Modern Filipino restaurant Maharlika, located in the East Village, is a pretty lively spot. While the dishes are interesting and vibrant, I was most impressed by the ambiance. The service was attentive and friendly, classic ’90s music was blasting in the background and a lot of the wait staff was wearing these fun “My Best Friend is Filipino” t-shirts, which they advertise on their sister restaurant Jeepney’s website. I just felt like it was a party all-around. Though the menu can be intimidating at first, a lot of the options have meats that are more familiar than you realize and there are definitely plenty of less adventurous options that still showcase the unique and bold Filipino flavors. All in all, it will make for a fun and tasty night.
Chicharron: This was a great (free) starter served with an Asian dipping sauce reminiscent or the same as the dipping sauce you get with Thai spring rolls. The chicharron were crunchy and oily – very flavorful – and went great with this sauce.
Lumpiang Barquillos: These were crispy, tightly rolled rice paper cigars with beef, pork and aromatic vegetables. I loved these! The dish had so much flavor. It was slightly sweet and heavily spiced and had a nice little crunch.
Beef Short Rib Kaldereta: Slow braised short rib with grilled pineapple, oven roasted baby potatoes, crispy fried Spanish chorizo and a tomato puree. This was another great dish. I loved the combination of the beef, pineapple and tangy tomato sauce. Perhaps the beef could have been slightly softer. And the potatoes sort of seemed like they were just thrown in there, though they did taste good doused in the sauce. Overall I was a fan of the flavors in this dish.
Pork Adobo: Pork spare ribs braised in a traditional adobo sauce (soy sauce, bay leaf, peppercorn and sugarcane vinegar) served with roasted fingerling potatoes and preserved lemon. I really enjoyed these ribs. They were pretty soft and meaty, and they were just perfect covered in this adobo sauce (though I warn you it is a bit sticky). Again, the potatoes seem like a bit of an after thought, but I enjoyed them. This again was a dish with delicious, powerful flavor and properly prepared meat.
Maharlika: 111 1st Ave New York, NY ($$)
This week I attended a second exclusive meet-and-mingle dinner for Tabélog, this time at Midtown restaurant Jukai, which served up traditional Japanese cuisine from Chef Watanabe. The event featured seasonal Japanese dishes with sake and beer (from sponsor Asahi Beer) pairings.
Most, if not all, of the dishes we sampled can be found on the regular Jukai menu. I specifically enjoyed the salmon, which had a delicious crispy skin, and the spanish mackerel, which came in an incredible ground radish sauce. Unfortunately, I had to leave early and missed out on the shabu-shabu, a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water, which I heard was one of the best of the night!
Assorted Starter: Squid with sea urchin (bowl), egg omelet with spinach (bottom left), pickled mushrooms and onions (center), smoked duck (top right), Jamon Iberico with persimmon (right).
Salmon with marinated sake lee
Spanish mackerel with ground radish
Jukai: 237 E 53rd St New York, NY
The Strand Smokehouse in Astoria, Queens has a lot of things going for it. First off, the venue is awesome – it’s great for large parties and has an incredibly fun, beer hall style setting with live country rock music (at least on Saturdays). I was also impressed with the beer/cocktail selection and the price/portions of the food. All of this alone makes the Strand at least worthy of a visit if you live in the Astoria area. Nevertheless, the food is far from perfect. There were really only two standout items for me: the brisket and the mac & cheese. Otherwise, I thought the food was okay. For me, this is a great neighborhood spot; it’s good if you live in Astoria, but not worth any effort beyond that.
Brisket: The brisket is far and beyond the best cut of meat here. Though definitely a bit fatty, I thought that only added to the softness of the meat and the overall flavor. If you try anything at The Strand, the brisket is the way to go. It also tastes great with all three side sauces (descriptions to follow).
Pulled Pork: The pulled pork here is pretty good. It’s not the best; it’s not the worst. Generally though, I like my pulled pork to be really soft. The pulled pork strands here just don’t melt in your mouth, nor do they burst with that much flavor.
Turkey Leg: This was pretty dry, even for a turkey leg. The flavor was pretty good, but I just couldn’t get passed the stiffness of the meat, which you couldn’t even cut off the bone.
BBQ Sauces: The sauces here, available on the side, are all really good. I specifically liked the spicy mustard sauce (red). I will say though that it would be far more convenient if all three sauces were available on each table, rather than something you have to get on the side from a condiments pump.
Corn Bread: I kind of just want to put a “sad face” here. The corn bread was pretty terrible. It was dry, flavorless and super dense.
Mac & Cheese: The Mac & Cheese is a-mazing though. It’s thick and creamy with some breadcrumbs atop for crunch. We got one of these for a group of four, and we all felt like each one of us could have easily downed our own.
Cole Slaw: Meh. This was kind of bland and flavorless.
Mashed Potatoes: These were standard and good. I definitely ate my share, but there was nothing special about them either.
The Strand Smokehouse: 25-27 Broadway, Astoria, NY ($$)
There’s just something off about Wylie Dufresne’s most recent endeavor Alder, a sleek, modern space in the East Village offering up a reinvented take on American bar food. Though I love the accessibility here – an easy way to try Wylie’s cuisine in a more relaxed setting that doesn’t require a reservation – I ultimately wasn’t all that impressed with the food. The cocktails are great and the food is conceptually fun, but each dish seemed to be lacking in some way, with the exception of a bowl of eggs and a pb&j dessert. Though the price isn’t exceptionally high, it’s still more than I want to pay for what was served. I hate having to admit my disappointment with Alder, but in the end, food can’t just be creative; it also needs to taste good.
The Big Pink: This is made with cappelletti, vodka, grapefruit and cucumber. The cocktails at Alder are pretty great, this one included. I’m a fan of anything with grapefruit and cucumber though.
Pigs in Blanket: These were good. But then again, what pigs in a blanket aren’t? Here you have them made with Chinese sausage, Japanese mustard and a sweet chili sauce. Though I’d totally be down for eating these again, I thought the sweet chili sauce was a bit too sweet. I think the idea was the two sauces would blend together to make a version of honey mustard, but the sweet chili sauce just overpowered everything else.
French Onion Soup Rings: It’s onion rings covered in a beef gravy and Gruyere. This sounds like it should be the best thing in the world… and yet it just wasn’t. The onions were maybe too thick cut and the fried outside wasn’t crispy enough. I also just felt like the dish somehow lacked some kind of flavor – salt, something?
Smoked Eggplant: A bowl of smoked eggplant with scrambled eggs, smoked brook trout and brown butter. When I reread this description, I’m not even sure what convinced me to order this in the first place, but I’m glad that I did. Wylie is known for his eggs and now I know why; I never knew eggs could taste like this. The flavors and textures in this bowl made for quite the magical combination. It was definitely the best and most interesting dish of the night.
Halibut: This was halibut with Brussels sprout bulgogi and a citrus relish. Though the halibut was buttery and perfectly cooked, I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the other flavors on the plate. The Brussels sprout bulgogi and citrus relish had a very sweet and sour flavoring that just didn’t do it for me.
Vanilla Milk Custard: Vanilla milk custard with cinnamon cereal, candied almonds, apple and coffee – it’s clearly intended to be a bowl of breakfast for dessert. Though conceptually genius and sounds like it would work, I again felt there were some major flaws. The apples tasted like they came from a can, I didn’t get any flavor from the coffee, and the cinnamon cereal tasted like a bad knock-off of Golden Grahams (they should have just used Golden Grahams). It ultimately ended up tasting strange with an odd consistency.
Peanut Butter Cake: This was a molten peanut butter cake that oozed out hot peanut butter with black grape sorbet. The cake was moist and the hot peanut butter inside delicious. Paired with the black grape sorbet, this truly tasted like peanut butter and jelly. I loved every bite. It’s definitely one of the more successful and interesting desserts I’ve come across in the city.
Alder: 157 2nd Ave New York, NY ($$-$$$)
I feel like L’Artusi is one of those restaurants that for some reason isn’t a part of the mainstream “essential” New York City restaurants. It doesn’t seem like everyone knows about it, but those who do have discovered it’s one of the best restaurants in the city. The restaurant is inconspicuously located on West 10; it’s one of those restaurants you could walk right by and never know it was there. But once you enter, it’s a fairly large and vibrant spot you can’t believe you missed. The downstairs is loud with a cheese bar and chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen. Upstairs is quieter, but definitely doesn’t lack personality. It’s really just a matter of what kind of dining experience you’re looking for for the night. Regardless, you’re going to get an incredible meal that’s well-paced with an all-encompassing Italian wine list divided by region. So if this is a restaurant that hasn’t been on your radar, definitely add it now.
Beef Carpaccio: Beef carpaccio with rye crisps, horseradish and crema – it was some of the best beef carpaccio I’ve had. Cut thin and fresh, it had a nice texture and flavor. I thought the rye crisps added a great textural crunch, especially since carpaccio just sort of melts in your mouth.
Cheese: I’m not entirely sure which cheese I ordered; I let the waitress recommend an option. I don’t necessarily know enough about cheeses to know what’s good to order. As far as I’m concerned, cheese is cheese (though yes they vary in texture and flavor) and it’s all good. What I really liked here though, were the crackers and crunchies that came with this. They were buttery and salty and addicting, and I loved every bite.
Roasted Mushrooms: This is a dish of roasted mushrooms with pancetta, a fried egg, and ricotta salata. This was smoky and indulgent and tasted nothing like I anticipated; it didn’t taste like I was eating mushrooms. It definitely was a really great and unique dish.
Mezzaluna: These were stuffed half moons filled with sweet corn in an Aleppo (pepper) sauce with parmesan. I felt like this dish was perfect for fall. The sweet corn contrasting with the bite from the light, peppered sauce was really nice. It had a lot of warmth to it.
Orecchiette: This was orecchiette with sausage, salumi and pecorino. I think it is worth noting that they have a great heavy hand with the cheese distribution in their dishes. So, perfectly cooked pasta with amazing sausage and cheese – it’s a good choice.
Hangar Steak: Medium rare hangar steak with crispy potatoes and salsa bianco – boy was this awesome. The steak was perfect and the potatoes were maybe the best I’ve ever had, crispy with so much flavor. They don’t even need the salsa bianco, which is a sophisticated and tasty sour cream/onion dip. I feel like even if you come here to get some pasta, it’s worth ordering a side of these potatoes. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to be blown away by the steak dish, but it was one of my favorites of the night.
Hazelnut Chocolate Torta: A hazelnut chocolate torta with praline crunch and a side scoop of salted caramel gelato. It was as delicious as it sounds – definitely a dessert worth saving room for.
Olive Oil Cake: Olive oil cake with raisin marmellata, vin santo, and crème fraiche mousse. The olive cake has a nice airy, lightness to it. It’s perfect if you don’t like super rich and sweet desserts.
L’Artusi: 228 W 10th St. New York, NY ($$$)
Eat Like a Lady on location in Peru
For the most part food in Peru was pretty simple. It’s very much a meat and potatoes kind of country – and believe me they’ll remind you about their 3800 different potato varieties with much pride. However, while the dishes are basic in nature, there’s a lot of flavor going on. The meat specifically is incredibly tender and flavorful. Whether you eat at a fancy restaurant or a small shop or cart, I found the quality of the meat to be exceptional. That’s what happens when your animals are farmed properly. Peru was ultimately a beautiful country with a lot of heart, which also came through in the cuisine.
Don Esteban & Don Pancho – Av. El Sol 765-A, Cuzco
Empanada – Aji de Gallina
Aji de Gallina is very common in Peru and can be eaten as a rich, curry-like dish on its own or within other contexts. In this case I had it in an empanada. The yellow aji pepper lends itself to the color and kick in this chicken dish. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can find an impeccable empanada in Peru. The dough was fantastic and the filling superb.
Cafe Ayllu- Calle Almagro Nº 133, Cuzco
Tri Colores Ice Cream
In Peru they have popular tri-colored ice cream that is composed of vanilla, strawberry and Peru’s favorite flavor lucuma. Lucuma is a fruit native to the coastal valleys of Peru. The combination of the 3 flavors makes for a very sweet ice cream that tastes a lot like American frosting or cake batter, but better. I couldn’t get enough of this. To the left was a delicious pork and cheese sandwich.
Incanto - Santa Catalina Angosta, 135. Plaza de Armas, Cuzco
There seems to be a lot of fusion going on, particularly in Cuzco. I encountered both Italian-Peruvian and Thai-Peruvian fusion spots. I had some Alpaca satay at a random bar that was some of the best satay I’ve ever had. And for dinner one of the nights, I went to an Italian-Peruvian spot where I sampled some fancy cuy (guinea pig) and aji de gallina in ravioli. I enjoyed both, but I found the guinea pig pretty gamey even fried. Though a lot like rabbit, I prefer to eat the bunnies.
Treehouse – Ruupa Wasi Lodge, Aguas Calientes
Tournedos de Alpaca
This was grilled Alpaca wrapped in bacon in an Andean chimichurri dressing, served with mashed sweet potatoes and zucchini. The chimichurri on this was incredible and really made the dish stand out. In this context, Alpaca tasted a lot like a pork chop. One of the best dishes of the trip.
Again, lucuma surfaced – this time in the form of a mousse with pieces of brownie, white chocolate flakes and praline Brazil nuts. Lucuma in this context tasted a lot like fig. I liked it better in ice cream form.
Amaz - Avenida La Paz 1079 | Miraflores, Lima
Better known for his restaurant Malabar, Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino has worked to highlight Amazonian cuisine. The food here was incredible and very reasonably priced. I also liked the fact that the waiter gave me the option to order half portions (which as you can see were still fairly large in size). I also loved the atmosphere – it was a very fun jungle-like décor.
Scallops: These were standard and delicious.
Ceviche: Fresh, clean and delicious, it was some of the best ceviche I’ve had. Lima is definitely the spot to dapple in fresh raw fish.
Lomo Saltado: This simple stir-fry dish is beef, peppers, onions and tomatoes. I had this a couple times throughout my time in Peru and found it to be my favorite native dish.
Pork Ribs with Peanut Sauce: These ribs were outrageously good and again with an incredible peanut sauce.
I was fortunate enough to be able to devote an entire day to Mistura, the largest food festival in South America (second largest in the world). This is a 10-day event where cooks, bakers, street food vendors, restaurants and culinary institutes get together to celebrate Peruvian cuisine. There is a large food market with everything from potatoes to cheese to coffee liquor, and then 10 different areas devoted to different Peruvian regions or specific dishes. It was truly an incredible food experience and I enjoyed everything I was able to sample. I also couldn’t get over the cost. It was about $15 to enter and I spent around $20 to eat and (share with one other person) all of the below.
Peru is quite the gastronomic destination. If you’re serious about food, you should get serious about a trip to Peru.
Sandwiches: La Lucha – Lechon A La Lera
Insanely good pork sandwich
Anticuchos: Grimanesa Vargas – Anticuchos (Beef Heart)
This is seasoned impeccably and definitely worth the adventurous try.
These are Peruvian donuts.
Limeño (Native of Lima): Doña Nora – Chanfainita with Mote and Hauncaina
Hauncaina is a tasty cheese/cream sauce that usually is put on potatoes, but it showed up in this other classic Peruvian dish, Chanfainita, a kind of stew made with beef lung. I was not a fan of this dish. I also didn’t care for this super sweet purple drink that’s popular called Chicha Morada (made from purple corn).
Mundo Norteño (Northern Pervuian Cuisine): La Paisana - Ronde Norteño
Seasoned meat, mashed yucca and plantains – this was so simple, yet so tasty.
Mundo Amazonico (Amazonian Cuisine): El Pichito - Ronde Amazonica
This is fried rice with chorizo. The green ball is some kind of flavored rice ball and the other one is a plantain ball.
Mundo Sureño (Southern Peruvian Cuisine): La Benita – Chicharron
Mundo de Las Brasas (Roasted Meats): Chancho al Palo de Carlos Ramirez – Roasted Pork
These were definitely some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.
Yeah… I ate one of these little buggers off the tree (a termite to be specific) in the Amazon. Minty.
Last night, I went to a meet and greet event for the bloggers who were invited to participate in Tabélog’s Food Blogger Awards. Tabélog is the number one restaurant review site in Japan, and has since launched in the United States. Check them out at http://www.tabelog.us/. The event was at SakaMai, a Japanese restaurant and saki lounge on the Lower East Side. Chef Takanori Akiyama prepared a number of samples that can also be found on the regular menu.
Though I enjoyed most of the dishes, I thought the two stand-outs were the Secreto Iberico Pork and the Tsukune Slider. The pork was cooked perfectly and had so much flavor. As for the slider, it was like nothing I’ve ever had. It was messy and delicious, with bold flavors that just melted in your mouth. SakaMai is a great location for some Japanese small plates and a couple drinks.
SakaMai: 57 Ludlow St New York, NY
Press Tasting Dinner
Incognito Bistro, located in the Flatiron as primarily an Italian bistro, now offers up a selection of Scottish dishes, as well. The husband and wife owners, Paolo Montana (also the executive chef) and Adriana Moretti, have created a warm and inviting spot to sample foods from their dual backgrounds. Overall, both the Italian and Scottish dishes were consistently tasty, and clearly created with a lot of heart and warmth. Though it doesn’t seem like the kind of spot to sample Scottish dishes, I found myself liking these plates the best. If you’re looking for a neighborhood spot for some solid Italian, or looking to give some elevated Scottish food a try, Incognito is your spot.
Fennel & Mushroom Pizza: This was a good, standard slice of pizza. I definitely liked the fennel and mushroom mix.
Braised Octopus: Octopus with anchovies, capers, olives, black beans and a tomato broth. I enjoyed this. I particularly like the mix of beans and octopus, a combination I first tried at Charlie Bird. The two textures complement each other well.
Beef Carpaccio: Beef carpaccio with rucola, parmigiano and truffle essence.
Tomato Soup: This was my first real encounter with the tomato base at Incognito, and it was pretty delicious. Chef Montana was really good with his spice level, something that I saw again during the pasta sampler.
Highland Haggis: This dish was one of my favorites. There was a layer of lamb sausage, a layer of turnips and a layer of creamed potatoes in a whiskey jus that is worth noting. I really liked the textures of the different layers, and I just couldn’t get enough of the whiskey jus.
Pasta Sampler: The pasta sampler was nice. There was ravioli with butternut squash in a mascarpone sauce with green peas. There was piccante, which is penne with crumbled sweet sausage, rich marinara chilies and ricotta. And there was a smoky risotto. I most noted that I really enjoyed the spice level of the red sauce on the penne and the smokiness of the risotto.
Isle of Skye Scallops: The was a large pan roasted scallop with a parmesan crust and fennel in a buerre blanc (white butter). Something worth noting is that in other countries they typically serve the roe with the scallop (the red item on the right). It was interesting because I encountered this roe, while on a recent trip to Peru, as well. Though intriguing to try, it was a bit too fishy for my preference.
Ayrshire Pork: Pork with Stornoway black pudding, grain mustard and apple julienne. I thought the pork was soft as butter, and the mustard sauce went well with all the components.
Dessert Sampler: There was panna cotta, chocolate torte with caramel sauce, and cranachan (a traditional Scottish dessert), which is mascarpone cream, meringue, toasted oats and wild berry compote. All desserts were tasty, but I enjoyed this cranachan most. The oats with the mascarpone was just simple and delicious.
Incognito Bistro: 30 W 18th St, New York, NY
Charlie Bird, located right below Houston, is decidedly one of my new favorite spots. The décor and feel is really modern and fresh, and the food follows suit. The restaurant walks a nice balance between young, hip and elegant, upscale. Though I’ve read some other reviews complaining about the loud, old school rap music, I didn’t experience that coming on a Sunday evening. I’m also not sure that I would have had an issue with said background rap. When you’re eating fabulous food, nothing else really matters. All in all, Charlie Bird is the restaurant to put on your go-to list, if you haven’t been already. Though there’s nothing particularly inventive about the food, it’s just so simply good.
Bread: The meal started off with some “pizza bread” that was pretty tasty. The bread was soft and doughy and drizzled in olive oil. I was pleased.
Live Diver Scallop: I’m IN LOVE with this scallop dish. The scallop is raw and sliced thin topped with garlic chives in a brown butter sauce that is drizzled at the table. This was perfection in my mouth – so good I got a second order.
Grilled Octopus: This isn’t the best octopus I’ve had, but it was really good. It had a great texture that I thought went particularly well with the beans. So while it isn’t a must-order, it also won’t disappoint.
Stracciatella: Another fantastic dish, this bowl of stracciatella came with favas and radish. Though really simple, the cheese was really flavorful and delicious.
Bone Marrow: The bone marrow was great. It was done right.
Crispy Fried Squash Blossoms: These actually came three to a bowl, but I was a bit eager, and rightfully so. These are fried squash blossoms filled with ricotta and anchovies. There was a really nice sized scoop of ricotta in these and the fried outside wasn’t overpowering or oily. I enjoyed this.
Gnocchi Rosa: I was least impressed with this dish. I didn’t feel like the gnocchi had the proper shape or denseness. This was also supposed to have ricotta in it, and as you can see from the photo, that never made the plate. This was just boring. Get other stuff.
Duck Egg Spaghetti: This was made with uni, spring onions and lemon. I’m actually not a huge fan of sea urchin (uni), but I thought it worked here. If you like rich and salty, this is the dish for you.
Roasted Chicken: I think this might be the best chicken dish I’ve ever had. It’s juicy and flavorful and comes with the chicken liver pate that is just outrageously good. It was also topped with some crunchy pieces of chicken skin that I couldn’t get enough of. Overall, this was a really flavorful and interesting dish.
Broccoli Raab: This was standard, properly cooked broccoli raab in a garlic sauce.
Gelati and Cookies: The gelato here in general is particularly creamy and delicious; however, this olive oil gelato is just on another level of good. I can’t really describe what’s great about it, but just get it. It’s a perfect ending to an already fantastic meal. The almond cookies are also pretty great, as well!
Pistachio Lemon Cake: This was delicious with a scoop of stracciatella gelato.
Chocolate: This was a warm chocolate cake with the olive oil gelato and caramelized rice krispies. It’s definitely one of my favorite desserts in recent memory. Again, it’s chocolate with amazing olive oil gelato and caramelized rice krispies. Need I say more? The crunch, the sweetness of it all – perfection.
Charlie Bird: 5 King St. New York, NY ($$$)
Exchange Alley is a chic spot in the East Village just emanating cool. The décor gives the feeling of a vintage oddities shop with sex appeal – just look at this wall mural (so cool!). Though some staples, and the restaurant’s best dishes, are always on the menu, the rest changes seasonally. The food isn’t going to change your life, but Exchange Alley is a fairly solid neighborhood joint with a couple dishes that are definitely worth coming back for.
Avocado Toast: This was simply toast with avocado spread and pickled jalapeños. I liked the freshness of the bread and the creaminess of the avocado. It was good, but there was nothing unique or exceptional about it.
Grilled Peaches with Yogurt: I really didn’t like this item. I thought the peaches were a bit grainy and the proportion of yogurt to peach was off, with there being an excess of yogurt.
Jambalaya Balls with Dirty Gravy: This appetizer was awesome. These balls had a nice spice to them and a great consistency – think Italian arancini (rice balls) but jambalaya-filled. The dirty gravy, which was dirty and muddy looking indeed, was tasty as hell, and took these balls to the next level. This should definitely be on the table!
Lasagna Edges: I want to call this dish crack noodles. It was made with brown butter, mushrooms and herbs and comes with a piece of pecorino toast. The lasagna edges had a great al dente texture, and the sauce and mushrooms were just really flavorful and addictive. This is a dish you definitely want to eat again and again.
Salted Caramel Tart: I really liked the first bite of this, but after awhile I realized the taste was primarily peanut, not salted caramel. Also the caramel didn’t seem salted at all. I think the idea was that the salt came from the peanuts, and the caramel with that, is a salted caramel tart. The base, which I think was made with almond paste (normally my fav), tasted okay, but was a little too thin to hold up the toppings. It also seemed to be lacking butter or something. I feel like the crust is usually the best part. I liked this dessert enough, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way to order it.
Exchange Alley: 424 E 9th Street New York, NY ($$)