Soul Food Arrives on Bedford Avenue: A Review of Sweet Chick

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Sweet Chick
164 Bedford Ave.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(347) 725-4793 / sweetchicknyc.com/

 

Fried Chicken at Sweet Chick

Fried Chicken at Sweet Chick

Collard Greens and Fried Chicken at Sweet Chick

Collard Greens and Fried Chicken at Sweet Chick

I was thirsty, nauseous and I wanted gum immediately after.

I foraged through a bucket of chicken at Sweet Chick, the new soul food hotspot on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. An actual bucket, not in my living room in front of the TV, but in an actual restaurant.

When in Williamsburg, I’d rather trek to the smaller streets than hang on big bad Bedford Avenue. Sweet Chick is literally steps from the L train, not enough distance for me to enjoy being in Williamsburg.

The restaurant has been busy since it opened February 19. They’re even adding a late-night (12am-2am) menu, beginning this weekend, to accommodate the demand.

Not to sound like an old lady (which happens often), but the place was so dark I could barely see the food I was eating. I asked our server afterward what was in the slaw. It was collard greens, but it was so overly dressed I could barely taste anything. I would have loved some braised collard greens, and that’s something they could easily have cooked or partially cooked in advance, versus slopping some slaw into a bowl. It was overwhelming.

If you want fried chicken, you can get two pieces of chicken with your choice of waffle for $16, or opt for a bucket with the slaw and a biscuit for $17. That’s a pretty pricy bucket of chicken. I wish they had served a plate alongside to make eating it easier, but I was excited to dig in. The highlight of the meal was the chicken wing. They braise the chicken in sweet tea to give it moisture. That wing was insane! The white meat was fine, but not as moist as others (Pies ‘n’ Thighs is still a showstopper.) Also, some bites had more of a spicy kick than others. Hopefully, the chefs will work out a consistent flavor profile.

The cornbread was not crispy on the outside, and not warm. It tasted like what you grab in plastic wrap from the grocery store or deli.

The biscuit was bland, not anything close to the decadent softness I wish it had. It was hard to finish. Also it’s not served with condiments, but I used some of my friend’s butter (three different butters, actually) that came with her waffle. Still not enthused.

Some of their specials included general tso’s fried chicken with a rice broccoli waffle. A nice touch for the veg crowd, they have fried seitan as well. It wasn’t bad, though a bit soggy, the skin not as crisp as on the fried chicken.

The cocktail I had was tasty: the Sweet Chick, with house-infused watermelon vodka and a spicy brown sugar rim. They use Bootlegger vodka, produced in Roscoe, New York, for this one. Still, all of the cocktails were at least $11, a bit much to charge just because local artisan ingredients are used. (Another one has Jack Daniel’s Honey and soda from Brooklyn Soda Works.) Also, fruit-infused vodka is not hard to make.

The place is cute, with waffle pans on the walls in some spots. I think I’d be more into it if it had a more Southern feel; it still looks very Brooklyn. I hope the food gets better and cheaper; the late-night menu might be the way to go.

Now enough chirping from me, go try Sweet Chick for yourselves.

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Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

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A nice spot for affordable Italian – Review of Speedy Romeo’s

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Speedy Romeo’s
376 Classon Ave.
Clinton Hill
718-230-0061/speedyromeo.com

Mushroom egg pizza

An adorable Italian spot just opened in Clinton Hill.

And unlike most Brooklyn restaurants, no matter how delicious or trendy, this one has an awesome bathroom. Yeah, that’s right — a spacious, clean, brand new bathroom. It’s exciting.

On an early summer’s night, sitting right by the open window and enjoying a variety of bites was lovely and relaxing.

Though it sounds like a luxury limo service you might use on Valentine’s Day, Speedy Romeo’s offers a variety of small plates and brick oven pizza, along with larger entrees.

The caesar salad, with a single anchovy laid on top, was forgettable. A highlight was stuffed red and green peppers with sopressatta and ricotta, lightly charred on top. These had a perfect balance of sweet, spicy and salty — certainly a hit. I’m still thinking about the perfect brunch pizza I had on another visit. It had egg, mozzarella, wild mushrooms, and sage, with the scorched crust shining through on each bite. It was heavenly. You can also add two eggs to any pizza for $4 during brunch.

The restaurant provides a jar of housemade pickled chili peppers, a very nice touch, as it’s fun to experiment with kicking the heat up once in a while, especially on the pizzas.

Pickled chilis

Stuffed peppers

The food isn’t over-the-top or trying too hard. But it is good for what it is — nothing hugely innovative but made with care and the customers’ happiness in mind. Each ingredient came through as very fresh and delicious, and the service was great. They were having fun, and it seemed like they actually were happy to be serving the food, which is a good sign.

I love that the back of the restaurant smells so smoky — it reminds me of an Italian restaurant I went to as a kid. That scent of crackly fire is the ultimate comfort.

Speedy Romeo’s also serves lunch, but is currently closed on Mondays for “fine tuning,” according to their web site.

I can’t wait to try more dishes at this cozy spot.

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Gourmet Execution and the Comfort of Brooklyn – Review of Vinegar Hill House

BY CRAIG CAVALLO

72 Hudson Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-522-1018 / vinegarhillhouse.com/
Dinner
Monday – Thursday, 6 – 11
Friday and Saturday, 6 – 1130
Sunday 530 – 11
Brunch
Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 330

Tucked in a corner of Brooklyn, about as close to the nearest train as it is the Lower East Side, Vinegar Hill is a dozen or so streets sandwiched by the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Heights.  The neighborhood gets its name from the Battle of VinegarHill, which took place in Northern Ireland during the Irish Rebellion of  1798.  Eight years later, in 1806, the Brooklyn Navy Yard became an active shipyard, and 202 years after that, Sam Buffa and former Freemans chef Jean Adamson opened Vinegar Hill House.

You are liable to walk right past the restaurant.  It’s on a quiet cobblestone street and from outside it looks like nothing more than a modest farm house.  Inside it’s warm and dim; there’s a wood burning oven in the back whose digital temperature reads 749 degrees.    Old hard wood floors set the stage in this theater and there’s not an empty seat in the house.  That’s not a terribly challenging task given the 40 seat capacity, but given its location, and the temperature of a January night in New York, you get the idea that the food is going to be worth the trek.

The copper bar offers to hold your elbows as you wait for a table.  They’re all good choices, except for the one that didn’t finish the transformation from a tree.  It sits just inside the entrance as a small, kidney shaped slab of wood that is not sensible or necessary.  We had to join the statistic of guests that asked to be moved.  The food is too good here for the likes of such tables.

After a short stint in the oven, the croutons in the Caesar Salad ($11) are fried in schmaltz.  The preparation leaves the outside crunchy while the middle stays tender and warm.  The dressing had the perfect amount of acidity, fat, and saltiness that comes from a classic incorporation of Caesar dressing ingredients.  For the price though I thought another handful of romaine wouldn’t have hurt the food cost.

The handmade garganelli ($16) were the right choice for a sauce of preserved lemon, capers, chick peas, and kale.  It was a light dish that excited the palate but could have benefited from a grating of pecorino.

The wild boar shank ($24) rested on a delicious, but restricted portion of grits.  The wood stove proves to be an exceptional heating element when it comes to finishing a braise, as the meat pulls effortlessly from the bone and melts in the diner’s mouth.  The dusting of fennel pollen that covers the pecan grits is exactly the breath of fresh air an otherwise rich entree may have suffocated without.

There is something timeless and satiating when it comes to eating this particular cut of meat.  Jonathan Safran Foer may disagree on this point, but it speaks to the human soul in the same manner as a campfire, when you’re staring into one on the prairie—instilled in humans after centuries of hunting and evolution.

The food is exceptional at Vinegar Hill House.  It is well thought out, professionally executed, and perfectly seasoned.  The place is quaint, the menu is economical and concise, and the service is an ideal match for the restaurant’s vision.  It executes the Brooklyn restaurant theme to near perfection but forgets the lower overheads that distinguishes them from others across the river in Manhattan.  With a Brooklyn location, Vinegar Hill House has the ability to offer New Yorkers what Manhattan restaurants don’t and others in Brooklyn do.  All they need to cross their t’s and dot their i’s is tune up the portions or tone down the prices.

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Farm-to-Table, Inspired and Whimsical Chinese Cuisine – A Review of RedFarm

BY BECKA WOOLF

RedFarm
529 Hudson St
(between 10th St & Charles St)
Manhattan, NY 10014
Neighborhood: West Village

Do you like faces on your food? Perhaps some googly eyes on your shrimp dumplings? RedFarm does.

Opened by former Chinatown Brasserie chef and dim sum extraordinaire Joe Ng and Chinese restaurant expert Ed Schoenfeld, RedFarm has been the chatter of the West Village since its opening at the beginning of September, and rightfully so. Featuring communal tables and Ina Garten-esque décor, the menu features Greenmarket-inspired, innovative Chinese dim sum. The atmosphere is loud, the food imaginative and inspired. Think Joe’s Shanghai and Blue Hill’s restaurant love child.

RedFarm, NYC

RedFarm puts forth many winning dishes. The crispy spicy beef is the standout. Sweet and spicy at its best, the beef is served alongside roasted hot chiles and crunchy lotus root chips. The Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemonyuzu ice are incredibly fresh and satisfying, an oyster slushie of sorts. The Pac Man shrimp dumplings are as whimsical as they are delicious. As the waitress put the plate down in front of us, she laid out the scene: a piece of crispy fried, Pac Man-shaped sweet potato, resting on a bed of non-traditional but delicious guacamole, is chasing the four “surprised” shrimp dumplings  (there is something different in every dumpling to accompany the shrimp, hence the “surprise”). The crispy duck and crab dumplings also have a unique presentation – the dumplings are modeled to look like sting rays, complete with eyes, and they sit on the edge of a bowl of sweet, rich curry sauce for dipping. Also delicious and worth ordering are the Kowloon filet mignon tarts, a one-bite tart topped with a mouthwatering, perfectly cooked piece of beef.

Pac Man shrimp dumplings at RedFarm

I also want to speak briefly to the wonder and pure genius of the Katz’s pastrami egg rolls. Yes, you read this right, the pastrami is straight from the one and only Manhattan pastrami institution Katz’s Deli. As a Jewish girl from the east coast, you better believe I have an appreciation for good pastrami, and these just blew me away. They are served with a tangy, creamy mustard dipping sauce. Naturally!

Not everything at RedFarm is a home run, however. The first time I dined there, I had the spicy Korean rice cake with Chinese sausage and shrimp, and adored the dish. My second time there, I noticed it was no longer on the menu and asked the waiter why. He said he “ate it all” (with no real answer), and suggested the wide rice noodles with shredded roast duck instead. They were disappointing –bland, oily and one-dimensional. They can do better. I just know it.

Kowloon filet mignon tart at Red Farm

RedFarm is certainly not cheap, most dishes in the 8-15 dollar range, which adds up quickly given the majority of the dishes are only a few bites. They don’t take reservations so expect to wait, the best option being getting a drink at Bayard’s Ale House next door. And never fear, you will get a text when your table is ready. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?”

Now, if only those spicy Korean rice cakes would make their way back onto the menu. Pretty please, Chef Ng?

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Where chic crowds flock for seasonal, hearty and inspired cuisine- Review of dell’ anima

BY BECKA WOOLF

dell’anima restaurant
38 8th Avenue
West Village
dellanima.com/ 212.366.6633

Walk into dell’anima on a Monday night and you will swear it’s a weekend, or at least a celebration. And what a celebration it is. Chic crowds  at the bar drinking shimmering reds, hungry hopefuls waiting for tables outside with fingers crossed, a group of vibrant women at a banquette near the open kitchen having ladies’ night out.

Photo courtesy of dell’anima

Dell’anima, which means “of the soul” in Italian, is exactly that – Italian food for the soul. Opened in 2007 by Gabriel Thompson, who has worked with culinary heavy-hitters such as Mario Batali, Eric Ripert and Joe Bastianich, and Joe Campanale, former Babbo sommelier, this West Village foodie hangout has an intimate, yet lively feel, and features traditional, updated Italian classics, and a selection of over 150 wines.

Start with the bruschette, one of each (they offer 5 different spreads, ranging from creamy ricotta and honey to rapini pesto, perfectly flecked with walnuts and pecorino), served with warm, crusty bread. The salads are memorable as well, especially the endive, dressed with a simple anchovy citrus vinaigrette, and the charred octopus with rice beans and chorizo.

Let’s talk about the pastas. The beautiful, homemade daily, melt-in-your-mouth pastas.  Dell’anima makes an exquisite Bolognese, with ribbons of tagliatelle pasta and fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, and arguably the best Carbonara I have had anywhere, with deliciously salty speck and a sunny orb of egg yolk in the center, dying to be broken. Stick to your ribs good. The menu also features well executed proteins such as orata, hanger steak and pollo al diavolo. And of course, don’t forget to order the Anston mills polenta and their sweet take on brussels sprouts with pumpkin seeds and cherries.

Photo courtesy of dell’anima

Most entrees fall within the $15-$25 range, but for those looking to save, the “Meatness Monday” prix fixe menu is a fantastic deal – 3 courses for $40. Not too bad if you ask me!

Don’t come here expecting heaping bowls of pasta and enormous, gluttonous portions, that’s not the point. The food is seasonal, traditional, hearty and inspired. You will leave dell’anima with that “I just went to an amazing restaurant” feeling, already planning your next visit. Maybe next time you be lucky enough to be among the chosen 6 who get to dine at the open kitchen’s counter, watching the magic happen. And yes, I used the “M” word.

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Delicatessen Summer In Soho Tasting Event – Review of Delicatessen

BY STEPHANIE AMY COLLAZO

Delicatessen
54 Prince St
Soho
212-226-0211 / delicatessennyc.com

Downstairs seating area. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            Delicatessen is known for being a NYC eater’s favorite stop for their lobster mac and cheese, but unknown to the general public if you slink your way through the crowd and down the stairs hidden in plain view you will find yourself in an entirely different atmosphere. 

            Entering the downstairs dining area of Delicatessen you find yourself surrounded by bright lights and a green seating area.  Looking for a taste of their signature cocktail of the night, I made my way to the mini bar tucked away down a short hallway near the bathroom area.  Once inside the dimly lit bar I admired the dark décor featuring black walls lined with a variety of glass bottles. 

Minibar. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            While waiting for the bartender to make me a “Tilly,” fresh strawberries and lime muddled together with pomegranate and Satisfaction vodka, a line quickly developed behind me and didn’t dissipate until the end of the night.  This cocktail was amazing to say the least, you could barely taste the alcohol, which makes it dangerous for the careless drinker.  The flavors of the mint, strawberry and pomegranate meshed well making for the perfect summer cocktail.

Flash Fried Tuna Avocado Roll. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            I decided to take a seat in the mini bar area, which could hold up to 20 seated guests.  Soon after I was joined by a fellow food blogger and the waiters began to bring out the long awaited sampling menu.  We first sampled the Flash Fried Tuna Avocado Roll ($14) which came with a creamy sambal chili sauce.  My acquaintance, who is not a fan of tuna, loved this dish.  We had to have about three pieces each, it was so good.

Tempura Mozzarella and Tomato Salad. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            Next we had the Tempura Mozzarella and Tomato Salad.  The tempura mozzarella added a different texture element that was unexpected, but greatly appreciated.  After about four samplings of the mozzarella and tomato, we received the Pork Mole Tacos ($11).  The pork in the tacos was so juicy that I needed two napkins, but I am not complaining.

Sweet Sesame Chicken Lettuce Wraps. Photo provided by Delicatessen.

            While we didn’t get to try the Smoked Chicken Tacos ($11) that we had read about in the sample menu, we did receive a sample of the Sweet Sesame Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($10).  I found these a bit difficult to eat as they were tiny and the juice from the chicken dripped everywhere.  The chicken was sweet with a hint of spice, I would have liked them a bit more if they were bigger and less messy, but I have no complaints about the flavor. 

            Next we got a chance to sample three desserts off of the new menu.  First we tried the Cheesecake Lollipop, which is included in their “Hostess” Dessert Plate ($9).  The Cheesecake Lollipop was coated in white chocolate and the cheesecake filling was smooth and a bit lemony.  Following the cheesecake was the Chocolate Layer Cake ($10), this was your basic chocolate cake layered with chocolate ganache, very rich and dense.  Last but certainly not least was the Maple Bacon Beignet ($9).  I had been waiting for this since I arrived and I was not disappointed.  This dessert combined two of my favorite things bacon and crème anglaise.  The beignet was kind of like a bacon donut and the bourbon crème anglaise that they served on the side for dipping was the perfect glaze for that donut. 

            Though this was my first time visiting Delicatessen it certainly will not be my last.

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Artistry meets focused evolution – Upclose with Chef Matteo Boglione and White & Church

BY ELENA MANCINI

On Chef Matteo Boglione and White & Church
White & Church

Contemporary Italian cuisine
281 Church St. (White St.)
Tribeca
212-226-1607 / whiteandchurch.com

Open Monday – Sunday
Happy Hour: half-off cocktails, Monday- Friday, 5-7pm
Tasting Menu: Ten courses for $50
Menu items a’ la carte: range from $8-$18

 

Chef Matteo Boglione

Less than two months after the closing of Il Matto, a restaurant that garnered a highly coveted two-star rating from the New York Times’ Sam Sifton, Matteo Boglione and his team are back with White and Church. Leaner, wiser and with a more pronounced New York-centric focus, White & Church is poised to deliver more comfortable surroundings, an accessible scaled down menu compared to its predecessor  without dumbing-down or sacrificing experimental creativity.

Boglione became aware of his interest in preparing  food when he was eight. The Florentine native attributes the discovery of his culinary passion to the Saturday afternoons he spent baking brownies and chocolate chip cookies with his American mother in Florence. “Watching something raw enter the oven and turn into something else fascinated me.” At fourteen, after completing middle school and an age in which Italian teenaged students are made to decide what professional path they wish to pursue, Boglione opted for hospitality school in Florence. In his lilted, Tuscan-inflected American English,  he described himself as by no means an outstanding culinary student. In his words, his grades were not the best for sure, they were just average, but after his first kitchen stint one summer at age 14, while the majority of his non-culinary peers were lounging on the seaside,  it became clear to Boglione and his mentors, that this was work that he was clearly cut out for, and not just for his drive and perseverance. 

A knack, a genuine feeling for combining flavors, colors and textures, and what he calls “a light hand,”  were characteristics  that Boglione’s teachers and employers attributed to him early on in his career, and in fact as Boglione animatedly recounts–aspirating his “cees” and “tees” in true Florentine fashion–”my art teachers told my father that if I ever decided to give up cooking school, I should study art.” Boglione’s dishes in fact, reflect both artistic flair and an eye for composition. His plating is elegant and minimalistic, but in a way that is not austere. On the contrary, it asserts a touch of playfulness that exudes of buon gusto. And it bears stating here that when it comes to Boglione’s dishes, this buon gusto is by no means confined to the visual.  The aesthetic appeal is stalwartly backed by culinary skill and a bold instinct for combining seemingly dissonant flavors in a way that titillates without assaulting the palate.

This comes through with a good number of dishes that I have thus far sampled at White & Church, but perhaps most prominently with his pecorino cheese creme brulee with red onion marmelade. More on this and other dishes below.

The conclusion of Boglione’s culinary training in Florence took the talented and highly-driven 19 year old to work in kitchens in the UK, Japan, Egypt, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Florence and back to New York, where Boglione’s cooking has stood out in trendy downtown restaurants such as Gradisca and Falai. During his tenure at Gradisca, Boglione hosted a lunch at the  James Beard House.

Asked about his culinary influences, Boglione lights up and gushes about his mentor and inspiration, Neapolitan chef Daniele Pescatore, with whom Boglione has worked in kitchens in Italy and the U.S. Pescatore, chef and owner of the Michelin-rated Cenacolo del Pescatore in Florence, is a champion of creative cuisine: a concept that moved away from regional cuisine in favor of revisiting traditional Italian and Mediterranean dishes with a contemporary twist. Boglione shared warm anecdotes about Pescatore’s support and encouragement when the going got tough in Boglione’s early days and Pescatore’s renegade tendencies. When restaurant owners in Italy refused to pay or made conditions miserable, Pescatore would flip off the owner and walk off the job with his whole brigade. A member of the brigade, Boglione recalls how the entire team would get picked up elsewhere in under one week’s time.  In addition to the person, Boglione is also very fond of Pescatore’s creative cuisine  concepts and expresses them most obviously at White & Church with his Carbonara done two ways, which is a decadently delicious dish composed of two versions of pasta carbonara: one traditional and the other an updated adaptation. Both versions are served side-by-side in matching square bowls on a platter. Both satisfying and respectful of the distinctive pecorino, egg, bacon character profile of the dish. However, the newer iteration of the dish, made with agnellotti, filled with egg yolk and topped with crisp pancetta crumbs delivered an element of intrigue and excitement especially because of the textures that were presented in this new version.

Elaborating on this philosophy of updating traditional Italian recipes and winning flavor combinations, Boglione added that it is not about altering recipes for the sake of something different, but about breathing new life into them and reintroducing them in a new, updated, and sometimes deconstructed guise. Examples of this are with a lasagna that he likes to prepare by substituting the traditional broad noodle with crepes and by serving prosciutto e melone, a standard Italian cold appetizer, warm.

BOGLIONE AND NEW YORK:

This past decade, the restlessly creative Boglione has been busy chefing and restaurateuring primarily in New York. His perspective on New York is similar to that of many seasoned New Yorkers. The city is addictive, it offers endless possibilities, creative freedom and the opportunity to do what you want, but over time the demanding work rhythms and intense competition can really push you to the limit. “To be able to stick your head out in a city of 12 million people, that’s really something.” Boglione loves the fact that New York is a place in which people regularly reinvent themselves, embark upon new career paths and can still enjoy being  taken seriously in their professions. Not so in Italy– at least not in the culinary world. Second or third career chefs struggle to be regarded in the same way as those who went through the rigors and rituals of apprenticeship during their youth. Boglione firmly rejects that mindset and argues that some of the finest food he enjoyed were by former accountants and lawyers. In New York, this freedom of opportunity and possibility to succeed is within reach, and it’s a very good thing. He  has also come to appreciate the intense rhythms of chefing in New York. The quick pace of New York dining as opposed to traditional five course,  four hour dinner, in traditional Italian fashion has become much more his speed. Asked what ingredients or items of Italian cuisine in New York, Boglione pauses and asserts that there is very little that is unavailable here. He’s genuinely impressed with the expanded array of Italian salumi and cheeses (He’s a big fan of Murray’s Cheese Shop) in New York over the past five to six years.  When pressed, he points to certain cuts of lard, but apart from that, he holds that Italian fare in New York is very well represented and remarkably up to date. For all of these reasons, Boglione asserts that there’s no other place he’d rather chef than New York. 

FUN PERSONAL DETAILS:

Asked about his favorite dish, Boglione coyly shared: “If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me, but my favorite dish in the world is peanut butter and jelly and marshmellow fluffs.” He’s a very good customer of Peanut Butter & Co. on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village.

His dream famous personality guest: Alain Ducasse

Dishes that he enjoys preparing for his relatives: shelled scallops and offal

Italian cooking that he admires in New York: Mark Ladner and Mario Batali

Other ethnic cuisines he enjoys: Mexican, for sure, but not the hot foods and spices that burn in your mouth and kill all of the other flavors, and Chinese.

 ON WHITE & CHURCH:

Elevated lounge at White & Church, Tribeca, NYC

The interior of White & Church, Tribeca, NYC

Muted Fellini film loops projected onto its earth-tone sparse walls of this high-ceilinged restaurant-bar and lounge on a historically characteristic Tribeca corner. Ambient music ranging from fusion tango to obscure retro European hits conspires with a winning Lux-Rustic design replete with  saffron-and-burnt-sienna-hued draping, organic wood furnishings and stone-topped communal tables  to create a downtown chic- relaxing atmosphere that is heightened by Boglione’s cooking and award-winning mixologist Cristina Bini’s original edible cocktail creations. Bini’s extensive cocktail list includes classic and innovative concoctions, which include vermouth soaked stone martinis, available in white stone (from Ligurian beaches) and black stone (from Mongolia) iterations and a wide array of nutritional cocktails containing vegetables, herbs and forest findings including bark and a variety of insects, including worms, scorpions, crickets and giant ants. The protein content of insects was a definite point of inspiration for Bini’s brave mixes. Bini, also a Florentine native and Boglione’s better half, shares Boglione’s strong artistic bent– in addition to working as an artist in an earlier incarnation–and is constantly in the process of  experimenting with ingredients and creating new recipes, many of which complement Boglione’s menu. 

Cristina Bini setting up her mixology mise-en-scène

 

Cristina Bini & Matteo Boglione - White & Church's Power Couple

THE MENU AND BOGLIONE’S DISHES:

For a full-throttle satisfying palatal treat, head straight for the exquisite tasting menu. This ten course meal is a representative cross-section of Boglione’s menu, and priced at $50 (not including alcohol) it’s one of the best deals in town.

For smaller appetites and those who prefer a la carte, the menu is highly accessible and presented in a way that departs from an organization around course categories and favors food- and flavor- category types. Hence the menu categories read: “fried,” “cold,” “hot,” and “sweet.”

Fried polenta at White & Church

Artichoke croquettes with burrata, fresh basil and saffron sauce

Many a straightforward, appetite-whetting starter can be had in the fried section. The fried polenta and the zucchini blossoms are among my favorite. The polenta comes in lightly crusted bite-sized squares. A satisfying burst of flavor in this moist cake-like texture is beautifully carried by a rich and simple parmigiano fondue seasoning. The zucchini blossom comes whole, perfectly coated in a delicate light flour batter, filled with a light ricotta cream and sprinkled bold and briny with black salt and served with a side of hot marinara sauce. Boglione’s masterful technique and light-handed and minimalist flavoring heightens these simple foods to gourmet masterpieces.  The same holds true for his signature artichoke croquettes. Six light, non-greasy orbs of minced artichoke are artfully plated with decadent dabs of fresh and yielding burrata and carmellized olives on a bed of saffron sauce.

Pecorino cheese creme brulee and red onion marmelade at White & Church

Pecorino cheese creme brulee and red onion marmelade at White & Church

Grilled octopus and foie gras at White & Church

The cold section features a range of appetizer-like foods born of the sea and soil alike. There are cheeses, cured meats and tuna tartare and octopus dishes, and it is this section that features the show-stopping pecorino creme brulee. A balsamic reduction coated carmelized creme brulee crust conceals a bold and complex savory custard-like creme. These compelling flavors and textures merge and contrast with a spoonful red onion marmalade that crowns the dish. This is a genius dish for its inventive mode of delivering simple and commonly enjoyed ingredients in a fashion that not only defies the mundane but also  brings high flavor rewards.

The octopus and foie gras also forwards Boglione’s knack for delivering bold and sophisticated taste combinations. Butter-like tender grilled octopus is coupled with soft, earthy slices of Hudson Valley farm-raised foie gras and sprinkled with toothsome candy-like, carmellized black olives and a few ribbons of a basil pesto that add a quickening kick.  The dish is elegant and hearty at once.

Tucked in the hot section of the menu, the pastas are superb. I just wish there were more of them. However pasta lovers will revel in the pastas represented in Boglione’s menu. The  carbonara two ways mentioned above is a rustic delight. There is the fresh pasta ravioli filled with burrata cheese and coated in a decadent black truffle sauce, and more Southern-Italian inflected pasta dishes such as a sardine Sicilian style spaghetti and bavette with fresh tomatoes, arugula pesto and pecorino. The hot category also houses heartier entrees such as steak tagliata, skirt steak and a tuna filet served perfectly rare with fried artichokes and black olives.

Tuna filet, fried artichokes over eggplant cream at White & Church

Tuna filet with fried artichokes on eggplant sauce at White & Church, NYC

There is a respectable regional Italian wine list with which to pair Boglione’s dishes and a good choice of  $9-$12 wines by the glass, in addition to Bini’s classic and exotic cocktail list.

Chocolate Fondant at White & Church

Dessert options include a smart assortment of popular favorites including chocolate fondant, fresh berries and the legendary gelato from Little Italy’s own, “La Cremeria.”

 

CONCLUSION:

White & Church is a place to enjoy authentic, creative contemporary Italian cuisine in a casual and relaxing atmosphere at affordable prices. Its ambiance and trendy decor, plush lounge area, spacious bar and high ceilings evoke an ageless noir-era New York. Boglione’s cuisine, while stripped down from previous restaurant incarnations, shines beautifully along with all of the other winning elements of this Tribeca treasure.

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Where Artistry Is a Constant – Upclose with Chef Matteo Boglione and White & Church

BY ELENA MANCINI

On Chef Matteo Boglione and White & Church
White & Church

Contemporary Italian cuisine
281 Church St. (White St.)
Tribeca
212-226-1607 / whiteandchurch.com

Open Monday – Sunday
Happy Hour: half-off cocktails, Monday- Friday, 5-7pm
Tasting Menu: Ten courses for $50
Menu items a’ la carte: range from $8-$18

 

Chef Matteo Boglione

Less than two months after the closing of Il Matto, a restaurant that garnered a highly coveted two-star rating from the New York Times’ Sam Sifton, Matteo Boglione and his team are back with White and Church. Leaner, wiser and with a more pronounced New York-centric focus, White & Church is poised to deliver more comfortable surroundings, an accessible scaled down menu compared to its predecessor  without dumbing-down or sacrificing experimental creativity.

Boglione became aware of his interest in preparing  food when he was eight. The Florentine native attributes the discovery of his culinary passion to the Saturday afternoons he spent baking brownies and chocolate chip cookies with his American mother in Florence. “Watching something raw enter the oven and turn into something else fascinated me.” At fourteen, after completing middle school and an age in which Italian teenaged students are made to decide what professional path they wish to pursue, Boglione opted for hospitality school in Florence. In his lilted, Tuscan-inflected American English,  he described himself as by no means an outstanding culinary student. In his words, his grades were not the best for sure, they were just average, but after his first kitchen stint one summer at age 14, while the majority of his non-culinary peers were lounging on the seaside,  it became clear to Boglione and his mentors, that this was work that he was clearly cut out for, and not just for his drive and perseverance. 

A knack, a genuine feeling for combining flavors, colors and textures, and what he calls “a light hand,”  were characteristics  that Boglione’s teachers and employers attributed to him early on in his career, and in fact as Boglione animatedly recounts–aspirating his “cees” and “tees” in true Florentine fashion–”my art teachers told my father that if I ever decided to give up cooking school, I should study art.” Boglione’s dishes in fact, reflect both artistic flair and an eye for composition. His plating is elegant and minimalistic, but in a way that is not austere. On the contrary, it asserts a touch of playfulness that exudes of buon gusto. And it bears stating here that when it comes to Boglione’s dishes, this buon gusto is by no means confined to the visual.  The aesthetic appeal is stalwartly backed by culinary skill and a bold instinct for combining seemingly dissonant flavors in a way that titillates without assaulting the palate.

This comes through with a good number of dishes that I have thus far sampled at White & Church, but perhaps most prominently with his pecorino cheese creme brulee with red onion marmelade. More on this and other dishes below.

The conclusion of Boglione’s culinary training in Florence took the talented and highly-driven 19 year old to work in kitchens in the UK, Japan, Egypt, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Florence and back to New York, where Boglione’s cooking has stood out in trendy downtown restaurants such as Gradisca and Falai. During his tenure at Gradisca, Boglione hosted a lunch at the  James Beard House.

Asked about his culinary influences, Boglione lights up and gushes about his mentor and inspiration, Neapolitan chef Daniele Pescatore, with whom Boglione has worked in kitchens in Italy and the U.S. Pescatore, chef and owner of the Michelin-rated Cenacolo del Pescatore in Florence, is a champion of creative cuisine: a concept that moved away from regional cuisine in favor of revisiting traditional Italian and Mediterranean dishes with a contemporary twist. Boglione shared warm anecdotes about Pescatore’s support and encouragement when the going got tough in Boglione’s early days and Pescatore’s renegade tendencies. When restaurant owners in Italy refused to pay or made conditions miserable, Pescatore would flip off the owner and walk off the job with his whole brigade. A member of the brigade, Boglione recalls how the entire team would get picked up elsewhere in under one week’s time.  In addition to the person, Boglione is also very fond of Pescatore’s creative cuisine  concepts and expresses them most obviously at White & Church with his Carbonara done two ways, which is a decadently delicious dish composed of two versions of pasta carbonara: one traditional and the other an updated adaptation. Both versions are served side-by-side in matching square bowls on a platter. Both satisfying and respectful of the distinctive pecorino, egg, bacon character profile of the dish. However, the newer iteration of the dish, made with agnellotti, filled with egg yolk and topped with crisp pancetta crumbs delivered an element of intrigue and excitement especially because of the textures that were presented in this new version.

Elaborating on this philosophy of updating traditional Italian recipes and winning flavor combinations, Boglione added that it is not about altering recipes for the sake of something different, but about breathing new life into them and reintroducing them in a new, updated, and sometimes deconstructed guise. Examples of this are with a lasagna that he likes to prepare by substituting the traditional broad noodle with crepes and by serving prosciutto e melone, a standard Italian cold appetizer, warm.

BOGLIONE AND NEW YORK:

This past decade, the restlessly creative Boglione has been busy chefing and restaurateuring primarily in New York. His perspective on New York is similar to that of many seasoned New Yorkers. The city is addictive, it offers endless possibilities, creative freedom and the opportunity to do what you want, but over time the demanding work rhythms and intense competition can really push you to the limit. “To be able to stick your head out in a city of 12 million people, that’s really something.” Boglione loves the fact that New York is a place in which people regularly reinvent themselves, embark upon new career paths and can still enjoy being  taken seriously in their professions. Not so in Italy– at least not in the culinary world. Second or third career chefs struggle to be regarded in the same way as those who went through the rigors and rituals of apprenticeship during their youth. Boglione firmly rejects that mindset and argues that some of the finest food he enjoyed were by former accountants and lawyers. In New York, this freedom of opportunity and possibility to succeed is within reach, and it’s a very good thing. He  has also come to appreciate the intense rhythms of chefing in New York. The quick pace of New York dining as opposed to traditional five course,  four hour dinner, in traditional Italian fashion has become much more his speed. Asked what ingredients or items of Italian cuisine in New York, Boglione pauses and asserts that there is very little that is unavailable here. He’s genuinely impressed with the expanded array of Italian salumi and cheeses (He’s a big fan of Murray’s Cheese Shop) in New York over the past five to six years.  When pressed, he points to certain cuts of lard, but apart from that, he holds that Italian fare in New York is very well represented and remarkably up to date. For all of these reasons, Boglione asserts that there’s no other place he’d rather chef than New York. 

FUN PERSONAL DETAILS:

Asked about his favorite dish, Boglione coyly shared: “If I tell you, you’re not going to believe me, but my favorite dish in the world is peanut butter and jelly and marshmellow fluffs.” He’s a very good customer of Peanut Butter & Co. on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village.

His dream famous personality guest: Alain Ducasse

Dishes that he enjoys preparing for his relatives: shelled scallops and offal

Italian cooking that he admires in New York: Mark Ladner and Mario Batali

Other ethnic cuisines he enjoys: Mexican, for sure, but not the hot foods and spices that burn in your mouth and kill all of the other flavors, and Chinese.

 ON WHITE & CHURCH:

Elevated lounge at White & Church, Tribeca, NYC

The interior of White & Church, Tribeca, NYC

Muted Fellini film loops projected onto its earth-tone sparse walls of this high-ceilinged restaurant-bar and lounge on a historically characteristic Tribeca corner. Ambient music ranging from fusion tango to obscure retro European hits conspires with a winning Lux-Rustic design replete with  saffron-and-burnt-sienna-hued draping, organic wood furnishings and stone-topped communal tables  to create a downtown chic- relaxing atmosphere that is heightened by Boglione’s cooking and award-winning mixologist Cristina Bini’s original edible cocktail creations. Bini’s extensive cocktail list includes classic and innovative concoctions, which include vermouth soaked stone martinis, available in white stone (from Ligurian beaches) and black stone (from Mongolia) iterations and a wide array of nutritional cocktails containing vegetables, herbs and forest findings including bark and a variety of insects, including worms, scorpions, crickets and giant ants. The protein content of insects was a definite point of inspiration for Bini’s brave mixes. Bini, also a Florentine native and Boglione’s better half, shares Boglione’s strong artistic bent– in addition to working as an artist in an earlier incarnation–and is constantly in the process of  experimenting with ingredients and creating new recipes, many of which complement Boglione’s menu. 

Cristina Bini setting up her mixology mise-en-scène

 

Cristina Bini & Matteo Boglione – White & Church’s Power Couple

THE MENU AND BOGLIONE’S DISHES:

For a full-throttle satisfying palatal treat, head straight for the exquisite tasting menu. This ten course meal is a representative cross-section of Boglione’s menu, and priced at $50 (not including alcohol) it’s one of the best deals in town.

For smaller appetites and those who prefer a la carte, the menu is highly accessible and presented in a way that departs from an organization around course categories and favors food- and flavor- category types. Hence the menu categories read: “fried,” “cold,” “hot,” and “sweet.”

Fried polenta at White & Church

Artichoke croquettes with burrata, fresh basil and saffron sauce

Many a straightforward, appetite-whetting starter can be had in the fried section. The fried polenta and the zucchini blossoms are among my favorite. The polenta comes in lightly crusted bite-sized squares. A satisfying burst of flavor in this moist cake-like texture is beautifully carried by a rich and simple parmigiano fondue seasoning. The zucchini blossom comes whole, perfectly coated in a delicate light flour batter, filled with a light ricotta cream and sprinkled bold and briny with black salt and served with a side of hot marinara sauce. Boglione’s masterful technique and light-handed and minimalist flavoring heightens these simple foods to gourmet masterpieces.  The same holds true for his signature artichoke croquettes. Six light, non-greasy orbs of minced artichoke are artfully plated with decadent dabs of fresh and yielding burrata and carmellized olives on a bed of saffron sauce.

Pecorino cheese creme brulee and red onion marmelade at White & Church

Pecorino cheese creme brulee and red onion marmelade at White & Church

Grilled octopus and foie gras at White & Church

The cold section features a range of appetizer-like foods born of the sea and soil alike. There are cheeses, cured meats and tuna tartare and octopus dishes, and it is this section that features the show-stopping pecorino creme brulee. A balsamic reduction coated carmelized creme brulee crust conceals a bold and complex savory custard-like creme. These compelling flavors and textures merge and contrast with a spoonful red onion marmalade that crowns the dish. This is a genius dish for its inventive mode of delivering simple and commonly enjoyed ingredients in a fashion that not only defies the mundane but also  brings high flavor rewards.

The octopus and foie gras also forwards Boglione’s knack for delivering bold and sophisticated taste combinations. Butter-like tender grilled octopus is coupled with soft, earthy slices of Hudson Valley farm-raised foie gras and sprinkled with toothsome candy-like, carmellized black olives and a few ribbons of a basil pesto that add a quickening kick.  The dish is elegant and hearty at once.

Tucked in the hot section of the menu, the pastas are superb. I just wish there were more of them. However pasta lovers will revel in the pastas represented in Boglione’s menu. The  carbonara two ways mentioned above is a rustic delight. There is the fresh pasta ravioli filled with burrata cheese and coated in a decadent black truffle sauce, and more Southern-Italian inflected pasta dishes such as a sardine Sicilian style spaghetti and bavette with fresh tomatoes, arugula pesto and pecorino. The hot category also houses heartier entrees such as steak tagliata, skirt steak and a tuna filet served perfectly rare with fried artichokes and black olives.

Tuna filet, fried artichokes over eggplant cream at White & Church

Tuna filet with fried artichokes  on eggplant sauce at White & Church, NYC

There is a respectable regional Italian wine list with which to pair Boglione’s dishes and a good choice of  $9-$12 wines by the glass, in addition to Bini’s classic and exotic cocktail list.

Chocolate Fondant at White & Church

Dessert options include a smart assortment of popular favorites including chocolate fondant, fresh berries and the legendary gelato from Little Italy’s own, “La Cremeria.”

 

CONCLUSION:

White & Church is a place to enjoy authentic, creative contemporary Italian cuisine in a casual and relaxing atmosphere at affordable prices. Its ambiance and trendy decor, plush lounge area, spacious bar and high ceilings evoke an ageless noir-era New York. Boglione’s cuisine, while stripped down from previous restaurant incarnations, shines beautifully along with all of the other winning elements of this Tribeca treasure.

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Funky cocktail and tapas venue with a view – Review of Four

BY STEPHANIE AMY COLLAZO

FOUR at Yotel
570 10th Avenue @ 42nd St.
Car: Parking Lot located under YOTEL, entrance on 41st Street
Midtown West
646-449-7700 / yotel.com

Entrance to Yotel hotel. Photo taken from the yotel website.

The simple yet modern décor of Yotel sparked my interest long before I knew I would be making a visit to its restaurant.  Having passed by the hotel a few times the neon purple sign reading “YOTEL” and the luggage robot quickly caught my attention.

When entering Yotel, you are approached by a group of men in grey jackets who ask whether you are checking in or going upstairs, once I told them I was going to FOUR one of the men pressed the button for the elevator and told me that when I got to the fourth floor I would be there, hence the restaurant’s name.

Exiting the elevator I noticed that the staff and the hotel followed the same color scheme of plum, grey and white.  At first I thought it was a bit odd but when I realized that the staff didn’t have a uniform and were only required to wear within the color scheme I was amazed at how many different outfits they had put together using those three colors.

Strawberry lychee mojito. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

We were seated at the bar for cocktails while we waited for the tables to be set.  The first cocktail we tried was the strawberry lychee mojito ($13) off of their signature cocktail list.  The description said that the mojito consisted of rum, strawberry, lychee, mint and citrus, but all I was getting was strawberry and tequila.  Now I am not saying that they put tequila in the mojito, which is not typically in a mojito, but the drink was pretty strong and tasted like tequila.  I was a bit disappointed since I was looking forward to tasting the lychee and strawberry.

Dohyo seating at FOUR. Photo taken from the yotel website.

Shortly after finishing our cocktails we were asked where we wanted to be seated.  We had a choice between booth and Dohyo seating.  Though the Dohyo seating looked comfortable and would have enhanced the experience we opted for the booth seating since we were both in dresses and didn’t want to accidentally flash the restaurant.

Mango ginger martini. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The waiter quickly approached us to take our orders. He suggested the mango-ginger martini ($13), and I went for it. My guest decided not to get her next drink just yet.  The mango-ginger martini consisted of vodka, mango, ginger liqueur and St Germain liqueur.  It was delicious! The ginger flavor really stood out and there wasn’t a terrible vodka sting at the end.

Chili dusted tuna. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The first course at Chef Richard Sandoval’s new venture with Yotel was a sampling of the chili dusted tuna salad ($9).  The tuna salad was presented on top of purple potato with potato straws on top.  This course was one of my top three favorite dishes of the evening.  The light dusting of chili made it spicy and though I would have never thought to pair the two the raw tuna and purple potato tasted very good together.

Pozole miso soup. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The second course was pozole miso soup ($6).  This was unlike any miso soup I had had before.  I am accustom to a much more simple version of the soup consisting solely of tofu, seaweed and miso.  The pozole miso soup consisted of tofu, chili guajillo, wakame seaweed and cilantro and was both visually pleasing and hearty.

Crunchy shrimp. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

Next was my absolute favorite dish of the night: the crunchy shrimp ($8).  The shrimp were the star attraction as far as my guest and myself were concerned.  We couldn’t stop raving about the its amazing flavor and crunch.  They were crunchy without a think layer of batter and had just the lightest hint of spice.

Halibut slider. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo

Our fourth course was a halibut slider ($9).  This dish was nice and light and the chili morita-remoulade sauce was quite flavorful. After the halibut, we had black cod with pickled artichoke ($14).  This was a sour and sweet combination that I didn’t see coming.  I enjoyed the pickled artichoke but the teriyaki-balsamic reduction made the cod too sweet for my taste.

 

Our sixth and seventh course came out at the same time.  First we tried the Chinese eggplant ($6), which consisted of miso, tomato, red chile and mint.  I am not a fan of eggplant to begin with so I was not a fan of this course.  Next we tried the Colorado lamb leg ($10).   The lamb had a cucumber-yogurt sauce and was served on top of potatoes.  The meat was very moist and I had to use my fork to eat it rather then the chopsticks we had been using to eat everything else.  My guest who is normally not a fan of lamb ate more than half of her serving.

Dessert sampler (from left to right) yuzu strawberry tart, hummingbird toffee cake and chocolate cheesecake. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

Our final course was the dessert course, which featured a sampling of the three desserts on the menu.  We first tried the yuzu strawberry tart ($7).  The lemongrass sorbet had a very strong lemon flavor, which tasted more like lemon zest, but not in a negative way.  Next we had the hummingbird toffee cake ($7).  The cake was moist and flavorful.  It was made of banana and pineapple and came with sweet anise ice cream.  The last dessert we tried was the chocolate cheesecake ($7).  The cheesecake was not too heavy and paired nicely with the blackberry sauce and chocolate crunch candies.

Due to weather constraints we couldn’t go out on the terrace but I am sure that it would be a great venue for cocktails with friends.

All in all, Yotel has something for everyone. Its drink list alone is enough to draw the young and trendy, while the menu and location will attract the older, possibly after theater, dinner crowd, and the offerings and view from the terrace will make them all stay.

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