>> Eat the World NYC

22 November 2017

New York Bread


In most instances, people headed to Coney Island who do not live in the area head straight to the boardwalk or beach, riding the Wonder Wheel or setting up a blanket on the sand. Veering off in the opposite direction can reward someone with other types of treasures, and actually makes a good pickup for those headed to the beach but not in the mood for hot dogs and fried clams.

About eight blocks west of the Stillwell Avenue station is New York Bread, Inc., a great spot for freshly baked breads and hot prepared foods made all day. On a recent meander down Neptune Avenue, I had not prepared to make a purchase here, but the breads smelled so good.

As I followed my nose, the baker himself was filling the shelves with hot loaves of bread. Feeling this warmth was a little bit too much to resist, and a round loaf of Ukrainian rye made its way to my basket.

The hot and cold prepared foods look very good here too, all sold at various prices and quantities. There is a butcher for cuts of meat, and a whole range of sweets for after meals as well.

Most of the space of the shop is for common Russian and former Soviet country groceries, but these shelves were similar to what you might find in any store in Brighton Beach and Gravesend.

Before checking out, a small container of freshly prepared beet salad also found its way into the basket. This creamy mixture with finely chopped beet was even more satisfying than usual somehow and greatly enjoyed later in the day.

Unfortunately this stop was part of a few hours walk and I was only with a backpack. If you have the means, come to New York Bread with a car so you can take as much home with you as possible.

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NY Bread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

19 November 2017

Bab Marrakech


Moroccan food has come and gone from Bay Ridge in the past, some restaurants excelled while others were just ok. Regardless, they all shuttered and left a void for a neighborhood that is still home to many Moroccans. Bab Marrakech looks to rectify this and already seems to be a popular place, serving up delicious meals and acting as something of a community center for fans of Moroccan professional football teams and their national team.

Passing by here a couple Saturdays ago, the place was full of men cheering for Wydad Casablanca as they competed in the finals of the African Champions League against Al Ahly Sporting Club from Cairo. With a big World Cup qualifier approaching for Morocco, this was noted and plans immediately made to return.

When we arrived 45 minutes before kickoff, tables were already filling up but we were welcomed to fill one as long as we were here to enjoy the match. Our group of five ordered some strong and sweet Moroccan mint tea (above) and settled in as more and more men came to watch. Moods were excited, but anxious. This match against Côte d'Ivoire saw them as underdogs, but a win would mean qualification.

Before deciding on the full meal, we followed the lead of a man at the next table and ordered one msemen with honey ($3, below), a North African take on pancakes. The chewy layers are very pleasant and a great accompaniment to the tea.

At any Moroccan restaurant, it is almost unavoidable that a bowl of harira will show up at my table. On a visit to the country, I found that most restaurants were geared towards tourists and the food just was not that good. Bucking this trend were night markets and many vendors serving harira each night. On many occasions, I would make my way from vendor to vendor in each city visited and sample each chef's recipe. The bowl below is just $3.50 and comes with at least one basket of bread. In a pinch, a customer could come here and get full just on this.

The group's attention all seemed to go straight for the tagine with plums and almonds ($12, below), which lives in the "special of the house" section of the menu. A tagine is named after the dish it is usually cooked and served in, but only the latter here. Regardless, the lamb is delectable and the sweetness of this particular mix coupled with the spices so well.

Not much different, the lamb shank ($13, below) is another wonderful piece of meat served this time in a more savory sauce and cooked with potatoes, carrots, and peas.

The merguez plate ($10, below) comes with a side of fries of salad. Choose the salad, which comes with olives and good goat cheese. The sausages themselves are a bit on the dry end and beg to be eaten with some of the other sauces and soups that are on the table.

Not on the menu, our waitress told us about a special they offered on Fridays and Saturdays that perked everyone's ears. Rfissa ($10, below) is a massive dish that is usually served for special occasions, chicken and lentils cooked long enough to make everything very tender. Scraps of bread are added for chewy texture (and traditionally to get rid of the stale bits from days before), and the whole thing is laced with many spices.

As the match progressed and Morocco took a surprise lead, the proprietor, a musician who has played around the world, brought in a drum and began to lead chants. The atmosphere in the restaurant went from great to amazing, and when Morocco scored their second goal there was a sense that today was destined to happen for the country. The following scenes took place during and after the game, inside and then onto the street when the celebration needed more space and air.

A plate of free sweets (below) awaited us back at the table. Thank you to the staff here and all the patrons for welcoming us into their group on such an important day for the country.

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Bab Marrakech Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

17 November 2017

Taqueria Sinaloense


Every now and then a restaurant opens around town and takes its name from the state of the owners. Chihuahua, Guerrero, Michoacán, and others have all made their way into restaurant names, but their menus have mostly disappointed with the same old round of antojitos and basic plates. Regional specialties are not the strong point of New York City Mexican food.

This is not the case at Taqueria Sinaloense, a brand new spot which seems to be taking pride in the foods that have origins in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa. On a first visit, machaca was written in all caps on the sandwich board outside. The joint first piqued my interest when tacos de machaca were posted on the Instagram account of @tacoliteracy.

Having had a wonderful meal in Los Angeles but only getting as close as Jalisco when visiting México, this restaurant was intriguing from the beginning. Seeing this excitement, the proprietors of the place were incredibly generous and friendly with my questions and requests.

The taqueria is super casual, with some grilling taking place up front and other items coming from the kitchen in back. If you sit down, someone will bring a menu, otherwise it is all listed up front and you can place your order there. It seems that most get their meals to go, but there are plenty of tables for dining in.

Sinaloans around the neighborhood (and probably some from other northern states that also enjoy machaca) seem to be excited as well. Machaca had sold out by 6:30pm on the first visit here. Luckily some other items I was eager to find were still around, including the custom plate of chilorio and frijoles puercos seen above.

Chilorio is dry pork in chile sauce, and exclusively from Sinaloa. It takes many many hours to make and uses a lot of lard while being cooked. As you might imagine, frijoles puercos are beans full of pork bits and flavor. They are truly wonderful here.

On a return visit, the machaca was available. The tacos de machaca ($3 each, below) use the dried meat and scramble it with eggs and onions, similar to how it is popularly eaten for breakfast. Squeeze some lime on, and add their housemade salsa made with chiles de arbol seen in a photo later.

Machaca is always paired with fluffy flour tortillas instead of corn, and while they are not making their own here, the chewiness is pleasant and pairs well.

Sinaloa is also known for great seafood, as the state hugs the coast. Another of the most famous dishes is aguachile, a shrimp dish that should be incredibly spicy in a soup or "agua" made with chilis and lime. When I asked about this, a broad smile and laugh was given in return. In New York City, the dish can be found on menus here and there, but is almost always disappointing. I was hoping some Sinaloans would rectify this problem.

They did have shrimp ceviche though, and when it was noticed that other customers were ordering tostadas (below) with a layer of frijoles puercos and the shrimp, we immediately followed suit.

A full array of regular tacos (below) are also available for $3 each. This order of birria and suadero was enjoyed, oversized (corn) tortillas filled with fresh meats.

I was raving about the housemade salsa made with chiles de arbol (below) and was given a container to take home because the proprietor was so sweet. If your table does not have the spread already, make sure to grab it from the fridge.

After the second visit, I stopped in the front to chat some more and snap the picture below of a new sign advertising their Sinaloan special.

Then as I waved goodbye, I almost missed it. Another colorful sign had also just been put up, advertising aguachiles. See you soon, Taqueria Sinaloense.

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El Sinaloense Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 November 2017

Brasilia Grill


When visiting a rodizio, it is important to formulate a good strategy, especially when you walk in hungry and want to start eating immediately. Meat is the reason you are here, but the salad bar is often very tempting with good looking offerings. Grab a plate and peruse the bar, grab some of the essentials, and try not to scarf it all down too fast. These should be viewed as side dishes, not a main course.

That being said, the salad bar is offered on its own.

The essentials.

On weekends, the bar also includes a very good pastel selection (below), which are also very dangerous competition for the meat intake.

Fairly soon after sitting down and picking the all-you-can-eat rodizio, the staff of Brasilia Grill will start showing up with various long skewers of meat and sharp knives. These meats and sausages and various animal parts are cooked right on these skewers over the fire, so after each cut, they go back on to make sure each person's slice is done right.

If it is your first time, make sure to sample the picanha (below), often the favorite cut of Brazilians. Our server also recommended the skirt steak, which was indeed excellent. The rest of the selection includes various other cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, chicken hearts (always recommended), and sausages. Sometimes items even come wrapped in bacon. Don't take too much of any one thing so that you can try it all.

Brasilia Grill also has an attached bar in a separate area. While TVs in the dining room are showing football matches at any time of day, the bar area might be an especially good place to watch Brazil play an important one. The drinks are all available in the main dining room as well, including a few different flavored caipirinhas like the passion fruit below.

If you happen to be looking for beer brewed in the Amazonian state of Pará, they have that too:

From different visits to Brasilia, we decided that coming at busy times was much preferable, as the meats were getting a bit dried out during off hours when consumption was down. Lunch rodizio will run you $23.99, dinner is $29.99. On weekends, when busiest, all meals are $31.99 but it may be worth it for freshness. The dining room is massive and there is rarely a wait.

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Brasilia Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

13 November 2017

Martinovanje - Slovenian Feast of St. Martin


The Slovenian Church of St. Cyril takes up exactly the same space as any of the walk-up buildings on St. Marks Place in the East Village, almost hiding in plain sight. This home of Slovenia's small New York City area congregation hosts an annual gathering for the feast of St. Martin, a holiday without much of a following in the states. For many countries in Europe, and Slovenia in particular, this celebration of the harvest, food, and wine is a very important day and celebrated with as much vigor as we celebrate Thanksgiving.

While Cleveland and Chicago have larger populations of Slovenians, this area probably only retains a few hundred, and we are unfortunately not graced with restaurants and culture. Many thanks to Charles Bibilos for the connection to the event, where I met the organizers Father Krizolog and Aleks Jakulin, as well as the head chef Mia Branc and Slovenian wine guru Emil Gaspari, who was sharing some great bottles with everyone.

After morning mass in the church, the congregation moved downstairs and others started arriving hungry for the feast. Dancing and singing to commemorate Slovenia and the holiday were performed, and I learned that the national anthem of the country is actually a drinking song.

On this note, the wines started getting passed to each table and the spirits of everyone were very high.

Afterwards, the hungry parishioners grabbed plates and loaded them up with a little bit of everything. For reference, Slovenian food can be most closely related to that of Istrian, which more commonly is associated with Croatia although the peninsula is shared by Italy and Slovenia as well. A couple Istrian clubs in Astoria, Queens (United Miners S.C. Rudar and Istria Sport Club) are open year round if you would like to sample this cuisine.

The most important parts of the feast of St. Martin are the goose and mlinci, a thinly sliced flatbread that is boiled and served in gravy. These two dishes are blending together centrally in the plate below.

Some vegetables and breads rounded out the selection that also included fried chicken cutlets and pork loin.

A group of people that started as strangers when I took my seat at their table had become much more after 30 minutes or so, and were happy to tell me about their traditions and foods. Mlinci (below) was new to me, but was my answer when someone asked what my favorite part of the meal had been. To my surprise, the maker was sitting with us and this made her day.

A wide assortment of sweets were also on offer, including delicious potica seen below. This nut roll would have been worth the price of admission alone, and came in three varieties including walnut, chocolate, and another that was unidentified.

On the top half of the plate, kifeljcki.

At the very end, with sweet teeth already satisfied, a treasure chest full of horseshoe-shaped cookies made of crushed hazelnut arrived. These too were crowd favorites and went fast.

My sincere thanks to everyone involved in setting this event up and preparing the foods. The hospitality of everyone and all the new friends I met was very memorable and I look forward to seeing everyone next year!

[Correction: This article was updated to show that Father Krizolog was the main organizer of this yearly event]

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10 November 2017

Belarussian Xata


The surroundings may feel a little familiar when you walk into this new Belarusian restaurant for the first time. The lobby, the bar, the elevator between floors, even some of the wall decor reminds you of somewhere you have been before. The cuisine will convince you that this is your first time though, as Belarusian offerings have been on hiatus from New York City for a few years since the closing of Syabri on Kings Highway.

[Editor's note: We interchange three different spellings, some incorrect, based on the uses by the restaurant in their name and menu items.]

The space, and those memories you could not quite put your finger on, were formerly Cafe Glechik, a mediocre Ukrainian restaurant that took over this address and brand new construction. The two floor restaurant has now taken on the cuisine of Ukraine's northern neighbor Belarus, and stepped up its game to the nth degree.

This is actually the second branch of Belarussian Xata in the world, the first lives in Moscow. Those triangular-shaped guitar-like instruments and accordions might be hand-me-downs from Cafe Glechik, but all the new rustic furniture and decor is new. Along with the red and white dress of the staff, it tries to present a traditional, possibly country setting in Belarus.

The staff is very friendly, and happy to answer your never ending questions about the foods which are unfamiliar. Order a glass of Belorussian kvass ($2.50, above) or a black tea pot ($4, below) to quench your thirst while you peruse the full menu. Surprisingly, the place has a full bar, although we did see a couple groups bringing bottles as you often see in Brooklyn Eastern European restaurants.

Many menu items overlap with Russian food, as expected and similar to Ukrainian and other former Soviet cuisines, but there are standouts and you can ask which are more specifically Belarusian if that is to your taste. Thankfully, a basket of bread shows up and includes sour rye, which any Belarusian table should include. While our meals were shared and we opted not to get soup, the place seems to excel in them, with a special mushroom soup being seen most served in a bread bowl.

As if it were the most popular dish, our waitress showed us a beautiful photo of the herring "village style" ($7, below). Both of us passed glances about how we felt about herring, but decided to give it a try anyways. Lovers of herring should enjoy this open-faced sandwich of sorts, with a fried potato as the base with cucumber and egg to accompany the fish.

Staying with the village theme, a plate of appetizer "village style" ($15, below) was ordered on a second visit. This is a selection of three different types of salo, cured slices of fatback. Keeping with the visuals of the restaurant, both items were served on wood whether it be tray or cutting board. The salo is served with really nice fried potatoes and spicy mustard. Use bread and/or potatoes with each bite of salo for the best experience.

Also recommended was the fried hog's ears ($12, below), which when agreed to the waitress giggled and gave us a look of real pride. Two whole ears come out deep fried with generous amount of garlic. This really gives you the opportunity to enjoy the hard cartilage of the ear, but it could have used a side of pickles or something to break the texture up a bit.

There is nothing more Belarusian than machanka ($16, below), a thick meat gravy served with pork sausage and ribs. You can have this served with potato pancakes, but the thin blini were our choice on this already heavy meal. First rate.

The source of our potato pancakes, or draniki, was one of many options under the "Belarussian Specialties" section. Potato pancakes with pork ($14, below) sounds innocent enough, but comes with a very thick piece of meat and is covered in cheese sauce. The pork is very well marinated, and this dish was well received.

Typically, Belarus does not have so much access to seafood and this is seen in the cuisine. After so much pork, a little fish was absolutely necessary and initiated an order of grilled branzino with vegetables ($21, below). The chef did a great job with the cooking of this, and flaky hunks of meat were singed with rosemary.

For dessert, do not let the opportunity slip by to try the mini cheese balls "Orshanskie" ($11, below). These balls of cottage cheese are smothered in a sauce of sweetened sour cream and topped with poppy seeds. It comes hot, and is an amazing end even when you think your stomach is past the point of accepting more.

A very warm welcome back to Belarusian cuisine in New York City. Go see what you've been missing and tell us what you find that we did not try.

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Belarussian Xata Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato