Back in July I had lunch with my good friend Peaches, who has been very sick for a very long time; we hadn’t seen each other in a while. We wanted to meet somewhere between the two of us — she coming from Harlem, me coming from Brooklyn. For some reason the first place that popped into my head was Veselka, the 24-hour Ukrainian diner in the East Village. If you haven’t heard of Veselka, it’s a serious NYC institution but one that I never really got familiar with. I had a mediocre meal of their famous buckwheat pancakes way back when I first moved to NYC, but that was the last of it. We met there and waited about 10 minutes to be seated — there’s no list, the servers just kind of keep an eye on who has come in and who will be seated next.
It’s become a tradition when my sister is in town that my entire family goes out for “fancy dinner” together. In the past we’ve gone to Babbo and Felidia, to name a few. As the resident New Yorker and food blogger, it usually falls to me to pick the restaurant. A few months ago my mom had sent me an article from a magazine about Dovetail, an upscale restaurant on the Upper West Side that participates in the Meatless Monday movement. I thought it looked interesting and filed the information away for later use. When my sister, who is also a vegetarian, came into town last week, the first idea I had for our family dinner was Dovetail.
Ha Noi is a new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the old Second Helpings space this weekend. I stopped in yesterday for my first meal, and it was quite good. I was disappointed that they don’t have a vegetarian version of the crispy spring rolls, but the fresh summer rolls were nice and fresh, and the peanut sauce was delicious. I also got the tofu bun, room temperature rice noodles with fresh carrots and lettuce, topped with crispy tofu. The noodles were really excellent. The staff was also very accommodating — bun usually comes with fish sauce, but they offered me a variety of different sauces instead. Oh, they also serve banh mi, bringing the total number of Vietnamese sandwich places within four blocks up to three. The rest of the menu is so extensive, though, that I don’t see why you’d want to order the sandwiches at Ha Noi. There were the usual newly-opened problems: they sent me my app, then my entree… and then my app again, and I had to ask for my check multiple times, but I’m sure they’ll iron those problems out. I’ll definitely be back.
Ha Noi — 448 9th St, Brooklyn
In addition to tapas, Barcelona is known for “cutting edge” food and cooking. One of the city’s most forward-thinking restaurants is Comerç 24, and it’s one of the few restaurants that my two guidebooks actually agreed on. When my friends Jess & Garrett came back from Barcelona, they told me that the best meal they had their entire trip was at Comerç 24. The restaurant was only about a 10 minute walk from where I was staying, and I walked past it almost every day. I stopped in one of those times and asked if they could accommodate a vegetarian. The maitre’d asked me a few questions: Do I eat dairy? Yes. Do I eat seafood? No. Do I eat eggs? Yes. He assured me that they could put something together for me. I made a reservation for lunch the next day. I got the Festival tasting menu, a series of many, many courses. Together with the wine and the olive oil tasting that “every meal” at Comerç 24 begins with, the lunch cost me over $100, making it the second most expensive lunch of my life. However, where I felt the meal at Per Se was worth the price, I thought the meal at Comerç 24 was overpriced. Good, but not worth the cost.
It was a bitter, cold winter night when I first visited Tabla, but as soon as I entered I felt I had found refuge. The walls flashed bronze and gold; the host invited me to warm my hands at the heater by the door; the fragrant aromas of Indian spices filled the air. Sitting at the bar, waiting for my friends, I was asked if anyone was taking care of me. This is what Danny Meyer and Floyd Cardoz intended the restaurant to be, I think, but the realization was bitter-sweet. My first visit would also be my last; Tabla is scheduled to close on December 31st, 2010.
Waaaaay back in 1999 (and I’m just now realizing how long ago that was) I spent five weeks in Israel. I was ostensibly studying film, and I did do a little of that, but I spent more time seeing the sights, traveling the length of the entire country. I went scuba diving in the Red Sea, I walked the stations of the cross, and I visited the Wailing Wall. I’m not bragging (ok, maybe I’m bragging a little bit), but telling you all this because the thing that made the biggest impression on me was the falafel. There was one falafel place in particular, near Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, that I loved. There are a few things that separate the great falafel in Israel from most falafel you find here in NYC. One, the falafel themselves are heavily spiced and seasoned, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Two, they offer a huge selection of salads with which you can top your falafel. Three, you can get an oversized falafel wrap on a giant flat bread called lavash, allowing you to consume way more falafel than one person really needs to. Enter Maoz, a falafel chain from Amsterdam of all places, which gets two of those three things so, so right.
Note: I know there haven’t been many updates lately, I’ve been having computer problems. Thankfully that’s over, and I will be updating regularly once again. -HW
When I wrote about Pulino’s, i wrote that it “[wasn’t] a game-changer in the NYC pizza scene.” Having eaten at Donatella, I’m confident that this new pizzeria is the game changer I was hoping for. After I saw the rave that Slice wrote about Donatella, I made plans with my friends Jess and Garrett (of We Heart NY) to try it for myself. Donatella has a lot going for it — they constructed a glowing gold pizza oven, and they brought in a master pizzaiolo from Italy to give lessons to the staff on how to make authentic pies. More importantly to the business, in Donatella Arpaia they have a restaurateur who isn’t afraid of self-promotion.
So what sets Donatella apart? It’s the crust — far thinner than most of my favorite Neapolitan pizza places, but still chewy and wonderfully charred. I don’t know how such a thin crust can maintain its structure so well. The margherita that I got was wonderful for its balance of crust, sauce, and cheese, and that balance is what makes for great pizza. I think the balance of ingredients was a little off on the carita, the pizza that Jess ordered. She said she felt a little silly complaining that a pizza topped with anchovies and olives was salty, but in a restaurant setting I think we leave it up to the chefs to find that balance for us, and that it’s a legitimate gripe. Still, there’s no arguing with that fantastic crust and that perfect char. Donatella may just be serving the best Neapolitan pizza in Manhattan.
Donatella’s — 184 Eighth Avenue