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Pure Thai Cookhouse (Manhattan, NY) – Pure Thai, Pure Deliciousness

May 25, 2012

Pure Thai Cookhouse is one of those restaurants I’ve loved from the very beginning. It opened a month or two after I moved to NYC, not far from my apartment. I remember when I first heard about it from a friend:

Friend: “The chef used to work for Jean-Georges, but now he cooks Thai food!” 
Me: “Wait, a Jean-Georges alum? And it’s reasonably priced? We should check it out…”

…Aaaand I’ve been hooked ever since.

The interior is warm and cozy, which has made it one of my go-to’s when I’m looking for a simple place to eat by myself. The staff is super friendly (even when you accidentally show up 10 minutes before closing).

I have my visits to Pure Thai down like clockwork; 99% of the time, I order the same thing: The Ratchaburi crab and pork dry noodles and a Thai iced tea. Then I ask for a jar of their pickled chilis and drizzle the vinegar over the noodles for some extra acidity. And, if I’m feeling extra hungry, I’ll get the green papaya salad to start. (The other appetizers tend to lean on the smaller size, portion-wise.)

I can’t speak to much else on the Pure Thai menu, except for one thing: Their Krabi seafood noodle soup. The menu notes that it’s “not recommended for novices” and they’re not lying – that bowl had a funk that even I, a usually adventurous eater, couldn’t get used to.  Order with caution.

Pure Thai Cookhouse
766 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10019
(212) 581-0999
Website: http://purethaicookhouse.com/

Pure Thai Cookhouse on Urbanspoon

Totto Ramen (Manhattan, NY) – A Bowl Comes Full Circle

October 10, 2011

Totto Ramen has a special place in my heart. Why? When I moved here a year ago, it was my first meal as an official New Yorker. At the time, I was crashing in a friend’s apartment in Morningside Heights (way up there by Columbia University) but made the trek down to Totto because I felt like I had to do something special my first night in the city. Who could have guessed that I would later find my own apartment a couple blocks away?

Totto Ramen has now become one of my go-to neighborhood haunts. It’s not very big so there’s almost always a line outside, especially around dinnertime. Be prepared to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy they are.

If you don’t know already, Totto = chicken. Therefore, their broth is chicken based rather than pork based like a lot of other places in the city. However, don’t think the lack of pork means a lack of flavor – this soup has depth. Boiling a pot full of chicken carcasses for almost the entire day (9AM to 6:30PM, according to their hand-drawn sketch behind the counter) can do that for you.

What I love most about Totto’s broth is its clean flavor. While I love a heavy pork tonkotsu broth (“liquid meat”, as I like to call it) just as much as the next person, sometimes you end up with a greasiness on your lips. Totto’s, since it’s made of chicken, gives you the satisfaction and comfort from a bowl of ramen without the heaviness afterwards.

I personally like the spicy ramen more so than the normal chicken paitan ramen – the spicy pepper paste just adds an extra kick to the bowl. If you’re not a big fan of spicy (I personally don’t think it’s too bad), you can always ask them for the paste on the side as well.

Lastly, their sides – posted on the front window or against the walls – are  kickass but can be highly seasonal. My favorite, a bowl of seared uni over rice, hasn’t been seen in a couple months. (If you see it though, let me know!)

Totto Ramen
366 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-0052
Website: http://www.tottoramen.com/

Totto Ramen on Urbanspoon

Marea (Manhattan, NY) – This Is Food Porn.

May 20, 2010

Before reading any further, please first watch the following Youtube clip from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations – Food Porn Part II. (Start watching at 3:10 – That’s when it starts getting gooooood…)

Okay, now that I’ve made you hungry, I’ll also make you jealous: The sea urchin and lardo? The burrata and lobster? The octopus and bone marrow?

I ate that. ALL OF THAT.

I find it fitting that Marea is established right across the southern border of Central Park. When I think of Central Park, I think of a lush, green oasis in a concrete jungle; when I think of Marea, I think of a modern, bright dining room in a sea of older, dim restaurants.

Although the fundamental characteristics between Marea and other NYC fine dining establishments are the same (e.g. big windows, crisp linens, glass centerpieces, etc.), there’s something about Marea that is so visually appealing to me. Maybe it was because I went to Marea on a perfectly sunny spring day, but the whole space just seemed to sparkle the moment I walked in. This has to be one of my favorite dining rooms thus far.

Marea’s lunch menu is simple – a two course business lunch for $38, with each additional course costing $19 (although, looking at their online menu now, they’ve increased it to $42 and $21, respectively). The “Ricci” (i.e. the sea urchin and lardo) is not on their lunch menu but after seeing the above No Reservations episode, I begged my way to an order.

(Note: I am going to start transcribing quotes from the No Reservations episode because, honestly, can I describe the following better than King of My Heart? I don’t think so.)

“Two fat sacks of sea urchin roe, plumped with goodness. The briny, swollen membranes held aloft by two tiny chariots of toast. A gossamer thin sheet of lardo, lightly cured pork fat from the mountains of Tuscany, draped over the top and ever so slightly heated, allowed to wilt, to melt over the aroused golden pillows, like a dying swan.” – Anthony Bourdain

Ricci – Sea urchin, lardo, sea salt.

A side tangent: I recently had a very similar dish – uni on toast with olive oil – at Church and State in Los Angeles. There, the olive oil seemed to overwhelm the sea urchin and gave almost a greasy consistency to the uni. This was not the case at Marea.

The sea urchin and lardo, in this instance, were complimentary – Each component maintained the qualities that make it delicious and the other only enhanced the overall taste. The uni was buttery, the lardo was smoky…I only wish we had ordered more.

“Combine seafood and cheese – it’s just not done! It’s like catching your parents having sex! Instinctively, it’s like eww! But not this time…This time it tastes like shame. Delicious, delicious shame.” – Anthony Bourdain

Astice – Nova Scotia lobster, burrata, eggplant al funghetto, basil.

Lobster and burrata. Burrata and lobster. Can you really go wrong? Burrata, by itself, is on my list of favorite things. (Coincidentally enough, sea urchin and bone marrow are also on that list.) Add lobster and it’s become an ever higher ranked favorite!

I was originally worried about the texture of this dish – as Anthony Bourdain already stated, lobster and cheese aren’t really supposed to go together. However, the lobster was firm enough to provide some contrast against the soft burrata.

“It starts innocently enough – hand made fusilli and baby octopus, tossed and mingled together with…OMFG, NO! Bone marrow! The unearthly product melted into and fortifying the sauce like some celestial butter.” – Anthony Bourdain

Fusilli – Durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus, bone marrow.

Ordering a pasta dish for lunch after devouring a pasta tasting dinner at Babbo the night before is risky. Finding out that pasta dish can hold its own, even after a full pasta tasting menu, is both relieving and exciting.

The fusilli had great texture, perfectly al dente, and had a great chewiness to it. The octopus was tender, not at all tough. As for the bone marrow? Finding bone marrow was like finding buried treasure – my eyes lit up with every chunk of fatty marrow I dug from underneath the pasta.

To conclude: In the spirit of food porn, let’s just say eating at Marea would be the money shot. (And I’m just going to leave it at that.)

Marea
240 Central Park South
New York, NY 10021
(212) 582-5100
Website: http://www.marea-nyc.com/

Marea on Urbanspoon

53rd and 6th Halal Cart (Manhattan, NY) – The Million Dollar Question: Why?

May 5, 2010

An actual conversation while standing in line at the 53rd and 6th Halal Cart:

(This is considered a very short line.)

Stranger: Is everyone waiting in this line waiting for this cart?
Us: Yup.
Stranger: What makes this cart so special? I always see people waiting for this cart. None of the other guys have lines. Why go to this one…?

Now THAT is the million dollar question. Why?

The 53rd and 6th Halal Cart currently has 965 reviews on Yelp with a 4.5 star average rating. 94% of people “liked” it on Urbanspoon. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page. What makes this halal cart so different from the other dozen halal carts parked down the street? (Btw, you know you’ve hit it big time when googling an intersection links directly to your cart.)

(This is their specialty – chicken and rice.)

After tasting it for myself, I’ve decided: It’s their white sauce. It has to be. I can’t come up with any other reason but that.

Their specialty platter is essentially just lettuce, rice, chicken and pita with whatever sauces you decide to load it up with. Now take the sauce away from the equation: The lettuce is lettuce. The rice is rice. The chicken is a bit mushy. The pita is nice and fluffy but people don’t order “chicken and rice” for the pita. Honestly, without the sauce, it’s average at best.

However, the white sauce almost transforms this plate of blah to one that even I found myself craving the morning after. What’s in the sauce? No one knows…secret recipe. It’s creamy, not heavy, the consistency isn’t too thick but it’s also not watered down by any means. There are no distinct seasonings that jump out at you. I’m not even going to begin to guess what’s in it. All I know is that the white sauce has to be the reason why this cart gets more foot traffic than all the other carts in the area combined.

WARNING: The 53rd and 6th Cart has a white sauce and a red sauce. The white sauce, I’ve already explained above. The red sauce is suicide hot. Like, PAINFULLY SPICY. The cart even has a caution sign for the hot sauce. I put a little of it on my plate – didn’t think it was too bad so I added a lot more. Um…Yeah. Don’t do that. My mouth was on fire for a good five minutes. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t focus, my tongue was numb…

…Just stick to the white sauce.

53rd and 6th Halal Cart
53rd St and 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019
Website: http://www.53rdand6th.com/

53rd and 6th Halal Cart on Urbanspoon

Le Bernardin (Manhattan, NY) – A Fishing Story

December 17, 2009

Seeing that Le Bernardin is arguably the best seafood restaurant in the nation, it seems fitting to begin this review with a fishing story of my own. Like most stereotyical fishing stories, my story starts with an outrageous claim and ends with no proof that what I claim ever existed…but trust me, it’s true.

I was at Le Bernardin on Saturday night and was *THIS CLOSE!* to…*dramatic pause*…ERIC RIPERT.

Yes, you read that correctly, I SAW ERIC RIPERT. I watched him wander from the bar to the dining room, stopping by and chatting with the patrons at each table. I watched him walk from the dining room to the kitchen, disappearing behind the swinging doors. However, I did NOT see him drop by my table and, by the time I thought of asking to meet the chef, he had left for the night. No picture, no proof…all I have is disappointment and regret for not jumping him when I had the chance.

*sigh*

Luckily, that was my only disappointment that night.

———-

It’s times like these that I absolutely hate my inability to write eloquently. How do I describe my 3-star experience at Le Bernardin beyond “Just…WOW.”? Where do I begin to describe the dishes we were served, how can I convey to you the thoughts that ran through my head with every bite? I can only hope that pictures do more justice than words – there are so many words one can use; I can only use the ones within my reach.

Of the three prix fixe options at Le Bernardin (4-, 7- or 8-courses), my dining companion Jenn and I both ordered the 8-course Chef’s tasting menu, complete with wine pairing. After completing our meal, both of us agreed – the wine pairing was a MUST. Some dishes were amazing with or without the pairing but others were elevated to that next level (to the level one would expect from a restaurant like Le Bernardin) because of that one sip. Highly recommended.

Amouse-Bouche: ?

Unfortunately, I forgot to write down what we were served for the amuse-bouche but it wasn’t a standout dish in any fashion so I’m not sure if it matters. There was something odd about the texture of the dish – it was little mushy and I couldn’t quite figure out if it was from the seafood or from the accompanying puree underneath. The foam (made of mushrooms, if my memory serves me correctly) complemented the other flavors well; however, the texture was still very distracting.

Course 1: Smoked Yellowfin Tuna “Prosciutto”; Japanese Pickled Vegetables and Crispy Kombu (Pairing: Muscadet ‘Clos des Briords’, Pepiere, Loire 2008)

The smooth smokiness of the tuna played well against the crisp sweetness of the Japanese pickles. I admit, I did without the crispy kombu (a type of seaweed typically used in Japanese cooking); it may have added a hint of saltiness to each bite but it was also a battle to break it into pieces.

Course 2: Poached Pastured Egg; Osetra Caviar; Mariniere Broth and English Muffin (Pairing: Krug, Grande Cuvee)

When first looking at the menu, there were three dishes that caught my eye and ultimately resulted in my choosing the Chef’s tasting over the Le Bernardin tasting, this being the first. The egg, perfectly poached, floating in a pool of broth, rich with the flavor of white wine and mussels – it was divine. The dish just asked to be sopped with the two strips of lightly toasted English muffin (and I, of course, gladly obliged, sopping the running yolks and the broth as daintily as I could).

Course 3: Seared Langoustine, Mache, Wild Mushroom Salad; Shaved Foie Gras; White Balsamic Vinaigrette (Pairing: Gewurztraminer, Cantina Tramin, Alto Adige 2007)

The second of my three must haves, this was a prime example of a good dish elevated by an excellent wine pairing. The course, by itself was a solid dish – the langoustine was tender and the there was just enough foie to add a hint of flavor to, but not overwhelm, the other components of the dish. However, the wine brought out the sweetness of the langoustine, creating a very pleasant taste all together.

Course 4: Pan Roasted Monkfish; Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Turnip – Ginger Emulsion; Sake Broth (Pairing: Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru Chenevottes, Bernard Moreau 2006)

Typically, I’m not a huge monkfish fan – I enjoy some of the flakier fishes and monkfish tends to be a bit too dense for me. However, I polished off the fish, along with everything else, in order to taste as much of the sake and miso broth as possible. (Le Bernardin may be known for seafood but their sauces and broths are what really make the dish and compliment the natural flavors of the seafood.)

Course 5: Crispy Black Bass; Braised Celery and Parsnip Custard; Iberico Ham – Green Peppercorn Sauce (Pairing: Rioja, Reserve ‘Vina Ardanza’, La Rioja Alta, Spain 2000)

A psuedo Top Chef groupie (I’m not a true groupie as I missed most of seasons 3-5), I was excited to see a dish featured in the Le Bernardin challenge of season 5. It was suggested that we enjoy the creaminess of the parsnip custard (served separately) in between bites of the bass, a welcome change from the saltiness of the ham and peppercorn sauce and the braised celery.

Course 6: Baked Lobster on a Bed of Truffled Foie Gras Stuffing; Brandy Red Wine Sauce (Pairing: Chateau Haut-Bages Averous, Pauillac Bordeaux 2001)

Lobster with foie and truffles – this could be the definition of luxury. The fattiness of the lobster against the foie was fantastic, although I actually could have done without half the lobster (the portion size was rather large in comparison to the other courses and it just got heavy after a while).

Course 7: Creamy Goat Cheese Spheres, Concord Grape, Candied Walnut, Black Pepper (Pairing: Torrontez Sparkling-Deseado Familia Schroeder, Patagonia Argentina)

The third of the three, this was easily my favorite course of the night. The goat cheese popped in my mouth and mixed in with the sweetness of the walnuts and grape – not quite a sweet and savory but more something perfectly in the middle. With a sip of the paired sparkling wine, I was in heaven.

Course 8: Caramelized Corn Custard, Hazelnut Praline, Brown Butter Ice Cream, Popcorn Tuile (Pairing: Ron Zacapa Rum, Guatemala)

Another not quite sweet, not quite savory but perfectly in between dessert, this was another favorite, partially because of the novelty of the popcorn tuile. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple piece of sugar; however, it tasted exactly like a freshly popped kernel of corn.

———-

…There’s really nothing left to say besides that.

Le Bernardin
155 W 51st St
Manhattan, NY 10019
(212) 554-1515
Website: http://www.le-bernardin.com/

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

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