Tuesday, April 27, 2010


One of the things I find most comforting about living in New York City is that no matter where you are in the city, you are never far from a slice of pizza. While I would love to say that each and every slice is just as satisfying as the next, we all know that the city isn't that perfect. The few times I have found myself indulging in a mediocre pie I've actually considered trying to return it and venturing to the next outpost knowing a great slice is never too far away. With pizza in such plenty, there should really be no excuse for settling for a mediocre pie. And I have recently learned that heading over to the east village will get you as close to pizza perfection as you could dream of. In the past year, it seems as if the city's hottest pizza joints have made their way to the southeastern end of the city. With Chinatown ever-expanding and Little Italy slowly disappearing, here comes New York's very own Pizzatown.

If it weren't for the overwhelming lines due to no-reservation policies (and mouth-watering pies), it would be nearly impossible to decide between Una Pizza Napoletana, Artichoke Basilles pizza, Motorino, and Luzzo's - all competitors in the never ending debate about the best pizza joints in the city - all within just a few blocks of each other. And in just a few weeks South Brooklyn Pizza, another popular Brooklyn establishment, will move right in to the neighborhood. The east village may want to consider employing crowd control professionals as New Yorkers have been known to go crazy over so many delicious options.

Of all spots in the east village I've mentioned, Luzzo's is actually the most underrated as well as the most manageable. While there are no guarantees that there won't be a wait, I can guarantee that the wait will be shorter than at its competitors. This is not an indication of the quality of the food, but rather the buzz in the air. And lucky for us, the word about Luzzo's has been just a touch quieter of recent. Located in any other city or even any other part of town, Luzzo's lines would be out the door - and to most observers the crowds are already far from thin there. It's important to note: all things are relative in Pizzatown.

And amidst all the buzz and competition, Luzzo's pies truly stand out, serving Neapolitan pizza with a twist. Instead of serving the traditional wood-fired fluffy pizza, the chefs produce pies that are both coal and wood-fired. The end result is an unforgettable crispier version of a Neapolitan pizza. I highly recommend the simplest of pies - the Bufala made up of bufala mozzarella, basil, and homemade tomato sauce. Add mushrooms or pepperoni if you require a step above the basics, but I promise you won't need much more. Instead of piling on the toppings, I prefer starting with one of their salads as these will be the perfect companion for their simple pizzas. I'm not sure if it's the thinner crust, a result of the coal oven, or just the excellent flavors in the homemade tomato sauce combined with such high quality mozzarella (I'm pretty sure it's the combination of all), but you won't have any problems finishing off these pies.

My new comfort in living in New York is knowing that the east village is just a neighborhood away. And for guaranteed pizza satisfaction, I can head right there. I would actually like to thank these establishments for setting up shop in such close proximity to each other. It truly does us all a favor. And I'm OK accepting that there really is no guarantee which spot will have me before venturing out - it's truly just a numbers game at this point. But, it is a great feeling knowing that Luzzo's is never far away. See you soon in Pizzatown!

211 1st Avenue (between 12th & 13th)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 473-7447
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, April 19, 2010


Raise your hand if you are a fan of Taim. If your hand isn't up, I'm guessing you just haven't had a chance to stop by the west village falafel joint - it's simply a must on my list and should be on yours too. Raise your hand if you had any idea that the owners of Taim have recently opened a full-size restaurant in Nolita. I'm guessing most hands have gone down now. Somehow, the Taim family pulled a fast one on me. I was shocked and then immediately thrilled to hear that their new restaurant Balaboosta was already in full motion by the time I had learned about it. I am not going to pretend like I am always in the know before each and every new restaurant opens up. But, when it's a personal favorite owner, I usually make it my business to know way too much about theirs! And, in the case of Taim, I had let this one slip right on by.

So what actually led me to Balaboosta last week? You will have to excuse me while I take a quick minute to "nerd out" in the blogging world. Besides absolutely loving discovering, eating at, and sharing new found restaurants, one of the best parts of blogging is the other bloggers. I know it sounds a little cheesy, but blogging really creates a community where you become acquainted with people and actually feel like you know them without (usually) ever meeting them. Well, I was lucky enough to finally meet Miss Meat and Potatoes - as we have both become regulars visiting each others blogs. I tell her where to eat and she tells me what to cook. Can you imagine a better food duo? We recently realized our close proximity to each other and finally made a night out of it. And the best part is, after a lot of back and forth about where we should go since both of our lists are endless, she was the one to suggest Balaboosta for dinner. It's as if we were old friends (I know her hand was certainly raised at the start of this post)!

Ok - enough with the joys of blogging and on to the food! Balaboosta is an extremely welcoming atmosphere both from the outside and in. Passersby on Mulberry Street can actually look in and see through the glass facade what is cooking in the kitchen. The name which comes from the Yiddish term for "the perfect housewife" supports their mission to make diners feel right at home. And with these comforts comes the ease of a menu made for sharing. While large plates do exist, ranging from whole fish to chicken under a brick to butcher steak, we couldn't resist ordering up the small plates and being able to sample more of the menu. You cannot go wrong with fried olives. These are served with labne and the same harissa oil that you will come across at Taim. This was a great move to take these spices and oils across the city with them. I also recommend the roasted cauliflower with currants and pine nuts - an excellent blend of sweet and savory.

I was very intrigued by the make-your-own hummus as it was served with a mortar and pestle. The whole garbanzo beans, tahini and roasted garlic arrive deconstructed, requiring you to mash all of the ingredients together to create your ideal consistency. This would have been a great idea had all of the flavors come together in the way that I envision homemade, fresh hummus. And, in the end, we both agreed something was missing - possibly the oil. However, the homemade whole wheat pita brushed with rosemary and oil made the dish completely worth it. These are delicious and added the flavors that the hummus itself was missing. The salad of the evening was made up of a variety of beets, greens, and spiced nuts topped with a mango vinaigrette - the flavor combination was springy and delicious. Their spiced nuts are excellent allowing this salad to truly stand out. My favorite dish was the shrimp kataif with flying fish roe sauce. The shrimp were wrapped in a thinly shredded dough pastry and then lightly fried. The sauce actually resembled East Asian cuisines with the use of the roe and hints of wasabi - reminding me that the Middle East isn't too far away in Asia.

While I am certainly eager to head back and try some of the larger plates, there were still several small plates that we just couldn't squeeze in as well. That's always a great sign when leaving a place - knowing what you want to try on your next visit. At Balaboosta, they are certainly creating an atmosphere for diners to become regulars. Where diners can feel close to the kitchen, as if they were in their own home. And that's when I realized why I hadn't heard more about this new spot. This is simply their new home. With no hype and no fuss, they are just ready to get to know and welcome their regulars.

214 Mulberry St. (Spring)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 966-7366
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Hotel restaurants are in a category of their own. Before heading out to one and especially once stepping inside one, you are often too aware that you are dining within a hotel. And, I'm not really sure that is always a good thing. I do love hotel bars - treating myself to that overpriced martini or two every once in awhile. It's really a small price to pay to spend an hour or two in a temporary lap of luxury. But the restaurants within can certainly be hit or miss - and usually it's the quality of the food, not the setting, that taints the experience. For this very reason, hotel restaurants come and go. It's not until the culinary expertise equates these grand settings that we actually recognize a keeper. However, I have recently realized that striking a balance between the setting and the kitchen can often be the true challenge.

The young Cooper Square Hotel is no stranger to this very struggle for hotel restaurants. After a quick appearance as Table 8, the restaurant within has been transformed into Faustina. And by transformed, I mean, the kitchen has been taken over by the successful chef Scott Conant of Scarpetta. This was certainly a wise move for our stomachs, but I fear that the warm spirit of the kitchen has not quite made it's way out into the pre-established dining room. They have certainly succeeded in taking over the menu, but the disconnect with the sterile setting is all too apparent. This could be the rare case of the hotel restaurant where it is actually the food outshining the space that leads to yet another change in hands. For the sake of my culinary enjoyment, I really hope this isn't the case.

The front bar room of Faustina is definitely the place to be. If this were the model for the rest of the restaurant, my fears would be completely subsided. This entry room is the best of both worlds where the culinary expertise has blended with a chic, modern hotel atmosphere. And since you can order nearly the entire menu up front, I'd highly encourage that you do so. Faustina's menu ranges from breads and olives, cheese and meats, raw bar, appetizers, pastas, mains, and sides. What more could you ask for out of an Italian powerhouse? With such an extensive menu, I highly recommend going with as many diners as possible (aka trying as many items as a stomach can handle). The grilled ciabatta with poached duck egg and fonduta is a must. Believe it or not, this is actually not as overly rich as I had expected. So, whether you are using your own spoon or sopping up the remains with additional olive oil brushed ciabatta, there shouldn't be anything left in the bottom of this dish. I also loved the combination of flavors in the lardo wrapped prawns served over rosemary lentils. I seriously could have ordered almost every starter from the menu, but to narrow it down, I also highly recommend sharing the short ribs of beef served with spaetzle and horseradish. The meat was prepared perfectly, falling right off the bone.

If sharing a pasta, the kitchen kindly splits the dish into two separate bowls - a gesture that I have grown to appreciate. It is almost as if they anticipate how difficult it is for two diners to truly share such a delicious dish. And this was definitely the case for us. I recommend the strozzapreti with suckling pig ragu. These elongated hand-rolled tube pasta, are al dente and topped with a rich tomato based pork ragu. The duck breast with asparagus, black trumpets and fennel spice is an excellent option to continue the sharing until the end. The use of fennel with the duck was truly striking. To round out this feast or any combination of dishes that you order, I urge you to try the truffled cabbage. Truffled anything is hard to top, but I love the way that cabbage embraces flavors and this is the perfect way to showcase truffles.

So your mouth is probably watering now after reading about all of these delicious dishes. And mine was certainly too as I was deciding my meal at the Cooper Hotel. But, even after such a satisfying meal, I didn't experience that sense of excitement that I usually feel when I am desperate to get to my computer and spread the word. I couldn't help but have my culinary satisfaction overpowered by the dissatisfaction with the atmosphere in the dining room. Part of me had wished we had just stayed up front and eaten at one of the many tables in the bar. And part of me just wished Faustina had taken a moment to breath - a moment to take the concept in the kitchen out to the actual dining room. I'm convinced it's not necessarily too late to do this. But in the meantime, head for the tables in the bar room. Order that fancy cocktail and take advantage of an expert hotel kitchen - as we all know, these are certainly few and far between.

Faustina (at the Cooper Square Hotel)
25 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stiletto Award

It's been an exciting few weeks for my little blog. And I find it most interesting that it has all been happening when my life cannot seem to get any busier! Isn't that always the case? When it rains, it certainly pours (as if the weather the past few weeks in NYC hadn't already convinced me of this). As work, classes, and my personal life just continue getting fuller and fuller, I sometimes worry that my blog ends up getting the short end of the stick. But, just when I was really starting to doubt my priorities, my first blogging award landed my way! Meet, The Stiletto Award - "a salute to the women who balance life, family & relationships with style & class." I honestly could not express my personal goals any better myself. So, thank you!!

While the award recognizes successful women bloggers in all shapes and forms (which I too will do), I wanted to entertain you with an aspect of this award that I feel probably most often gets overlooked - the award's namesake, the stiletto. And instead of attempting to tell you my own tales in heels, I've taken a few quotes from the award's creators. These wise words should make any woman who has ever sported heels nod their head and grin. I like to think that at various stages of my life, I have lived by each and every one of their clever remarks
- and I will certainly continue to do so down the road. I bet you never knew heels could inspire such insight!

"Heels this high are not meant for clubbing or walking long distances in. They are mainly used for getting from the living room to the bedroom, from the car to the restaurant, or for a short stroll along the catwalk."

"To walk gracefully in heels, take short steps, as opposed to long strides, and come down in a heel-toe, heel-toe motion."

"Under no circumstance, drive a car with your heels on. Not only do you have less control over the car, but it will damage your shoes - and they aren't cheap at this height. Keep spare shoes in the car for driving, or have someone drive you."

"Walking in extremely high heels is not something that the average woman (or man) will need to do in their everyday life. However, there are times when this skill may be required."

And so finally, I have to thank Alisa of The Meat and Potatoes Foodie who nominated me for this award. You can just call her Miss Meat and Potatoes. Her quirky recipes are infused with excellent taste. She is the epitome of Shabby and Chic - and I love it. And with the tradition of the Stiletto Award, I will pass the torch onto a few fellow bloggers that who, whether or not they enjoy actually sporting a pair of heels, will most certainly know how to use them.

First, I owe so much of my initial blog motivation and inspiration to Luisa of The Wednesday Chef. As she dissects delicious recipes, her excellent writing style makes you want to tackle any challenge or adventure in both the kitchen and in life. I am more than certain this will NOT be her first award!

Next up, Kristin of
The Pearl Onion. Kristin has been blogging since 2006 about all aspects of food with a focus on creative recipes. She recently gave her site a face-lift, incorporating it with her own top-notch photography. I really do hope to follow in those footsteps one day very soon!

And finally, a new addition to my favorite reads - Heather of The Heat. We share a love for eating out as well as cooking in. With her great sense of style and taste, she keeps me up to date on the latest and greatest from the New York City food scene while always providing a must-try recipe.

Congratulations! And now, it's your turn to learn about the rules of this unique award. Head here, share the fun, and, most importantly, enjoy!!