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Pete Wells Names New York’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2014

Pete Wells Names New York’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2014


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This past weekend, Pete Wells of The New York Times published his roundup of his favorite new restaurants that opened this year in New York City. Wells addressed his self-described “nonlinear thinking” as a deviant reaction to the star system the paper employs, explaining, “while I stand by the weekly star ratings, this annual list gives more weight to other things, like value and a strong, clear point of view. Of the new restaurants I reviewed in 2014, these are the ones I remember most vividly and fondly.”

His compilation encompasses a wide variety of star ratings, with only two of the 10 being restaurants he had awarded three stars. Seven had been ranked as two-star establishments, and he even gave a spot to a one-star rated restaurant: Patti Jackson’s Delaware and Hudson snagged the #6 slot, outranking #7 Contra, #8 Dirty French, #9 Gato, and #10 Bar Bolonat, all of whom received two stars. Bâtard, one of the two that scored three stars, came out on the very top because, according to Wells, “Bâtard brings back the fun. You hear it in the voices and see it in the smiles of customers as they realize that this place revolves around them, not the artistry on the plate.”

The list also lends readers some insight into Wells’ personal gastronomic preferences; he tends to enjoy French cuisine (#1 Bâtard, #3 The Simone, #4 Cherche Midi, and #7 Dirty French), along with well-executed comfort foods such as ramen (#5 Ivan Ramen) and Jewish deli specialties like knishes and latkes (#2 Russ & Daughters Café). He also respects restaurants that employ old-school methods — both in cooking their food and to their business practices. The former is demonstrated by chef Jackson’s emphasis on “homey mid-Atlantic recipes and the pasta skills she learned in Italian kitchens” at Delaware and Hudson, while the latter is upheld by co-owner of The Simone, Tina Vaughn, who, when you call for a reservation, will “write your name in something called a ‘book,’ holding an implement known as a ‘pen.’ She applies the same antique tool to the menu, which she writes out in cursive and photocopies each time Mr. Smith changes it,” Wells writes with great approval and respect.

Perhaps most of all, his year-end roundup shows off Wells’ self-deprecating humor. He opens the piece by alluding to “the foxhole [from] where I attempt to pin stars on restaurants” and he ends his explanation of his selections with the signoff, “All 10 strike me as standing out from a pack of other new places where you can also get a good meal. Now if you need me, look for me in my foxhole.” Luckily, it seems, the critic doesn’t take himself as seriously as he does the food served in New York’s restaurants.

Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant and City Guide Editor for The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.


Meet The Queens Of King, NYC’s Elegant Corner Restaurant: New Chefs Rising, Episode 13

Three young women in London decide to move to New York City and start their own restaurant — what could go wrong? Everything! But last fall, chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt (who are British) and general manager Annie Shi (an American from New York) somehow managed to open their restaurant, King, on a quaint corner of western SoHo, seemingly without any drama. Now, if you peer in most nights, you’ll see a perfectly lit, always full dining room of well-heeled diners enjoying de Boer and Shadbolt’s take on northern Italian and southern French food, such as the roast guinea hen with capers, olives, bay leaves and lentils that de Boer cooks up in our latest episode of New Chefs Rising. Watch as de Boer and Shadbolt, who met at cooking school in Ireland and went on to work together at London’s famed River Café, explain their brave move to become NYC restaurateurs.

Alex Stupak recently opened one of midtown Manhattan’s best restaurants, Empellón. (Photos by Evan Sung.)


Best Brooklyn & Queens Restaurants of 2014

The outer boroughs might never be able to compete with Manhattan when it comes to their sheer number of annual restaurant openings. But that doesn’t mean there was a lack of dining excitement in Brooklyn and Queens this year. (Especially in where Brooklyn is concerned!) Which is why we’re showcasing some of our favorite, far-flung spots of 2014 — from Semilla, a fantastic, vegetable-focused tasting room in Williamsburg, to Mu Ramen, a pop-up turned permanent noodle sensation in Long Island City.

Semilla

We’re feeling pretty grateful that the quirky Williamsburg restaurant, Isa, imploded a few years back, because its talented team dispersed, and went on to open truly exciting projects. Ignacio Mattos launched Estela, one of our favorite restaurants of 2013, and after working for a while at pop-ups, Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pam Yung finally found a landing pad at Semilla — serving an endlessly inventive, all-vegetable tasting menu. Burdock Root Arancini and Celery Root Tagliatelle, anyone?

Delaware and Hudson

It’s not often that Michelin honors Brooklyn restaurants, year-old eateries, or female chefs, which is why Delaware and Hudson’s earning a star was wholly unprecedented, albeit highly deserved. And the truly awesome thing is, it will only set you back $48 for four Michelin-approved courses at Patti Jackson’s charming Williamsburg boite, such as Pappardelle with goose ragu, Black Sea Bass with cauliflower puree, and an assortment of appetizers to share, including Swiss Chard Pie, Salt Cod Croquettes, and Jackson’s infamous puffy Pretzel Rolls.

Mu Ramen

What started as a late-night pop-up inside of a Long Island bagel shop has quickly become one of the most sought after tables around. Per Se veteran Jonathan Smookler, and his wife, Heidy, are the masterminds behind Mu Ramen, which draws enthusiastic hordes of ramen-lovers from all over the city (including NYT restaurant critic, Pete Wells), for hearty bowls of Tonkotsu or Spicy Miso, Smoked Trout Okonomiyaki, and the luxurious “U&I,” a pile of spicy maguro, ikura, rice, and sesame roasted nori topped with melting lobes of uni.

Pacifico’s Fine Foods

Shanna Pacifico served as Peter Hoffman’s right hand for over 10 years, at his seminal farm-to-table restaurants, Back Forty, Back Forty West and Savoy. And while she remains a fixture at the greenmarkets at her first solo spot in Brooklyn, her menu is equally, intriguingly informed by her Brazilian background, resulting in exotic dishes, such as Squid a la Plancha with cocoa brown butter, Acorn Squash Salad with white Spanish anchovies, Fried Chicken “Chicharonne” with spicy slaw, and Grilled Whole Porgy in coconut fish broth.

Arepa Lady 2

Maria Cano, aka The Arepa Lady, has been a beloved Jackson Heights fixture for over 15 years, serving her crispy-edged, cheese-stuffed Mexican corn cakes from a small, rolling cart. But in 2014, she was able to finally realize her dream of opening a full-fledged, sit-down restaurant, which (thankfully), doesn’t stray far from her original concept — a welcoming, no-frills neighborhood gathering spot, focused on turning out perfect grilled pancakes slathered with butter, and wrapped around squeaky, gooey cheese.

Bar Chuko

You’d be hard-pressed to find better ramen in Brooklyn than at the 35-seat Chuko (run by three Morimoto alums). And their new, nearby spin-off, Bar Chuko, is the borough’s best izakaya, serving sake, soju, and Japanese bar food. Choose from a selection of grilled skewers, such as chicken thigh, eggplant, prawn and pork jowl, and don’t ignore the fabulous hot and cold small plates, especially Fresh Tofu with chili oil, Unagi with Congee, Rice Cakes with pork and kimchee, and the saucer-sized Okonomiyaki a savory, eggy pancake topped with cabbage, bacon and bonito.

End of the Century Bar

While most Brooklyn and Manhattan businesses take their cocktail programs really seriously, the pre-Prohibition tipple craze hasn’t had much noticeable impact in Queens until now. Owned by former mixologists from three of New York’s most respected drinking institutions — Pegu Club, PKNY and Maison PremiereEnd of the Century Bar serves classic concoctions with an artisan edge think Tequila Buck’s with housemade ginger ale, and fruity Scorpion Bowls featuring aged rum and absinthe.


11 of the Best Bad Restaurant Reviews Ever

Love them or hate them, critics are paid to entertain us, and we love it when they really go in on a restaurant, dismantling pretention, rip-off prices and shoddy service. They can help make or break a restaurant, and can be both uncomfortably vitriolic and convulsively hilarious.

Here then, are some of the best one-liners from 11 of the best bad restaurant reviews ever, from the food world’s most respected critics, plus political writer Tina Nguyen, writers who have elevated the withering put-down to an art form.


NOTICE REGARDING RESTAURANT OPERATIONS

Update: Our Great Neck location is now open for dine-in service. Please call the restaurant to make a reservation.

Update: Our Brooklyn location is now open for heated outdoor dining, and indoor dining rooms will reopen on Sunday, February 14th. Online reservations are now available. Please pay close attention to the "indoor" and "outdoor" indicators when making a reservation.

We will continue to make limited menu and butcher shop items available for pickup and delivery from both our Brooklyn and Great Neck locations. We will also be serving a limited selection from our wine list to customers over the age of 21.

To place an order for pickup or delivery from our Brooklyn restaurant, please follow the link below. To order pickup from our Great Neck restaurant, please give us a call at (516) 487-8800 or follow the link below.

Pickup and delivery from our Brooklyn and Great Neck locations will be available from 11:45AM - 8:45PM daily, based on limited availability.


Mercado Little Spain, A Food And Restaurant Complex, Arrives In New York City To Raves

The number one restaurant on the Top 10 list of best new eateries of 2019 by Pete Wells. the New York Times’ restaurant critic, was Mercado Little Spain. Owned by highly-rated chef Jose Andres and his Think Food Group, it is located in Hudson Yards, New York City’s newest neighborhood, a residential and commercial complex that opened to mixed architectural reviews.

Wells described Mercado Little Spain as a “labyrinth of Spanish restaurants, bars, cafes, kiosks and shops.” He said it made New York’s Spanish food scene “what, five times better? Ten times?”

The most important foods served, Wells noted, “are the most elementary: the gazpacho that shimmer with olive oil and sherry vinegar the thick, dark hot chocolate that comes with churros just out of the fryer.”

In fact, Mercado Little Spain does for Spanish food what Eataly, which was opened by Mario Batali, does for Italian food, but has a wider array of retail spaces, kiosks and eateries.

It debuted on March 15, 2019 in a 35,000-square-foot-space, huge by Manhattan standards. It’s co-owned by real-estate firms Related Corporation and Oxford Properties Group, which developed Hudson Yards.

In fact, it numbers three full-service restaurants, three independent bars, and 16 food and retail kiosks. It features Mar, a restaurant devoted to seafood Lena, which specializes in foods of the Basque country and Spanish Diner, which serves all-day dining, including breakfast, and could be a spot to watch soccer games.

It includes the Bar Celona, which specializes in cocktails, and the Colmado, a retail shop for Spanish dry goods, canned seafoods and cookbooks.

When this reporter had lunch there on a Sunday at noon, it was jammed with customers, who appeared to be predominantly tourists, not locals. Throngs circulated through the various food stalls for pastries, sandwiches, and bars for drinks, but there weren’t enough seats to accommodate all of the people ordering food. Where do they all sit and eat, I wondered?

I ended up dining at Bar Monolo, a Barcelona-like bar with tapas, sandwiches, and wines. The major attraction was: I found a seat at the bar. But the café con leche was strong and tasty, and the tapas, grilled mussels with potato chips grilled and cured sausage, were savory.

Yelp consumers raved about the food but also noted its cramped spaces. Christa from Denver, for example, noted how “it gets crowded and the space is small but the quality of food was incredible!’ She praised the meat paella and said the “charcuteries melted in your mouth” but also said cocktails were “pricey.”

Here’s what Eric Martino, COO of Think Food Group, who previously was a part-owner and general manager of a Carrabba’s Italian Grill from 2006 to 2012, said about Mercado Little Spain:

You’re trying to bring Barcelona and its food to New York. How so?

Martino: Jose Andres, 30 years ago, came through on a Navy ship, and had the dream to put something in New York City, and this is his love letter to New York. It’s essentially bringing Spain to Hudson Yards.

Food-wise, what’s new about Mercado Little Spain?

Martino: It’s authentic, the way Spanish people eat their food, and that’s felt throughout the kiosks and full-service restaurants. For example, take the insalata russa, which is a salad with potatoes, peas, and is a mayo-based tuna salad. It keeps the integrity of Spanish food and is served in a market as if was Barcelona or Valencia.

How does Jose Andres establish culinary standards when there are 15 restaurants, including kiosks, bars and stores?

Martino: Jose is very much involved culinarily. We have a team of research and development staff that makes sure the products and the recipes are where they need to be with consistency. We have a great team of culinary leaders that want to focus on finding the best new products from Spain and working on exciting festivals we might run.

Who is Mercado Little Spain targeting?

Martino: It targets Spanish people, tourists, New Yorkers—everyone.

It seems as if it’s mostly tourists, correct?

Martino: I think that’s natural. It’s probably 65% tourists and 35% locals.

What is it doing to attract locals?

Martino: The residences are still being built around us, though several businesses are already in. Facebook is coming, and there’s a lot to be built up. There’s a large Spanish population in the city. They respond viscerally to what a Spanish market is like.

But how does a consumer find a seat? There don’t seem to be enough of them.

Martino: We’re working on it. We’ve changed up things in the kiosks to have more seating availability. We’ve also added more places for folks to stand and eat. The restaurants have plenty of seats for people who want a sit-down experience. In the market, we’ve added more tables and will continue to do so.

Staffing such a large complex is quite an undertaking. How do you do it?

Martino: First of all, we’re taking care of them. People that join our group share our mission statement to change the world through the experience of food. Our managers and operators are great at connecting with our folks and giving them the resources they need to take care of our guests.

What will determine the success of Mercado Little Spain?

Martino: It should be measured in different ways. First and foremost, we want people to get the same reaction every time they walk in. Profitability is a big one and that people experience what we’re trying to provide them.

Are there future Mercado Little Spain projected in other cities?

Martino: Nothing to share at this time.

Ultimately what is Mercado Little Spain about?

Martino: It’s our people, the people who serve our guests and tell the story of what we’re trying to do, and the food, retaining the authentic cuisine of Spain.


Lard: The New Health Food?

Startled by news about the dangers of trans fats, writer Pete Wells happily contemplates the return of good old-fashioned lard.

When I turn to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, I more or less know what I&aposll find. Paul Krugman will be preaching to the choir and David Brooks will be gamely hiding the strain of being the conservative that liberals can almost imagine having lunch with. On very special days, the paper may issue some rumblings about the UN&aposs Oil-for-Food affair. The last thing I expect to see is an engraved invitation to eat french fries and fried chicken, yet that is roughly what I got one day last summer.

Extending this astonishing offer was the food writer Corby Kummer. In response to the news that New York City&aposs health commissioner had asked local restaurants to stop using cooking oils containing trans fats, comparing them to such hazards as lead and asbestos, Kummer proposed that we bring back lard, "the great misunderstood fat." Lard, he cheerfully reported, contains just 40 percent saturated fat (compared with nearly 60 percent for butter). Its level of monounsaturated fat (the "good" fat) is "a very respectable 45 percent," he noted, "double butter&aposs paltry 23 or so percent." Kummer hinted that if I wanted to appreciate the virtues of this health food, I needed to fry shoestring potatoes or a chicken drumstick.

What did I know about lard? Bupkes. To my generation, the phrase deep fried in pure lard is shorthand for morbid obesity. Born in the &apos60s and raised in New England, I had consumed as much lard as a resident of Mecca. Okay, I exaggerate. I had eaten a pie crust made with lard and seen the way it flaked under a fork. But I&aposd eaten nothing fried in lard. "It is absolutely the best for frying," says Fran McCullough, author of The Good Fat Cookbook, an impassioned defense of butter, fish oil and other natural sources of fat. "Nothing crisps food quite as well as lard. Hands down, there&aposs no better fried chicken."

With lard circulating in polite society again, I would have to introduce myself and get acquainted. First, though, I had to find some. The one-pound brick of lard in my corner bodega was hydrogenated, as was the 40-ounce tub my favorite butcher carries, along with nearly all the commercial lard available in this country. During hydrogenation, fat molecules are pelted by hydrogen until their chemical structures change. Hydrogenation can make liquid fats solid at room temperature (that&aposs how we get Crisco) and gives lard extra stability so it won&apost go rancid as quickly. Unfortunately, hydrogenation is also the source of unwholesome trans fats, which shoot extra LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) into your arteries while batting away the other, good cholesterol. If I wanted the freshest, purest, most nutritious lard available, I&aposd have to make it myself.

Good lard starts with good pork fat, and plenty of it. Old recipe books tell you that the fat on a hog&aposs back grows thicker than an inch, but modern pigs are bred to be as slim as greyhounds, and compiling enough of their back fat to fry a batch of chicken would mean stopping at every butcher in Brooklyn. The pigs I needed were premodern. At last, I talked with two young farmers who raise venerable breeds like Tamworths on the rolling pastures of Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York. These enterprising hog merchants, Jennifer Small and Michael Yezzi, agreed to hook me up.

For five long days, I waited for my fat. On the sixth, a huge cardboard box arrived. I tore it open and stared in awe. Inside were four massive hunks, each the size of a dictionary. They were lumpy, with the barely noticeable pink color of a cooked rabbit loin. Together, they added up to 10 pounds of the finest pig fat, and it all belonged to me.

Rendering is how we extract cooking fat from the chunky solid stuff. (The grease in a pan of bacon is rendered bacon fat.) Heat melts the fat and draws it out of the surrounding tissue it also evaporates the water in the fat. You can&apost just crank up the gas, though, or the fat will scorch. To speed up this low-temperature process, I sliced my fat into big chunks and ran them through an electric meat grinder. What came out looked like spaghetti on steroids. Even with the flame set at a quiet flicker, the spaghetti strands quickly melted. Then, for the next two hours, the pot bubbled away as the kitchen filled with the aroma of roast pork. When the bubbling became sluggish, I strained my brand-new lard through cheesecloth and let it cool on the counter. The solid crunchy bits caught in the filter are cracklings. They are famously delicious in corn bread, but I&aposve been too busy eating meals that were deep fried in pure lard to mess with cracklings.

Now I asked my wife which foods she was most keen to drench in our half-gallon of homemade lard. Her shocking answer was "None." I feared for a minute that she was not the same girl I married, until she explained: Since she and lard had no history together, she simply didn&apost know what to hope for. At that moment, I knew that more was riding on my experiments than my own idle curiosity. I had an obligation to millions of Americans in my age group. Every generation has a defining moment, a time when it turns squarely to meet its fate. For Winston Churchill and his peers, that moment was the second world war. Vietnam molded the baby boomers. I believe my generation&aposs destiny is inextricably bound to animal fat. As children, our fragile bones were nourished by Crisco and margarine. We were all, as Gertrude Stein would have said if she&aposd stuck around, a lardless generation. Now lard was back. Would we have the strength of character to meet it on its own terms? To find out, I invited two friends over for a fried-food adventure. One had lived in Central America, the other in Poland—yet neither had ever tasted homemade lard.

A half-gallon of lard doesn&apost go as far as you&aposd think. About a quart went into my largest cast-iron skillet to meet the cut-up components of two young chickens. Once fried to a beguiling amber, the birds perched on a brown paper bag from Bloomingdale&aposs while I spooned lumps of hush-puppy batter (cornmeal, flour, egg, buttermilk) into the lard, which was poultry-scented now. Sixteen hush puppies later, I had about two cups of lard left. Somewhere I have read that the ideal temperature for deep frying is between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit—so high, in other words, that the food has almost no time to soak up the fat before it&aposs fully cooked. Judging by how much lard was missing, I had fallen short of the ideal by at least a hundred degrees.

Next I cooked beer-battered scrod in a pint or so of virgin lard. (It is whispered that in some Southern towns, far off the main highways, weekend-night fish fries still center on vats of roiling hog grease.) Hardly any fat remained for my french fries. This is how I broke another sacred precept in the Fryer&aposs Code: I overloaded my oil. Authorities concur that french fry perfection is achieved through a double baptism in fat. A first immersion over medium heat cooks the potato, then a second, roaring-hot bath browns and crisps the exterior. Where I went wrong was the roaring-hot part. I split my potatoes into two batches for the first dunking, but then I threw the whole mess in together for the final rinse. The thermometer sank gloomily and so did my spirits. Why did I sabotage the whole recipe in one reckless move? I was hungry, that&aposs why. Hungry for the taste of lard.

Except there was no taste. From my experience with bacon grease and some memorably fatty Flying Pigs Farm loin roasts, I had the idea that anything fried in lard would take on a sweet, rich, porky essence. Yet my friends and I agreed that our food bore no trace of pig. The chicken tasted exactly like chicken and the scrod just like scrod (whatever scrod is I&aposve never been sure). We might have wondered why I had bothered if we hadn&apost been completely entranced by something else: the texture.

We&aposd thought lard would encase and entomb food—maybe because at room temperature it looks like face cream𠅋ut it is a fat of rare finesse. Extra-virgin olive oil is more versatile—hog-fat vinaigrette probably won&apost be coming to a trattoria near you—yet I generally find it too assertive for frying. ("Pure" olive oil has a more neutral flavor and is cheaper, too.) Corn and soybean oils (these days, most bottles marked "vegetable oil" contain soy) perform well at the higher temperatures used for frying, but they also leave an unpleasant tacky residue in the mouth, like wet paint. Not lard. At 350 degrees it forms a crust that shatters with satisfying ease my disastrous french fries came out like potato sticks, but they were potato sticks that met your teeth with a memorable snap. After hanging out in your mouth for a minute, though, a lard-fried crust becomes soft and creamy, as voluptuous as a Rubens nude but not as heavy. All my kitchen slipups didn&apost stop me from recognizing that lard is the most elegant fat I&aposve ever met. Even the absence of pork flavor, which at first struck me as a flaw, only made lard seem more delicate and refined.

My euphoria lasted about 10 minutes. Then I wanted to hunt down the villains who&aposd kept me away from my beautiful lard all these years. When I find them, though, I doubt I&aposll have the heart for revenge. When McDonald&aposs swore off beef tallow in 1990 and started crisping its fries in vegetable oil, plenty of decent, honest people believed lives would be spared. But the oil they were using was partially hydrogenated. Now there&aposs a crusade against trans fats the company is under pressure to switch to nonhydrogenated oil. Animal fat has been around a lot longer than the FDA. Why were we so quick to toss lard overboard?

As I sent my friends home bathed in the warm glow of hog grease, I felt sure that our generation would pass the test of lard. We might not cook with it every night—natural lard is expensive and (all right, I&aposll admit it) deep-fried foods are often loaded with calories, no matter which fat you use. But we won&apost live in fear of it, either. When we want deep-fried excellence, we&aposll reach for the best fat for the job: lard.


8. Gage & Tollner

A revival close to three years in the making, Downtown Brooklyn’s historic 125-year-old restaurant Gage & Tollner reopened its doors in February. Following a brief stint with takeout and delivery, the restaurant opened for indoor dining in April — and has been booked a month out ever since. The revamped restaurant is headed by Red Hook restaurateur St. John Frizell, along with husband-and-wife team Ben Schneider and Sohui Kim of Insa.

The indoor dining room at Gage and Tollner Alex Staniloff/Eater


The Lower East Side steakhouse with live entertainment has been around since 1975 and has an enthusiastic Jewish bent that makes it kind of a non-stop bar mitzvah. Skirt steak slathered with garlic or chopped liver are go-to orders, but it’s the lively and raucous setting that draws people back to the historic restaurant. In a 2014 review, the Times called the unchanging spot “the most wonderful terrible restaurant in New York” — just as special as it’s always been, even if the food is only okay. Be prepared for many vodka shots.

The porterhouse at Peter Luger Nick Solares/Eater

All the steakhouses on this list are classics, but Peter Luger is probably the most quintessential version of a New York City steakhouse. The South Williamsburg restaurant has drawn people from across the five boroughs since it opened in 1887, and some say it’s the best version of a steakhouse in the world. The dry-aged porterhouse, which arrives with a sizzle, is the flagship dish, and the bacon and lunch-only burger are famously charming, too. Not everyone’s so sure, though. In October 2019, Times critic Pete Wells gave the Williamsburg steakhouse a brutal zero-star review for its “inconsistency.”



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