The New Union Square Cafe

crispy soft shell crab in tomato saffron broth with artichoke aioli

It’s always a good feeling when you know you ordered the best thing on the menu at a restaurant. “My order was perfect” is how my friend Daniela described our meal at the newly relocated Union Square Cafe on 19th and Park. Our successful outcome is a credit to not only the solid cooking coming out of the kitchen, but to our enthusiastic and very helpful server, who was more than happy to oblige our question as to what her favorite things on the menu were.Read More

Brunch Roundup: Taboonette and Acme

I had one of those nights where I had one too many gimlets, and the next morning I woke up in this groggy haze, where I was convinced that only a proper plate of eggs would clear everything up. There are a lot of options for eggs in the city, but when you’re this hungover, only one type of egg will do – a fried egg, preferably two, served alongside some tender slabs of braised beef brisket and a side of crisp arugula. When you can barely think straight, you need something hearty with punchy flavors to snap your taste buds out of their drunken funk, which is why the brisket and eggs, with its savory medley of Middle Eastern spices and robust fillings, is so perfect for the morning after. Not only does it taste good, but the dish has some serious medicinal effects. You know how when you’re hungover, your stomach either feels queasy or you just feel a little uncoordinated in general? The brisket and eggs literally ground you, providing you with the warm center needed to regain your balance and go on with your day.

taboonette - brisket and eggs
brisket and eggs, the ultimate hangover cure

The shakshuka egg plate has similar therapeutic effects, perhaps even more so than the brisket. In this dish, the eggs are served alongside a thick, spicy tomato sauce, just begging for you to sop it all up with some pita bread. Running the bread through the sauce and having it absorb the warm, luxurious and fragrant flavors was really quite a dream, one that I didn’t want to wake up from. Sadly, when the pita bread ran out, it was back to reality.

taboonette - shakshuka
this shiksa wants a shakshuka

Taboonette is more of a take-out restaurant with a few communal tables, but really, when you’re that hungover, you don’t need to scare the world with your post-bender likeness. Quickly getting takeout or ordering delivery probably makes more sense. Either way, the heart wants what it wants, and it wants an egg plate from Taboonette.


Taboonette
30 E. 13th St (between 5th Ave and University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 510-7881

On the days when you are at your most beautiful and not hungover, brunch at Acme might be a little more appropriate. The restaurant, which is run by Chef Mads Refslund, co-founder of the world famous Noma, not surprisingly serves new American food with Nordic influences. Since Scandinavia is involved, you know that the food and the clientele is going to be good-looking. Waifish hostesses, aloof models-slash-servers, Eastern European prosties–they are all part of the backdrop.

For such a scene-y place, where everyone looks delicate and trim, the food is surprisingly heavy. We ordered the smoked salmon benedict and the chicken and eggs, and we couldn’t really finish them all. The hollandaise sauce on an eggs benedict is usually pretty heavy, but this one felt extra rich, and after eating half I felt extremely weighed down. Perhaps if there were something distinctive about the sauce or the lox I would be inclined to eat more, but nothing really stood out.

The chicken and eggs was advertised by our waitress as being very substantial, so we were prepared for something large and meaty. But even so, the dish took the concept “meat and potatoes” to the extreme. There were literally chunks of chicken and roasted potatoes piled high everywhere. Everything was well-seasoned–the chicken was tender and flavorful, and the potatoes had a nice char to them–but it was just very over-the-top and very heavy. Of course, it didn’t help that we ordered a side of duck fat fries, which were absolutely divine. These were probably some of the best fries I’ve ever had. I suppose cooking things in duck fat makes everything delicious. In fact, I’ve never met anything duck fat fried that I didn’t like.

acme - salmon benedict
smoked salmon benedict
acme - chicken and eggs
a very literal interpretation of chicken and eggs

It’s clear that the standards at Acme are high and the cooking is well-executed, it’s just not the right place for brunch. It’s a little too early in the day to be eating such dense and heavy food. Maybe in the cold Scandinavian countries, this is how they do breakfast, but some things get lost in translation. Come here for dinner instead, which does a better job of showcasing Chef Refslund’s skill in Nordic, foraging cuisine.


Acme
9 Great Jones St (and Lafayette St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 203-2121

All’onda: Midtown Italian in Downtown Digs

Tonight’s dinner at All’onda was made on a whim. It was 7 pm, on a Friday, and we needed a place to go. I was browsing some food blogs, randomly came across the name “All’onda”, saw “in East Village” attached to it, and chose it due to proximity and newness. I had no idea that it was one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2014.

It wasn’t until we got there that I learned what a big deal this place was. Industry heavyweights like former Ai Fiori chef Chris Jaeckle and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow were backing the place, no wonder it got so much attention. Surprisingly, for a restaurant this hot, the wait for a walk-in party of two on Friday night was only 45 minutes, and only 10 minutes for the bar. I like this place already!

I did a double take when I entered the room–the downstairs entrance and bar area looked strikingly similar to The Elm’s. Did they hire the interior decorator from King & Grove? Seriously, it was that same upscale suburban chic aesthetic! Upscale Italian tends to attract a certain crowd, and the usual suspects made a big showing. Rich men with their plastic wives, dressy girls’ night out crowds, and a whole ton of bankers, from analysts to MDs. It was so wrong wearing a plaid shirt. Had I known the Ai Fiori crowd was moving downtown, I would have put forth more effort.

The fusion of Italian and Japanese flavors at All’onda reflects the very popular cooking trend of Asian collaborations in the city (Jewish + Japanese at Shalom Japan, Korean + Italian at Piora). For the most part, I found that the Italian influences overwhelmed the Japanese ones, but when they coexisted, the combination brought an intriguing depth and complexity to the dish. This was especially true for the garganelli, a pasta dish seasoned with yuzu koshu, tarragon and peekytoe crab. If All’onda had stuck with the Italian rendition, this dish would have been extremely dense and briney. However, the Japanese aspects of citrus, spice and breadcrumbs brought balance and texture to an otherwise dark dish. With each bite, I was very aware of how unfamiliar yet rewarding each serving was.

all'onda - garganelli
garganelli with peekytoe crab, yuzu koshu and tarragon

As a contrast, the bucatini pasta tasted 100% Italian. It was very characteristic of the highly refined and incredibly rich pastas that have made Ai Fiori so successful. The noodles were cooked perfectly, plump and al dente, yet yielding ever so slightly to touch. They were lightly coated in a decadent cheese sauce, which was especially splendid with the smoked uni. But after switching over to the garganelli, I was struck by how the bucatini seemed one-note in comparison. They’re both excellent, and pastas are definitely All’onda’s strong suit, but they serve different purposes. If you’re in the mood for indulgent excess in a more conventional way, the bucatini is the way to go, but if you want something a little more challenging, order the garganelli.

all'onda - bucatini
bucatini with smoked uni and spicy bread crumbs

To balance the meal out, we also ordered the sardines, the skate and a side of the Jerusalem artichokes. The sardines came highly recommended, and rightfully so, since they were pretty delectable. Sardines can be a bit fishy and intense, but these aspects were smoothed out by a bright and creamy fennel saffron puree, which tasted like an incredible honey mustard cream, and the golden raisins and bread crumbs further finessed the flavors. The skate was more thought-provoking than mind-blowingly delicious. It was covered in a dense Japanese tonkatsu gravy, which imparted a meat-like quality to it. You almost felt like you were pulling away pieces of pulled pork, which I thought was a clever culinary sleight of hand. But I prefer preparations that emphasize fish in its original form, not as reinterpretations of other proteins, so I couldn’t fully embrace this one.

all'onda - skate
glazed skate with semolina dumplings and beets
sardines
sardine with pickled pearl onion, pine nuts and fennel, courtesy of All’onda restaurant

A surprising highlight from the night were the Jerusalem artichokes. First of all, I never knew such a vegetable existed, and second of all, these artichokes aren’t even indigenous to Jerusalem (it’s a species of sunflower native to eastern North America). If you’ve ever had the chance to eat some crispy duck or bacon-fat potatoes and loved the experience, then you should order these artichokes. Although the flavors will remind you mostly of potatoes, you’ll also taste remnants of daikon and carrot, all to good effect.

all'onda - jerusalem artichokesjerusalem artichokes, the best sides you won’t find in the Middle East

Overall I thought All’onda lived up to the hype (although that was news to me). The food was well executed, inventive yet still homey. There’s no doubt that this is high-end cooking, but it doesn’t have that stuffy, inaccessible feel to it. Although the crowd of Real Housewives and bankers leaves much to be desired. I don’t like to feel like I’m at a midtown power lunch on a Friday night–I don’t like to bring work home! The ” biggest opening of ’14” won’t let you down, only if it isn’t able to seat you, that is.


All’onda
22 E. 13th St (between 5th Ave and University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 231-2236

Chill Out with Frozen Fruits

It’s been pretty muggy the past couple of days. The sort of humidity that reduces flat-ironed hair to frizz and requires multiple showers in a day. There’s only one way to beat this heat–crank up the A/C full blast, pull your hair up in a bun, and snack on an ice, cold treat!

Some people like to eat ice cream or sip iced coffee, but I’m more of a frozen fruit type of girl. Ice cream makes me really thirsty, and iced coffee doesn’t quite satiate my sweet tooth. Plus, frozen fruit is easier on the waistline (it’s swimsuit season!), but equally as tough on the heat. Frozen fruit is pretty self-explanatory–take some fresh fruit puree, sweeten it with some cane sugar if necessary, and serve in soft serve, popsicle or smoothie form. Here’s a list of some frozen fruit spots worth trekking 10 blocks in the heat for.

Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. (25 E. 17th St., between Broadway and 5th Ave.)

I can’t believe it took me two years to finally try Chloe’s Soft Serve Fruit Co. in Union Square. I think all the healthy advertising about how its soft serve was so healthy, dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan turned me off. I’m all for health, but not when it comes to soft serve–I want something closer to the real thing. Chloe’s banana soft serve comes pretty close. The dense swirls of sweet, creamy banana puree mimic the texture and flavors in an ice cream soft serve quite convincingly. (Ruoxi, a soft serve purist, begs to differ. “This only makes you want the real thing!” is his take.) The other fruit flavors like blood orange, tangerine, raspberry and strawberry are more tart and sorbet-like in taste.

chloe's - raspberry banana
raspberry banana 2-in-1
chloe's - banana
banana soft serve – my healthy obsession

Juicy Lucy’s Juice Stand (72 E. 1st St., between 1st and 2nd Ave.)

Juicy Lucy’s is literally a hole-in-the-wall juice stand that’s really easy to miss. But it would be a shame to overlook the reasonably priced fresh pressed juices and smoothies that are being made in this tiny little place. Its flashy next-door neighbor Juice Press nearly threatens its survival, but it manages to hold its own against its corporate competitor. I personally don’t think Juice Press is very good, and the customer service is so lacking, so heading a couple steps over to Juicy Lucy’s is a no-brainer for me. I’m a big fan of their frozen smoothies–the strawberry and banana smoothie is one of the best!  

juicy lucy's - stand
the cutest little juice stand ever
juicy lucy's strawberry banana smoothie
strawberry banana smoothie

Liquiteria (170 2nd Ave., at 11th St.)

This is the best juice shop in the city, and unfortunately one of the most expensive. I’ve spent probably a good 25% of my disposable income on buying these incredible, high margin juices. One bottle of pressed juice can cost $8.50. That’s literally more than the cost of a meal at some places. But if you think about what goes into a juice, basically a whole salad, then the pricing doesn’t seem too unreasonable. I usually get the All Greens juice with apple, or the Beets Me juice. Liquiteria’s green juice is the best I’ve had in the city–the proportions of the different green vegetable ingredients are just right, and it doesn’t have little chunks of kale leaves or celery foam floating around offensively. For something that’s a little more filling, I’ll get the Mean Green smoothie, an amazing blend of kale, spinach, pineapple, mango, banana and fresh pineapple juice.

liquiteria timeout

courtesy of timeout.com

People’s Pops (various locations, High Line, Chelsea Market, 118 1st Ave. at 7th St. in East Village)

During the summer months, I always get a hankering for a popsicle, but buying a pack of 10 from the grocery store is kind of embarrassing. Sort of like going to Olive Garden in a city with Il Buco or Locanda Verde. Luckily, People’s Pops sells popsicles in artisanal fruit flavor blends such as strawberry rhubarb, raspberry basil and peach blueberry so that you can indulge your childhood cravings in a more refined way. People’s Pops stays true to its mission of showcasing “the best local fruit we can get our hands on.” You can literally taste chunks of fresh fruit and see the berry seeds in your popsicle.

adult popsicles! courtesy of whrtny.com
adult popsicles! courtesy of whrtny.com

15 East – The Right Address for Sushi in Union Square

sushi 15 eastSomething about the sushi at 15 East tastes remarkably fresh. You feel as though the fish were caught the morning of in the waters of Japan and then somehow shipped to New York that same evening. I’m sure logistically that is quite absurd, but somehow 15 East is able to preserve that fresh quality in its sushi. The soft and buttery texture of their fish, which literally seems to melt in your mouth, is a world of difference from the rubbery sashimi blocks that frequent your average takeout place. 15 East’s emphasis on fresh seasonality applies not only to its fish but to its other ingredients. For instance, it prides itself on sourcing items from the local Union Square Green Market, and its soba noodles and tofu are made freshly in-house, daily. You’ll have to pay a premium for the quality at a Michelin-star establishment like 15 East, but it is well worth it. On the night we went, Lucy Liu was seated at the sushi bar. Read More