Category: Eats

The girl from Łomża

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

After months — maybe years? — of half-hearted planning, we finally set out in earnest to explore the Polish eats in Greenpoint, before the forces of gentrification (and the models) push the long-time denizens east to Ridgewood. For now, along Manhattan Avenue, there is no shortage of options nestled among the bakeries selling babka, the vodka-stocked liquor stores and shop windows announcing ”Polska Mowa.”

Lomzynianka (lahm-zhin-YAHN-eh-ka) on Manhattan Avenue is considered one of the better options for tasty and authentic Polish food at wallet-friendly prices, in an area where bargains can still be found. The restaurant’s name translates to “Girl from Łomża,” which refers to the restaurant’s chef-owner Janina Grzelczak who hails from that town in Poland, 80 miles northeast of Warsaw. This small, unassuming neighborhood joint is widely-praised for its hefty portions of meat and potatoes — a favorite with locals and food critics alike. Eric Asimov gave Lomzynianka the “$25 and Under” treatment in 2002. With a little planning, that princely sum probably could have fed four. With leftovers. Food blogger NYCnosh managed to satisfy three here with a budget of $20, including wine, tax and tip.

Entering the dimly lit dining room felt like stepping into the home of someone’s Polish grandmother: small lamps on plastic lace “embroidered” tablecloths, chipped and mismatched plates, fake flowers and… um, is that a deer head mounted on the faux brick wall? (Why yes, it is.) The half-Polish/half-English menu lists entrées starting at an astounding $4.25 for roast chicken with sides. The prices are almost impossibly low; there isn’t even alcohol served to help boost the profit margins. (Lomzynianka is BYOB — no corkage fee — and Dunne’s Polemost Liquors is conveniently located just up the block.)

Borscht is one of the specialties here, so I ordered a bowl of white zurek. Unlike in Ukranian-style borscht, beets are not standard; the white borscht is made from a base of fermented rye flour, usually added to a broth of boiled kielbasa. Lomzynianka’s piping hot version was creamy and rich, and buttery and slightly sour all at once, stirred in with a hardboiled egg and generous chunks of smoky sausage. And a bargain for $2.50.

Platter of steamed potato and cheese pierogis with a side dollop of sour cream — so filling, I could only eat a few:

The $4.50 polish kielbasa platter, which included vegetable (stewed cabbage) and mashed potatoes, topped with chopped dill:

This is warming and hearty comfort food but for me, too heavy for every day. Lomzynianka is a neighborhood treasure, though, and for those who crave simple and authentic Polish food — tonight we saw a colorful cross-section of neighborhood families, elderly couples, hipsters, students and young couples on dates — you’d be hard-pressed to find better for less money.

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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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Congee Bowery

Saturday, April 5th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Family

I’d been to the Congee Village on Allen Street several times now — the first visit most notable for our dish of duck tongues — but this was my first time to the smaller Bowery location, just a few blocks away at the edge of SoHo and up the street from BLVD. Similar gaudy-tacky decor as the original, with an emphasis on red and gold, faux-greenery, neon accents, and… well, you can see for yourself.

The website explains the design aesthetic thusly: “Built with all authentic materials imported from China, Congee Bowery presents itself with a gorgeous intricate play of wood and marble, decorated in traditional chinese style, with a fountain of stones, real plants and real gold fish, bamboo trees and original art from the great land of China.” Mmhmm.

The Cantonese food is well-prepared and authentic, though… a favorite of my family’s, though I’ve yet to introduce them to Amazing 66 on Mott, mostly because my parents don’t make it out to Manhattan’s Chinatown much these days. Two tables were gathered tonight to celebrate J’s birthday with a traditional Chinese banquet. The dishes were part of a pre-set special menu, and followed the usual progression, beginning with a platter of cold appetizers…

…and continuing with a tureen of seafood soup, fish fillets two ways (wok-tossed and battered/fried), a T-bone steak, a steamed whole fish… and of course, no birthday feast would be complete without a whole chicken — symbolic of the phoenix, that harbinger of good fortune. (Congee Bowery serves a very good one, crisp-skinned and topped with flakes of fried garlic.)

I lost track of the parade of dishes after a while. Here’s the Jumbo Shrimp with Walnut & Broccoli, coated in sweet mayonnaise sauce:

And a dish of what I thought was abalone, but which turned out to be a mix of mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, enoki) over vegetables:

One of my favorites of the evening: Pan Fried Bean Curd with Soy Sauce. A seemingly simple preparation: squares of tofu seared just enough to impart an outer texture, while keeping the insides soft and silky.

Lobsters with Ginger & Scallion. Congee Bowery also has a version made with Butter & Cheese… which may be good, but I’m too skeptical to find out.

The banquet ended with platters of E-Fu noodles and dried scallop fried rice studded with golden raisins, which I did not have, but heard was rather delicious.

For the more adventurous eaters among you, Congee Bowery’s menu (.pdf) is chock full of exotic-sounding items that push the limits of omnivorousness: Sea Cucumber & Goose Web, Roasted Young Pigeon, Duck’s Blood with Chives, and Baked Fish Intestine In Clay Pot, anyone? Anyone?

After dinner, several of us accompanied the out-of-towners for a night stroll through SoHo — with a pit stop for rice pudding at Rice to Riches — while the New Yorkers debated the relative merits of Eileen’s and Veniero’s. The latter, though far more touristy, maintains the edge at least in terms of operating hours… at 11PM this Saturday night, there was a twenty minute wait for take-out cheesecake.

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