>> Eat the World New York City

27 February 2017

La Gran Uruguaya Restaurant & Bar


10 years ago, La Gran Uruguaya Bakery was opening in late summer on 37th Avenue, three doors in from the corner of 85th Street. Next to it was a botanica, selling religious candles and paraphernalia, and on the corner stood mainstay Cafe La Nueva, which always was mistaken for the more popular La Nueva Bakery on the next block. Over the next four or five years, the bakery was doing a brisk business and slowly expanded towards the corner, first taking the botanica space to increase their pastry output, then finally the restaurant, adding a bar and full dining room and menu. Their signage now extends all three former addresses and makes it appear the whole establishment has always been one.

The restaurant and bakery have separate entrances, but a door towards the rear connects the two if you change your mind and need to switch from coffee to wine. The bakery is busy at all times of day and night, it remains one of the most popular spots for pastries, cookies, and mate in the neighborhood.

Never written about on this site, the bakery is very recommended. It is the premier spot to watch Uruguayan football, especially during major world tournaments when we usually stop by for a match. In 2014, I was in attendance for the heartbreaking game against Costa Rica that opened a very poor tournament for the nation.

Keeping the theme, football is usually on the televisions even on weekday afternoons, and pictures of Messi (and one of Ronaldo) are all around. It seems Barcelona (current home of Uruguayan hero Luis Suárez) is more popular than Real Madrid, but you will find fans from the country in both camps.

This post is all about the full dining room on the corner, offering a vast Uruguayan menu and full bar. During those very big games, they will serve beers to the bakery, but usually if you want to have alcohol it has to stay in the restaurant. The bar is stocked with wines from Chile and Argentina and runs halfway to the back of the restaurant, with a dozen seats or so.

Like most countries in the Americas, indigenous peoples have been wiped out and later their conquerors have used their vestiges and cultures to their own purposes. In Uruguay, this is the fearsome warriors known as the Charrúa, the namesake for this restaurant's Uruguayan platter, a small sampler of three grilled meats that rivals an Argentinean parrillada.

The bandeja charrúa ($22, below) contains two steaks and a sausage. The two styles of steak, in typical fashion, are very minimally marinated, as the point of eating plates like this is to show off the quality of the meat. The skirt steak was very enjoyable, while the other short rib piece was surprisingly fatty and went unfinished. The link of sausage is excellent.

Spread now into surrounding countries, the typical eating culture of the Argentinean gaucho is the inspiration for these modern day parrilladas. The Pampa region was full of wild cattle, and thus full of meals of healthy meat to put over the fire.

The skirt steak has also made its way into a sandwich and is now the national dish of Uruguay. The enormous chivito al pan ($15, below) is a must try for the uninitiated, a stack of foods that appear to be caught in a freeze frame while melting.

Between the toasted buns, the chivito includes lettuce, tomato, olives, bacon, plenty of mozzarella cheese, and a fried egg. As you can imagine, it is pretty impossible to stick the thing in a normal-sized mouth.

As if not enough food already, a side of perfectly fried fries comes with the sandwich. Eating them after already being stuffed makes the terrible soundtrack of this place a little more palatable. The chimichurri and hot green sauces are recommended for adding to meats and sandwiches, the spicy sauce great for the fries as well.

La Gran Uruguaya Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

21 February 2017

Nicholas Deli Grocery


As often happens in the world of food and restaurants, the information written down years before had become irrelevant by the time a visit was made. Previously this corner had been home to a deli with the name of Cuernavaca Morelos, presumably the city and state in Mexico that the owner had come from. In preparation, I had looked through the famous dishes from the state and tried to have a game plan for ordering something special, rather than the normal bodega tacos.

As you can see, the new incarnation is named Nicholas, and through some conversations I gathered that the chef is from Tlaxcala, a small state east of the capital and north of Puebla. Glancing through the menu, I was a bit stumped and only found the regular set of antojitos.

For Morelos, I was prepared to order mole verde, a dish first consumed in Oaxaca but now popular in many places where small changes in recipes made for completely different versions over time. Still in the mood for it, I asked if this was available and was delighted to affirm that it was. I took a seat at the one table available and waited.

Once seated, a quick survey of the counter and menu above the kitchen shows that this place can be much more sophisticated than its small menu suggests on paper. Besides the mole verde ($10, above), there was mole poblano and other large plates of food.

What eventually arrived in about ten minutes was a simple looking meal on a real plate, with a side of red beans. The first bite confirmed with an instant spicy zing that this was a successful order. The mole verde was thick and complex, covering small pieces of tender chicken. The beans are full of fat and flavor. It was apparent that this small kitchen deserved another visit, as the dishes in front of me were completely cleaned when I finished.

Some months later I was back and waiting at the same table and its changed but still floral tablecloth, this time for an order of mole de olla (below), a rich spicy stew of chiles, herbs, and vegetables. The version here is served with big chunks of beef and submerged green beans. A bowl of cilantro, onions, and limes comes on the side so that each patron can make the soup their own.

Just to round out the spectrum, an order of two tacos was made. On weekends, they make barbacoa de chivo ($3.50, below right), so that was essential for one of them, and cecina ($2.50, below left) made the second. Neither meat did that much, and just confirmed going off menu for the prepared foods was a smarter way to go here. The chef is talented if she gets the chance.

The makeshift tip jar is full of candies and other assorted items, but each visit necessitated a deposit of bills to show the great appreciation for this modest kitchen's good work. For anyone with the money to start a restaurant, this might be a good chef to talk to to run the kitchen.

Nicholas Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

16 February 2017

North Korean Naengmyeon

While it might be more appropriate to write about naengmyeon in the summer, North Korea has recently made the news in more of its normal odd ways. With the leaders of the US and Japan meeting in Florida, Kim Jong-un has tested a ballistic missile that has the ability to reach Japan, and shortly after his estranged half brother was assassinated in Malaysia by seemingly random women in the crowd.

With our country now led by a madman as well, we can only hope North Korea is not in the news for the next four years, because it is doubtful the news will be good.

Stepping back from politics, North Korea has one very delicious contribution, the famous dish naengmyeon, now eaten all over the Korean peninsula and by Korean food lovers worldwide. It consists of thin buckwheat noodles, but each recipe is slightly different with various ingredients in addition. Normally the noodles are cut immediately by the server to make eating the long, chewy dish easier. It is always served cold.

Mul naengmyeon is the non-spicy version, served more as a cold soup. My preference is the spicy bibim naengmyeon, seen in three versions on this page. The most posh bowl found was at Miss Korea (10 West 32nd Street, Koreatown, Manhattan), a joint known for BBQ but also serving a full menu. Their yukhoe bibim naengmyeon ($21.95, below) is topped with marinated raw beef in addition to the noodles and spicy dressing.

Interior shows the grey/brown/green buckwheat noodles up close. These noodles are thin like vermicelli and stick together firmly, making the scissors almost necessary at the beginning. When ordering bibim naengmyeon, you are given the soup broth on the side, served warm. Spoonfuls of this can help cut the intense heat.

Right across the street at Gammeeok (9 West 32nd Street 2nd Floor, Koreatown, Manhattan), they also sell a popular bowl for $14, which includes a thin slice of beef brisket.

The best version I've found in New York City was actually the first sampled, back in 2011 at Chung Moo Rollrice & Dongas, (39-04 Union Street, Flushing, Queens). This friendly small shop specializes in other things, and their version may not be considered truly traditional. Rather than a bright red spicy dressing, the noodles receive a coating that includes a sweetness from sesame in addition to the sharp heat.

The favorite is also the cheapest, at $9.50

When searching for the right location to eat naengmyeon, it might make sense to find a restaurant that serves beer, especially if you are going for the spicy versions. As warmer weather returns to New York City in a few months, bibim naengmyeon and an ice cold beer or two can be the perfect antidote to heat and humidity.


14 February 2017

Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen


Before a 2010 trip to Nashville and other parts further south, "Nashville hot chicken" was not on any radar of mine. In researching good spots to eat during the trip, it was apparent that a trip to famous Prince's Hot Chicken Shack just north of the city center was essential. The only downside of this was of course that using Prince's as an introduction to hot chicken is ruining the dish for yourself anywhere else, so before leaving, it was sampled at Peaches HotHouse in BedStuy.

While Peaches was good (better in 2010 than more recently), Prince's was unforgettable, and the hot chicken only had room to fall. Well, almost. Given a little time, others become acceptable as long as no returns to Prince's are made.

The story of hot chicken's birth is unverified but centers around a girlfriend getting revenge on her womanizing partner, who ended up loving the spicy version. Read into it if you have the chance.

Conveniently last year, a "love letter to Nashville" and this famous chicken dish has opened up on the far west coast of Brooklyn, in the Columbia Street Waterfront District. Carla Hall, a famous chef from TV (and Nashville) has created a small restaurant that continues the Nashville tradition, and does it pretty well. She could have easily made this into a more glamourous place with long waits for tables and unnecessary buzz, but it remains a casual counter order and cafeteria seating type of place. Help yourself to the lemonades and iced tea.

The menu is all about the chicken, thankfully they do not try any other dishes and make their bird wonderful. Grab it at your desired spice level 1-6, pick two sides, and wait at a table. The Jefferson ($12.50, above) includes a leg and thigh, two sides, and a piece of bread. It is just about the perfect amount of food for one person.

Hoot -n- Nanie! (Level 5)

Of all the sides sampled on this night, ranked from top to bottom, this would be the order: Collards n' pot likker (below), baked mac n' cheese (above), potato salad (above), tangy cole slaw (below), and the southern soup beans (not pictured).

They also have draft beers and wine by the glass (or carafe) if you want to get sloppy. Beer and spicy food is always a winning combination.

Carla Hall's Southern Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

12 February 2017

Yiwanmen Chongqing Noodle


The Chinese name of this restaurant, and its poorly transliterated English name, mean "a bowl of noodles," no best or lucky needed it seems. If we stick with this theme, the place should serve good value noodle bowls without much flash. Holding it up to this standard, the place passes with flying colors.

Before these serviceable bowls of noodles arrived, it was hard to resist the "bun" menu. Both the roast duck bun ($4, below right) and the pork belly bun ($3, below left) are worth giving a try.

The menu of noodle soups here is not too long, focusing on a dozen or so and doing them well. For the highest mix of textures, try the beef offal rice noodle ($8.95, below). This clear soup uses a thinner noodle, meat balls, and sliced beef in addition to tripe.

The name of the restaurant sometimes includes "Chongqing Noodle" in it, but there is really only one option from Sichuan. This was the word that got us inside, so trying the Chongqing red oil noodle ($6.75, below) was mandatory. This bowl glows like proper Sichuan food should, and is full of minced pork, vegetables, peanuts, and half a tea egg. The broth is very satisfying, and can be catered to your proper spice level.

This restaurant is easy to pop into for a quick lunch or dinner, but would not suit a group so well. Pick the dining room door on the right, as the left door will take you right into the kitchen, also a good time.

Yiwanmen Chongqing Noodle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

09 February 2017

Pars Grill House


Like most Persian restaurants in the area, Pars Grill House is a little more upscale than most places written about here on these pages. Tables are preset and have white tablecloths, wine glasses are at the ready. Service here is basic and efficient, but one older gentleman made up for this anonymity with constant smiles and friendliness. He seemed to be doting on our table, but closer inspection showed he did it for everyone.

The music soundtrack comes and goes between traditional and non, while the decor is sparse, a few plates are mounted on columns and some unused hookah pipes color an otherwise white room. The restaurant has the look of once being a Greek taverna that had its upholstery updated to become a Persian restaurant. And surprisingly for a Persian restaurant, there is a full bar.

Taftan can come in a few different ways, sometimes with sesame seeds or topped with saffron and/or cardamom, but is always enjoyable. Pars' relatively plain version of the Persian bread is served with any order, and came to the table at the same time as the appetizers. Breaking off small pieces affords the opportunity to dip and collect the maast o moosir ($7.95, above left), a yogurt blend with shallots, and kashk-e bademjan ($8.45, above center), eggplant with walnuts, garlic, mint, and topped with whey.

We also tried the torshi ($7.95, above right), mixed pickled vegetables in vinegar. Overall the sizes of these appetizers were fairly small, and the restaurant does not seem to refill the basket of taftan, so the table of six was quite eager for the next rounds to arrive.

The list of kabob options runs for a page and a half of the menu, giving choices for almost any meat. The table looked fondly at the soltani-joojeh ($25.95, below), which had cornish hen and one koobideh, ground beef and lamb. Any grill plate comes with a healthy portion of saffron basmati rice, and a couple grilled vegetables.

The koobideh stands head and shoulders above the competition, full of onions and spices minced with the two meats. It was a wise decision to include it in the second plate as well, the soltani-lamb shish kabob ($24.95, below). The lamb paired very nicely to the green pepper sauce.

One of the most unique dishes in Persian cuisine is fesenjan ($17.95, below), a walnut and pomegranate stew often served with chicken. It is always sweet by nature, but the version here was even more so. This was not a negative, and the stew tops a healthy portion of the saffron basmati rice very well.

Bademjan ($17.95, below) was new to me, an eggplant stew with beef cubes that has a lot of sourness from both lemon and sour grapes. The eggplant was whole and required a knife to cut up parts for sharing, but also paired well with the rice. Stews are good options for diners who come solo.

The friendly man brought some of this sauce out and said it goes well on the meats. He was spot on, and the tastes from this little cup included green chilis, cilantro, garlic, scallions, olive oil, and lemon. He also brought a plate of delicious spicy olives (above, left) as we were starting to dig in.

After the meal, the table ordered some coffee (poor) and a pot of saffron tea (good). Saffron is always a theme in Persian kitchens, and shows up a lot despite its expense. Cubes of sugar are plentiful if you prefer your tea as they would in Iran.

The baklavah ($7.95, above) is good but very heavy with honey. The falludeh with ice cream ($9.95, below) is worth an order if you are new to ice cold noodle desserts. Lemon and cherry syrups are brought to the table for use with the falludeh, while the Persian ice cream can stand on its own with a strong rosewater taste.

Pars Grill House & Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

08 February 2017

Gran Villa


Gran Villa is very good news for Sunset Park and Brooklyn. Top-notch Salvadoran restaurants have tended to concentrate in Northern and Eastern Queens, but this steam table and full restaurant is bucking that trend, opening up amongst the auto mechanic and blue collar shops under the BQE. They also serve a full breakfast and the iconic New York bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich is just as good here as it is in your favorite bodega.

A favorite take away from visits here is that it seems to be popular with families speaking English and Spanish at the same time, going between each from sentence to sentence, word to word. The lady that runs the place does the same, switching her own replies depending on whom she is speaking with. With 20 seats or so, she has a lot to handle when the place is busy, but remains consistently pleasant.

This is a non-alcoholic family friendly restaurant, but they do make some good sweet drinks if you want something other than water or soda. Besides the horchata ($3, above right), try the bright red refresco de chan ($3, above left), made from chia seeds.

My palate is equal opportunity when it comes to tamales, but many will find Salvadoran versions less enjoyable than Mexican ones, or the larger tamales found in Panamá or Colombia. Before writing them off though, try the tamal de pollo ($2.50, below), hardly much commitment. It is a bit more creamy than others, but it does the trick.

The menu is large, but pupusas are rightly focused on in their own section with 11 different options from cheese to shrimp. Most are $2.25, including our three, the revuelta (pork, beans, and cheese), loroco y queso, and chicharrón y queso. The flowers of loroco vines are worth trying, they are very common and cheap in Central America but have a distinctive taste and are an important staple in the region.

A plate of pupusas is served with curtido, pickled cabbage with vinegar and chili, as well as a thin tomato salsa that can both be used as desired.

A lot of people come in for takeout, selecting Salvadoran stews from the steam table. All of it is hearty food for hard-working people. A plate of one of their stews below, res guisado, with rice and beans comes to $9.95 and promises leftovers.

Gran Villa is close enough to Industry City that a couple smart folks who understand how terrible the food court is there walk up during lunch for a far better value. Along with the neighborhood families and nearby workers, the mix creates a dynamic atmosphere and general good vibe for all.

Gran Villa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

06 February 2017

Curious on Tanzania/Chef James Lupembe

There may not be a restaurant for every country of the world here in New York City, but if you keep searching long enough and hard enough, you find the people, cultures, traditions, and food of most. East Africa has somewhat of a void here when it comes to foods, with Ethiopia making a good showing and one lone Somali restaurant, but nothing else.

When an event popped up on the radar for Tanzania, it was a no-brainer to attend. Curious on Tanzania is a travel company offering personalized tours to the home country of the founder, Justa Lujwangana, who was also our gracious host for the evening. The event was of course an advertisement for the company, but it felt like a welcoming into a home. There was music, dancing, alcohol, and thoroughly friendly faces.

Catering was by a local Tanzanian and soul food chef [When I spoke to Chef James, he gave me his Instagram as the contact, so it is linked here]. He created a mostly finger-friendly buffet of Swahili favorites, items East Africans would eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sharing an ocean coast with India has led to a massive influence all throughout East Africa's main trade routes. The spices and traditions show up most familiarly with sambusas (above), the region's samosa. Chef James' version was filled with minced beef, onions, and spices, and did not require chutney or sauce of any kind.

His chapati (below) was excellent, and thankfully two wedges made it onto my plate. In Tanzania this bread is often eaten with stews and soups, or alone with tea for breakfast.

The beef stew for the chapati definitely got the most oohs and aahs when the lid was removed. The dark brown gravy and cubes of meat were covered in fried onions and gave off a wonderful aroma. In Tanzania, foods are often very spicy, so it is imagined that this catering job was tamed down quite a bit to make sure everyone could sample some. Regardless, the (non-spicy) spices are enough to tantalize the tastebuds. Grab a hunk of meat with the chapati, and shovel it inside.

The fried dough (below) was introduced as "better than Dunkin' Donuts," but remained nameless. This is easily recognizable as mandazi though, or Swahili buns. These buns can be eaten alone and were offered that way, but as a happy accident they started to soak up the gravy and are delicious that way as well.

The use of coconut milk in Swahili cooking is widespread in the mandazi and vitumbua (below), a type of rice donut or bread. When introduced, these seemed to bring back memories for the Tanzanian people that were in attendance and made them exciting to try.

Served in a house or on the road, in Tanzania you might see these with powdered or regular sugar and eaten for breakfast. They have also migrated west to Cameroon and Nigeria where they are called masa.

Finished plate, worth the price of admission!

After everyone was full, a Tanzanian musician took the stage for three songs and then dancing took place. The host of a wonderful show on PBS called Bare Feet was in attendance and joined the dance. It looks like Tanzania will be a destination on a future season of the show, which shows off world cultures through dance.