Now that I’ve eaten my way through somebody else’s list (Time Out New York), I’m ready to compile my own 100 spectacular things I’ve tasted in 2012. Look for another five dishes every few days.
NUMBER 35: BURGUNDY SNAILS at MARSEILLE
Whatever you’re craving, New York city has got it – somewhere. Everything from Hungarian to Ghanian to Nicaraguan food is represented. No other city in the world has quite so many options for dinner.
People ask me where they should eat before a Broadway show and sadly, it’s always a stretch since the Theater District is filled mostly with tourist traps. I tell them to walk to Ninth Avenue. That’s where the French restaurant Marseille has sat for many years. It took my parents coming to town to finally visit this pre-theater favorite myself. We had some very nicely prepared French classics, including a bubbling crock of garlic-heavy escargots. Chewy but tender, there was the right amount of crunchy bread crumbs to smooth out the buttery mouthfeel. Price: $10.75
|630 Ninth Avenue (between West 44th and West 45th Street),
NUMBER 34: GUACAMOLE WITH TWO SALSAS at EMPELLÓN TAQUERIA
Somehow an American pastry chef known for his avant garde desserts (Alex Stupak) makes some of the best high-end Mexican food in the city. Sure, this stuff might not be as authentic as the tacos at the bodegas in Brooklyn, but it’s mighty tasty.
The flavors come alive immediately in the first course of chunky guacamole served with greaseless tortilla chips and a tasting of two salsas. The restaurant also offers a full-on salsa tasting with all seven of their special sauces. And based on how well these two paired (the spicy, tangy arbol and the sweet, smoky cashew) with the spicy guac, I must return to try all seven. Price: $12
|230 West 4th Street (between Seventh Avenue South and 4th Street),
NUMBER 33: MEZE SAMPLER PLATTER at BALKANIKA
SADLY, BALKANIKA IS NOW CLOSED.
Whenever we go out for Mediterranean food, we inevitably order the platter of meze, It usually includes the standards like hummus, baba ganoush, and tzatziki. Balkanika takes it to a whole new level.
They offer a sampler platter of 16 different dips to go with their warm pita. Who knew things like turmeric almond hummus or pesto porcini exist? The wide range of flavors (smoky, spicy, sweet) and textures (nutty, creamy, pasty) came from such varied ingredients like celery root, eggplant, fava beans, and carp roe. It was a wonderful way to be introduced to the surprisingly diverse world of meze. I don’t think I can look at any other platter the same way again. Price: $18
|691 Ninth Avenue (between West 47th and West 48th Street),
NUMBER 32: SAUTEED GREEN PEPPERS at HUNAN HOUSE
Hunanese food is slightly underrepresented in New York City. After trying a few of the earthy spice-laden dishes in Flushing, I have no good answer as to why there’s not more of these restaurants. While many of their specialties are scary sounding fish parts and heads, they also do the simple stuff to perfection.
Time Out turned me on to these sauteed green peppers. Similar to shishitos, these flat meaty nubs had a blistered earthiness that finished with lots of heat. The spiciness cooled off thanks to the surprising edition of garlicky, salty fermented black beans. When more Hunanese restaurants starts opening up around the city, I hope they all serve these firecrackers. Price: $8.95
|137-40 Northern Boulevard (between Union Street and Main Street),
NUMBER 31: CRISPY KALE SALAD at BATTERSBY
Ok, so maybe I’m cheating here a little bit. With all these foreign dishes, how could I include Battersby? It’s not foreign at all. In fact, it’s the epitome of the new Brooklyn cuisine. But Brooklyn food is distinct enough now that it deserves to take its place among the other cuisines of the world. I even hear a Brooklyn restaurant recently opened in Paris.
And if one dish represents Brooklyn today, it would have to be the kale salad – as long as it’s locally sourced and seasonally prepared. Battersby, which has gotten some of the best reviews of any restaurant in Kings County, makes a killer one. They included both fried and raw kale leaves with an Asian twist of sliced radishes, green papaya, peanuts, and a lime vinaigrette. It was a crunchy, tangy, leafy salad that defines Brooklyn today. Price: $12
|255 Smith Street (between Douglass and Degraw Street),
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn