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Posts from the ‘great beer’ Category

Earl’s Beer & Cheese: A Refreshingly Unrefined UES Hole-in-the-Wall

The Upper East Side has a reputation. Depending on which side of Lexington Avenue you venture to, it’s either the hoity-toity home of New York’s blue bloods or the home away from home for the recently-graduated frat scene. Naturally, the sorts of restaurants and bars you find on the Upper East Side typically fit snugly into one of these two categories. Only rarely does an eating and drinking establishment come around that defies expectations, that is neither pretentious nor beer-soaked (in a dirty sort of way). Earl’s Beer & Cheese is one of these such establishments.

On the border (or perhaps just over) between the Upper East Side and Spanish Harlem, Earl’s Beer & Cheese is hardly more than a sliver of space – devoted to marrying two beloved pleasures, beer and cheese. The seating is communal, limited to a few bar stools along one wall and a central table that appears to be a cousin of the standard picnic table. At Earl’s, you better get used to rubbing elbows with strangers, for the combination of rabid popularity and very little room creates a major jam from ‘after-work’ hours far into the night. But try not to worry, after a few of the weekly rotated brews and big bowl of beer cheese (see below), a few elbow jabs will seem just jovial.

courtesy of Danny Kim & New York Magazine

Earl’s menu is short, sweet and focused on cheese. Expect grilled cheese varieties, mac n’ cheese, tomato soup (best with the grilled cheese), a cheese plate (duh), a house-made concoction called beer cheese, and a decadent dish of waffles, foie gras, cheddar cheese, and bacon. In short, even if you only sort of like cheese (the horror!), it’s all deliciously over-the-top and marvelous, especially with a cold beer. The grilled cheese, of which there are three rather complicated types, is served on fluffy sourdough or a buttery brioche; regardless of whether you try the cheddar, brie, or mozzarella, cheese oozes out of the side. With oil andfatty meats and oozing melted cheese, it’s virtually impossible not to enjoy Earl’s grilled cheese sandwiches – and virtually impossible to enjoy them neatly. The mac n’ cheese is luxurious: rich, creamy, tangy from the goat cheese, and flecked with fragrant rosemary. After a long-day, it is the perfect comfort food dish to push worries out of sight and out of mind. Best of all though is the beer cheese. Does it even need explanation? or validation? Beer. Cheese. Together, in a savory, salty, creamy dip to be spread lavishly on crusty white bread. In one word: heaven.
Earl’s is a charming novelty spot that eschews that bipolar attitude that tends to define ‘the Upper East Side.’ Popular with local Mt. Sinai medical students just happy to be out of class, it’s a cheerful place with an immensely friendly staff and generally jovial crowd. When being plied with craft beers that rotate weekly and pots of bubbling cheese, it’s hard not to love every minute of your time stuffed into this hole in the wall.
Perfect For: after-work drinks, cheeseheads, beer aficionados, Mt. Sinai students and staff, unbuttoned Upper East Siders

Earl's Beer & Cheese on Urbanspoon

Vandaag: Dutch food is back in New York!

Some of the first food in the early days of New York City was Dutch, prepared by the predominantly Knickerbocker community on Manhattan Island. As New York grew and diversified first through the immigration of the English, Irish, French and German populations from Europe and then through the Chinese movement from the West Coast to the East, the prevalence of Dutch food declined, so significantly that it is virtually extinct in Manhattan. Vandaag, a sleek and ultra-mod restaurant in the East Village, is bringing back the Dutch.

The corner spot on 2nd Avenue and 6th Street sticks out from its neighbors; where brick low-rise buildings with cutesy storefronts reign supreme, Vandaag’s slick charcoal and completely unadorned look with wide picture windows is a chic change of pace. The restaurant inside is remarkably spacious, with high ceilings, slimline furniture, and an appealing neutral color palette. It is contemporary, devoid of trinkets and kitsch, sparse, and casual. Space is everywhere – space between tables, space around the bar, wide central spaces; the effect is a refreshing roominess, infrequently found while dining out downtown.

The food is modern and Dutch, a most likely unfamiliar cuisine to most. Think meat and potatoes, mutton pie, notes of juniper berry, a sweet sauce called sloop; the flavors are predominantly earthy. Even if you aren’t used to eating Dutch, the menu is understandable with recognizable dishes like a romaine salad, beef short ribs, pork chop, gravlax, and various fishes. The mutton pie starter is a nod to the food of Dutchmen past, served in a small single-serving atop a nest of dark green leafy microgreens. The pastry is close to perfect: ultra-flaky, buttery, golden brown, with both soft chewy spots and crispy corners. Inside, the mutton filling is minced and shredded, salty and well-seasoned, utterly satisfying on a frigid winter night. On the lighter side are a variety of salads: romaine served grand in shooting stalks with a bitter and salty herring vinaigrette, kale with sweet onions, arugula with lobster claws. Though ordering a salad to start is not my favorite way to begin a meal, Vandaag’s are unusual and flavorful enough to warrant skipping over other tantalizing appetizers like the traditional bitterballen (an oxtail-stuffed croquet) or a classic preparation of gravlax with dill and watercress.

The entrees are rich and unusual. Beef short ribs, an American classic, are braised for so long they just melt in your mouth, no knife needed; though the quality of the meat speaks for itself, flavors are enhanced with a mellow artichoke puree. The grilled quail is exceptional, cooked such that the charcoal flavor from the grill lingers on the tender meat. Served with crispy wild rice, mint, and mini sweet & sour brussels sprouts, the dish just exploded with different tastes; it was sweet, savory and salty all at once as well as texturally interesting. Without going too far over the top, it was an artfully-created dish. Though dishes change seasonally, expect offerings like Spanich mackerel with grain mustard sauce and both pebble and sweet potatoes, a vegetarian dish featuring the best of the season’s crop, the Vandaag ‘ham’ burger topped with Gouda and a mess of charred onions, or a pork chop with a dousing of mead, slices of pear and toasted barley.

Vandaag is a wonder. It sticks out like a sore thumb, ultra modern and bright yellow, along 2nd Avenue. And yet, despite looking so out of place, Vandaag is right at home in the East Village, where restaurants touting cuisines of all cultures thrive. This Dutch favorite of New York Times critic Sam Sifton isn’t cozy or ‘cute.’ Instead, the focus is on how exciting the food is, the quality of it, the joy of eating something unexpected. And it all goes down even better with one of the slap-you-in-the-face good Genever cocktails or a selection from the extraordinary beer menu, featuring many a Dutch favorite that’ll have you under the table before you can say Sloop!

Perfect For: doing something different, meeting a Scandinavian boytoy, discrete dates, sampling Genever cocktails, foodies or impressing foodies

Vandaag on Urbanspoon

Wilfie & Nell: Not for Two Old Biddies

First and foremost, Wilfie & Nell is a bar; with a tempting Irish pub grub menu, weekend brunch, and a surprising number of tables, it can convincingly masquerade as a restaurant. Yet, at its core, this simple and on-trend watering hole on W.4th Street is actually a rollickin’ and boozy bar.

On a quiet block of W.4th Street, Wilfie & Nell is squashed between brownstones. The surprisingly expansive space is dark and dreary at first look, reminiscent of a 16th century gathering hall with little light, rough wooden furniture, and perhaps dust in the corners. Yet, upon settling in at one of the communal tables or at the simple bar, the charm of the place starts to grow on you. Exposed brick walls, sparse ‘rustic’ furniture, Chesterfield-style black leather boothes, quirky library-inspired decorations, and seemingly ancient lighting successfully create a mysterious and nostalgic aura for the casual drinking den. If you’re a lucky early bird, nab a table in the windows – during clement weather, these babies open to the street.

The food is a comfort food dream; the beer selection is bomb; and the cocktail menu is good enough to roll with New York’s cocktail hotspots. Inspired by pub grub from the UK, the menu at Wilfie & Nell sources from local artisan purveyors like Blue Ribbon Bakery, MaClure’s Pickles, and Murray’s Cheese to offer such guilty pleasures as meat pie, scotch eff, Guiness lamb shepherds pie, split pea and ham soup, Berkshire pork sliders, and a few variations on a grilled cheese. Nothing is complicated, and everything is soul-satisfyingly tasty. My personal favorite? The grilled cheese on a fluffy Pullman loaf with tallegio and caramelized onions. In a meaty mood? Splurge on the meat pie, a decadent dish of ground meat stuffed into baked pie dough.

Not in the mood for eating (though, if you stay late, the kitchen will keep cookin’ for you into the wee hours, making Wilfie & Nell a drunk-eaters paradise)? The beer selection will fill you up with such well-curated and popular brews on tap such as Lagunitas IPA, Chimay, Ommegang Weiss, and Victory Prima Pils from Philadelphia (shout out!). The cocktails are just as good, featuring my personal fave the Spicy Margherita with jalapeno-infused agave and a not-half-bad rendition of a Pimm’s Cup.

Unfortunately, the crowd is hit or miss – most of the patrons seemed imported from Midtown East and suits dominated the happy hour crowd. But, if you don’t mind running into a few fraternity bros or settling in on a quieter evening, Wilfie & Nell offers quite a charming environment for laid-back drinking and noshing.

Perfect For: day-time drinking excursions, late-night eats, indulging in Irish/Scottish/English ‘delicacies’, ladies’ beer night, after-work drinks in the West Village

Wilfie & Nell on Urbanspoon

Ulysses: Invincible on Stone Street

Ulysses: epic, a great Greek hero storied through the ages, many a-statue made for him

Ulysses: Financial District bar, epic happy hour, a great hero to burnt-out and stressed-out Wall Streeters

Two sides of the same coin. Ulysses, the maddeningly popular beer & pubgrub spot on Stone Street, is the go-to for downtown after-work beers, hearty brunch south of Fulton, and a packed spot to hide your sorrows from a day of market losses. It is dark and twisty with two irritatingly set-up rooms full of obstacles. The bar room is about 70% bar and 30% space. A large oval bar sits squat in the middle of the room while clusters of suits pad the exterior and jostle for space near the tap. A few wooden booths sit pretty above the chaos – impossible to snag except in off-hours or by early-birds. The ‘dining’ room features a buffet at brunch and a kitchen every other time, tall bar tables, and a few booths for the lucky. The whole feel is ‘old-school’ – a dark wooden conservative den for stock brokers and bankers to relish in with pints and whiskeys neat.

It’s a UK-twinged gastropub with a mixed menu of American favorites, Greek classics (it is named after Odysseus for goodness sake), and English/Irish/Scottish-inspired ‘traditions’. Think lollipop lamb chops in an Irish mustard sauce (question: what exactly makes this mustard sauce Irish? is it green?), Shephard’s pie, and bangers & mash mixed with the Ulysses’ Gyro, Aegean salad, and a soft lobster roll. Eclectic, no? It’s meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and there’s is absolutely something here for everyone.

Stick with the basics – they’re hearty and satisfying. Better than your average diner food, not quite as good as many of the gastropubs popping up around New York. Recommended dishes include the sirloin burger (hulking, intimidating, gooey with char, messy in a great way) with a spray of crispy salty fries, the fish & chips with a light flaky batter, anything from the unique Daily Carvery that serves hot and juicy cut meat, and the grilled steak sandwich on a crispy baguette with melty cheese and mushrooms. The raw bar is also pretty impressive with oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster.

If you’re not eating, enjoy the wonderful beer selection, offering everything from your standard Bud Light to large format Chimays, foreign bottled varieties like Duvel, Red Stripe, and Kronenbourg, and seasonal selections like Germany’s Augustiner, Lindeman’s Lambic Framboise, and Lagunitas IPA. You like beer? You’ll like this selection – it’s accessible yet filled with connoisseurs’ favorites.

Depending on the day and the time, Ulysses can range from a rowdy happy hour spot to a relaxing place where you can enjoy a quiet beer to a grand ole’ party of epic proportions. In the summer, the party spills out onto Stone Street where beer garden like tables and tents are set-up on the cobblestones. It is a neighborhood go-to for those living far downtown and an after-work hotspot that almost every employee at Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs or the New York Stock Exchange can say they’ve been to at some point or another.

Ulysses on Urbanspoon

Old Town: All Americana

In case you were at all confused by the name, Old Town evokes things that are, well, old and cherished. A true neighborhood bar that has weathered many changes, Old Town has been serving since 1892. Almost every aspect of the two-storied space is original – the dumbwaiters conveying food from the kitchen to the bar, the 55-ft mahogany and marble bar, the tin ceilings, urinals in the men’s bathrooms, and plate glass mirrors. Every detail from the crusty popcorn and dust bunnies to the tiny toilets to the creaking wood floors to the equally creaking waitstaff transports you back to a slower and more relaxed time.

Old Town is a easygoing beer and burger sort of place. The brew flows freely and the bar menu includes classic finger foods like hot wings, onion rings, calamari, mozzarella sticks, clam strips, and fries as well as a sandwiches hit list like B.L.Ts, tuna melts, clam rolls, chili dogs, grilled cheeses and of course, burgers. Hands down the star of the show, the burgers are juicy, tender, flavorful, and addictively meaty. They’re not flat or patted down, too oily or too greasy; they’re just right, a classic no-frills American burger. Old Town does bar food right – it’s not crappy or poorly made, it’s just fattening and immensely satisfiyng.
This charming relic with a red neon sign, lopsided stairs, and beautiful wooden fixtures keeps it simple and the mixed-bag crowd mirrors the spirit of simplicity. The people who flock here don’t wear stilettos (unless paired with suit, a pint, and lots of after-work grousing) or order mangopolitans; expect scruff and good old blue jeans, plaid shirts, sweaters, and a refreshing lack of trendiness. Old Town is the perfect escape from trendy with good down n’ dirty cheap eats, cold frothy beer, and back-to-basics everything.

Old Town Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Resto: True to Reality Casual Belgian

Gramercy/Murray Hill gastro powerhouse and pioneer in the ‘gastro pub’ trend, Resto pulls out all the stops on authentic Belgian cuisine, marrying a tantalizing selection of Belgian beers with downright tasty meat, cheese, and fried potatoes. Hidden amongst townhouses in the culinary wasteland that is Murray Hill, Resto is humble, both in appearance and in personality. The facade is easily missed and the interior is simple with few design flourishes (or foibles). The service is friendly, efficient, and supremely apologetic for even the slightest waits or missteps. However, don’t mistake this potential winner for New York dining’s Miss Congeniality for engaging in any sort of culinary overcompensation. For the most part, the food is straight from comfort food heaven: deliciously fatty, well-seasoned, and executed with precision and care.

The focus is on meat (particularly pork), cheese, and potatoes. So, in essence, everything that’s good and right in the Western world. Chef Christian Pappanicholas brings spirit and flavor to traditional Belgian dishes, turning such delicacies as the boudin noir tart with cheddar cheese crumble and pear caramel into a house specialty sought after by regulars and critics alike. At Resto, french fries or ‘frites’ become exciting, served in a ceramic cone with nine side sauces, each one more delicious than the last. My personal favorite would have to be a three-way-tie between the Sriracha mayo, the yogurt cumin and roasted garlic mayo, and the sweet chili.

Unable to pass up the $35 prix-fixe for New York Restaurant Week, my party of 3 collectively passed over the veal belly and sky-high burger for the more restricted 3-course options. My coworker and I both started with the Bibb Lettuce salad, and let me tell you, that is no ordinary weak sauce salad. Crispy fried onions, a salty sweet mustard vinaigrette and a fresh head of Bibb lettuce all came together to make a savory salad that even junk food lovers would find delicious. A European herself, our guest went straight for the country pate, which she unfortunately found dry and bland – definitely not up to snuff for a billed ‘authentic’ restaurant.

For the main course, I opted for the sea scallops. Impossibly plump and juicy, the scallops were meaty and paired with an addictive leek puree and walnut vinaigrette. My coworker and our guest both devoured happily the crispy lamb shoulder with smoked tomato and Anson Mills polenta. While the lamb dish was terribly presented (what happened to artistry? or even just pleasant presentation?), it satisfied in flavor and texture – crispy, savory, and tender!

For dessert, we tried all three options: the pistachio financier, the liege waffle, and the trio of Belgian chocolates. The pistachio financier was definitely the stand-out. A moist, sweet and tangy cake, it was everything a light and fluffy dessert should be. The liege waffle was good, but not as good as you would expect from a purely Belgian establishment. Fluffly and soft, it lacked a bit in flavor and the accompanying chocolate was too bitter, even for a dark chocolate lover like myself. The trio of Belgian chocolates was just plain boring. The dark chocolate was so hard I thought I had broken a tooth, and the dark chocolate orange bit was just not my cup of tea. Surprisingly, the milk chocolate with nougat was by far the best option – creamy, soft, and sweet.

With an active bar scene, tasty and fresh comfort food, and a truly impressive beer menu, Resto will please those looking for a casual and comfortable place in the ‘hood to enjoy good grub. It’s not fancy, and it’s not complicated; yet, it charms with interesting and flavorful cuisine, almost overly friendly service, and a fresh vivacity that plastered a smile all over my face. Check out this spot for drinks with beer-lovers, a boisterous dinner with friends, or a hearty Sunday brunch meant to cure all hangover ills.

Resto on Urbanspoon

DBGB: A CBGB-Inspired Playground

Daniel Boulud strikes gold with his new downtown spot DBGB Kitchen & Bar. On Bowery between Houston and 1st, DBGB takes its inspiration from the iconic CBGB club and incorporates popular bits of Daniel’s impressive restaurant empire into its design and menu.

The space is, in one word, impressive. Modeled after the en vogue gastropub, it is large, boisterous, and exciting. The front room houses a bar surrounded by mirrored walls painted with menu items and famous quotes by authors, poets, and playwrights. On a Friday night, the bar and surrounding cafe area were jammed with diners and revelers jostling for one of the 23 beers on tap. The back room is strikingly large. Taking its cues from the neighborhood’s not-so-distant past as New York’s restaurant supply district, the decor is industrial chic with floor-to-ceiling shelving units displaying the restaurant’s own tools. Copper cooking pots, glasses, mugs, and bottles of cooking wine line the walls, all stacked artfully. The middle of the room is anchored by tables for 2 and 4 and booths of dark-stained ash and espresso leather. Recessed booths for larger parties line the walls. The concrete floors complete the industrial look. Impossibly chic, DBGB nails the concept of ‘downtown cool’ in its well-appointed warehouse vibe.
The food deserves accolades after accolades. Daniel Boulud serves up refined and innovative twists on typical tavern food. Expect more of his DB Burger (made famous at the DB Bistro Moderne in Midtown), more offal than you could ever want, sausage plates inspired by different French and English regions, and a satisfying array of artisan beers.
With a party of 8 helping me out, I got to sample a wide array of the dishes available. We started out with a ‘sausage selection,’ ordering the Tunisienne (lamb and mint merguez), the Vermont (cheddar and pork), the Basque Boudin (blood and pig’s head), and the Berliner (German currywurst). Each sausage wildly different from the next, my party devoured all 4 plates. The Basque Boudin came up as the favorite with rave reviews for its tender melt-in-your-mouth consistency. We then ordered the Chop Chop Salad, the Piggie burger, the Frenchie burger, the flatiron steak, the lamb duo, and the roasted duck breast. The burgers were massive toppling masterpieces on freshly toasted buns served with perfectly crispy and seasoned fries. The steak, lamb, and duck were each cooked at the ideal temperature and served with a level of refinement fit for Boulud’s fine dining restaurant Daniel.
The dessert takes everything to a whole other level. The sundaes are masterpieces – with artisan ice cream, rich toppings, and creative flavor profiles. The cassis beer ice cream is totally funky and unique – unlike any frozen treat I’ve ever had. And the caramel cider sundae is ideal for getting into the fall spirit. My entire table stared in awe at the Baked Alaska (for two) that was delivered to the table behind us. Towering and terrifying, this confection is…perfection, at least from looks alone. Do me a favor, check out the Baked Alaska when you go – and let me know how it is.
If there were one thing wrong with my experience at DBGB, it would be the service. To his credit, our waiter was very affable and competent enough to handle a large party well. However, the hostess at the front gave me serious attitude when I politely asked how long it would be until we were seated (we did have a reservation and she gave no indication, just asking us to wait at the bar). And our drinks always seemed to take forever, indicating a possible under-staffing problem at the bar for such a large space.
All in all, DBGB thoroughly deserves the two stars awarded to it by the New York Times. Boulud’s downtown playground gets high points on both food and atmosphere, offering up a perfect location for dinner parties, birthday parties, swanky first dates, and booze-fueled catch-ups with old friends. With energy and inspiration, Boulud gives us a truly excellent gourmet option that kisses the borders of the nightlife hubs of the Lower East Side and East Village.

DBGB Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon