Impromptu Sushi Dinner on the UWS (aka the “This is Never a Bad View” Post)

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: It’s really hard to find quality, affordable sushi in New York City. Spoiled from living in Los Angeles? Sure. The fish markets of Tokyo are that much closer. In New York, you can find the most impeccable sushi — at an equally impeccable price. You can also find the “meh”/get the job done pre-made sushi in various refrigerated cases at markets everywhere. Compared to its bookends, the middling ground is seriously underrepresented.

So, after attempting to go to a certain pickle-centric restaurant on the Upper West Side and failing yet again (they have this policy of no reservations for parties under 6 — wait time of an hour for seating for 2 — it’s ridiculous) we looked across the way and felt the pull of a certain welcoming red awning: Kitaro Sushi. Busy enough but not packed; we have a movie to catch in 50 minutes; let’s give it a shot!

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This is never a bad view.

[Aside: There is so much about this particular story that reminds me of why I love New York City. Unexpected, impromptu, serendipitous, happenstance … simply, perfect for the moment.]

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Pictured: fuko make roll & sake (salmon) hand rolls

The spouse and I sat at the sushi bar and ordered at will: gyoza; ohitashi (delicious spinach!); baby yellowtail; yellowtail / jalapeño / ponzu; fuko maki roll (crab stick, avocado, delicious pickled vegetables); 2 sake (salmon) hand rolls. And it rocked — in that way that sushi of this class should: Chefs hands flying deftly; order after order delivered with impeccable timing; hot sake and cold beer; graciousness all around. (I so wish I took a photo of Kitaro Sushi’s menu. “Special Rolls” circa 2011.)

The point being: Kitaro Sushi is a true local, neighborhood gem. And a New York City sushi gem at that. Wishing the Kitaro Sushi family/team many years of prosperity and keep on keeping on. You are doing so much that is right. Thank you!

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Spicy Korean Soup on a Cold Winter’s Night? (aka the “Riff on Sundubu” Post)

Why should big, bold, beautiful flavors be complicated? The answer is — they don’t have to be. In this simple soup recipe, inspired by sundubu jjigae, a traditional spicy Korean soup made with tofu and kimchi, a few authentic ingredients do the heavy lifting.

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The key to this recipe, which comes together quickly, is to prep all vegetables in advance of cooking. Additionally, homemade stock adds complexity and deliciousness. Choice of add-ins means that this soup can be vegetarian — or not. We used leftover braised leg of lamb and it was absolutely delicious.

Spicy Korean Soup (aka Sundubu)
Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chili pepper, minced
1 medium onion, sliced
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 T anchovy paste
6 c. homemade stock (chicken, pork or veg.)
2 T Korean hot pepper paste (also known as kochujang or gochujang)
8 oz kale, chiffonaded
Salt and pepper to taste (alternatively, soy sauce and pepper)

Suggested add-ins: 
Soft or silken tofu, cubed
Kimchee (to taste)
Shredded chicken, pork, or leftover braised leg of lamb — at room temp
Glass noodles (also known as cellophane noodles or bean thread noodles)

Optional toppings: 
Thinly sliced Serrano peppers
Sliced scallions
Toasted sesame seeds
Red pepper flakes

Directions: Sauté garlic, serrano pepper and onion in 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stock pot for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant; add anchovy paste and stir until combined. Add mushrooms and zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add stock, cover and and bring soup to a simmer; stir in Korean hot pepper paste until combined and add kale. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, approx. 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, prep soup bowls with add-ins of choice. Once soup is ready, ladle soup into bowls and add toppings (optional). Enjoy!

Fennel, Apple, Mushrooms, Raisins, Arugula (aka the “Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad” post)

Three rules I live by: 1.) Frequent trips to the greenmarket. 2.) Keep your kitchen basics stocked. 3.) Let whatever you have on hand inspire your cooking.

Rule no. 1 sets you up for success: If you always have some variation of locally grown, seasonal produce on hand, you’ve got a great basis for inspiration.

Rule no. 2 helps with time management: You won’t have to drop everything to run to the store for one or two items, wasting 30 minutes or more.

Rule no. 3 is easy — when you follow no. 1 and no. 2. Hence this gorgeous salad, which I pulled together based on what I had on hand.

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The Pretty Near Perfect Fall Salad
Serves 2

1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced, some fronds reserved
1 apple, sliced
4 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 c. golden raisins

8 oz. button mushrooms (or baby bellas), thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary
Sherry vinegar

Approx. 8 oz. arugula or greens of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Add-ons: Protein of your choice — we have wild caught single serve portions of Mahi Mahi from Costco in our freezer. Slivered almonds or cheese would also be delicious additions in the absence of fish. Also, I threw in some leftover pickled onion that I had in the fridge.

Directions: Toss the fennel, apple and garlic cloves in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly browned. Add the raisins for the last 5 minutes. Separate the fennel and raisins; set aside. Chop the roasted apple slices and slice the garlic thinly; reserve.

Separately, heat 1T EVOO and 1T butter (optional — but recommended) in a large saute pan. Add mushrooms and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the reserved apple and garlic. Once the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, add 1T sherry vinegar around the edge of the pan (red wine vinegar or even apple cider vinegar would also work) and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking another five minutes or so, until all of the liquid has evaporated.

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Toss greens in drizzle of EVOO and white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic vinegar would work as well — white balsamic has a lighter, lightly sweet taste). Salt and pepper lightly.

To plate: Divide salad onto two plates and top with some of the reserved fennel fronds — just a few pieces here and there. Spoon mushroom mixture over salad and gently mix. Add a few more fennel fronds if desired. Top with roasted fennel and raisins.

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Bon Appetit!

The Collective: Sorta Like Grandma’s House Went Down the Rabbit Hole … and Ended Up in MePa

How to describe The Collective. It’s sorta like grandma’s house went down the rabbit hole…

Pillars are draped in faux bling, bound in cable ties to look like a bristle brush or covered in a knotted weave of those skinny, noodley balloons (called twisting balloons) used to make balloon animals.

Tables have been inlaid with incomplete Scrabble tile sets purchased on eBay; street signs, bath tubs and even a classic “Walk/Don’t Walk” sign (which makes for a particularly warming seat) are now chairs.

The light fixtures are striking, particularly the prescription pill bottle chandelier with its surprisingly delicate orange glow and the giant sculptural ceiling light made of styrofoam. It just goes on and on…

Bottom line: Thanks to the craftsmanship of some crazy, brilliant, out-there, what’s old is new again and hardly anything is what it seems. Everything in the restaurant is reclaimed or redone somehow, or used in an unexpected way.

Even the truffled deviled eggs came out lined up in an overturned egg carton, and the chicken-n-waffles ($12) — a table favorite — came out in a hot cast-iron skillet, presumably the one that had something to do with how the dish was cooked.

But then, everything else was presented on … white plates. Rectangular white plates, oblong white plates, white bowls, all uniform white, white, white.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if all the plates, glasses and flatware were mismatched, too?” our table mused. “They could be sourced from flea markets or … bought up at auctions from restaurants or wholesalers in incomplete sets. Something…”

Really, so insignificant. But we just loved the decor so much we wanted it to go all the way, down to the level of detail where that aesthetic would still be there even when we finally pulled our eyes away to look down at our food.

Oh yeah, the food! Lands solidly in the “grub” category. There are more ladylike dishes on the menu, but the best of what I sampled was the hands-on finger foods.

So whether it’s Hong Kong ribs ($20) at 10 p.m., a late-night dessert of the (darling) housemade fudgesicles on a stick ($8), or a 4 a.m. order of disco fries ($12) to sop up the booze, just get messy.

The Collective, 1 Little W. 12th St., at 9th Ave., 212-255-9717. More information can be found here.

South 4th Street Just Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, Blowing Up (aka the “Traif, Mazel Tov!” Post)

South 4th Street just can’t stop, won’t stop, blowing up.

First, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and their glorious comfort food and even more glorious pies. Then, Dram, a cocktail geek’s cocktail bar that’s been almost two years in the making. I stopped by on Friday night and management said they’d “officially-officially” been open for a week at that point.

Now, the eminent arrival of Traif, with its passion for all things un-kosher organized into an eclectic menu of small, sharable plates of deliciousness — shrimp, scallops, bacon, chorizo, pork belly, pork cheeks, potstickers, foie gras, lobster, ribs several ways — separated from one of Brooklyn’s prominent Hasidic communities by a  mere eight lanes of traffic accessing the Williamsburg Bridge.

Foot-in-mouth move? No way.

The dynamic duo running the restaurant — co-owners Heather Heuser and chef Jason Marcus — were scouting locations in the East Village and LES for Traif long before settling on this South Williamsburg gem (check out the restaurant’s blog for photos of the sleek, casual interior and stunning backyard).

They’d also checked around a bit with the community, said Heuser, when the chef and I chatted with her on Friday night. If anything, the response they got back was: “Well, that makes it easy for us to know where not to go.” (“Traif” is a Hebrew word that refers to un-kosher foods.)

….Which just means more un-kosher goodness for the rest of us. High-five to that!

TIP: Absolutely do not skip one of Traif’s signature cocktails, the Red Pearl (chili-infused vodka muddled w/ kiwi, Thai basil and homemade sweet and sour mix), which is named in homage to the Cali restaurant where Heuser and Marcus first met. If the brightness and freshness of these flavors are any indication of the duo’s plans for the restaurant, I’ll toast to that.


Pies ‘n’ Thighs, 116 S. 4th St., at Driggs St., 347-529-6090. More info here.
Dram, 177 S. 4th St.,  btwn. Driggs St. and Roebling St., 718-486-dram. More info
here.
Traif, 229 S. 4th St., nr. Borinquen Pl., 347-844-9578. More info
here.

Something Kind of Magic Under the JMZ (aka the “Hello, Moto” Post)

Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that such an utterly romantic, sweetly nostalgic restaurant as Moto could exist — nay, thrive — in a corner of Brooklyn predominantly known for its Hasidic and Dominican communities and fast-food neon …

And yet, that’s exactly where I found myself on a quiet afternoon this last weekend, sipping a black velvet ($7) — a deceptively effervescent Guinness and champagne concoction — and channeling every bit of my attention that wasn’t swooning over the jazz music, muffled and crackling as if from another era, or the way the wooden ceiling fan cast an oscillating pattern of shadows onto the antiquated turnkey clock, while the JMZ Train rumbled on overhead … wait, where am I?

Oh yes, the task at hand: I was alternating between skewering mushrooms that had been marinated in olive oil and sherry vinegar, and finished with capers, rosemary and red pepper flakes, with toothpicks, and constructing gorgeous bites from a deconstructed salad composed of slices of cucumber, tomato, radish and soppressata, hulks of Bulgarian feta, garnishes of fresh mint and black olives.

This was just to sample something the menu; I will surely be back for more.

Moto evades categorization except to be called “excellent.” The best I can do is to say that as I sat there in my reverie, studying my surroundings, more than once I considered comparisons between Moto and such old timey, Euro-inspired cycling-centric bits of pop culture as The Triplets of Belville and that Stella Atrois commercial from last year, which I’ve pasted below:

Moto, 394 Broadway, at Hooper Street, E. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-599-6895. Photos of the restaurant and a bit more information here, great writeup by the Village Voice here.