French-African Delights in Gramercy Park – Review of Ponty Bistro

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Ponty Bistro
218 Third Ave. between 18th and 19th St.
Gramercy
pontybistro.com/212-777-1616

Ponty scallop

Ponty scallop

Chef Alhadji A. Cisse has been serving French and African delights at neighborhood spot Ponty Bistro since 2008. His modern takes on both cuisines highlight fresh ingredients with his own updates, twists and turns combining the flavors of West Africa and Senegal with Mediterranean and French methods.

The favorite of the night was moules Africana, mussels in a broth of coconut milk, garlic, red curry, and other spices Cisse wants to keep secret. On the menu it’s served with fries, unlike at most New American restaurants, where fries have to be ordered separately. This entree costs $18. A dish like this is easily one of my favorite things, and this one had just the right amount of spices to wake up the palate without overwhelming the taste of the fresh mussels.

Other prices are reasonable too. A lobster BLT runs for $15, and a very flavorful hanger steak entree with mashed potatoes and spinach runs for $19.

I can’t remember the last time I saw the words “early bird dinner,” but Ponty offers a $25 three-course early bird deal from 4pm-6:30pm Monday through Sunday. It seems like a great chance to sample a few items at a low cost.

Cisse and his cousin, Chekh Cisse, who runs a second location in Harlem, are from Senegal and moved to New York City in 1995. Ponty is named for a boulevard in Senegal. The chefs have worked for Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Ponty Bistro on Urbanspoon

Balzem Brings Mediterranean Delights and Warm Energy

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Balzem
202 Mott St. in SoHo
balzem.com/646-837-7033

 

The air in Balzem was positive and lively as a few writers gathered for a menu with wine pairings. Wine racks and vintage mirrors lined the walls, and an orange glow filled the room. The warm and intimate space seats 58, with long communal tables and some smaller tables. A few sidewalk tables will be available in June.

 

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

pan fried Spanish octopus on arugula

pan-fried Spanish octopus on arugula

 

A perfect place to pregame at the bar with drinks and snacks, Balzem offers $1 oysters, $5 mezzes/tapas, $6 wines and $5 beers every day but Saturday. Oysters and branzini ceviche aren’t a bad way to impress a date. My favorite appetizer was prosciutto-wrapped burrata on top of green pepper slices.

The food varied from new and fresh to familiar and well-executed. I’ve never seen a branzini ceviche on a menu, and I thought the fish was very fresh and flavorful this way. The grilled ribeye brochette (skewers) were perfectly cooked and hard to put down. They were served with warm flatbread, herb dip and yogurt dip, but the meat was completely delicious on its own.

The only food that felt heavy and rich were two sides: potato truffle gratin and truffle mac & cheese. Of course, they were delicious and shared amongst the table. The rest of the food was light for restaurant food, with simple ingredients executed well. This a great spot if you want a tasty dinner that won’t weigh you down – and there’s plenty of wine to help you along the way.

Balzem on Urbanspoon

French Bistro Serves Up Health-Conscious Fare – Review of Le Village

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Le Village
127 E. 7th St.
East Village
(212) 539-0231
levillagenyc.com

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Le Village, Chef Didier Pawlicki’s East Village bistro. Pawlicki, also owner of La Sirene and Taureau, highlights gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan fare here. Seeing any sort of nutrition information on a French bistro menu is a bit of a buzzkill. Luckily, the fat content wasn’t listed. The menu designates items as gluten-free, carb-free, low-carb (less than 25%) and medium-carb (less than 50%).

beet carpaccio resized

Beet Carpaccio at Le Village, NYC

Meat entrees include an angus burger, seared duck breast, and coq au vin, but most of the menu is more veggie-friendly.

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village, NYC

My favorite savory dish was cassoulet with stewed beans, smoked portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and sliced potatoes. It was flavorful and hearty.

Brussels sprouts sauteed with balsamic-glazed strawberries offered a refreshing take on a dish that’s been done a million times. The same is true for the beet carpaccio, delicately sliced beets with wine-soaked raisins, almonds and fresh horseradish.

Overall, each dish offered a new twist on an old classic. Banana brulee was like a fancy version of one of my childhood favorites, complete with a Nilla wafer crust on the bottom. Rather than offering a regular creme brulee, Pawlicki added the banana element since his girlfriend loves bananas. Two vegan desserts are available: a seasonal tart with coconut sorbet and macerated prunes with coconut sorbet. Ice creams are made in house.

Le Village is cozy and casual with some fresh takes on French cuisine. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee, so be sure to a grab a bottle on your way. Le Village accepts only cash and AMEX.

Le Village on Urbanspoon

UES’s New Thai-Inspired Gastropub – Review of Flight

BY BETH KAISERMAN

1479 York Avenue at E. 78th Street
Upper East Side
212-988-5123/flightnewyorkcity.com

Flight

Seafood flight of jumbo crab cake, blue corn crusted calamari and roasted jumbo shrimp

Flight is a new gastropub featuring 16 rotating craft beers, happy hour food, and soon, live jazz.

Flight1

The chef is inspired by the flavors of Thailand, which he features in dishes like PEI mussels with a wonderfully spicy coconut curry sauce. I could eat that dish with one of a few IPA draft options and be perfectly happy. It paired nicely with Newburgh Double IPA.  

Cheese and charcuterie flights are available, as well as slider flights, seafood flights, or a “barnyard flight” of filet mignon, fried chicken and rack of lamb. Prices are reasonable; 3 cheese and charcuterie options are $15 or 5 for $22. A slider flight with fries is $14. All of these work well with flights of beer, wine or whiskey.  

Beverage director Dermot Kelly brings his Irish heritage to some of the menu (traditional Irish breakfast and homemade brown bread ice cream, anyone?), but it really shines on his beer list. Four 6-ounce pours cost only $12.   Flight replaced longtime neighborhood spot Dresner’s, but Kelly said they see both former Dresner’s regulars and new folks. The light cream chairs and hanging lights give the atmosphere a brightness that most other craft beer-centric restaurants lack. There’s a glass outdoor cafe for warm months. Check it out for good beer and affordable bites.

Flight on Urbanspoon

Spiegel Serves Cuisine with International Flair

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Spiegel
26 1st Ave. at 2nd St.
East Village
(212) 228-2894/spiegelnyc.com

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Spiegel, a bright and airy spot serving “international cuisine” in the East Village.

Spiegel

Baked Feta – Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant, Kalamata olives, grilled pita

If you got your passport stamped for eating your way around Manhattan’s East Village, you would have a lot. There are tons of international dining options, and of course many places reflect a fusion of two cuisines. Spiegel’s menu reflects mostly Israeli, Moroccan, and other Mediterranean influences, aiming to bring a full-circle global variety to one place. A hint of other nationalities adds to the mix.

“We didn’t want to limit the food to a country or a state,” owner Shmulik Avital said.

Spiegel2

Vegetarian Couscous

Avital grew up in Beer-Sheva in Israel with Moroccan parents, and had Indian, German and other international neighbors growing up, he said. Schnitzel is on the menu, served with jasmine rice and tahini.

My favorite dish was the heartwarming baked feta with Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant and olives served in a cast iron pan with house-made pita. It was the best dish for a crisp Fall evening, and the spices were just right.

Executive Chef Dario Tapia formerly worked at Westville and was pastry chef at Maison Kayser. He takes the reign on Spiegel’s main menu and pastries as well. The flan was outstanding and so was the beautiful apple tart, just in time for the season.

Spiegel3

Schnitzel Plate

Spiegel5

Flan

Spiegel is named for Sam Spiegel, the legendary Hollywood producer who was the first to win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar three times for On the Waterfront, The Bridge On the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Spiegel opened in May in a space that was a deli. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 

Spiegel on Urbanspoon

Relaunch brings good spirits to Long Island City! Review of Crescent Grill Relaunch

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Crescent Grill
38-40 Crescent Street,
Long Island City
Dutch Kills
(718) 729-4040/crescentgrill.com

When a New York City restaurant gets its liquor license, it’s a reason to celebrate!

Crescent Grill in Long Island City, also just added a gallery in the front of the restaurant featuring local artists and welcomed Chef de Cuisine Milton Enriquez.

Chef Shaun Dougherty was in good spirits Thursday night, as he greeted guests and reflected on the journey that brought his 100-seat New American restaurant to a former hair goods shop in Long Island City.

“I want to be able to say ‘I’ve been on this corner since 2013,’” Dougherty said.

Dougherty, who said his favorite high school class was Home Ec, hails from Johnstown, Pa. and opened the restaurant with his brother, Daniel, who has lived in Long Island City for 30 years. He considered opening the restaurant near State College, home of Penn State University’s main campus until his brother came aboard with the idea of bringing it to Long Island City.

Dougherty’s focus is on local, fresh food, and he really means it. He’s at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket every Sunday to pick up his goods from farms like Ronnybrook Dairy. He’s been using the same Western Pennsylvania farm to source his meats since 1993. “Farm-to-table” isn’t just a trend for him.

Pan seared Day Divers' Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

Pan seared Day Divers’ Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

duck confit pasta at Crescent Grill resized

Pappardelle Pasta: duck confit, butternut squash, sage, brussels sprouts leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano

For appetizers, we tried local salmon with citrus creme and a truffled mushroom quiche. For an entree, I indulged in one of my favorite seafoods, pan seared diver’s scallops, which are handpicked by licensed scuba divers. The dish had a shredded Asian-style salad of bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger dressing, which was a light and lovely accompaniment to the scallops.

The pappardelle with duck confit and butternut squash was certainly rich and hearty but the portion was just enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. All the flavors were just right and went together perfectly, with the brussels sprouts leaves helping to lighten it up just a touch. It was a hit!

There will soon be a private dining room downstairs, where guests can watch the kitchen staff work their magic.

The Dutch Kills neighborhood is looking good these days. Dutch Kills Centraal is down the street. A former auto-garage is now M. Wells Steakhouse, closer to Queensboro Plaza, but not far from Crescent Grill. New York City staples Murray’s Cheese and Amy’s Bread have outposts near Queensboro Plaza as well. The area has been home to tons of artists and families who’ve lived here for years. Only a few subway stops from Times Square, there are tons of hotels and office buildings nearby. As more businesses keep popping up, it could very well be the next Bushwick.

The energy here is infectious, with people excited and outwardly supportive of new businesses, and warmly welcoming of new visitors to the area. I can’t wait to go back.

Crescent Grill on Urbanspoon

A Celebration of Schmaltz at 92Y

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Michael Ruhlman loves fat.

Dumplings cooked in schmaltz

Dumplings cooked in schmaltz

Particularly, he is passionate about schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. Though he’s “100% goy,” Ruhlman’s affection led him to write, The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat. He talked about this venture Monday at 92Y.

Ruhlman discussed how the fat was used for survival amongst Eastern European Jews, since oil was unavailable and lard was not Kosher. Schmaltz is essentially chicken fat and onion browned together. Ducks or geese were also used to create schmaltz.

It’s a rare gem, since it’s not something you can go grab from a store. Though you may be able to find it at a deli counter, it really should be made from scratch. It was an important staple in traditional Jewish cuisine, an essential ingredient used to hold together meals.

 

Chopped liver and dumplings

Chopped liver and dumplings

 

“We’ve lost sight of how fundamental [food] is,” he said.

The tradition of creating and utilizing schmaltz was almost lost once people started thinking it was unhealthy, Ruhlman said. He wants to keep the tradition alive, and believes it’s healthier than butter. He suggests using schmaltz to make latkes, kugel and fried potatoes.

The first time I had schmaltz was life-changing. I may have tried it as a kid, but I don’t remember. The moment I recall was at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in the Lower East Side. A classic old-school New York City establishment, this place gave me a glimpse of how my grandparents used to cook. (My dad’s mother was Roumanian.) Though my dad stared in fake horror as I drenched my bread in schmaltz, I’m sure he did the same thing when he was younger, and probably was probably jealous as I let the chicken fat and fresh bread melt together in my mouth.

Ruhlman is a huge advocate of cooking at home, and the idea of schmaltz represents something special to him.

I agree with his food ideology. Cooking at home implies that you know what’s in your food, as you’ve sourced the ingredients and created the results yourself. If you’re going to cook a chicken, you should use all the parts. Using the fat to make schmaltz is a fantastic way of utilizing the entire chicken, as is using the bones for stock. The point is not to waste things that can be used to create more food. After all, who doesn’t like more food? Don’t forget the gribenes, which are crispy chicken or goose cracklings. These are incredible and can be eaten as a snack or used to make chopped liver.

In moderation, fat really isn’t all that bad for us, even though many food companies and diet books have led us to believe it’s the enemy. We just have to remain aware of what we are putting into our bodies, and cooking for yourself is the best way to do that.

Not your average sports bar – Review of BottomzUp

BY BETH KAISERMAN

344 Third Avenue
Murray Hill
(646) 918-7220 / bottomzupnyc.com/

 

The 3400 square foot space at 344 3rd Ave. opened Thursday and features a menu of eats from around the nation. You can root for your team while pretending you’re at your favorite tailgate spot from New England to Texas. If you prefer, you can tune out the sports theme and order sushi and oysters, something you don’t see in most sports bars. 

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tempura sushi

Tempura sushi

The bar features a sleek design with 45 flat-screen 60” HDTVs, and guests can listen to their game of choice (or music) on tabletop wireless speakers. This is ideal for serious sports fans like my dad, who listens to football while watching hockey. It’s also nice for people who want a little diddy with their oysters. The apathetic folks deserve a Sunday funday, too.

As time goes on, more regionally inspired features will make their way onto the menu. I may have to check in once their Primantis-style sandwich makes an appearance.

Bottomzup Bar & Grill NYC on Urbanspoon

Coffee and Rum Hit it Off at Times Square Tasting

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Coffee and rum are a tasty duo. Coffee-infused rum. Rum in coffee. It looks like I’m late to the ballgame, since Pirate’s Coffee is already a concoction on drinksmixer.com.

 coffee rum resized

Coffee Bean Direct and Jersey Artisan Distilling, both New Jersey-based companies, presented a tasting at the Hilton Times Square last week to showcase their products in Manhattan.

green coffee resized

Coffee Bean Direct is an online ordering site that imports beans from all over the world and roasts them fresh daily. Some highlights of CBD’s huge (seriously endless) selection of flavors included maple bacon, which is actually vegan since it uses a bacon flavoring. That was the strangest revelation of the day. I was a fan of the holiday blend, which has caramel, hazelnut and French vanilla, according to roastmaster Al Marrone. Though I’ve given up flavored coffees because they usually leave a weird lingering aftertaste, these ones left a surprisingly clean (and not overly bacon-y) aftertaste. In fact, the bacon flavoring merely provided a hint of smoke in the brew. I’m sure the flavor would be more pronounced with a side of bacon, but don’t let me influence you.

 

The already massive selection is always growing. Check out the Zombie Cure, a fun alternative to pumpkin flavored coffee. Tea drinkers are in luck, too; the company just launched a separate brand, Tattle Tea, which offers a ton of unique and expertly crafted selections.

Located in Frenchtown, New Jersey, Coffee Bean Direct is run by a tight-knit crew that started in 2004. They now sell 1 million pounds of coffee per year, including unroasted green coffee that people can roast at home themselves. Most of their orders are made and then shipped the next day, if not sooner, CEO Andrew Esserman said.

About an hour away in Fairfield, New Jersey, history is being made at Jersey Artisan Distilling, the state’s first distillery since Prohibition. Busted Barrel rum is its first product, the name inspired by federal agents literally busting barrels of booze, killing the buzz of surrounding partygoers.

There is silver rum, good for drinks like mojitos, and dark rum, made of molasses, water, yeast and lemon juice aged for five months in charred American white oak barrels with a handful of vanilla beans.

“You can drink it as a whiskey,” co-founder Brant Braue said.

Along with the friendly folks at Coffee Bean Direct, Braue created a delicious coffee-infused dark rum, re-using beans that had already brewed coffee. This was a genius collaboration that I hope hits shelves soon!

Busted Barrel is only sold in New Jersey for now. On the distillery’s menu for spring is a Jersey sweet corn-based vodka and “seasonal treasures” like tomato vodka, Nick LaPlaca of R&J Public Relations said. Whiskey and bourbon should appear in 2016, according to the Jersey Artisan Distilling web site.

The event offered a really fun peek into two New Jersey businesses that are really passionate about the products they make.

Half a Decade of ‘Putting the South in the Mouths’ of Murray Hillers and More – Review of Brother Jimmy’s BBQ

BY BETH KAISERMAN

181 Lexington Avenue (btwn. 31th. and 32nd. Streets)
Murray Hill
212-779-7427 / brotherjimmys.com/

Brother Jimmy's Celebrating Five Years in Murray Hill

Brother Jimmy’s Celebrating Five Years in Murray Hill

Brother Jimmy’s BBQ in Murray Hill celebrated 5 years this August with a feast for the eyes, ears and belly. The BBQ chain has been around since 1989, but the Murray Hill location offers the “best combination of fun and quality,” CEO, Josh Lebowitz, said.

Since it’s a large space, people tend to eat and then enjoy drinks at the bar afterward, he said. Last week that scene was just part of a summer-style bash, complete with pork, booze, and a three-hour block party on Lexington Avenue that started at 4 p.m.

As a band inside played bar hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” guests outside enjoyed a whole hog served up by Chef Eva Pesantez, along with rib tips, corn, popcorn and cotton candy. And even though it might have been a little early for Journey, a wide variety of people enjoyed some free eats to kick off their night.

Simone Martins was on her way home with her husband and kids when they discovered the party. After all, the smell of smoky BBQ always signifies a great time. Though it was “a little spicy,” for her taste, Martins said it was a nice surprise after a day at work.

The typically bustling Murray Hill was rewarded for its devotion to Brother Jimmy’s, a neighborhood staple that’s obviously generous enough to show their appreciation. Cheers to 5 more years, and many more beers!

 

Other Brother Jimmy’s locations in NYC include the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Union Square, Midtown West, and a West Village to-go spot.

Brother Jimmy's BBQ on Urbanspoon