Made it in America | The NoMad

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Many New York City restaurants are like stainless steel pans. When feverish critics come in and turn on the gas, these restaurants get hot. But once the press gets its share of the pie, the switch gradually turns counterclockwise. The flame disappears in a matter of months. These pans cool so quickly.

However, not all pans are made of stainless steel. Some of New York City’s finest restaurants are like American cast iron skillets. Cast iron may take longer to get peak, but once the skillet gets hot, it burns for the long haul.

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The NoMad turned two this spring. After overcoming its family-style menu adversities in the opening months and adjusting to its kitchen staff changes in 2013, The NoMad is only on its way to reach greater heights. Its sister restaurant, Eleven Madison Park thrives on endless reinvention after all.

After my dinner last February, I am truly convinced that The NoMad is now one of the best restaurants in the United States.

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It was wintertime. The iconic carrot and asparagus vanished from the menu. However, The NoMad called up a beautiful shaved sunchokes with pork cheeks and sweet Asian pear. Then a smoked foie gras terrine with crab apples and thyme graced the stage.

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The balance savory and sweet in the humble bowl of sunchokes along with the smoky sour contrast between a rich terrine and a tart apple in the plate of foie gras often remind me of Bert and Ernie playing on Sesame Street. Once you see both characters interact together, they’re nearly inseparable.

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Some of the classics will have its presence on the menu year-round. There’s the buttery tagliatelle with racy acidity and spiciness from meyer lemon and black pepper. The pasta gets an upgrade in the winter time.

For people who do have the cash money, The Nomad shaves white truffles for $32 for four grams (or $64 for eight). It’s a steal. Although my wallet doesn’t have the funds for supplements, it’s still worth dreaming about seeing white truffles from Alba shaved onto my plate of tagliatelle. For me, I will happily settle for the generous doses of king crab already in my luxurious bowl of noodles.

But there are exceptions in my humble spending habits. Special funds are dedicated for special occasions. An opportunity to devour The NoMad chicken requires special funds.

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The Roast Chicken for Two has jumped from seventy nine dollars to eighty two dollars. But such prices are insubstantial when you get to take home the smell of foie gras, black truffle and brioche. Don’t wash your outfit. Enjoy the smell for many days to come.

All jokes aside, The NoMad chicken is an expensive expenditure. The chicken from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania receives an injection of foie gras, black truffle, and brioche under its skin and then gets sent to the fridge. Once it‘s chilled, the chicken gets sent to the hot, hot oven. Beauty.

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Once the chicken is presented in the dining room, it gets sent right back to the kitchen. The breast is portioned into two plates. The dark meat is separated from the carcass and then cooked with stock and butter to make the fricassée. The rich fricassee alone could be a meal in itself. This iconic chicken for two is so popular that the kitchen has an annex on the ground floor of the dining room for just for the dish.

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If another dish were to compete for 2nd to the chicken, it will probably be the Pastry Chef, Mark Welker’s Milk & Honey. When I was little, I used to detest the taste of milk. However, a bowl of milk and honey would have fixed me right up.

The ice cream quenelle striped with honey is remarkably beautiful. The sweetened milk ice cream is topped with a pungent flavor of honey and plated with milk wafers, honey brittle, and shortbread. The crispy texture of the brittle and dehydrated milk is a wonderful addition to the sweet ice cream. I think we might have found a dish that could be as iconic as the apple pie.

During my first visit to Eleven Madison Park, I remember walking out of the restaurant’s revolving doors with uncontrollable joy and happiness. That meal surpassed any other experience that I’ve ever had. Although The NoMad feels much looser than EMP, the rebelliousness doesn’t take away from the immaculate attention to food and hospitality.

The smell of roast chicken that fills the dining room every night is sufficient evidence to prove that The NoMad is on its way to the top. However, don’t be surprised if iconic dishes like the roasted chicken and milk & honey disappear from the menu one day. Remember, they’re in it for the long haul.

 

Full Capacity | Sushi Nakazawa

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At times, Sushi Nakazawa can feel more like the stage for a celebrity sighting rather than the playing field for one of the greatest restaurants in the city.

It’s understandable. Chef Daisuke Nakazawa’s relocation from Washington to New York was one of the greatest transactions this season. After training at Shiro’s in Seattle, he has more than tamago under his belt.

Rather than falling into the line of many great New York sushi restaurants, Sushi Nakazawa chooses to only serve sushi. There is no sashimi. There are no hot plates from the kitchen. Some might find this style unaccommodating, but New York diners seem to put full trust in the Chef Nakazawa’s hands every single night. Although the dining room is less expensive and easier to access, all the action is at the bar. For one of the ten seats, you’ll have to check in four weeks ahead. There are only three seatings per day.

By eliminating à la carte, Chef Nakazawa and his team serve sushi under the right time and temperature. The Sushi Nakazawa platoon runs like a well oiled machine. Some chefs will go out of their way to criticize diners to prevent them from doing anything that upsets the temperature of the food or the flow of service. However, Chef Nakazawa cheerfully embraces photos. “But not too much,” he says.

Sushi Nakazawa-48673rd Course: Live Scallop from Maine with Yuzu Lemon

It’s overwhelming not to get videos of pulsating scallops from Maine still buzzing after a dust of Yuzu Lemon. Then there’s the Live Tiger Shrimp from Florida jumping around before getting their heads and shells yanked and the pressed under a bed of rice by Chef Nakazawa and his team. This show and tell is years beyond the onion volcano.

Sushi Nakazawa-501311th Course: Blue Shrimp from New Caledonia
(One of the two shrimps served at Sushi Nakazawa)

Sushi Nakazawa-49024th Course: Torched Geoduck Giant Clam from Washington State

The theatrical atmosphere isn’t just for the spectacle. Chef Nakazawa says that torching the Geoduck from Washington State immediately changes the flavor and smell of the giant clam.

Sushi Nakazawa-48512nd Course: Chum Salmon from Hokkaido (Smoked with Hay)

My favorite part of Sushi Nakazawa is learning about Chef Nakazawa’s technique for smoking fish. Chef Nakazawa takes Chum Salmon from Hokkaido and Skipjack from Kyushu under a bed of smoking hay, leaving an aroma of firewood crackling in the mountains. This taste is oddly familiar, but where?

Sushi Nakazawa-504513th Course: Skipjack from Kyushu Smoked with Hay

PASTRAMI! It’s like memories of tasting pastrami for the first time. The smell of burnt wood and the taste of smoked meat is like a happy marriage.

Sushi Nakazawa-506614th Course: Akami Wild Bluefin Tuna from Boston

Sushi Nakazawa-508815th Course: Chūtoro Bluefin Medium Fatty Tuna from Boston

Sushi Nakazawa-510416th Course: Ōtoro Bluefin Fatty Tuna from Boston

Although the bluefin Akami, Chūtoro, and Ōtoro from Boston at Sushi Nakazawa are outstanding, Chef Nakazawa’s skipjack tuna is the piece to beat.

Sushi Nakazawa-49388th Course: Sardine from Portugal

Sadly, there are shortcomings throughout some parts of the meal. During my visit, I noticed several sardines from Portugal left with pins on the flesh. Although the wonderful taste of the sardine was enough to make me forget about the bones, it does indicate room for improvement. The eel is also less memorable than the one at at 15 East. Then again, Shimizu-san’s anago’s is the best in the city.

Sushi Nakazawa-519621st Course: Tamago

It’s almost heartbreaking to accept when the meal draws to a close. Fortunately, the last piece is the iconic tamago. Chef Nakazawa’s tamago is made from mountain yam and shrimp which takes on a moist cake like texture. It’s better than any that I’ve ever had. For the women at the table, he splits the custard into two smaller bite pieces. His charming and effervescent personality makes the ladies at the bar melt with joy. Perhaps it’s just the tamago talking.

Chef asks everyone if they’d like to repeat any pieces. The majority of people respectfully pass after the twenty pieces. A few others at the end of the table enthusiastically ask for more Chūtoro.

As Chef Nakazawa sent the last pieces of sushi to the guests at the bar, he looked over to the people holding cameras at the table and said “I wonder what you guys do with all these pictures of me.”

We revere you, Chef Nakazawa. We, New York City, are your biggest fans.

For my entire meal at Sushi Nakazawa: sushi nakazawa, new york on flickr

A Summer Night’s Dream | Grace

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Tuesday evening. I remember slowly drifting towards the glass doors of Grace. Apprehension, exhilaration, great anticipation.

It took me back to March 2012 when I passed through the revolving doors of Eleven Madison Park. One captivating lunch at EMP cultivated my appetite for the inexhaustible knowledge of fine dining. It’s just as sweet, time after time. A recent trip to Grace in Chicago transported me once again, as I contemplated enchanting plates of vegetables.

Grace offers two menus: Flora and Fauna. The Flora menu takes vegetables that we see on a daily basis to inconceivable heights. The Fauna menu delights tastes buds with shimming cuts of squab and Miyazaki beef.

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Amuse Bouche from Left to Right: Plum Soda with Chia Seeds, Alaskan Crab with Encapsulated Butter, Black Pepper Shell with Osetra Caviar

The bite of crab and butter and plum soda were a friendly introduction to the start of dinner. However, my unfamiliarity with creations like the black pepper shell began to concern me. I began to hope that the elements of molecular gastronomy did not preside over taste. My worries swiftly melted away as I traveled through the flora and fauna menu.

Grace-36291st Course: Corn (Flora)

During the summertime, I preach my affection for corn. At Grace, an intense concentration of sweet corn puree is served with its shoots and scoops of char roe. If corn puree was always this good, I may never have to chew ever again. This dish overshadowed the much more restrained plate of oysters with blueberries, sea bean, and lavender from the fauna menu.

Grace-36572nd Course: Heirloom Tomato (Fauna)

The celebration of the summer season flowed throughout the course of the meal. The flora menu featured a mellifluous barrage of sweet peas in different textures while the fauna portion highlighted the prominence of heirlooms. One bite ignited a succulent blast of tomatoes.

Grace-36803rd Course: Squab (Fauna)

As the images of the Grace’s Poached Quince dessert began to drift away, photos of the squab began to rise throughout the web. The tender squab was paired with the tangy and mildly bitter taste of sorrel and green strawberries. Delightful.

A gorgeous plate of beets arrived on the flora menu. Although the presentation was stunning, I found the beet dish too convoluted and demanding. From the beet noodle to black garlic to apple and tarragon, I found myself at sea, lost without a reference point to turn to.

Grace-37424th Course: White Asparagus (Flora)

The flora menu is nonetheless the star of the show. A soup of white asparagus really blew me away. The warmth from grilled scallions and glass noodles swarmed my taste buds. The crispy artichoke from the fauna menu was also captivating. The sweet floral aroma of curry and dandelion is an absolute treat.

Grace-38225th Course: Miyazaki Beef (Fauna)

Then came the beef! There are pictures of the Miyazaki beef at its raw stage that roam around Chef Curtis Duffy’s Twitter feed. Each layer is an intense marbling that allures the eyes of hungry carnivores. At Grace, the dish is paired with chanterelle mushrooms and compressed watermelon. Meat Candy.

There are also Australian black truffles on the Flora menu. Although I usually refrain from summer truffles for its inability to compete with black truffles in the wintertime, Grace’s sweet pairing of Australian black truffles with caramel and chive blossoms was memorable.

Grace-38426th Course: Maitake (Flora)

The smell of mushrooms began to fill the air. The maitake alongside the juicy notes of daikon, coffee, and fresh scallions provided a rich spoonful of savory memories. And then the sweet lamb from the fauna menu! The combination of rich, hearty, soft lamb with robust kale and herbaceous parsley root really filled my heart with content.

Grace-38817th Course: Raspberry (Fauna)

Along came a flood of desserts. Of the 9 courses on Grace’s two tasting selections, the pastry team is responsible for a third of both menus. Based on Chef Duffy’s time as a chef at Trio, I’m certain that the desserts at Grace will not play second fiddle to the other components of the meal. Pastry Chef, Bobby Schaffer oversees this portion of the menu.

The fauna menu featured an abundance of ripe berries and the flora menu presented a refreshing change of pace with kalamansi and Asian pear. With fruits like these, the summer season is indeed the sweetest.

Grace-39128th Course: Peach (Fauna)

Next, the flora menu highlighted rhubarb with toasted brioche and lemon balm and the fauna menu featured peaches veiled in a sweet shell, waiting to be cracked to open up a sweet combination of black sugar, lemon verbena and licorice. The soft texture from the silky brioche and the crunchy shell from the peaches offered two beautifully different textural contrasts.

Grace-39619th Course: Young Coconut (Fauna)

Lastly, a presentation of coconut ended the three hour dinner. The aromatic notes of young coconut and the tart and sweet notes of lime and huckleberries, and the invigorating taste of basil put me in a spell. Then the bowl of chocolate with hazelnuts and cherries from the end of the flora menu! I was mesmerized.

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Grace may be one of the most important restaurants in Chicago right now. It all comes together from the mastermind of Chef Curtis Duffy and his Chef de Cuisine, Nicholas Romero. Grace is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but Chef Curtis says that he never stops working.

His pursuit to become one of the greatest restaurants in the world is heartfelt. Although Chef Curtis looked fatigued during our brief meeting, the look in his eyes indicated that his desire to push harder and earn three Michelin stars was more than just a dream. This was his opportunity.

This restaurant is more than capable of earning three stars. Ultimately, consistency will be the root to its success as the New York Michelin report revealed when it knocked a restaurant from two to zero stars in the 2014 guide.

Grace not only nourished my voracious hunger for great fine dining, but it also consistently delivered friendly memories with Midwestern warmth and hospitality. I have tremendous faith that Grace will prevail.

Happy as a Ham | The Publican

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The beach was closed. A fog storm shrouds over the water. “Do Not Enter.” However, a cloudy beach wasn’t going to ruin my final day of vacation in Chicago. Jon and I unwaveringly stayed put. We laid our beach towel and proceeded to tan like two slabs of pork belly on a salamander, rendering until the fat melted off our bodies.

Eat, beach, sleep, repeat. After my meal at The Publican, I was convinced each time that I had morphed into a piece of ham. Portions are bigger in the Midwest. Small plates are the size of entrées, entrées are family size. I never had the capacity to greet any desserts.

We arrived for dinner service at The Publican. The communal tables were packed on a Monday night.

Me: “Everyone looks like they’re having a good time.”
Jon: “You say that about every restaurant that we go to.”

It’s my go to phrase before I have a meal at any great destination restaurant. I assume other people are having a good time because I’m having a good time. Here, I feel fantastic.

The Publican’s menu is proudly seafood/meatcentric. Sausages, pâté, offal, oysters, crudo, whole fish. Their vegetables are endless too. Scratch that, they do everything. They do everything so deliciously.

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We started off  with beef heart tartare and a plate of ham from Iowa. The texture of the heart is firm and resilient. Excellent. A plate of aged La Quercia Rossa ham served with peasant bread was delightfully subtle and buttery.

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Next, a coronation of seafood.

The octopus is a must start for this Publican offense. As the months fly by, the octopus is dressed in different seasons. About two weeks ago, the octopus was wearing cucumbers and radishes, celery and dill. I happily received an accompaniment of earthy pocha beans, crisp leeks and romesco. The octopus was gently soft and tender.

Then a plate of hamachi. The crudo is merged with tomatoes, watermelons, and a little hint of Serrano chiles. A taste of the summer season.

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Jon and I agreed the plate of dry aged duck was our least favorite of the night. The gaminess of the bird was paired with balsamic and grapes, a great combination. However, the grapes were a little bit early at the time and the duck was a bit dry. We took some of the duck home and scarfed it down with a cup of The Publican’s corn for breakfast the next day. No complaints.

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Lastly, we had to pay respects to the Publican Quality Meats shop and get a taste of their endeavors. The toulouse sausage was the right decision. The smoky sausage was grilled crisp and served under a bed of polenta. The sweet cherry tomatoes offered a reprieve when I began to feel meat-wasted.

The Publican stole my heart that night. Although I limped back to the Green line train in pain and anguish, envisioning an ominous warning of gout from the man above, I reveled in the joy of leaving one of the greatest restaurants in Chicago in gut-wrenching fashion. It’s hard to say no when you feel at home.

For my entire meal at The Publican: the publican, chicago on flickr

Trust | Pearl & Ash

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When I entered the doors of Pearl & Ash for the first time, my eyes filled with apprehension. Wine lists can be intimating. Ingredients like cloumage, morcilla, melba and amaranth on the menu only add to my state of panic.

However, my inhibitions quickly dissolved as I traveled through Chef Richard Kuo’s vision. There were savory, earthy undertones. The spices were easy to detect, but impossible identify. The wine knowledge imparted by the front of house was enlightening, never forceful. The pretension and conceit often associated with wine connoisseurship were left at home that day. Although the restaurant gives off the perception of carelessness and haste based on its decision to bring in communal tables and crank up the rock music, the food and wine are far from negligent. It’s enchanting. Pearl & Ash might be one of the most exciting places to eat in New York City right now.

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Small plates give diners the power to knock out a good portion of the menu without having to feel gut-wrenchingly full. Three to four plates per person is a fine range here.

Hangar tartare is one of my favorites here. The spiciness from harissa triggers memories of beef jerky. Beef jerky was never this good. Crunchy bits of cocoa and splinters of melba toast float ever so freely in a pool of egg yolk. Smooth sailing.

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The sweetbreads dish is also a gem. Crispy pieces of thymus are dusted with excellently-musky dried blood sausage (morcilla) and tiny beech mushrooms. The sweet combination is plated with a cream of heart of palm. It’s nutty and comforting bite after bite.

Then, the octopus! It’s the star here. 15 East may hold the crown for one of the best octopus dishes in the city, but Chef Kuo’s take is just as tantalizing. The tender inside and torched outer layers of the tentacles are plated with a paste of sunflower seeds. Octopus is very high on the food pyramid at Pearl & Ash. The pike with pickled ramps isn’t as good. The taste of turnip root is colorless and insipid, not tantalizing like many of the other dishes on the menu.

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The great notion of consuming oversized pieces of meat is a false construction. Soft small pieces of lamb belly and heart with hazelnut bits and vibrant kohlrabi are more like it. It’s musky, it’s sweet. The skirt steak with tomato and basil is also quite good and perhaps a better selection for the faint of heart. The beef is topped with summer squash and crisp pine nuts. Chef Kuo doesn’t shy away from adding texture to his compositions. We’re all on board.

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Desserts are refreshingly delectable as well. Although a plate of blueberry shortcake with crème fraîche cake and milk foam conjures up the not-so-appetizing memories of going to the space museum in grade school, the lemon meringue pie is an absolute delight. Pastry Chef, Serena Chow, prepares a lemon bomb of cake, powder, custard, curd and sorbet. The sweet brown butter offers the sweetest touch.

Although Pearl & Ash gives diners the power to turn their small plates into entrée sized portions, the law of diminishing returns should remind us that too much of a good thing is, indeed, too much. Nonetheless, it’s extremely gratifying to see that the kitchen gives the diners to choose their size preferences when we live in a time and place where substitutions are frowned upon in restaurants.

The solution to having a great meal at Pearl & Ash is quite evident. Be intrepid and tackle lots of small plates. Get octopus. Get lemon meringue pie. Ask lots of questions about wine and have faith in their knowledge. Go.

For my entire meal at Pearl & Ash: pearl & ash, new york on flickr

The Main Attraction | Neta

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It’s a rainy Saturday evening at Neta in Greenwich Village. For an outsider, it’ll be difficult to ever know that a restaurant exists behind these draped glass windowpanes. But for many of the people who’ve chosen to dine here during the past year (like me! I ate here!!), they’ve probably been treated to Chef Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau’s sushi and impressive cold/hot plates.

Neta Official-1101

The menu reflects the seasons and availability at the market (as it should), but dishes like dungeness crab with dashi vinaigrette and Spanish mackerel with tempura flakes, ginger and soy seem to be eternal. First impressions matters. Neta knows how to start the date off right.

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Then there are the grilled scallops. There must have been a sea urchin scarcity that day as I was shorted with pieces of maitake mushrooms (still very delicious). This dish has stirred lots of enthusiasm around the internet. “It’s this year Marea fusilli with octopus & bone marrow” “last year’s best kale salad” “the everlasting Shackburger.” It’s evolved into an item that will presumably remain on Neta’s menu for a very long time. The morsels of scallops are piping hot and dosed with garlic soy butter and lime. I’ve had this in a Japanese pub once, but it was never this good. Savory, buttery, luxurious bites can be the answer after several drinks. Then here comes the tempura of blowfish, lotus root, chrysanthum and asparagus! (not available at your state fair).

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Unfortunately, even great restaurants slip sometimes. One dish that really drops the ball is the Szechuan spiced salmon. It’s a bed of crispy rice and semi-hot salmon mixture that is topped with bonito flakes. The dish has received praise from some, detested by others. In comparison to the other three dishes, perhaps it needs time for reevaluation.

Neta Official-1396Chef Jimmy Lau

-    Sushi    -

Bluefin Tuna “Toro
Sea bream “Tai
Kanpachi from Japan
Cobia
Salmon with Sichuan sauce
Scallop “Hotate
Grilled Toro Sinew “Suji
Softshell Shrimp
Sweet Potato Roll
Unagi and Avocado Roll
Lean Tuna “Akami
Toro & Scallion Roll

Sushi establishments take pride in their ability to source the best fish from Japan. Cue the b-roll footage of the Tsukiji fish market and thirty second clippings of tuna auctions.

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Perhaps this footage would be inaccurate to describe the variety of fish at Neta. It seems that the chefs have mapped out the globe. The world is your bluefin tuna. There is salmon from Scotland, cobia from Australia.

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From a sushi purist’s mentality, it would be immoral to mess with a pristine piece of fish. However, Neta has rewritten the script on tantalizing New Yorkers. The Kanpachi is dusted with crispy, spicy potato flakes. The salmon is topped with a dab of Sichuan sauce. The all-American couple next to me who nervously uttered “omakase” thirty minutes ago seemed to be really into their meal. Sushi is fun when the bar is thumpin’ Magna Carta and Life After Death for hours.

However, I’m not blown away by these reinterpretations and brush ups. I want the good stuff.

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Like this. A piece of grilled toro sinew. It makes you flutter with joy. The char on the fish renders the sweetest, unctuous juices.

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Or more common intricacies like soft shelled shrimp. Shellfish dream of moments like this.

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After more Westernized attractions like sweet potato and unagi/avocado rolls, then rolls a shimmering piece of akami. Neta rolls deep with bluefin tuna. Even the self-proclaimed “Neta Roll” consists of toro and scallion. It’s an unsustainable pleasure, but a delicious pleasure.

So does Neta compete with sushi bars like 15 East and Yasuda? Does it deserve to be mentioned next to its holy father who resides in Columbus Circle? It’s a much different game.

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Neta has firmly chosen to serve New York an American experience. Is it better? That’s subjective. It’s louder and more experimental than the best Japanese restaurants that thrive on purity and sushi sanctity. The two different types of experiences are contingent the level of formality. I don’t think flip flops would pass through the doors of 15 East.

I don’t remember what I was wearing on the day I visited Neta. However, I do remember biking back home that night in the pouring rain, happy as a clam.

For my entire meal at Neta: neta, new york on flickr

Passing Sophomore Year with Stride | Hanjan, Mighty Quinn’s, Uncle Boons

MQ_MG_9069 Mighty Quinns

When I returned to the city in June, three new restaurants marked their presence throughout lower parts of Manhattan. Hanjan and Mighty Quinn’s were last year’s December babies. Uncle Boons recently opened in April of 2013. However, young age hasn’t deterred these exceptional restaurants from pursuing brilliance in their respective crafts.

Hanjan fine-tuned its recipe for success after observing the strengths and weaknesses of Danji. There are more tables now. There’s a reservation system now. There are crispy chicken skins here.

Mighty Quinn’s developed quite a reputation for notoriously long lines and delicious sandwiches at Smorgasburg. Now, it has a permanent barbecue haven in East Village with shorter lines (they’re still lines out the door on weekends) and a full-fledged menu.

Uncle Boons is new to the game, but they’re already steamrolling the competition on Spring Street. There’s been a lot of comparison to Pok Pok and SriPraPhai, but Uncle Boons feels less “hole in the wall” and more elegant and refined. There needs to be a romantic time and space where lovebirds fall for each other while gorging beef cheeks and blowfish tails. It’s here and it’s absolutely wonderful.

– Hanjan –

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Hanjan is more in tune with what I used to eat when I grew up in the streets of Seoul. The Fresh Killed Chicken Wings convey the sights and smells of grilled chicken from vendors in residential areas of Korean neighborhoods. Nostalgia never hit so good.

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There are luxuries that weren’t readily available back in my home city. I remember raw salmon (and any other type of sashimi) with chojang being a treat for special occasions. A good scoop of homemade tofu was also an indulgence to be savored only when my family made trips to the countryside (we never made trips to the countryside). Now, I can have both while sippin’ Basil Collins. Times have changed.

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The wooden seats and bare bones intricacies familiar at Danji are gone. At Hanjan, the chairs are plush and the spacious room fits more than the 36 seats that people were accustomed to in Chef Hooni’s first outpost. People in Flatiron can sip makgeolli all night long without the guilt of cutting into someone else’s dinner time. It’s an important when you have crispy bits of radish kimchi and scintillating spoonfuls of brisket fried rice that arrives after several drinks. It needs time to be savored.

– Mighty Quinn’s –

 MQ_MG_9084 Mighty Quinns

Not too long ago there was only Hill Country, Fette Sau and maybe Daisy May’s to represent the barbecue scene in New York City. Now there are places like Mighty Quinn’s and BrisketTown in Williamsburg to hold down the barbecue throne. And when I go, the answer is BRISKET.

The restaurant’s simple cafeteria style has my vote for one of the most competent barbecue destination in Manhattan. There’s no artificial southern hospitality or meal tickets that make paying/tipping a complicated order.

Brisket sandwiches sprinkled with maldon salt are always the best. There’s no reason to deviate from the best dish on the menu. However, the smoky Asian-style chicken wings dressed in cilantro and sesame seeds are also a stunner.

My friend and I once guzzled down sliders at Mark Burger for dinner and then could not resist the smell of barbecue on our way home. We couldn’t pass an opportunity for Mighty Quinn’s sticky wings. It’s the ultimate meat candy.

– Uncle Boons –

 _MG_8820 Uncle Boons

The name “Uncle Boons” can throw people off and prevent first time diners from believing that this place is one of the best restaurants to open this year. People will make a concession for Charlie Bird, Lafayette, or Carbone. We can even throw Alder, Betony, and ABC Cocina into the mix. However, I believe the food at Uncle Boons is timeless.

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Last month, I patiently endured a two-hour wait on a Friday night for a chance to witness chefs Matt Danzer and Ann Redding conceive their interpretations of Thai cuisine. When it was my turn, I was happily overwhelmed with a crispy sensation of “yum kai hua pli” a spicy roasted chicken salad with cashews and coconut milk and soft clouds of “massaman neuh” beef cheeks with massaman curry. My favorite was still the “khao soi,” a sweet golden curry with egg noodles. The fragrant smell of the bowl transported me into a time and place where the smell of coconut milk and cilantro permeate through the air.  I scraped every bit of my plate with piles of sticky rice.

There’s only one dessert on the menu: coconut ice cream on coconut flakes. It’s topped with whipped cream and peanuts. At first, it might feel a bit mundane because you’re only collecting a spoonful of cream. However, on the second try, you’ll uncover the coconut ice cream at the bottom of the cup. It’s the sweet reward after bearing through the blistering chilies in many of the dishes.

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The next day, I loved the meal so much that I went back for dinner at an earlier time. At 6pm, it was a much shorter wait. This time, my friend and I feasted on smoky blowfish tails “pak pau” and gleaming cuts of roasted chicken “Kai yang.”

_MG_8812 Uncle BoonsThe menu insists that the roast chicken was made famous in muy Thai boxing arenas in Thailand. If this statement is true, I believe I have a solution to keep our poorest and worst-performing American sports teams from going under.

Thank you for reading. Hope all y’all in NYC are keepin’ it cool.

For my entire meal at Hanjan: hanjan, new york on flickr
For my entire meal at Mighty Quinn’s: mighty quinn’s, new york on flickr
For my entire meal(s) at Uncle Boons: uncle boons, new york on flickr