Paowalla. 195 Spring St. NYC

Chef Floyd Cardoz is remembered in the city for the New Indian cuisine he brought in at Tabla, which he closed in 2010. This new venture explores his own heritage – Goan food, with an emphasis on bread – especially the ‘pao’ or bread roll. Wada Pao or Pao Bhaji are popular street-food choices that resemble Sloppy Joes or Veg burgers, but there was nothing like that on the menu when we went. Instead, we ate delicately textured fish and vegetable dishes in the 72-seat restaurant on a busy Sunday afternoon, and were wholly unimpressed by the flavors: Buratta with Sea Island Peas ‘Ma Ki Dal’ ($17) was the blandest lentil soup I’ve ever encountered, though the cheese is a fascinating addition to it. Shishito Pakoras ($14) fried in a chickpea batter, were peppier and perfectly crispy. Kerala Style Banana Leaf Skate ($23) was the star of the show, but Upma Polenta with wild mushrooms and peas is also a creamily tasty mix of everything that’s good about vegetarian fare. 

Service is great, the space is wonderfully relaxed with privacy in various corners, and the drinks choices are extensive. The Rosemary naan, subtly flavored, comes recommended, but the idea of paying extra for chutneys still annoys me. 

If I came here again I’d leave the friends with restrictive diets behind and get some of the tempting meat dishes: pork-rib vindaloo, goat roast, lamb roganjosh. Or maybe just not order dishes family-style. I’m sure there’s great flavorful spicy food to be had at Paowalla, but on our recent trip we were expensively disappointed. 

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Subway: Spring St (J)


Champions Pizza. 101 Ludlow St. NYC

The slices here are breathtakingly fresh, and it may have had something to do with my state of inebriation but I feel that it’s no exaggeration to crown this the king of all late-night pizza joints. The White Pesto (Parmigiano Reggiano and pesto sauce – no marinara sauce) is good to start with, while the Tuscany Chicken (with bacon, ranch, mozzarella and parsley) is a next step in the right direction. Spicy, Buffalo, Mushroom and Sausage varieties are all on offer, service is friendly and there’s some basic seating upstairs. Slices are $3-4 each and soft drinks are available in the fridge – it’s that simple. The walls are covered with pics of Baldwins, Sarandons and Pinkett-Smiths, so you’re in good company.

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Subway: Delancey St (F), Essex St (M,J,Z)

Morgan’s Barbecue. 267 Flatbush Ave. Brooklyn. NYC

We had great lean and fatty brisket here, a hearty Tuscan kale Caesar salad, and cold, unfriendly service. Morgan’s tries to be slightly more upmarket than Hill Country and Fletcher’s, especially as you order everything from servers and nothing from the counter, but it really isn’t that inviting. We loved the ribs and sides, the Texas red chili was rich and hearty and the pork links were a heavy option after all the cow that had been consumed. We’ll be back, sitting outside on the patio and expecting better service.

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Galata Mediterranean Cuisine. 212 E 34th St. NYC

We were brought here by an Istanbullu homesick for his mother’s food, and over the course of a three-hour meal we felt that he was mostly satisfied with the dishes he ordered; we were thrilled by all of it, of course. Big groups get to try almost everything, and the arnavut cigeri (fried calf’s liver) is something I would never have ordered for a smaller table; it was a great choice for a big group to share, as 3-4 pieces of deep-fried, spongy cubes of liver ($10) constitute the limit for most people. The mixed meze platter ($20) was well-balanced with light babaghanoush and hummus, while the sigara boregi (cigar rolls filled with cheese and parsley, $7) were perfect addictive comfort food. Kalamarizgara (grilled calamari, $11) are a must, though the mucver (zucchini pancakes) were nothing special at all.
All the meat and fish we had was of the finest quality, well marinated and seasoned. Special mention must go to the salmon scaloppini ($19) cooked in garlic wine sauce and sun dried tomatoes, and the kuzu bacagi (lamb shank, $20) which is one of the restaurant’s specialities.
Turkish wines are served, great baklava is available and the atmosphere is pleasantly higher-end. But of course none of this was as good as our Turkish friend’s mother’s cooking – of course not.

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Samurai Mama. 205 Grand St. Brooklyn. NYC.

This is an udon noodle bar run by the same owners as Bozu just up the street, and the two restaurants share much in common: a wonderfully lit interior, warm, cosy and unsurprisingly full of canoodling couples. The menu has a lot of variety, but we would strongly advise against ordering any sushi rolls – the rice, on our visit at least, was scraped from the bottom of the pan, completely lacking moisture and sponginess. To allow this to be served was a grave error, especially when we were eagerly awaiting jalapeño yellowtail rolls ($8). The vegetable gyoza ($8), however, were well-presented and revealed a moist texture under the crispy pancake lid. But it was the curry seafood udon soup ($16) that stole the show, with its rich flavors and robust noodles: perfectly peppery, though there could’ve been more shrimp and mussels inside.
For atmosphere, Samurai Mama really does score highly. We look forward to giving the sushi here another chance, even though we’ve already been won over by the gyoza and udon.

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Masa y Agave. Under Rosa Mexicano. 41 Murray St. NYC

Tequila/Mezcal passports from the folks at Good Passport brought us here, and once the staff figured out what it was all about, they treated us like kings; before that we were mere coupon-crunchies. So we obviously had an interest in the agave spirit, and we were talked through the combinations used in our cocktails by the mescaliers: the Tamarind (Fidencio Clásico mezcal, tamarind, canela agave and lime) and the Mezcal-isco (Pelotón de la Muerte mezcal, Espolón reposado tequila, lime, agave nectar and orange). Both drinks had definite bite to them, but were well concocted. Even the happy hour specials – the house marg and the frozen pomegranate marg ($8) – were excellent cocktails. Two tacos or a quesadilla can be bought for only $6, and the Alambre de Carne of the former, and Res of the latter, are both sound choices. The bar is packed from 5.30pm for obvious reasons, but it clears out a little when happy hour fades from view. Lighting is low and noise levels can be high, but it’s a great little spot for dates and groups if you get in early and stake your space.

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Subway: Chambers St

El Mercado Urbano. 661 Divisadero St. San Francisco

The converted garage space that La Urbana has added to its already achingly-hip restaurant is worth a look; large-scale skeleton murals, cocktails and tacos on basic street-eat tables and bar orders make this a quick and casual spot. The short rib gorditas were juicy and well-balanced in texture, while the fish taco was above average. Sopes, tortas and tostadas are also available. Sangria is merely good, but their Mexican Mule with its punchy ginger beer and jalapeño syrup is a real winner. Come here for the great vibe, to watch the football and be in an indoor/outdoor space with dramatic murals.

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