Category Archives: Restaurants

Thursday Night on Mulberry St…


Sometimes you just need to rant. And rant I will.

Late Thursday night I was walking with my muse, right hand and trusted creative conspirator, Soo Jeong. Hungry and heading toward the dive noodle shop on Grand St. we like to go to for our Chinatown fix, I was in a good mood. The air was cooler than it had been than in the last few nights, we had seen a fun movie and we were looking forward to cheap steaming bowls of brothy noodles. And then the wheels started to come off.

We didn’t realize how late it had gotten as we were greeted by the owner with that resigned look of, “sorry, we are closing”. We thought…hey…this is problem. A fine thought if we were anywhere but Chinatown on a weeknight where the streets resemble any small town after 10pm…closed storefronts and deserted streets. So we wandered. As we got hungrier we ended up strolling up Mulberry Street. I make it a rule never to eat at touristy places and as the sidewalk hawkers were crowing about their ‘authentic” Italian menus, I was not swayed in the slightest. And then the critical mistake was made.

Soo playfully asked this fire hydrant of a man outside one of the cafes if they had stuffed artichokes. He of course started to wax poetic about how wonderful they were and where we would like to sit. Sitting was not an option in my mind but I could tell by the look in Soo’s face that she had been overcome by hunger, curiosity and the lure of easy eats. Stuffed artichokes are also her kryptonite…so I was resigned to the fact that I was about to break one of my cardinal rules. So we sat.

I made what I thought were pretty safe choices considering I was setting the bar pretty low in terms of expectations. Rigatoni and eggplant with marinara and mozzarella. Rather hard to screw up…especially since this was Little Italy…or so I thought.

I am bothered the bridge and tunnel crowd on date night in The City. I sneer at the cigar smoking wanne be’s on the sidewalk strutting around like they are Gotti in the 80’s. I roll my eyes at the tourists, drunk and loudly proclaiming their love of all things I-talian. My blood begins to simmer as the roving accordion player rocks out “O Solo Mio”, “That’s Amore” and a stirring rendition of the Theme from the Godfather.

What sets me over the edge is bad food and what I find absolutely infuriating is bad Italian food. This food was abominable. To call this Italian food was a disgrace to anyone with even a drop of Italian blood flowing through their veins. Our ancestors who called what is left of this neighborhood home are rolling over in their graves. To see what these business owners are holding out their as our culture, our food and our heritage makes me sick to my stomach.

I left so irritated and physically bothered by the experience that I needed to rant. Please, for the love of all things sacred never…ever…come to New York and visit ANY of the so-called Italian restaurants on Mulberry Street looking for Italian food. I am sure not all of them will serve you food as bad as what I had the other night but the kitsch and triviality of it all is too much to take. You want Italy…go to Italy. You want Italian food…go to a reputable Italian restaurant…or a family owned business…or stay home and make it yourself from a good cookbook with good ingredients. I can recommend places in all 5 boroughs that will at least serve you something that resembles effort and care if not a gourmet experience. Stay out of the tourist traps and the places that treat Italian culture and food like some sort of horrible caricature. Please.

I’d like to say I feel better…but I don’t. I’m just as angry as I was the other night writing this but at least now maybe some of you won’t make the same mistake we made Thursday night on Mulberry Street.


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Toloache 82…

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Chef Akira Back…

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And We Have a Winner…

I have been asked the question about 1,000 times since my friend and champion Sam Sifton left his post as critic. I have conjectured and debated like everyone else. I have known this news for about 10 days and of course did not scoop my employer…but I am so happy to finally say..number one..that I was right…and number two that we have a new critic and his name is Pete Wells.

Congrats, boss. I hope to get the call to duty. Your predecessors have called for my undaunted appetite to assist in the tasting tasks of the Times.  I’ll be waiting.

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A few weeks back my friend Alexis invited me to an eating event by a group she belongs to called the Gastronauts. It’s a group that takes adventurous eating very seriously. They have eaten things like insects, snakes, beavers (behave) and even a lion..that died of natural causes. I went for a Nepalese feast of all things goat. ABC news happened to be there and it make the 6 o’clock news the other night. Check this out and be sure to watch out for the bald guy with the greying beard…

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This sign is attached to Rick Gencarelli’s Lardo Food Truck in Portland, Oregon.  His Meatball Bahn Mi was the single best bite of food I ate while there. It was really incredible. I, upon my return to PDX will indeed go back to Praise the Lard. Amen.

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Korean Food on the Come…

Most days there is always a chance that Korean food will play some role in my day. It is pretty predictable that I will be eating at least some Korean food every day. It’s as ingrained in my life as the Italian food of my childhood. Last night, though, Korean food provided me with a unexpected evening of intellectual discovery and culinary innovation.

I began the night at the Time Life building for a  screening of Marja & Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new PBS show, The Kimchi Chronicles. The show which can be seen Sundays at 4pm on WNET NY and is about the amazing personal journey of Marja, as she rediscovers her Korean roots. Her love and respect for her birthplace and the foods she only became aware of after reconnecting with her Korean birth mother at age 19 are profound. The show jumps back and forth between her journeys in Korea and her NY kitchen where she and JG (as she affectionately calls him) instruct and experiment with Korean foods.

I found the show doing exactly what the show’s producer, Eric Rhee, commented on during the subsequent Q&A; bringing a heightened awareness of Korean cuisine to the masses. Their desire to take Korean cuisine off of 32nd street and into the mainstream is coming at exactly the right time.

Directly from the screening we headed to Danji, a new Korean tapas restaurant oddly placed in the theater district. My mind was still filled with the images of Korea and bubbling cauldrons of stews and steaming bibimbap, so I was dubious of the slickly appointed non-traditional layout of the restaurant. My doubts were quickly laid to rest as I spooned that first bite of crusted tofu into my mouth. The flavors of Korea were all there but with a refinement and flare that belied traditional preparations. It was the exemplar of what Eric and Marja and Jean-Georges have set out to do…bringing Korean food the next level.

Some would say that this is what David Chang has been doing at his now monolithic Momofuku franchise but he has staunchly refused the label of Korean chef. Chef Hooni Kim has no such reservations, and it shows, as he flawlessly marries the classic French training he received at FCI, his baptism by fire in the kitchen at Daniel and his Korean upbringing.

His food is a revelation as he plays fearlessly with Korean ingredients and flavors, French preparations and even the Spanish tradition of tapas. His “paella” is one of the most inventive takes on classic bibimbap I have yet to encounter. He wok fries the rice then adds the kimchi and chorizo for heat and protein, tops it with a fried egg and serves on a searing platter. He pulls influences from all over the globe to make this a truly international bibimbap. It was fantastic. The short rib, pork belly sliders, and especially the whelk salad are equally revelatory.

The revolution is indeed underway. Korean food is coming of age in America and people like Marja & Jean-Georges, Eric and Hooni are on the front lines. Tune in to the show….get hungry…and then check out the beginning of the future at Danji…it will open your eyes.

Marja was invariably asked if her husband intended to open a Korean themed restaurant. She did not rule it out. His experimentation with the ingredients and flavors on the show lead me to believe this is a distinct possibility. That may just be the push that truly brings this cuisine the respect it rightly deserves.

PHOTO CREDITS: PBS and The Village Voice


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