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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

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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
Website: http://www.caracasarepabar.com/
Twitter: @caracasarepabar

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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/

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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
Website: http://www.croxley.com/
Twitter: @croxleys

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Eleven Madison Park (Manhattan, NY) – The Gourmand Tasting

June 8, 2011

According to WordPress, I started writing this post on May 24, 2010. (I actually got started on it early!) However, like a lot of my posts of other breath-taking tasting menus, I got stuck halfway through and I’ve never bothered to complete it. (Yes, I’ve had writer’s block for more than a year, what can I say?!)

Sadly, since my meal at Eleven Madison Park (or, as I like to lovingly refer to it, “EMP”), the gourmand menu at is no more, replaced with a simple matrix of ingredients to be manipulated into full-fledged courses. However, I have no doubt that this new menu arrangement is just as good. A restaurant like EMP doesn’t just stop serving good food, and the fact that it won Outstanding Restaurant at the 2011 James Beard Awards only supports that. Dining at EMP will be an amazing experience, no matter what or when you try it.

Anyway, seeing that this review is now useless, I’m turning the post into a photo-blog. I mean, we all like photos, right…? (I know, total cop-out. But if I don’t post this now, I never will!)

Hors d’oeuvres

Course 1: Sterling Royal Caviar, Spheres of Smoked Sturgeon and Salmon Cream

Course 2: Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Custard with Green Apple, Shellfish Ragout

Course 3: Garden Pea and Mint Lollipop

I will write something for this one: The above lollipop was the best single bite during my entire May 2010 NYC trip and the reason I considered EMP to be my favorite restaurant of 2010. Imagine the texture of a fudgsicle – that crisp, hard coating that, when bitten into, gives way to a cool, soft filling – but replace the chocolate taste with the brightest peas you’ve ever tasted. I felt like the temperature only enhanced the flavor, making it taste fresher, cleaner… I’ve been chasing the taste of peas ever since, hoping to find something similar to this bite.

Course 4: Spring Out of Winter – Variations of Asparagus with Jamon Iberico

Course 5: Foie Gras Torchon with Tete de Cochon, Pickled Spring Vegetables and Horseradish

Course 6: Atlantic Halibut Seared with Smoked Spring Garlic and Crayfish

Course 7: Nova Scotia Lobster Poached with Young Carrots, Ginger and Vadouvan Granola

Course 8: Earth and Ocean – Slow Cooked Poussin with Hawaiian Blue Prawns and Seaweed

Course 9: Colorado Lamb Herb Roasted with Sucrine Lettuce, Garden Peas and Oregon Morels

Fromage – A Selection of Artisanal Cheeses

Course 10: “Soda Pop” – Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pomelo and Lemon

Course 11: Milk and Chocolate – Variations of Flavor and Texture

Mignardises

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10010
(212) 889-0905
Website: http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

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