Month: March, 2008

Totto eclipse of the heart

Monday, March 31st, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Eats

B — always on the prowl for new places — had read a lot of good things about Yakitori Totto on West 55th. The location makes it easy to miss; the small, low-key restaurant overlooks the middle of a quiet street, and is reached by ascending the narrow staircase adjacent to Japanese restaurant Sugiyama.

As the name indicates, their specialty is yakitori — bite-sized pieces of chicken (meat or organs) skewered and grilled, usually over charcoal. Japanese street fare, served in a dining room setting. (As an alternative to the small tables, a number of seats are set up around a counter in front of the smoky grill.) Quite a lot has been made about the default traditional chicken preparation — medium rare to raw — but I figured that there were far more dangerous things to eat than not-quite-cooked chicken, and perhaps the looming threat of salmonella poisoning would add an extra edge to the overall experience. Besides, this restaurant opened in January 2004, and surely would have been shut down by now if it posed a serious public health threat… and just as surely would not have been named to New York magazine’s Cheap Eats list in 2006 (#61)… right?

First, some sake for courage. B put in the order of Okunomatsu ginjo sake, and we were both a little taken aback with this supersized bottle arrived in a chilled bucket. It was easily twice the size we were expecting. In retrospect, I guess we could have sent it back…

We started our meal off tamely enough with the Hamachi Ceviche (yellowtail sashimi with citrus dressing) and a simple Totto Salad (Totto’s special mix salad, with shiso leaf dressing). From there, we pored over the truly impressive assortment of chicken part options, the familiar and the less so: wing and thigh… liver and skin… gizzard, heart, “soft bone,”(?) “soft knee bone”(??)…

I insisted on ordering the heart — the little chunks of muscle arrived three to a bamboo skewer, and were delightfully juicy — and B piled on the rest: the Shishitou Tsukune (chicken meatball and asparagus wrapped in thinly sliced breast), Sasami Shisomaki (shiso leaf wrapped in sliced chicken breast with plum sauce), some other non-chicken skewers: the Enoki Bacon (mmm… bacon), the Kuro Buta Negi Pon (organic pork with scallion and ponzu)…

I lost track. I blame the sake. But I do recall that it was all delicious.

Things ended on a sweet note with the Yawaraka Annin Tofu (creamy apricot kernel tofu) — similar to the dessert I sampled at Kyotofu, and just as tasty. No lingering, though… as we were licking the last creamy bits off our spoons, our server came over and in an apologetic tone that nonetheless left little room for negotiation, reminded us that there was a growing crowd of hungry diners waiting for our seats.

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Tongue to go

Monday, March 31st, 2008 | All Things, Eats

It had been some time since I’d paid a visit to Hells Kitchen’s Tulcingo del Valle, so when my dinner with MB was rescheduled, the evening seemed to present a fine opportunity for introducing another friend to this cheap, authentic Mexican restaurant, sprung from the bodega next door.

SYB and I made our way west to this somewhat desolate stretch of Tenth Avenue – along the way running into DM and her son en route to catch In the Heights — to find the restaurant closed. ¡Qué lástima! There were, however, a few tables set up inside the deli, so although it felt a touch strange to be dining within arm’s reach of the cold cases of queso fresco, chorizo and tortillas, we were willing to make the adjustment.

Tehuitzingo Deli Grocery, located a block north between 47th and 48th Streets, has what I understand to be a similar set-up: a no-frills lunch counter tucked in the back of a bodega, behind which a staff of Mexican women serve up some of the most raved about tacos in Manhattan.

The tacos at Tulcingo del Valle are pretty good, too; SYB ordered up this meaty trio:

And though the “extremely delicious” Pipian de Pollo was offered as a special tonight, I decided to keep things lighter with a bowl of the Chilate de Pollo (described on the menu as “Spicy Chicken Broth”). But at the last moment, concerned that $4.75 “broth” alone wouldn’t prove a substantial enough dinner, I added on the Lengua Torta – the beef tongue sandwich — Poblano style, i.e., with Oaxaca cheese, chipotle pepper, fried beans, avocado and papalo.

I should not have been concerned. The Chilate arrived in an enormous white bowl brimming with bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, stalks of vegetables, and hearty chunks of potato, carrot and corn on the cob, accompanied by a basket of warm, foil-wrapped tortillas. I barely made it halfway through. Flavorful, if not actually all that spicy. And unlike the usually fine torta, it was just as good the following day.

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Le brunch in Bay Ridge

Sunday, March 30th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Friends

With warm weather just around the corner, we found ourselves back in Bay Ridge for brunch.

LC suggested Saint Germain, a très French bistro on Third Avenue, which had received some good word of mouth from the locals. The location has been home to a series of French bistros, beginning in 1999 with Le ZaZou, to Provence en Boite (which relocated to Smith Street in Carroll Gardens) before hitting upon its current incarnation. The cozy restaurant is a popular brunch spot — no wonder: the prix fixe is an excellent value, offering choice of entrée, coffee or tea, plus orange juice or Lorina sparkling pink lemonade, and a fancy dessert, all for $16.95. Our party of four waited about twenty minutes for a table, which gave us plenty of time to consider the myriad pastry options in the glass display case up front, and to ponder what exactly goes into Saint Germain’s specialty “Brigitte Bardot” cocktail. (Answer: lemon vodka, triple sec, and that sparkling pink lemonade. What, no St-Germain?)

For better or worse, our experience felt truly Parisian: beyond leisurely, the service ranged from benignly neglectful to maddeningly slow. After making our selections from the brunch menu (the usual egg dishes, croque monsieur, crêpes, French toast, croissanwiches), we waited another twenty minutes for someone to take our order. The entrées, when they came, were quite good, though I would have enjoyed my Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict more with the cup of coffee I ordered… which did not come despite two requests. (Each time we asked for our drinks, the waitress would cheerily respond, “Sure!” and continue merrily along, unfazed.)

When at last we got our coffees and teas with dessert (pictured below, my apple pastry and HH’s chocolate mousse dome), they came poured into too-hot-to-handle glass tumblers. No explanation or apology given, but we deduced that the kitchen must have run out of their usual white cups, though I noticed about half a dozen used ones sitting on yet-to-be-cleared tables around us.

On the bright side, the slow service gave us plenty of time to catch up. Back on the sunny streets after our two hour brunch, we noticed an inordinate amount of bright green gear on the livelier than usual crowds spilling out of the Irish pubs. When we passed a group of kilted bagpipers, we knew something was up.

It seems we’d just missed the Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade, a procession which began at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church (not Cathedral) and proceeded along (Brooklyn’s) Fifth Avenue to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica. Beleaguered Kings County DA Charles “Joe” Hynes served as Grand Marshal for the post-St. Patrick’s Day tradition, which began in 1994.

Next up: Bay Ridge’s 17th of May Norwegian Day Parade, which will be held this year on Sunday, May 18.

Back at DK’s home, after reruns of “Mythbusters” and the “Hawaii” episode of the Travel Channel’s 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, we amused ourselves with a spontaneous digital cable version of “Name That Tune.” The years may pass, but some songs are just seared in our memories.

Elsewhere in BK… Flickr preview: Greenpoint weekend (April 12-13, 2008)

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