Cafe Arzu. 101-05 Queens Blvd. NYC

Offering some of the best kebabs I’ve ever tasted in the city, this Uzbek kosher restaurant has its loyal customers, and rightly so; make sure you request the pilaf in advance, a mistake we innocently made. Beef neck, lamb and chicken kebabs were all of supreme quality, and the spicy tomato salad and Uygur manty (pumpkin or beef) are fresh and easy to share. Samsas are recommended, and most regulars order pasta and soup here too. Service is shaky but the prices and BYOB policy keeps people happy.

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Subway: 67th Ave (M, R)

Rego Pita. 97-12 Queens Blvd. NYC

Friendly quick Israeli food in a no-frills space; their mixed lamb shawarma meat was tasty, though a little dry, and the pita could be toasted just a little more. Falafel is hearty, serve-yourself salad choices are great, and the baba ganoush isn’t all that bad. The pastels have great texture, even if the pumpkin one is a little on the sweet side for my taste.

$

Subway: 63rd Drive Rego Pk (M)

Huertas. 107 1st Ave. NYC 

The Huertas neighborhood of central Madrid wasn’t a place I would go more than a handful of times a year to eat, but the bars and tapas joints there are famous for their vermouth and hearty croquetas, salty jamón and oily anchovies. This charming and buzzy East Village restaurant opened a few years ago and signed up to the gratuity-free group, strengthening their Euro-credentials. There was the NYT article about how they added the ‘extra tentacle’ to their octopus dish to make the price increase fairer on diners, and it really is more reasonable than other tapas bars where you can spend an obscene amount on very little food. 

Canned fish is something our server had spoken to many a diner about before, and his rehearsed lines – ‘Americans look down on canned products but in Spain they are often the best’ – weren’t necessary to persuade us to order the mussels, drenched in rich paprika oil. The croquetas were excellent while the jamón was merely good, but the bistek (skirt steak, $23) and huevos rotos (quails egg beaten over stringed pasta-like potato, $12) were exceptional. 

There is a wide range of drinks, from the aforementioned vermouth, to gintonic on tap, along with beers, cocktails and kalimotxos (red wine & cola). 

It was refreshing not to have to worry about tipping and also not to be hassled unnecessarily by overly-attentive servers checking up on the table. This is the future. 

$$$

Subway: 1st Ave (L)

Indian Accent. 123 W 56th St. NYC

Manish Mehrotra’s Gotham outpost of his New Delhi fine dining establishment had opened about a year before we finally made our way there, and we really did hold out for a special occasion; no restaurant has been quite worth the wait like this place. Superlatives abound on this blog at times but they are completely deserved here: this is the best Indian food I have ever eaten in my life.

The dining space and bar area is merely comfortable, clean and uncluttered but unremarkable. However, the food is punchy, colorful and incredibly delicious. Three courses for $75 or four for $90 means that you’ll be getting small plated morsels of delight, and the $10 supplement for the ghee lamb is well worth it. It all adds up incrementally and we left feeling very full – I couldn’t imagine drinking a beer with such rich food. The Bandit Queen (a smoky agave cocktail) suited me well, and their mocktails are also layered and interesting. 
We started with the messiest: butter-pepper-garlic crab claws, which yielded a surprising amount of meat; a mathri trio: smoked eggplant bharta with duck and chicken khurchan served in paper cones supposed to resemble Hindi newspaper wraps; there was a mid-course too, for which we had soy keema with a raw quail egg on top to mix in – sensational flavors and a texture that you’d swear was real lamb and not a simulacrum. Tiny butter pao rolls are cutely speared into the clay lid to dip into the pot of pure ecstasy. The sweet pickle ribs verged on the right side of Indo-Chinese and the pork chilli fry wasn’t so remarkable with all the stars on the table, especially when the ghee-roasted lamb arrived with roomali rotis. Pumpkin cheddar kulchas were certainly good, but we’ll be having the pastrami ones next time (inspired by Mehrotra’s visit to Katz’s Deli). We didn’t have desserts, but they served some dry sweets which were fine. 

Service was attentive and the waitsplaining that other writers have complained about was non-existent; they may’ve taken the criticism to heart. This is a special place and what it lacks in atmosphere, it makes up for with impressive haute cuisine. 

 

$$$$

57th St (F,N,Q,R,W)

Belle Shoals. 10 Hope St. Brooklyn. NYC. 

It wasn’t very busy on the last Friday night of last year, but this bar doesn’t really get going until midnight. Food is average – the house burger is a solid bet for only $10 – but the cocktails are excellent refreshing concoctions, tailored to your preferences. Service really puts this bar above most others in Williamsburg. 

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Bedford Ave (L)

Prova. Grand Central Station Dining Concourse. NYC 

2015 saw the closure of Donatella Arpaia’s Prova in Chelsea, but this Prova Pizzabar is more popular for its counter selling pizza by the slice, far quicker than getting a Shake Shack burger a few yards away. The dining space is small, but insulated from the bustle of the Grand Central; there is also a bar space which works well in the small setting. The classic eggplant Parmesan is excellent – hearty and belly-warning; however, the Tartufata with truffle cream, Porcini Mushrooms, Mozzarella and Speck ($8 slice, $42 pie) might be NYC’s best white pie after Juliana’s No.1, but such a different beast: a bready crust with real bite. This is apparently Detroit-style, and it pulls off slices but definitely not for that price. A small selection of wine and beers is available and service is below-average but the  atmosphere is a little better than you’d expect from a restaurant – other than the Oyster bar – in a terminus station.  

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. 

$$$

Subway: Spring St (J)