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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Coffee in NYC - definitive guide

I've received a lot of "hey did you see this?" e-mails since the NY Times published an exhaustive quality list two months back (with interactive map).

While the NYTimes is exhaustive, the author provides no real delineation between best and serviceable. Here's my organized guide, with 38 places still to visit!
A Level - Best of the City
  1. Abraco (east village)
  2. Blue Bottle (williamsburg, chelsea)
  3. Cafe Grumpy (williamsburg, chelsea, park slope) - note the park slope location is tiny!
  4. Cafe Pedlar (cobble hill)
  5. Culture Espresso (penn station)
  6. Kaffe 1668 (tribeca)
  7. Ninth Street Espresso (east village and chelsea)
  8. Oslo (Williamsburg)
  9. Stumptown Coffee (penn station)
  10. Toby's Estate (williamsburg)
  11. Third Rail Coffee (village)
B Level - Worth visiting
  1. Bluebird (east village)
  2. De Luxe (park slope)
  3. Everyman Espresso (east village)
  4. Gimme! Coffee (williamsburg, noLiTa)
  5. Gorilla (park slope) - trending downwards after the coup de barista!
  6. Joe (west village, chelsea, grand central) - somehow the chelsea shop makes better espresso drinks than the other locations
  7. Ost (east village)
  8. Sit & Wonder (prospect heights)
  9. Maialino (madison park)
  10. Tar Pit (Bushwick)
C Level - Fine

Birch (noWheresville)
La Colombe (tribeca)
Fort Defiance (red hook)
Glass Shop (prospect heights)
Ground Support (soho)
Milk Bar (prospect heights)
Southside (park slope)
Think Coffee (nyu-ville)
Iris Cafe (brooklyn heights)
Bakeri (Williamsburg)

D Level - Serviceable
  1. Cafe Regular (park slope)
  2. Clover Cafe (boerum hill)
  3. Roots Cafe (park slope)
  4. Roots & Vines (lower east side)
  5. Van Leeuwen (trucks)
F Level - Avoid
  1. Cafe Regular Du Nord (park slope)
  2. Saturday Surf (soho)
  3. Root Hill (Gowanus)
  4. Jittery Joe's (midtown)
N/A - Not visited yet

  1. Baba (williamsburg)
  2. Beaner Bar (greenpoint)
  3. Boneshakers (williamsburg)
  4. Breukelen Coffee House (crown heights)
  5. Brooklyn Label (greenpoint)
  6. Cafe 474 (park slope)
  7. Cafe Mocias (upper west side)
  8. Champion Coffee (greenpoint)
  9. Espresso 77 (queens)
  10. Five Leaves (greenpoint)
  11. Indian Road (inwood)
  12. Knave (midtown)
  13. Marlowe & Sons (williamsburg)
  14. McNally Jackson (noLiTa)
  15. Moomah (tribeca)
  16. The National (lower east side)
  17. Second Stop (williamsburg)
  18. the Smile (east village)
  19. Sweet Leaf (queens)
  20. Variety Coffee (williamsburg AND greenpoint)
  21. Village Tart (village)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

October Cocktail - Gimlet

I was more interested in the process of making lime cordial than I was in the actual gin gimlet. Over the last 10 months, I've grown to like gin. I may even say it's my favorite distilled alcohol. Anyhow, after I read Toby Cecchini's T Magazine (recipe at the bottom) article on making lime cordial, I added this drink to A COCKTAIL A MONTH.

I tried Hendricks, Plymouth, and Bluecoat and thought that Bluecoat was easily the best match. I don't know if it's the better gin, but seemed to pair with lime much better.

Once you make the cordial, the drink is easy to make.

  1. 2 oz. gin
  2. 1 oz. lime cordial
  3. lime wedge
  1. Add ice to tumbler
  2. Add cordial
  3. Add gin
  4. Stir
  5. Garnish with a lime wedge

Prime Meats (no. 7 of 12)

We are definitely not getting to all 12 restaurants. But we did visit Prime Meats last week. And overall, it was meh. Though related, Prime Meats is not as tasty as Frankie's. The food is good. The ambiance nice. The service was fine. Nothing wrong with the place, but it's not one of the places we'd decidedly return to.

So what did we have?

We started with oysters from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They were excellent - fresh, briny, juicy and visually appealing.

SOS followed that with her typical first-time-in-a-restaurant-order of a burger. This $18 burger was fine, almost too fine. The patty was a perfect cylinder that exactly met the bun's edges. The toppings were all sliced uniformly and were seemingly fresh. In the end, the burger had two downfalls. First, she asked for it to be medium rare. After finishing it, there wasn't a drop of "juice" on the plate. It was too medium and not juicy enough. Second, it had no soul. It felt like a picture postcard representation of a burger. Maybe in 2011 Brooklyn, we're too used to some burgers having a strong bacon taste while others have a unique crust and others have a good deal of salt within the meat. This had no character, no soul.

I ordered the choucroute garnie. It's a classic Alsatian dish and the preparation was fantastic. The sauerkraut was equally sour, rich, and cabbage-y. Delicious. And the meats were rich and slightly gamy. We loved it.

We ordered a quartino of the most bland, unappealing wine I can remember. Strangely, it came from the very reputable negociant - Joseph Drouhin. This wine tasted watered-down.

Total, with tax and tip came to $80. Not crazy, not a value. Very meh.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

September Cocktail - Margarita

Margarita. It's something most of us have pretty average experiences with. Think hard. Can you remember the last time you had a great margarita? If so, how much of that "great" connects to the place, the people, or time of year? My point is that a pretty average margarita can taste great on the first warm day of June after a long workday, especially when shared with great company.

I set out to try and make a great margarita even if drank alone, on a rainy night in September.

Three rules I learned through my tests:
  1. You must shake a margarita vigorously. It needs the intense chill and the aeration.
  2. Cointreau is much better than standard triple sec. It's a little extra, but worth it.
  3. A salted rim adds positive complexity.
I tried a few tequilas and preferred Puro Verde. I'm not enough of an expert to describe why, but this produced the margarita I expected. There's no harshness in this tequila.

Ingredients for 1 margarita:
  1. 2 ounces tequila (preferably blanco)
  2. 1/2 ounce lime juice
  3. 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  4. 2 dashes citrus bitters (I used Bitter Truth Grapefruit)
  1. Use the spent lime rind to moisten the lip of a rocks glass.
  2. Roll the glass through a plate of kosher salt.
  3. Add ice to glass
  4. Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker
  5. Shake vigorously (more than you think you need to)
  6. Pour into rocks glass.
  7. Garnish with lime wheel

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Char No. 4 (6 of 12)

Last Friday, SOS and I enjoyed a fine meal at Char No. 4. By and large, our impression of the restaurant was of a place with consistent and enjoyable food, yet not anything we couldn’t match at home (save the two steaks on the menu). The real draw is the whiskey list and the ability to taste so many. Char No. 4 will pour you 1 ounce of any whiskey they have.

I created a rye whiskey tasting by selecting three ryes that I hadn’t tasted before. And like most things, when you line up three of the “same” items in front of you, you’ll find differences and favorites (more on this later). To go with the whiskey, they made an excellent cocktail – the Noreaster – which is a Dark & Stormy with bourbon in lieu of Gosling’s rum - Mighty tasty.

We ordered 2 snacks, 2 appetizers, and 1 sandwich and felt stuffed. The two dishes most memorable were the snacks. The crispy cheddar curds were hot, crisp, buttery, and aromatic. The spicy peanuts and pickles were perfect as well. To me, both compliment the whiskey drinks really well. Where they bourbon or rye is sweet and served chilled, these were salty and warm.

The bacon arrived on a bed of micro-greens and corn kernels that were nice. And the chicken liver mousse was not interesting, but fine.

Lastly, we had the chopped pork sandwich. Again, it was fine, but the best component came in a tiny ramekin. It was pickled chili peppers in vinegar. They combined with the pork’s richness and fattiness perfectly. It was a delicious combination, yet I can’t say it stood out relative to sandwiches at Wildwood or Blue Smoke.

SOS ordered a rose that was flavorless. It was the only disappointing part of our experience.

Char No. 4 does all the basics well. We won't make a trip back anytime soon. But, if we were on Smith Street with time to kill and a hankering for cheese curds and/or whiskey – we’d be there.

The three whiskies:

  1. Jefferson Rye (winner) - slightly tart and sweet with an enjoyable hot finish
  2. Wild Turkey Russell's Rye - mostly heat, some oak (not too much), notably spicy
  3. Wild Turkey 101 - all heat, a little molasses, but hard to detect much taste

Monday, June 20, 2011

Buttermilk Channel (Brooklyn 5 of 12)

Last month we visited Buttermilk Channel in the very southern end of Carroll Gardens. (Note: it's a significant walk from the F/G Smith Stop) And actually during our early dinner, the crew for Men In Black 3 took over a 6-block section of Court Street.

This restaurant has one of the better "vibes" of any new restaurant I've experienced since Franny's opened. There's energy, happiness, brightness, and multiple great smells. Upon arrival, I think we were the only people there that the owner didn't know. Genuine hugs, hellos and smiles were dole out by the dozen. The restaurant filled up beyond the owners' circle as we were leaving.

I waited for SOS (getting the pattern, here?) at the bar and enjoyed a "mug" of Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold. Nice bartender; he provided me tastes of a few different bitters. That was fun. SOS arrived and wanted a cold diet coke (it was the May's hottest night.)

Onto the food. Everything was tasty, but nothing was worth a special trip. If you live near here or are visiting a friend, this is a great option.

We started with a lovely butter lettuce salad with a green goddess dressing. The dressing was fine. But the lettuce was tremendous. What a strange thing to say, but I can't remember the last time I had lettuce this perfect in texture and flavor.

Additionally, the slow-roasted spareribs were enjoyable, but more forgettable.

For entrees, SOS had the hamburger with cheese (classic choice by her) and I had the lamb salad. The burger was nice - charred exterior, juicy and rare interior, melting grilled onions and slightly-too-salty fries. You could have this same burger at 15 different Brooklyn restaurants.

Now, the lamb salad was different. It included shreds of braised lamb shank and a soft-boiled egg over romaine (nice but not revolutionary like the above). There were small roasted cauliflower florets and a few other ingredients. The gooey egg, soft lamb and cool, crisp romaine were a great combination. It was an excellent composed salad.

Now, would you go out of your way for amazing butter lettuce? If so, then this is the place for you. If not, keep Buttermilk Channel in mind for your next visit to Carroll Gardens.

Dinner for two with snacks, appetizers, and entress was $83 after tax and tip

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June Cocktail - Mojito

In Mid-August, I'm posting about the June cocktail. Why? Well, the mojito has been difficult for me to figure out. We've made a lot of them and I'm still not sure I have "perfected" a house mojito. Perfected is in the eye of the beholder (me in this case, and I feel there's still work to be done.)

Anyhow, the mojito is above-everything refreshing.

Early in the process, I realized that we loved the mint flavor but don't like a big wad of mind in our glass. We also realized that the the drink can tolerate a significant amount of lime juice.

So, the Localvore Mojito is:
  • 2 ounces rum (more on choice later)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 2 barspoons of confectioners' sugar
  • 10 - 15 leaves of mint (spearmint or peppermint)
  1. In a pint glass, combine lime juice, mint leaves and sugar.
  2. Muddle for a honest 30 seconds (same amount of time if you double or triple the drink).
  3. Add rum.
  4. Add a lot of ice.
  5. Stir.
  6. Strain into glass already filled with ice and rim has been slicked with juiced lime section
  7. Fill glass with mineral water.
  8. Give one quick stir.
A few clarifying points we found:
Confectioners' Sugar - I tried simple syrup, superfine sugar, agave and even made a sirop de canne. Nothing made a nicely sweetened drink like confectioners' sugar. I don't really know why.
Rum - I enjoyed trying a few different rums. A darker rum worked better than white rums. But I don't know if I'd spend a lot of money on a rhum agricole for mojitos. I am trying to keep my bar American and found this Massachusetts rum to be delicious.
Stirred, not shaken - I didn't want so much dilution or frothiness, so I stirred.
Lemon - When making a batch, I substituted lemon for a quarter of the lime and found that it was different but delectable nonetheless.
Bubbles - Whatever you do, do not use something without significant bubbles. It makes the drink more lively and tasty. Again, I don't know why.

Monday, May 30, 2011

April and May Cocktails

There were no April and May cocktails. More drinking starting tomorrow...

March Cocktail - Tom Collins

I'll admit the Tom Collins was a disappointment. Not a drink that I couldn't enjoy, but more or less a bland drink that I could never achieve balance within.

I bought Tom Gin specifically for this drink and then played with the other ingredients.

My final recipe included:
  • 2 oz. Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • sparkling water to fill
In a highball full of good ice, I added the ingredients, stirred and sipped. My feeling - fine, nothing great.

Locanda Vini e Olii Visit (4 of 12)

Last month, we visited arguably the most charming restaurant in all of Brooklyn. I'd been wanting to go there for ten years (before we even lived in Brooklyn). The restaurant: Locanda Vini e Olli.

What makes a restaurant charming (to me)? I thought about this a lot since our meal. There are probably five aspects that make a place charming:
  1. Lighting - The restaurant's lighting and the ambient lighting from the street create a cozy feel that doesn't feel forced. Everyone looks nice in this lighting and you can actually see everyone in the restaurant.
  2. Age - The restaurant walls, tables, wainscoting - all of it feels aged but not dated or beaten up. Many times you enter a restaurant and there are scuff marks on the bottoms of doors, the chairs and tables sit unevenly, and the paint looks worn. Not here. It all feels like a different time, but a very clean and organized different time.
  3. Graciousness - The staff inserted information and highlighted menu items in perfect balance. And the way they spoke to us made us feel in complete control.
  4. Flowers - A few, big bouquets make a space more charming.
  5. Wine service - The correct, impeccably clean wine glasses along with perfectly decanted and served wine makes a restaurant more charming.
We were fortunate to go with our friends - Drink & Eat. Great conversation and outstanding lectures on the importance of long-term care, country weekend living, and the plight of middle school.

So what did we eat. Well we had the tasting menu and it felt like we had everything at the restaurant. Among the many dishes were a series of tremendous pastas - including one made without wheat flour (chestnut flour instead). All were perfectly cooked and allowed the noodle to shine; the sauce just supported the noodle. We had marinated anchovies that were excellent - sweat, salty and a little fishy. And at the end we had a tremendous rare duck breast that nobody could finish.

Even the marinated olives tasted better than olives at specialty stores or other restaurants.

We enjoyed two bottles, allowing the captain to select the second bottle. He picked an excellent red that was priced right in-line with my first selection (that's a huge pet peeve of mine).

Locanda isn't cheap, but it's a great value. We had four tasting menus, 2 bottles of wine, tax & tip for $360 (for four).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

February Cocktail - The Dark & Stormy

This has been one of my favorite cocktails for the last decade. What’s not to like – rum, ginger ale, lime, ice? After 14 variations in February (and early March), I have a few suggestions:
  1. Don’t make this with fountain ginger ale. Schweppes is pretty meager in flavor, bubbly, but heavy in texture, leaving you a drink with more viscosity and less taste.
  2. A smaller drink is better. Filling the glass with soda results in watery drink. If you’re a fast drinker (like me), then this is difficult.
  3. Fresh lime is best. No lime is better than lime syrup. I didn’t try bottled lime juice but think that’s probably ok, but lime syrup was bad.

If you’re planning to make a large amount, consider making your own ginger beer. It’s not hard to do and requires one day planning.

My recipe produces a balanced but not strong drink. I like to serve in a footed pilsener glass with significant ice.

  1. 1 ½ ounces OLD MONK rum
  2. 1 ounce Morris Kitchen's Ginger Syrup
  3. ½ ounce fresh lime juice
  4. 4 ounces fresh seltzer
  5. 1 slice lime
  • Mix rum, syrup, lime juice in a glass.
  • Stir vigorously.
  • Add ice to fill glass.
  • Add 4 ounces seltzer.
  • Coat the rim of glass with fresh lime.
Outside of ginger syrup, I’d consider these three ginger beers (in no order)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Brief Interruption from Lands End

I received this note today. I made a little order of deeply discounted stuff. Really nice - I'm strangely touched. We've spent thousands at Amazon, hundreds at Zappos - no notes though.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tanoreen (3 of 12)

Earlier this month, we went to visit Tanoreen – a famous Middle Eastern restaurant. I’ve wanted to eat at Tanoreen for at least 5 years. I heard and read over and over again about the high-quality food.

This time, SOS and I took some friends, Dance & Stretch. They’re a great couple to eat – open-minded and interested.

The place is “nice for ethnic” but not designed to impress. It didn’t seem to matter as the restaurant was absolutely full by 7:15.

We decided to order four appetizers and two entrees. It was plenty of food; slightly too much. To start, the accompanying pita and lavash were tremendous and plentiful. Unlike a lot of pita, the pita was soft, pliant, & slightly salty. The lavash was crisp and coated in sumac (I believe) – delicious as well.

Of the appetizers, I preferred this never-before-seen dish – Armenian dried beef. It was slices of dried beef (akin to jerky), covered in a slightly sour tomato sauce. The meat had a pleasing chew. The sauce, the beef, and some pita – it was excellent. Dance enjoyed this pickled cauliflower salad that also was fantastic. Stretch & SOS enjoyed all the appetizers.

The entrees were delightful as well. I think the baked eggplant was a bit better than the kibbie. I hadn’t tasted kibbie in a long time and was keen to order it here. They served us two thin pieces of pressed lamb/wheat germ (imagine 4x8” rectangles about 1/2” thick). Inside this sandwich, was a ground lamb filling that was succulent, lean, and fragrant. Nonetheless the pressed meat couldn’t stop us from thinking of Pennsylvania scrapple.

The baked eggplant however was tremendous. It combined eggplant, lamb, and cheese in a casserole like setting. The eggplant’s bitterness matched perfectly with the lamb’s richness. I couldn’t stop spooning more and more onto my plate (not behavior SOS typically approves of).

We ended with knafeh. It's a dessert with fresh cheese (something resembling drained ricotta) inside fried pieces of shredded phyllo soaked in rose water with pistachio essence (perhaps). I thought the cheese wasn’t interesting but the phyllo, well – I’m still thinking about that.

4 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 beers, 1 dessert, tax, tip – all came to $140

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fonda (Brooklyn 2 of 12)

Continuing our monthly dinners, last Friday, we visited Fonda in nearby South Park Slope. This is on a great block with beer table, Grab, and nearby to Grumpy. So if there's a wait, you have great options.

Truth be told, Fonda was the 12 seed on our list. We've been eating and making a lot of Mexican food from Rick Bayless & Diane Kennedy books and so were probably seeking out (subconsciously) a Mexican option. I could tell SOS wasn't very excited.

Of course, she asked if I made reservations. Of course, I said, "It's a small ethnic restaurant in Brooklyn. I'm sure they don't take reservations for two." And of course - they do, the restaurant was full, and we did wait.

Fonda is a lovely space. The atmosphere is festive-relaxed. The music was just audible. And the lighting was romantic but we could easily read our menus.

Overall, the food was fantastic. We were surprised, delighted, and sated.

We ordered the guacamole, fish salpicon, carne asada, enchiladas mole oaxacequeno.

Guacamole was very nice; it was of the chunky, straight-forward variety (nearly all avocado), served with these thick, pliant housemade corn tortillas. The tortillas were fantastic.
Fish Salpicon was delicious and the only dish that felt tiny. In a small bowl (think smallest pyrex you have at home), we received chopped fish that had been breaded and fried, combined with cilantro, red onions, and maybe vinegar. This dish also came with those tortillas. A little salpicon on a tortilla - it was fantastic and something I've been thinking about since - how will I recreate that at home (I think so much depends on those homemade slightly chewy tortillas that I probably will not.)?

Carne Asada was outstanding. The classic skirt steak came on a creamy, piquant, smoky mystery sauce and wild mushrooms. The meat was moist, flavorful, and right-sized. The sauce was so good that if I had any of those tortillas, I would have try to sop up every last bit.
Mole Oaxacqueno was equally outstanding. Shredded dark chicken meat and sauce filled three enchiladas and then the sauce covered, melted cheese, and a healthy dose of cilantro. The sauce was tremendous. Too often moles taste too chocolatey (as if the kitchen is trying to prove they have chocolate) or too powdery (from not cooking the dried chiles long enough). This sauce had neither problem. It was deep, rich, slightly sour, and savory.

SOS drank the white sangria and I had the hibiscus margarita. Both were fine; the re-hydrated hibiscus was beautiful but there wasn't much flavor imparted by it.

Overall, we'd go back to Fonda in a heartbeat. While we really dislike the F train, we'd recommend (if you don't live nearby) braving the beastly train to eat at Fonda.
($95 total for 2 appetizers, 2 drinks, and 2 entrees)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

January Cocktail - The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned may be the oldest cocktail. There are dozens of recipes, typically the drink calls for:
  1. whiskey
  2. sugar
  3. bitters
  4. citrus twist
I made the Old Fashioned about 15 times in January. At the end of the month, I came to a few preferences:
  • Rye over Bourbon - less sweet
  • Grapefruit bitters over orange - less sweet
  • Angostura bitters are important but in small amounts
So my "official" Old Fashioned is simple to make, but takes some time (perfect for finishing touches on dinner).

  1. 1 1/2 oz. Rye (I used Old Overholt)
  2. 1 demerra sugar cube
  3. 1 strip orange peel (no white part, orange variety didn't matter)
  4. 1 dash Angostura bitters
  5. 3 dashes grapefruit bitters (I used The Bitter Truth)
  1. Add sugar cube, orange peel, bitters to glass
  2. Mash significantly
  3. Add rye.
  4. Leave alone for 3-5 minutes (allows for the sugar to dissolve)
  5. Stir
  6. Add ice
I often left the ice to melt for a few minutes and found the diluted water improved the drink a bit.


In a spirit or mood to try cocktails out at home, I'll be experimenting with different cocktails throughout the year. My (insignificant) goal is 12 cocktails, roughly one per month. Recipes and thoughts to come.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good Fork Visit (Brooklyn 1 of 12)

There are plenty of sites that review each dish and photograph the food. I won't bother adding to that.

On Friday, the sweetest-of-sweethearts (aka SOS, aka my wife) and I visited The Good Fork in Red Hook (Brooklyn). Red Hook on Friday, January 28, was a snowy and desolate place, complete with man-eating puddles.

Good Fork is pretty nice. To us, the entire experience was on par with Flatbush Farm, probably not as good as The Vanderbilt.

I ordered a fine burger with salty tempura onion rings and SOS had a lovely piece of striped bass with root vegetables and soft farro (I think).

Five takes on the experience:
  1. I don't like when the wait staff needs 30 seconds to describe each special.
  2. I dislike when the wait staff doesn't tell me the specials' prices.
  3. Good Fork is very much a modern American restaurant. If there are Korean influences, they are subtle.
  4. I ordered a margarita. The drink - pretty tasty - was unwieldy as it arrived in an ice-filled pilsener glass.
  5. This is a nice little neighborhood bistro making good, not different, food in a comfortable environment.
To us, not worth two buses and some waiting, but not a bad experience.
$95 Total - 2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 cocktail

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Condiments: New York Style Sweet & Sour Onions

This recipe is slightly adapted from one that the good folks at BARK hand-out.

shopping = easy
difficulty = easy
expense = low

4 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
1 t. canola oil
1 12 oz. San Marzano Tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 T. salt
  1. Heat a large wide pan over medium heat
  2. Add oil to pan and swirl
  3. Add all the onions at once and stir for 1 minute
  4. Add salt
  5. Cook onions for 5 minutes (translucent and slightly brown)
  6. Puree the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar until smooth
  7. Add tomato mixture to onions and stir for 1 minute
  8. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 45 minutes
  9. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and then store in clean glass jar (in fridge)d
This is great on a bagel and really excellent in a turkey sandwich where the bread is hot and the turkey is bland.