Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Adorableness that is Briciola

Sometimes you find yourself in a place like Hells Kitchen wanting just simple, delicious Italian food, and somehow you'll uncover a tiny little space that looks like a wine shop, with its warm wooden shelves, softly lit by small votives, filled with glossy bottles of beautiful wines and one narrow stretch of a white tiled table perched with content, chattery eaters.

The menu is remarkably well-priced, in the sense that when you look at the menu, you will remark, "This is very reasonable [for Manhattan/Hells Kitchen/New York]!"  The waitress, with the husky, cigarette-fueled voice, will mention a couple specials, a beauiful burrata, a warm octopus salad.  The words mentioned are just too casual for how exquisite and delicious the dishes really are.

The salad is plentiful to share for two with thick chunks of the most tender, grilled octopus with its fat little suction cups, glazed with olive oil and drizzles of tangy balsamic.  Roasted potatoes and herbs round out the surprisingly spectacular plate.

Our perfectly portioned plates of pasta also did not disappoint.  A plate of tortellini with feather-thin strips of prosciutto and green peas in cream sauce was chewy and delightful.  The only downside was that it needed more cream sauce because how else can you eat more of their wonderfully crusty bread?

The linguine and clams is something I'd get again and again.  The pasta slippery and hard to wrangle under fork, but you'll find a way to maneuver the deliciously al dente strands into your mouth, savoring the light, flavorful broth and tossing in those clams for a nice briny finish to each bite.  The broth is plentiful and makes it easy to eat a whole basket of bread on your own (and you will).

We grabbed scoops of Jeni's amazing ice cream from Gotham West's summer pop-up shop for dessert, but I have a good feeling the desserts at Briciola would be just as satisfying as each bite of our meal was, so I can't wait to return soon to find out!

Han's Nonsensical Rating: It feels like a hidden gem, and it almost is, until now.  Delicious, delightful, an absolute charmer.

370 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019
Briciola on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 25, 2014

Prince St Pizza & Nicoletta

I love the vodka pizza from Rubirosa, but everyone else seems to love it too since there's always a 1-2 hour wait.  Why are waits like this okay, New York?!

But thank goodness for good ol' impatience which drove us to try something new in the same neighborhood - Prince St. Pizza.

The pizza parlor is about the size of a closet, based out of the famed, original-Original Ray's pizza, and maybe that's an indicator of why the pizza is just that more special.

The setup is simple.  Just trays of pizza on a couple of shelves.  Point at what you want.  There's more stuff scribbled on the chalkboard on the wall, but it's hard to read and all you really want (and everyone is eating in there) is the famed Soho square.

The Soho square comes in a few varieties - the signature Soho square with secret-recipe tomato sauce, 

and spicy pepperoni with fra diavolo sauce.  

They come on this thick square that looks so heavy at first glance, but is absolutely light to the touch.  The bottom just pure, crunchy perfection, fried while baking in the signature black iron pans. I wish I had a picture of the bottom, but both my hands couldn't let go of my slice until I finished stuffing the entire thing into my face.

The slogan is "No other square can compare," and it's absolutely true.  This is without a doubt my favorite square slice in Manhattan. 

After, we walked to East Village to try one of Mr. FoodandPants' favorite ice cream spots - Nicoletta.
While Nicoletta primarily serves pizza, the gelato has definitely given the restaurant more renown.

There's a handful of favorite combination options, though the dozen or so available toppings are free for you to mix-and-match on your own, as well.

The boy's concoction featured pistachio brittle, salted caramel and the richest, little chunks of brownies.

My peanut butter cup was full of crunchy chocolate chunks, hot fudge and peanut butter crumble that melted on the tongue into peanut perfection.

The gelato (fior di latte) is milkier and lighter than most places, which allows you to go that much more hogwild with your toppings.  The best thing about the sundaes here (besides everything) is that they really know how to construct it - making sure they put toppings on the bottom of the cup in addition to the top to ensure you get just enough deliciousness into every bite.  Now that's attention to detail!

Han's Nonsensical Rating:  All I can think about with Prince St. is the Seinfeld episode where Elaine says she hasn't a square to spare, and I don't either, because I just want to eat all the Soho squares at Prince St. Pizza and not leave you any.  It's too good, it's too crispy, the pepperonis have awesome burnt edges, and I need more !  And Nicoletta's sundaes are a good dessert spot if you want to eavesdrop on so many dates (and eat tasty ice cream).

Prince St. Pizza
27 Prince St, New York, NY
Prince St. Pizza on Urbanspoon

Nicoletta on Urbanspoon 160 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Fried Chicken at Root & Bone & National Ice Cream Day

Last Sunday, I had the best day ever.  I'm pretty sure it was a lot better than yours.  And yours.  And yes, you too.

It began at Root & Bone, in the most letter-friendly part of the city (Alphabet City ! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!).

I met up with Jean and David who diligently put our names down for a table and patiently waited around for 1.5 hours until the table was ready.  True friendship, guys.

The restaurant is rustic and adorable - whitewashed, wood furniture and biscuit smells everywhere

So of course I had to get some.

The biscuits come three to an order with a side of chicken au jus sauce and a pile of sesame seeds that always make everything extra delicious.

The biscuits are a bit on the harder side, dense and flat, but soften up well in the sauce.  I'd probably skip these and just eat a lot more of everything else.

Because, let me just get it out of the way - Root & Bone is some of the best fried chicken I've ever had.  

It's a bold statement.  I want to doubt myself for saying it - I feel your incredulity already, but it's true !

Root & Bone is flexible with how you order the chicken - you can do half baskets (4 pieces), full baskets or any kind of baskets, which is what I did, cause it's all about the thighs, baby.

Just look at that lusty, lusty crust, lightly sprinkled with soft sugar flakes, because chicken skin makes the best kind of dessert you can ever have.

The chicken itself is incredibly succulent, brined overnight in sweet tea (which you should also order here because it's the right amount of tasty) and oh so flavorful.  Coupled with that crisp skin, each bite is absolute perfection, though most of us liked to peel the skin off to eat at the end, savoring the very best for last.

Jean and David did the noble thing of sharing two plates - a half basket of chicken in addition to the shrimp and grits, which looked freakin' spectacular.

They also shared a side of cheddar cheese waffles with whiskey syrup because they're madmen.

The boy had the impressive chicken and waffles sandwich - juicy chicken breast pieces and green tomatoes hugged by two cheddary waffles.

While the chicken was impeccable in sandwich form, the waffles are surprisingly dense - thick, doughy, and super filling - so choose your carbs carefully if you want more room for that sweet, sweet chicken.

Heather, Harry and Anne showed up later, nabbing three seats at the window.

The best part of the window seats is that we can continue the eating experience from the outside!

Jean contemplating more bites of chicken or mac 'n cheese.

I think these happy faces reflect all the glory that is Root & Bone!

The boy and I continued our day's adventure to Hester Street Fair to celebrate one of the best days of the year, National Ice Cream Day !

The market housed about a dozen little vendors, but the chewy Turkish ice cream from Lezzetli,

drew his attention.  You should have seen his grin as he peeled back the lid to his ridiculously chewy ice cream made out of goat milk (and hence, lactose-free-friendly!).

Flavors of vanilla and herbs permeated each fun spoonful.

Never able to resist anything dreamsicle, I grabbed a popsicle from Mom & Popsicles (also who can resist a good company pun name).

The ice cream was quite tart, flecked with bits of lemon zest and slightly creamy from the low-fat yogurt - a refreshing afternoon treat after a belly full of fried chicken.

Summer days really can't get much better than this.

Han's Nonsensical Rating: I think I might start working out just to eat more fried chicken from Root & Bone. It's my new favorite-favorite that I hope you try SUPER SOON (and invite me to eat your skin! That sounds gross, and I don't care!!).

Root & Bone
200 E 3rd St, New York, NY 10009
Root & Bone on Urbanspoon

Lezzetli Ice Cream

Mom & Popsicles
Hester Street Fair
Hester St & Essex
New York, NY

Saturday, July 5, 2014

South Carolina in a Weekend! In a Post! In Your Face!

I was probably 75% done with this post that I had been working on for over a week - an epically long post chronicling my entire South Carolina weekend, but one cut and auto-save later, I sadly lost it all !  And I almost wanted to scrap the whole thing out of spite, but instead, I'll just briefly tell you the highlights of my celebratory weekend in Charleston, because honestly, some of the food just needs to be shared!

The best meal we had in Charleston was on our very first night at FIG.  We were rushing from the airport to make the last seating (10p), and of course hit every single red light, but they still let us in, and I'm so glad they did.  

I thought FIG just stood for the delectable purple fruit that tastes so good caramelized, but it actually stands for "Food is Good" which I learned from their butter.  

 One of the best dishes you could ever eat in life would be this ricotta gnocchi.  Little waterbug sized gnocchi dumplings in a fresh bolognese.  You will never use your teeth less eating a dish, as these dumplings dissolve completely on the tongue leaving behind only sheer bliss and wonderment.

The second best dish you could order would be the fish stew cocotte.  A medley of the sea's finest, including mussels, giant shrimp, bits of squid and scallops in the most delectable of fish stock in which you will want to dunk the entire loaf of complimentary bread (and the stack of crostini served with the dish), and you will, because nobody can stop what is only right in the world.

 The third best thing you could order is the sticky sorghum cake for dessert.  Who knows what sorghum is, but just know the cake is served warm, is ridiculously moist and just sinfully delicious - doused in a thick caramel that you want to smother all over your face.

The other dessert we ordered, a meyer lemon pudding with sour cherry compote, was remarkably light and refreshing, a great complement to the intense sorghum.

If you ever make it to Charleston and can only go to one spot, please make that spot FIG.  And please make reservations!

If you're blessed to visit Charleston before it gets hot, the walks around the river bend are the best (especially to enjoy the most giant of mango ices).

The homes are so huge and ostentatious here, and I love every one of them.

Everything well manicured - look just to the left of the picture below and see how even the steps have the perfect hedge of grass accents!  

We did a long walk along the river up to Market St which has all the happening things you could want in a touristy town.  There are SO many candy shops in this area, and all hawking fresh made pralines.

Which just ended up being my most favorite thing to eat for free in the world.  I must've had a dozen samples from all the different candy shops and loved every single one of them!

I sometimes wonder if I can just quit my job and do this for the rest of my life because of the quality assurance I would have to perform on every batch (for the good of the people, you know).

The suckers to the far left are bear claws, mounds of cashews or pecans globbed with caramel and chocolate.  Those are nutty and fun, as are the krispie treats that also get drenched in caramel in addition to the apples.  Basically, you can put anything in caramel, and I will eat it.

The most hipster place we ate in Charleston was Two Boroughs Larder.

The restaurant is tiny, with one long communal table and a few small two-tops.  The clientele is straight out of Williamsburg, with vintage outfits and an apartment full of cats Instagrammed on the daily.

The other half of the restaurant is dedicated to self-service, locally made alcohol and Orangina.

 While the pork belly, pistachio and rhubarb was a tasty and unique combo,

The brussels sprouts and lamb ragu stole our hearts - slightly bitter and tender greens with an amazingly savory and spicy ragu.  We scraped this dish clean with our tongues.

Most of the reviews you see will say that the beef ramen is really delicious, but it's just okay and borderline bland (even though the egg is clearly on point!).  It would benefit immensely from the gritty chili oil you find in most Asian noodle shops. 

The desserts are worth a mention also.  You can get a little jarful of creamy, chocolate ganache studded with crushed pistachios

or cookies and milk.  One cookie had marshmallows, and it makes me wonder why there just aren't more cookies with the chewy goodness of melty marshmallows. (These are the types of things that keep me up at night.)

The other most hipstery place we visited was the Butcher & Bee, located in an industrial subsection of Charleston where there is nothing around except a line of twenty-somethings stretching out into the parking lot.

The decor is interesting - cardboard honeycombs and hanging mummified bees adorn the ceiling.

Seating is all communal and grabbed after order.

While the Butcher & Bee is known for their sandwiches, I must say their french toast deserves special mention.

The toppings vary but generally include some sort of fantastic nut streusel / crumble of your dreams, a fruit (ours was pumpkin) and a generous pour of maple syrup.  The whole combination is moist and tender, not too sweet and just delicious.

The baked egg and tomato with tahini was pretty light and tasty also.

After, we went to Charleston's Annual Lowcountry Cajun Festival and witnessed my new life inspiration - the crawfish eating contest!  The contest featured six rounds of amateur crawfish eating and ended with a final round of the winners of each of the six previous rounds to crown the crawfish eating champion.  I learned techniques I never knew existed and plan to practice soon to compete one day.

The winner ended up being our favorite character from the first round (far right below).  In the final round, he ate something like 30 crawfish in 20 seconds, which is impossible and incredible, and he is now my biggest hero.

And so right after the contest, we practiced the techniques on our own boxful of mudbugs.  I love crawfish !

The next day, we ate some snacks for lunch including some remarkably good Mexican food at Carmen Y Juan's in Mount Pleasant.  Some confusion in ordering earned me naked tacos (carne asada and fish), but the meat was surprisingly tender and flavorful.

The boy had the best torta ever, chock full of ripe tomatoes and tasty meat.

And I enjoyed the longest and awesomest churro ever, about the size of my arm, freshly fried and rolled in good ol' cinnamon sugar.  Happiness. Forever. Fried. Amen.

We then made a pitstop for snack #2 at Jack's Comic Dogs which famously appeared in the comic strip Blondie (if you're into that old-timey toon).

Jack's is a kiddie wonderland with frozen treats, encased meats, and video games.

You can get hot dogs dressed to all kinds of nines here, but I just wanted a bite of the beef classic

washed down with some root beer float.

Why are hot dogs so good?

Finally, we found ourselves on our last afternoon drinking many a cocktail from The Gin Joint, a fun little bar off the tourist strip.

Their bar bites were intriguing, including beef jerky by the piece that is served in a Chinese restaurant style wrapper and tastes heavily of soy,

and local oysters infused with whiskey and jalapenos,

but the best bar bite was definitely the pad thai popcorn, made with palm sugar, peanuts, chili and lime. It's crunchy, savory, sweet and just perfection with a fizzy drink.

And while we ate so much more, hopefully that's just enough to entice you to visit Charleston - SO charming, so cute, and so Southern.

Han's Nonsensical Rating:  FIG. FIG. FIG.  (And drinks and snacks at The Gin Joint because you deserve some booze and fun bites!)

232 Meeting St
Charleston, SC
Fig on Urbanspoon

Two Boroughs Larder
186 Coming St
Charleston, SC
Two Boroughs Larder on Urbanspoon

Butcher & Bee
654 King St
Charleston, SC
Butcher & Bee on Urbanspoon

Jack's Cosmic Dogs
2805 N Hwy 17
Mt Pleasant, SC
Jack's Cosmic Dogs on Urbanspoon

Carmen Y Juan
1118 Park W Blvd
Mt Pleasant, SC
Carmen y Juan's Homestyle Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

The Gin Joint
182 East Bay St
Charleston, SC
The Gin Joint on Urbanspoon