celebrating the glories of eating in brooklyn. from the gut.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Bitter Brew

An entertaining, if foreboding, story from Slate about how opening that charming neighborhood coffee shop can ruin your life. I can't say the thought never crossed my mind and I'm sure yours neither.

By the way, sounds like the cafe on the Lower East Side he's referring to is Cafe Trotsky, but I don't know if that closed or not. The "coming-soon" Web site sure isn't a good sign. It's like a restuarant that has a "closed for renovation" sign in the window.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

RIP Brooklyn's Vincent Schiavelli

Brooklyn-born actor Vincent Schiavelli died on December 26 from lung cancer. Perhaps best known for starring in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ghost and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he also had a great passion for food. He wrote three cookbooks including Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn, Told in Stories and Recipes.

On NPR he described growing up in Brooklyn, "In my neighborhood you could walk down the street on Sunday morning and you could tell what town in Sicily people were from by the way the tomato sauce smelled coming out the window."

There must be something about Brooklyn that brings out the food lover in all of us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Lost Strudel

I have a certain soft spot for Nora Ephron even though I find a lot of her work schmaltzy. As the author of Heartburn, When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail, she not only weaves food into her tales, but also understands the importance of food institutions to New Yorkers. Afterall, who could forget Meg Ryan's feigned orgasm in Katz's deli? And You've Got Mail is as much a paean to the Upper West Side as it is a love story. Food as a metaphor? What about food as a character?

This column about losing and rediscovering the cabbage strudel is a delight to read.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Reviews: Luz, Press 195, Cambodian Cuisine

Before I take a short hiatus, I'd like to leave you with a few quick reviews:


Located in a sleekly converted garage, this newcomer to the Fort Greene food scene offers refined pan-Latin American cuisine at reasonable prices. Most dinner entrees are between $15.00-$20.00. The chili rubbed sea bass was plump and juicy and the portion of roasted pulled pork was huge. Also on offer are a variety of ceviches. Don't miss out on their creative cocktails.

Luz is located at 177 Vanderbilt Avenue, 718-246-4000.

Press 195

Yellow is such a hard color to work with in my opinion and unfortunately Press 195 chose a bright Crayola yellow for its walls, but that's beside the point. Press is primarily a sandwich shop, but also offers salads and wines. The grilled panini are the primary reason to go. I tried the roast beef knish sandwich. Instead of bread they used a potato knish. Interesting idea, but it turned into slop. The portobello panini simply tasted like inferior ingredients were used. The place was inexplicably busy and I was left longing for the artistry of Tempo Presto.

Press 195 is located at
195 5th Avenue, 718-857-1950.

Cambodian Cuisine

This Fort Greene establishment belongs on anyone's cheap eats list. Don't let the makeshift decor scare you. They no longer take credit cards and the bathrooms may be eternally out of order, but Cambodian serves up an overwhelming variety of delicious noodle dishes. Most are in the $8.00-$11.00 range.

Cambodian Cuisine is located at 87 S. Elliott Place, 718-858-3262.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Are Chocolate Bars the New Cigar Bars?

Remember about a decade ago when cigar bars were all the rage? They weren't just places to smoke cigars, but also to savor a digestif, brandy or wine. The concept was a glutton's dream and there are still a few around even in non-smoking New York City. Lately, I've been noticing another dream come true. Chocolate bars are opening up like there's no tomorrow.

Park Slope already has "chocolate boutique and dessert cafe," The Chocolate Room, on 5th Avenue which also serves wine. And now there is The Cocoa Bar on 7th Avenue offering a similar concept: coffee, chocolate and wine. Really, what more does one need in life? Three of my favorite foods and now we're nearly spoiled for choice.

But I'm left wondering is this just a flash in the pan? Let's hope not.

The Cocoa Bar is located at 228 7th Avenue, 718-499-4080 and The Chocolate Room is located at 86 5th Avenue, 718-783-2900.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A D'Vine Surprise

I've walked by D'Vine Taste on Park Slope's busy 7th Avenue a few times, but it never drew me in. It always looked to me like it was for the "trade," not the general public. It had an almost institutional feel from the outside.

Last weekend a man demonstrating in the shop window the wonderful virtues of dried figs brought be across the threshold.

Once inside, I was impressed by the vast array of international gourmet foods. From olive oils to Middle Eastern specialties and sliced meats, they have the gourmet basics covered. I was particularly impressed by the cheese selection which reminded me of Zabar's.

D'Vine certainly makes an excellent supplement to shopping at Keyfood and other grocery stores. As Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn noted in October, D'Vine has expanded into the neighboring shop. This is another spot to add to the growing number of organic and gourmet food shops in Brooklyn.

D'Vine taste is located 150 7th Avenue. 718- 369-9548.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Traditional Italian Dining at Locanda Vini & Olii

Due to the transit strike and last minute holiday shopping, this will be a quick one. But I just wanted to get a word in on the wonderful experience I had at Locanda Vini & Olii in Clinton Hill last week.

Housed in a charming and spacious old pharmacy, Locanda Vini & Olii replicates a traditional Italian dining experience. If you have the room for it, I encourage you to partake in as many courses as possible: something for the table, primi, secondi, cheese, dessert etc.

Don't let the bland parsley puree they bring for the bread turn you off, once you get past that the food was delicious. Borrata, a creamy mozzarella, was soft and delectable with just the right hint of saltiness. The earthy wild boar carpaccio and mushrooms was also a hit. I normally don't order pasta in restaurants, but I couldn't have been happier with mine. Broad, square, homemade noodles were surrounded by bright squid and creamy lentils. It seems like an odd combination, but it certainly did the trick. Another stand out was the rustic rabbit stew.

After such stand-out fare who could resist dessert? I was particularly fond of a chunky hazelnut tart: simple yet satisfying. And that's how I would sum up the pleasure of eating at Locanda Vini & Olii.

Locanda Vini & Olii is located at 129 Gates Avenue. 718 622 9202

Thursday, December 15, 2005

St. Helen Cafe: A Williamsburg Retreat

Whenever I wander through Williamsburg, I always wonder what lies off Bedford Avenue? There's got to be more to all the hipster hype than this. In fact there is. Off the main avenue, artisanal shops are sprinkled here and there which allows for a sense of discovery.

Having won "Best Latte" in 2004 by New York Magazine, St. Helen Cafe is hardly undiscovered, yet stumbling upon it was a pleasant surprise.

The cafe is tiny and dark, making optimal use of existing architectural elements like paneling and the tin ceiling. The wood is painted glossy black and large photographs of nature hang above the banquette. Tasteful symbols of forestry and nature, like deer and birds, are dotted throughout the cafe and the name itself invokes the Northwestern U.S. It's a comfortable place to let time go by.

The small and inexpensive menu offers mainly snack foods like variations on grilled cheese. Not hungry, I opted for the mulled wine, which I unfortunately had to send back. It tasted like the spices were thrown in at the last minute, then nuked. For $8.00 I wasn't having any of it. But that didn't turn me off. I chose instead a Brooklyn lager from their small selection of global beers.

All the while, people from the neighborhood slipped inside and around to the side of the kitchen to grab that award-winning latte to go.

St. Helen Cafe is located at 150 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Today's Link

Perfect Winter Food Near the Corner of Court and Atlantic (Village Voice)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cafe Regular Update

So, I made a pit stop at the recently-opened East Village outpost of Brooklyn's Cafe Regular. Same beans, same milk, I'm assuming the same machine, but not the same taste. The cappuccino was too milky. This leads me to believe that it often comes down to who's making it. Might be time for the good folks at Cafe Regular to do some quality control.

Yes, it's in the lobby of a theatre which helps to explain why the space is bare, cold and feels more like a concession stand than a cafe.

I'll still be sticking to the one in Brooklyn.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Great Bolognese Debate

With snow on the ground and a chill in the air, one of the best dishes to cook and share with friends is pappardelle Bolognese, or ragu or just plain meat sauce. This is a dish that everyone seems to have a variation on. It's personal and often there are family recipes. That's what makes it so wonderful. There is nothing like the scent of ragu simmering on the stove all Sunday afternoon.

I've had great luck and rave reviews from friends using this recipe from Mario Batali (though somtimes I substitute all beef for half veal and half pork). Reading through the user reviews, however, there are a lot of detractors. I've tried making Bolognese with canned tomatoes and red wine, less garlic and Batali's always proves to be a solid recipe. So I just thought I'd share it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Brooklyn's Cafe Regular Opens in East Village

I came across this tidbit on the Chowhound message boards that Cafe Regular has just opened up on E. 13th Street. I called the establishment and they confirmed. You can't hold a good thing back.

I've waxed poetic about this place in the past. It remains one of my favorite cafes with some of the best coffee, La Colombe Torrefaction. Now Manhattan finally has a place to get a great espresso or cappuccino.

Expect an update on this location.

Cafe Regular is located on E. 13th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues in the Classic Stage Company Theatre and in Brooklyn on 11th St. between 4th and 5th Avenues.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Park Slope Food Coop

Over at Simon's Brain he's rejoicing because he quit the Food Coop. I'm a member and I have to admit shopping there has become a nightmare. It's overcrowded to say the least. The last two times the lines wound their way up and down all the aisles. And yes working there is a mess too, but it's only 2 hours and 45 minutes a month. Let other people sweat the big stuff.

But we endure, because nowhere else in New York can you get the quality produce and other foods at such great prices. I particularly like the fact that the Coop develops relationships with farmers and tries as much as possible to buy locally.

Today's Link

Sietsema checks out a year-old Japanese restaurant in Williamsburg.

Daruma Bums (Villiage Voice)

A Few Spots

I've been remiss in writing the past week or so. Sometimes life just gets in the way of blogging. Anyway, here are few fun spots I've checked out recently.


Osaka is a neighborhood sushi/Japanese restaurant in Cobble Hill (or is it Carroll Gardens? The line blurs.) The place does a good business despite the rude hostess (check out the complaints over on the Chowhound message boards.) There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the pushy hostess's methods. She sat me and my companion after people who got there after us. In other words, we got there first. Not a huge deal, but it can be in a tiny place that is popular. It's also not the best way to start off a meal. Luckily, the food is worth it.

We found the way to go was the sushi for two. The slices of raw fish are long, thin, tender and delicious placed on top of mounds of rice. The grilled dumplings were quite possibly the best I've had. They are thin and crispy, not fried and gooey. The miso soup had raw shaved mushrooms which was a nice touch. We decided to "splurge" and get the hot sake for two which was only $5.00.

I'll admit. I'm not a sushi expert. I do my little soy, wasabi mix with the ginger inbetween bites of sushi, but from that perspective this neighborhood sushi is some of the best I've come across in the borough.

Osaka is located at 272 Court Street 718-643-0044.

Bagel Hole

For that old-fashioned bagel taste, this place can't be beat. Don't go expecting huge bagels that look like inflated tires with a pretzel-like consistency. Expect a bagel that is still hand rolled and steamed, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, with a more complex taste than the usual suspects. They seem to make them continuously. Chances are you'll get them while they're still warm, so eat it right away!

Bagel Hole is located at 400 7th Avenue (between 12th and 13th Streets).

The New Casablanca Cocktail Lounge

The night before Thanksgiving, is for me a big night out. So my neighbors and I decided to hit a spot we've walked past a few times, but never went inside. To our surprise the New Casablanca Cocktail Lounge was empty.

There's no secret code to get in, but the bartender will have to give a signal to the sleeping doorman to buzz open the gate. Inside you'll discover a true old-school joint. The jukebox boasts a small selection of Mo-town and funk. The few tables are adorned in red plastic tablecloths. Christmas lights bedeck the windows eternally and a Happy Birthday banner behind the bar has been greeting guests since time immemorial. They just never took it down according to the bartender.

The New Casablanca Cocktail Lounge is one of those Bed-Stuy institutions, like the Down South Cafe, that retains its character. I couldn't help but think that this place would be corrupted by hipster irony if it were located in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg. Another reason to go was the price for 9 cocktails: under 50 bucks.

The New Casablanca Cocktail Lounge is located on Malcolm X Boulevard and Macdonough Street.