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Articles by

<Keith Wagstaff>

09/12/11 1:19pm

Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo

  • Danny Mena of Hecho en Dumbo

Oh, how they ate, the masses of New Yorkers who shuttled to Governor’s Island on Saturday for Pig Island. While there, I had the pleasure of chatting with Hecho en Dumbo chef Danny Mena, who was busy grilling up some insanely tasty moronga, or blood sausage, and making fresh tortillas. My insatiable pork-lust not satisfied, I asked him what other porcine delights I might expect from him in the future. I was pleased with his response. Starting around October 1st, Hecho en Dumbo is going to start offering a whole pig feast at the restaurant’s chef’s table.

What does that include? Well, for starters you get a pile of pork sausages, including the aforementioned moronga, plus spicy chorizo and longaniza. The other half of the pig will be cooked confit and will be served with a host of sides including grilled spring onions, grilled cactus, queso fundito and more. The meal will cost $40-$50, with a required party size of 10 to 18 people. Not bad considering you are basically getting an entire pig, cooked in the capable of hands of Mena.

Hecho en Dumbo has been quietly turning out some pretty damn good, sophisticated Mexican food since it decamped from its original Brooklyn location to its current Bowery one. It’s no surprise the restaurant has turned to the group meal concept; The Breslin’s whole suckling pig and Momofuku Noodle Bar’s fried chicken dinner have remained (justifiably) extremely popular since their conception. If Hecho en Dumbo’s regular menu is any indication, their whole pig feast is going to similarly well-received.

09/07/11 3:22pm

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Sure, Hurricane Irene didn’t destroy New York City in a wave of Roland Emmerich-esque destruction, but it did wreak havoc on many of New York State’s farms. If you’ve been to the Greenmarket lately, you’ve probably noticed that the selection is somewhat diminished, a result of the 140,000 lost acres of farmland. Governor Cuomo’s $15 million Agricultural and Community Recovery Fund is a good start, but it doesn’t quite cover the $45 million in damage the storm caused to New York’s agricultural community. So, how can you help? By doing what you do best—eating at great NYC restaurants. On Sept. 25, around 30 restaurants all across the city will be donating up to 10 percent of their sales to farmers who have been affected by Irene.

Dine Out Irene, organized by some of New York’s best food writers including Gabriella Gershenson, Rachel Wharton and Kat Kinsman, includes some pretty amazing restaurants: Buttermilk Channel, Palo Santo, The Waverly Inn, Red Rooster, Tipsy Parson and more (see the complete list here).

Seeing as these are some of the hottest restaurants in New York, you might want to make your reservations soon. Also, remember that 10 percent of your meal is going to help the farmers that feed you, so you can justify ordering that second or third bottle of wine as a charitable act.

09/01/11 9:50am

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Good news, people who hate art and culture! Monster Island, the giant arts space on the Williamsburg waterfront, is shutting down for good, meaning you won’t have to endure anymore independent music or work from local artists. Instead, you can stuff your canvas bag full of antioxidant shea butter and Alaska salmon burgers and ride your vintage Dutch bicycle back to your shiny new condo down the street, because Monster Island is probz being replaced by a Whole Foods!

The Observer reports that the semi-organic mega-chain might be looking to replace the charmingly ramshackle arts space, which will be saying goodbye to the neighborhood with a big block party on Sept. 10th. Is it true? Maybe, although it might just be a worst-case scenario conjured up by angry locals, a la the great Starbucks-on-Bedford scare of 2010. When you really think about it, a Whole Foods right in the middle of condo country, near the Duane Reade, makes sense. That area is already developing a weird, shiny office park sheen to it, so you might as well root out the remaining grungy hold-outs. Watch out Glasslands, before you become a FedEx Kinko’s!

08/31/11 4:00am

The Bearded Lady

686A Washington Ave, Prospect Heights

Rating: 3 out of 5 L’s


Brooklyn bars suffer from a rare condition: the newer they are, the older they look. For awhile, the era of choice was Prohibition. It was a good time. We all drank sidecars and grew mustaches and said things like “23 skidoo”with impunity. Alas, the faux-1920s couldn’t last forever.


Like a slurring, bleary-eyed Scott Bakula, I quantum leapt one night from the era of gangsters and the Charleston to the time of sexy stewardesses and Tropicalia. The Bearded Lady, run by vets of Bar Great Harry and the Gowanus Yacht Club, looks like a place where Don Draper might drink if he were down on his luck in Palm Springs. The turquoise floor, the eye-popping yellow chairs, the colorful formica tables—it’s as easy to imagine getting there via Pan Am as it is the A train.


Luckily, the kitsch is limited to the décor. Nobody said “Groovy”to me or forced me to listen to Os Mutantes on a loop. The vibe, strangely enough, is one of a casual neighborhood watering hole. On one pleasant afternoon, a couple next to me sat hunched over a MacBook, while a group of what looked to be recent art school grads walked in wearing tattered sneakers and thick glasses. A.C. Newman droned in the background, sounding as if someone had accidentally sealed a boombox behind one of the walls. The only sign that we weren’t totally in gentrified country was a disheveled father and his son, who rushed in, looked at everybody as if we were aliens, and proceeded to use the bathroom before leaving.


If you can, grab a seat near one of the expansive windows, which look out onto Washington Avenue, an area slowly becoming a drinking destination thanks to nearby bars Washington Commons and Way Station. Choose one of the eight beers on the tap (solid choices from breweries such as Lagunitas and Sixpoint) and let the afternoon pass in a blur. As night comes, you might want to move on to the cocktails, inventive concoctions with antiquated names like the Mr. Howell (single-malt scotch, aged rum, lime juice and maple syrup), all priced reasonably at $9. There are sandwiches too, including a tasty number filled with prosciutto cotto, chèvre from Westfield Farms and pickled green tomatoes.


The problem is, this bar doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has the soul of a neighborhood pub with the skin of a swinging 60s lounge, a discrepancy that makes drinking here slightly awkward. Either amp up the energy or tone down the décor; competition in the neighborhood 
is only growing.


Photo Daniel Krieger

08/26/11 11:06am

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Lots of excited men circling dead pigs on a beautiful island? Yes, Pig Island (Sept. 10th, 11:30am-5pm) is basically like Lord of Flies, but with more beer. The lineup of chefs cooking at Governors Island this year is pretty damn impressive, with 80 pigs (all sourced from the Finger Lakes area) being prepared by the likes of:

Jacques Gautier of Palo Santo
Ethan Smith of Hecho en Dumbo
Ryan Angulo of Buttermilk Channel
Adam Schop of Nuela
Andy Yang of Rhong-Tiam
John Stage of Dinosaur BBQ
Michael Jenkins of The Darby

Plus many more! The brews will be provided by Sixpoint and the wine by Brooklyn Oenology. Fancy-pants knife-maker Wüsthof will be there hosting a giveaway and knife skills demo, while Michael Colameco of Colameco’s Food Show will be on-hand to host the entire affair. Buy your tickets by Saturday and you’ll be able to chow down on all the pork products you want for $60.

08/26/11 9:45am

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Lauren Shockey isn’t your average food critic. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 2008, she decided to go on a culinary journey, working as an apprentice at Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50 as well as kitchens in Vietnam, Israel and Paris, as documented in her new book Four Kitchens. Today, she puts her culinary experience to work as a food critic at the Village Voice. We sat down over a nice craft beer with her to discuss Israeli cuisine, getting sexually harassed in Paris and where to find great Vietnamese food in New York.

So, which was the most eye-opening experience: New York, Vietnam, Israel or Paris?

wd~50 in New York, because it was really the first restaurant I worked at. I remember walking in the door the first day petrified; I was so intimidated by Wylie that couldn’t look him in the eye. At first I was really slow. Tasks that took the rest of the staff four minutes took me 40. Eventually, though, I learned all of the basics of how to work in a restaurant kitchen: prep, organization, even how to hold my knife correctly.

Being in Vietnam was also great because I was introduced to all of these ingredients I’d never seen before like Vietnamese mint and banana flowers. The Vietnamese food you find here in New York is only a small portion of what Vietnamese food has to offer. There are a couple of places here where you can find things like perilla leaves and banana flowers, but it’s stuff you really have to seek out.

Which kitchen was the most difficult to work in?

La Verticale, in Paris, was the hardest kitchen to work in. When I was in Tel-Aviv (at Carmella Bistro), I was working the appetizer station, so I actually had a lot of responsibility. It was hard to go to Paris where I was back to being the lowest of the low. I basically shucked crab for like five hours a day. It was also hard being a woman; chefs would always make sexual advancements towards me, saying things like “Oh, after you shuck crab why don’t we lay naked together?” When that’s your boss, it’s very awkward. I mean, what do I say? “Yes Chef?” But overall it was a good experience working in a very regimented restaurant with two Michelin stars.

Where do you eat in New York when you’re missing the food in Vietnam, Paris or Israel?

My favorite place is called Thanh Da (6008 7th Ave) in Sunset Park. They have a bunch of dishes that are hard to find in New York like bun bo Hue, which is a spicy beef noodle soup, bun rieu, which is a crab noodle soup, and bhan xeo, which is like a crepe thing that has sprouts and pork and shrimp inside. The flavors are really spot on.

For French food, I really like Buvette (42 Grove St), which just opened this year. It’s Jody Williams’ French gastroteque and wine bar in the West Village. It’s a really nice place to have a glass of wine; they do a nice confit rabbit, plus excellent pork rillettes and sausage.

What about Israeli food? Wait … what is Israeli food in the first place?

The thing is that Israel hasn’t really developed a food culture because it doesn’t really know what Israeli food is. There are so many different ethnicities that comprise Israeli culture that it’s hard to define a culinary outlook. Especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the chefs there were trying to replicate French cooking. Now they’ve finally discovered that they have all of this great produce—dates, figs, fresh cheeses—and that’s starting to help define what Israeli food is.

Can you get food falafel in New York?

It’s much better there, but I do like Taim (222 Waverly Place). They put all these great herbs in it, which is what they do in Israel. I really like the sabich there, too, which is the eggplant sandwich with tahini and amba sauce (a pickled mango sauce).

Do you still find time to cook?

I cook as much as I can, but when you eat out five nights a week, it doesn’t leave much time. I like to cook Marcella Hazan’s spaghetti with tomato and butter sauce, which is basically canned tomatoes with half an onion, half a stick of butter, and you cook it for like 40 minutes. It’s so good. When I’m at home, I like to keep it simple.

You grew up in New York. Do you still go to any of the restaurants that you went to as a kid?

When we went out to eat, the places we’d go to were like Elephant & Castle on Greenwich, which had good burgers. John’s, we’d go there a lot for pizza. Japonica, the sushi restaurant on University Place, I’ve been going there since I was four.

Does your experience working in the back of the house affect how you judge restaurants?

Having worked on the other side, I realize not everything is going to be perfect 100 percent of the time. Working on a Saturday night when every single table is filled, it’s easy to get backed up and things can get a little slow. If I have really bad service once or have bad food once, I’m willing to overlook that. It’s a problem when it happens three times. Then you’re like, well, something is going wrong in the kitchen. At the same time, I almost have less of a tolerance for bad food after working in a kitchen and seeing how you can make really good food.

08/19/11 3:22pm

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This week, we reviewed the insanely tasty smoked fish at Shelsky’s Smoked Fish on Smith Street and the great brews at Wiliamsburg’s new outdoor drinking spot Crown Victoria. If that isn’t enough for you, we’ve also got plenty of great food events to keep your stomach busy this weekend.

Tonight

You’ve bought their furniture, you’ve listened to their cloying 1970s pop; now, it’s time you sampled the Swedes’ delicious food. Tonight, the IKEA in Red Hook is offering their all-you-can-eat Swedish Crayfish Buffet for only $9.99. For added authenticity, disassemble your shellfish with an allen wrench.

Saturday

A lot of great restaurants and bars have mushroomed on Vanderbilt Avenue in the last few years, including Saul Bolton’s Vanderbilt, Eton and Woodwork. All of them are offering some pretty sweet deals during The Total Vanderbilt Avenue Immersion, taking place at a host of locations near Vanderbilt Avenue between 12pm-6pm. We recommend the beer brunches at Le Gamin and The Vanderbilt, where they’ll be pouring complimentary glasses of Brooklyn Brewery’s stellar Local 1. If you want to get in on the action, you’ll have to pick up your “immersion cards” at Hot Bird (546 Clinton Ave) at noon.

In Williamsburg, all the cool kids will be wearing their dancing liederhosen at Loreley for their summer afternoon Bier Disco starting at 4pm, where DJs will be spinning near the outdoor dance floor as you fill your mouth with beer and sausage.

08/17/11 4:00am


Crown Victoria

60 South 2nd St, Williamsburg

Rating: 4 out of 5 L’s


Back before the neighborhood was filled with condos and boutiques, this place serviced old Crown Vics, fixing them up so gypsy cab owners could harass you at the airport. Today, the smell of sweat and motor oil is gone; Irish-born owner Joe Herron (who also owns Brooklyn bars Last Exit and Quarter) has retrofitted the space into one of Williamsburg’s more intriguing summer drinking destinations.
The picket fence outside looks a little ridiculous considering it’s hemming in a big square of concrete in front of a former auto shop. Despite its industrial feel, the patio is a pleasant place to do some day-drinking or flirt in the forgiving darkness of night. Large, umbrella-topped picnic tables create a communal vibe, making it easy to bounce from table to table in search of new friends.


How you feel about drinking amongst tumbling toddlers might affect your willingness to visit before 6pm. I don’t mind them, as long they’re gone by the time the sun starts going down and their parents don’t give me dirty looks after I drop a few accidental F-bombs. In fact, one little girl made my afternoon, waving to me from behind a pair of comically thick, round prescription glasses.


The adult crowd wears similarly idiosyncratic eyewear, although they are less likely to randomly smile and wave at you. They’re an attractive bunch. They wear crisp, clean clothes presumably from tiny shops decorated with taxidermied animals. The drink of choice is usually beer; choose from 24 of them, mostly American craft brews from breweries like Captain Lawrence and Allagash. There is also a decent selection of the brown stuff, single-malt Scotches and bottles of Irish whiskey. Soon the kitchen will be serving upscale pub fare, including burgers made from grass-fed beef courtesy of the Meat Hook as well as fish and chips fried in a Sixpoint batter.


Inside, the bar has the feel of a classic Irish pub. The walls are covered in a combination of handsome wood paneling and brick coated in pea-green paint, making it a warm and welcoming place to sit down with a glass of whiskey. There are about 60 seats in all, some along the long bar made with wood reclaimed from the Coney Island boardwalk and more in the tall, wooden booths that border thickset pine tables. It’s positively cozy, despite the sky-high ceilings originally built to accommodate full-sized sedans. Now, if you could only convince a cabbie to take you here from Manhattan, you’d be set.

08/16/11 8:57am

Cast members Kate Dearing and Frank Winters

  • Emily Hal
  • Cast members Kate Dearing and Frank Winters

Jacob Marx Rice is a bit of theater wunderkind. The man is in college, studying both theater and astrophysics, and he’s still found time to put on a production of his play Portrait and a Dream at this year’s Fringe Festival. It centers around a young man named Nick, whose new, seemingly perfect life falls apart after he makes a series of tragic mistakes. Portrait of a Dream opened last night at the First Floor Theatre at La MaMa. We talked to Rice, who grew up near Berkeley, CA before moving to New York and helping found the Cabbages and Kings Theater Company, about looking to Jackson Pollock for inspiration, the challenges of being a student/playwright and the similarities between writing and astrophysics.

So, why should audiences come and see Portrait and a Dream?

One of the things that makes our show really unique is how it combines a variety of things. It jumps around in space; it’s very interesting formalistically. It’s very funny and heartbreaking and a little bit scary. We also have great actors. We had a huge paring down process, moving from 600 potential actors to a cast of three, which was great because we got to pick artists who were incredible and brought such life to the text.

You’re a playwright and a student at Columbia University; do you find it hard balancing the two?

Absolutely. It’s always a challenge to write when you are in school, where there are so many distractions. I’m actually a double-major; I’m majoring in theater and astrophysics. It’s really hard to reconcile that with writing plays, but the reward of writing is so great that you just have to make the time. I also have a great support system here at Columbia and I work with two great groups that produce new work: Nomads Theatre Company, which put on the original production of this play, and a group called LateNite that does shorter pieces. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been able to see productions of my work almost every semester since I’ve been in school.

Astrophysics seems like an odd choice for a playwright.

I originally planned to be an astrophysics researcher studying high-energy black holes and other general relativistic objects in space until I realized that I wanted to write plays. Often people comment on how different they are, and in some ways they very much are, but in other ways there is a lot of overlap. Both astrophysics and writing are about leaps in creativity and rigorous structures; you can’t create a play without playing, to some extent, within a certain set of rules. You have to figure out what rules you can break and which ones you can’t break, and within those constraints figure out how to create something new. Astrophysics is like that too; it’s about working within the knowledge that has been created so far and building something new, just in the language of math instead of the language of human emotions.

Tell me a bit about your inspirations for Portrait and a Dream.

Portrait and a Dream is really inspired by Jackson Pollock; it’s named after one of his paintings, one of the last he made before he died in a car accident. I based my play on the idea of short, quick scenes that don’t seem to go together at first, but as they build they add up to a more full understanding of someone’s existence. In terms of theater artists, I’m really fascinating by the younger generation of artists that are coming up in New York who are really challenging the borders between naturalism and realism and absurdism, as well as the borders between comedy and tragedy, artists like Anne Washburn and Lucy Thurber.

What’s the idea behind your theater company, Cabbages and Kings?

It’s named after a line in the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter [by Lewis Carroll] that goes “’The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘To talk of many things: Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax — Of cabbages — and kings.’” The idea is that the theater company talks of many things—we do plays about everything; each play really varies within itself in terms of genre, we don’t really constrain ourselves. We make plays that are tragic and beautiful while also being funny and silly and totally approachable.

08/15/11 10:32am

Beef tapa.

  • Beef tapa.

Let’s face it; most people go to brunch mostly to gossip about last night’s escapades and suck down mimosas, not to experience great food. If you are looking for something a little more inventive than French toast or bacon and eggs, you might want to take the Q train down to Purple Yam in Ditmas Park. Owners Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa, longtime neighborhood locals, serve up Filipino brunch fare that you won’t find anywhere else in New York.

First, you’ll want to order the ukoy, a crispy, tangled fritter of fried shrimp and vegetables. Think of it as a lighter, crunchier version of a Japanese okonomiyaki, meant to be topped with tangy vinegar instead of a sweet sauce. Another must is the fresh lumpia, a rice crepe stuffed with sauteed Napa cabbage, leeks and mushroom, served with a pleasantly pungent peanut and tamarind sauce.

Lechon kawali.

  • Lechon kawali.

The best thing I ate Saturday morning was the pancit luglug, a dish of thick rice noodles filled with perfectly cooked shrimp. Now, being half-Filipino myself, I’ve enjoyed many varieties of pancit noodles. These were as good as I’ve ever had them, served with boiled egg in a sweet sauce with a savory touch thanks to homemade shrimp stock.

While vegetarian options are available, it’s the meat dishes that really shine. Consider the beef tapa. Cuts of flank steak are marinated, sliced thin and then air-dried before the kitchen pan-fries them and serves them over garlic-fried rice with fried eggs. This Filipino variation on steak and eggs is guaranteed to soak up any booze from last night and very likely to lead to an afternoon nap. The ultimate gut-buster on the menu, however, is the lechon kawali, thick chunks of deep-fried pork belly served with vinegar and pickled papaya.

Ukoy.

  • Ukoy.

If you haven’t yet succumbed to a food coma, ending the meal with a bibingka just might do it. It’s a dessert-like, fluffy rice cake baked in a banana leaf and filled with Gouda and feta cheese. One thing is for sure; after brunch here, you’re going to want to take a long walk among the neighborhood’s historic Victorian homes, both to admire how beautiful they are and to burn off the week’s worth of calories you probably just ingested.

Purple Yam
1314 Cortelyou Road, Ditmas Park, Brooklyn
(718) 940-8188