Category: Drinks

A new Habitat

Saturday, April 12th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks

More exploration of Greenpoint’s delights… Check out the rest of the photos here.

I’d read about Brooklyn baker Sarah Magid’s gold-dusted dark chocolate Twinkie-esque cakes earlier in the week, and being highly impressionable, decided then to seek them out at the next opportunity. jan & äya, the Franklin street shop that sells these confections, turned out to be more boutique than bakery; in fact, the “Goldees” (as they’re called) were the only edible items I noticed for sale. Several sat on a cake pedestal in the shop window, looking in real life more intriguing than appetizing. (All organic, though, so at least healthier than their super-processed inspiration.) In the end, we passed on them and left the shop empty-handed.

Continuing along our way, we came upon newly opened bar, The Habitat. Greenpoint’s drinking options are somewhat more limited than those of the nearby h(e)ated Williamsburg scene, so when this spot opened on Manhattan Avenue in a space that that once housed a bodega, the locals were buzzing.

B was excited: I think he was drawn to the cool looks of the place. Behind the sleek glass-paneled façade is a rustic lodge interior, the centerpiece of which is a raised porch built against a wall dressed with exterior siding and faux windows. Quirky details abound – a German cuckoo clock, a cement-topped yellow pine bar – and most of the materials and fixtures are from salvage. Recycling at its finest.

Chef and co-owner Ashley Engmann (former Park South manager and Lotus cook) designed the small plate bar menu, which includes late night snacks of waffle fries and her specialty empanadas after 10:30PM.

The Habitat carries a dozen microbrews on tap, with an emphasis on the local. Over pints of Coney Island Lager, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Sweet Action and Westchester’s Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold, we chatted up friendly bartender and co-owner Ty/Tai, sharing with him our recent experience at Łomżynianka and a few other neighborhood dining recommendations.

For its second day in business, things at The Habitat seemed to be off to a positive start. One thing, though: I could have done without the über-bloody No Country for Old Men broadcasting on the large flatscreen above the bar.

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Years ago, I mailed out copies of Esquire’s fun, fascinating feature on “How to Be a Better Man” to select friends and family. The 14-page package wasn’t (and isn’t) available online, so the task involved my actually photocopying the magazine pages and slipping the sheets into stamped and addressed manila envelopes. (You can infer how earnestly I had sought to enhance/improve the men in my life back then. Let’s just say that results were… mixed.) For what it’s worth, I wasn’t the only one impressed by the piece: it went on to be nominated for a National Magazine Award in the Special Interest category.

In honor of Esquire’s 75th anniversary, a follow-up of sorts: “The 75 Skills Every Man Should Master.” I’m putting up the link on this blog, so as to avoid flooding your mailboxes/inboxes with unsolicited advice… progress I’ve made in becoming a better woman.

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Unini? Panuni?

Monday, April 7th, 2008 | All Things, Drinks, Eats

El Quinto Pino — the follow-up effort from the team behind successful tapas bar Tía Pol — has collected raves from just about every media outlet in the city since it opened last year. So it was with great anticipation that I made arrangements to meet MLF at 24th and Ninth this evening. When we arrived, the high-ceilinged room was packed with an after-work crowd, but almost right away, we managed to snap up a pair of seats near the front door. It was a stroke of good fortune: there are stools set up along the curved white marble-topped bar (behind which is tucked the diminutive kitchen) and several more scattered around the shallow-shelved perimeter, but otherwise EQP is standing room only. The food and drink offerings are as heavily edited as the decor: the entire handwritten menu fit on two chalkboards displayed above the bar.

Which brings us to the uni panini. I cannot recall a single menu item that’s been showered with as much praise as chef-owner Alex Raij’s spiny sea urchin creation. (Cumulatively, however, it’s possible that the dishes on the Momofuku Ko tasting menu have received more breathless coverage.) Not everyone’s a fan, though; I’ve read some criticism that this sandwich is overhyped and offers poor value.

Hard to disagree with the first charge — The Times’s Frank Bruni called it “the sandwich of [his] life” in his 2007 year-end review; food blogger Andrea Strong likened it to “really good, hot, sweaty sex” — and upon analysis, this delicate sliver of a sandwich does seem fairly simple and easily replicated at home: scallops of bright orange uni gently pressed into a slightly crisped ficelle from LIC’s Tom Cat Bakery, that’s been smeared with a kicky Korean mustard oil-spiked butter. Not hearty eats, by any means, but the synergy of briny, delicately sweet, custard-like roe (actually: gonads) and warm crunchy-chewy bread seemed to me the pinnacle of deliciousness. I’ve eaten more — if not necessarily better — for less money, and I’ve eaten worse for more money. Not as often, though, have I eaten less for more money. But is what averages out to about $2.50 a bite really so extravagant? (Sushi, after all, is in this price range… and often more.) I didn’t think so when considering my single $15 panini, though $30 for two panini (or $45 for three… which I could have eaten, happily) might seem to approach exorbitant levels for a place with no true tables. Personally, I didn’t mind, and was happy to wile away the hour and a half, savoring the bites, the good wine and the company of my friend.

Of course there is more to El Quinto Pino’s menu than the uni panini. MLF is not a fan of seafood (so sadly, no Soldaditos de Pavia — salt cod fritters — for us), so she employed the assistance of our friendly bartender in deciding between the two other non-uni sandwiches. Without hesitation, the server recommended the Pringa – a combination of braised meats, morcia (blood sausage) and sautéed onions. (Heartier than the uni panini, for what it’s worth.) Ed Levine may disagree: he named the third, the Serranito (serrano ham sandwich), one of his Ten Most Pleasure-Inducing Dishes of 2007.

There was a dish of fine olives, and this intriguingly tasty Berenjena con Miel: pillowy cylinders of deep-fried eggplant, drizzled with honey and topped with bonito flakes.

In her recent round-up of seven sandwiches, The Times’s Julia Moskin deemed Raij’s uni panini “not a real New York sandwich… [lacking] the compressed, complete pleasures of the Cuban sandwich, the heft and chew of a fully loaded gyro, the cool crunch of a Vietnamese banh mi.” New York or no, I’d go back for it… and the salt cod and the Torrezznos — Spanish pork belly cracklings.

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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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