The brunch menu at Bikinis features several varieties of its signature sandwich, as well as Spanish-inspired brunch fare and a heartier baguette-based sandwich called the bocadillo. We ordered a little bit of everything–the Huevos con Xistorra for something reminiscent of a traditional eggs dish, the Don Quixote bikini to satiate our curiosity of this peculiarly-named sandwich, and the Pepito de Pollo bocadillo to round things out.

Bikini - Don Quixote
scenes from a trip to spain – the don quixote bikini sandwich
Bikini - Pepito de Pollo
day 2 – the pepito de pollo bocadillo sandwich
Bikini- Huevos con Xistorra
day 3 – huevos con xistorra, a spin on an american brunch classic

Bikinis really knows how to serve solid and delicious comfort foods in a stylish and slightly offbeat manner. The chicken in the bocadillo was well-seasoned and flavorful, the baguette was crisp and not overly-thick, and even the side of salad was simple but tasty. With the Don Quixote, Bikinis refashioned the classic ham and cheese sandwich as an elegant and exotic Spanish adaptation, pairing tangy cured serrano ham and manchego cheese in between two pressed slices of incredibly satisfying challah toast.

Similar Spanish tweaks were made to the familiar eggs and sausage combo in the huevos con xistorra by replacing sausage links with a spicier chorizo-like meat and serving a side of olives and manchego cheese for a unique Barcelonian touch. And that fantastic toasted challah bread made an appearance again. Sopping up the toast with egg yolk, savory sausage and mild cheese was a pretty effective combination. 

Brunch isn’t complete without some bellinis and bloody marys, and the “Bloody Maria” served at Bikinis is really well mixed and a great deal at $5. As opposed to using a vodka base, the restaurant uses soju, which results in a creamy and incredibly smooth drink. I think we need to add Bloody Maria to the list of stuff that stylish girls like. 

The wholesome and chic charms of Bikinis is a refreshing addition to the gritty landscape of Alphabet City. I’m frankly shocked that a place like this even exists on Ave C. It feels like it should be in Nolita next to Cafe Habana or Tacombi somewhere. I think this explains why Bikinis isn’t more popular, along with the fact that getting to Ave C from anywhere can be quite a hike. Which is perfect for those willing to make the trip, since that means more space and time for you to linger and reminisce about that junior year abroad in Spain over a glass of lovely sangria or cerveza. Vicky Cristina Barcelona Part 2, reunion in NYC!


Bikinis
56 Avenue C (between 4th and 5th St)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 777-2277