Long considered the ‘coffee shop desert’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side now boasts coffee and pastries to rival the Stumptown’s of Flatiron and the Blue Bottles of Brooklyn. The uniting appeal in the coffee shop explosion of recent years lies in owners’ singular commitments to both quality and happiness.
You are in for a treat this week! Flor de Mayo is one of my favorite restaurants around Columbia, located on Broadway between 100 and 101. The food is delicious and interesting. It is a Peruvian-Chinese (Chino-Latino) restaurant. These two cuisines seem be a strange mix at first, but there is a history that bridges the two. The earliest Chinese traveled to the Latin world as slaves or contracted laborers. Later, Chinese ventured to Peru in order to escape communism or anti-Chinese sentiment in their settled countries. Thus, Chinese culture and cuisine has become popular in Peru. Peru ‘s population is 5% from Asian background, which is the largest of any Latin American country.
It was not until going to Flor de Mayo that I learned about this heterogeneous masterpiece. The dishes at Flor de Mayo do not portray a mix of Chinese and Peruvian flavors. Rather, there are Chinese and Peruvian dishes that are served alongside one another and, surprisingly, balance each other perfectly. The menu is even split in two, with one portion representing ‘Spanish Food’ and the other representing ‘Chinese Food.’
Among the Peruvian specialties is their pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken), which is beyond delicious. It is so simple, yet so flavorful and juicy. Their other great meat dish is the broiled pork chop, which comes out piping hot and crispy, yet moist. Both of these meat dishes are always cooked to perfection, with a golden outside, but never too dry.
The cilantro rice compliments the chicken perfectly. The cilantro is subtle and gives the rice a refreshing taste. It is delicious to have a bite alone whilst eating all of the other abundantly flavored dishes. Another great Peruvian side dish is the plantain, which comes in sweet and green varieties. The green plantains are fried and mashed flat. They come with a pungent, garlic sauce, which goes well on everything. I love the strong garlic flavor so much that I tend to pour it over everything I serve myself.
The Peruvian dishes on their own are enough to make anyone want to eat here, but there are other great Chinese dishes. The crispy shrimps are one of my favorites. They are shrimp cooked with the shell on (to maintain the flavor and texture) and scallions in a brown, ginger sauce. The Chinese fried rice is just like any that you could get at other restaurants, but it mixes with the food so well, that it is worth ordering .Who doesn’t like fried rice?
These are only a few among the incredible variety that Flor de Mayo offers, and I can confidently say that the majority of their dishes are delicious, because all of the ones I have tried are! I have never had a bad meal here, and I always leave excited for the next meal I’ll enjoy at Flor de Mayo.
I’ve never been a huge fan of tacos. I know, I know. How could I not love tacos? I guess I never really saw the point. But I’ve been converted—I haven’t stopped thinking about the tacos I ate last week.
Tacombi’s website says “Born on the balmy beaches of the Yucatan, Tacombi began selling tacos out of a converted VW bus in Playa del Carmen. Now, comfortably parked in Nueva York, Tacombi on Elizabeth street transports people from the streets of Nolita to the streets of Mexico, offers a piece of the Mexican beachside lifestyle and shares with them the diversity of Mexican street food culture.”
This describes it. It’s a loud, relaxed atmosphere which, if you didn’t know, could be just off the beach somewhere tropical. Prep is done in the back, but the actual tacos are, I believe, cooked in the original truck, pictured below.
I’ve been meaning to go here for a long time—one of the co-owners is the brother of the chef I work for in Boston—but I hadn’t gotten around to it until last week, when, after an art history trip to the Met, a friend and I decided to take the 6 down to Nolita. I didn’t realize the restaurant takes reservations, so when we got there (7:15-ish) we had to wait for about 10 minutes.
But onto the food, because who wants to read about the wait?
The corn esquites comes in a cup, with the toppings heaped on top. This is so delicious; sweet, spicy, savory. If you like sweet corn, mayo, cheese, and lime, this is the dish for you. Be sure to mix it up—this is a dish where it helps if all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. Don’t be afraid to ask for more limes if you want them.
The restaurant recommends three tacos, but each comes with two soft taco shells, and diners are instructed to put half of the filling in each—so really, you’re getting six tacos.
From left to right:
Crispy fish: fresh cod tequila battered and topped with cabbage
This is a Tacombi favorite, and rightly so. Fried fish, more of that mayonnaise, and crunchy, (pickled?) cabbage? Squeeze a little lime on it, and maybe some salt, and you’re good to go.
Barbacoa: roasted black angus beef
I’m not a huge fan of beef, in general, but I am a fan of tender, slow-cooked meat. This is tender and flavorful, and the toppings cut through the richness of the meat.
Pork belly: slow roasted berkshire pork
Pork belly is my favorite food. This was incredible; again, the tender meat and great toppings. In general, I find that pork belly, despite its buttery, smoky taste, can often be too rich to eat much of. It’s a food that I often find myself needing to sit down after eating. This, however, was rich without being overpowering, filling without being heavy, buttery without being oily.
All in all?
Go to Tacombi. Go hungry, and order the corn esquites for me.
Tacombi at Fonda Nolita:
267 Elizabeth St; (917) 727-0179
Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.
Sound Level: Loud.
Recommended Dishes: corn esquites, pork belly taco, crispy fish taco
Price Range: $$
Hours: 11am-12am Sun-Wed, Thurs-Fri 11am-1am, Sat 9am-1am
A bakery with multiple locations around the city, Simit + Smith is one place that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time because its namesake bakery item is a delicious bagel-like bread served in Turkey and the Levant, called simit. Simit is made in the same way as a bagel is (boiled in water and then baked) and has a similar round shape, but it is more like a ring than a fat bun with a tiny whole in the middle, and it is topped with lots of sesame seeds.
You could have cream cheese and lox with your simit at Simit + Smith, but this morning I opted for the more traditional kasseri cheese with tomatoes, cucumbers, and olive tapenade. Heaven. I was instantly transported back home. The simit bread itself was crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. It had a hint of sweetness that was cut through by the savory goodness of the sesame seeds. The tomatoes and cucumbers were fresh and the kasseri cheese salty and rich. A great alternative for kasseri cheese would have been labne, the tart, creamy yoghurt of the Middle East, but they did not offer it at the bakery. Hmmm… Home-made simit and labne? Worth a try!
Greatly recommended for a fresh, somewhat healthier, and definitely much tastier alternative to the bagel and cream cheese breakfast.
Upper West Side
124 W. 72nd St. New York, NY 10023
111 Worth St. New York, NY 10023
100 William St. New York, NY 10038
Like language, taste is sometimes quite difficult to translate. Especially when it involves the delicious sounds of pastry. Things get messy when we cross continents and change up butter fat percents, flour types, and century old mixing methods. A bagel in Paris just wont’ be the same, and a croissant in New York will never flake perfectly with just enough buttery crumbs. But why give up the hope when the trail is sugar sprinkled? So this weekend Jeanne and I set out to taste some traditional pastries translated from the coast of Bordeaux & Lille all the way to our very own streets of New York. This time we weren’t in search of any new wave of “cronut” renovations, but rather looking at two French bakers producing two traditional pastries: Les Canelés by Céline et Le Saint Honoré by, you guessed it, Maison Kayser!
400 East 82nd St
So here’s the deal: Céline is an ex Parisian business lawyer turned New York pastry chef. Her bright orange shop opened in 2009 on the Upper East side where she sells the traditional french pastry called “canéles” (Kh-nuh-leh) from the region of Bordeaux.
Mais qu’est ce que c’est une canelé? Well if you can’t guess no worries, we were actually asking ourselves that exact question this week! So here’s a little recap: Canelés we might think of somewhat like a moist tea cake, with a rich custard interior and thin caramel shell exterior. Their makeup is quite simple: eggs, sugar, milk, flour and most traditional flavored with rum or vanilla. You may recognize them from their delightfully quaint copper fluted molds (if you have no idea what a baking mold just scope out the kitchen on the next episode of Downton Abbey!). Legend goes that canéles originated in Bordeaux in the 17th century in the kitchen of nuns (their male monk compatriots we’re too busy making époisse cheese I guess…)! The nuns relied on donated egg yolks from local winemakers (who used only the whites to clarify their wines) and offered these treats to poor children. And much like their generous creation, today there’s no designated time to enjoy a canelé, as they can be savored as a dessert next to a sweet dessert wine or simply for a midday bite with no dining rules or regulations. (Disclaimer do not try with tea or coffee, however tempting it may seem or the internet may advise you….)
Céline’s shop has translated the canéle in a few wonderful, and not so wonderful ways. She’s re-imbued the pastry with a new canvas of flavors spanning from daring savory Parmesan and truffle, all the way to good old Caramel or Lemon. So d’un coté we loved her innovative flavor creation! However, she’s also downsized the canéle to fit miniature bite-size portions of “just enough.” And to be honest we weren’t certain that one bite was truly “just enough” to taste the contrast of the crisp sugar caramelized film layer against the chewy custard interior. The translated bite had definitely messed with this simple recipe. Céline’s convenient bite-size ideology really hit a cord though with us on the constant American diet obsessed culture that makes one often feel so guilty about dessert. And we won’t grumble on about the “French Paradox,” but rather just leave you with a bite of wisdom from Mirielle Guilliano’s Why French Woman Don’t Get Fat: why eat a few Hershey’s bars when you can go for just that one delicious good quality chocolate or pastry occasionally. Desserts aren’t the enemy, but quality is a huge factor. Moderation is key, just as is, well, enjoying la vie!
Mon dieux, please go for the Large Canelés everyone!
So for fully indulgent and authentic traditional French pastry we’re sending you back to Kayser for a MUST TRY ALL TIME PASTRY: a Sainte Honoré! Warning, this requires several large gaping mouthwatering bites that will ultimately always end in messy delicious whipped cream filled faces:
921 Broadway/ 8 W 40th St/1294 3rd Ave
The Sainte Honoré is the archetype reigning classic of traditional French pastry, named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs himself (St. Honoré,or Honoratus Bishop of Amiens)! We’re talking jurassic pastry here people, imbued with more national pride than any éclair or crème brûlée could handle. There’s no way to downsize this baby and Kayser does it justice in New York just AS good as in Paris. The Lowdown: buttery puff pastry base topped with a ringlet of choux pastry filled with crème chiboust, finished with whip cream and glued all together with caramel. In other words, think giant crown of caramel cream puffs….Avez vous faim maintenant?
So don’t loose hope and take an oversized bite of Paris with good ole’ Kayser in New York anytime!
Lauren Weiss is an alumnus of Columbia whom I met at the media networking night a few weeks ago. She is currently working for Divino, a unique gelato start-up. Divino’s trademark is gelato-stuffed fruit coming in five different flavors: amalfi lemon, black diamond plum, ciaculli tangerine, roman kiwi, and apulian peach. Each of the names points to the place in Italy from where the fruit comes, in an effort to transport you to these locations when eating the gelato. Lauren was kind enough to give me her two highest recommendations, the ciaculli tangerine and the apulian peach.
The packaging of the gelato is very nice. The colors are bright, and each fruit is placed in its own box with a spoon and a paper holder for the fruit. Once the fruit is taken out of the box, it is meant to be opened along the pre-cut lines so that you can eat out of each half. Divino is trying to put its own spin on gelato, working in competition with the many other gelato brands that have recently become popular.
Gelato means ‘ice cream’ in Italian. In Italy, there is a standard amount of butterfat that an ice cream must have to be considered gelato. However, the FDA has not issued any requirement for gelato so most frozen ice cream or sorbet treats can be considered gelato. Gelato is usually healthier than ice cream, because it often times contains fewer calories, sugar, and fat than ice cream. The Italian city of Varese is where gelato gained much of its popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is very well known and widely loved.
The flavors of Divino that I tried were not creamy, but very refreshing and light. They resembled sorbets, since they did not have the creaminess usually associated with gelatos. The tangerine was tangy and sweet with a slight bitter after taste, which helped to balance the sweetness. The apulian peach had a smoother texture than the tangerine, which was more icy. The flavor of the peach gelato tasted fresh, and not as if it were from concentrate. It was very sweet, for me a bit too much so, but my friends did not mind. The fun part is that the gelato is in the skin of the fruit, so you can scrape around the edge to get even more flavor. The skin of the peach can even be eaten, but, be warned, it is cold and can chill your teeth!
It was a treat to get to try these gelatos. They were both delicious and refreshing. The sizes are quite small, about the size of a small scoop of ice cream, so make sure to have your own.
This week, my sister was in town visiting from her semester away in California, and to catch up we went decided to try a new vegan restaurant together. Sun in Bloom has two locations. The location in Brooklyn is a full-time restaurant, and the one located in Tribeca is a take-out cafe style restaurant. Sun in Bloom offers gluten-free vegan options, both raw and cooked. The Sun in Bloom cafe in Tribeca offers juices, small entrees, desserts, chia puddings, and other typical vegan foods. When eating vegan, you begin to notice trends in vegan cuisine.
While I would have loved to try the full-time restaurant, we decided to stay in Manhattan and test out the cafe. I had the Shitake Bacon BLT, which was made to imitate a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but completely vegan. Roasted tomatoes, shitake mushroom bacon, raw almond mayo and crispy romaine, were wrapped in raw collard greens. The roasted tomatoes was extremely flavorful, and the shitake “bacon”, was seasoned with yeast to replicate the salty taste of bacon. The perks of vegan eating is that one gets filled and satisfied, but avoids the feeling of a “food coma”.
For dessert, Steph got a vegan pumpkin cupcake. It was absolutely delicious, and did not taste “vegan” at all. It takes skills to avoid vegan desserts from tasting bland. I find “Babycakes” cupcakes on the Lower East Side, for example, to suffer from this kind of blandness. However, Sun In Bloom’s cupcake can easily pass for a non-vegan cupcake.
As for my dessert, I got the raw blueberry cheesecake with a nut crust. The cheesecake, while having a similar consistency to dairy cheesecake, does taste extremely different. It has somewhat of a tangy taste, The blueberry cheesecake does fulfill the craving – as a vegan, good desserts are always hard to find.
Overall, my experience at Sun in Bloom was great. The customer service was really great too. The cashier was super patient, and sweet. I recommend taking a seat in the small cafe facing the city. The food was extremely tasteful, light, and satisfying, the three major requirements for vegan cuisine. I look forward to one day trying the full time restaurant.
On April 12, 2009, I ate at Toro for the first time. It was Easter, and my family was in South Boston, and my mom had seen it as we drove by. Six years later, and I have met and interviewed Chef Jamie Bissonnette, cooked with a chef who used to work at Toro, and eaten at Toro many, many more times.
Now, a confession: I haven’t actually eaten at Toro NYC (though I have been to the space), Chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s latest venture (an offshoot of the original Boston Toro). However, most of the dishes are similar, and I trust these two chefs enough to recommend the New York location. I trust Pete Wells, too, who reviewed Toro NYC for the New York Times and wrote “I can’t remember what we were eating at Toro, the new tapas restaurant in far western Chelsea, when one of the people at my table looked up in wonder….But I remember his smile and his question: ‘How can a place this big have food this good?’”
Wells is right. The food is damn good. When I talked to Bissonnette, he remarked that he thought “good art” (in terms of food) was if someone returned from Toro saying “Oh my god, the food at Toro was so good; I ate too much.”
What he didn’t know is that this has happened every time I’ve gone to Toro. Bissonnette and Oringer have a touch for these Spanish-inspired tapas that is just brilliant. The combinations of flavors showcased on Toro’s instagrams, both Boston and NY, are just brilliant: schnitzel with Serrano, idizabel, mustard, and pea greens. Whipped foie butter with tangerine and chestnut mostarda. The DTF.
Bissonnette also mentioned that a restaurant wasn’t just about the food; “It’s about the dining room, it’s about the culture.” Toro has drawn crowds from its opening night in New York, bringing a young, lively, hip group of eaters to the former Nabisco factory in Chelsea. And while it may be all about the culture, in his mind, it’s all about the food in mine.
I like to think I know a fair amount about food—and I do. But talking to Jamie Bissonnette, it became clear how much I have to learn. I left the Toro NYC space—which is gorgeous—feeling like I knew nothing about food. It wasn’t as if Chef Bissonnette had made me feel stupid; in fact, quite the opposite. However, the way he pulled extremely specific examples—at one point, he cited a “stew of chickpeas, chorizo, and blood sausage” as if that was everyone’s go-to example—from thin air showed a level of expertise with food I can only hope to achieve someday. And it is this expertise which allows him to create such incredible combinations of food, and hire chefs and cooks who will as well.
The food is also incredibly colorful and photogenic. Honestly, I don’t know how they do it. My mind is blown every time I eat there. Here are some of my favorites, all offered at Toro NYC:
Oh, these are so good. Small enough so that you don’t get tired. The aioli, tomato, and pickled onion are incredible complements.
Another classic. Sometimes the citrus is yuzu, sometimes it’s lemon, but it’s always good.
I can never tell exactly what the “stuff” is, but they’re right to like it.
Sweet, tender, duck-y (duck is my favorite poultry) these were just amazing.
I’m usually not even a fan of anchovies, so I’m not sure why we ordered these.
I am now a fan of anchovies. These were not fishy or bony, and the spices complemented the fish perfectly.
You can’t go wrong with fried potatoes, and even for fried potatoes these are really, really good.
I’ve never heard of duck ham. This is just plain great.
When I went over spring break, I had one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve eaten in a while: Asado de Huesos; roasted bone marrow, served with oxtail marmalade and toast, with citruses and radishes. At Toro NYC they make this with beef cheek instead of oxtail.
That is just art, both visually and gustatorily.
Chef Bissonnette, Chef Oringer: I don’t know how you do it. But what I do know is this: at your restaurants, you make good art.
85 10th Ave; (212) 691-2360
Atmosphere: Open, casual, upbeat, young.
Sound Level: Loud.
Recommended Dishes: Hamburguesas, asado de huesos, patatas bravas
Price Range: $$
Hours: 5:30-11 Mon-Wed; 5:30-12 Thurs-Sat; closed Sunday
As restaurant week ended so did my desire to continue to spend ridiculous amounts of money on ridiculously good food. What I truly appreciate about Bourdain is his diversity in tastes, and ability to truly recognize good food, not just appearances of it in the form of fancy restaurants.
According to him, one of his all time favorite restaurants in the city is a Jewish Deli that’s been in the Upper West side since 1908; Barney and Greengrass. So being that restaurant week took a toll on my wallet, I decided to head here for a good old-fashioned New York breakfast.
As I sat in the small run down diner, I was starting to think that I had misread Bourdain’s recommendation, thinking, “surely this can’t be it”, but as soon as the food came out, all doubts of mine vanished.
I ordered a cup of coffee, which never ended or grew cold as the sassy Jewish waiter filled it every chance he could get. For my meal, I decided to go with the Lox (salty) and onion scrambled eggs. Despite the waiter trying to dissuade me saying that it was really salty, and the Nemours notes on the menu noting that it was really salty I still ordered it, excited to challenge my cholesterol levels.
The eggs came with an everything bagel and a slab of cream cheese, literally embodying everything old-school New York in a single meal.
The eggs themselves were in fact really salty, but insanely good. The chunks of Lox were big enough to make a small plate of eggs very substantial. The salt from the Lox was truly emphasized with the eggs because they were so startlingly plain compared to the cured goodness that was the Lox. Likewise, the onions were cooked well done, and mixed in the eggs to calm down the salt, while not diluting the flavor.
The eggs were even better when paired with the everything bagel, as the bagel itself was salty, oniony, and calm with the assistance of the cream cheese.
Although your breath won’t like this particular meal, it was a perfect start to my morning. Barney and Greegrass again assured me that good food can truly be found almost anywhere in New York.
Marcus Samuelsson is not the first chef who inspired me. However, his story is unique— he is not another restaurant emperor who cooked his (yes, his; it’s a deeply sexist industry) way up through Lyon, Paris, and currently dominates New York with various eponymous eateries. Instead, born in Ethiopia, Samuelsson was adopted to a Swedish family after his birth mother died. After cooking his way through much of Europe, meeting friends and experiencing a surprising amount of death, he ended up in New York, where he became, I believe, Sous Chef and then Chef de Cuisine at Aquavit. He eventually re-opened Red Rooster (long a Harlem staple, but it had been closed for years when Samuelsson rejuvenated it), which I chose as a restaurant week destination.
Red Rooster is known for Southern-inspired food, but Samuelsson has inserted, among other cuisines, Swedish touches. I ordered gravlax, followed by “Helga’s Meatballs,” followed finally by sweet potato donuts with cream.
Lax, or laks, just means salmon in Norwegian. Gravlax is a Scandinavian curing preparation, which involves a cure of sugar, salt, peppercorns, dill, and some other herbs; these are rubbed onto raw salmon, wrapped, and placed under a weight in a cold space for several days. (How do I know? My father makes it every so often; there’s nothing quite like opening the fridge and finding all of the containers piled on top of a hunk of raw fish.) It ends up tasting quite like smoked salmon—but this is not a surprise, considering that smoked salmon, as well, is mostly raw.
I had read about the gravlax at Red Rooster in Samuelsson’s book, Yes, Chef, which I highly recommend. Maybe I’m a bit of an industry sap, but reading about Samuelsson receiving his first knife—this is a big deal for cooks—made me tear up. At any rate, I was excited to try the gravlax, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There could have been more salmon on the plate, but for the most part the dish was very good. The spices on the salmon were unusual and interesting; I believe Samuelsson originally tested many versions and ended up using espresso in the final one. The roasted carrots weren’t mushy, nor were they burnt; in fact, this might have been the most interesting part of the dish. It’s hard to roast carrots perfectly, and these were pretty close to perfection. I have also, recently, become a fan of pickled mustard seeds; the pectin in the seeds creates a very interesting gel, which sticks the seeds together.
Samuelsson first learned to cook from his grandmother, Helga, for whom the meatballs are named. Of course, there is nothing at all southern about Swedish meatballs with cabbage and lingonberry jam. Anyone who has been to Ikea knows this. The dish was served with mashed potatoes, which added a southern feel, though potatoes are also a Scandinavian staple. The meatballs were lovely; tender in a way that I have never been able to accomplish, with a hint of a taste that was definitely not Italian or Greek (two of the Mediterranean cuisines which can tend toward meatballs).
These were some of the best mashed potatoes I remember having in a long time. Buttery, soft, and smooth; the toppings added a bit of bite and crunch.
And then the doughnuts:
Interestingly, I was more fascinated by the whipped cream – which was cold and thick. However, the doughnuts were a dream: soft and light, filled with a sweet potato filling which was not overpowering in the slightest. It was a rich dessert, but also a light one, and so the meal ended on a high note, rather than with all diners weighed down.
Now, the restaurant week experience can differ from the normal experience at a restaurant. The staff was not especially warm at Red Rooster; I suspect this is probably not the case for non-restaurant-week diners. I don’t know how Swedish-leaning the menu is in general. However, the meal was wonderful overall, and I will definitely be returning.
310 Malcolm X Blvd; (212) 792-9001
Atmosphere: Open, casual.
Sound Level: Loud.
Recommended Dishes: Helga’s meatballs, Red Rooster doughnuts
Price Range: I went for restaurant week but google says $$$
Hours: Brunch: Sat-Sun 10-3; Dinner: Mon-Thurs 3:30-10:30, Fri-Sat 3:30-11:30, Sun 3:30-10; Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-3
Reservations: OpenTable; not crowded around 5 pm but full soon after.