As a native Culver City girl, I’m absolutely floored by the bunny rabbit style growth of the restaurant scene in my little town. I may live in East LA now, but when I heard that one of the hottest new restaurants had popped up in my old hood, I had to go asap!
First out, the Furikake Kettle Corn ($5) Blazin’ Jay’s, Hawaiian Style. The kettle corn is richly buttered with the salty sweet goodness we all know and love, but then rocketed into the gourmet stratosphere with the addition of puffed corn, sesame seeds, nori flakes, and a blast of spiciness. The punchy mix is sourced from local popcorn vendor Blazin’J’s – watch out J, the word is out, and your booth will surely be blazin’ with foodies in the future.
Along with the kettle corn, we ordered the Moooooo Kimchee ($3)—a modest plate of cubed white radishes swimming in lactic brine. Other than the salty brine, these bite-size dices of crunchy daikon bear no resemblance to kimchee. We selected this over the Heirloom Pickles because my friend doesn’t like “pickles.” She was later surprised to discover the pickle plate wasn’t all cucumbers. Instead it was an earthy mix of carrots, parsnips, red radishes, and something that looked like an apple… maybe an Asian pear?
[Memo to the world: Pickles are not just cucumbers! Also, not all pickles are made with vinegar! The fact that this information is not inherently known stuns me every time]. … A-Frame (Los Angeles, CA)
For years, YEARS, I read gushing accolades for Abistro in total disbelief since the Senegalese-meets-French menu is such a dull read. Nor did I believe the internet buzz, composed mostly of unsubstantiated statements like “The food was SO delicious,” or “It’s the best! Just go!”… like, what does that mean (and let’s pretend I *never* say such things). So I put off a visit for years. But with my move out of the neighborhood looming, I mustered up the will to make the walk into Fort Greene… and thank heaven I did… for the good, the bad…and the BYOB!
We began with the special appetizer of Sweet Plantains (which appears to be a standard special). The generous portion of ooey gooey fried plantains–smothered in maple syrup with a light sprinkle of scallions–is served with a side of pungent chipotle sauce. My Beau snickered as I gushed with delight over the creamy smoky sauce. “You know that is aioli… aka mayonnaise.” I didn’t–and I’ll admit, I cringed–but driven by flavor hypnotism, I summoned all my foodie courage and devoured the entire cup of my emulsified nemesis. If only all mayonnaises were as flavorful as this one… … Abistro (Brooklyn, NY)
Whatever my relation may or may not be to the one of former owners of Eat Records, I’ve never had mixed feeling over its conversion into a localvore sanctuary. Jordan Colon, the head cook and owner of the revamped “Eat,” has dressed up the typically crunchy-granola seasonnique-style of cooking in a white-walled minimalistic quasi-classy restaurant!
Few restaurants in New York who tout the localvore heritage actually look, taste, and feel the part… more often their “commitment to farm-to-table” or ”sustaining self-reliant food economies” and other modern hippy jargon are practiced only behind the kitchen door. But at Eat, when you look down unto the tomato pulp covered hands of the chef or over towards his well worn bike, you can feel the sweat of the ride to the local Greenmarket through which he brings you the sunshine and soil of “food is purchased directly from organic farmers in the northeast region.” … Eat (Brooklyn, NY)
Although I detest these New York winters, nuzzling up in a fur-lined chair (let’s not debate over that, ok) next to the wood burning hearth at the Loading Dock is one of my few snowbound pleasures. This food cart, parked in an actual loading dock of a downtown live-work industrial loft, is flush with all the pomp of the hipster allusion (complete with an art gallery), but none of the dickery.
My sensible friends let me select our downtown brunch location before embarking on the totally rad Atlantic Tunnel Tour. A perfect chance to show off my “what’s hot now” knowledge, I mean, what’s the point of obsessing over all those food blogs if I don’t get to dazzle people by dragging them to obscure industrial corners of our dismal downtown, secure in my promise of awesome Mexican breakfast!
In Kyoto I failed to convince my travel companions to dine at the famed Kanga-an, a temple serving some of the finest fucha ryori (Buddhist vegan temple food) in the world… at least that is what I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know, would I…
Back in New York I found some solace in the newcomer Kajitsu, a shojin ryori (Zen vegan temple food) restaurant nestled in the East Village. Located in an austere and spacious basement, it is a distinct Japanese/NYC hybrid; the large wooden bar where diners can watch the chef artfully prepare each dish could easily fit 16 people, but at Kajitsu the arrangement allows a maximum of 6. We were seated at the (seemingly much too large for our group of three) front window’s organically undulating slice of hefty wood, the only bold object in the otherwise restrained dining room, but in this restaurant we are arranged with purpose, and negative spaces becomes a part of the $70 (+$30 Sake pairing) eight course Hana menu experience.
Course 1: The meal began with the artful Steamed Hearts of Palm with Plum Sauce, Daikon Radish, and Menegi. It is fragile sculpture of white rings standing in succession crossed by a young green sprig like a beauty queen’s sash. The hearts are delicate and do not struggle to slide from my silver chopsticks and I slowly made them disappear. … Kajitsu (New York, NY)
If you have ears you’ve probably heard that the New York Times recently called Motorino the BEST PIZZA IN NEW YORK! Is it true? Well, the long answer is: Like yetis, Shangri-La and poo that don’t stink, there is no such thing as the best because blah blah blah… but the short answer is: Yes.
For all the strengths of the pizza, the restaurant has always been a struggle to love. The overexerted waitstaff and pizza-paddle wranglers get pies on the table with impeccable timing, but the wine/water/salad service and general politeness suffer for it.
Upon entering the Grand St location, you bump into the first row of tables. Waitresses frantically wiggle though the isles as clumps of hungry hungry hipsters wearily scan for the elusive host. Since the NYT review, the mass consumable hysteria has spiraled into a full blown melee of middle aged Manhattanites. They suck in our youthful Brooklyn charm while sucking up all the tables at Motorino. But hey, I was sucked in by the hype too, last year when Grub Street took Mario Batali on an multi-borough new pizzeria tour and he declared Motorion superior to all, I was running after his bandwagon. But back then this was still just a neighborhood joint. With NYT’s declaration, this place now belongs to anyone with a metrocard, cab fair, or driver.
I didn’t realize in I was in the company of a local celebrity until walking through the door of Buttermilk Channel. The host fawned over us with grace and attention once she realized who my companions were. So, although my perception of the staff may have been slightly skewed, each element of the evening worked like a well oiled machine with unlabored friendliness, impeccable timing, and with nay a hint of pandering.
Before arriving, this restaurant was already on my good side… providing a separate vegetarian menu is a mark of a restaurateur’s attention to every detail of a finer dining experience. Big dogs like Per Se and Daniel do it, trendy specialized places like Zenkichi do it, even the Thai food machine Sripraphai does it. It makes marking vegetarian items on the regular menu with a little green v seem so low brow… besides this gives the chef the opportunity to show of their creativity by exploring whimsical variations on standard dishes for an audience that will, at a minimum, have respect the effort.
We began with all The Snacks! First to appear were the dill-icious House-made Pickles ($3) a lovely crunchy cousin from the Claussen’s clan. The spears and chips offer slight different flavors but I devoured them much too eagerly to remember their distinctions.
Considering this is an out-of-towner spot, I’ve always succeeded in avoiding the middle class girls night outs mingling with suits who borrow their bosses gold card to take mid-range clients out for margs and apps. Ok, I was dragged here once before and suffered though an off menu vegetarian item I fondly remember as “enchilada slop.” So needless to say, when my Jersey friends made reservations I was… eh… underwhelmed.
But my apathy was squelched by the heavy cast iron pan of pure melted cheese that is the remarkable Cazuela De Queso Fundido! You heard me! This ain’t not soupy fondue, it’s a big pan of fillerless molten cheese! Eat it fast before it solidifies… don’t worry, the heart attack is totally worth it!
Dabbling though an outline on a piece on the “Positive Aspects of Limited to No Vegetarian Options,” I joined a friend for an impromptu day in the city which serendipitously ended at Momofuku Noodle Bar – which very publicly states they only have one vegetarian option – a perfect study in this very topic! When I first read New York Magazine’s article The I Chang I was taken aback by David Chang steadfast and highly public(ized) anti-vegetarian stance with standoffish statements like “Well, I guess it was because I don’t like people telling me what to do.” Hey, I’m not trying to tell him what to do! I’m just asking if I can eat here… when it comes to restaurants I’m a take it or leave it kind of girl. When it comes to Momofuku I want to take it!
The case study given in New York Magazine is of the angry vegetarian woman who unwittingly consumes meat based broth at Momofuku, then huffs and puffs like a lunatic who has been tricked into eating her own cat – a stereotypical anecdote on the incompatibility of vegetarians with the realities of the world. This article (and many many others) revels in making it appear that all vegetarians turn honest mistakes into vicious personal attacks on their morality. Well, this vegetarian would like refute such notions.
Mistakenly consuming meat items happens to me all the time, but I have to laugh it off and learn from my mistake. A mistake that is mine alone. Because unless you’re a true Jeffrey Steingarten-esq omnivore, every person runs the risk of consuming foods they wish to avoid; and unless a restaurant or food manufacturer profusely promises that “this is this” and “that sans that,” every bite is a gamble and every so often you are going to lose.