Category Archives: TONY’s 100 Best ’09

Last week I was featured in Time Out New York to proclaim my victory to all the city. I ate all 100 of their Best Dishes of 2009. And of course, I’m doing it again this year.

I was honored to be interviewed and photographed by the magazine and now my achievements have been made known to the world. It’s better than any bowling trophy I ever had (and I had a lot of them!)

If you didn’t get a chance to pick up an issue last week (this was probably one of Time Out’s most popular issues – not because of the Home Design tips, but because of my pretty face), I’ve scanned the article so all my fans can read it right here.

Enjoy! And now that I’m a full blown magazine star, I apologize if I don’t answer my emails and texts in a timely fashion. I’m in high demand, you know!

Woo hoo! The list is complete. And while there were no whistles, bells, or even much excitement from my final list item, it feels good to have completed the mission and tasted the food. All the food.

I was hoping to end this journey a week or so ago at Brooklyn Fare. But the ever elusive City Sub made that very difficult. It seems that their phone orders got so overwhelming for them that they decided to never answer their phones. Which made it difficult planning a meal here because their hours are sporadic and they’re notoriously known for closing as soon as they run out of bread. The one Sunday afternoon we journeyed out to Park Slope, we found the doors all locked up and the lights off.

It was a weekday evening when we finally completed the adventure and we made it to City Sub with 30 minutes before their 6:00 closing time. I admit, I was skeptical that we were going to find them open at all, but here we were sitting inside the homey, old-school deli with a modern suburban twist. It didn’t feel much different than a Subway (not the MTA kind) but the colors were less sterile and it didn’t have that hypnotizing chemical bread smell.

Time Out told us to order the Cajun Style Roast Beef Sandwich with a condiment recommendation of pepper jack cheese, sweet peppers, lettuce, and spicy brown mustard. They could have just told us to order the #18 as all these sandwiches are listed numerically on the menu much like at a Chinese restaurant.

I did notice the counter guy popped the Boar’s Head roast beef in the microwave to heat it up before toasting it with all the other ingredients on the George Foreman-like grill. I’m not a huge fan of microwaves in general, but I acknowledge their existence and understand that it’s quick and easy so I pretended not to notice the nuking.

The gigantic sub came to us all wrapped up, toasty and oozing with mustard, meat, and cheese. I liked how crusty and warm the sesame dotted bread was and I’m glad the ingredients were all hot. I’ll take a warm, toasty hero over a cold version of cold cuts any day. And while this was slightly reminiscent of a cheese steak, it lacked much flavor. I didn’t get any cajun seasonings whatsoever and the meat was so killed with all the processing and microwaving that I may as well have been eating a Lunchable.

I’m being harsh because the meat wasn’t bad, it was just flat, gray, and flavorless. The sweet peppers and mustard brightened the sandwich up while the cheese added just a mild kick. The best part of the entire sandwich was the bread. It was crunchy, tender, and held the sandwich together.

And while City Sub is still a welcome neighborhood alternative to the chain sub shops, I wish they paid a bit more attention to the flavor and process of making the ingredients (Boar’s Head is fine but can you imagine homemade roast beef?) and maybe answered their phones once in a while.

I just wish this particular sandwich wowed me a bit more. Especially considering it was my final stop on the Time Out list. Besides a more flavorful sub, some balloons and streamers would have been nice.

Would City Sub’s Cajun Style Roast Beef Sub make my Top 100 of the year? The crusty bread alone will bring me back here, but that’s all that really made this 6 out of 10 sandwich stand out from all the other delis on every single corner.

450 Bergen Street (between 5th Avenue and Flatbush Avenue)
Park Slope, Brooklyn
(718) 398-2592

My intention was to make this dinner the grand finale, number 100, last list item, big party. Since the deal at Brooklyn Fare is an eight-course dinner for $135, it felt like a celebration. It was definitely much anticipated. Since I first got the list, I was intrigued by the premise here. This wasn’t just any fancy meal. Brooklyn Fare is also the name of the gourmet grocery store next door and five times a week the chef, César Ramirez, prepares a huge meal for a very intimate group. But the whole thing is under the guise of a class. You have to reserve a spot in advance (or get on the waiting list as I did back in February), bring your own wine, and then César teaches you about cooking, while cooking for you, and from reviews and word of mouth, you get to try amazing food.

Seemed like the perfect capper to a long food journey. The only problem is that we attempted to go to City Sub earlier in the week and they were closed both times we went. So I still have to get that stupid Roast Beef Sandwich and that will be the less-exciting grand finale. But c’est la vie.

Brooklyn Fare still happened. And I still got a delicious and innovative meal. I also still dropped the $135!!!

We arrived at 7 and were greeted by a sweet waitress. It almost felt like a community of “students”, but it never fully got there for me. Maybe my expectations were too high – or maybe the whole concept has changed since word of mouth has made it a bigger deal. But this was not a class. It was maybe an observation. But there was no introduction, no greeting, we barely heard the chef explain each dish as we received it. He sort of mumbled what it was and if you caught it, you caught it.

But even if you didn’t know what you were eating, it was still all ridiculously delicious. The amuse bouches started coming fast and furious. There must have been close to 10 little bites. And they were all outstanding.

I specifically remember a watermelon slice perfectly coated with olive oil and sea salt,

a sardine strapped to a potato chip,

and a plump oyster with oyster gelatin and yuzu. Every single bite was explosive with texture and balanced flavors. I knew we were in for something truly special.

Then we referred to our program (read: menu) which was the only hint that there was a syllabus. The eight courses were divided thusly: salmon, tomato, scallop, egg, black bass, ravioli, beef, strawberry. Now I have to do my best to remember the specifics of each. It explicitly said on the menu not to take notes or photos. It hinted that it was because they want us to enjoy the food without any distractions. Well, sorry Chef César, but I took mental notes and when your back was turned, I gracefully pulled out my Iphone and caught some of the artwork on camera for all my readers.

The salmon was a parfait (that was almost as small as the amuses) with lots of fish roe and a rich egg cream of sorts. It was good, but I didn’t realize we had technically started the meal. I was waiting for some direction or lesson. I guess all I needed to do was eat. And I did it.

The tomato course was probably his masterpiece. We watched as the sous chefs all helped compose the six-part dish that featured tomatoes every possible way you can imagine. Even the ways you can’t imagine, including my favorite: the tomato marshmallow. Each component was explosive with flavor. And you kept finding more components to the components, like the little gazpacho underneath the white tomato mousse. And of course, as almost an afterthought (or palate cleanser), we got a scoop of some sweet, spicy tomato sorbet. It was fantastic.

Everything was a surprise: the poached egg was topped with rich, earthy summer truffles,

the ravioli held some tender rabbit meat,

and the beef had a rich buttery foie gras on top so if we weren’t full enough, we were certainly stuffed by the time dessert rolled out.

Except it wasn’t completely satisfying. I felt the meal sort of fizzled out. Don’t get me wrong: I loved every little thing we ate. It was so masterfully prepared and presented with seasonal ingredients and unique combinations. Everything was great. But I wanted more. And before you think me greedy, let me explain. The strawberry dessert was fresh and summery with a tangy greek yogurt sorbet. But after all those canapes to start, I thought we would maybe have a petit fours or two (or four). I still wanted closure – both with the meal (chocolate would have been nice) and with the show itself.

The chef tended to really engage the people on both corners of the long bar. We were smack in the middle and while we got a nod or two (and probably had the best visual seats in the house), I felt a little gypped. Maybe my expectations were too high after that bang of a beginning. Maybe the “class” has changed since it’s grown in popularity (they will soon be getting a liquor license and are now seating more people each night). Maybe those couples on either end were regulars (although I’m not sure how that’s even possible). I don’t know, but I left a little unfulfilled (while pleasantly full).

I hope something really special and memorable happens at City Sub and then we’ll have our grand finale (that’s where it’s happening one way or another). The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare served fantastic food and it was a really exciting (albiet) expensive evening out. I did feel like I was involved in some secret club, but that only the most exclusive people could get front seats. And I wonder if those guys walked away with a chocolate truffle or two. Because I had to get mine at the grocery store next door.

Would Brooklyn Fare’s Dinner make my Top 100 of the year? In all honesty, probably. It was really a fantastic meal – one that I will be thinking about for a long time. But I can only give it a 9 out of 10 because it started so well and then peaked too early with that awesome tomato dish and then fizzled out with a mediocre dessert and no fireworks.

212 Schermerhorn Street (between Hoyt Street and Bond Street)
Downtown Brooklyn
(718) 243-0050

All I’ve been hearing about since last summer (besides the Iphone 4) is the General Greene’s ice cream cart. It was built from local tools and parts by chef Nicholas Morgenstein. So of course, that was a brilliant marketing tool for the restaurant. And then the accolades for the ice cream itself started pouring in. And before you know it, one of the flavors ended up on the Time Out list. And coincidentally, I started searching for the best ice cream in the city. So finally, I had a some legitimate reasons to come out to Fort Greene and try the ice cream.

It was a rainy day so we didn’t really get to take advantage of the cart. It was out and people were stopping by ordering the treats, dripping wet. Since we were hungry, we decided to make lunch out of it and eat inside their cute, general store type restaurant. And they assured us they served the ice cream inside as well. Perfect.

Except the food was pretty awful. The salad we ordered for $12 was one of the weakest I’ve ever had. It was served with avocado, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, radishes. It sounded good with lots of fresh ingredients. And it was called a chopped salad, so maybe I should have expected this, but every component was diced to the exact same size. Even the avocado. There was no creativity whatsoever and the ingredients were all rather limp. The lettuce was only romaine and sort of brown. And the lemon vinaigrette had no complexity or kick to it. I think it was literally just olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic. Maybe it needed some sweetness or seasoning? Something!

We also got the egg and gruyere sandwich, which fared a little better. It reminded me of a microwaved fast food egg sandwich (which can work well when done right). The egg was molded. The cheese was hard to find, but thankfully there was some flavor from the mustard aioli. This was at least edible and slightly enjoyable.

With all these failures, does the ice cream stand a chance? I was getting more and more nervous.

We ordered the “Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream” and the waitress asked if I meant a sundae. I wasn’t sure. My impression was that all the ingredients were mixed together into a single flavor. Salted Caramel Pretzel. Maybe that’s how they do it out on the cart (although I’d think they’d have less resources out there in the rain), but what I ended up with was a cup of the salted caramel ice cream, whipped cream, caramel sauce, and some crushed pretzels garnished on top.

This didn’t seem right exactly. But who was I to say no to a caramel sundae?

And it was sweet, cooling, and fantastic. I do think the pretzels should have been mixed in better because they were all on top (and they added texture and more saltiness to the ice cream) and shortly into the sundae, they were gone. The ice cream itself was well-balanced – not too salty and not too sweet. The flavors worked well together and the texture was smooth and soft.

I’m sorry I didn’t get to experience the cart itself. That just means I need to make another trip out here and try some of their other interesting flavors. So Chef Morgenstein can build a sturdy cart and he can put together some great ice cream. Now he just needs to work on constructing some good savory food. And can he do something about the rain while he’s at it?

Would The General Greene’s Salted Caramel Pretzel Ice Cream make my Top 100 of the year? The ice cream and all its components were very successful and get an 8 out of 10. The lunch items are a different story entirely.

Is The General Greene the best ice cream in NY? I’d like to try a wider range of their flavors and frozen concoctions. But the salted caramel was great and earns it an 8 out of 10 for now.

229 Dekalb Avenue (between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue)
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
(718) 222-1510

This food adventure is getting expensive. Time Out likes to run the gamut. Some of their list items are a steal. The taro cakes were 75 cents a piece. Others, like the $26 Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern, are definitely an investment. But none are so financially confusing as the Wakame Butter at Corton.

See, it’s technically free. Time Out even writes the word complimentary. Could it be true? Well, there’s a catch. There always is, isn’t there? You get the butter complimentary… when you order one of Corton’s prix-fixe dinners (which are either $85 or $140). So really this is the most expensive butter I’ve ever encountered.

There were two of us and the thought of us each spending close to $100 for a spread of butter seemed outrageous. So I had the brilliant idea of showing up (without a reservation) and trying for a seat at the bar. I figured they didn’t serve food very often at the bar, so maybe they’d let us split a prix-fixe meal there. And on a pretty slow Saturday night, the plan worked.

The bartender seemed a little hesitant at first since I imagine they don’t have much action at the bar except as a service bar or a waiting area. See, Corton is one of the most-talked about high-end restaurants in the city of the last few years. It’s stark and stuffy (not to be confused with snooty) with expensive French wines, detail-oriented servers, and experimental modern French cuisine to boot. And they only offer prix-fixe options (which means nobody’s leaving there without dropping some dough). I’m not one to wear anything but jeans or shorts, but I figured, so I didn’t look like a total schlub, I should maybe button up a shirt and put on some slacks. I didn’t want to get turned away from our chance at that butter.

I was pleased they let us split the cheaper prix-fixe option and by the time dessert arrived, that bartender finally warmed up to us. As part of the meal, we received a few amuse bouches including a very nice roasted pepper and avocado parfait, which was reminiscent of a shot of refreshing gazpacho. Once the free tastes subsided, we got our bread. And you know what that means.

The wakame butter was one of two butter options. I felt bad that we didn’t pay much attention to the sweet cream butter (it was delicious when I finally sampled a bit), but even if the wakame butter wasn’t on our list, I think I would still have favored it. The butter comes from Vermont Cheese and Butter Company, but chef Paul Liebrandt livens it up with the addition of wakame. So what is wakame already? Here we go: it’s seaweed. This is seaweed butter.

Evidently, this is a popular item in Brittany known as beurre aux algues. But this is the first time I’ve ever encountered it in this country. And the novelty of it really got me excited. So I didn’t hesitate once we received it on a cold slab with just a dash of sea salt.

I was dismayed to find that the bread was not soft or warm. I guess they take so much effort in the butter preparation that the bread gets left in the dust. But the butter was incredible. The seaweed added some brininess, a vegetal quality, and more salt notes. The butter itself was rich and perfectly creamy with a touch of sweetness. Together these flavors played out in harmony on the palate. I’ve never been so excited by butter in my life. And even though the bread was rather limp, I could have eaten the butter straight (and I almost did).

The rest of the meal was rather memorable. The presentation was spectacular (I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures, but I felt I should be on my best behavior). We had a decadent foie gras torchon (it was wrapped in some sort of sour cherry skin) with a Spanish spiced butter. What is it with all this butter?  Is Corton secretly trying to kill us all?

And a beautifully prepared lobster that was poached in lemongrass butter (seriously, more butter?) and served with an amazing blueberry ravioli stuffed with lobster meat. I found the lobster itself to be a bit lacking in the flavor department, but the green apple cilantro sauce that it was served with brightened up the dish.

And then for dessert we had the “Gold Bar” which was a slice of a chocolate bar with a sherry reduction and smoked caramel ice cream. Pretty rich stuff. Which I guess is fitting based on how much all this stuff costs. Rich people must love rich food. And if it all tastes like the wakame butter, I really want to be rich!

Would Corton’s Wakame Butter make my Top 100? At this price, I would hope so and while I don’t think I’ll ever spend the money to taste it again, I’m sure glad I did. It was rich, unique, complex and fantastic. It gets a solid 9 out of 10.

239 West Broadway (between Beach and Moore Street)
(212) 219-2777

The blurb in Time Out about the Brisket Sandwich at David’s Brisket House ends with a warning: “Don’t forget the gravy.” Guess what? I forgot the f-ing gravy!!!

I knew the sandwich tasted a little dry. I got up at one point to ask for more mustard. I don’t know why one of the friendly deli guys didn’t offer the gravy with my brisket sandwich. It would have made it that much better, I can only imagine.

Well, gravy or not, the sandwich was pretty good. David’s is an anomaly in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant which does not seem to have a big Jewish community. But once inside the doors of this very small deli and you’re tasting these sandwiches, you’re transported back to the Lower East Side.

This is one of those true hidden gems that’s been there forever that never seems to get any press. Truth is, the deli is now owned by Muslims (they close every Friday afternoon to pray at a local mosque) who uphold the kosher style preparations for corned beef, pastrami, brisket, and the like.

Since I never made it here on my official corned beef/pastrami search, I wrote a separate review on their combo sandwich. But I also tackled my list item, the titular brisket sandwich. It comes in three different sizes priced at $5, $8, or $13. Either way, you’re getting a deal.

Besides being a bit dry (I know, I know, the gravy!), the brisket was very flavorful, warm, and tasted like leftovers from Passover dinner. The rye bread was also fresh and gave way to some tender, fatty brown meat. I haven’t had a brisket sandwich in many years and this is exactly how I happily remember them. Too bad I couldn’t remember to ask for the gravy!!

Would David’s Brisket House’s Brisket Sandwich make my Top 100 of the year? Sure, I forgot the gravy, but the guys behind the counter should know what to offer to make their sandwich perfect. Besides the slight dryness (not to be confused with toughness), this sandwich is close to perfection so it gets an 8 out of 10.

533 Nostrand Avenue (between Harkimer Street and Atlantic Avenue),
Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
(718) 789-1155

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