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Epicurean Exploits

Five Star Punjabi Indian Cuisine

I can usually recommend most kinds of food to my friends regardless of what they are looking for. If they wants good arepas, ramen, Cuban, tacos, sushi, lobster rolls, Sri Lankan, Thai, Issan, pizza, etc. I can usually recommend someplace in NYC that will satisfy their craving with at least one place I have been to that I liked better than others. Then comes the ever inevitable question of Indian food, which I should have a better grasp on because of my heritage. Sadly, I don’t think I have ever been totally impressed with the Indian food I have had in NYC. And when I say Indian food, I mean North Indian (aka: Punjabi). I am not a huge fan of south Indian dishes. I’ll eat it, but I won’t go out of my way for it. I also never really got into chaat.

Anyhow, I have been to a couple places on 6th street and it was always pretty mediocre. I also went out to Jackson Heights for Desi Biryani and the biryani wasn’t really that impressive. I haven’t tried too much in Murray Hill, but I have heard that those too are okay and not really anything to write home about. So I pretty much just gave up and didn’t really go out for Indian food that often. And then when I do end up going, it has usually been such a long time since I had any Indian food I am just excited that I get to have some naan again.

Well, a while back I made it out to a place called “Five Star” in Long Island City with some family friends who have been going there for years. The place is split up into two parts. The right side is the original dining room and pretty modest. The left side is a giant banquet hall that is I think is just used for weddings or other events. We at on the right side.

The food was solid… probably some of the better and more authentic Punjabi food I have had in NYC. It definitely felt like a place the cab drivers would stop by on their way home after a long shift.

The family I went with is vegetarian and we shared everything so I can’t really vouch for the meat or seafood. But the veggie food was great. We had malai kofta, saag paneer, some off-menu paneer items, basmati rice, and a selection of naan. The only miss I think was an off-menu item of paneer with veggies & spices but no sauce. Everything else were hits, especially the malai kofta.

When we had dinner here I was with family that drove in to the city so we first drove out to Queens to meet up with some other family friends. Then we drove to this restaurant in Long Island City. So I had a rather bittersweet feeling about having such great food here. I almost knew that it would be impossible for me to return because this hidden gem must be hidden far away from any subways. But thankfully it was right next to multiple trains: E, V, F, G, 7, N, W.

For some photos check out this recent review by Serious Eats.
And for an old photo of the menu, check out The Bridge and Tunnel Club.


5 Star Pujabi Indian Cuisine
1315 43rd Ave
Long Island City, NY 11109
(718) 784-7444

Barros Luco

Barros Luco is another new place to open up near my office that I was excited to try out after reading about it on midtown lunch. I went with some coworkers recently after giving the place some time to work out the kinks.

I ordered the Completo sandwich with grilled chicken and a side of aji rojo since the aji verde already came in my sandwich. We shared a couple orders of their sweet potato fries.

The sandwich came with guacamole, green beans (yes, green beans), cheese, aji verde, tomatoes, mayo, grilled chicken, and was served own their homemade Chilean style bread. Some may not see the point of putting green beans on a sandwich like this, but I think it gave good texture to the sandwich. In fact, the only problem I had with the sandwich is actually an underhanded compliment. It was so over flowing, the bread could barely contain it. And if you wait a couple minutes to start eating it after its been assembled, the bottom half of the bread has a hard time keeping it all together.

The aji rojo was interesting, but nothing amazing. Its just a medium-spiced red salsa. I think I would try that instead of the aji verde next time in my sandwich, but I don’t see the point of paying an extra $0.25 and having both.

The sweet potato fries were good. They had a nice crunch on the outside and were well seasoned. Its probably not your best sweet potato fries, but if you like them in general you’ll probably like these.

Overall its a great addition to the neighborhood and I will be adding it to my lunching rotation. The prices are right and they have ample seating upstairs. I would recommend eating it there instead of taking it back to your desk/home so you can enjoy the sandwich before it gets soggy. As I mentioned before, it does not travel very well.


Barros Luco
300 East 52nd Street (between 2nd and 1st Avenue)
New York, NY 10022
(212) 371-0100

OBAO

Last Friday I tried out the latest restaurant by Michael Huynh, OBAO. He was also behind
Bao 111, Bao Noodles, and Baoguette. Luckily, this installation is located conveniently close to my work and well within lunching range. I had been following MidtownLunch’s coverage in anticipation of them opening. They just opened for the first time early last week after some delays and last friday was their first day serving lunch after getting the early word from MidtownLunch that they had started serving lunch. Luckily not many more people heard so they weren’t too busy for lunch when I got there at 1pm. They apparently were crazy busy later during the afternoon.

I went with a friend and we shared the short rib skewers for an appetizer which the waiter assured us is one of their specialties. For our entree’s I ordered a bowl of their Pho Bo and my friend ordered the Singaporean Laksa.

The appetizer was thinly sliced short ribs wrapped around a whole lemongrass skewer, which was then bbq’ed until slightly crispy on the outside. It was then covered with some crumbled peanuts and served with a sweet hoisin based sauce. Overall, it was pretty damn awesome. The meat was very tender and tasty even without the sauce (which I found to be a bit too sweet). You get 4 skewers for $8.

This was my first time having pho so I am not really the best judge of that, but I did enjoy it. I was expecting a stronger tasting broth, but I might just be too used to the japanese broths served with ramen. Once you added the seasonings in though it was pretty good and if I didn’t have to rush back for work I would have finished more of it. The noodles had pretty good texture, but there was no “al dente” snap. I am not really sure if it supposed to have that or not.

I got to try a few bites of my friend’s laksa, which is a coconut milk based soup with some spices, soba noodles, shrimp, and roast pork. I was expecting something a bit stronger in flavor when I read the description, but I guess I was just expecting something that tasted like a Thai soup, which I am more used to. The soba noodles were different than I have had before. They looked like Japanese style soba noodles (square in shape and a slightly dull brown color), but they seemed a bit mushy and overcooked. I am not sure if this is because it was actually overcooked or if singaporean style soba is different than japanese style soba.

The total bill came out to $35 with tax and tip for 2 entrees and 1 appetizer so its a bit pricier than a typical go to lunch for me, but given the other options in the area I will probably be stopping by from time to time. If you work/live nearby I would definitely try it out.

MidtownLunch did a full review with photos so I would read up Zach’s review for further details.

OBAO
(212) 308-5588
222 E 53rd St (Btwn 2nd & 3rd Ave)

Luke’s Lobster

By now just about every other blog in NYC has already done a post about the new lobster roll shop to open up East Village a couple weeks ago, but I figured I would add my two cents about them as well.

I went there with a friend a few days after they opened and split the “Seafood Boat” platter that comes with a small lobster roll, small crab roll, small shrimp roll, 2 empress crab claws, drink and soda for $20. Unfortunately, they had run out of the crab filling at the time so they instead gave us extra crab claws to make up for it. It was definitely too small to split between two hungry foodies, but gave us a nice sample of what they had to offer. And then we ordered more…. :)

The lobster roll was fantastic… It was mostly whole crab claws that were extremely tender and sweet with just a touch of mayo on the buttered & warmed roll, with just a touch more butter drizzled on top and then a sprinkle of their house seasoning (a blend of celery salt, thyme, oregano and black pepper). I am not a huge fan of mayo or excessive butter so thankfully these ingredients were used with restraint. The next time I go I might ask them to hold the melted butter they drizzled on top, but that’s just me. If you go, I would recommend you have it the way they prepare it.

The shrimp roll as well was prepared in a similar manner with similarly tender and sweet shrimps that were cooked perfectly.

The only thing I was disappointed by were the crab claws. They had a funny texture and seeded to be waterlogged and mostly flavorless. The only meat on the claw I actually liked was the little nibble I got on some of them way instead on the tip of claw. The part they actually cracked open for you to eat left much to be desired.

I do want to try their crab roll and will report back. I am hoping its better than their crab claws.

But the best part of this was that in the time it took for me to walk in, decide what I wanted to order, pay, get my food, and eat, the same people that were waiting in line for Caracas were still waiting… hungry… while I was full of delicious seafood.

The way they do this is that all their seafood is precooked and measured in little plastic bags. Which was a bit unsettling and reminiscent of the food that comes in plastic bags at fast food places. But that was quickly forgotten one bite into my sandwich.

If you go, I recommend getting a lobster roll for yourself and then maybe splitting a shrimp roll with a friend.


Luke’s Lobster
93 E 7th St (between 1st Ave & Avenue A)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 387-8487

Taco Tour

I was inspired by Lawrence of NYC Food Guy who did a taco tour early last spring to do a tour of my own. It took a while to reserve a day, but I finally got a group of about 10 people together at the end of August to feast on taco’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The plan was to start off in Brooklyn by hitting up 3 of the places in Sunset Park that NYC Food Guy, then follow it up with Taqueria Los Hermanos in Bushwick, and then wrap it up in Queens at Tortilla Nixtamal in Corona. I was especially excited about the last two because they actually made their own masa in house which means their tortillas should all be super fresh and taste fantastic. Additionally, I had gotten a tip that the No Reservations show had recently filmed at Los Hermanos and the episode was going to air in a couple weeks.

The three we started with in Sunset Park were Tulcingo Restaurant & Bakery, Tacos Matamoros, and ended at Tacos Xochimilco before getting back on the subway.

The thing I was most looking forward to at Tulcingo was the tacos arabes and the barbacoa (goat), but sadly, by the time I got there they were out of both. So instead I settled on the carne asada, which was pretty good and came with a nice serving of guacamole which I love in a steak taco. One of my friends got one of the pricier seafood soups which I unfortunately didn’t get to try but looked amazing with a whole crab in there. It was around $12 for giant bowl of seafood so I would like to try that again when I go back.

I had actually been to Tacos Matamoros before for a special organized group dinner when they slow braised a big piece of goat for us. This time I tried their chorizo taco and their al pastor. Both were pretty good and I had a tough time deciding my favorite. The real thing that set this place apart though were their tortillas which were a toasted a bit. Everyone at the end decided they liked the tortillas the best here.

Our last stop before leaving Sunset Park was Tacos Xochimilco based on the stellar review Lawrence gave of their sandwich, the Pambazo.

Refried beans, spicy pork, cubes of spicy, soft potato, sharp queso fresca, and lettuce are all wedged between two halves of a club roll that is then painted with red sauce and pressed to create a spicy and sticky outer coating of deliciousness. Intense, and unlike any sandwich I’ve ever seen before or since. Chaos between two pieces of bread finds order upon reaching your taste buds, new flavors and textures abound with every bite. It’s the everlasting gobstopper of Mexican sandwiches.

This probably where we differ the most. We got about 4-5 sandwiches between the 8-10 of us and it was generally the consensus that this was a terrible sandwich ignoring the hype that surrounded it after reading the review quoted above. I think ours was severely lacking in the spicy pork which might have had a big part of why most of us were disappointed. Ours ended up being slightly spiced & greasy potato with some fillings wrapped by bread that was covered in sauce. I think if you had put something else in that sandwich besides potatoes it would have been great, but the way it was given to us I don’t see any reason to waste any more space in my stomach for that. There are plenty of other tastiness to try out.

Our next stop was in Bushwick at Tortilleria Los Hermanos. I loved the setting of the place. Most of their property is an actual factory. They have some seating inside their small kitchen area where you order food and they cook stuff besides tortillas, but their big table is actually in their warehouse (which is connected) where you have a view of machinery and they might actually make some tortillas while you are there. Sadly, I was pretty disappointed by their corn tortillas (which is what they make mostly). They seemed to have some weird bitter flavor. Their fillings were good and their red salsa was awesome though. A nice spicy kick from all the dried peppers that went into it. Regardless, unless I happen to be in Bushwick, there isn’t really much of a reason for me to go back and I actually go out of my way not to buy their brand of taco’s when I shop at my local mexican grocer in my neighborhood.

Our last stop was out in Queens and by the time we got there our group size had shriveled from about 12 down to 7. It was also about 7 hours later so unless you had nothing else better to do that day it was totally understandable.

Anyhow, we were all quite happy by the time we got out there and it ended up being one of my and the rest of the group’s favorites. We shared an order each of all of their tamales (except for the chicken & cheese one which seemed rather boring) including the rather inventive one, “The Italian”, which came with roasted pepper, mozzarella cheese, and italian sausage. While the fillings sound really good on their own, I was skeptical about whether they would work wrapped up in corn masa. I, and just about everyone else, where all happily surprised with this one. It was amazing and totally unique. If you go out there, you should definitely try this out. The other tamales are also great and worth eating too. I couldn’t really recommend one over the other because they all have different flavors so its really up to you. but I would at least get one of the Italian Tamales for the table to share.

We also got an order of the fish taco which i believe is made from a skate wing. This was also really good and totally what I expected. While the fish and most of the fillings were pretty standard, it was the white sauce and the great tortilla that sealed the deal on this. This gets my “San Diegan Stamp of Approval”, which I just invented right now.

In the end, the general favorites for the day were Tortilleria Nixtamal and either of the first two in Sunset Park. Sunset Park is probably better for a field trip though because there are so many other options and diversions while you are there since it seems as though there is a strong Hispanic community there.


Tulcingo Restaurant & Bakery
5520 5th Avenue b/t 55th & 56th street
Brooklyn, NY 11220
718-439-2896, 718-439-2897

Tacos Matamoros
4508 Fifth Avenue b/t 45th & 46th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220
(718) 871-7627

Tacos Xochimilco
4501 5th Avenue at 45th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220
718-435-7600

Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos
271 Starr Street
(between Wyckoff Ave & St Nicholas Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11237
(718) 456-3422

Tortilleria Nixtamal
10405 47th Ave
Corona, NY 11368
(718) 699-2434

Daniel (recession style)

A couple weeks ago I took advantage of the 15-year Anniversary Special at Daniel (aka: the recession special). For $98 you get a 3 course prix-fixe menu that includes wine pairings. Considering the regular prix-fixe menu is 3 courses without wine for $105 (and $165 with) that is a saving of $70 or over 40%.

Two catches though…. Its only available during the early-bird time of 5:30pm to 6:30pm on Monday through Thursday and the menu isn’t exactly the same as the usual prix-fixe menu they have the rest of the evening. Not to say the options were bad though.

I started with a ravioli dish that served with blank trumpet mushrooms, lomo (a cured ham from spain), and was served in a ridiculously delicious sauce. For my main I had the duo of dry aged beef, which is on their permanent menu as well. It was a wine braised short rib and a seared rib eye. Each one of them on their own could have stood up on a tasting menu so getting both was like a 2-for-1 deal. The short rib was the winner on the plate for sure and I think they have gotten awards for this dish in the past. One of my friends got the lamb chop (also on their regular menu) which was great and another got the black sea bass with syrah sauce (also on their regular menu) which was just okay. I did like how they served it with a syrah sauce which helped to pair it better with the wine.

Desserts were pretty good as well, but I don’t remember them off hand. They had 4 options and we tried all of them. I believe I liked the one with violets or lavender the best followed by the chocolaty one.

The nice touch of it all was that even though we were paying for the cheap seats we still got the full Daniel treatment with the amuse course, petit fours, and macaroons. And the service was stellar. Probably some of the best service I have had in a long time. Just the right amount of attention, but not enough it became overbearing. And I liked how the head waiter had a sense of humor and didn’t speak to me like I was my parents age. The ladies liked how they had little pedestals for their purses.

Overall, this place ranks pretty high up there in terms of upscale dining. For the price range it is the better than most I have had and I wouldn’t mind going back sometime to try their tasting menu when I am in the mood for a good splurge.

Daniel
60 East 65th Street (near Madison Avenue)
New York, NY 10021
212-288-0033

Epicurious Entertains NYC

I just heard about this interesting event being organized by a website with a similar name to mine. Epicurious.com is organizing a dinner and lunch series in NYC called Epicurious Entertains at a pop-up restaurant in Union Square. The event will be with star NYC chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Paul Liebrandt, Mario Batali, Marco Canora, Zak Pelaccio, and more. The dinners start with an hour long cocktail session to mix and mingle before the two hour dinner proceeds. Dinner tickets are $125 + tax. Lunch events range from $20 to $50. The Daniel Boulud & Mario Batail dinners are already both sold out so I would act soon if you want to go.

Link: http://www.epicurious.com/community/events/epicuriousentertainsnyc

Homemade Mozzarella

This past weekend when I went up to Arthur Avenue, I mentioned that I bought 2 pounds of cheese curds as well as fresh mozzarella from Casa Della Mozzarella. This week I made a couple attempts to make mozzarella in my own kitchen. The first one failed miserably and while the cheese had great flavor it had the texture of a car tire. I promptly tossed it away and decided to try with the curds again last night following the recipe from Fias Co Farms.

This version turned out much better because I made some pretty key mistakes the first time around. A lot of recipes said to “knead” the curds. This just resulted in just squeezing out all the buttery deliciousness. I had a gut feeling I was doing something wrong at the time, but I was already committed to the first recipe by that point. The recipe from Fias Co Farms correctly emphasized that you should not squeeze and instead very gently stretch the curds. It should actually pretty much be able to stretch itself by its own weight. My stretching technique was not nearly as awesome as the photos in the recipe I was following, but it was much better than the first time around.

The result was an amazingly stringy, soft, creamy ball of delicious mozzarella in my fridge. Well, half of it was in my fridge. The other half was quickly consumed. It doesn’t look as pretty as what you get in the store but it tastes damn good.

The texture is much better than before, but still could use a bit of an improvement. I still have about 3/4 of a pound left of curds so I am going to try again on Sunday or Monday and hopefully that will the final round.

In case you are interested, Fias Co Farms has a large section dedicated to homemade dairy products.

Field trip to Arthur Avenue

Most people think of Little Italy as the few blocks around Mott Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. However, a short trip north into the Bronx brings you to Arthur Avenue which is home to real Little Italy on Arthur Avenue full of a much larger variety of shops and much more reasonable (non-tourist) prices. I have been thinking about going up there for a couple years now so when Mireille of Global Gourmet sent an email out that she was organizing a shopping trip up there with her meetup group I was the first to sign up.

We went up last saturday and visited a few places:
Terranova Bakery (bread)
Borgatis (fresh pasta)
Casa Della Mozzarella (house made mozzarella and other specialty products)
Full Moon Pizza (good Sicilian pizzas)
Modern Grocery Store (produce)
Teitel Brothers (specialty Italian products)
Biancardi’s (butcher)
Madonia Brothers Bakery (dessert)
Calabria Pork Store (you can probably guess)
Randazzo’s (seafood)

This tour was based off of this chowhound post with the added pit stop of Calabria Pork Store.

We started out at Terranova which had had a ridiculous prosciutto bread that was like crack. Once you had a bit you had to have another. Its a pretty small bakery thought so they can easily run out of stuff. The service was really friendly though.

We bought some of the house-made squid ink pasta & carrot pasta from Borgatis. As always, neither of them had the taste of the ingredient used to color them, but both of them had great texture and looked beautiful. They also had a selection of fresh pastas that were made in house.

Casa Della Mozzarella was insanely busy and filled up quick because they have such a small space for customers (most of the space is occupied by their products. The had guys in the back making fresh mozzarella also sold a variety of other cheeses, meats, and antipasto. I bought some of the cheese curds for $4 a pound am going to try making some it at home so I can have it *really* fresh.

We took our lunch break at Full Moon Pizza had a great Sicilian pizza that wasn’t nearly as dense and heavy as what you usually get. The crust was a bit thicker than a normal pie, but it had great texture and wasn’t overwhelming like it normally is for a Sicilian pizza.

Then we went over to Modern Grocery which was just a normal grocery store. Its cheaper than Manhattan, but I wouldn’t really bother carrying this stuff back unless you just need a couple (light weight) items.

The guys behind the counter at Teitel Brothers was a bit more customer friendly and they had much more variety than Casa Dealla Mozzarella so I would go there for all my cheese shopping except for mozzarella. They had an amazing ricotta di bufala that was richer and creamier than any ricotta I have ever had. They also had a dessert cheese that was mixed with a layer of nutella and another of dried fruit. Their olive bar was pretty well stocked as well.

Biancardi’s was a great general purpose butcher with plenty of cuts of veal, beef, pork, chicken, lamb. They also had tripe and few other pieces of meat you don’t always find. I wasn’t going to buy anything, but I saw that the filet mignon was $13 a pound and had to buy at least one medallion.

The Madonia Brothers Bakery seemed to employ more Albanians then Italians, but the products were all definitely Italian. They had a case of biscotti that was better than anything I have had stateside (take not that I don’t usually like biscotti so I am not really a connoisseur of it).

Next to Madonia was the Calabria Pork Store. The entire ceiling is covered from front to back with hanging sausages that they cure in house. In the back, they were curing a couple kinds of bacon. The entire places smelled like deliciousness and I definitely think this the place to buy your sausages from. They had some butcher cuts as well, but its pretty clear that its not their specialty.

We wrapped up and Randazzo’s for seafood. This is probably one of the first seafood shops that didn’t smell like seafood which is pretty amazing considering the amount of fish they had all over the place. They had a great variety and the prices were very reasonable (gorgeous sea scallops for $10 a pound). Also, in front of the shop they had a counter with a guy shucking oysters & clams for you on demand. Then you put whatever fixings you want on it and shoot them down. I am not a huge oyster fan (the last one I had was 4 years ago), but I enjoyed these. They had a very fresh flavor to it.

All in all, it was a great day. Its a moderate hike to get out there because you need to take the train up and then take a bus, but you can make a nice field trip out of it by getting lunch with some friends and then doing your shopping afterward. You can check out Mireille’s post for more information and photos.

Boi Sandwich

So I have never had banh mi before in my life and all the recent press and blog coverage really got me salivating to try some. The flavor combination sounded really interesting to me and the idea of wrapping it all up in a sandwich form sounded like it had the potential of becoming an awesome sandwich. Also, one of my favorite blogs, MidtownLunch, did some coverage on a new branch of the Boi chain called Boi Sandwich that opened up recently which walking distance from my office. It was a long walk, but still doable for lunch. Last Friday the weather was too gorgeous to pass up so I met a friend there to pick up a couple sandwiches and enjoyed it at one of the nearby public spaces.

If you haven’t had banh mi before, its basically a bunch of south asian ingredients in a french style baguette (yay colonialism). The boi version includes cilantro, a spicy carrot & daikon (radish) mixture, cucumbers, a meat of your choice, a mixed meat & mushroom pate, and an avocado (which isn’t common). The pate flavor isn’t that strong. I hate liver and didn’t have an issue with it being there. The rest of the vegetable additions were great and made the sandwich burst with flavor. Zach has a great photo and breakdown of all the ingredients here.

For my first banh mi experience, it was pretty good. All the fillings were great and full of flavor and the bread was tasty too. The only bad thing I have to say about it is that the chicken filling I got as the meat portion of the sandwich was dry and overcooked. I am sure at $7.50 it was ridiculously overpriced, but it is midtown and they do have to pay their rent somehow so I am okay with it. And as Zach says, regardless of the fact it is overpriced its still one of the best sandwiches you can get in midtown for $7.50. I think I’ll just have to go again to try the more traditional version of it and report back. I know its a tough job, but someones got to do it… =)

Eventually, I’ll get around to trying the numerous other banh mi places that have been getting so much publicity recently. Feel free to post any recommendations.

Boi Sandwich
708 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10017
(212) 682-1117

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