east village


Noodle Salad

Noodle Salad

The mention of terms like vegan and macrobiotic usually gives me hives, but my mum is vegetarian, so I’ve been accomodating her tastes while she visits this week. Mum was seriously craving noodles the day she got into New York after a grueling 20 hour flight, so I brought her for some vegetarian ramen at Souen, a relatively new noodle joint in East Village. It has 2 sister shops in Union Square and West Village, but the EV one specializes in noodles, offering not just vegetarian, but also chicken and seafood broths. No milk white pork broth reminiscent of Ippudo in sight, but my mother’s ramen was springy, chockful of fresh vegetables and the miso broth actually had depth and flavor. Not as flavorful as less healthy versions of ramen, but nonetheless pretty tasty for a meatless stock.

My ramen salad was even better. Souen’s version of the hiyashi chuka was packed with fresh and pickled vegetables, the lotus roots and seaweed providing crunch and chew, the sprouts and carrots natural sweetness. The cold broth enhanced by a lemon’s tang and the addictive ume paste made for a most refreshing light lunch. Just perfect for the long, hot summer.

 

Souen Organic Ramen

326 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Ave)

http://www.souen.net/menu.html

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I took Thursday off, part of the plan to purge my 2008 vacation days before the unused ones are sacrificed to the strict “3-month rollover” rule. Food was my constant companion for most of the day, starting out with a strong cup of coffee from Simon Sips in the 1st Avenue park with heart-shaped foam on top.
 
Capuccino on 1st Ave

Capuccino on 1st Ave

After coffee, I cross the street and voila! Breakfast in the form of a sesame seed bagel with scallion cream cheese and the loveliest, fatty nova lox from Russ & Daughters. Weekdays are nice and quiet, with the countermen eager to serve you and only you, performing surgery on the fish to dole out perfectly thin slices of samples for the smoked fish fan.

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Sesame Bagel, Nova, Cream Cheese

Fish eaten, it was off to Brooklyn via foot, across the Brooklyn Bridge, amidst the rain and fog.
Brooklyn welcomes me!

Brooklyn welcomes me!

Yes walking on the bridge is touristy and sort-of cheesy , but it was one of those things I had wanted to do for a while, and since I was alone, there was no fear of recrimination by sophisticated friends.

Manhattan through rain and fog

Manhattan - a misty view

 I stepped off the bridge on the Brooklyn end, and landed in Dumbo, home to trendy design stores, art galleries and Jacque Torres

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Jacques Torres in Dumbo

Home of floridly colored chocolates, tuxedoed marshmellow peeps, mountains of oversized chocolate chip cookies and wickedly thick hot chocolate. Restraint was definitely needed when it came time for decision making. In the end, it was 2 truffles for me, with good flavors, lovely designs but rather mediocre shells.
tuxedoed peeps

tuxedoed peeps

 The jaunt in Dumbo took longer than expected and by the time I got back to Manhattan, it was well past lunchtime. I foolishly thought I could check out Minetta Tavern, Keith McNally’s newest hot spot for some Gallic-inspired grub, but forgot to check the opening hours. Lunch, my dear is not served.

Too hungry by now to haul myself crosstown to Balthazar, I then substituted the French for the Italians at Lupa, Mario Batali’s Roman trattoria, where the wine is plentiful and food robust.

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

Bucatini and Brussel Sprouts

A bowl of Bucatini All’ Amatriciana really hit the spot on a damp, chilly day, the tomato sauce spicy and meaty, the chunks of guanciale (cured pork jowls) imparting an amazing smokiness. Soft grill onion slices were sweet as fruit, I could almost eat them as dessert.  A bowl of shaved brussel sprouts provided some fiber to the meal, the raw slaw tossed in a mixture of oil, pepper and sharp pecorino, something effortless yet tasty, and definitely one to replicate at home. For dessert, a bracingly sour cup of grapefruit sorbet, the initial reaction “Ooo! sour!” mellowing to a refreshing sweetness, characteristic of the fruit.
Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

Nothing a carafe can't do to lift rainy spirits

It took me a while to nurse my wine, so I hung out at the bar till 4-5, just marvelling at the number of people who drop in to eat at irregular hours (including people with babies. I thought baby schedules are like clockwork?). It is nice though to have functioning restaurants and good service during shift changes, and something I appreciate about Lupa.

Unfortunately, the fooding was cut short by the big bowl of pasta, and after that all I consumed was a pint at the bar with my coworkers and a handful of chocolate covered edamame I had lying at home. Was a nice day out, but I must say, I was expecting my appetite to be better than that!

Simon Sips (72 E 1st St)

Russ & Daughters Appetizing Store (179 E Houston St) www.russanddaughters.com

Jacque Torres (66 Water St, Brooklyn) www.mrchocolate.com

Lupa (170 Thompson St) www.luparestaurant.com

Random things that I like about Simon Sips:

Great space – East village match-box sized but very bright and neat, with floor length windows allowing for the sun to stream in, unfettered. It’s decor has a rough hewn, home made feel that I appreciate, that’s not over-designed. And unlike Abraco, another coffee place I love, it has seats, so no more stoop squatting!

Well-made drinks – Coffee beans are provided by Counter-culture, and each cup is expertly made with thick crema. While the cappuccino was too milky the one time I ordered it, everything else was perfectly done.

The sweet display – I’m still on a cake free diet, but the minute I’m off it the glass display beckons. The slices and bars are all baked in house (with a simple home-made look to them) and feature some interesting flavor combinations that looks very very promising. 

They serve real food! – at very reasonable prices,with everything on the menu kept under $8. Of course, the plates are sized to the pricing and not big, but good enough for a light meal. The sandwich I ordered  was a foretaste of future meals. It was made with excellent bread from Sullivan Bread Company and the  frittata sandwiched between was moist and eggy, sweetened by caramelized onion and sharpened with the taste of gruyere. A novel brunch for someone that doesn’t enjoy eggs.

The name! – What can I say? I like alliteration. Also, like the game Simon Says, I hope this cafe has staying power.

I’ve befriended Simon Sips (even virtually on facebook to get a 25% discount) and found a new spot in the neighborhood that satisfies my caffeine urges. Will you too?

Simon Sips

72 E 1st St (Between 1st & 2nd Aves)

From wikipedia: The word ciao (pronounced “chaow” /tʃao/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either “goodbye” or “hello”.
How apt in this case to be greeted a good day by the lovely glass displays of stacked home baked goodies and a whirring espresso machine dispensing the scent of roasted coffee beans and fresh cups of daily joe. The adjoining dining room, where the walls are bare and interior design rustic, like the cookies and cakes they make, is the best place to enjoy a sit down breakfast. There is the added entertainment factor of watching children from the nearby kindergarten interact with their parents and of course, the fish in a television set.
While I cannot opine on the savory options (save for a not so satisfactory huevos verde a few weeks before), I have been savoring every pastry I’ve bought so far, be it a sticky cinnamon bun, any of the scones or my favorite square muffins, in traditional and some flavors that are more out there, like polenta with lemon lavender and golden pineapple. Their cupcakes are tiny and topped with just enough buttercream, quite unlike the frothy, frosted confections out in the market. Plain is good, when the flavors are there.
Ciao for now does not feel like New York, and instead of rushing from point A to B on the weekdays, I linger there for a while on my precious Sundays, reading the weekend news and taking in the neighborhood sights. Ciao. Goodbye when every crumb has been polished off the plate, and hello to the promise of another languid Sunday next week.

Ciao For Now
523 E12th St (Between Aves A and B)
http://ciaofornow.net/

Television can be such insidious poison, particularly reality tv shows like “America’s next top model” and tv challenges. “Man v. Food” belongs to the latter category. In the show, the host pits his stomach against some pretty extreme challenges, and on the New York stop, he takes on phaal, ostensibly described as the hottest curry in the country, at Bricklane Curry. Despite its rather senseless premise, “Man v Food” has a sizeable following, and amongst its viewers is my friend Sarah. Now Sarah is usually a very sensible girl, and I am still not sure why she was so eager to take on the challenge. But we are good friends, so if she had to succumb to the siren call of crass tv promotions and hot indian curries, I would be there to provide moral support.

After much mental preparation (what’s the most effective way to eat the curry? rice or no rice? should we bring milk to neutralize the acid?) we met at Bricklane on Saturday, where a line had spilled out of the door whereas its neighbors on Curry Lane were half empty, a testimony to its reputation as one of the better Indian restaurants on the block. No doubt business must have picked up since the show too, with many others like Sarah eager to try the phaal. According to our very chatty server Chad, about 20-30 bowls of phaal is sold every given day after the episode of “Man v Food” had aired. We were soon seated and after a plate of aloo chaat (very middling, needs acid) to line the stomach, and armed with raita and a mango lassi, S dug into her phaal. As for me? I am happy to be a pure spectator and ordered a dish of Goan fish curry (tasty, but not quite aromatic enough).

Forgive my pun, but the phaal was truly foul. Made with a paste of 13 different peppers and other assorted spices such as ginger.  In honesty, the spice level might have been tolerable if the dish tasted a little better, but the grey sludge was largely bitter and devoid of other more appealing flavors. Instead of an instantaneous burning sensation, one encounters a slow burn in the mouth that intensifies and travels down the esophagus. I had merely 3 small bites and was quite put off. Poor Sarah on the other hand had to struggle through the bowl, cooling off once in a while with the aforementioned yogurt mix and drink, and then plunging right back into the fiery depths of curry hell. By the time she had eaten all the chicken chunks in the dish and all was left was a third of the dish filled with black gunk (sauce), Sarah decided, in a haze of pain, that the virtual P’hall of fame and the free beer for completing the dare wasn’t worth it. Indeed, it isn’t, but for those foolhardy enough, game on!

Brick Lane Curry House

306 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Aves)

bricklanecurryhouse.com

 
Potato Pancakes
Potato Pancakes
Online communities. Gotta love them. The genesis of my trip to Veselka came about when I commented on Jon’s facebook status that same weekend we both hit the slopes. Then we found mutual facebook friends, Mabel and Alex and decided to meet. Jon chose Veselka as it happened to be bookmarked on Jon’s Yelp.com to-do list.
Veselka is an extremely popular joint in the East Village but luckily spacious enough such that a 20 minute wait was all that took to secure us a nice 4-top in the middle of the action, so we could see what was being ordered around us. I liked the atmosphere of the place, with great natural light, a buzzy feel, friendly servers and a black-and-white wall mural I would love to haul home, if only I could afford it. The expansive menu is split into typical American diner and Eastern European standards, and we had a lot of ground to cover. Thank God for healthy appetites!
Beety borscht

Beety borscht

I generally consider brunch a one dish meal, but here at Veselka, wracked by indecision, we decided to order our overflow decisions as appetizers. I warmed up with a hot cup of borscht, packed rimful with beets, onions, carrots, dill and tender beef, the flavors rich and slightly sourish. Then I joined the rest in devouring a plate of potato pancakes, crisp fried but a little doughy and blintzes, think crepes stuffed with ricotta and doused with raspberry sauce. Not bad, a little bland.
As we were halfway through our appetizers, the oversized plates of “real” food came and we had to rearrange the table settings for everything to fit. A stack of kasha pancakes, oddly gray and with a nutty flavor graced M’s breakfast plate.  My tomato and feta omelette was rather mediocre, the only saving grace being its overwhelming, sides off the plate size, meaning ample leftovers for a second meal.
pierogies and other stuff

pierogies and other stuff

The boys fared better. J’s meat platter was a manly entree, the famed meat combination platter comprising of everything stuffed and delightful. Pierogies are little dumplings filled with ricotta and meat, while a hefty lump of stuffed cabbage revealed more meat and minimal cabbage.  From the starter salad and soup to the main affair, J was well pleased. A’s meal was a plate of bigos, a traditional Ukrainian stew that is “fit for a hunter” according to the menu. Again, not necessarily something I would order for my lunch, but for A, substantial, tasty and he needed no help polishing the casserole of meat, sauerkraut, meat, potatoes and more meat off.

Bigos!

Bigos!

   Overall, a very satisfactory dish. I got to tick off a neighborhood staple off my to-do list, Jon got to yelp about it, and we all got to catch up. Now, if facebook technicians can invent a share a meal function….
Veselka
144 2nd Ave (corner of 9th st)
Porchetta sandwiches

Porchetta sandwiches

Here is one way to feed a small group. A structurally unsound mountain of brown paper packages that reveal pork sandwiches. These sandwiches in question are Italian in heritage and purchased from Porchetta, a white sliver of a shop a few blocks down my apartment.  Slow roasted pork with crackly golden skin nests within a small, square ciabatta roll that soaks up all the juices. For sides, one can order beans, slow-cooked greens and roasted potatos studded with more roasted pork.  For pig freaks, this is all good, although the price at $9 a smallish sandwich is  steep. And frankly, we did not really get the raving “top 10 eats of the year” type of reviews.

 

 

Porchetta

110 E7th St (Between 1st Avenue and Avenue A)

www.porchettanyc.com

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