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

Tofu House Warms the Body and Soul – Review of BCD Tofu House

BY BETH KAISERMAN

5 W 32nd St  New York, 10001
(212) 967-1900 / www.bcdtofu.com/

Friendly smiles greeted guests as I stepped into BCD Tofu House on opening night in late April. Delightful Korean fare was being prepared in the kitchen at BCD’s new bi-level restaurant in Koreatown.

Soon Tofu

Soon Tofu

Located at 5 W. 32nd St., BCD Tofu House (formerly down the street at 17 W. 32nd St.) is a popular fast casual restaurant that’s been around since 1996, with most of its locations in Southern California. The brand is known for its traditional Korean tofu soup, known as “Soon Tofu Soup.” This yummy, hearty bowl of pork tofu soup was the highlight of the night, made with chili powder, bean paste, tofu, cabbage and salt water. I chose the seafood version, with mussels and shrimp, as opposed to the pork one. Served piping hot, attentive servers came around with eggs, which we cracked into the clay pot bowl. Covered with the steaming hot soup and a ton of hot seafood, the egg cooks itself at the bottom of the bowl. Talk about feel-good food; this dish is amazingly tasty and healthy at the same time.

LA Galbi

LA Galbi

 We also tried LA Galbi, awesome BBQ short ribs with the bone on, my second favorite dish of the night. Other tastings included jabchae, glass noodles with vegetables and tofu, spicy raw crab, fried dumplings, shrimp potato rolls, and grilled tofu skewers.

Longtime BCD fan Helen Kang attended the event. Born in SoCal, she’s hooked on BCD’s tofu soup, and said that’s pretty much the norm in SoCal.

“If you’re going to go anywhere for tofu, that’s where you go,” she said.

She liked the layout of this new location, with its long wooden tables and chairs.

“The idea here is Korean traditional,” she said. “Wood is very important.”

BCD stands for “Buk-Chang-Dong,” a city known for its prosperity, according to a press release. The ribbon was cut on Thursday, and BCD Tofu House is now open to the public.

BCD Tofu House on Urbanspoon

 

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.

Sweet Chick on Urbanspoon

Nespresso takes foodies on caffeine-fueled flight

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Nespresso Mojito

Nespresso affogato

Nespresso provided a delightful tour of their company Tuesday night at their SoHo store.

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi led the airplane-themed journey, which included espresso mojitos and martinis, three espresso samples, and a tray of tasty bites. Dessert was Lakshmi’s delicious take on the Italian affogato — this one with espresso over vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel and chocolate bits.

Lakshmi talked about the warmth coffee brings to life — invigorating conversation and providing comfort.

“Coffee brings people together,” she said. “Senses of smell are the first tools that Mother Nature really gives us to experience.”

To captivate that wonderful warmth, we tried three varieties of Nespresso. The Nespresso types are known as Grand Cru, as they are grown under the most suitable conditions.

My favorite was Indriya from India, bold and with a hint of chocolate. The blend is actually from Lakshmi’s hometown, and would pair well with a cinnamon bun, she said.

The event was helpful in understanding espresso, and though I’m not yet halting my morning French press action, I look forward to enjoying more espresso as well.

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

Chef dishes out tales in bare-bones memoir

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Blood, Bones & Butter Event at 92Y

 

Gabrielle Hamilton


Gabrielle Hamilton
never dreamed of being a celebrity chef. In fact, she never dreamed of being a chef at all.

Her popular East Village restaurant, Prune, seats 30 people, as Hamilton fills bellies with the type of food you want when you’re hungry, she said. Simple, well-made food so fulfilling it attracts lines of people for weekend brunch before the place even opens.

In the highly-acclaimed memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, Hamilton shares her food memories, from her father’s epic lamb roasts to monotonous catering kitchens to her mother-in-law’s inspiring Sunday lunches at her house in Italy.

In a lecture at 92Y last week, Hamilton talked about the process of writing her book compared to running a bustling small kitchen. It wasn’t like the restaurant, where food has to be ready at 5 p.m. for hungry patrons to arrive at 6. She had trouble reaching deadlines at first, but after losing her first contract, she realized it was time to write.

In her experience earning an MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, she found that many of the writers “didn’t have life to write about.”

Hamilton, who began working at 13 and hasn’t stopped, writes about food, but also intricate emotions, including ones sparked by her marriage to the man she had two children with. Her book is a mashup of defining moments, with a welcome sprinkle of expletives throughout. And yes, it will make you hungry.

What makes Hamilton stand out is the fact that she doesn’t want to. She isn’t out to become the next Anthony Bourdain or Ruth Reichl, and is perfectly content with her tiny, lovely East Village restaurant, she said. She is currently writing a cookbook.

“I’d like to move further in the universe,” she said.

“My goal is to be the 60 year-old nonna in a specialty shop, helping you buy olive oil.”