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.

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Monday: Birthday Dinner Gone Gonzo (aka the “Cheese Three Ways” Post)

There are few things more enjoyable in the world than sharing a meal with close friends, when everyone makes the time in their respectively busy lives to actually be present, and eat and laugh and tell stories and simply enjoy each other’s company.

photo-3… Which makes my birthday dinner at Gonzo in the West Village just about perfect.

It wasn’t the original plan: Earlier Monday morning I found out that Brooklyn Bowl — the new, LEED-certified, 16-lane bowling alley in Williamsburg with a full menu by Blue Ribbon (where I was going to have a small fête) — was closed Mondays.

I needed options, stat. My research skills kicked into high gear, and I ended up with a list of options that included everything from all-you-can eat/drink rip tips (which are excellent) and domestic draft beer at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ ($15.95) to a 3-course, $35 prixe fix meal at Sojourn in the Upper East Side that includes a wine pairings.

In the mix, from my friends at winedanddined.com:

Gonzo (W. 13th nr 6th Ave) is offering 2 for 1 pizzas on Monday nights and from 5-7 on Saturdays.

At first, pizza didn’t sound quite right. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It was the perfect renegade birthday dinner — going gonzo at Gonzo. A girl can’t ask for much more on my birthday than a literary pun that’s this sweet.

photo-2Plus, the grilled, thin-crust pizzas are unique in the city, a culinary gift from the late chef Vincent Scotto. Oblong, ultra-thin and piled high with premium toppings in complex, sometimes exotic, flavor combinations, they’re certainly unlike any pizza I’d ever had.

I’ll be back to try the pizza with watermelon listed as a topping, but for a first taste we stuck with the classics:

(top) Sausage pizza, topped with ricotta cheese, roasted red pepper puree, romano & bel paese cheeses.

(bottom) Wild mushroom pizza, topped with chanterelle, shiitake & oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions, taleggio, romano & bel paese cheeses.

photo-1We also shared a large meat-and-cheese tasting platter ($25), my picks (counter-clockwise from top left): Capicola, Prosciutto di Parma, Cacciatorini with fig & fennel jam; taleggio, pepper pecorino (center), giant basket of grilled bread slices (not pictured). Few things make me happy like a good meat and cheese plate, maybe a glass of prosecco to go with — oh wait, had that, too.

Prosecco was as much a through-line to this lovely meal as was the cherished company and … of course, the cheese.

That thing with a candle up top? Brown sugar cheesecake. It’s a cheesecake purists will appreciate: a slightly different, darker sugar taste (molasses?) comes through, but the flavors aren’t so radically changed as if whole candy bars are thrown in, a la Cheesecake Factory. It’s really, really good. My one critique? With the circular shape, you get less buttery, gram-cracker-y crust.

TIP: The pizzas are definitely larger than our server let on — don’t let them up-sell you. Go with a group and share a mix of the cicchetti, Venetian-style small plates ($7-$11), or maybe a couple of appetizers, plus the pizzas. Two-for-one pizzas makes group dining that much more affordable — and fun.

Lunch: The Lunch that Nearly Wasn’t (the “First and Second Lunch” Post)

photo(2)I was fairly positive that I was going to have to post this sort-of-awkward photo of an Apple Pie Larabar as my lunch post today. (It’s a long story, but the short story is that my lunching plans were foiled once again by work and miscellany, and I decided to eat the Larabar in my desk and strategize about “second lunch” — some friends actually have second breakfast, so why can’t I have second lunch, was my rationale — rather than willy-nilly spend money I should have spent on a different lunch on some mediocre first lunch.)

Hence, the emergency stop at Pita Pan Cafe in Chelsea at 6 pm on my way to the opening party of the X-Initiative‘s latest gig, “No Soul for Sale,” at which free Asahi beers were being given away because Mexico City-based artist Martin Soto Climent photoneeds 1,000 emtpies to build his musical sculpture. I needed: a.) sustenance, b.) on-the-go capabilities (did I mention the free beer?) and, most importantly, c.) to not spend more than $5, otherwise my rational for not eating lunch hours earlier would seem … even more irrational than it already seems.

I was in luck. The Pita Pan does a bunch of vegetarian pita sandwiches for under $5, but I came up with an even better, and possibly more portable, combo: Spinach pie ($3.25, fillo dough stuffed with spinach and onions) and a side of homemade pita chips, of which I could get a bowl for $1.50. Total with tax: $5.15.

I ate the spinach pie, which was very tasty, over the next few long blocks to get to the venue; stuffed the pita chips in my bag for later …

Lunch: The Surprising Success of the Salad that Was an Afterthought

photo(2)I paused, passing the kitchen on my rush out the door this morning, remembered I had some salad greens in there that needed eating, grabbed them, along with a bit of chicken and some onion that needed eating, and ran to work.

At work, I remembered that I had the end of a container of Wakim’s Foods garbanzo salad (which I’ve blogged about before, here and here), and some couscous.

I sensed something Mediterranean-ish transpiring, so I picked up some cubes of feta, marinated artichoke pieces and red onion (forgetting I had onion) and a hot pepper at the corner deli salad bar.

photophotoSomehow, all these forgotten elements conspired to make a really excellent salad: chickpeas in a lemon-y, herbal, olive oil dressing, plus rotisserie chicken, feta cheese, sliced onion. I love when an afterthought leads to a revelation.

Lunch: Pyramida, Here I Comea

From the homemade menus printed off on neon-colored copy paper to the press clippings tacked up on walls — the New York Magazine mention, which names Pyramida’s lemonade no. 1 in the city, gets its own plastic frame and sits front and center on the counter, the others on the list X-ed out — Pyramida just looks and feels like a well-loved neighborhood spot.

photo-4photo-5And if my lamb shish kebab pita sandwich ($6.25) was any indication of the quality of food, it’s going to become a regular stop of mine, too. The pita bread was soft and dense enough to keep its contents in check.  Chargrilled cubes of lamb, crisp lettuce, diced tomatoes and a generous dollop of silky, smokey baba ghannouj ($1.25 extra) spilled over the top and made the pita bulge at the sides, and still it didn’t split  (the worst possible pita sandwich faux pas). 

I want the lemonade. I will be back for the lemonade on a really hot day when it’s just going to taste so good, but at $4.50 it’s not cheap. To get out for $10, I’d have to get a falafel sandwich, no extras, and the lemonade; or just one appetizer and the lemonade; and would that be enough?