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Posts from the ‘quick bites’ Category

Jane’s Sweet Buns: Buns All Liquored Up

Jane’s Sweet Buns is a new bakery on the Eastern reaches of St. Marks Place. In a city replete with ‘cupcakeries,’ cookie shops and, of course, cheesecake purveyors, it has a unique perspective on baked goods – infusing a Southerner’s love of bourbon and cocktails with classic sweets like sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, and tarts. Jane’s Sweet Buns’ unusual boozy spin on baking certainly has something to do with the influence of owner Ravi DeRossi and his partner Jane Danger, the mixologist at nearby cocktail den Cienfuegos. And the bakery’s distinct quirkiness extends not only to its alcoholic confections but also to its bubblegum pink-mixed-with-gothic-decor interior.

The bakery is reminiscent of an old school sweets shop. Cake stands displaying treats and tarts perch atop glass cases lined with trays of sticky buns; gingham curtains hang in the windows and the walls are painted in bright cotton candy colors of pink, lime green, turquoise and sherbert orange; outside, a hot pink painted metal bench, of the sort found in English country gardens, beckons patrons to sit in clement weather. However, despite all this girly sweet decor, a twisted edge punks up this Southern-inspired spot; moaning and screeching alternative rock blares in the background and the tattooed ‘gal’ that served me was a refreshing mix of sugar and spice; gothic renditions of retro posters, paintings, and portraits hang on the walls; and of course, hidden beneath the sugary glaze of the delicately-displayed bun is the boozy bite of bourbon.

The goods at Jane’s are pretty tasty. They’re not orgasmic or the type of baked good I’d dream of for weeks on end, but they’re perfect for a late-night treat or to tote along to a house-party. My personal favorite is the Strawberry Fix, a sweet bun stuffed with strawberries, lemon and sugar, soaked with Aperol liqueur, and glazed with berry cream cheese frosting – it has got some serious zing and tastes genuinely fruity. Also great is the Rum Runner, a sticky bun with cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg and raisins that is positively doused in aged rum – it tastes like Rum Raisin ice cream transformed into a baked good. Unfortunately, the Old-Fashioned, the bourbon-based bun for which I had the highest expectations, was not so successful. Despite the generous topping of candied pecans and hints of vanilla, neither the advertised bourbon nor the angostura bitters came through enough to save this bun from blandness. On the non-alcoholic side of things (and yes, non-alcoholic goodies do exist at Jane’s Sweet Buns for those wishing to abstain), the savory tartlettes are delicious. It’s hard not to love thick slices of bacon and melted cheddar cheese stuffed inside a flaky buttery pastry crust – its the holy trinity of decadence (pork, cheese, bread) altogether. It get’s even better when you add apple butter,  blue cheese and pecans to the bacon.

Jane’s has 3 barstools in the window and a hot pink bench outside – it’s more for take-out or quick bursts of enjoyment than for sitting and leisurely noshing. But that arrangement seems just fine for the neighborhood, where inebriated youths regularly like to congregate after dinner hours. Though empty on a Friday afternoon, I can easily imagine a scenario where Jane’s becomes a late-night mecca for the quirky NYU students sure to stroll St. Marks after too many beers in the East Village.

Perfect For: NYU students, the drunk munchies, a different breakfast treat for the office, being indulgent

Jane's Sweet Buns on Urbanspoon

Fried Dumpling: Home of the Ideal Grimy $1 Lunch

Sometimes, when mornings are tough or life seems low, the only satisfying cure is a steaming bowl of dumplings. Or, scenario #2, sometimes when living in New York seems to be close to bankrupting you, dollar lunches transform from cheap and perhaps a little grimy to heroic and verifiably wallet-saving. The $1 dumplings at Chinatown’s Fried Dumpling are the ideal antidote to an aching head or an aching wallet.

Fried Dumpling, a tiny storefront on a tiny street in the Southern reaches of Chinatown, doesn’t look like much. The paint outside is chipping; instead of an actual door, there are merely heavy plastic panels hanging in the doorway; seating inside is limited to four or five bar stools facing a crinkled stick-on mirror. Drinks are grabbed from a small refrigerator, and the food is prepared by two women, working in tandem, at a counter and a stove just feet from the door. It’s safe to say that Fried Dumpling is the sort of place you don’t want to examine too closely – I’m sure if I really inspected the interior, dirt would be piled in corners. However, that being said, the food’s good and there’s no reason to stick around.

The menu is short, consisting entirely of quick snacky bites such as dumplings and pork buns. The dumplings, served 5 for $1, are fried or steamed and stuffed with what looks like mystery meat but is most certainly pork and chives (unless you order the vegetable version). Slick and moist on the outside and stuffed with salty savory goodness on the inside, the dumplings are just plain delicious. They’re not over-stuffed, too greasy, or too doughy. If you’re into dough though, the pork buns are a great option at 4 for $1. Not your classic pork bun, they’re more like thicker and doughier fried dumplings stuffed with tender pork. Spherical and as big as golf balls, they’re a satisfying savory snack. If you’re feeling adventurous to venture beyond dumplings, Fried Dumpling also offers vegetable egg rolls, various pancakes, hot & sour soup, and wanton soup.

There is a time and place for the $1 dumplings served at Fried Dumpling in Chinatown; these times and places do not include when you’re dieting, looking for a sit-down lunch, or seeking to impress friends and family; they do however include curing brutal hangovers with grease and pork, vetoing the $12 chopped salad from the deli in favor of a perfectly satisfactory $1 lunch, and justifying taking 15 minutes to sit on a sunny park bench to enjoy your thriftiness. Fried Dumpling is a long shot from gourmet; it’s even far off from your neighborhood deli; however, when it comes to ridiculously cheap dumplings, you can do no better.

Fried Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Don Giovanni: Classic Red Sauce Italian, With a Small Dose of Charm

Don Giovanni is a neighborhood joint, nothing more and nothing less. It’s not fancy and it’s not grimy. It’s the type of comfortable and acceptably tasty restaurant that’s good for couples and families, roommates, tourists, students, gallery employees and building staff. There is not a lot of pretension here, or a lot of service for that matter. It’s just simple, quick, and cheap.

Located on a stretch of 10th Avenue made newly popular by the High Line, Don Giovanni is pretty much always packed these days. The inside is casual and cramped, with little attention paid to design. A tiny bar with seats mostly filled with people waiting for tables is situated just next to the kitchen window where pizza orders are constantly being filled by the bustling kitchen staff. The best part about Don Giovanni is the sidewalk seating, seemingly open as soon as the snow melts. With an awning lined with Christmas lights and a few phalanxes of slightly rickety metal dining furniture, the sidewalk at Don Giovanni is charming, especially when the weather is warm and the stylish folk of Chelsea are out in full force. With the High Line entrance just a few short blocks away, the people-watching is some of the best in the area.
The food at Don Giovanni is straight-up traditional red-sauce Italian: thin-crust pizzas, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken parmesan, caprese salad and bruschetta, fettucine alfredo, ravioli, lasagna, veal piccata, and so forth. If you’re in the mood for basic Italian goodies, Don Giovanni is a fine option – nothing is surprising, you know what you’re going to get. The pizza is good ole New York-style pizza with a thin, crispy, slightly chewy and immensely flavorful crust, oozing fresh cheese, and savory tomato sauce. The pasta is nothing to write home about, especially if you’ve sampled anything cooked by Michael White, but it’s hearty and satisfying, served in massive belly-filling portions. The meatballs are nostalgic: moist, salty, massive, and doused in puddles of Italian tomato ‘gravy’. I could keep going, but I think you know the type of food I’m talking about. It’s good and easy, accessible to pretty much anyone. Well, anyone except perhaps snobs.
Don Giovanni is reminiscent of the old Italian New York, Mott Street and the Italian sections of the Bronx – none of the new-fangled gourmet Italian stuff here. And while there are no truffles in your pasta sauce or ramps on your pizza, the food is tasty and cheap. In fact, very cheap. So cheap as to have prices finishing in .95, which for students like myself, is excellent. Easy and relaxed, this Chelsea neighborhood hangout is just about perfect for sharing a pie on balmy spring night with Peronis and a jumbo piece of tiramisu.

Perfect For: pizza and beers, people-watching over a bottle of wine, High Line visitors, cheap eats, a quick dinner out, families and pet-owners (for sidewalk seating)

Don Giovanni Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar: Excellent Concept, Not So Excellent Execution

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar is probably one of the best concepts ever – a “fast casual” restaurant devoted to DUMPLINGS. I mean, really, who doesn’t love dumplings? From the get-go, Rickshaw was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. And, in fact, a hit it has been with food truck off-shoots and a line of kitschy-charming t-shirts. However, regardless of how popular this Flatiron dumpling mecca is, there are some problems with execution and the actual quality of the dumplings.

The restaurant is a tall and narrow sort of thing, with soaring ceilings and a stark & modern Japanese look constructed out of what seems to be concrete. The first things you see are the cashiers, smiling all sorts of big goofy smiles. Above them towers a gargantuan menu board, listing every sort of tasty Asian drunk food you could imagine: pork dumplings, szechuan chicken dumplings, shrimp and wasabi dumplings, noodle soups, sesame noodles, pork buns, bubble tea, and so forth. The selection is dizzying, tantalizing, overwhelming for Rickshaw first-timers. So, in classic fashion, my boyfriend and I order enough food to feed the entire military, take our number and wait.
In less than 5 minutes, our order is sitting at the pick-up station – impressive! All in all, the dumplings are mediocre, and some are better than others. The fillings are better than the wrappers, and the addictive dipping sauces are better than the fillings. To maximize dumpling enjoyment, skip the szechuan chicken variety and head straight for the kimchi beef with a sekom sauce (reminiscent of the best sort of creamy spicy mayo) and the shrimp with a sweet jicama, scallion and creamy wasabi dip. These two options beat out the other middling dumpling choices with their smooth flavorful filling and utterly fantastic dipping sauces. Interested in pork dumplings? Rickshaw Dumpling’s rendition are just…OK. Other than the dumplings, Rickshaw’s food is just fine – noodle soups are brothy, salty, and toothsome, and the pork buns are satisfying without being anything amazing.
In sum, Rickshaw’s food is nothing to write home about; however, the ‘restaurant’ is exceedingly accessible for all the yuppies milling around Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea. If you’re on your way home from work, Rickshaw Dumpling is a safe and quick option to consider (though by no means the best) without much thought. Not great, not horrible, just easy.
Perfect For: dumplings on the go, trendy Chinese takeout, being the fat kid

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Tia Pol: Being Neighbors with New York’s ‘Best Tapas’

For a restaurant the size of my living room, Tia Pol has a whole lotta hype to live up to. Recommended by pretty much every food-loving person I know in Manhattan, Tia Pol has been touted as New York’s Best Tapas (nymag), as offering a cerebral meal (nytimes), and as one of Zagat’s favorite Spanish spots in New York. Luckily for me, it’s next door to my new digs.

In what I like to call a hot up-and-coming neighborhood, near the high line, most art galleries worth visiting, and a slew of tasty eateries, Tia Pol is barely a sliver of a space. Long and narrow, it seats just 34 customers, and 9 of those seats are at the itsy-bitsy and bustling bar upfront. What little decor there is consists of weathered exposed brick, dotted with small lanterns glowing dimly, bottles of Spanish wine tucked into nooks and crannies, and a cramped open kitchen offering a peek into the magical world of authentic Basque tapas. The seating is a little torturous (consider it a right of passage before the scrumptious food to come), with high bar-height tables, stools with no backs, and little-to-no room to spread out; however, if you’re willing to put up with mild discomfort, it is 100% worth it once you start eating.

The menu is authentic Spanish tapas, offering traditional dishes from the Basque, Cataluna, Andalucia, and Galicia regions of Spain. There are a myriad of tasty treats to choose from, with a core menu offered all the time and varying options at brunch and lunch. Each dish is moderately priced, depending on size, and big enough for two people to have a few bites. With so many tantalizing plates to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start, and where to end for that matter. For first-time Tia Pol patrons, don’t skip the txipirones en su tinta, a generous bowl filled with succulent rounds of squid, soaked in a savory ink sauce, and a small tower of aromatic saffron rice; it is well-seasoned, fresh without reeking too much of salty seafood, and remarkably complex. Another favorite is the gambas al ajillo, shrimp in olive oil with chili and garlic. The mini-shrimps are perfectly cooked, served piping hot in a bubbling bath of luscious chili oil, red-hot, spicy, and marvelously garlicky – a guilty pleasure for anyone who loves a lotta bit of heat. The chorizo al jerez is a treat for meat-eaters; obviously of the highest quality, this chorizo is fatty (in the best of ways), steeped in thick smoky flavor, and doused with a hint of slightly sweet sherry sauce. The result? A seemingly simple dish of diced meat turned thrilling.

Tia Pol’s kitchen can even turn something so ordinary as a lamb skewer into pinchos morunos, two tiny bites of perfectly-cooked lamb marinated in moorish spices that pack in all sorts of salty, bitter and funky flavors – talk about efficient eating. Other hits are the crema de higado de pollo, two pieces of flaky and chewy baguette topped with generous dollops of creamy chicken liver mousse and a drizzle of the honey-sweet dessert wine Pedro Ximenez, and the extraordinary bocata de lomo adobado, a warm not-your-average sandwich of thinly-sliced pork loin, roasted piquillo peppers, and gooey melted tetilla cheese between two slices of the perfect crusty baguette.

Tia Pol is a place for people with a passion for food. It is simple spot, devoid of atmospheric distractions, with a marvelous menu of classic Spanish dishes. The kitchen must be populated by magical elves in order to churn out such remarkably flavorful and well-executed plates not only with so little space but also in so little time! Unfortunately, one of the down side’s of such an intimate and popular spot is the impossibility of nabbing a table during peak times without a significant wait. The way around it? Stopping by for lunch or brunch, calling ahead to see if they’ll take a reservation that night, or sacrificing your normal mealtime for something very early or very late! Regardless of how you strategize your visit to Tia Pol, just make sure it happens because it’s worth every minute you wait and every penny you pay.

Perfect For: post-gallery hopping wining and dining, first dates, lunch on your lonesome, Spanish wine aficienados, West Chelsea residents, an intimate and quirky brunch

Tia Pol on Urbanspoon

Xi’an Famous Foods: A Noodle Anyone Can Love

Xi’an Famous Foods is one of many noodle shops in Manhattan, yet because of it’s extraordinary brand of hand-pulled noodles, it has developed a rabid fan-base with notable followers like the New York Times’ restaurant critic Sam Sifton. Now with a storefront on St. Mark’s in the East Village, this Flushing-based mini-chain focuses on serving the unique and self-professed ‘atypical Chinese food’ of Xi’an.

The East Village outpost is tiny with just 2 tables and bar seats for no more than 10. Barely more than a take-out counter, the look is sparse and minimal with uneven metal tables, a smooth wooden eating bar, and mini-flat screen TVs that feature videos of noodle-making in noodle shops in China. One woman handles the cash register, the packing of to-go bags, and the part of the kitchen that churns out phenomenally tasty lamb and pork burgers. In the back is another hand-making noodles, nursing savory sauces, and serving up the famous noodle soups and noodle plates. It’s a small enterprise, yet guaranteed to be packed at all hours of the day, from open to close. Want to beat the line? Call in your order ahead and shoot in front of the masses waiting patiently in a queue.

Ordered from a picture menu tacked to one wall and served on floppy Styrofoam plates, the food is simple and savory. The most popular items offered are what Xi’an Famous Foods has become known for – the hand-pulled noodles. Not the loveliest noodles you’ll ever see, they are served raggedy, torn and clumpy, hot in a slop of salty, oily and spicy sauce with torn bits of tender meat or in a brothy umami-packed soup. In short, though unlike any noodles I’ve had before, Xi’an’s hand-pulled variety are phenomenal. Chewy, hearty, rich, satisfying, and amusingly unwieldy (plan to transform your napkin into a bib), these noodles don’t even need the cumin and chili oil-packed sauces provided – those are just the icing on the cake.

Aside from the hand-pulled noodles, Xi’an Famous Foods also serves up astoundingly good renditions on burgers, served on flattened oily bread and stuffed with sweet marinated pork or spicy cumin lamb, cold ‘skin’ noodles, and unusual soups and salads (lamb offal soup? spicy pig pudding salad with garlic?). Recommended dishes include the top-notch Savory Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles, the Stewed Pork Burger, the Pork Zha Jiang Hand-Pulled Noodles, and the Spicy and Tingly Beef Hand-Pulled Soup Noodles.

Xi’an Famous Foods is some of the tastiest cheap food in Manhattan. Just $9 can get you a pork burger, hand-pulled noodles, and a drink – where else can you get so much grub that tastes so delicious for so little money? Skeptics of Xi’an Famous Food’s need only to look to the line that can curl around the block at peak hours – everyone from yuppies to hipsters to greying NYU professors to Wall Street suits dashing just uptown for a taste waits patiently for a little bit of noodle magic.

Perfect For: thin wallets, noodle fanatics, a taste of Flushing without the subway ride, student lunch breaks, super savory takeout

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Cubana Cafe: Cheap and Grimy Cuban, For Next to Nothing

For a student on a pretty tight budget, Cubana Cafe is a verifiable god-send. In a city of haute cuisine and sky-high prices, this tiny Cuban spot on Thompson and Prince is a cash-only dirt cheap oasis. Everything about the neighborhood establishment is simple: the food, the service, the drinks menu, the decor, and, most of all, the value. Cubana Cafe is simply a spectacular value.

The aquamarine storefront, sunflower yellow walls, salmon window frames, and baby blue tiled bar evoke the sultry and steamy heat of the Caribbean. Cuban kitsch is everywhere, from the candy-colored soda bottles lining the central column to the black-and-white photos of old Havana to the splashy tropical fruit tablecloths. A splotchy blackboard lists out the nights drink specials and wine options, while bottles of hot sauce sit in neat rows near the kitchen, just waiting to be dunked over quesadillas and rice. Soft Latin music tinkles in the background. The restaurant cumulatively seats no more than 30 with a mini bar offering up 5 more seats for solo diners and sangria seekers.

Surprisingly enough, the food at Cubana Cafe is not exactly authentic. It’s more pan-Latin with everything from crispy quesadillas (my favorite is the pork variety, stuffed with mole, black beans and melted cheese) to arroz con pollo to an over-stuffed poblano chile with shrimp and calamari, succulent pulled pork with starchy whipped plaintain and rich rioja wine gravy, and, of course, a classic Cuban sandwich. The food is simple and hearty, often starchy, and almost always under-salted. It’s rarely ever a work of art, and there’s certainly better Cuban out there. However, it’s so cheap and satisfying that salting it yourself and dousing it all in hot sauce seems like a small price to pay for a full meal and drink for under $15.

Cubana Cafe is casual and quiet, refreshingly inexpensive, and somehow still chic hole-in-the-wall. Although the food won’t blow your mind, the amount of money you’ll save will. Tired of overwrought New York dining experiences? Keep it simple at Cubana Cafe.

Perfect For: wallet-friendly eats, starving students, sangria seekers, a neighborhoody pre-game

Cubana Café on Urbanspoon