Category Archives: Food

Live, but can’t eat or drink – Perils of living on the UWS.

The other night I was pinned down and decided to try to have a decent dining experience on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, my neighborhood for most of my life.  Fresh off the information from a top ten list from critic Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice, I gave Cotta, an Italian trattoria/wine bar, a try.  I should have walked out the door as soon as the noise level registered inaudible, but stuck it out for what amounted to some very mediocre food.  I ordered a bottle of valpolicella.  The server did not present the bottle and tried to pass another bottle off.  When I asked about it, she informed that they were out (of it) and so she brought one that was available.

Fail.

The correct bottle couldn’t have saved the meal from brussel sprouts overwrought with cloying sauce, and the star vongole being watery and lacking punch (Sietsema’s rec).  The Italian disco-tech vibe became more unbearable at every bite, and only ordering dessert would have put the icing on the cake of a disastrous evening that one simply cannot recover from.

I am not trying to bash Cotta, or its kin, of which the Upper West Side landscape is plagued by, but getting a decent meal in my hood is next too impossible.

The big question is why, and here are ten arguable reasons:

1.  Upper West Siders have little to no palate.

A major reason why some of these restaurants stay in business is because people support them.  Unlike downtown, where bridge and tunnel clientele support restos because of the scene and atmosphere, the residents up north are interested in value, and the two shall never intertwine.  Fill in some old time diners (drab), and the kosher restaurants (flavorless), and what’s left is a wasteland.  Upper West Siders demand value and large portions, part of the family mentality, since a large section of diners just want to be out to brunch with their SUV size strollers and gangs of children.  Most cook at home, picnic in the two parks, or just order take-out from the legions of subpar Asian flecked restaurants that happen to have chicken with broccoli on the menu. UWSiders are used to this mediocre food, and their palates follow suit.

2.  Landlords Rule.

There has been a mallification of the Upper West Side going on for twenty years.  Mom and pop places have been kicked to the curb.  Our mayor has raised real estate taxes to astronomical heights, and so the only businesses that can afford the rents are big ones.  Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Starbucks, 7-11, and banks.  It might as well as be Cleveland over here. Despite the efforts of Gail Brewer to keep the megastores out, the damage has been done. Long gone are the Rosita’s, and you fill in your fav place that has been replaced by corporate America.  This isn’t exclusive to the UWS, but every week I take a walk and notice the turnover.  Just look at your ten block radius and note the changes yourself

3.   Bland Rules.

There is little to no authenticity to most of the restos on the UWS, but people fill the seats due to proximity, if the price is right, and the appearance of being ethnic.  Take Pio Pio for a perfect example.  The roast chicken is cheap, the sides are inedible, and the wine list is undrinkable, yet the place is packed.  Peruvian grandmothers are rolling in their graves.  Ever roast a proper chicken at home?

Take Screme, a kosher gelato kiosk.  Has any one ever been to Italy?  What Screme is passing off as gelato is a travesty.  Yet the kids yuck it up.  And what about the staples? A decent burger?  Don’t give me Big Nick’s.  Pizzeria? Dean’s?  Seriously?  Not even the Malecon can deliver on the roast chicken (it is tough and underseasoned).  The red sauce joints are everywhere, and I have a simple rule of thumb.  If I can make it better, I will not purchase an inferior product.  These pastas are lifeless, poorly executed bowls of $14.95. down the drain.

4.  Bars Suck.

Unless you are straight out of college, Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues are strips of wasteland for packs of young people fresh out of college trying to extend their adolescence and behavior.  From Brother Jimmy’s down to Bourbon Street, you couldn’t get a decently mixed drink one time out of a thousand.  And I am not even talking about a simple cocktail.  That simply cannot be found.  Prohibition? Please.  Simply Oliver?  Have you ever tasted a proper cocktail downtown

5.  Wine Bars Suck Too.

The lists on the wine bars on the UWS are wrought with poor selections, overpriced jammy bottles that have nothing to do with the food offered on the menu.  The servers are generally undereducated about the product, and the food is generally underwhelming and overpriced.  One may have a favorite, like Wine and Roses, Bin 71, Vai, or the Tangled Vine (to name a few), but that is only because of proximity.  Not one can stand in the same room with a wine bar like Ten Bells or even Terroir for that matter.  All I am saying is that we have to settle for mediocrity and like it.  There is no great cheese program like at Caselulla or Murray’s, no great Champagne list and deals like at Corkbuzz, and no ethnically correct representation of a regionally themed wine bar.  Please don’t tell me Buceo 95 is Spanish or that Barcebo is Italian.  That’s like saying the Red Rooster sells soul food.

6.  NO Coffee to be Found Anywhere.

Starbucks is to blame for the poor quality in coffee, and UWS residents simply do not care to fork over the five bucks for over roasted, poorly sourced coffee beans.  What’s worse is that more sub-par chains like Coffee, Tea and Leaves, The Bean, and World Coffee have edged their way in too.  Joe’s Coffee is and Birch are not bad, but once again it is no Café Grumpy, Stumptown, or even a Blue Bottle.  Proximity acceptance skews the actual value of what we are consuming.

7.  Proximity Acceptance. –  You would rather be dining somewhere else.

Sometimes I am having a nice meal, and I can’t help but compare it to a similar place downtown.  Once that wheel starts turning, I would rather be someplace else.  Be it the clientele, ambience, or quality of the wine/food and the service, comparisons kill it for me.  For example, take Café du Soleil, a Provencal themed restaurant that I have tried a few times.  The wine selection is poor to terrible, simply no imagination.  The food is Provencal in name only (Go to Provence, and tell me that the food is the same).  Wouldn’t you rather be at Calliope in the EV?  Or Rouge Tomate?  Or even Balthazar?  Get my drift.  Proximity acceptance.

8.  Brunch is King.

Take two eggs and make them my way.  Slap some bacon or sausages on the side.  Oh and some French toast or pancakes with fruit.  Queue up a massive line, and offer me a watered down mimosa fashioned out of cheap Prosecco, or a bloody Mary that is pre-mixed.  Deal with massive crowds of crying children and a tetris of strollers.  Oh thanks and fork over eighty bucks please.  From Sarabeth’s, Isabella’s, Good Enough to Eat, to those awful, dreadful diners with processed food and junk for ingredients.  Check.  Give me that.  What a great experience.  People who put themselves through that and like it deserve what they get.  Just plan, get up, and make it yourself.  It will definitely taste better, and save lots of loot.

9.  The Proof is not in the Yogurt.

If I see another yogurt or dessert place take over an empty storefront, I am going to scream.  Tasty Delite is flavorless, and the dessert options are a joke.  Café Lalo is a necessary evil for the landscape, but the overpriced sweets cannot be the top choice.  What I would give for just one good Parisian bakery.  Just one.  With real bread and real pastries.  You’re gonna say Silver Moon, and once again proximity acceptance.  Pick any bakery from Paris that you want.  Compare.  Case Closed.

10.  Top Chefs are Afraid.

Upper West Siders are notorious complainers, and want every meal tailored after very specific needs.  Just listen to a brunch order next time.  “I want a two egg white omelette with spinach and goat cheese, no home fries, with one piece of multigrain toast, turkey sausage and a side of fat-free butter.  No wait make it three egg whites.  Oh yeah and the bread cannot have gluten in it.  Is the o.j. freshly squeezed?  Oh, and I have a nut allergy.  Are there any nuts in my eggs?”  Get the picture, and that’s just for a brunch order.  A talented chef wants to bring a certain a creativity which is killed by the countless requests for modification.  Not to mention paying the rent.  UWSiders are notoriously cheap.  Only if a chef dumbs down the food like in KEFI, can a resto survive.  Yes, I said Kefi, cafeteria Greek food that’s been slightly elevated to accommodate the palate of the UWS.

Recently, I tried to eat Westside again. After closing a Tribeca mainstay, Chef Aaron Sanchez has moved digs to Columbia on 112th St.  I was very excited, but should have known better.  No cooking going on here, just placating to the unsophisticated college palate.  What a disappointment.

I live on the UWS for many reasons: right apartment deal, family, friends, dojo, parks etc., but the major sacrifice is food and drink.

There you have it.  I am sure there are other reasons I have missed or didn’t make the cut.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots, but those are few and far between.  Also, I don’t consider fine establishments near Lincoln Center such as Telepan or The Boulud restaurants as part of the UWS.    Here is a list of places that I recommend and a brief commentary.

 

Barney Greengrass – old school lox and bagel joint, don’t miss nova egg scramble.

Cafe Storico – good Italian spot for simple fare in a great setting near CPW

Cesca – run by a native who cares, good wine list and great cheeses

Saioguette – newcomer to take out with decent spring rolls and nice ribs and pho

Legend – finally good Szechuan fare

La Mirabelle – old school French with killer martinis

Sal & Carmine’s – best slice on UWS, now limited delivery

Jacques Torres – good chocolate

Pain d’Epice – proper pastires, don’t miss napoleon

Gastronomie 491 – properly run cheese dept., if not a tad expensive

Silver Moon Bakery – go for the different breads

Joe’s Coffee/Birch – good cup of joe

Nice Matin – decent French fare, nice wine list

Gazala Place – Druize fare, quite authentic

Taqueria y Fonda – take-out Veracuz cuisine, bang for the buck

Gennaro – a simple Italian meal is possible here, specials usually good

 

 

Paella, anyone?

Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and the normal anxiety of what to do for my dear mother is intensified because she always wants to go out for a simple, delicious paella.  She doesn’t want me to make one at home, rather she wants to be taken out be her two sons to a Spanish restaurant reminiscent of her trip to Spain many years ago.

New York City is home to many successful genres of ethnic cuisine.  Every one loves a great pasta joint, taco truck, or French brasserie.  Inexpensive Asian food has made a very successful transition to high-end gourmet preparation, and it seems that tapas can be found on many menus, Spanish theme not a requirement.

When I think about the available Spanish food in New York, I am usually underwhelmed. Why am I so disappointed?  Isn’t Spain the culinary center of the universe?  All those Michelin star restaurants like Arzak and Mugarritz, El Bulli and its modernist legacy, and El Celler de Can Roca, the #1 resto in the world.

I don’t long for linguine vongole from Rome, or steak tartare from Paris because I can find veritable versions here.  Perhaps authentic tacos are harder to find too, but Tex-Mex reigns in this town, and real tacos are slowly arriving.

Over the past five years, several Spanish restaurants have opened, and I have been excited every time, only to come home scratching my head, especially at what could have been.  With so many Spanish ingredients readily available to us in the U.S., and so many Spanish chefs wishing to make it here, what gives?

Recently I dined at Manzanilla, a sprawling restaurant managed by the people who brought us Boqueria and a known chef from Marbella.  Spanish menu.  Check.  Décor. Demi Check.  Wine list with sherry. Still improving. Spanish Chef in the kitchen.  Check.  So why on all the green grass on the Great Lawn does the food fail to impress? Where is the spirit I left in San Sebastian? Or Madrid for that matter?

When I planned to open Pata Negra in 2008, the most important part of the business model was sourcing quality product.  In 1990 I visited a tiny sliver of a bar in Barcelona whose name I have long forgotten.  I was impressed by its simplicity.  Good wine, cheese and the best jamon.  A cozy place that didn’t scream Spanish but evoked that vibe that was most discernibly La Patria.  Not only did the feeling stick with me for 18 years, but the quality of the product, and then of course the style of service, casual, friendly, yet professional, relaxed, and neighborly, well informed, and informative, learning through consuming, magical and simple all in one.

In 2008 the ban was lifted, thanks to Chef Jose Andres and successful lobbying, and true jamon iberico de bellota became legal to import. The cheese and wine had already been improving drastically compared to 1990.  No more waxy manchego, table Rioja, and jamon serrano.  Welcome pata negra, torta del casar, and mencia.

As for décor, garlic on the walls? Bulls? Flags?  No, the vibrations dictate the décor and mood.  Let the product and service do the talking.

Which brings me to the first point on why these restaurants have failed to hit the mark.  Product.  If you have ever been to Spain, the first thing that should have made an everlasting impression is the market.  The freshness and simplicity of the best sourced ingredients.  You walk into La Boqueria in Barcelona, or  the markets from Valencia to Madrid or Cadiz, and the product jumps out at you.  Proud vendors selling their wares as their reputation, forming relationships with their customers.  Oh, and the proof is in the arroz con leche.  You can have a bite in the market at the various kiosks in the market place, just to make sure those langoustines are up to snuff.

This is one reason why Essex Street market trumps Eataly.  Whether I stop at Anne Saxelby’s CheeseMonger shop, or Heritage Foods, I am dealing with small business owners who take pride in their work and foster relationships.  At Eataly, there is no relationship with the owners.  It is just a hyper supermarket sans soul.  Compare Eataly to the Mercat de San Anton in Chueca, Madrid, for example.  Compare rooftops.  No contest. A European market place extraordinaire is what it should have been modeled after.

I was fortunate enough to dine at El Bulli before it closed, and what jumped off the plate was not only the technique of the master chef, but the quality of the ingredients.  Upon further research (and reading from A Day at El Bulli), a major reason why El Bulli was so successful, had much to do with the product, which Chef Adria and his staff spent a painstaking amount of time acquiring for each and every service.  It is the same in any good Spanish restaurant, as well as any great tapas bar such as Cal Pep in Barcelona worthy of its name on the door.

What I find in Spanish restaurants in the New York City of today, is the classic restaurant dilemma.  How can we serve the masses and maintain quality by sourcing the best ingredients?  When tapas or Spanish dishes miss the mark, look to the pantry, and having worked with many Spanish chefs in New York City, corners are cut way too often.

The second problem facing a successful Spanish restaurant is technique.  It is obvious that modern cooking fathered in Spain and spearheaded by the master chef is inventive, intriguing and often delicious.  I feel Chef Adria tried to surprise the diner, create a playful relationship with food.  Some dishes were fun and forgetful, and others have lingered with me to this day.  So many chefs are applying modernist techniques in such a way as to forget about traditional good old-fashioned home cooking, taking the soul out of the food, and falling short of authenticity and ultimately pleasure.  This is partly why Romera closed, and why Chef Dani Garcia at Manzanilla has not hit his stride yet.  A play on pulpo a la gallega arrived to the table smoked in a box, very appealing until you bite into a tepidly temperatured octopus, potato and foam. The novelty of the technique failed to elevate the dish as memorable in a good way.  Back at home in Galicia, the ingredient would pop, so that a little love and attention produces great food, especially in the hands of such a talented chef as Dani has proven to be in Marbella.

I don’t mean to single out Manzanilla.  I could fill in the names of so many Spanish restaurants over the past ten years. It’s just that it is new and being reviewed by many critics now. Despite the corporate décor, which I tried to block out, I enjoyed several dishes there, but ultimately did not feel any closer to Spanish shores than Long Island.  Down on the Bowery at Cata, the people behind Alta have spent a pretty penny on making the place look old world Spanish, then throw a monkey wrench into the whole program with the most out of place, uncomfortable, red metal, cut off your circulation stools.  You can’t help but want to stand or leave.  An aggressive menu with several grilled items selected from a tapas case at the bar feels authentic, just short of a marisqueria.  I almost wish the marisqueria business model was singled out and followed through more thoroughly.  Cata is simply trying to cover all bases and do too much.  The concept is unfocused, the dishes are many, and Spain is lost in translation.

Part of this has to do with target audience.  I can’t count how many people pass through the door telling me their stories of their time in Spain, either studying or vacationing.  I get the feeling that the only thing they ate was croquetas, patatas bravas and paella.  After gently explaining to them that Spanish cuisine is much more than that, they look at me with perplexed visages if the veracity of their authentic Spanish experiences has been compromised.  And in a way it has, because pulpo should be eaten in Galicia, just as paella in Valencia, and not on the streets of Madrid.  A real pulpo a la gallega should only be made with Galician waters, which a real cook would carry across the Spanish terrain, if necessary, to ensure the right balance and flavor.

If Spanish restaurant owners and chefs want to showcase Spanish flavors, then they should do just that.  Not try to make money, be gimmicky, or trendy, or aim to receive three stars from the New York Times. One does not have to be a critic to know when a restaurant is trying to hard to be something it is not.   Too many people have been to Spain and have experienced Spanish flavors.  They can spot a place that looks cool but misses on flavor a mile away.  But in this town, often, if the restaurant gets the right press and is a place that a patron wants to be seen in, then the food is secondary and survives.  Who cares if you can’t get a proper tortilla in this town?  Well, I do, and I suspect others do too.

As for the old school New York establishments that serve watered down sangria, whose paella come out of pots without a smidgen of arroz bomba, smothering seafood in sauces and greasy fries dressed in ketchup/mayo, they are just as guilty as all those peddlers on the Gran Via trying to shovel the worst of what Spanish cuisine has to offer, their version of fast food.  Instead, isn’t it just easier to shop for the right stuff, cook the stuff with care, and be gracious throughout the whole process?

To Go Cup

On a brisk March Saturday morning I touched down in NOLA, a break from some long hours and nights at Pata Negra, a much needed short respite of food, wine, and song.

New Orleans is my go to destination for therapy, and I try to go at least once a year.  Part of the fun is researching where to eat and drink and what band to see.  Eater NOLA is a good source for new openings, and my native friend Brett fills in the real gems.  Despite my best planning, there is never quite enough time to do everything, and it is hard not to rely on old standbys like Parkway Tavern.

This trip was full of new discoveries, as New Orleans is not just the French Quarter.  It is a series of neighborhoods strung together by subtleties, according to topography and class, all tied to some force that is most certainly NOLA.

Touched down in Louis Armstrong Airport by 9 am and headed straight to Café Beignet for a fix.  Lunched at the Green Goddess and had an unusual Bloody Mary with kimchi.  The Vietnamese po’boy of shrimp and pork belly hit the spot, as well as the eggs.  Checked out a few cocktail spots before check-in at the Dauphine Hotel.  Sobou (trendy), St. Lawrence (divey), and blanking on others.

After a siesta, drinks at French 75 bar at Arnaud’s (always classy and great) with oysters and gougeres, and off to dinner at Boucherie, way out by cab in Jefferson Parish, resto set up in a quaint house with a porch. A Proper Pimm’s Cupp while waiting, and then some solid, bright cooking accompanied by a reasonably priced ’97 Stefano Barolo.  Highlight was definitely lamb ribs and lamb falafel.  Hospitality extraordinaire.  Off to Frenchman Street to the Spotted Cat.  Jazz Vipers were rocking it.  Frenchman Street was kickin’.

Sunday brunch by Magazine Street at La Fin du Monde, more bloody marys (a little thin, but good) and shrimp and grits (very good).  Caught the end of the Bulls game at The Bulldog (Mimi is a big fan) and then headed over to Luke’s for shrimp and oysters happy hour.  Siesta, and off to ROOT, a new resto with people who know what they are doing, from the front door to the table.  Best charcuterie I have had in ages, from face bacon to beef tongue to longanisa sausage on down, accompanied by pickled kumquats and meyer lemon compote, then followed by delicious rendition of aloo gobi with no sauce, but all the spice.  Duck heart salad, deviled eggs and shrimp, cornmeal crusted oysters  – I wish I had two stomachs. Washed down with a rose bottle of Beck NV.  Took two to go cups (just because you can), and then it was back to Frenchman Street to hear a new band, Big Easy Brawlers.  Lead was doing a great Busta Rhymes interpretation, lots of guests stopped in to play.  Abita all night.

Monday morning meant the Bywater, a new nabe for us, and tough to get to.  Lots of low houses with wild colors of purple and yellow.  You get the feeling real people live there and you are not quite sure how it’s gonna be when night falls.

The destination was The Joint, home to heavenly barbecue and pies and such.  What a dream brisket, pork rib, pulled pork combo. People’s BBQ joint for all sorts of people.

In an attempt to walk off the carnage, made several attempts to find art galleries, but all seemed closed or unavailable, so back to Bacchanal for a great wine experience.  Shop as in a regular store, order some cheese, and then sit outside the backyard and soak in some sun.  No mark up for the wine (unheard of in NY), and a riesling and red burg later, we moved on upstairs for cocktails.  Our bartender named a drink after me.  I forget what’s in it, but I saw her scribble the recipe in her notebook.  Forgive me, because five cocktails later it was tough to remember anything really.  Walked over to Maurepas for a bite, bold flavors and nice drinks, especially the shrimp hotpot, then double dipped over at Booty’s, street food from around the world done up, but the doomsday daiquiri finally put us out of our misery.

Tuesday lunch at Cochon, and we over-ordered (of course).  After all it was to be our last taste of NOLA.  Falling off bone pork ribs, roasted oysters in my favorite spicy sauce, oozing mac and cheese, fried alligator tots, rabbit livers with red pepper jelly, and some fine gumbo, washed down by nice half bottle of gruner and a pinot noir from New Zealand, with room for dessert, my fave, a pineapple upside down cake and chocolate pie.  Spent the rest of the time at Best Records, just grooving to bands new and old, stocking up on vinyl and t-shirts.  Alas there was a plane delay, and had I known, I would have spent my last moments at Parkway Tavern, but it was not meant to be.  I held on to my to go cup from ROOT.  Part cause I wish NYC had this open policy, and part because I wanna take NOLA in that cup back home with me.  Looking at that cup sure makes me smile.

 

 

EV Shuffle – HAPPY 5TH

Recently, Pata Negra had a five year anniversary.  It coincides closely with my own.  I thought about a celebratory party, but was so busy with business and life, I was just too tired to even plan it.  With some time to reflect on the birthday, I have come to realize a few things.

First, I am fortunate to have stayed in business for five years.  This is a statement of fact for several reasons.  New York City is ripe with people who work hard and open businesses every day.  In the restaurant industry, there are talented/celebrity chefs, savvy business people, and corporations with deep pockets who know how to play the game and survive in any economic climate.

Pata Negra opened in February 2008, and let’s just say that it was rough going for about three years.  As I look around me in the East Village, so many restaurants have come and gone, even long established ones with healthy reputations.  Pata Negra has survived real estate tax increases (+25% of the base rent), worker’s compensation fines (idiotic inspector/audit), unwarranted DOH fines, and stiff competition (Bar Veloce, Xunta now Nai,and Terroir to start).  When all the buzz is about David Chang or Motorino pizza or the populist Sarita’s Mac-n-Cheese, Pata Negra has survived despite these admittedly better business models for the demographic.

I am no celebrity chef, have no corporate backing, and certainly do not play/pay into the advertising game that exists (Yelp could blow up for all I care).  Frank Bruni has dined at Terroir and gave it a one star rating when he was chief critic for the New York Times.  The other night I saw him in the Duck’s Eatery (Leon’s replacement), two doors down from me.

I receive invitations to advertise weekly, from every deal site from GroupOn to Single Platform to you name it.  Every one of these firms claim they can get me more exposure on NY Magazine or Urbanspoon or whatever. And I am not even going to get into it about YELP.

My business is simple, Spanish Jamon, cheese, and wine, augmented by a few select tapas.  It is a European business model.  There is no paella (btw, there is no authentic paella in all of NY).  No croquetas or patatas bravas, in fact nothing fried (choice & kitchen limitation).  No take-out or delivery.  The point is to come in and experience Pata Negra, to be transported somewhere in Spain, with friendly, attentive service, great jamon y queso, and a nice glass of wine/sherry that I spend a lot of time and research choosing.

Pata Negra is not built for every one, every mood, or every occasion.  It is a civilized place for civilized people.  It functions pretty much the way I had envisioned it many, many years ago when I visited a bar in Barcelona just like it.

My staff and I are eager to please every one who steps through the door, and for 99% of those customers, we strive to make their experience memorable.  The other 1% may be rewarded with a sharp tongue from its owner, if they dare to post lies or refuse to follow house policies.  In these cases the customers are not always right.

I am still thinking of throwing a bash, with some artisanal beers and a pata negra jamon, but I would hate to leave any one of those who have supported me for so long out.  If you are reading this post, please forward me your e-mail address.

Pata Negra has made it through five topsy turvy years and to this I say, “Survival is the new success.”  The truth is that I wouldn’t have made it without the continuing patronage of many lovely, civilized people, friends and family who continue to visit and support Pata Negra, restoring faith in this project whose conception dates back to 1990, my first visit to Spain.  Of course, a huge thank you to my staff, some who have been with me through the whole ride, past and present, who allow me my jaunts to Europe, my siestas and wild moodswings, and my mom who minds the shop when I am ill.  Without them, I would be insane.

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

The following is a rambling of the landscape change within the last five years, just within a block or two of Pata Negra,  to illustrate how hard it is to stay open in an ever changing landscape and economy.

There has been a lot of movement on First Avenue in the East Village lately. Since I rented the space on 12th street just off of First Avenue, storefronts have been transforming before you can decide to pay a visit.  On the corner of 14th street, there was a bagel shop, and they shuttered for a long time until Hot & Crusty moved in.  Next door, Tepito, a Mexican cantina opened.  Tepito shut its doors last Sunday.  Vinny’s pizzeria has been around for ten years, but recently a dollar pizza shop and new next door 2 Bros Pizza shop are putting the squeeze on Vinny, prompting him to counter with a dollar slice special of his own.  Michael Bao ran out of town after his Bao BBQ never caught on.  I still remember my first and last visit.  He gave me a free bottle of Red Boat fish sauce.  Too bad.  Subway moved in and has stuck around.  On the corner of 11th, the deli has changed hands twice, and Starbucks is officially planted on 11th street.  Two Indian restos and a Filipino joint were run off the block on 13th st. so that Lebanese Balade, Papa John’s and Tallgrass organic burger joint could open.  Significantly, the Red Head moved in to the former Detours space and is still thriving.  Jeepney has just moved in, adding to Maharlinka further down First Ave.  Kumo sushi has replaced a short lived barbecue spot as well catering to NYU sensibilities and budget.  Around the east side of 13th street, Ichibantei has changed hands and now is offering reggae music, frosty mugged Sapporo and great kara age, out went the octopus balls and strange marble floor.  On 12th street, Sara’s Mac n Cheese took the space to my left for a bustling take out business, a busted massage parlor for take out, and Motorino moved into Una Pizza Napoletana.  Thai terminal has changed hands twice as well, and Ducks Eatery is in the defunct Leon space, and seems to be here to stay.  The corner deli is being transformed into a restaurant now, hopefully a good addition to the block.  Of course Hearth and Terroir are still there, doing quite well (I imagine).  Up the street from me Angelika Kitchen and John’s are holding court, although I recently saw a sign stating that John’s is serving vegan and gluten free food, also posting a picture of Guy Fieri in an effort to keep up with the times.  Not a good sign if you ask me.  Shima rounds out the block and the tavern opposite corner.  Bar Veloce consumed Bar Carerra and is now open almost all day.  Milk bar has moved across the street to make room for Booker and Dax, a trendy nitrogen bar.  Further down first avenue, Polonia closed, Lasso took over a failed project by Veloce people called Solex, Ugly Kitchen saddled up next door, 1st avenue Pierogi has redone itself, and three sandwich shops opened, Little Piggy, Joedough, and Whitmans (burgers technically).   I prefer Porchetta. Yogurt shops have closed four times, as no one seems to understand that yogurt just doesn’t sell in the winter. There are three hookah bars, and two middle eastern halal spots, supported by the Muslim community associated with the Mosque and cab drivers.  The one Dominican spot on 12th still shines, as well as the last remnants of Italian joints hold on, Veneiro;s, Lanza’s, etc. The tapas bar on 11th , Xunta,  has become Nai, and Iggy replaced the beloved pizzeria Rosa’s.  Momofuku is there, lines and all. I can’t quite recall what The Bean replaced, but that is probably a good thing, Tarelucci y Vino is now surrounded by coffe competition.  Café Abraco is my choice, after a stop at Xian’s famous foods or South Brooklyn pizza (my go to lunch spots).   Coyote Ugly and Cheap Shots are still serving NYU drunks until the wee hours, better bars like Lunasa and the Irish pubs off St. Mark’s thankfully still around.  The only wine shop on First, Tinto Fino, sells a great list of Spanish jewels.

There are other shops on First Ave., thrift, technical, fast food and otherwise.  Check them out for yourself.  Obviously I will not mention those chain corporation that have come to replace defunct storefronts, the ATM’s and chain pharmacies that are so prevalent because only they can afford the rising rents and real estate taxes, the reason why neighborhoods are fast becoming non-descript and mall-like.

SHOP EV 2013

Many people in New York are still on the long road to recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Homes have yet to be rebuilt, and restaurants, once bustling, remain shuttered.  While critics and other food and wine sites are compiling their best of 2012 reviews, I would like to take this time to continue advocating for support for businesses that lost a lot and need all the help they can get to get back on their feet.

While there are obvious areas that need continuing support (Red Hook, Avenue C, etc.), I am making a case for the small sliver of a predominantly small business neighborhood, the East Village.  Many East Village businesses suffered damages and lost revenue, and are a long way from returning to normalcy, especially with cold and lonely January on the horizon.

There has been no tax relief, no insurance payouts, and FEMA has only offered loans.  A small business needs a loan like a real estate tax increase.

Here is a list of places, old and new, in random order, that I frequent and recommend.

Kasadela

Zum Schneider

Upstate

Tinto Fino

Bob White’s Counter

Northern Spy

Amor y Amargo

Duck’s Eatery

Jules Bistro

Calliope

The Mermaid Inn

Café Abraco

Barnyard

The Beagle

Black Iron Burger Shop

Bluebird Coffee

Boka

The Brindle Room

Café Cortadito

Angel’s Share

The New Bohemian

Japan Premium Beef

Icihbantei

Kanoyama

Rai Rai Ken

Kyo Ya

First Avenue Pierogi

Minca

Perbacco

Porchetta

Porsena

Zabb Elee

South Brooklyn Pizza

Ukrainian EV Restaurant

Xi’an’s Famous Foods

 

I haven’t listed the shops which I frequent, but there are many boutiques where great bargains lay waiting for the patient.

Happy and Healthy 2013!