“I’ll have the usual.” Maybe its a sign that I am getting old or as my friend tells me, I know what I want. 2015 marks my final year in my twenties. I’ve noticed my eating habit very often included the restaurants I have already been to and I would order my usual. There’s the tonkatsu ramen at Ramen Setagaya, grilled chicken bowl of pho at Thai Son, brunch at Cafe Mogador and my guilty pleasure carnitas burrito at Chipotles. In a city like New York City with so many cuisine options, the convenience of ordering food at your finger tips and the constantly opening and closing of restaurants that keeps the dining scene exciting makes it difficult to limit to any one restaurant as a repeat. 2015 year in food certainly had some patterns. I found myself eating various interpretation of ramen, fried chicken sandwich, tacos, Middle Eastern food, the contemporary smoked salmon bagel or is it a lox bagel? Here is my annual mouthwatering recap of restaurants and cafes I know I will return to soon:
:: MAMAN ::
Among the cute, cozy cafes, Maman in Soho opened in Fall 2014 is a new addition to that list and really hits the spot. The interior of the cafe is rustic chic inspired by French boulangerie with blue and white floral tiles that is also used on their disposable cups which is too pretty to throw away. During my visit last winter, I had their lavender hot chocolate which lavender anything in food may not be suitable for all taste buds but the floral taste and bitter sweet chocolate is surprisingly a nice balance. Maman also serves no fuss takeaway meals that includes salads, quiches, and rotisserie chicken and is perfect for the busy New Yorker on the go. Since their Soho location open, Maman has expanded and can now be found in Tribeca, Greenpoint and Toronto, including their offshoot rotisserie chicken takeaway place Papa Poule which is still on my list of places to visit.
:: BAR PRIMI ::
Chef Andrew Carmellini of NoHo Hospitality Group, Bar Primi is the reincarnation of this corner Bowery restaurant, formerly the beloved restaurant Peels. With the rise of gluten intolerance and for some people who choose to be gluten-free is missing out on one of the best squid ink pastas. Bar Primi, squid ink campanelle is worth breaking the rules. With generous portions of crab meats blended into the pasta and with a subtle hint of fresh red chili pepper. It is a reminder of how delicious and complex the flavors are for a simple pasta dish when it is done well. It’s true when they say, “Once you go black you can’t go back.” I should also mention the baguette at Lafeyette their sister restaurant is also exceptional.
:: RUSS & DAUGHTERS + BLACK SEED BAGEL + MAIDEN LANE ::
New York City classic breakfast, smoked salmon or lox cream cheese bagel has made a comeback in recent years and this year the bagel game is strong. There is the legendary, family owned and operated for over 100 years, Russ & Daughters. Their deli remains a quintessential New York experience. Order the lox bagel with the works which includes tomato, onions, capers with thinly sliced choice of fresh wild salmon is truly the breakfast of champions. There are the new kids on the block, Black Seed Bagel and Maiden Lane both open their second or third locations in Manhattan this year, also serves smoked salmon bagels. Black Seed Bagel is a take on the Montreal bagel. The bagel is delicious on its own but by all means go all out on on their signature sandwiches, the smoked salmon is highly recommended. Maiden Lane known for their tin fish and bar also serves an excellent smoked salmon bagel on a hip Baz Bagel. The best thing about a bagel is it will last for at least for two meals or of course sharing is an option with someone special. Sadelle, you’re on my 2016 list.
:: KABAB KING ::
What I noticed in my recent visit to Jackson Heights is the format of the restaurants. There is the cafeteria style for takeaways on the ground floor and above is a banquet hall version which is brilliant. It is a way to provide food accessible for all and for any occasion. I was invited to my sister’s friends dinner at Kabab King. From the name you guess it they’re known for their kababs. The restaurant has an extensive menu of Middle Eastern style kababs, traditional Indian naan and biryani to Chinese haaka noodles. The customers range from families, seniors, men and then there was us. Imagine children running around, while waiters carrying trays of lassi and men tearing up a stack of naan while a serious game of cricket was on television. Platters of food are served family style, beef, chicken, lamb kababs, goat biryani, lamb chops, curries and stews. Every dish was bold in flavors and a feast meant for a king.
:: HOT KITCHEN SICHUAN STYLE ::
Queens was named No. 1 tourist destination in U.S.A in Lonely Planet this past year. It’s the borough of new immigrants where they bring their exotic flavors which is usually authentic and a lot more affordable. Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style in Flushing is an example and is the new restaurant that has taken over formerly known as Little Pepper. I came here recently after a day at Spa Castle and had hot and sour soup, mapo tofu, lamb cumin, stirred fried string beans and Sichuan chicken. Every dish was delicious, seasoned well and soulful. If you can endure the heat and spiciness, a couple of sweat bullets wouldn’t hurt then Hot Kitchen Sichuan Style is worth the trip.
:: GOA TACO + EMPELLON AL PASTOR ::
I was first introduced to authentic tacos served in soft tortilla oppose to the hard shell at Tehuitzingo , a hole in the wall deli in Hell’s Kitchen. Fast forward to 2015, everyone with the desire to sell food seems to be selling tacos because it is a lucrative food business and very often translates to awful tacos. Goa Taco is not one of those and has taken a traditional Mexican dish and reinvent it with an Indian twist. Instead of a tortilla soft or hard shell, it is served on a flaky paratha flatbread. The fillings are Indian inspired as well, stuffed with paneer, masala chickpeas and there are the more Westernized ingredients options like butternut squash and kale. There is also Empellon Al Pastor in Alphabet City, thanks to my friend who brought me here, I am now addicted. Al Pastor is a Mexican taco meets Lebanese shawarma, the best of both worlds. The pork is spit-roasted, a common technique for lamb shawarma and is delicately, thinly sliced onto a house made tortilla and is topped with some pineapples for an acidic kick. This technique was introduced by Lebanese immigrants to Mexicans and is a great example of why immigration and cultural diffusion is awesome when great food meets.
:: FUKU + DELANEY CHICKEN SANDWICH ::
There is no shortage of fried chicken in New York City and the fried chicken sandwich seems to be the star of 2015 and it is only the beginning. Chef David Chang of Momofuku empire introduced his fried chicken sandwich with Fuku. Visually, the fried chicken and bun ratio is intended to be out of proportion and those on low carb diet may prefer it including myself. There is the new fried chicken with Chef Daniel Delaney’s, Delaney Chicken. The fried chicken and bun ratio is less or more equal with Delaney Chicken sandwich and it is a little slightly more seasoned with mayo, hot sauce and pickles which creates more substance. The fried chicken sandwich as I recalled was juicy and the bun was large enough to hold the grease. A fried chicken sandwich is certainly not the everyday ordinary meal but for those who loves fried chicken like I do then it is the best item added to the fried chicken repertoire.
:: LOLO’S SEAFOOD SHACK ::
Labor Day weekend unofficially marks the end to Summer days. With the long weekend and on a tight budget, a staycation is ideal. My friend and I decided to bike our way to High Bridge Park the aqueduct which reopened this year after being closed for the last 40 years. After making our trip there, we cruised through Harlem and nothing shouts summer more than a seafood shack, at Lolo’s Seafood Shack. Its perfect for a summer day with their outdoor backyard seating with a bucket of crabs and pitcher of beer. I had their soft shell crab sandwich served on their signature in -house bread known as Johnnycakes which was a delightful treat to refuel my bike ride home.
:: AFTERNOON TEA a.k.a HIGH TEA at RITZ CARLTON ::
Every girl most likely played tea party as a child. For my summer staycation my friends and I dressed up for the occasion and spent an afternoon indulging high tea like proper ladies at the Ritz Carlton by Central Park. High tea occurs between anytime between 2pm – 4pm. We each got a pot of tea and was presented with a three tier selection of tea sandwiches, scones and petit fours. The whole experience was relaxing and extravagant. A royal custom I can get used to.
:: RAFIQI’S ::
The one thing I’m most excited about working in Manhattan again is not only the convenience but Rafiqi’s food cart. I’ve seen this Halal cart around town before but never really interest me until now. For $5 Rafiqi’s has on the menu options like falafel, gyro and my favorite is the chicken rice platter, covering all the food nutrition a person needs. For $5 comes with an impressive assortment of vegetables that includes lettuce, tomato, black olives, corn, red onions, cilantro, the legumes from the black beans and the fluffy yellow long grain rice and protein from the chicken topped with the mysterious white sauce. A great meal to power through the work day on a friendly budget.
:: SENOR POLLO ::
Senor Pollo in the East Village specializes in Peruvian rotisserie chicken and on a lazy day or really any day is a great dish for takeaway to add a bit of oomph to any meal. The housemade green sauce or Peruvian Aji sauce is amazingly good. Its traditionally used as a dipping sauce for Peruvian rotisserie chicken and I use it on my cubano sandwiches. Don’t forget to ask for extra green sauce!
:: LE JARDIN BISTRO ::
Aside from Buvette, there is a lack of good French restaurants in New York City. When my friend suggested Le Jardin Bistro because they had escargots on the menu, I had to go! My friends and I went there in mid- June shortly before it permanently closed. Le Jardin Bistro had all the classic French dishes, cassoulet, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, steak and frites it was like eating out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook, a very home-style French cooking. The restaurant located on Avenue C had a second level with a beautiful patio and during our meal there it was magically lit by natural sunset. Dining at Le Jardin Bistro felt like miles away from the city and this gem will surely be missed.
2015 was off to a rather slow start. I was motivated to find a new job and while I did, one of the biggest highlight was celebrating my big sister’s wedding day. As the Maid of Honor I had the pleasure of hosting and cooking for a group of her friends with a pig themed bridal shower. With the help of another bridesmaid, we spent a month planning and a week shopping for the menu which included pork belly tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, bacon pesto pasta salad, vegetable crudites, and charcuterie plate. I think it was the breakthrough moment for the food business I have envisioned for years that it could possibly become a reality. The twenties was about exploring, educating myself through food, trial and error and more importantly having fun. Here’s to 2016 and to turning 30 – bring it on! Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! xo