What’s On… 44th Street? (Between 8th and 9th Avenue)

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY
What’s On… 44th Street? (Between 8th and 9th Avenue)Try to ignore the proximity to the Theater District, Times Square, and Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.

44th Street between 8th and 9th is just off the beaten path enough to have some good dining and drink options along with a rich history in the film and recording industry. This block was once home to offices of 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Record Plant – the recording studio that revolutionized the recording industry, where Jimi Hendrix recorded Electric Ladyland and where John Lennon recorded “Walking On Thin Ice” the day he was shot and killed.
701 8th Avenue (@ 44th Street) – Smith’s Bar
Open from 7 am to 4 am every day (why even close?), Smith’s Bar is a staple in on the 8th Avenue landscape and we hope it will remain that way.  Locals and theater-goers alike frequent Smith’s for a good time, every time.  Live music Wednesday through Saturday adds to the appeal, but a word to the wise: stick to the booze here.

Smith's Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

310 W 44th Street – Ça Va
Todd English serves the Theater District well at Ça Va, a French brasserie serving as the restaurant for the InterContinental Hotel, meaning so-so hotel decor and 3 meals a day.The dinner pre fixe is your best bet and a great way to try out some of the more interesting menu options for the more adventurous diner.  Don’t expect accommodating service – it seems the staff is happier daydreaming about that standing ovation they’re hoping for after their next stint on Broadway. 

Ça Va Todd English on Urbanspoon

315 W 44th Street – Birdland.
Although not the original location, Birdland on 44th Street still gets it right after 63 years proving that it doesn’t matter what street the doors open onto, Birdland will always be the premier spot for all things jazz.  There’s not a bad seat in the house, so grab a seat and enjoy the southern inspired menu while listening to some cool jazz.

Birdland on Urbanspoon

W 44th Street – Gyu-Kaku
This Japanese BBQ Chain gets two thumbs up for reasonable pricing and a run place to take the kids.  A menu geared toward the American taste bud
is what has made this place such a success around the country (know your audience, right?) along with the experience of grilling your own food right at the table. It’s not authentic, but who cares?  You’ll have a great time with nearly anyone you bring of any age (except maybe the food snob in your life).

Gyu-Kaku on Urbanspoon

321 W 44th Street – New York Beer Company
This pretty massive bar near Times Square features fluctuating beer prices featured on a ticker board.  Prices go up with popularity,
but it seems like even the least popular selections are selling for more than we’d like to pay for.  Most try to ignore the gimmicky theme and agree that this is actually a decent neighborhood hangout, if Times Square is your ‘hood.
 *Come early and snag the table with its own tap.

New York Beer Company on Urbanspoon

339 W 44th Street – Smokey Burger
This recently opened burger shop sports organic burgers piled high with organic toppings.  Options range from beef to ostrich and lamb, but with average prices hitting the $17 mark before even a side of fries some are looking around at the fast casual setting waiting for even the tiniest slice of truffle or hint of foie gras to justify the prices.

339 W 44th Street – One Thai Chef
It would seem that the above restaurant and One Thai Chef share more than an address – what does the same owner mean for these two new restaurants?  Only time will tell; but my advice is that they both lower their prices – stat.

352 W 44th Street – Etcetera Etcetera
Etcetera Etcetera stands a bit apart from the other mundane pre-theater options in the area with a neighborhood feel despite its proximity to Broadway and the Theater District.
The menu reads to please – something for every taste with standard Italian favorites at reasonable prices.  The pasta will satisfy every time, but most locals suggest leaving this place to the out of town crowd.

Etcetera Etcetera on Urbanspoon

 

Harley’s

356 W 44th Street – Harley’s (f.k.a. The Irish Rouge)
The second of two locations for Harley’s (the original located in East Harlem), this newly opened BBQ haunt features a surprisingly large menu of cheap-o BBQ. A $14 dollar brunch special including two drinks might just be the best deal on the block!

Harley's Smokeshack on Urbanspoon

357 W 44th Street – Reunion Surf Bar
Don’t miss the understated entrance of Reunion Surf bar on 44th St.  This bar, named after a tiny volcanic island off the coast of Africa which happens
to be a prime locale for catching serious waves, serves surf inspired cuisine (think Hawaiian surf shack) that would satisfy any hungry dude or dudette.  Some complain that this place isn’t what it used to be, now that the shubees have taken over.

Réunion Surf Bar on Urbanspoon

358 W 44th Street – Don Giovanni
Ok, so it’s not the best you’ve ever had but you’ll find something for everyone at this red sauce Italian serving all the basics including pizzas and heroes.
Geared toward the out of town crowd due to its proximity to Times Square, it might just work if you don’t know what you’re missing elsewhere.

Don Giovanni on Urbanspoon

358 W 44th Street (Upstairs) – The Producers Club
This storefront rental space for off-Broadway productions features 5 theaters and a downstairs bar/lounge area.  Here, you’ll find a wide variety of shows from Shakespeare to comedy to the Avant Garde.  The digs could use some updating, but most agree it just adds to the charm.

630 9th Avenue (@ 44th Street) – Marseille
Around since 2001 Marseille has been supplying Hells Kitchen with dependable French fare with an emphasis on the cuisine of its namesake port city.
Brunch is the standout, especially during the summer to take advantage of the prime 9th avenue people watching.  Executive chef and partner Andy D’Amico
seems to have taken over the block (of 9th Avenue) with restaurant openings at every store front. (See: Nizza and Five Napkin Burger).

Marseille on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

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.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

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.

Speedy Romeo on Urbanspoon

Where New Yorkers Experience the Heart and Mole of Mexico – Review of Mole

BY CRAIG CAVALLO

Mole
1735 Second Avenue (between 89th and 90th)
Upper East Side
 (212) 289-8226 molenyc.com

New York City is a melting pot.  Its inhabitants come from all corners of the world.  As travelers move here to make the city their home, their culture is the first thing that gets unpacked when they arrive.  Suitcases are unzipped and it escapes into the air, becoming part of what we as New Yorkers breathe.  The city’s borders are the minister, or clergy, or rabbi that marries us and joins us in holy matrimony.  It is sometimes the case that two travelers from different places find each other and find love.  The next step is generally to get married.  When the couple shares a passion for food, as is the case with Nick Cervera and Guadalupe Elizalde, after you get married, you open a Mexican restaurant.


Nick and Guadalupe are the owners of the Mole restaurants.  With locations established on the Lower East Side (205 Allen Street), the West Village (57 Jane Street), and Williamsburg, Brooklyn (178 Kent Avenue), the opening of the Upper East Side location in March, at 1735 2nd Avenue, marks their fourth endeavor.  Before it was transformed into a Mole, the Upper East Side 1735 address was the home to a print shop.  At a recent tasting, Nick sat at the table before dinner ensued and spoke proudly of the work he put forth to make the interior what it is today; a comfortable, rustic, yet elegant display of Mexican-meets-New York heritage.  Original exposed brick is decorated with black and white photos Nick took himself on his visits to Mexico, Guadalupe’s native country.  The 17-foot long bar is made from 200-year old reclaimed wood and custom made Mexican tiles.  It stands a bit off to the side, almost separate from the dining room.  This is an intentional move designed to keep refugees from Brother Jimmys from stumbling in and ordering shots of Jose Cuervo after the Jets or Yankees suffer a loss.

Guadalupe cooks traditional fare at Mole and she is guided by original family recipes.  There is a caldo on the menu, Caldo Tlalpeno.  Variations of caldo (meaning “soup” or “broth”) exist in most Spanish speaking countries.  At Mole, their caldo takes its name from a town about an hour and a half south of Mexico City.  Nick mentioned that, driving between these two cities, roadside stands dot the road and sell this caldo along the way.  Shredded chicken and mushrooms are the only thing keeping this clear, “mountainside” broth company.  Chopped raw onions, cilantro, and lime accompany the soup, should you feel so inclined to disrupt the intense, deep, rich, clean spice that manages to hide in the deceiving broth.

You will find huitlacoche on the menu.  Huitlacoche is a wild, naturally occurring corn fungus.  During exceptionally rainy seasons, rain water can penetrate the husks that are supposed to protect corn from the elements and result in the growth of huitlacoche.  Due to its rarity and inability to be harvested, the fungus is often referred to as the Mexican truffle.  The ingredient is truly unique to Mexican cooking and Mole uses it with an ancestral understanding

Taquitos de Barbacoa are prepared at Mole “Relinas style,” a name used in devotion to Lupe’s dad, who would make the dish in Guadalupe’s youth by burying the meat used to fill the taquitos in cactus leaf and cooking it in the soil on his ranch for 12 hours.

Enchilada de Pato en Mole Poblano is the piece de resistance.  The dish features duck confit, done here “carnitas style,” referring to the technique of cooking an animal in its own fat.  The cooking method is commonly applied to pork, resulting in carnitas tacos.  The sauce, Mole Poblano, is something like Mexican marinara, or Central America’s bechamel.  It has taken on many forms and colors since nuns created it in the 16th century for the visiting archbishop.  For use at the Mole restaurants, it is made in Mexico by Guadalupe’s mom and then flown here.  It is intensely rich, dark and sweet from the inclusion of chocolate, both smoky and spicy from dried chilies, and made more complex, and texturally whimsical, with the addition of sesame seeds.

Though it is not an option listed on the menu, Nick is happy to pair each course with a different spirit, a move inspired by the philosophy practiced and popularized at places like Gramercy Tavern and Le Bernardin, and one that is rarely ever applied to Mexican cuisine.  It provides Nick the chance to showcase the diversity of the 100 plus tequilas and mezcals Mole has on hand along with his understanding of his wife’s food.

As Mole continues to expand, Nick and Guadalupe keep a few Mexican-American standbys on the menu to appease their ever reaching clientele.  You get the sense that fajitas are thrown onto the menu only to prevent the uninformed argument that, “Wait, you’re a Mexican restaurant and you don’t have fajitas on the menu?!”  Like other Mexican haunts throughout the city, the guacamole is made table-side, but something about it seems less gimmicky when it’s done for you here.

The different locations of Mole itself are a reflection of the owners’ marriage.  Their chain of restaurants is an extension of their home, a home whose doors are kept open for you seven days a week.  Guadalupe came out from the kitchen at the end of the meal and introduced herself simply as Lupe.  As she leaned down over our table, her smile seemed to say, “I’m just Lupe, and this is just the food I’ve been eating since I was a kid.”

Móle on Urbanspoon

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