This Week’s Five Best Food Events in NYC – 6/9/2014

Bummed about California Chrome missing the Triple Crown? Or maybe the Rangers are giving you night sweats? If your weekend didn’t turn out as planned, here are a few food events that should get you back into your groove.

Decade of Shack, Shake Shack, 23 Street and Madison Avenue, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.

Celebrating a decade of really long lines and amazingly addicting food, the Madison Square Park location of Shake Shack is offering celebrity-chef created shackburgers all week long. Each day, the Shack will feature a limited number of a different chef’s creation; look for work from David Chang, April Bloomfield, Andrew Zimmern, Daniel Boulud, and Daniel Humm. On June 12 — the stand’s actual birthday — the team will be giving out “pay what you’d like” Shack-ago dogs, and there will be live music all day long. Dominique Ansel will also be contributing a birthday cake, which will be available while slices last. There is a two burger per person limit, and all sandwiches are available on a first come, first serve basis — so expect lines.

Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Black Progressive Era Food Reformers and the Case Study of the Tuskegee Institute, NYU Food Studies, 411 Lafayette Street, Monday, 6:30 p.m.

Jennifer Jensen Wallach, author of How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and Culture , will lead a discussion on African-American food practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The talk will specifically cover the work of Booker T. Washington, who viewed food habits as a possible avenue for breaking down racial barriers. Tickets start at $10.

Crab & Beer Feast, Ngam, Tuesday, 99 Third Avenue, 6 p.m.

Ngam is running a $40 special of two jumbo Maryland crabs every Tuesday night. The crabs are steamed with Thai herbs and served with spicy dipping sauces, and Singha beer pairings are also part of the experience. Supplement your seafood with dishes from the regular menu, which will also be on offer. Seatings, which take place at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., must be made in advance by contacting the restaurant.

Beard on Books: Luke Barr, James Beard House, 167 West 12th Street, Wednesday, 12 p.m.

Luke Barr, a descendant of famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher and editor at Travel + Leisure, will lead attendees on a historical journey through his great-aunt’s diaries. His book, Provence 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and The Reinvention of American Taste, captures the historical meeting between James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones, delving into how these encounters helped shape American cuisine in future decades. A suggested donation of $20 is encouraged, and the event includes refreshments provided by Sarabeth’s.

Hop Plant Sale and Peak Organic Tap Takeover, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, 285 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday, 7 p.m.

If you’re a fan of home brewing, take your creations to the next level by picking up a hops plant or two. Guests will learn about Thousands Win, an organization that specializes in rooftop gardens growing hops in urban areas, while sipping Peak Organic Brewing Company beers. For more information on rooftop hops, read about Thousands Win’s innovative enterprise.


5 Don’t-Miss Dishes From Le Philosophe

Le Philosophe’s take on steak frites

This week, Counter Culture crawls into Le Philosophe, a new French bistro on Bond Street not far from the Village Voice offices on Cooper Square. The menu combines bistro commonplaces, rarely so well executed, along with adapted versions of more ambitious French fare – the kind you usually have to go to Midtown and blow over $100 per person to get. One of the best features of this place is the low-markup wine list, which allows you to explore several French producing regions at less than $30 per bottle. Here are five of the most remarkable dishes.

Read the entire review here.


5. Grilled Flatiron (above) – A classic steak frites featuring a flatiron steak done rare cut in thick slices, its deliciousness only outdone by the herb-dusted fries. Once dipped in the bordelaise, that is.

4. Cured Fois Gras Terrine – A slice of creamy, unctuous torchon something like semi-liquid marble, sided with grilled brioche and smeared with quince jam, makes a near-perfect, assemble-it-yourself appetizer.

3. Frogs Legs – The amphibian nuggets have been deboned and tossed with mushrooms and sunchokes in a garlic-parsley sauce something like Florentine salsa verde. The sauce is so good, you’ll eat it like soup when the rest is gone.

2. Profiteroles – Three puffy pastry shells filled with caramel ice cream, flooded with thick chocolate sauce, and finally sprinkled with walnuts – we’re in profuse dessert nirvana here.

Next: The number one dish at Le Philosophe?


1. Roasted Chicken – Deposited in a savory, herb-flecked broth, this chicken knows no peer in this part of town. And the pommes dauphine on the side, like starchy puffballs, are not to be missed, either. You can use them to mop up the sauce.


Noho’s Le Philosophe Flourishes in Ambiguity

Nothing feels quite as good as stumbling on a sleeper, a restaurant that opens without much fanfare, fails to publicize itself adequately, and is content to persevere in obscurity until that inevitable day when the public discovers it’s a wonderful place.

That’s the case with Noho’s Le Philosophe, a three-month-old French bistro hidden in plain sight next to Mile End Sandwich on Bond Street. The obscurity is partly cultivated: A temporary winter entrance in dull gray conceals the front door, and you can barely discern the name of the restaurant in florid script high up on the facade. Once inside, the interior—lit by flickering votives—proves almost mournfully dark. There are plenty of nicely spaced tables and a small bar, acting as a barrier between you and the open kitchen, which shines brightly and hums with well-regimented activity.

The scanty pictorial material on the walls is a mural depicting dozens of philosophers, screened to light grayness as if to partly hide their identities, or as if the theme were slightly embarrassing. How many can you pick out? (And no fair using your smartphone.) There’s Sartre—identifiable by the round glasses and his lazy eye—and Voltaire, who must have had his own wig master. Descartes is there, too, looking a little foppish with his ribbon tie and curly locks. Then you draw a blank.

But maybe the point of making the room so dark and existential is to concentrate your attention on the food, which is in a bistro vein. Or is it? There’s a fine steak frites ($25) served with a thick bordelaise sauce, featuring the preferable flatiron instead of the usual skirt or sirloin. Deep pink in the middle, the cut-up steak appears at your table splayed across the plate like rubies in a jeweler’s case. But towering over the meat is a nuclear mushroom cloud of herb-sprinkled fries, the part of the entrée everyone craves the most.

Doctrinaire, bistro-wise, is an oyster service including a vinegary mignonette, lemon wedges, and a choice of East or West Coast bivalves, mercifully priced at $12 (half-dozen) or $18 (dozen). There’s also a roast chicken your mom would be proud of, thigh bone hoisted skyward in greeting. The crisp-skinned bird is deposited in a saline broth with baby carrots and pommes dauphine, which look like small baked potatoes, only poofier.

There’s a frog-legs app ($12), deboned and tossed with mushrooms and greens in a salsa verde profuse enough to qualify as a soup. Like the frog legs, the pig trotters are more elaborate than they might be in a place that calls itself a bistro: Flesh, fat, and collagen are compressed into cylinders wrapped with skin, saving you the trouble of sawing at a bony stump with your knife. And from there, the menu only becomes more ambitious.

Foie gras torchon, lobster thermidor, duck l’orange, and tournedos Rossini sound more like formal cuisine than everyday bistro fare, and indeed they are. But chef Matthew Aita has pared these recipes down and jazzed them up, so that duck l’orange ($27), rather than being a bird mired in thick goo, is now a few slices of crunchy-skinned breast ringed with orange segments in a light sauce, while the fluffy deshelled meat of his homard comes tangled with haricots vert in a sunny emulsion dotted with mustard seeds. Call it haute cuisine lite. Only tournedos Rossini ($30)—a filet mignon on toast topped with foie gras and truffles—still retains its utter stodginess. Try it anyway, if only for historical purposes.

But the restaurant’s greatest contribution to contemporary dining might be in making you feel comfortable with a French wine list. Instead of an effete document in which all bottles lie north of $50, Le Philosophe’s carte des vins is amazingly cheap, with plenty of action in the $20 to $30 range, even among the reds. There’s a nice Grenache-based blend from Languedoc for $22, and a more saturated Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley for $28. Even the rock-bottom $19.50 Bordeaux is pleasantly drinkable.

Le Philosophe’s proprietors have realized that even in Manhattan, decent wines can be sold at affordable prices, as with restaurants in Paris and Montreal. They understand that, accompanied by good, low-markup bottles, their food tastes much better, too. And that’s a revolutionary dining philosophy.


Acme Rises Again, Fancy and a Little Danish

“You mean that dingy Cajun joint on Great Jones Street?” my friend asked when I suggested Acme for dinner.

“Well, yes,” I replied. “And no.”

Indeed, the only vestiges of the Noho eatery’s Southern past are its name and blue-and-red signage. The place has been transformed into a sleek and buzzy clubhouse—good luck getting a reservation at a decent hour. Taking a page from the Keith McNally school of decorating, a long marble bar greets guests, ushering them into a high-ceilinged, mirrored dining room outfitted with dark wooden banquettes: classic artsy brasserie. And what’s an exclusive newcomer without its hidden basement cocktail lounge? Do seek it out, though—last door on the right at the bottom of the stairs—and knock back a pitch-perfect Manhattan ($12) while tapping your feet to the beat of the saxophonist.

Mads Refslund, a co-founder of Noma in Copenhagen (a/k/a the “World’s Best Restaurant” for two years running), presents an inventive bill of fare that combines American flavors with the flourish and presentation of what’s being dubbed “New Nordic cuisine.” Expect to see foam and crumbles (or “edible dirt” in cookspeak). Miniature flowers and herb sprigs cameo throughout your dinner. I initially griped at the menu’s undercurrent of pretension and mocked its descriptive categories like “soil” and “sea and land.” I rolled my eyes at the hipster waitstaff with their skinny ties and shaggy beards. But by my third visit, the kitchen’s unexpected flavor combos had won themselves a convert.

All that said, my most delicious meal was a Midwestern love letter: meat and potatoes. Specifically, a New York strip loin with charred onions and scallions basking in a rich Cabernet reduction ($28), alongside creamy mashed potatoes dotted with tiny Funyuns-esque onion rings and bacon vinaigrette ($8). The butter-to-spuds ratio in that bowl would certainly make French chef Joël Robuchon proud—my gym trainer, not so much.

Those with daintier appetites can roam among the many smaller-sized offerings, which twice outnumber the big ones. Horseradish dressing sends a bolt of tingly heat to house-cured salmon ($12), while knobby, charred sunchokes ($12) veil themselves in Gruyère froth and winter truffles, resembling lumps of coal hidden under the first frost. Chestnuts and cocoa elevate what would elsewhere be a sludge of celery root into a lovely, elegant soup ($10). And don’t miss the pearl-barley-and-clams duo ($15)—think risotto-meets-seafood fricassee—which cozies up under a blanket of bubbles that recall cresting waves.

So is Acme on a trajectory to be the next World’s Best Restaurant? It’s not there quite yet. A few plates stumble. On one visit, the walnut-studded sweet shrimp and bison tartare ($13) was so salty it was nearly inedible. Salt-roasted beet salad ($12) drowned in vinegar and was indistinguishable from any other version I’ve had before. And I struggled with the “chicken and eggs” ($20), mostly because I can’t get down with the silky texture of skinless, low-temperature-cooked chicken. But then again, I don’t necessarily want Acme to be crowned the globe’s top table. How would I ever snag a seat there again?


Happy National Margarita Day! Here’s How to Prevent Tomorrow’s Hangover

Happy National Margarita Day! If that’s not a good reason to get sloshed after work today, what is? Here at Fork in the Road, we’re all about the drinking (though ideally that which coincides with eating). Yet the age-old problem with getting too boozy is that you’re bound to get hungover. Back around New Year’s Eve, we tested out the efficacy of Bytox, a patch that you apply before drinking that transmits rehydrating vitamins via your skin. The results were somewhat mixed — the first time it worked astonishingly well, but the second time we woke up with a headache. So when we heard about two new hangover cures — Mercy and NOHO — we knew we had to get sloshed and take them for a test-drive.

We started first with Mercy, a lightly carbonated, nonalcoholic, caffeine-free beverage that’s somwhat refreshing and tastes a bit like Red Bull (though its makers stress the fact that it’s neither an energy drink nor an electrolyte water). Interestingly, Mercy can be drunk either on its own, or combined with a shot of alcohol. The 60-calorie beverage includes a proprietary blend of nutrients (among them, alpha-Ketoglutaric acid, chamomile extract, L-carnitine, milk-thistle-seed extract, and N-acetylcysteine, plus, like Bytox, a hearty dose of B vitamins). We felt slightly flushed and red-faced after downing the drink (perhaps due to all that thiamin rushing through our body?), and then proceeded to down a few bourbons. When we woke up the next morning, we were dismayed to wake to pounding temples. Mercy, you failed.

After giving our liver a chance to recuperate, we tried out NOHO. NOHO comes in the form of a two-shot combination in packaging that resembles 5-Hour Energy — the first shot to be taken before your first alcoholic beverage and the second shot when you get home after your last alcoholic beverage. While this makes sense conceptually, if you’re really, really drunk, it’s likely that you’ll forget to take the second dose.

NOHO’s shtick is that it replenishes your body with essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs before the hangover starts. It actually tastes almost identical to the lemon-lime Gatorade flavor, but much, much sweeter and slightly more viscous. Still, it went down easier than the Mercy, which took a while to get through the whole can and had a kind of vitamin/health-food-store smell. The ingredients in NOHO include some vitamins and minerals, but also prickly-pear-root extract and ginger-root extract to settle the stomach. Several drinks later, we plopped into bed, chugged the remaining two-ounce container, and passed out. Waking up, we definitely felt fresher than with Mercy, though we have to admit that we got drunk on different alcohols on the two occasions. Still, if we had to pick one of the two, we’d likely go for the NOHO since it’s easier to drink and you can carry it in your pocket.

Now, go drink some margaritas!



Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria: Rustic Never Sleeps

In my book, a good first-date restaurant offers three key things: First, an intimate setting with soft, glowing light to flatter one’s face. Second, a lively ambience. And finally, a good—but not necessarily challenging—menu.

Italian joints usually fit the bill and are a good barometer of taste. If you can’t appreciate a bowl of rigatoni and a bottle of Barolo, you simply aren’t worth shacking up with. Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, the smaller, cheaper spin-off of Il Buco, is about as good a rendezvous spot as you can get. The new Noho eatery doesn’t give you anything you can’t find elsewhere in the city, but even if your date’s a dud, you’ll still be charmed by the rustic-chic atmosphere.

The split-level space caters to Italophiles who appreciate the fine art of grazing and lingering. (Service can be a tad slow.) The Missoni-clad gab over espressos at rustic wooden tables (communal and not) illuminated by votive candles. Stacked wine barrels act as walls, while counters display freshly baked loaves, pungent cheeses, and fancy sodas. A long marble bar spans the lower dining room and overlooks the open blue-and-white-tiled kitchen. (Harried chefs always make for good conversation fodder.)

Mood, check. Now, grub. Dotted with a handful of bread cubes, a layered acorn-squash salad ($12) is a play on panzanella, perfumed with anchovies and oregano. It’s so good you might not want to go halfsies. But if it’s starch you crave, order the bruschetta ($11). Ricotta has never met a piece of toast it couldn’t successfully seduce—no exception here. Topped with green and red grapes and drizzled with olive oil, it proves you don’t need an arsenal of ingredients to delight. Crisp fried baccalà ($12) could be called fish sticks, but the strips of lightly salted cod are exceptionally moist. Pickled chanterelles brighten a spreadable and unctuous oxtail terrine ($12). However, skip the $16 grilled octopus with chickpeas, $10 slow-roasted peppers, and $13 eggs with bottarga, all yawn-inducing.

Six pasta dishes might tempt those who want to sneak in a mid-course between their apps and entrées. Order the flawless bucatini cacio e pepe ($16), neither overly dressed with pecorino nor too dry, common pitfalls of the peppery prep. It surpasses the penne and sausage slicked in a bitter rapini pesto ($20) and the rather unmemorable, corkscrew-shaped busiate with cauliflower, anchovies, and mint ($18).

Among the mains, spit-roasted short ribs ($32) provide a welcome respite from the red-wine braising this cut of beef usually gets. The meat falls easily off the long bones like your prom dress after the dance. It’s a hearty plate, though—you’ll need some booze to cut through the richness. Try the Capezzana Barco Reale 2009 ($42) or the unique Malthus Birolla chestnut-flavored beer ($28 for 17 ounces). For a lighter entrée, slurp the seafood brodetto ($28), a hodgepodge of shrimp, clams, monkfish, and mussels in a puddle of herb-flecked broth—save some bread for sopping.

The front half of the restaurant functions as a café, sandwich shop, and gourmet grocery during the day. You’ll find a bounty of salumi (prosciutto, lonza, lardo, etc., each $10), or you can opt for the yummy-but-pricey panini. (Go for the $16 herb-crusted porchetta when you literally wanna pig out.) While there, snap up esoteric stocking stuffers like fig balls or hand-harvested salt for your favorite foodies this holiday season. Sure beats what I get every year: a pair of ankle socks and a bag of Skittles.

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