Thursday, August 28, 2008

Perbacco Cafe

A fully packed restaurant on a Tuesday night at 9 pm is normally a great sign. That is, until you realize there are no open spots left for you to dine. For some reason, earlier in the week, I have a lower tolerance for waiting at restaurants. I typically think of Mondays and Tuesdays as "my early" nights - and so it was rare for me to be eating out so late this past Tuesday. But, finding it close to impossible to turn down lychee martinis to celebrate a friend's birthday earlier in the night, my friend and I opted for a later dinner - and at a spot where we thought we could breeze right into. Had it been a month earlier, I am sure we would not have had a problem.

I now remember my sister had told me about Perbacco about a year or so ago - raving about another great Italian spot in the east village. Knowing that there are so many great options downtown, I never managed to make it there - and actually forgot about it. It was not until about a month ago, in my daily NY Times Urbaneye update, that Perbacco reappeared in my life - headlining the food blurb. I immediately remembered the unique name and that it was one of the many restaurants that had somehow managed to fall off of my MUST GO TO list. And, without much thought, Perbacco jumped right back onto the top of my current list. I should have known that my list would not be the only one that Perbacco would now top. The one nice thing about the wait (besides the fact that the restaurant was full of very happy diners) was that they said 15 minutes and seated us within 10 - always best to overestimate when hungry new yorkers are involved. And, as soon as we were seated, the smell of the food and the adorable, european cafe setting immediately made us forget the actual time and even the place- we definitely could have been lost somewhere in Italy.

It was enough knowing that Perbacco had received positive accolades from both my sister and the NY Times, and so I actually had opted not to read the review - hoping to form my own opinion upon dining. In retrospect, I wish I had. My one complaint (besides the wait) was the endless menu. No matter what time of night it is, I do not have the patience to read through infinite options whose descriptions all make my mouth water. Not really knowing where to begin, we decided to put most of our trust in our waiter who ended up being a great guide. Although, either he has an affinity for cheese or the entire menu is made up of cheese, because we definitely had our fair share of cheese that night! Being the cheese lover that I am, that was a great thing. We shared 3 small plates (the traditional "little appetizers" that Perbacco is designed around which range $7-12) and one pasta ($12-15). These included parmesan cheese creme brulee served with balsamic vinegar, grilled zucchini stuffed with ricotta and pine nuts served with a basil sorbet, bresaola (air cured beef) with thinly sliced tomatoes and parmesan crisps (one of the nightly specials), and homemade basil ravioli stuffed with tomatoes, marscapone, and mozzarella. All were delicious and unique in their own way; but, without a doubt, the cheese creme brulee was the winner. It looked exactly like the dessert, but tasted like the perfect appetizer. We completely devoured the dish and I decided to photograph it since I have never seen a cheese dish like it. This prompted me to now take a picture of the most unique aspect of every restaurant I visit and include it in each post. Given its short lifespan, the cheese brulee was definitely worth capturing on film.

I hope that this picture doesn't make your mouth water too much! But, rather, I hope that it sends you down to get in line in the East Village. While Perbacco is no longer undiscovered, I will share these secrets with you - study the menu before you go and be prepared for a wait - both will be well worth your time!

Perbacco Cafe
234 E 4th St (between A and B)
New York, NY 10009
Phone: (212) 253-2038

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blue Ginger

I used to never go out for sushi. Since moving to New York, sushi has been something that I crave, on average, once a week. I am not sure what is in the air here, but sushi cravings also seem to be a regular trend among my friends (girls especially). To satisfy this craving, I would descend my five flights and walk three blocks to my local Japanese restaurant - only to pick up my meal (usually consisting of a green salad and two rolls) and quickly return to the comforts of my apartment. While this usually did the trick, leaving me satisfied until the next week, I did find it odd that it was the one food that I rarely shared with friends. But, then again, I probably eat out too often, so it was sort of nice to have a night in and not be cooking. That pretty much summed up my sushi-dining experience for my first four years in New York. Until this past spring, when I discovered Blue Ginger - a japanese restaurant that blends in with about four other ethnic restaurants on its chelsea block. My days of eating sushi alone (and eating in every now and then) have come to an end!

I definitely do not claim to be the authority on sushi, but this restaurant has managed to change my sushi eating habits forever. Do not be fooled! This is neither a trendy atmosphere nor even a particularly cozy setting. But, rather, it is a fairly standard looking, average-priced sushi restaurant. Nevertheless, every time I have gone, whether it is a Monday night or a Friday night, 6:30 or 8:30 pm, the place is full- and rightfully so.

You are probably wondering how I ever decided to walk into this restaurant since I am fairly certain it is not a new addition to the neighborhood. My roommate actually discovered it - but, unlike me, she discovered it for its take out purposes, on her walk home from work. It was not until, one fateful night, when one of my friends who lives in Chelsea was also having the undeniable sushi craving that we decided to venture from our couches and meet up. Thankfully, Blue Ginger was the halfway point.

While I am obviously not the most experienced sushi eater, I do appreciate a fresh piece of fish - and, sadly, I think that most sushi restaurants actually do not cater to this. Blue Ginger has never let me down. No matter what I order, everything is extremely fresh - and simple. I do usually start off with edamame or a green salad with ginger dressing (while it is tough to screw those up, they certainly make great ones) and then end up sharing several rolls. My favorites are the spicy tuna, salmon with jalapeno, and salmon with avocado. If you are looking for a vegetarian option, the peanut-avocado roll is actually a nice and different combination. Although, throw some bacon in there, and I would probably be in my own personal heaven!

Maybe Blue Ginger will eventually teach me to be more adventuresome in the sushi department. If any place can do it, I think this one has the potential. But, to be honest, I think sushi will always be the one cuisine where I stick to the basics and my favorites. At the end of the day, my cravings are satisfied - so why mess with a good thing? I just appreciate that Blue Ginger has gotten me off the couch and out with another friend! Who really needs a night at home unless it's for a good old homemade meal?

Blue Ginger
106 8th Ave (between 15th and 16th)
New York, NY 10011
Phone: (212) 352-0911

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Redhead

While Bar Carrera was the initial spark to get the Hungry Roach up and running, my dinner the following night at the Redhead was more than enough fuel to make it really happen. I will be honest, the name of this restaurant was what caught my attention immediately. Redheads have played a huge part in my life - and, despite my claim to be categorized as a curly-haired auburn, I have actually been called a redhead on numerous occasions. Although I am fairly certain I am nowhere close to being a redhead, there is no doubt that redheads have a special bond and, in my eyes, a special fiery personality. This new east village restaurant definitely lives up to its name - making redheads throughout the world (especially southern ones) very proud.

Located on an extremely nondescript block in the east village, the Redhead is the type of restaurant that you could walk right by and never look back at. Luckily, I had read about this new-American, southern spot and had made a conscious decision to have dinner there with my sister (a true redhead) and an old family friend - both southerners at heart. Since they do not take reservations, we met on the early side (7 pm) last Wednesday night. At that point, the restaurant was pretty empty; however, the bar was packed with what appeared to be locals - people of all ages and backgrounds. This was unlike any other new, talked about restaurant I have stepped into in the city. I was both relieved that not every one else in the city had discovered the place, but also nervous that it might not live up to the great review I had read. Having picked the spot, I was, of course, a little more nervous than my dinner companions. Nevertheless, the moment our drink orders arrived, I was reassured that this would be another great Redhead in my life. The cocktail list is definitely worth exploring. My drink, the "Jala-pina (spice up your life)," was delicious and refreshing. I am always drawn to mixed drinks with a kick, although they can be hit or miss. This one was a definite hit!

As we moved onto the food, the meal became more and more enjoyable. I cannot remember the last meal that I went to in NYC where I did not share at least one or two dishes with my dinner companions. Sharing is one of my favorite aspects of eating out - allowing me to try many more dishes than it is reasonable to order! Even when I eat at restaurants where the menu is not designated as tapas, I insist on sharing at least starters. I made no exception at the Redhead where we started the meal sharing one item, bacon peanut brittle, off the "Snacks" list and one item, crab and leek tart with pecan crust and mushroom sauce, off the "Starters" list. Given the category that it was listed under, we should not have been surprised when the peanut brittle actually arrived in a small jar on the table. It was the perfect snack and start to the evening - reminding me of the bacon and peanut butter sandwiches that we used to eat at my grandmother's house in Halifax, Va. There were no surprises (in a good way) with the crab tart - it was exactly as described, made up of many of my favorite ingredients. I was only disappointed that it wasn't larger, since there were three of us sharing it. Although, this was probably a blessing in disguise since our entrees were all very rich - as true southern food should be! Despite having had far too many disappointing experiences with grits in NYC, I ordered the shrimp and chorizo grits - deciding that this would be the ultimate test of the Redhead. As with everything else I had consumed that evening, I was not let down - this dish can even compete with the grits I had down in Charleston a few months earlier!

It is hard to think that experience could get much better - especially when presented with the bill. However, not only was the Redhead affordable (main courses costing $15-19), but they give you a complimentary oatmeal chocolate chip cookie to go. And (how could I forget) we were able to take the jar of bacon peanut brittle home with us- one of the only times it pays to leave some food behind! Halfway through my walk home, I had cleared enough room for the delicious cookie and I was already thinking about the new Redhead I couldn't wait to introduce to my family and friends.

The Redhead
349 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-533-6212

The NEW Bar Carrera

I am not sure what it was exactly about the newest Bar Carrera outpost that made me realize the time had finally come. But, it was definitely time. Time to share with friends and family the many restaurants that I visit on a pretty regular basis in NYC. I love food and trying new restaurants. But, one of the best parts is telling people about the experience and reliving the meal! So, it is time to do just that. I guess it comes with no surprise that my experience at Bar Carrera last week was an extremely positive one. Having eaten a very enjoyable meal several years ago at the original east village location, I was extremely excited to try out the new location. Not only is it the perfect meeting point for one of my Soho friends and me (the West Villager), but it has a very appealing overall setting. Similar to its sister restaurant, there is a great bar for both eating and drinking. However, unlike the original location, there are actually tables! The whole restaurant is also extremely airy - two of the four sides are completely exposed to the outdoors. We opted for one of the tables, but I would definitely go back and enjoy a meal at the bar as well - it is nice having options.

Along with the great setting came a very enjoyable meal. Stefan, our waiter, immediately introduced himself and made me feel like I could already add Bar Carrera to my list of neighborhood favorites. The menu consists of all tapas - small plates with a spanish theme. However, unlike the majority of tapas restaurants scattered throughout NYC, these were actually priced well - and with decent portions! We ended up sharing 5. Not only was this plenty of food, but they were all priced between $4-7. We ordered sweet piquillo pepper stuffed with a creamy tuna-and-red-pepper mousse, patatas bravas (accompanied by a dish of red-pepper aïoli), "egg in a blanket" (a brioche filled with egg, ham, and truffle oil), grilled chorizo on a baguette, and a special of the evening - avocado stuffed with fresh tuna. The egg dish was definitely the winner - you cannot go wrong with that combination. I think we were both disappointed to have to share this dish - we could have eaten two of them! I will definitely go back and order anything in a brioche there. If I recall correctly, there is a smoked salmon dish that involves a brioche that I am already eager to return and order! The setting, the food, and the price were all more than RIGHT. I know I will be back there soon - and I am pretty sure Stefan will remember the Hungry Roach since he definitely commented on all five spotless plates that he cleared that evening!

Bar Carrera
146 W Houston St
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 253-9500