Author Archive

Wine Riot NYC 2014

wine riot

We get a lot of PR emails, and I tend to ignore almost all of them. They usually ask us to mention a specific announcement, event, or whatever, with no real reason for us to do so. But last week we got an email from Clara at Bordeaux Wines saying we could get free tickets (normally $60) to a an event called Wine Riot, and all they asked in return is that we write about the event and mention them in the write-up. Done and done.

I don’t know much about wine. I like to drink it with food; I generally prefer reds to whites; I know two specific Italian varietals that I like; and I read the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar. That’s about it. I’ve always wanted to know more about wine, but it’s an intimidating subject. An event called a Wine Riot seemed just the right way to learn just a little bit more.

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Canele By Celine


At first I thought that almost $6 for three of these miniature canele — a bell-shaped pastry that originated in Southwest France — was nearly highway robbery. But one bite revealed to me why they are so dear. Each pastry is a perfect jewel, a miniature work of art; a caramelized crust on the outside, which gives way to a sweet custard-like interior within. The incredibly nice and helpful staff at Canele by Celine talked me through the history of canele, and helped me select my three flavors: rum, the traditional canele; caramel, their most popular flavor; and pistachio, one of my favorites. I didn’t try any, but they also make (less traditional) savory canele. Yes, at Canele by Celine they have a one track mind. It’s all canele, all the time. But who can argue when the results are so perfect?

Canele by Celine — 400 East 82nd St

Vegan Kimchi: Mama O’s Vs. Mother-In-Law’s

vegan kimchi

Confession time: for years after I became a vegetarian, I continued to eat kimchi. I knew that it was made with dried fish, or fish paste, but I couldn’t help myself. Kimchi is just that good. But after a while I put an end to it; I would have to do without. Cut to February, when I was at the Gotham West Market when I spotted Mama O’s Vegan Kimchi at the Brooklyn Kitchen outpost there and I immediately bought a jar to bring home. I tasted it two different ways: as is, straight out of the jar, and also cooked in a recipe (which I’ll post about another time). The kimchi wasn’t as pungent as the real stuff and not nearly spicy enough, but the cabbage was crisp and it was nicely salty. Then two weeks later I was checking out the new Whole Foods here in Brooklyn, and I saw Mother-In-Law’s Vegan Kimchi. I tried it in exactly the same two ways as I had the Mama O’s. Here was the wonderful fermented funkiness I had been missing for these past few years; if I didn’t know it was vegan, I would have sworn it was the real deal. The spice level was also higher, a definite plus for me.

For a long time I’d been scouring labels of every kimchi bottle I found looking for a vegetarian one. I’d seen both Mama O’s and Mother-In-Law’s kimchis in various specialty stores around NYC, but never the vegan varieties. Now that I’ve tasted both, I’m ready to pick a favorite. Although both are good, Mother-In-Law is by far the one I prefer, both raw and cooked. So if you’re like me and have been searching for a vegetarian jar to fill that kimchi-sized hole in your life, you know what to do. (It should be pointed out that as a fermented product each jar of kimchi may be at a different stage, and so a single jar may not be enough to represent an entire company.)

Mama O’s Kimchi
Mother-In-Law’s Kinchi

Bun-Ker Disappoints A Vegetarian

grilled eggplant & zucchini

Although it’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly, I love Vietnamese food. I had been hearing great things about this new place in Ridgewood, right where Brooklyn turns into Queens in the middle or nowhere. On a snowy winter night I went with my friends Jeff & Eva, only to find there was an hour wait. No wonder; the space at Bun-Ker holds maybe six tables, all crammed in close together in what looks like a street-side restaurant in Vietnam. I was happy to see they have quite a few vegetarian choices on the menu, but although my meat-eating friends raved about their meal I came away disappointed. The vegetarian banh xeo, a crepe filled with mushrooms and bean sprouts, was bland and greasy. They did provide fish sauce for some seasoning, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of making a vegetarian option, why have it rely on fish sauce for flavor? I had the same problem with the grilled eggplant and zucchini (pictured above), a variation on bun — usually room temperature noodles topped with warm cooked food and a mix of pickled and raw veggies. Here the noodles were topped with the grilled eggplant and zucchini, but they were also completely unseasoned. Again there was fish sauce provided, though I didn’t use any. They did bring me some lime wedges when I asked, and I topped it with plenty of sriracha, but those could only help so much. I’m sure the meat and seafood dishes are worthy of the praise, but I left quite unhappy with the vegetarian food I had.

Bun-Ker — 46-63 Metropolitan Ave, Queens

Towari Soba At Kajitsu

towari soba

The best thing I ate in 2013 (and yes I know we’re 2 months into 2014) came on Christmas Day, when my sister and I ate at Kajitsu. Kasjitsu is a vegan restaurant that specializes in Shojin cuisine, which they say is “a type of vegetarian cooking that originates in Zen Buddhism.” The idea, it seems, is to use seasonal vegetables artfully arranged on a plate. Our eight course meal was exorbitantly priced, plus we paid for the additional sake pairing (which I highly recommend). Some of the dishes were too simple — Yakishabu Vegetables: chunks of a few different veggies, cooked and then tossed table-side in a mild miso sauce. Others were overly complicated — King Oyster Mushoom: mixed with grated daikon, umeboshi, and ponzu gelee, our server (who was great) admitted to us was impossible to eat in the way that “the chef intended.” But there was one dish that was just perfect. I mean so perfect it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Towari Soba was a simple bowl of buckwheat noodles, topped with grated mountain yam and wasabi, with a little soy for flavor, served room temperature. The soba noodles, which are usually made with a mix of buckwheat and wheat flour to help them form, were made with 100% buckwheat for the holiday. They were the most perfect noodles I have ever eaten. Each noodle was firm, chewy, and slippery. You could feel the corner edges of each noodle against your tongue as you ate them. I had never eaten grated mountain yam before, though I’d heard of it; it has the texture of the slimy part of okra, and on its own the texture made me gag a little, but mixed in together the sliminess coated each noodle and somehow it made sense. The little bit of wasabi added a touch of sharpness that balanced the dish out in an unexpected way. It was the perfect encapsulation of simplicity and technique, and was by far the best thing I ate in all of 2013.

Kajitsu — 125 E 39th St, NYC

The Vegetarian Spicy Rizzak

tiny's giant sandwich

Although I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to do in 2013, I did manage to finally get to Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop. This Lower East Side sandwich shop has been on my list for a while, mostly for a creation called the Spicy Rizzak — of which there is a vegetarian version. The sandwich is piled high with vegetarian turkey, tomato, raw onion, melted cheese, and vegetarian bacon. At least it usually is, after I ordered my server came back to let me know they were out of veggie bacon. He offered avocado instead, which I of course accepted. Avocado may have nothing in common with the flavor or texture of bacon, even the veggie kind, but it still makes everything delicious. The sandwich is slathered in a slightly spicy mayo-like sauce, which really makes the sandwich something special. The only off thing was the fact that they dropped five or six potato chips on the plate; either give me a serving of chips or don’t.

See what Donny thought of their Tuna Melt.

Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop — 129 Rivington St

Cold Salads At Spicy & Tasty

garlic eggplant

I know, I’ve written about how much I love Spicy & Tasty before. On a recent visit with my friends Jeff and Eva, that love was cemented with a variety of their cold salads. As my friend Jeff said, ordering salads at a Chinese restaurant might seem strange, but at Spicy & Tasty it’s the way to go. Above is the eggplant in garlic sauce; cold, silky eggplant in a sweet and spicy sauce. Cold eggplant? It works, trust me. The bamboo shoots were excellent as always, as was the dry bean curd with celery. Chewy strips of baked tofu with crunchy strips of Chinese celery, tossed with a sauce that contains the floral aroma and numbing power of Sichuan peppercorns.

Spicy & Tasty — 39-07 Prince St, Flushing