Bar Goto is a new Japanese cocktail bar in the LES run by Pegu Bar alum Kenta Goto. Its quiet elegance and serious-minded approach to cocktails is very reminiscent of other Japanese lounges such as Angel’s Share or B Flat. Something about it though feels a little more like a destination bar in a way that these smaller places don’t. Clearly it would be a waste if you ordered a traditional vodka soda or a gin and tonic here. Properly utilize your bartender and have him mix you an interesting cocktail like the fizzy Calpico soda or an “Umami” Bloody Mary. These might sound like silly, lightweight drinks, but they are actually far more thoughtful and complex than what their labels suggest.
There is a limited food menu should you want to pair your drink with some small bites. The highlights by far are the savory okonomiyaki Japanese pancakes and the crispy miso sesame chicken wings. Coincidentally they also happen to be the most substantial items on the menu. If you want something more delicate, the sesame oil coated celery sticks and the octopus sashimi will hold you over without overpowering your palate. But whatever you do, make room for refills of that wonderfully effervescent Calpico cocktail.
245 Eldridge St (Stanton and E. Houston St)
New York, NY 10002 (212) 475-4411
Mission Chinese got a major upgrade in its new digs on East Broadway. Gone are the janky Chinese takeout counter and that floating pinata, and in their place are fancy red booths and gold plated dragons on the walls. While I loved how much roomier and civilized this space felt versus the old Orchard spot–you can actually hear your dinner companion across the table, and you can even make reservations on Reserve–I did feel that it did lose some of its gritty charm. Mission Chinese definitely sold out a little bit and became a little less cool, but the food is still the same, and I would take that over the 3 hour wait in a cramped, LES basement any day.
The best way to experience Mission Chinese is to go with a group of friends and order a ton of things family style. In the old space, a table for 15 would have been unthinkable, but you can now book one through Reserve. And with big groups, they seat you downstairs, which has a funkier vibe reminiscent of the old Mission Chinese. One stipulation with big groups is that you have to either order off of a group pre-fixe menu, or you have to order one of the large format protein dishes. The latter is a better deal, as it allows you the flexibility in ordering other mains or sides that you want, and financially, even with drinks, it will cost less than the pre-fixe option. As an example, for 13 of us, our all-in bill was $52/person, which is significantly less than what the $69 or $99 option would have been after tax, tip and drinks.
I used to be a Mission Chinese hater and thought Danny Bowien’s Asian-but-not-really-Asian cooking was overrated, but I think I’m coming around, as I really liked all the dishes that we had that night. The salt cod fried rice is just as good as ever, and the spicy chonqing chicken wings still leave your lips feeling numb. The chewy green tea noodles, a new addition, are a fabulous choice of carbs, as are the bowls of rice porridge, of which we ordered three. I was absolutely floored by the thrice cooked bacon, which featured fried pork fat at its very best, and is proof that the tired bacon trend still has some legs. With all these fried, pan-fried, chicken/pork fat dishes, I found the lettuce wraps quite refreshing and was impressed by how well the beef tartare and salmon roe paired together for a very satisfying but subtle surf-and-turf bite. The clams in pig’s blood (don’t be afraid, it tastes like black bean sauce), mapo tofu and big tray fish, I probably could have done without, not because they were bad, but they were wallflowers in comparison to their brashier colleagues.
The widely hyped Josefina’s house special chicken arrived like a Faltstaffian goose overstuffed with chorizo, olives and butter. After living the good life, this chicken met an unfortunate end with its head chopped off, but at least it was a life well spent and well fed. I personally found it to be a little too rich for my liking, maybe because I was already pretty full by the time this arrived at the table, but you won’t find a more tender or flavorful piece of stuffed chicken in town.
Leaving you comfortably full and lightly buzzed, a meal at Mission Chinese is a good time. To get there, you have to trek a little deeper into the Lower East Side, but it’s worth the trip. And while you’re there, you might as well make a night out of it at Forgetmenot or Mr. Fong’s for $5 Tsing Tao. Getting the most bang for your buck, it’s the Chinese way.
171 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson St)
New York, NY 10002
Dirt Candy officially launched brunch service at their Lower East Side space. We dropped by during the soft open, and not surprisingly, it was doing brisk business. There was a nice, neighborhood feel to the place, despite the slick, new relocation, with small groups and families enjoying the brunch, including Bob Tuschman of the Food Network!
The menu, as expected, features traditional brunch fare with a seasonally-driven, vegetarian twist. You can choose from corn french toast, green huevos and no ham, zucchini pancakes, carrot granola, omelette with a spicy cilantro radish filling and a “canadian cracker” waffle with cheddar and roasted tomatoes. Even brunch libations get the vegetable treatment. You can order a “bloody carrie,” which has grilled carrot in it, or a yellow pepper mimosa, which utilizes real yellow pepper juice as a mixer.
If you’re feeling more lunch than brunch, there are several hearty veggie sandwiches you can choose from–the greens sandwich, which consists of various stir-fried greens in two giant slabs of focaccia bread, a smoky beet sandwich that apparently resembles pastrami, a cabbage and avocado with kimchi option, and an intriguing spinach ramen salad.
The way to go here is to share a brunch dish, a lunch sandwich, and the corn french toast as a dessert. This is one square meal that you won’t forget!
86 Allen St (between Broome and Grand St)
New York, NY 10002 (212) 228-7732
Jack’s Wife Freda is perennially mobbed at brunch. The several times I attempted to put my name down for a table, I was always quoted a wait time of at least an hour. You either have to come here on the early side, say 11 or 11:30, or you should try to visit when the rest of the city empties out for the holidays.
I’m not surprised by how popular this place is. The atmosphere here really can’t be beat, especially during the summer months. They open up the front doors and set up tables on the sidewalk so that you can enjoy some al fresco dining. It’s fun and lively, trendy without being annoyingly sceney, and the Mediterranean food is varied and tasty. You can bring anyone here, friends, dates, family members, and everyone will feel relaxed and have a good time. The matzo ball soup is fantastic, as is the tuna salad. If you want something more traditional, the poached eggs with grilled tomato and haloumi is a good choice.
I always like ordering something sweet like pancakes or waffles for the table, and on this particular visit, we split an order of the rosewater waffle. The waffle is a little softer than what you’d expect, more l’eggo my eggo than straight out of the waffle iron, and it comes with a dollop of lebanese yogurt, a different take on the whipped cream we’re accustomed to, but just as rich and full.
As an fyi, Jack’s Wife Freda is one of my favorite go-to’s for a group dinner. The scene is just as laid back and lively, and they take reservations for groups of 6 or larger, which isn’t too hard to get. It does get a little bit loud in the pm, but the service is good, and once you have some wine in you, you just kind of roll with it and it’s all good.
Jack’s Wife Freda
224 Lafayette St (between Spring and Broome St)
New York, NY 10012
I also have a quick update on the new Dimes restaurant that opened up on Canal St. I wrote about the healthy, California cafe last year, which I was a big fan of, and I was curious to see how things had changed in the bigger space. It is slightly bigger in size but not by much, still lovely and beachy white inside, and while it can accommodate more people, there’s still going to be a wait. The wait times are never too bad, though, maybe 35 minutes for a table of two. The service, on the other hand, is horrible. Expect sourpuss waitresses to mix up your order and move you to another table 35 minutes into your meal with no apologies. Let me tell you, in California, everyone is smiley and bubbly, so while the food at Dimes is California-inspired, the service definitely is not.
The menu seems to have expanded a bit. The nori wraps look new, as do the cactus pitaya bowls. I tried the sayonara summer tacos, which were surprisingly bland. Eggs and salsa are some of my favorite things, but these tacos lacked the spice I wanted, even with the extra hot sauce that was brought to the table. I also ordered the big salad, which was literally a huge bowl of raw greens lightly dressed in a rosemary balsamic dressing. I wasn’t expecting the salad to be so nakedly fresh, as if the vegetables were just plucked from the garden. I would have preferred some cooked veggies in the mix, especially the brussels sprouts, because otherwise it was a little too green and wholesome and crunchy. I would definitely recommend the hash, which was a wonderfully hearty concoction of spiced vegetables and black rice, filling without being fatty. Stick to the their famous sweet and savory bowls, don’t expect too much from the service, and you’ll have a decent time.
49 Canal St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but why is it also the most boring? Like can you really get all that excited by different variations of eggs and toast? Which is why I appreciate the Vietnamese breakfast offering at Mission Cantina, Danny Bowien’s Mexican restaurant in the LES. I’ve been pretty hard on Bowien and his seemingly inauthentic, experimental fusion cooking, but I have nothing but love for the Vietnamese menu.
Bowien’s cooking normally emphasizes bold flavors, but the Vietnamese breakfast shows a little more restraint at times. The chicken pho, for instance, featured a broth that was very clean and light, with some hints of lime and cilantro. It’s different from the more robust, more infused beef-based broths that you might get at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant, but I personally liked this understated version, and I thought it was appropriate for featuring a leaner type of protein. They also use wider rice noodles in their Hanoi-style pho, which I found interesting only because I’ve never seen this type ever used before in the bowls of pho I’ve come across. I don’t think there’s any sort of flavor trade-off from using wide vs. narrow noodles, although I’ve noticed that you have to be a little more strategic about how many of these you grab, because even one single strand can take up too much room on your soup spoon.
For a true power breakfast, look no further than the duck porridge. This is a bowl of congee that immediately commands your attention from the first bite, more indicative of the punchy style that Bowien is known for. Sometimes porridge rice can be extremely bland, a blank slate that relies on the accompanying seasonings to dress it up, but the version here comes fully loaded with flavor, ensuring a nice and salty, savory base. The key here is to swirl everything around so that you get a little bit of the egg yolk and the heavenly bits of duck meat all in the same bite. It also comes with a side of fried shrimp toast, a golden, crispy slab of bread covered in this insanely delicious briney and salty spread that had me take a moment to acknowledge how good this was, and another when I dipped it into the porridge. If a bowl could ever cure all ails, this one definitely would.
It’s interesting how the vibe of Mission Cantina itself changes during morning service versus dinner. It has a very relaxed, off-duty energy about it, like as if the restaurant itself was hungover from last night’s fiesta and needed to recover with some hearty Asian food. You still have that same 90s R&B playing in the background, but on a much lower volume so that those bump and grind tracks become more like lullabies. I think this is why the Vietnamese concept succeeds where the Mexican doesn’t, because the emphasis is really just on making food that’s tasty and satisfying, as opposed to layering on bells and whistles that fall short. The limited and focused menu gives the kitchen the ability to execute things very well. So forget the late night tacos, sleep in and wake up early to a fantastic Vietnamese breakfast.
172 Orchard St (between Stanton and E. Houston St)
New York, NY 10002
Breakfast served from 9-11 am. Walk-ins only, getting a table not a problem.