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.

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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.

It’s 10 P.M. — Do You Know Where Your $1 Blue Point Oysters Are? (aka the “City Crab Weekend Happy Hour Win” Post)

Half-priced appetizers, $1 Blue Point oysters, $3 beers.

If a better Friday or Saturday night deal exists in downtown Manhattan, bring it. For now, City Crab‘s late-night happy hour, which is available at the stately restaurant bar between 10p and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, is the golden ticket. (City Crab also runs its happy hour from 4p-7p daily.)

When four of us stopped in on a recent Friday night, we started with a round of Coronas and a dozen Blue Points. Squeeze, sauce, slurp, repeat — these oysters, meaty and lightly briny, are some of the best specimens I’ve had yet, although it should be noted that oysters are still new to me.

(After many years of “trying” oysters — e.g. swallowing the slippery thing as fast as possible and hoping I wouldn’t feel it too much or taste too much — lately, I’m slurping them down with the best. This epic night of all-you-can-eat oysters at Bondi Road in LES was the turning point.)

Onto the hot foods — and mas cerveza s’il vous plait.

First impression: These portions are not for the faint of appetite. The crab, spinach and artichoke dip ($6.50/hh) comes out bubbling in a metal cauldron, a basket of thick pita chips ($6.50/hh); both the dip, and the basket of Southern fried popcorn shrimp ($6/hh), went on and on — even among four of us. The lightest option, a pound of steamed PEI mussels ($6/hh), comes in a beautiful tomato broth laced with garlic and fresh herbs.

For next time, I have my eye on the lobster mac n’ cheese and crab cake bites and … of course, more oysters. (The chef at the raw bar said he shucks 1,000+ oysters a night!)

City Crab, 235 Park Ave. S., near 19th Street, 212-529-3800.

Sunday: In Search of a Fresh, Lively Salad (aka the “Almost Perfect Baoguette Steak Salad” Post)

photo-6Finally, late into Sunday evening, I found myself  standing at the counter of Baoguette/Pho Sure in the West Village, utterly parched for some fresh, lively greenery after Saturday’s (need I remind you) “Ugghhh …” binge.

There is one salad on the menu, a skirt steak salad. (note: I can find no online menu that reflects this menu change/update.) Skirt steak salad, with pineapple, English cucumber, fresh herbs, crushed peanuts, etc., etc. $12.99.

photo-8“Does that come on a bed of greens?” I ask. I only ask because the only other salad listed, a green papaya salad, while delicious, has no bed of greens whatsoever. And I need some leafy greens. Desperately.

She told me yes.

In fact, the answer is no. No greens. I was sort of annoyed … until I took a bite.

That salad was gone in t-minus 10 minutes, and I wanted more. Simple, fresh, beautiful — and with ample, gorgeous (and gorgeously rare) slices of skirt steak — “Fuck it, I will find some greens tomorrow.”

Saturday: Ugghhh … (aka the “Tour de Bar Food” Post)

Potato skins, followed by an appetizer sampler, followed by late night pizza, all washed down with copious amounts of beer. This just might be the blog post I submit to ThisIsWhyYou’reFat.

Let’s chalk it up to the fact that Saturday was a double special occasion, an out-of-town visitor and a local friend’s birthday. Here’s what went down:

photo-1photoFully aware of the endurance it would take to get through the evening — we were starting early, about 6 o’clock — we needed to eat something early to hold down the fort. Enter, potato skins at Murphy’s Pub in Midtown East. They were chosen purely for the fact that they were the cheapest, least fried and easiest shareable appetizers on the menu.

photo-2When we showed up at the birthday party at Rattle n’ Hum, the excellent craft beer bar in Murray Hill (just a little further south), my friends had apparently had the same idea and voila, chicken quesadilla and sampler platter arrived. We were now satisfactorily fortified for the copious amounts of beer that came next.

photo-5And as for the slices from La Mia Pizza … well, anyone who’s ever been out for a big night in New York City knows that there’s just something magical about the glow emanating from a pizza shop open late night. And, if you actually have to cross in front of it while walking home, it’s a lost cause — even if you don’t finish it until the AM.

Sunday: The Perfect Pre-Park Pit Stop (Hint: It’s the Only Thing Swedish About Columbus Circle)

One of these days, I’ll get around to actually dining in at AQ Kafé in Columbus Circle — the room certainly looks pleasant enough, with its woods and Swedish minimalism, and the menu is stacked with classic Swedish entreés you just don’t find in every neighborhood.

photo-5But so far, I just haven’t been able to get past the draw of that oasis of green that lingers in your peripheral view, no matter where you look. Every time I’ve been here so far there comes a point when I give in, forget it, let’s just get something to-go and go find a place to sit in Central Park.

I mean, it’s right there.

I’ve tried a number of things before, including the gravlax sandwich ($9.95), the potato salad and pickled cucumbers ($2.95 ea.), all worthy picnic items. Yesterday, looking for the simplest thing to put in my stomach that wouldn’t have me sugar-crashing two hours later, I tried one of their bagels ($1.95), which are made fresh daily in their bakery.

photo-6photo-7Cheap, fresh, original — and of modest size. This bagel appeals to me more than any other plain bagel of recent memory. An everything bagel sandwich stacked with gravlax, tomato, onion, capers, cream cheese, etc., from a fine purveyor like Murray’s Bagels is in a class of its own, but in general, the huge, doughy bagels people order in delis around the city every day and they terrify me. I can only think of one word: Dry. So, so, dry. And so, so bland.

On the other hand, AQ Kafe’s bagel is… delightful. Just like that green space that’s right across the street.