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Five Great Restaurant Passovers in NYC, 2015

For those who can’t bear the thought of entertaining, or who are unable to entertain thanks to unforeseen circumstances, New York’s restaurants make Passover (which begins April 3, by the way) a breeze. Einat Admony and Anita Lo’s blowout at Balaboosta has long since sold out, but plenty of restaurants are offering special holiday menus — some for the entire week. Granted, you’ll have to shell out more than you typically would for a catering package, but if you’re yielding control to the pros, you might as well go for a (matzoh) balls-to-the-wall Pesach. And if not, you can always check your local Jewish deli. Here are five great restaurant Passovers in NYC restaurants.

Joe & Misses Doe (45 East 1st Street, 212-780-0262)
This is the sixth year that funky lovebirds Joe Dobias and Jill Schulster have hosted a “Progressive Passover” at their petite, eponymous New American restaurant on the southern edge of the East Village. Offered April 3, 4, and 5, diners can conduct their own services, though the intended experience is a bit more freewheeling, with dinner as the main event. Under Dobias, matzoh balls blush red from beets, and plates of braised brisket come with horseradish sauce and pastelicos, a kind of Israeli meat pie. The dessert, a “Passover Sundae,” takes its cues from chocolate and coconut macaroons.

Mile End (53 Bond Street, 212-529-2990)
On Friday, April 3, and Saturday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m., the Manhattan location of Noah and Rae Bernamoff’s Montreal-inspired deli will conduct a casual Seder with the main blessings and a recital of the four questions, followed by a $125 six-course prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings from chef Josh Sobel. Expect matzoh ball soup with smoked chicken and asparagus, smoked lamb shoulder with merguez sausage and rhubarb charoset, and a cake made with apples and almonds.

Telepan (72 West 69th Street, 212-580-4300)
At chef Bill Telepan’s beloved greenmarket restaurant, nestled into an Upper West Side townhouse, the kitchen serves a $95 four-course prix-fixe menu comprising traditional Seder meal flavors given nouveau twists. An amuse features smoked trout potato latkes, chopped liver, and a dried fruit chutney-apple salad, and diners can choose between fish like arctic char and striped bass, hanger steak with brisket, or roast chicken with olives and chickpeas. Kosher wines will also be available for the holiday.

Morso (420 East 59th Street, 212-759-2706)
Pino Luongo will celebrate the first two nights of Passover at his rustic Italian restaurant tucked under the Queensboro Bridge with a $55 three-course prix-fixe. Start with a choice of crostini, like Tuscan-style chicken liver or Roman-Jewish fried artichokes, then opt for family-style portions of braised brisket or roast chicken. Desserts play with chocolate and coconut, as flourless cakes or macaroons.

Russ and Daughters Cafe (127 Orchard Street, 212-475-4881)
This cafe, an offshoot of the venerable Lower East Side smoked-fish institution, will host a blowout $175 prix-fixe hosted by musician Laurie Anderson. There’s no set menu yet, so if you’re willing to take the plunge, reservations are only available via email sent to cafe@russanddaughters.com

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The 10 Best Restaurants on the Upper West Side

The Mary-Kate Olsen to the Upper East Side’s Ashley, the Upper West Side, labeled a dining wasteland, has long shivered under a cloud of misunderstanding. And while it’s impossible to ignore the massive uptick in real estate development and mallification the area’s undergone, the neighborhood’s options have expanded to include some truly creative eating. As the numerous Chino-Latino restaurants that once dotted this landscape have faded away, many of the new outfits setting up shop are either popular local mini-chains, like Xi’an Famous Foods and the Meatball Shop, or concepts that would otherwise do well downtown. Like so many of New York’s rapidly changing puzzle pieces, it’s a mix of satisfying stalwarts and glossy newcomers. Here are the 10 best restaurants in the neighborhood.

10. Sura Thai, (2656 Broadway, 212-665-8888) Three years ago, Joey Phadungsil came on to overhaul the menu at this modern Upper West Side Thai restaurant, and she installed a broad range of regional specialties from both northern and southern Thailand. Her fragrant blue crab fried rice, though, is our repeat order. Swaddled in a banana leaf, a heap of fresh crab sits over eggy fried rice, its brininess imbuing the grains with salty sweetness. Lunch specials are particularly inspired, including diced chicken with chile garlic sauce, Thai basil, and a fried egg. Embracing the neighborhood, Phadungsil has even put together serious brunch plates like Thai crepes stuffed with duck confit and Thai-style fried chicken over french toast.

9. Awadh, (2588 Broadway, 646-861-3604) Awadh, a smartly appointed restaurant from chef/owner Gaurav Anand of the celebrated Mughlai restaurant Moti Mahal Delux, champions North Indian cooking. Most impressive are the slow-simmered “dum pukht” dishes, made famous in the city of Lucknow, which have found a home in the bi-level dining room. Some of the chef’s greatest hits, like sublimely moist cream-cheese-marinated murgh tikka chicken, make an appearance, but coconut shrimp curry and lamb biryani cooked in a handi (a squat Indian crockpot) showcase the regional style best. Anand installed ex-Daniel sommelier John Slover to consult on a European-heavy wine list of varietals robust enough to stand up to such intense flavors.

8. Gray’s Papaya, (2090 Broadway, 212-799-0243) The sole remaining location of a cultish, legendary New York hot dog chain — and an offshoot of Upper East Side original Papaya King (which opened in 1932) — this 24-hour fast-food mecca serves a tremendous tube steak. Mustard and sauerkraut’s our go-to, though everything from chili, cheese, and tomato-spiked onion sauces are available. The eponymous papaya drink has a beguiling, almost generically “tropical” flavor, though it’s hard to pass up, thanks to nostalgia. Forget white truffles and Barolo, a snappy Gray’s Papaya frankfurter with a frothy papaya juice is the city’s true food and beverage pairing.

7. Barney Greengrass, (541 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-724-4707) Uptown’s answer to Russ & Daughters, Greengrass opened up shop a few years before the Houston Street darling. Gary Greengrass deals in old-world hospitality, preserving (with an equal amount of vigor) traditions as much as his sumptuous smoked fish and deli meats. Fish is the deli’s calling card, and no visit is complete without a taste of Nova Scotia salmon, buttery smoked sturgeon, or paprika-laced sable. Each slice yields with luxurious softness, sporting mild smoke and saline richness. Such luxury comes at a price, but it’s worth the puffed-up admission for this spectacle of old New York wonderment.

6. Saiguette, (935 Columbus Avenue, 212-866-6888) Find beastly banh mi on locally baked bread at this tiny corner shop on upper Columbus Avenue, where locals come for excellent Vietnamese food at reasonable prices. Pho achieves admirable depth thanks to an inspired mix of animal parts including beef eye round, brisket, shin, tripe, and tendon. And don’t overlook rich curry laksa with chicken or shrimp, and red curry chicken folded with sticky rice and steamed in banana leaves. Lunch patrons get 10 percent off listed menu prices automatically.

5. Flor de Mayo, (484 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-787-3388) Of the remaining Chino-Latino restaurants that once flourished in this neighborhood, this bright, kitschy diner is the most consistent. The menu highlights several Latin American cuisines, mining for dishes like bronzed Peruvian rotisserie chicken and Hong Kong-style crispy ribs covered in house-made sweet-and-sour sauce. Squid ink fried rice bridges the gap between the two cuisines, but most people stick to traditional dishes like lomo saltado. Balanced, fruity sangria and strong, generously portioned Polynesian cocktails round out the experience.

4. Sal & Carmine’s, (2671 Broadway, 212-663-7651) This family-owned pizzeria has been slinging some of the city’s best cheese-and-sauce-topped bread for over 50 years. Founded in 1959 by Sal and Carmine Malanga, the shop’s now run by Carmine and Sal’s grandson, Luciano Gaudiosi. We could wax poetic about the towers of pizza boxes stacked high, Carmine’s no-bullshit attitude, and the shop’s resistance to delivery, but the parlor’s success could easily be predicated on its product alone. Yeasty dough bakes to a terra-cotta brown underneath, which complements a helping of aged mozzarella. Completing the picture is the pizzeria’s bold sauce, which has a concentrated sweetness and tang that bolsters everything it touches.

3. Jean-Georges, (1 Central Park West, 212-299-3900) Surely one of the grandest rooms in town, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Nouveau French stunner has reigned as an extraordinary dining experience for nearly two decades. Although its three-course prix fixe and two-course lunch options have risen in price, the latter remains a solid deal for sampling this level of cooking from such an influential chef at a relative discount. As much its own restaurant as it is a less expensive sibling to Vongerichten’s flagship, Nougatine won’t disappoint if the main event is short on space. Still, nothing beats the original.

2. Dovetail/Telepan, (103 West 77th Street, 212-362-3800)/(72 West 69th Street, 212-580-4300) Choosing between the high-minded, vegetable and greenmarket-centric cooking at Dovetail and Telepan feels like choosing between parents as a child of sustainable, artisanal divorce. Both New American restaurants hold a Michelin star, and both feel classic and comfortable while providing top-notch, beautiful food and pinpointed service. They’re similar in genetic makeup, but each place stays true to its chef’s vision. However, since we might as well make this metaphor even more uncomfortable, while both Bill Telepan and John Fraser hold special places in our city’s dining scene, we’d have to give weekends to Dovetail — the $32 four-course brunch is one of the better dining deals in the city, and especially welcome in this zip code.

1. Bustan, (487 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-595-5050) Chef Efi Nahon, formerly of midtown Middle Eastern favorite Taboon, expands upon that cuisine at this colorful Upper West Side restaurant. Painting with a broad Mediterranean brush, Nahon uses a taboon oven to add char to octopus and a browned top to lamb cooked under pastry crust in a terra-cotta baking dish. Olive wood chips perfume everything that exits the custom-built furnace. Desserts offer a chance to try something new, like the Levantine cheese pastry kanafeh, or silan, a kind of bizarre sundae composed of shredded halva, sweet cream gelato, crispy rice, and candied nuts.

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Choice Eats 2013: New Participants Announced

The Village Voice and Fork in the Road is proud to announce further restaurants, bakeries, and candy kitchens participating in 2013’s Sixth Annual Choice Eats tasting event.

This brings the total to 55 participants, with more to be announced between now and the March 19th event. Though VIP tickets are sold out, regular admission tickets are still available. More information and link to buy tickets

[Update: DJ sets during the event will be provided by Vito and Druzzi of the Rapture.]

The lacy, bowl shaped breads called hoppers (one with an egg in the bottom) from Sri Lankan restaurant Banana Leaf

Porchetta
The Blue Stove
SCRATCHbread
Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria
Telepan
Butter Lane
Ample Hills Creamery
BITEME Cheesecakes
Banana Leaf
Danny Macaroons
El Almacen
Exchange Alley
Fa Da Bakery
Home By The Range
La Slowteria
Liddabit Sweets
Pete Zaaz
Red Hook Lobster Pounds
Robicelli’s
Swine

Telepan’s roast chicken

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Bill Telepan on Home Cooking and Restaurant Letter Grades: Interview Part 2

Yesterday we spoke with Telepan chef Bill Telepan about Chefs Make Change, a new coalition to help reform school lunches. Today we return to restaurant Bill as he tells us what it’s like helming the kitchen.

Would you say that your culinary point of view has changed over the years?

No, the feel of it hasn’t. What’s happened over the last 15 years is my discovering new products and new technologies and seeing whether they work. Or testing new things that I wouldn’t try before. I don’t do Asian or any specific cuisine, but it’s a honed point of view.

Have you thought about opening other restaurants or expanding the Telepan brand?

We’ve thought about it and had opportunities come up and we’re still looking at it. I like my life now, but we have good people working with us.

So what kinds of things do you cook at home?

It depends. We have a 10-year-old, so something like a quick pasta with broccoli and beans. I do a good chicken fried rice. I’m about to embark on a white-bean-and-potato soup, but I’m doing it in a Crock-Pot. We had burrito day and I made them with yellow rice and beans. We change it up. I cook on every other Sunday, and on the others we go out.

Whereabouts?

Celeste, between 84th and 85th on Amsterdam. I go there as much as I can. And Café Luxembourg. That’s pretty much it; otherwise we have our Chinese takeout.

There’s a lot of controversy right now about the restaurant grading system. How do you feel about it?

They need to be consistent. They need a checklist. I discover new things that are against the rules every time. You’ll be like, “Really???” I’ve been cooking in New York City for 20 years. I was here when they never came, and now it’s like every six weeks. They really need to come up with a checklist. Certain things that are structural are worth points and they shouldn’t be put against you. … Someone with a penlight discovering a drop of water from a drain [shouldn’t be the focus]. When people on the street consider the DOH ratings, they’re thinking, Is [the food] going to make me sick or not? That’s what it should be about. It shouldn’t be about looking in the coat check.

 

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Bill Telepan on Making Healthy School Lunches

Bill Telepan, chef at the eponymous Telepan restaurant on the Upper West Side, is taking his culinary skills out of the professional kitchen and bringing them to school. Just recently, he was named to Food & Wine‘s Chefs Make Change, a coalition of 10 chefs from around the country that aims to raise $1 million for the chefs’ charities. Bill’s charity is the New York-based Wellness in the Schools, of which he is the executive chef. We called him up to learn more about why school lunch is a pressing issue — and how he’s going to help fix them.

How did you get involved with Chefs Make Change?

I got involved because Dana Cowin [of Food & Wine]. She knew about what we’ve been doing, and she decided to help raise awareness and money. We were just jumping up and down. Look at the people in it — you’ve got Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Alice Waters, Rick Bayless. I was really glad she included us with all these great guys. The basic tagline of Chefs Make Change is to give kids a complete lunch experience with a good lunch to eat and a chance to succeed.

So how will you actually enact this change?

We do scratch cooking and eliminate fast foods from their diets and make salad bars good. Over the last few years, I’ve developed school lunch menus, and we also hire a culinary grad who spends time with [the schools] and helps train the workers. We’re also doing cooking classes with kids in all the schools four times a year. If a kid has a science class, we’ll take it over. We just did beans recently. They’ll see beans and touch them and then cook and make vegetarian chili. … It’s for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.

What are the greatest challenges with creating healthy lunches nationwide?

There’re a couple of things. One is education. The way we look at children, we’ll say, “Oh, they’re just kids; they’ll eat anything.” But that’s when they develop taste and eating habits. If we explain eating and how bodies develop then, they can use that their whole life. Right now, one-third of kids in the nation are overweight and half of those are obese. There’s a lot of politics, and that makes it more unfortunate. So what you’re telling me is money is more important than health? It’s catching up to us now.

You’ve done a lot in New York. Do you think it’s feasible for nationwide reform?

We are thinking of expansion nationwide and putting a plan together and talking to good people, so it’s definitely in the works. The other part is access to good ingredients. They don’t need Bill Telepan ingredients in their lunches, but they shouldn’t have processed foods. Let’s take out the processed part. In Chicago, they’re using antibiotic-free chicken, which is awesome. We need more things like that, but also to start cooking again.

In light of movements like this, do you think the role of a chef has changed?

Chefs are so visible now, and people want to know them, which is tremendous for our industry. We have to be careful about what we say and how we do it and do it well and for reasons that are good and not for self-promotion. If that’s the case, then great.
[
You were one of the pioneers of the locavore movement. Do you think it’s lost any of its authenticity, now that seemingly every restaurant is farm-to-table?

I don’t know. I can’t speak for anyone else. For me, it was about the quality of ingredients. Especially many years ago, you got to talk to people who grew for you. That was what was important. When I worked in France for Alain Chapel, he did things this way. That’s the way you eat in Europe. It’s romantic, but true. People had gardens and raised animals. It was always like that, and I think what happened in the ’80s in the States was that it became about color: I want to get the most beautiful red pepper, so ship it to me from wherever you can get it. It was more about the look than flavor, but it’s different now.

So how would you describe your culinary point of view in one word?

Nice guy, Bill Telepan. [Laughs.] I don’t know. I’m not saying it’s complicated, but I don’t know one word. My whole theory was that I want to give a good meal. So, customer service?

Check back in tomorrow, when Bill shares his thoughts about restaurant letter grades.