nolita


I have not forsaken watermelon as my favorite fruit per se, but these days my traitorous stomach has been yearning for fresh figs, particularly the thin-skinned california mission figs that are so easily available during summertime but disappear from the marketplace once it turns cold. I love ripe figs, the feel of the tiny seeds popping against my teeth, the squishy texture, and don’t care how I eat it, whether plain or wrapped in prosciutto. But when fresh ricotta is available, I like to plunk a few figs on the white curds and drizzle a little honey to finish. The creamy, grainy ricotta with a touch of saltiness balances out the honeyed sweetness of the fruit perfectly. Delicious.

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

Figs and tomatos go well with cheese

While figs are a seasonal affair, I get my supply of to die for ricotta throughout the year at Di Palo’s, a scant 20 minute walk away. With a corner shop in the increasingly touristy and crass Little Italy, Di Palo’s remains a bastion of good taste and amazing Italian foodstuffs. They sell everything Italian, from cans of olive oil, fresh pasta  and bottles of brined capers. However the real action is at the counter, where countermen slice cured meats paper thin, scoop creamy ricotta and lure you into buying mozzarella that’s so fresh its still oozing milk. Come during witching hours (i.e. early in the day) and the shopkeepers are more than happy to discuss the merits of prosciutto di parma versus culatello and dole out generous samples. You feel compelled to buy more than you intended, as I found out this weekend, when I went in for ricotta but ended up buying bococcini and speck for a caprese salad and ham sandwich for lunch.

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

Insalate Caprese (sans basil), speck and breads makes for a rustic lunch!

But even if you’re there when lines are long and tempers are short, the spoils of war are totally worth it!

Di Palo’s Fine Foods Inc

200 Grand St (on the corner of Mott St)

More than once have I fallen prey to the bakery case at Starbucks, ordering a giant slab of lemon pound cake iced with a thick coat of sugared frosting. The lemon financier at Bakery and Bar Oro beats Starbuck’s by a mile. Whereas Starbuck’s version is a pale yellow, Oro’s lemon cake has a brilliant yellow sheen to it, courtesy of lemon oil. The rectangle of cake is buttery and super-moist with slightly crispy edges and the taste of citrus intensified with the addition of lemon zest and little sacs of fresh pulp. It’s probably not a traditional financier as I could not make out any strong nut flavor, but its still perfect with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon. The only thing it has going against it is that its size, about a quarter of what’s served at starbucks, but for the quality, its worth it.

carrot financier

Besides the lemon financier, the little bakery also serves a few types of pastries, tarts and cakes, along with salads, sandwiches and quiches for those looking for more than sweets. The smell of the freshly baked quiche cooling on top of the bar is positively addictive. Besides the lemon financier (which I had 2 weeks in a row), I also tried a chocolate dipped madeline, that was nicely eggy and soft. It converts into a bar serving alcohol and snacks in the evening, which should be a nice addition in the neighborhood.

The cute little storefront is situated in little italy, and is still flying under the radar for the most part despite heavy foot traffic in the area. It makes it a tranquil spot for afternoon tea, but I’m rooting for them and hope they can get busier. Surely their pastries are much tastier than the insipid offerings at those little italy tourist traps!

Oro Bakery and Bar 

375 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Mulberry Sts)

 

While Ethiopian food may sound slightly dubious to the uninitiated, one only need to read the menu to find that the core ingredients such as lentils, collard greens and chicken, beef and lamb aren’t all that terrifying. But if you are still not soothed by the fact that berbere is a type of spicy seasoning and not some illegal substance, or that injera is meant to be sour, then Ghenet may be the place for an Ethiopian food novice to get his or her feet wet. A restaurant review sitting near the bar at Ghenet likens the food there as “Ethiopian food on training wheels”. Perhaps Ghenet may not serve the most authentic Ethiopian cuisine in the city, it is certainly well liked, judging from the crush of people waiting at the bar for their seats at 7 on Saturday, early as it goes for dinner, in New York anyway.
Ethiopian food is meant to be shared sans utensils, and between the 4 of us, we split a vegetarian platter for 2 and a beef dish. Our food was carefully placed in mounds (or globs as walter calls them) on a single oval platter lined with injera, the distinctive ethiopian bread made of teff, a grain indigenous to Ethiopia, with a taste akin to sourdough and a texture like that of a pancake. More injera was served on the side, folded like a pile of napkins. Those went fast too, as we hungrily tore away pieces and wiped up all the vegetable purees and chunks of meat with them. The flavors were relatively mild and anyone used to Indian food would find the tastes rather similar. We washed down our meal witl Tej, the exotic sounding honey wine tasting like sweet mead, and not so exotic after all as the Tej the restaurant serve actually hails from upstate New York. =p
Besides palatable food, Ghenet’s popularity can also be attributed to several other reasons, namely the warm ambience and location, which is right smack in Nolita, a neighborhood packed with inexpensive ethnic-ish chic spots and plenty of young adventurous diners who require feeding. The crimson walls, the mood lighting and the sensuality of using your hands to share food also make it a wonderful date place as well. With the large number of couples in the restaurant at the same time as us, it is clear that they are aware of that as well.

Ghenet
284 Mulberry St (Houston & Prince)

Soho has become my new neighborhood ever since I started working at the Used Book Cafe on saturdays, and it is no wonder I’ve started scouring for things to eat while working the espresso machine for a good 4 hours meant to be tea-time. As comprehensive as the drinks and sweets menu is at the cafe (macaroons and stella artois make a killer combination) , its a little lacking in the savory foods line-up. Luckily, Saigon Bahn Mi is there to the rescue, keeping the hunger away with a warm crusty french bread sandwiching crunchy pickled carrots and refreshingly fresh cilantro, salty vietnamese pastrami and a weird-looking but tasty orange pate that’s supposed to be the “supreme” version of pates.
While reference to it being the best sandwich in town is contentious, it is definitely the most value-for-money sandwich however. A huge hunk of bread, meats and vegetables all for $3, enough to tide me through a 4 hour shift, and even dinner if I manage to stop myself from eating it all at once. So far, it hasn’t happened yet, but the sandwich is really best eaten in whole, so say I…

Bahn Mi So 1
369 Broome St (Bet. Mott & Elizabeth Sts)

If the mess of dark purple rice studded with green edamame beans remind you of the south east asian dessert pulut hitam, you are not too far off the mark. The rice is indeed the same variant of those used in the making of the sweet, coconuty dessert, but instead of finding it on the menu of a Malaysian restaurant, right below bubur chacha, Yanru and I found the black rice sharing a bowl with a variety of rice-toppers in a cheap and shabbily cool restaurant in the hipster-infested area of Nolita. Besides black rice, which we suspect was also cooked in coconut milk, the restaurant features about half a dozen or more other types of plain and flavored rice, from japanese to basmati, and even to one dish flecked with cilantro, parsley and spinach.The rice-toppers, from curries to ratatouille, to surprisingly hefty tofu balls drenched in a fiery sauce weren’t bad either. Prices are very reasonable, and we walked out paying less than $10 with tax and tips. Rice the restaurant, attempts to make the act of rice-eating new and fresh, and even an old fogey like me, who likes her standard jasmine rice chinese takeout style, with a slight al dente texture, can’t help but have to try something new. But if you are not willing to try, there will always be jasmine rice.

Rice
227 Mott St (Bet. Spring & Prince St)