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Punjabi Grocery & Deli (Manhattan, NY) – Go Where the Cabbies Go

November 30, 2011

I’m sure you’ve heard of the travel tip, “go where the locals go”. Well, let me take that to the next level – don’t just go where the locals go, go where the cabbies go.

Across the street from Katz’s Deli, Punjabi Grocery & Deli (NOT to be confused with the Punjabi grocery a couple doors down from Katz’s) is where you find the taxi drivers of New York chowing down. It’s a true hole-in-the-wall – there’s no seating whatsoever and only has a counter to rest your bowl while you eat – but like many other hole-in-the-walls, it serves some of the cheapest, tastiest eats in the city.

Seven vegetarian dishes are stored in a refrigerated case, scooped into Styrofoam bowls and nuked in one of the half dozen microwaves sitting atop the case. The bowl then goes straight from the microwave, into your hands, into your mouth.

(What?  Not sold on microwaves, Styrofoam bowls and cabbies? Fine…)

Like I said before, Punjabi serves one of the cheapest meals in the city. How cheap? You can get fatty samosas with potatoes and peas for $1.

Or, if you’re looking for something more substantial than that, you can order a small bowl of rice with two sides for $3.

I personally have a soft spot for the chickpeas, but pretty much everything I’ve eaten here has been delicious. And here’s another tip: I didn’t find this out until much later but they’ll put yogurt on top if you ask. (Make sure you ask.)

If you get thirsty, wash your meal down with some chai tea. They have two types here: a standard chai and an authentic Indian chai. Obviously, get the real stuff – the flavor is much more robust and full of spice.

And you know what’s the best thing about Punjabi Grocery & Deli? It’s open 24 hours. If your stomach can withstand Indian food at 2AM in the morning, there’s nothing better to soak up all that late night alcohol than a bowl of rice and curry.

Thanks cabbies! You introduced me to a real winner with this one.

Punjabi Grocery & Deli
114 E 1st St
New York, NY 10009
(212) 533-9048

Punjabi Grocery & Deli on Urbanspoon

Caracas Arepa Bar (Manhattan, NY) – Arepa, Arepa!

November 7, 2011

In December 2009, Caracas introduced to me to the arepa.

…Wait, let me be perfectly accurate: In December 2009, Caracas introduced me to the Venezuelan arepa. (I just didn’t know that at the time.)

I make the distinction because…well, honestly because I have another post in the works I talk about different types of arepas. However, I’m also making the distinction because I know more than I did in 2009. Before Caracas, I had never heard the word “arepa”, let alone that there were different types of arepas. Now, I know better. That’s one of the reasons I love food – a single bite can open your eyes to something completely new.

…But I digress. This post is about arepas. Venezuelan arepas.

If you’ve never had a Venezuelan arepa, think of a corn flour disc that is grilled then baked until it’s relatively crispy the whole way through. This hard arepa shell is then cut in half and stuffed with fillings that range from meat and seafood to avocados and plantains. It reminds me a little of an authentic Mexican gordita, but baked and without the breadiness in the middle.

Caracas serves 12+ varieties of arepas at any given point in time, which can be a bit intimidating. (Even more so when you consider Caracas also serves appetizers, salads, empanadas, shakes and desserts…) If you’re not sure what to order, you can’t go wrong with a combination platter – I usually order “La Popular” because it contains two of my go-to’s: The “Reina Pepiada”, which has shredded chicken mixed with avocado, and the “De Pabellon”, which has beef, black beans, cheese and plantains. The weekend special arepas are also good; one of my all time favorite arepas was the seafood arepa special with grilled squid.

No matter what filling you choose, make sure you try a bite with the yellow house sauce. (There’s a bottle of it on every table.) I don’t know what’s in it – it’s “a secret” – but I do know it’s like crack. Tangy, slightly fruity with just a touch of spiciness, I douse everything I order in it.

Lastly, a word of guidance: Arepas may look small but they’re actually much more filling than you would think. Order 1 if you want a hearty snack, 2 if you’re really hungry and 3 if you want to feel like you’re giving birth to a food baby. Whenever I order 3, I always curse myself for ordering that last one. Seriously, 2 will fill you up just fine.

(Btw, I apologize for the quality of these photos. Caracas’ food is great but its lighting…not so much.)

Caracas Arepa Bar
93 E 7th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-2314
Twitter: @caracasarepabar

Caracas Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon

Croxley’s (Manhattan, NY) – “What The $?*!”

July 29, 2011

Novelty burgers have a soft spot in my heart. Whether it be a high-end burger like Daniel Boulud’s sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles or a low-brow burger like the McGangBang, I love my novelty burgers. Thus, when Yvo of Feisty Foodie mentioned the existence of a grilled cheese burger, I knew I had to go.

Served at Croxley’s in the East Village, the “What the $?*!” Burger is a 1/2lb burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches.  It doesn’t sound that bad on paper but it’s absolutely monstrous in person.

Now I’ve had big burgers before but this one took effort to eat, primarily because of the grilled cheese ends. Each sandwich was essentially two pieces of Texas toast with melted cheddar oozing out – easily a meal in and of itself. The beef wasn’t half bad – it was cooked medium rare (like I requested) and was relatively moist. However, I can’t comment on the flavor since I doused the whole thing in ketchup. (The bread was too dry for me, okay?!)

(Picture taken by Yvo of Feisty Foodie)

In the end, I actually demolished that baby. Pretty impressive considering the picture above is only me eating HALF of my burger.  Of the five of us who ordered it (me being the only female), I out-ate two of them. Not bad, if I may say so myself!

Croxley’s Ale House
28 Ave B
New York, NY 10009
(212) 253-6140
Twitter: @croxleys

Croxley Ales on Urbanspoon

Red Hook Lobster Pound (Brooklyn, NY) / Luke’s Lobster (Manhattan, NY) – Lobster Rolls 101

February 15, 2011

Let’s talk lobster rolls.

Before visiting the East Coast, I had no idea what a lobster roll was. I had never even heard about lobster rolls. It’s originally a New England-y food (due to the abundance of lobster out there?) and is, very simply, lobster meat stuffed inside a roll.

Get it? Lobster meat + roll = Lobster roll.

I think I’ve eaten more lobster in the past four months than I had in the year prior, solely because of the number of lobster rolls I’ve inhaled since moving to NYC. There are quite a number of places in Manhattan and Brooklyn that specialize in these babies, but here are two of my favorites if you’re around the area:

Red Hook Lobster Pound

Out of all the lobster roll places in and around NYC, Red Hook currently reigns supreme for me. It’s a trek to Red Hook from my little apartment in Hell’s Kitchen but it’s worth it. As soon as you walk in, you’re smacked in the face with the aroma of melted butter…If that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is.

Red Hook Lobster Pound serves two different types of lobster rolls: the Maine and the Connecticut. The Maine is a cold lobster roll with mayo; the Connecticut is a hot roll with butter.

(…mayo is nice…)

The Maine roll is great because the mayo flavor isn’t overpowering; there’s just enough to make it a savory bundle of goodness but not so much that you feel like you’re eating a heavy lobster salad. However, I’m personally not a huge fan of the temperature of the roll – it’s a personal preference and I just don’t like cold lobster.

(…but butter is always better…)

On the flipside of the Maine is the Connecticut, which I think is the hands down winner between the two.  A warm, toasty roll soaks all the dripping melted butter and the lobster meat just tastes sweeter than its mayo-covered counterpart.

Note: Although the lobster rolls at Red Hook are not to be missed, feel free to pass on the lobster bisque. Not creamy enough for a satisfyingly thick bisque, not flavorful enough for a rich broth, the soup falls a bit flat. It does come with huge chunks of lobster meat floating in it but if you’re looking for meat, you might as well order another roll.

Red Hook Lobster Pound
284 Van Brunt St
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(646) 326-7650
Twitter: @redhooklobster

The Red Hook Lobster Pound on Urbanspoon

Luke’s Lobster

Luke’s Lobster holds a place in my heart as my first lobster roll ever. It also happens to be the best place in the city to go when you want a lobster roll.

Luke’s only serves one type of lobster roll –  a chilled one with butter and a swipe of mayo on the roll itself rather than mixed with the lobster –  but also has crab and shrimp rolls (similar concept, different shellfish). If you want to try all three, their taste of Maine platter solves that problem. (As you can see in the picture below, the sandwiches are small though and only good for a bite or two.)

For me, Luke’s rolls come second to Red Hook because, somehow, the lobster in their rolls are not sweet as Red Hook’s Connecticut or as savory as the Maine. To tell you the truth, the first time I went, I actually preferred the shrimp roll to the lobster one. (I know – blasphemy, right?) However, with three locations in the city, it’s the most convenient way of satisfying your lobster roll fix.

Note: If you go to Luke’s during the holiday season, order a pumpkin pie soda if it’s available. If you love pumpkin pie, this deliciously bubbly beverage has those same hints of all-spice that you’ll love. (Sadly, it’s a seasonal drink – I haven’t been able to find since last year!)

Luke’s Lobster
93 E 7th St
New York, NY 10009
(212) 387-8487
Twitter: @lukeslobster

Luke's Lobster on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Ssam Bar (Manhattan, NY) / Momofuku Milk Bar (Manhattan, NY) – Tasting a Lucky Peach

July 14, 2010

Momofuku Ssam Bar

When I first planned NYC Trip #2, I originally penciled in “Momofuku Ko” on my schedule. Arguably the hardest reservation to get in all of New York (I heard David Chang won’t even let his parents bypass his infamous Momofuku reservation system), the only way to get a reservation is to stalk the website and count down the seconds until reservations for the following week’s seating opened. I felt confident I would be able to score one of the twelve available seats for that night…that is, until I totally forgot about making reservations. I remembered 12 hours too late. (Oops!)

…Okay then, onto Plan B.


Getting into Momofuku Ssam Bar is much easier than Momofuku Ko. Unless you reserve an order of their famous bo ssam pork shoulder ahead of time, Ssam Bar is a first-come, first-serve eatery. My suggestion is to get there early, before the lunch/dinner crowds hit – otherwise, you’ll be escorted to the Momofuku Milk Bar next door, where you’ll wait for your table in a somewhat uncomfortable position. (Milk Bar has no chairs and waits are typically about half an hour or longer.)

Plates at Ssam are decently sized but…well…my dining companions and I are eaters. Therefore, for the three of us, we ordered all of the following:

Santa Barbara Uni, Whipped Tofu, Tapioca, Shrimp Crackers

Call me dense but I didn’t get this dish. Maybe the contrast in texture was meant to be the focus, but I didn’t really understand how the flavors of the whipped tofu, the chewy tapioca/boba balls and the shrimp crackers were supposed to work with the rich, buttery uni. (The uni was fresh and delicious by itself though.)

Fuji Apple Kimchi, Jowl Bacon, Maple Labne, Arugula

The kimchi apples, on the other hand, I understood – it was easily one of the top 5 dishes I tasted during my second NYC trip. Crisp Fuji apples are coated in the peppery kimchi seasoning (minus the vinegar) and topped with meaty bacon and spicy arugula. The labne (a strained yogurt) mellows everything out. A complete bite of all four components? Amazing.

Country Ham

We ordered two types of country ham: the smokier Edward’s Wigwam ham and the non-smoked Finchville’s ham. All I have to say is, if you’re going to go for ham, get it smoked.

Steamed Buns, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions

When I used to hear about Momofuku pork buns I used to think, “What’s so good about Momofuku pork buns…? Pffft. Big deal.” Now I think, “OMG, I WANT A PORK BUN.” Just imagine a peking duck bun – the familiar hoisin and scallion flavors and the texture of the fluffy bun – but now swap the duck for soft and tender pork belly that just melts in your mouth. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is – these pork buns are DELICIOUS.

Corned Beef Terrine, Fried Egg Sauce, Tea Brined Egg Salad

I was uninspired by this dish, possibly because I ate it immediately after those mind-blowing Momofuku pork buns. Although it was tasty, at the end of the day, it just felt like chunks of corned beef compressed in a terrine mold.

Fried Baby Artichokes, Pistachio, Sunchokes, Bottarga

I’m not a fried artichokes kind of girl as I find they lose their tender artichoke qualities when they’re immersed in a vat of oil and end up with a texture reminiscent of dry leaves. Therefore, instead of commenting on the fried artichokes, I just want to bring your attention to the delicious sunchoke puree smeared on the side of the bowl in the picture above. (I would have much rather had a bowl of just that!)

Chili Soft Shell Crab, Green Plum, Asparagus, Lemon Confit

The tart lemon was a nice accompaniment against the asparagus and a nice contrast against the crispy soft shell crab. However, I don’t recall tasting any of the chili that is referred to in the dish description.

Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes, Chinese Broccoli, Crispy Shallots

The meaty, spicy dduk bok-ki was a great way to end the meal. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle (just the way I like them!). The pork sausage had a real kick to it too. (I wouldn’t recommend ordering anything after this one.)


And now, for a side tangent:

For those who may not have seen The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Ssam sits right around the middle of that list at #26. It’s the 5th US restaurant on the list, only topped by Alinea (in Chicago) and Daniel, Per Se and Le Bernardin (all in NYC). It’s six spots above The French Laundry (in Yountville, CA).

When first scanning the 2010 list, I was surprised to see Ssam ranked so highly. At the time, I hadn’t read much about the place so I attributed my reaction to ignorance and gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, after dining at both Ssam and at the last restaurant to make the cut (Eleven Madison Park at #50) in the same week, I left NYC still very confused. Momofuku Ssam Bar…#26…?

According to the Momofuku website, the name “Momofuku” means “lucky peach”. I believe it’s a fitting name – Without a doubt, like a ripe peach, Momofuku Ssam Bar is delicious and worth trying. However, I find the inclusion of the word “lucky” even more fitting – As tasty as it may be, with a #26 position on the World’s Best list, Momofuku Ssam Bar must be much, much luckier.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Momofuku Milk Bar

We started off the night in Milk Bar (while waiting for our table); we ended our night there as well. I wanted something sweet but since I was slightly stuffed at this point, I only split a slice of David Chang’s infamous “Crack Pie”.

Crack Pie – Toasted Oat Crust, Gooey Butter Filling

I think it’s logical to assume that Crack Pie was probably named for its supposedly addictive qualities. I have no doubt that there are people out there who are addicted after bite one; I, however, am not one of them. Honestly, it just tasted like butter and sugar to me (which is basically all that’s in it anyway). I’m not sure what I expected from it but…well…if this is crack, I think I’ll pass next time.

What I won’t pass on, however, is Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. As a girl who likes her cereal SUPER soggy before chowing down, I really enjoyed this – its taste was spot on, exactly like the sweet, sugary milk you typically find at the bottom of your bowl. I’m not sure I would purchase an actual bottle of their cereal milk (especially since I feel like I could easily re-create it by pouring myself a bowl of cereal at home) but the cereal milk soft serve is definitely worth the trip.

Momofuku Milk Bar– MOVED
(new location information)
251 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar on Urbanspoon