Monthly Archives: December 2016

Nom Wah, Part II: Nom Wah Nolita

Nom Wah Nolita's storefront

A few days ago, I published a post on Nom Wah Tea Parlor, one of the only nut-free Chinese restaurants I’ve ever found. This time around, I’ll be writing about Nom Wah Nolita, Nom Wah’s brand-new fast-casual spot in (guess where?) Nolita.

Now, Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been around since 1920. (It’s said to be Manhattan’s first dim sum restaurant.) Nom Wah Nolita opened three months ago—and even the fast-casual concept they espouse has only been a thing in the US since, like, the 1990s. You get it—Tea Parlor, old; Nolita, new. And it shows.

Nom Wah Nolita is incredibly hip and modern. It’s like you took the Tea Parlor and cross-bred it with a Crif Dogs–type place—and then stripped the offspring of any remaining traces of its Chinatown roots. Its all metal and hard-wood, with a few bright-white walls, one featuring a bunch of graffiti-esque drawings of, um, anthropomorphic dumplings. You order via iPad (which is sort of annoying, actually—they’re a little glitchy), and you’ll be in and out in no more than 20 minutes.

Nom Wah Nolita's menu and self-service kiosk

Honestly, Nom Wah Nolita is what the Tea Parlor would’ve become, had its renovations gone terribly, terribly wrong. But since Nom Wah Nolita isn’t the Tea Parlor—since it’s a separate restaurant that should be evaluated on its own merit—this isn’t a tragedy. A 1920s dim sum spot becoming a hyper-modern bastion of “new Chinese food”? Unacceptable. Its counter-service offshoot blaring some hip hop every now and then? Totally acceptable…as long as the food’s good.

Unlike the good ol’ Tea Parlor, Nom Wah Nolita is not peanut-free, but there aren’t any tree nuts on-site, so I’m entirely comfortable eating there. As always, I called ahead, and the guy who answered the phone—who also happened to be allergic to tree nuts!—told me I’d be “good to go” (i.e. that I’d have no reason to fear cross-contamination at Nom Wah Nolita, because there are no nuts or nut products anywhere in the kitchen). Reassurance from someone with allergies like mine is all I need and way more, so the first time I went, I actually wasn’t worried at all.

Steamed ribs with char siu glaze, scallion pancakes, and

That first time, I tried a whole bunch of different things: the steamed ribs with char siu glaze, the scallion pancakes, the vegetable fried rice, and—how could I not?—the soup dumplings. And though no particular dish was mind-alteringly incredible, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. The ribs were so unprecedentedly tender that I was able to forgive them for their too-sweet glaze, and the scallion pancakes, though a little bland, had the perfect texture. The fried rice was also on the bland side, but it wasn’t bad in the slightest—and there were crunchy bits of something or other on top that managed to make the dish worthwhile.

And then came the soup dumplings. (As the iPad will warn you, soup dumplings take longer than everything else to cook, so you’ll probably have finished the rest of your food by the time you end up with any.) They taste just like the Tea Parlor’s—which is to say that they’re pretty damn good. The broth is lovely, and…

Actually, in Part I, I said of the Tea Parlor’s soup dumplings that you’d do best to just try them for yourself, and I think I’m going to have to stick to that assessment. For whatever reason, I have trouble describing these, but they’re intensely flavorful, and I love them. Go for it.

Soup dumplings from Nom Wah Nolita

I’ve since tried the ho fun beef noodle soup with seasonal veggies and the Cantonese smoked chicken leg with ginger and scallion sauce—both via delivery, so I didn’t take any photos. Ho fun really aren’t my thing (I hate thin, floppy, wide noodles, but that’s just me; there’s nothing inherently wrong with Nom Wah’s), and there are too many good-for-nothing greens hanging around in the broth—but for me, the cilantro-heavy broth itself is what makes the dish worthwhile. (Plus, there are plenty of scallions floating around in there. Always welcome.)

I’m not much of a fan of the smoked chicken leg, though. The sauce is intensely garlicky, and the meat isn’t quite as tender as I would’ve hoped. I don’t taste scallion; I don’t taste ginger; I don’t even really taste chicken. I taste garlic. So while the meat itself is pretty good, the dish as a whole is seriously underwhelming. Oh well.

On the whole, though, I’m pretty into Nom Wah Nolita. My affection for the place may not be all that obvious from all I’ve just written—it’s been a pretty lukewarm write-up, I know—but you have to take into account, too, that it’s safe Chinese food we’re talking about here…served in a genuinely pleasant space, which helps a bunch. (What can I say? I’m 20. I’m in college. They’re catering precisely to me and mine.) I’ve only been by a handful of times, but I can definitely see this place becoming one of my weekend-lunchtime staples.

Find Nom Wah Nolita at 10 Kenmare Street, between Elizabeth and Bowery.

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Nom Wah, Part I: Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Nom Wah Tea Parlor's storefront

If working on this blog has shown me anything, it’s that I’m basically an infant: always adjusting my desires upward, always indiscriminately wanting. (Well, that and the fact that NYC has way more nut-free food than I’d ever, ever thought.) Seriously, though: How often do I fall in love with a new restaurant only to realize in a month or two that it was never truly all that great—that it didn’t really satisfactorily fill the food-void I’d wanted it to fill—and that I’m already hoping for something better?

Often. Often enough. I’m always developing incredibly high opinions of restaurants I’ve just found, and I’m always half-retracting those opinions in a few months’ time. I get used to the novelty of the new food I’ve finally found safe access to—lo mein, bagels, whatever—and then, just like that, I get my characteristic pickiness back. It’s all downhill from there, and within a few weeks, I’m searching for my next big thing. And that’s why my list of allergy-friendly restaurants is so long. (You’re welcome.)

Any-fucking-way, after finding Han Dynasty, I got a little complacent. It isn’t the world’s greatest Chinese restaurant—especially not for my purposes—but my immense excitement at the prospect of any reasonably safe Chinese food certainly quieted my inner infant for a while there. I ate Han Dynasty’s food weekly…and then I got used to it. Before I knew it, I was back to begging Google to show me some nut-free Chinese restaurants in the Tri-State Area.

Of course, I found none—because (as far as I know) there are no decidedlyadvertisedly nut-free Chinese restaurants anywhere near NYC. But I’m sure there are at least a handful of local Chinese restaurants that happen not to have any nuts in the kitchen; there’s just no one collecting them and slapping a “nut-free” label on them and posting them online. (Hello!)

In any case, I’ve rambled long enough. Nom Wah Tea Parlor is (a) my next-step Chinese restaurant and (b) one of those incidentally nut-free places I so love to collect. Let’s move on.


This place has been around for a while, serving dim sum at the vertex of Chinatown’s Bloody Angle for nearly a hundred years now—but it hasn’t always been as trendy as it is today. A few years ago, a guy named Wilson Tang left his job in finance to take over Nom Wah, then owned by his uncle. And as soon as the place was his, he renovated its kitchen, expanded its menu, and generally just turned it into the American-magnet it is today. Now, I’d never been to the old Nom Wah, so I have nothing to compare this new-ish place to—but the consensus seems to be that the transition has not been a disaster.

And thank God for that, because I would’ve shown up anyway. Nom Wah is pretty much nut-free, so I would’ve had no choice but to suffer through whatever weird sort of Franken-restaurant it’d become. I’ve been assured—multiple times, via phone and in person—that there are no tree nuts (or peanuts) in Nom Wah’s kitchen, with the exception of their almond-containing (duh) almond cookies, which are fortunately not made in house (and which should thus not pose much of a cross-contamination risk). And within hours of finding out about all that, I headed straight to Doyers Street.

The menu at Nom Wah Tea Parlor

The first time (Sam and) I went, I was sure to confirm the whole nut-free thing with the hostess, who double-checked with someone behind the bar before confirming for me that there really aren’t any nuts in Nom Wah’s kitchen. (I, like, quadruple-checked on this place. Nut-free Chinese restaurants are so hard to come by that whenever I find one, I automatically assume the news is too good to be true.) After this final reassurance, Sam and I took our seats—and so our Nom Wah craze began.

For a dim sum restaurant, Nom Wah is unusually calm. It’s relatively quiet, and there are no carts of food; instead, you order with pen and paper—which is a lot better for the food-allergic than the point-and-hope method you’ll have to adopt at other dim sum spots. That first night, though, Sam and I went a little pen-crazy. We left Nom Wah so absurdly full—and with so much leftover rice in-hand—that we decided we’d better walk for a while before even thinking about going home. But we’ve since eaten at Nom Wah enough times to have calmed down a bit, and I’m ready to somewhat-level-headedly talk about what I’ve most enjoyed.

Two nut-free egg rolls from Nom Wah Tea Parlor

The first thing I tried at Nom Wah was an egg roll (one of their specialties, apparently), pictured immediately above. If you can’t tell from the photo, these things are absolutely enormous—which I should’ve expected, really, given the dish’s $7 price tag. I’m pathetically used to overpaying for food, though, so I figured they were just a little overpriced. Nope. Huge. And fortunately, these aren’t your average Chinese-American egg rolls. (I don’t mean to hate on takeout egg rolls; they’re just…a little boring.) I don’t know what’s in these—egg and celery, maybe some mushroom, and apparently a little chicken, too—but damn, they’re good. Especially with the addition of a little soy.

A nut-free pork bun from Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Also enormous are their roast-pork buns, which happen to be incredible. The pork inside is so sweet and tender (and plentiful!) that I just might’ve had to stop for a second to catch my breath. Lesser pork buns tend to taste like a hunk of acoustic foam that’s been stuffed with unidentifiable sugar-meat, but Nom Wah’s don’t. The bun itself is pleasant—mildly sweet, and not too dry or doughy—and there’s certainly enough filling to balance it out. And the filling actually tastes like pork! Sweet pork, but soft, fatty, delicious pork nonetheless.

Really, I used to think I’d always prefer baked pork buns to their steamed counterparts, but these…well, they have me rethinking my stance. (And if you know me, you’ll know that I’m not much of a stance-rethinker. Forgive me.)

Nut-free soup dumplings from Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Another dish for which I’m ready to dole out some high praise: the above-pictured Shanghainese soup dumplings, which I assure you are absolutely adorable, despite their not-so-photogenic nature (or, alternatively, despite my own shortcomings as a photographer). They’re filled with pork—have you noticed I’m into pork?—and (of course) broth, and they’re truly a pleasure to eat.

I could go on about how ridiculously flavorful the broth is, etc., etc., but honestly, I think you’ll just have to try these for yourself. Soup dumplings are a strange creation, and eating them is an even stranger experience—but they sure do taste good. For real: see for yourself. Just be sure not to burn your mouth. (Oops.)

Turnip cake and pan-fried dumplings from Nom Wah Tea Parlor

I’m also weirdly into the turnip cakes (above, left) and the pan-fried dumplings (above, right). My appreciation of the dumplings is less weird, I guess; really, who doesn’t love a good dumpling? But my first time at Nom Wah, I was surprised to have so enjoyed the turnip cakes. “Turnip cake” isn’t a very appetizing name—but fortunately, these have pretty much nothing to do with Western-style turnips. In fact, they’re made from shredded daikon (a Chinese radish)…which I would’ve loved to have known when I was sitting in Nom Wah driving myself crazy with the question of just what these cakes’ flavor reminded me of. (It was those little piles of grated daikon that so often show up on platters of Japanese food. Mystery solved.)

In terms of their flavor, these things are pretty mild. They’re a little fishy, a little radish-y; otherwise, they don’t have all that much of a taste. The inside’s soft and flaky, almost like the texture of cooked fish, and the outside’s just crispy enough to have gotten me hooked. Overall, they’re pretty fun to eat—especially with the XO sauce they’re served with—but I should probably mention (as if it isn’t already clear) that I’ve never eaten turnip cakes anywhere else, so it’s not as if I have much to compare these to. All I can say, really, is that they taste pretty good to me.

Pan-fried dumplings, though, I’ve certainly had (way too) many times before—so I’m pretty comfortable in saying that these are pretty good. They’re greasy, but not too greasy, and the filling (minced pork) is really tasty…but what I like most about these dumplings is how thick their wrappers are. They’re really chewy, but not in a mouth-clogging way, and I’m a huge fan.

Fried rice and pan-fried noodles from Nom Wah Tea Parlor

I should probably mention some of the entree-sized dishes, too. The fried rice (above, left) is an absurdly big portion, and could easily feed a party of perhaps three trillion. It isn’t incredible—some of the egg bits taste weird, and the peas aren’t so hot—but hey, it’s fried rice. I like it enough to keep ordering it, and it’s a great dish for some heavy-duty sharing. (Or leftovers. I’ve learned that the folks at Nom Wah will be happy to provide you with as many styrofoam containers as you’d like—so as long as you’re willing to pack up your own food, you can take whatever you’d like to go.)

Also pretty good, and also great for sharing: the pan-fried noodles (above, right), which are way too thin to be the noodles of my dreams, but which do the trick nonetheless. They’re stir-fried with scallions, onions, and bean sprouts, but if you closed your eyes, you’d never know it; the dish is actually pretty bland. I do love me some grease, though. I guess I’m pretty easy to please. Also: the leftover version of Nom Wah’s fried rice is no match for the leftover version of these noodles. Like most stir-fries, this dish holds up well in the fridge.


I’m just about done—I think I’ve done enough praising—but before I stop, I want to mention a few Nom Wah dishes that didn’t capture my heart: the steamed spare ribs (above, left), the chicken feet (above, right), and the cilantro-and-scallion rice roll (not pictured, but here). The spare ribs were gooey in texture and hot-doggy in flavor, and the chicken feet were way too heavy on the garlic. The rice roll was weird—very slimy, very bland, and somehow still too way sweet—but I didn’t mind all that much, because at Nom Wah, there’s always plenty of other food on the table.

Does Nom Wah serve the best dim sum ever? No—nor the cheapest. But the food’s pretty good (great, at times) and it’s one of the safest Chinese restaurants I’ve been able to find. It’s a little touristy, but it’s definitely not a tourist trap…and in my opinion, at least, it’s worth a visit. Or two.

Find it at 13 Doyers Street, between Pell and Bowery. And stay tuned for another post on Nom Wah—this time, with a focus on the fast-casual spot they’ve recently opened in Nolita.

[By the way: Please, please excuse the terribly inconsistent white balance in the photos I’ve included in this post. Nom Wah’s lighting is weird, and I’m always forgetting to carry a white-balance card, so…I’ve ended up with some shitty photos. My bad. This’ll teach me, though. (I actually just put my white-balance card in my wallet, so there.) For more photos, check out Nom Wah’s Caviar page.]

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A tray of nut-free food from Roll-n-Roaster in Sheepshead Bay

Roll-N-Roaster is probably one of the weirdest restaurants I’ve ever been to—but I say that only because I’m not used to the total foreign land that is Sheepshead Bay (and its surrounding neighborhoods), nor do I have much experience with pre-gentrification Brooklyn. Rest assured, though, that I’ve deemed Roll-N-Roaster weird in a good way. This place perplexes the hell out of me, and it takes me over an hour to get there, but God, I love it.

Located in one of a set of neighborhoods I’ve just decided to refer to as Unironic Brooklyn, Roll-N-Roaster is, first and foremost, a fast-food joint. (They call themselves “not so fast,” as for almost 50 years now, they’ve insisted on cooking everything to order, and they’re rather proud of the fact that their rolls will actually go stale, if ever given the chance.) Their main hawk is roast-beef sandwiches—and should you ever end up there, you’d be mistaken not to order one—but their menu‘s huge: sandwiches, burgers, pizza, wings, tenders, and all the sides you can imagine. Everything on the menu, save for a $60 bottle of Moët & Chandon, is under $8, and if you manage to spend over $35, they’ll give you a free pizza, sans prompting. (In fact, avoid trying to do any prompting. They’ll look at you funny.)

There are about six trillion things about this place that really should make me twitch. It’s about as far out of my way as I can fathom; the food’s not that much better than your average fast-food chain’s, but its devotees all tout it as the best stuff on this planet; it’s almost always filled with drunk and/or very strange people; the menu (and the restaurant itself) is peppered with ridiculous grammatical errors; everyone in the place—including those who aren’t drunk—seem to be of that mentally unsound sort who think artificial cheese (sorry, cheez) is an acceptable thing to even think about eating; and the place leaks insane amounts of unironic kitsch right out its wazoo.

But something about sitting at one of their (many, many) tables is so inexplicably comforting that I can’t quite bring myself to feel any sort of frustration with anything while doing so. For real. This isn’t just some attempt to slip in a few of Roll-N-Roaster’s downsides without being unnecessarily mean to the place over the course of my write-up; there really just is something about it that’s somehow managed to grant it immunity from its flaws. Maybe it’s the place’s sheer distance from the stress and demands of the real world (well, my real world). Or maybe it’s just the greasy-ass comfort food. I suppose we’ll never know.


I suppose, too, that I should get to talking about allergens. This’ll be brief, because at Roll-N-Roaster, the deal’s pretty simple: There are no tree nuts (or peanuts) present in the kitchen, and I’ve been told that their bread shouldn’t contain any traces of nuts, either. They do serve a few desserts, and while I’m not sure whether those are free from cross-contamination, I do know that they don’t explicitly contain any nuts—so on that front, I feel comfortable with a simple policy of, uh, not ordering any. (I’m used to it; probably, you are, too.)

Before getting into the food, though, I want to spend a little time on the restaurant itself. It’s pretty big—by my Manhattan-born standards, at least—with, like, two or three rooms jam-packed with tables. (The above photo doesn’t do the restaurant’s size much justice.) Aesthetically, it reminds me of a rest-stop McDonald’s, and strictly speaking, that’s an insult, but I actually don’t intend it as one. Apparently, the folks at Roll-N-Roaster haven’t messed much with the restaurant’s decor since its opening in the early 1970s. And why should they? It’s roomy, clean, and functional—and it pairs well with the food.

The counter at Roll-n-Roaster

Anyway. Like I said, Roll-N-Roaster’s menu is big. But I tend to stick to the roast-beef and ribeye sandwiches and some combination of fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, and corn fritters. I avoid their cheez (which you can get on anything you “pleez,” according to at least four separate signs) like it’s the fucking plague—but I did try it once (Sam’s doing), just to be absolutely sure it’d be fair of me to go on hating the stuff. Unsurprisingly, it tastes like all the rest of the processed cheese in the universe: gross, plasticky, not-cheesy, and just generally reprehensible.

Onto the sides.

Sans cheez, the fries are good. They’re shaped like little pickle chips, and they’re thin and usually pretty crispy, which is nice. They benefit a lot from the salt that’s available on every table, and they could use some dipping sauce, too, but it’s not as if they desperately need any. They’re all right on their own—and Roll-N-Roaster’s honey mustard (my sauce of choice) is about as good as their cheez. (I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the fries, but they look like this.)


The mozzarella sticks and onion rings, however, are better than all right. In fact, both are legitimately good. The mozzarella sticks are nice and creamy on the inside with a thick-enough, crunchy-enough outside, and the marinara sauce they come with isn’t as cloying as most shitty marinaras are. (Actually, as these things go, it’s pretty good.)

And the onion rings are even better. These are of the onion-ring archetype that sits at the back of my mind forever whispering at me to order the onion rings! each and every time I see them on some godforsaken menu. 85% of the time, I end up disappointed; usually, what arrives is greasy and bland, and the fucking onions always fall right out at first bite. Trash. But these are actually pretty great. They’re thin-ish and crispy, and they have enough structural integrity to not, you know, fall the fuck apart just because you’ve shot them a funny glance. Such a relief.

The corn fritters—on a good night—are a lot of fun, too. (I mean, they’re deep-fried balls of battered corn. What’s not to like?) The corn itself is a little watery, but whatever it’s surrounded with is good enough to keep me from caring much about the corn itself. The fritters are almost like deep-fried corn pudding, really…if corn pudding were a lot more underwhelming than it already is. Regardless, I enjoy these, and I order them pretty regularly.

A roast-beef sandwich with onions and extra gravy from Roll-n-Roaster

But the main event of my Roll-N-Roaster meals (and of any reasonable person’s, I’d say) is definitely the roast-beef sandwich—which I like to order with roasted onions and plenty of extra gravy. The bun is decent, though nothing life-changing; the roast beef itself (which they unfortunately no longer offer rare or medium-rare) is above average, but certainly not incredible; the onions are solid, but a little too thick-cut; and the gravy doesn’t have all that much flavor. Together, though, these components amount to way more than the sum of their parts—especially once you’ve lifted the bun and sprinkled some much-needed salt atop the meat.

I should probably mention, too, that I’m a pretty big fan of the ribeye sandwich as well. It’s so greasy—it’s basically a hunk of pan-fried steak on bread, after all—and massively flavorful, too, even without onions or gravy. (In fact, onions and gravy don’t do much for this sandwich; more than anything else, they just tend to sog it up and detract from the meat itself.) I don’t understand it. This sandwich shouldn’t be so delicious. But it is.

I don’t know, man. Weird shit goes on at Roll-N-Roaster. I can’t explain any of it, nor can I explain any of my feelings about it. All I can say is that these sandwiches are strangely enjoyable, and that the restaurant is strangely pleasant. I can’t shed any light on the phenomenon; I can only confirm that it’s real.

A tray of food from Roll-n-Roaster

Oh, and by the way—if it doesn’t go without saying—stay far away from the pizza. Really.

Find Roll-N-Roaster at 2901 Emmons Avenue, between 29th Street and Nostrand Avenue. (Take the B or the Q to Sheepshead Bay and walk the mile to Roll-N-Roaster. It’s not too bad a walk—you’ll pass lots of weird-ass restaurants, at least. Alternatively, drive. There’s even a parking lot.)

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Sushi Zo (!)

Salmon roe from Sushi Zo

Sushi Zo is so ridiculously far out of my price range, it’s not even funny. But there are no nuts in their kitchen, and I did eat there safely, so…I’m afraid I have no choice. It’s time for another half-apologetic post on a jarringly expensive meal!

But first, the details. Sushi Zo started in Los Angeles, and you sure can tell. Theirs isn’t the classic, super-traditional sushi of many of NYC’s other top-tier restaurants; rather, it’s prepared “Zo-style,” according to chef Masashi Ito (click at your own risk; Kat Odell is…annoying, to say the least).

At Zo, there is only one option: a $200-per-person omakase, available only by reservation (which you’ll have to make well in advance). Don’t ask for a California roll; don’t ask for spicy tuna; don’t even ask for soy. Your chef knows best—that’s the idea, at least—and you’d be wise to do as he says (and only as he says).

If it weren’t for my dad and his undying love of sushi, I never would’ve dreamed of going to Zo. (Actually, had it not been for his undying love of sushi, I’d probably be sushi-ignorant enough to be content with, like, Kikoo, and thus never would’ve dreamed of dreaming of going to Zo.) But the man loves sushi, and he’s in frequent need of a dining partner or two—and that‘s how I managed to afford (well, to escape having to afford) such an expensive meal.

When we arrived—that’s Sam and me, as my dad was 15 painful minutes late—we were seated immediately at one of the restaurant’s two tables. (We all would’ve preferred the bar, but I wasn’t able to get three seats on a day that worked for us all.) Immediately, I fell in love with was the decor: bare brick, lots of wood, sparse greenery, Eames-ish chairs…it was perfect. Even the chopstick holders appealed to me. (I don’t have photos, because I felt like a real jackass pointing my camera every which way in such a nice restaurant. But I’ve linked the few I could find online, because Sushi Zo’s decor is probably my favorite out of all the restaurants I’ve ever been to.)

As soon as my dad arrived, a server approached our table to ask whether any of us had any food allergies. And as soon as I’d corrected my dad’s “nope, none” with an “actually, yes—I’m allergic to nuts,” the omakase had begun. (As I mentioned above, there are no nuts in Sushi Zo’s kitchen. It’s that simple. I haven’t included any further allergen information because there isn’t any. No nuts, no complications, no causes for concern.)

Onto the omakase itself. But first, a confession: I have absolutely no idea what I ate at Sushi Zo. I mean, I know what I ate—sushi, and lots of it—but I don’t really know what was what. Certain pieces (the uni, the shrimp, the tuna) were obvious, but others…well, the servers told us what they were, but I didn’t write anything down, and my memory’s failed me. So I’m sorry for the vagueness that’s to come—and I hereby promise to start taking notes on any subsequent many-course meals. (Really.)

Anyway. First came the sashimi, all at once, on a lovely little platter. There was lean tuna, two pieces of whitefish (that I can’t name), some octopus, and an oyster. I most enjoyed Whitefish #1 and the octopus, which was firm and chewy, though not tough—but the lean tuna was good, too. I wasn’t all that enamored with Whitefish #2 or the oyster, but overall, the sashimi platter was good, and by the time I’d finished mine, I was really looking forward to the rest of the tasting.

Four pieces of sushi from Sushi Zo

Within maybe two minutes, we’d already entered the next phase of the meal: sushi time. Piece after piece just kept showing up; as soon as we’d finished one, a server would clear our dishes and bring out the next—and like that, we got through more courses than I could count. (Literally. I lost track. 20-something? Not sure.)

The first piece—I know this one!—was halibut, topped with something yuzu-related. I think it’s the piece pictured in the top-left of the above photo, but who knows? In the top-right photo, there’s a mystery fish, and in the bottom-left, there’s sweet shrimp. That’s uni, of course, on the bottom-right—and fortunately, that’s all the identifying I’m obligated to do for the moment.

Of the sushi, my favorite pieces were the uni; the torched otoro; the torched something-or-other, topped with truffle salt (!!!); the halibut; and whatever’s in top-left photo below (Sam says trout, so trout, I guess). Also wonderful: the sweet shrimp, despite its bitter aftertaste; the chutoro, though it wasn’t all that impressive, as chutoro goes; and the torched wagyu, though it wasn’t as good as the torched wagyu at Sushi Azabu (or Sushi on Jones, actually).

I do have a complaint, though. The fish itself was all incredible, but I really, really wish the folks at Sushi Zo weren’t so goddamn heavy on the toppings. I know, I know—it’s a high-end omakase, and I’m meant to trust my chef, etc., etc.—but constant toppings (beyond soy and wasabi) eventually end up making it supremely difficult for me to actually, you know, taste the super-high-quality fish in front of me. So there. I said it. I wish Zo’s sushi chefs would chill with the yuzu and the peppers and the whatever-the-fuck else it is they insist on placing atop nearly every single piece of fish. Sorry.

Time for more identifying. Here is, clockwise from the top-left photo, trout (potentially), torched otoro, chutoro, and seared wagyu:

Four pieces of sushi from Sushi Zo

After the sushi came one of the loveliest things I’ve ever eaten: a perfect little bowl of ikura and rice, topped with shredded nori (pictured at the top of this post). The ikura was some of the best I’ve ever had, and there was plenty of it, which is unusual. The rice was perfect, too—seriously some of the best I’ve ever had—and as a whole, the dish was easily one of my favorites of the night.

Then, there was chawanmushi, a sweet and creamy egg custard dish I’d never had before, and tamago, too (which was the best I’ve had, actually, since Honmura An closed in 2006-ish). And finally, there was a hand roll (we were each given the choice between tuna and blue crab—both were great) and a small bowl of soup (clear-brothed, with a big chunk of red snapper at the bottom).

Oh, and dessert. How could I forget dessert? Usually, I stay away, but at Zo, I didn’t have to. Our server assured me that everything, dessert included, would be safe for me to eat—plus, this dessert was about as simple as it could’ve been—so I dug in without (much) hesitation. Here it is, a (poorly photographed) house-made yuzu sorbet that I ate—and thoroughly enjoyed—sans issue:


In all, I spent a little over two hours at Zo, though it didn’t feel like much more than 30 minutes. It’s a very fast-paced meal—and then, just when you think it’s started to wind down, out comes a whole other set of courses to down. It’s an expensive tasting, sure. Worth $200 per head, pre-extras and pre-sake? I’m not sure. But the service is terrific, the ambiance is exceedingly pleasant, and the food—which ranges from good to offensively good—is a lot of fun, to say the least.

Plus, there are no nuts in the kitchen. And, if you sit at a table, the other diners are far enough away so as not to annoy with their probable…extravagance. (Not so far, though, that you won’t notice said extravagance. Seriously: So many of the people of high-end sushi bars just love to show off, as much to their servers and chef as to whomever might happen to be listening—hence the opportunistic glints to their eyes and their ever-so-slightly-slightly-raised voices. “‘It’s a thing,’ as you all say,” as my British Literature professor says.)

Anyway. The Zo experience is perfect.

…Near-perfect. Too many toppings. That aside, though, that omakase really was something special, and I hope one day—one day—to return. Maybe.

Find Sushi Zo at 88 West 3rd Street, between Sullivan and Thompson. (And if you manage to leave with any sort of room left in your stomach, there’s a nearby Morton Williams that stocks both A La Mode ice cream and a ton of Vermont Nut Free treats.)

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Ben’s Pizzeria

The storefront of Ben's Pizzeria

I’ll admit it: I never would’ve given Ben’s Pizzeria a second glance had it not been for its presence in the opening to Louie. But I go to school in the neighborhood, so I pass Ben’s all the time—and the image of Louis C.K. shoving a slice of Ben’s pizza into his mouth is so burned into my mind that I couldn’t help but give the place some attention.

Since Ben’s is an exceedingly average pizzeria—all they serve is pizza, calzones, rolls, garlic knots, salads, and heroes—I figured the place was probably a shoo-in. Still, I was really dreading making the phone call, because pizza places are fucking impossible to communicate with. Think about it: their phones ring all day, but 99.9% of callers are just calling to order a pizza. Those are the calls they’re trained to handle. So when someone calls in asking whether there might be any nut products on-site, they get confused. The usual language barrier doesn’t help—but the fact that I’m calling to ask a sort-of-unprecedented question doesn’t help, either.

But I did call, and the gist of the answer I received was that there shouldn’t be any nuts or nut products anywhere within the walls of Ben’s. And that—combined with the incredible convenience of the location, and, you know, the whole Louie thing—convinced me to give this place a try.


Unfortunately, the pizza isn’t all that great. It’s fine—it’s not weirdly sweet or offensively doughy or anything—and it’ll certainly do in a pinch, but it definitely isn’t good. At $2.75 per slice, I’d expect this stuff to be reliably better than the dollar slices you’ll find at 2 Bros. et al., but it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually a little worse. The cheese is bland, and there’s way too much of it—and overall, slices are so flavorless that I’ve actually taken to salting them. (Who salts pizza? Not me. But Ben’s pizza needs salt.) The crust’s decent, though. I’ll give them that. And the sauce is all right, too.

Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. Maybe Ben’s has better pizza to offer. I don’t know, but I guess I’ll find out, because it’s not as if I’m about to stop eating there. Within a certain range of quality, well…pizza is pizza—and Ben’s pizza certainly falls within that range. (I definitely don’t agree with that stupid-ass adage that there’s no such thing as bad pizza. There’s bad pizza, and if you tout the aforementioned adage as some sort of universal truth, I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably one of those folks who’s into bad pizza.)


Their stromboli, though, are certainly worth avoiding. At all costs. For real. The crust is fine, but the filling—no matter what you settle on—sucks. The meat melds together; the vegetables meld together; everything gets all slimy, and the final product verges on inedible.

Pictured immediately above is a meat stromboli (made with ham, salami, pepperoni, meatballs, and mozzarella) that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish, despite my best efforts (and despite my hunger, too). It was just too goddamn unctuous—actually unctuous—to get through. Though I did eat 100% of the crust.

But Ben’s isn’t without its pros. They have a pretty wide array of toppings (though you’ll have to order a whole pie if you happen to want a combination of toppings that isn’t already on one of their pre-made pies), and, well…there’s seating. (Joe’s has none—so although Joe’s pizza is way, way better, Ben’s wins my patronage in the winter months.) Plus, their garlic knots (pictured immediately below) are actually worth eating. They’re huge—fist-sized, almost—and they have a prominent sourdough flavor to them, which I really like.

An order of garlic knots from Ben's Pizzeria

Surprisingly enough, I’m also a fan of their calzones. They’re made with plenty and plenty (and plenty) of cheese, and the folks at Ben’s will throw whatever fillings you want in there, too. I get broccoli, which is probably a mistake—their broccoli is watery and not really worth ordering—but maybe one day I’ll get over my aversion to most pizza toppings and give something else a try. I do tend to like plain old cheese calzones, though. Ricotta is one of my favorite things in the world, and mozzarella’s an easy sell, so it’s not as if I need anything additional in my calzones. But I wouldn’t mind some better broccoli…

Oh well. Here’s a calzone:


Anyway. Like I said, mediocre food won’t stop me from patronizing Ben’s. Maybe I’ll get around to trying the sandwiches, maybe I won’t—but I know for sure that I’ll keep eating their pizza, calzones, and garlic knots. I have to; I’m nearby every day, and that shit definitely does the trick. Again: The food isn’t bad. I just can’t, in good conscience, call it “good.”

Find Ben’s Pizzeria at at 123 MacDougal Street, between Minetta and West 3rd.

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Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips


I have no idea what possessed me to go out and buy a bag of Ghirardelli’s milk-chocolate chocolate chips—maybe it was the pressure I felt to get on with it and finally buy something from the brand-new Target that recently opened near my apartment, or maybe it was the downright vitriolic Ghirardelli-related debate I came across in one of the many horrifying allergy-related Facebook groups I like to browse when I’m feeling particularly masochistic. Whatever the reasons, I bought a bag. And ate its contents. Then bought another. And another. And now I’m here, weeks later, still hooked, blogging.

The Facebook argument—and I’m probably aggregating three or four arguments here, because, like most special-interest online forums, these Facebook groups make me lose (a) my mind and (b) my desire to get it back—was, of course, about whether Ghirardelli’s chocolate chips are safe for those with nut allergies. I love myself, so I didn’t weigh in, but I guess now’s my time.

After reaching out to Ghirardelli, I received the following reply (which is 100% consistent with everything I’ve been able to find online, too):

Ghirardelli Bars and Squares are made in a facility and on shared equipment with products containing the following tree nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Peanuts are no used in the manufacturing of our Bars and Squares.

The chocolate chips (60% Bittersweet, Semi-Sweet, Mini Semi-Sweet, Double Chocolate and Milk Chocolate) do not contain tree nuts or peanuts; moreover, the chocolate chips line does not make products containing tree nuts or peanuts. However, our chips are produced in the same facility as our Bars and Squares.

The Classic White Chips are produced in a facility and on equipment that makes products containing peanuts and tree nuts.

So while I probably wouldn’t risk it with Ghirardelli’s bars or squares, I’m entirely comfortable with their chocolate chips (with the unfortunate exception of the Classic White). Of course, these chips aren’t made in a dedicated facility—but they are made on dedicated lines, which is good enough for me. (Plus, with how good these chips are, I can’t even fathom opting to use a dedicated-facility brand like Enjoy Life. There just isn’t any competition between the two products—especially if your only allergy is to nuts.)

Of course, you should always defer to the label for the most up-to-date information. Ghirardelli’s great about labeling issuing “may contain” warnings whenever there’s any sort of cause for concern, so the allergen statement will be sure to let you know if the above information has, for some reason, changed.

Anyway, I should probably get to talking about chocolate. Ghirardelli’s is great, and these days, I straight-up refuse to bake with any other chips. The semi-sweet chips are absolutely perfect for brownies—last week, I used them in this recipe, and the brownies ended up being some of the best I’ve ever had—but the milk-chocolate chips are the ones I’ll eat by the handful. They’re smooth and sweet, but not at all cloying—and they are, of course, totally free from that artificial Hershey-esque flavor all reasonable people hate so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an open bag of chocolate chips in one of my cabinets, and I have to, um…get to that.

Find Ghirardelli products just about everywhere.

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