Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sushi at its Best

Sushi Yasuda located at 204 East 43rd Street (between 2nd and 3rd Ave) is a mecca for any sushi lover. I don't usually travel to midtown for food, but Sushi Yasuda is an exception. Everything about this place is simple from the bamboo decor to the food. I guess when you you're so good at what you do, you don't need any frills to draw a crowd.

My dining experience first started on the phone when I called to make lunch reservations the day before. Sushi Yasuda has earned its spot among NYC's best sushi spots, so I wanted to make sure I could get in. The voice over the phone immediately put me on hold, which is annoying; but expected. After a few minutes, the voice returned and made me a reservation for the bar. Sitting at the sushi bar is a real treat. You could speak directly to the person preparing your food, which is awesome. Arriving a few minutes before our reservation, my friend Ed and I sat at the sushi bar and took in the space.

The space seemed minimalistic and simple, which I found refreshing. Bamboo covers the space from the floors to the ceiling. The tables and bar are also bamboo, which puts me in a zen-like state. The design calms me and gets me focused on the reason I came--sushi! Our server brought us menus, but our fate was now in the hands of the chef directly in front of us behind the bar. Six chefs dressed in all white stood like soldiers behind the bar awaiting orders. The only time our chef spoke was to tell us what he had made us. Among his creations were big eye tuna, big eye fatty tuna, bonito, branzino, spanish mackerel, salmon, scallop, shrimp, fluke, yellowtail, eel, and sea urchin. Each was prepared differently with such precision and care. Everything was so fresh and of the finest quality, but that could be expected as world-renowned chef Naomichi Yasuda inspects each fish himself. Chef Yasuda knows exactly how to treat each fish from refrigeration to preparation; but that is not his greatest feat. Rice is sometimes an afterthought to sushi, but it could be the hardest and most complex part of sushi-making. Good rice really enhances the flavor of the fish and really separates amateur sushi chefs from masters. After years of cooking, Naomichi has perfected his art of sushi-making with rice that is subtly sweet with the right amount of stickiness.

Overall, the meal was flawless. The service was attentive, but not overbearing and the sushi was just fantastic. I would definitely recommend Sushi Yasuda whether you are a sushi connoisseur or a beginner. Your chef will guide you through the process and custom design the perfect meal for your palate. The only downside is the price as your bill could get pretty expensive. It will be hard to pull yourself away from the bar knowing your chef has more to show you, but if your on a budget you have to be careful. So delicious! Do yourself a favor and experience this three-star gem.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Burgers in Battery Park

Shake Shack continues its expansion as it recently opened its Battery Park location. Battery Park is an area of the Financial District that doesn't see much activity after 6pm. You have the occasional group of brokers that will hit up a happy hour, but for the most part the area is desolate after business hours. Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group attempts to build up the restaurant scene in Battery Park by opening Shake Shack, North End Grill, and their second Blue Smoke location. I think the area is starving for better restaurant choices, so I think this is a great move for the USHG.

While the other restaurants plan on opening by the end of the year, Shake Shack is up and going. My roommate Greg and I headed to Shake Shack looking to satisfy a burger craving. Not having many options, we decided to check out the new Shake Shack. If you thought that nobody lived down there--think again; because we waited in line at 9:00pm. The service and food was on point and the space felt good. I've been to two other Shake Shack locations and this might be my favorite. The Citi Field location is solid, but you'll miss half the game waiting on line. The Madison Square Park Shake Shack is another location that usually has a huge line, but eating in the park is definitely a plus. The Battery Park location will be a better fit year-around considering you could actually eat inside.

Shake Shack has really proved itself as a successful quick-serve restaurant as it not only expands rapidly throughout the city, but throughout the world. Shake Shack has opened locations in Miami (FL), Westport (CT), Saratoga Springs (NY), Washington DC, and two locations in the Middle East. People love Shake Shack and don't mind waiting for their burger and shake. I won't wait more than 20 minutes, but I've seen lines well over an hour long. If you haven't gone to Shake Shack than check it out. Its become a NYC staple and is constantly praised for its delicious burger.

Friend of the Farmer

(coming soon)

Roofin' it

Rooftop bars are probably the hottest commodity in the city during the summer. I for one always google "rooftop bars in nyc" in order to find the next great spot. It didn't take a search engine to find the roof club at the Gramercy Park Hotel as all I had to do was take the elevator upstairs after work. Once off the elevator, guests are greeted by a spunky hostess that will probably tell you that the club is closed for a private event or that there's standing room only. Either way, the rooftop getaway is a pretty cool spot. If you are lucky enough to get a table, a waitress will offer you cocktails and a small food menu. If not you could you head to the walk-up bar and pick the brains of the bartenders. One bartender made me a swizzle--perfect for the hot summer night while the other bartender innovative cocktail was the old fashioned (great cocktail but not inventive at all). On another visit to the roof, the floor manager (co-worker at Maialino) suggested a Brooklyn cocktail, which was something I never had before (and it was delicious!)

The roof club is covered in ivy, which gives it a secret garden kind of vibe. The beautiful artwork of the Gramercy Park Hotel continues throughout the roof allowing for a more sophisticated crowd including socialites and celebrities. Its a bit pricey, but definitely worth checking out for a laid-back vibe. Dinner at Maialino with drinks on the roof sounds like the perfect date to me. CHECK IT OUTTTT.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

All Pig's Go To Heaven

For quite sometime I've wanted to go to Nancy's Pig Heaven on the Upper East Side. This craving started after seeing Nancy's Pig Heaven on the Travel Channel on a program dedicated to naming the country's best BBQ. Unlike all the other BBQ on the program, Nancy's offers Chinese style spare ribs. Succulent ribs glazed in a sweet red glaze make the trip to the UES worth it. The ribs are moist and carry a good amount of meat. You will definitely be licking your fingers afterwards.

But ribs aren't the only thing that Nancy's does well. We also tried the pork butt, suckling pig, and the pan-fried pork dumplings--all were great. The pork butt was pretty much boneless spare ribs so you could imagine how good that was. The suckling pig was good, but it was pretty fatty (but we knew this going into it). Besides being a bit fatty, the suckling pig had great flavor with a nice crispy skin. The dumplings were solid, but couldn't compare to the other dishes.

The service was probably the best service I've ever received in a Chinese restaurant. Normally, I find the service at Chinese restaurants to be awful, but Nancy Lee had her staff in line. Mrs. Lee was also there to make sure everyone was enjoying their meals. She's actually the one who recommended the dishes we ate. Nancy's Pig Heaven isn't cheap, but its definitely worth a trip. If you like pork than Nancy's is a must try. If you don't like pork, I'm sure their other dishes are good as well. Notice the menu is designed "Pork" and "No Pork" so you could easily find what you want whether its "Cold No Pork", "Hot Pork", etc.

I don't normally get up to the UES often, but I'd make a trip to go back to Nancy's. Its not cheap, but its worth every penny as these ribs were the best Chinese spare ribs I've ever had. So grab yourself a seat on their small, outside porch and order some pork. Second Ave will provide some good people watching while your taste buds will be christened with divine swine--all pigs go to heaven here at Nancy's.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bro-ing Out

Every once and awhile you have to treat yourself to what I like to call "bro-ing out". And what better place to "bro-out" than a steakhouse. When I think of steakhouse, I think of a male clubhouse. You might see woman there, but its definitely a very masculine atmosphere from the decor and noise level to the menu. My friend Ed took me on a "business meeting" to Sparks Steakhouse on 46th Street between Second and Third Ave. Ed loves Sparks and visits it quite frequent so I guess its safe to say he's a regular. Developing regulars is a huge part of owning a successful restaurant, so I was very curious to why he was such a loyal guest. I was also excited because Sparks was started in 1966 by the Cetta brothers--Pat Cetta being a huge mentor to Danny Meyer (one of the most successful restauranteurs in the country). Maybe I watch the Sopranos too much but it was also cool to see the spot where Paul Castellano was gunned down allowing John Gotti to take his spot as head of the Gambino crime family.

Our reservations were at 6, but we didn't arrive till 6:30ish because we were chatting it up at the Beer Bar at Cafe Centro right outside of grand central. This is a cool spot if you're waiting for the train, but not somewhere I'd come just for a beer. They offered every table chips and salsa which was pretty cool. The restaurant was a lot bigger than I had imagined. We walked into the dimly lit space and encountered a bunch of men in tuxedos. Ed chatted up one of the guys in a remember me kind of moment then gave him a "handshake". We were offered a table right away, but Ed wanted to grab some drinks in the bar before we sat. There were two bartenders behind the bar--both of them wearing chef whites. It was a little disappointing when I learned that they didn't know how to mix a Manhattan. The old bartender just poured in the whiskey (I asked for Rye) and poured sweet vermouth on top of it. No bitters, no measurements. I also received it on the rocks after asking for a Rye Manhattan up. You would think a steakhouse bartender would know how to mix a Manhattan. I guess next time i'll just order some scotch on the rocks--don't think they could fuck that up!

We then moved to our table. The maitre d' who Ed chatted up remained close by all night and took very good care of us. He brought a cheese plate (not on the menu) to enjoy while we were looking at the menu. The cheese plate of Fontina was delicious and got me excited for what was about to come.

I picked out a nice Burgundy from Chassagne-Montrachet to go with our dinner. Known for their white wines, we went with red. Not only do I love Pinot Noir, but I didn't want anything to heavy and tannic so we skipped on the Cabs/Bordeaux blends. Our next course of lump crab meat hit the table only minutes after we ordered it. The kitchen split the appetizer onto separate plates which I love. Not that I mind picking off one plate--it just makes you feel special as stupid as that sounds. The crab meat was fresh and delicious--a nice light appetizer. Next we got a caesar salad in attempts to get our greens! By the final course, I was starting to get full; but my hunger crept back as soon as my sirloin steak hit the table. Charred on the outside and cooked beautiful Medium-Rare--my mouth started to water. Cream spinach and mushrooms played their roles; but my attention was so focused on the steak. After the sirloin, I couldn't fit anything else so we skipped on dessert.The maitre d' did bring us a 25 year-old port after we had paid our check.

Not only is it an accomplishment to stay in business for along as Sparks has, but they are constantly recognized with awards from Wine Spectator and always on people's list of NYC's great steakhouses. Its very old school, but it works. People might not rush back for their Manhattans, but they will rush back for the steaks...and the attention you will get if deemed a regular.

Whiskey Tasting/Wine Tasting

Whiskey Tasting at ICE
(coming soon)

Wine Tasting at Hearth
(coming soon)

Fidi Food

Food options here in the Financial District are not the best. You have some decent spots among the restaurants of Front Street and a few bars on Stone Street, but these spots could get old. Tired of going to Chipotle, I roamed the area looking for lunch. I ended up at Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches. I've passed by this small sandwich shop on Nassau Street before, but the "cash only" sign always made me continue my path. I never have cash on me, but today I do; so I stopped in. A three woman team ran Nicky's. One lady at the cashier while the other two held down the BOH (back of house). One lady was banging out sandwiches in the prep station while the other lady was in the kitchen actually cooking the food.

I got the Pork Sandwich ($5.75), which came with a grilled bbq pork, pickled carrots, and cilantro. I think there might have been some daikon in there too, but the amount of carrots seemed to hide the other veggie. The portion size was a bit small, but it was fine for the price. The sandwich was decent, but I felt it was built wrong. The combinations inside the sandwich were so separate that bites would usually only get you one ingredient. Isn't the point of a sandwich to combine all ingredients in a delicious harmony? I rearranged my sandwich and it was much better when I got a little of everything. Decent spot to check out if you're in the area but nothing worth making the trip for. Supposedly the Pho is off the hook! Maybe next time I'm craving some Vietnamese!

Bon Chon (located on John St) is known for their Korean Fried Chicken. I'm no stranger to their chicken as I've ordered it several times from when I moved to the neighborhood. This time, we went there and boy was I surprised. The place was packed! Maybe its because the chicken is the bomb or maybe its because they were serving $3 beers. Maybe it was a combination of the two--good chicken and beer! The vibe at Bon Chon was lively and so not expected. Music was playing, TVs were showing the sports, and people were getting ready to start their weekend.

I'd definitely recommend checking out Bon Chon for their soy garlic/spicy soy garlic chicken. You could get regular size chicken, wings, or boneless--OR a combination of all three. The spicy soy garlic has some heat to it, so split it between spicy and regular if you're not sure. Also the combination platter is a good started. Yeah, its more fried shit; but its good. Wash it down with some cold summer ales and you will have a nice little spot that is very affordable. Maybe not a place to go if you're trying to get in shape for the summer; but its worth the calories if you're looking for untraditional fried chicken.

Luke's Lobster
A newcomer to the financial district is Luke's Lobster on South William St. Luke Holden, owner of Luke's Lobster started the business in 2009 (East Village location) after growing tired of his banking job. Growing up in Maine, he knew good seafood and he felt that NYC lacked a good lobster roll. With four locations in NYC, one in DC, and one food truck--Luke's Lobster is constantly referred to as New York City's best lobster roll. Luke's Lobster prides themselves on fresh lobster shipped right from Maine, but also affordable prices. Holden is able to sell a lobster roll for $15 while others sell lesser quality rolls for $24 because of his supplier--his dad. Luke's father owns a seafood processing company in Maine, so you could imagine he gets a pretty good deal.

Luke's prepares their rolls "Maine style" with chilled seafood atop a buttered and toasted New England-style split-top bun with a swipe of mayo, a sprinkle of lemon butter, and a dash of secret spices. This preparation allows you to really taste the fresh, deliciousness of the seafood while kicking it up a notch. There's something magical about lemon and seafood and the secret spices are subtle enough to add flavor without overpowering the seafood. I got the Taste of Maine which comes with half a lobster roll, half a crab roll, half a shrimp roll, a Maine Root Soda, a pair of Empress crab claws, and Miss Vickie's chips. This combination will set you back $21, but thats a small price to pay for experiencing the awesome, fresh seafood. The portions are kind of small, but its perfect for a light summer meal. The price must be worth it because Luke's keeps expanding and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. I'm interested to see how the Financial District location does considering the area gets pretty desolate at nights and on weekends. I think many restauranteurs are seeing a potential need for good food down here in the Fidi, so look for new restaurants popping up!