The 40/40 Club. W 25th St. New York

I have now been to this branch of Jay-Z’s sports bar chain almost a dozen times, and though it may lack diners’n’drinkers on weeknights, the food is always good; not great, nor inventive, but solidly good. The crab cakes ($15) are rich, with a creamy jalapeño ranch to add to the weight of it all, and the shrimp, artichoke and spinach dip ($15) is definitely for sharing. The Wilted Kale Salad ($13) is a punchy combo of fruits and walnuts, with a red wine reduction that adds real depth. The Braised Beef Short Rib ($23) is the best entrée, with whipped potatoes, black truffle salsa and a veg of the day, though special mention must be made of the Colossal Shrimp ($26), served over angel-hair pasta in a white wine reduction.

Drinks are awful though, unless you get one of the Martinis (the Dragonfly is decent but sweet). D’Ussé cognac (also Jay-z’s brand) is used in many of the more attractive mixes, including a ‘Bold’n’ Stormy which just doesn’t hit the mark.

Service is uneven, and though they take great pride in the place and the clientele that came here in the late aughts, it just ain’t what a lot of people expect; glamorous it certainly isn’t, especially when it’s often so empty.

$$$

Subway: E 23rd St. (R,W)

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Strange Flavor. 369 Troutman St, Brooklyn. NYC

Bar food doesn’t get better than this: a loose food truck concept heavy on protein-forward mala marinated choices. Wings (available in vegan), burgers ($8.50) and dogs are all rich and well-spiced, and even the fries ($4.50) are punchy, especially in animal style. This definitely satisfies many cravings.

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Subway: Jefferson St (L)

Rahi. 60 Greenwich Ave. NYC

Artisanal Indian food comes and goes in NYC, but we haven’t tasted anything this good since Indian Accent last year, and Rahi beats it in every category: much better value for money, funkier, and healthier. Chintan Pandya, formerly of Michelin-starred Junoon, has created an eclectic menu spanning many regions with appetizers (the jhat se, or in-a-NY-minute category) such as Chilli Cheese toast ($14), Nargisi Kofta Dhokli (chicken keema, egg yolk & ricotta ravioli, $16), Keema Pao (ground lamb, milk bread, boiled egg, andhra chilli oil, $16) and Chettinad Octopus (with coconut-turmeric mousse and lime gremolata, $21). Entrees, or the aaram se (leisurely) category impressed us too, with the Wild Mushroom & Truffle Khichdi ($24) and Banana Leaf Chicken (in a Kerala coconut curry, $25) being the real crowd-pleasers. We found the Kashmiri Lamb Ribs exceedingly fatty, but when we sent them back we got a very understandable explanation for why they seemed so: the recipe can over-accentuate the heritage meat’s natural fat layer and bring it to the fore. We also had a great chat with the affable entrepreneur Roni Mazumdar, CEO of the operation (and of Tapestry before in the very same space), and stellar service from the staff. The atmosphere is bustling and the drinks selection is extensive. So needless to say, this is my new favorite Indian restaurant.

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Subway: 9th St (PATH) & 14th (1,2,3)

 

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)

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)


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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