Category Archives: Restaurants

Sticky’s Finger Joint

Chicken poppers

Something about the name of this place gives me the willies. I think it’s how similar it sounds to “sticky finger joint,” which makes me think of a 5-year-old’s slobbery, paste-covered knuckle. But I digress. Name aside, Sticky’s is a solid restaurant with some solid chicken, and even I wouldn’t be so absurd as to stay away based on the name alone.

Truthfully, the reason I stayed away for so long was because I found it hard to justify going out of my way for a serving of plain old chicken fingers. But once I finally got around to giving their food a try, it was clear that there would be no turning back. Sticky’s is good.

Last semester, when I was looking to collect some new places to grab lunch between classes, I sent an email to Sticky’s with a few questions about their handling of allergens. The response I received was as follows: “All Sticky‘s Finger Joint Locations are completely nut free. So, to answer all of your questions Sticky‘s is safe to eat for anyone with any type of nut allergy!” No details, no direct responses—but you know what? That’s a one-size answer I can get behind.

Now, I can’t categorize Sticky’s as “truly nut-free,” as they don’t openly classify themselves as such, and I haven’t gotten any indication that they require their ingredients to all be free from potential cross-contamination, but I feel 100% comfortable eating there. You may not—and that’s fine—but I’d say the place is worth a look, at the very least.

For such a simple spot, their menu‘s pretty big. Chicken fingers, chicken poppers, and fries all come with a bunch of different combinations of seasonings—and Sticky’s offers 19 homemade sauces, too. My favorite, because I’m boring, is the Sassy BBQ, but there’s no sense in pretending there’s a best or a worst. You’ll just have to figure out your ranking on your own.

IMG_5743

As sides go, I’m partial to the Truffle Parm Fries (pictured in both photos above). They’re not all that truffle-y, but they’re certainly covered in parmesan, and the fries themselves are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just as fries should be. (Seriously, they’re perfect. These are some of the best fries you’ll find at this price point—and with about a trillion seasonings to choose from, too.) I also like the Pot Pie Fries, though I could definitely do without the shredded carrots. (Also: “Grandma’s Gravy” bears no resemblance whatsoever to any sort of gravy I’ve ever seen, but it sure is tasty.)

With their chicken, it’s hard to go wrong. Their fingers and poppers are some of the best of their kind—as they should be at any store that specializes in such a simple preparation of chicken. The poppers (also pictured twice above) are particularly good—they’re incredibly moist and tender, with a nice, crispy exterior—and though they’re a little bland, they never fail to please me. (A tip, though: The chicken doesn’t keep or travel well. A 10-minute walk to Washington Square Park—or, God forbid, a bicycle ride to my apartment—turns Sticky’s into a very mediocre meal indeed.)

In all, though, Sticky’s is great spot to grab a quick (and cheap!) lunch, and I highly recommend stopping by, whether or not you’ve been tasked with avoiding nuts. At the very, very least…well, it sure beats McDonald’s.

Sticky’s has three locations: one in Murray Hill (484 Third Ave), one in Greenwich Village (31 West 8th Street), and one in Hell’s Kitchen (598 9th Ave). All three deliver, and their food’s available on most third-party delivery sites, too. Just make sure to get your sauce on the side, because soggy fries—especially those that would otherwise be perfect—are even worse than sticky child-fingers.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Sushi Azabu

201506_daruma-ya_05

It’s not often I get to eat like I ate at Sushi Azabu. For one, this restaurant is well out of my price range. To me, an expensive meal is any one that threatens to hit the $30 mark, and with omakase is priced at $100, $150, or $180 per person, Azabu is far past the point of threatening. Don’t get me wrong; I can definitely appreciate a high-quality meal. I’m not one to immediately cry “overpriced!” at anything that veers toward costliness. It’s just that I can’t afford to eat this way unless someone else is footing the bill (thanks, Dad).

A few months ago, in a fit of bitterness, I went through the menus of every single one of this city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, mostly in an attempt to prove to myself that fine dining can be nut-free. I had very little success—I ended up eliminating nearly every single restaurant before even reaching my call-and-double-check stage—but one of the few restaurants that made it through was Sushi Azabu, a one-star sushi bar on the edge of Tribeca.

Their menu looks nut-less, but there’s plenty of room for nuts to sneak in under listings like “2 kinds of starter” or “dessert,” so I called to double-check. The hostess, who was very friendly and very competent, explained that while there are no nuts currently used in Azabu’s food, there are nuts stored in their kitchen. She assured me that the nuts aren’t really handled, though, and that I didn’t really have much reason to worry, especially if I was planning on eating from the sushi bar. (Of course, I’d recommend double-checking on the whole nut situation before eating at Azabu, because I’m sure it’s subject to change.)

When Sam and I got there, the hostess confirmed that I was the one with the nut allergy—I hadn’t even had to remind her. She led us to the end of the sushi bar, took our orders, and then asked if we had any special requests beyond the whole no-nuts thing before relaying all the relevant information (in Japanese) to the sushi chef. Truly, I felt taken care of—she was just as helpful in the restaurant as she had been on the phone, and if I’d had any worries beforehand, they were gone by the time she and I were done speaking.

[By the way, Azabu is a very small and very quiet restaurant. Only an (a) jackass or (b) Actual Important Restaurant Critic™ would be comfortable subjecting the other diners to a shutter sound over and over and over and over, and (I hope) I’m neither, so I left my camera at home. The photo at the top of this post, though I wish it were mine, is from The Greenwich Hotel’s website. I’ve included a few of my own iPhone photos at the end of this post, but those are all I have. Find a few better ones here and here.]

Anyway, food. Sam and I ordered the less expensive of the two Chef’s Omakase options. For $150, we each got got two starters, an assortment of seasonal sashimi, an uni tasting, a grilled crab dish, an assortment of sushi, miso soup, and dessert. (At $180, the other Chef’s Omakase also includes a toro tasting.)

First came the starters: fluke topped with uni, and a piece of Japanese eggplant topped with seared fatty tuna. Both were great, but I particularly liked the tuna, because…well, it was seared fatty tuna. Do I really need to explain? The eggplant was a little too slimy for me, but I appreciated its flavor nonetheless, and it did go well with the tuna, so I couldn’t really complain. And the fluke and uni were both great—I’m a sucker for any (decent) uni, really, but that serving was particularly tasty, and I couldn’t wait for the rest that’d be coming my way.

Next was the sashimi: octopus, abalone, fluke, medium fatty tuna, sweet shrimp, and lean tuna. Both pieces of tuna were straight-up delicious; the fatty tuna melted in my mouth, as fatty tuna does, and the lean tuna, topped with a speck of scallion, was one of the best pieces of lean tuna I’ve ever eaten. Seriously: That thing blew me away, and if my eyes had been closed, I wouldn’t have known it was lean. I liked the sweet shrimp, too—it didn’t have any of that that sea flavor that I so hate—but the octopus was a little boring, and the abalone was way too tough and clammy (that’s clam-flavored, not damp) for me.

After the sashimi came the uni tasting, which I’d been looking forward to since the very first moment I laid eyes on Azabu’s menu. We were each given two types of uni, both from Hokkaido: one from the North, and one from the East. Sam and I both preferred the former—it was a little creamier—but both were great, and my only complaint was that there wasn’t more. For some reason, I’d imagined the uni tasting to consist of, like, three or four varieties, but you know what? These two were certainly good enough to satisfy me.

The grilled king crab came next, and honestly, it impressed the hell out of me. The meat was sweet and briny, and it came in a half-shell, so I didn’t have to fight to get at it. (What can I say? I’m lazy.) The best part, though, was the crab miso sauce, which was sweet, salty, and almost a little buttery. It complemented the meat wonderfully, but it was great on its own, too—and it was all I could do to keep myself from licking up the bits that’d spilled. (Sue me.)

And then…and then…it was time for the sushi. We had, in order: squid, salmon, lean tuna, medium fatty tuna, scallop, bonito, ikura, a mystery fish whose name I didn’t quite catch, sweet shrimp, uni, and eel—and a tuna, oshinko, and shiso roll, too. The scallop was dense and boring, and the shrimp was a little too bitter, but everything else was downright incredible. Both pieces of tuna all but dissolved on my tongue, and the salmon—usually a pretty boring fish—was some of the best I’ve had in a while. The squid stood out, too—it was perhaps the most tender piece of squid I’ve ever had—and the uni was just as good as the better of the two from the sampling.

The roll was the last of the sushi selection, and it was a lovely way to end that portion of the meal. I love tuna, I love oshinko, and I love shiso, so it was no surprise that I went a little crazy over that roll. Its flavors and textures just worked so well together…ugh. I was full enough, but I could’ve used, like, fifteen more pieces of that thing.

A few minutes later, after we’d downed some unusually good miso soup, our chef asked us whether there was anything else we’d like to order, or if we’d rather just proceed to dessert. Now, I’d been wanting to eat some near-raw wagyu for a while—I’m not kidding; it was an actual craving of mine—so we went for it: two pieces of torched wagyu sushi, please.

It. Was. So. Good. For real: It was all I’d dreamed of. It started out tender and greasy—almost like a good steak—but as I got past the torched exterior, it got chewier, sweeter and…er, bloodier-tasting. The rawest parts tasted just like the smell of the butcher section at my local Whole Foods: a smell that never fails to make me want to eat a pile of raw beef. (The way I’m describing this is probably making me come off as a total weirdo. Maybe I am, but trust me, the wagyu was damn good.)

After we finished fawning over the wagyu, and after the chef confirmed that we were satisfied with our meal, the hostess brought out our dessert. “Mango sorbet, no nuts,” she said—without having been asked (!!!)—as she placed our bowls in front of us. I’d been a bit worried about dessert, but the fact that she seemed to have taken it upon herself to double-check made me feel comfortable enough to dig in, and so I did. The sorbet was good (though it was nothing in comparison to the meal we’d just had), but I could’ve sworn it was Häagen-Dazs. Maybe not. I don’t know. But I would’ve bet on it.

…And then, just like that, it was over.

It ended too soon, but it really was a great experience. The service was impeccable, the food bordered on perfect, and the atmosphere was calm and pleasant (despite the couple next to me, who spent the entire meal trying to perform for an audience that didn’t give a third of a shit about them). I’d love to go back, but it’ll probably be a while. Until then, I’ll just have to keep reliving this meal in my head.

Find Sushi Azabu at 428 Greenwich Street, between Laight and Vestry. (By the way, the restaurant’s underground—underneath another restaurant, actually. There’s signage, but not much of it. Try not to trip down the world’s darkest stairs on the way down.)

[Edit: I’ve since returned. Twice. And I’m happy to announce that Sushi Azabu is officially my favorite restaurant. Ever.]

Tagged , , , , , ,

Mika Japanese Cuisine & Bar

A plate of sushi and rolls from

Another all-you-can-eat sushi post, another apology. Here’s the obligatory “I am sorry—this is a little gross, both in concept and in flavor. Get real sushi, please.” At this point, these posts (and especially their many apologies) are getting a little tired, but whaddya gonna do? I ate at Mika, so you’re going to hear about it—and I feel bad, so I’m going to apologize.

Now that I’ve let that out, we can proceed. Let’s.

I’m not sure where I read about Mika, but somehow, the restaurant made its way onto my to-call list. I never really got around to calling, though, until I recognized their name one night as I was walking home. I hadn’t known Mika was so close to my apartment, and I guess the realization sparked my half-interest, because I ended up calling the next day. No nuts in house, they told me—so I moved them to my to-try list, and for a while, that was that.

If you can imagine a person whose cravings are even more persistent and unreasonable than mine, then you can imagine my boyfriend, Sam. For weeks, he had Mika on the brain, and no matter how much I tried to talk him out of going, he remained resolute. Eventually, as the result of a bargain of sorts, Sam ended up with the privilege (read: burden) of choosing singlehandedly that night’s restaurant—and that was how we ended up at Mika.

To the point. When we went, it was storming, and Mika seemed to be having an off night. It’s a big restaurant with lots and lots of tables, but that night, no one was feeling it. The bar was empty, the tables (save for two) were empty, and there didn’t appear to be many employees on duty, either. Sam and I attributed the emptiness to the storm, but it was eery regardless—especially as we sat alone, in the dark, in the corner of the restaurant’s largest room.

IMG_5130

Like Yuka, Mika takes all-you-can-eat orders via paper form. For our first round of food, we ordered beef fried rice (pictured immediately above), fried calamari (pictured below), shrimp tempura, and, of course, a bunch of rolls and quite a few pieces of nigiri (some pictured at the top of this post).

First came the fried food. The fried rice—a huge portion, which we couldn’t help but read as an attempt to fill us up quickly—was all right, though I don’t think I’d order it again. The rice itself was fine, and the vegetables were inoffensive, but the beef was tough and tasted overwhelmingly of char. Still, we chewed our way through the entire serving, hoping there’d be better flavors to come.

The shrimp tempura was better, but not by much. Again, it was a big portion—four large pieces of shrimp—but the dish was certainly more manageable than the fried rice. Flavor-wise, the tempura was bland, and the dipping sauce didn’t do much to remedy that, but again: an inoffensive dish. We got it down without issue (and so avoided being charged extra), which was what really mattered.

The calamari, though, was the stand-out. To our surprise, it was actually good—good enough that we ended up ordering a second helping. Unlike pretty much everything else we’d ordered, the squid itself was flavorful, and its texture was perfect—neither mushy nor tough, but enjoyably chewy. The dipping sauce (basically sweet and sour) wasn’t my thing, but still. I liked the calamari. It was (by far) the best thing we ordered.

Calamari from

With regard to the sushi, I had mixed feelings. (Not that mixed—my feelings ranged from “ick” to “huh, okay.”) The salmon was grocery store–quality, and the ikura was worse, but the white tuna and fluke were both all right. Some pieces were watery and had obviously just been defrosted; others had passably normal textures. The rolls (one shrimp tempura, one salmon) were bearable—though both were made with lots of unripe avocado. But then we made the mistake of ordering one more, at which point things took a distinct turn for the worse.

Neither of us had ever tried a salmon skin roll, so perhaps they’re just inherently terrible. But I’ve since looked at a lot of photos, and I feel pretty confident in declaring that what we ate was not the norm. Honestly, it was disgusting—there’s very little else I can say. (An exchange that took place 30 seconds ago, for science: “Sam, what’d you think of the salmon skin roll?” His reply: “Covered in sugar-sauce, mushy shit inside, no crunch whatsoever. Gross.” Accurate.) It came with six pieces, and we sure as hell weren’t getting any further than the one we’d managed to finish together—so we had to come up with a plan, lest we end up with a surcharge. I’ll leave the rest of the story to your imaginations, though.

Anyway, Mika was all right, I guess. Their sushi was some of the worst I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant, but it wasn’t inedible or anything—and their entrees were tolerable, at least. I’m not in a rush to return, but it isn’t as if I’m orchestrating a boycott, either. (After all, our meal was really cheap, considering how much we ate.)

In all: Meh.

Find Mika at 150 Centre Street, between White and Walker.

[Apologies for the coloring of the photos in this post. Mika has some weird-ass spotlight-esque lighting, and there’s only so much I can fix in post. Forgive me.]

Tagged , , , , , ,

Katz’s Delicatessen and the City’s Most Legendary Pastrami Sandwich

A plate of pickles, a pastrami on rye, and a corned beef on rye at Katz's Delicatessen

“For most New Yorkers, deli means pastrami, and pastrami means Katz’s. This is simply a fact of life, like death and taxes.”

*     *     *

Katz’s Delicatessen, easily one of this city’s most iconic restaurants. It’s been hanging around the Lower East Side for almost 130 years now, and in that time, tourists and New Yorkers alike have come to cherish its kosher-style food. Their pastrami sandwich is on every list of things you’re supposed to eat in this city—and you know what? You probably can, nut allergy be damned.

I’m in the process of breaking a bad habit of assuming I can’t eat any of the hyped-up foods everyone’s always talking about. Sure, it’s probably a valid assumption when it comes to some things (Dominique Ansel’s cronut, or—ugh, I need this—his burrata soft serve), but I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I can, in fact, get in on a lot of the trendy and/or iconic (read: uh, touristy) foods this city has to offer. Turns out, getting off my ass and asking questions actually pays off more often than I’d ever expected—and I suppose I have this blog to thank for that realization.

Since I started eating at Essen, I’ve been on quite the pastrami kick. It was that kick that led me to email Katz’s last week. I asked a few questions about nuts and cross-contamination, but the response I received was underwhelming, to say the least: “No nut products.” That was it. So I called, and while the experience was a bit painful (it involved, for some reason, lots of “can you just call back in 15 minutes?”), the results were well worth the effort.

The folks at Katz’s do not cook with nuts. However, they do carry a number of baked goods (babka, etc.) made elsewhere that may not be free from cross-contamination. No word on whether or not those baked goods actually contain nuts—their babka is rumored to be made by Green’s, actually—but I’ve been told to avoid them regardless. No big deal, really; I don’t think anyone goes to Katz’s for the overpriced desserts.

We need to have a talk about Katz’s ever-important rye bread, though. It’s supplied by Rockland Bakery, whose allergen information is confusing as hell, to say the least. At Katz’s, the Rockland bags are made of wax paper and are without any sort of “may contain” warning. I’ve seen other Rockland rye bags, though—at Frankel’s Delicatessen, for example—that are made of plastic and that do bear a “may contain” warning, right above the nutritional information panel. Strange.

Naturally, I called Rockland to find out what was up, and the woman I spoke with (who worked in Rockland’s retail department, the only department I had any luck reaching by phone) told me in no uncertain terms that Rockland makes only one type of rye, and that they do make that rye on equipment that’s also used for their nut-containing breads. So that’s that, then, I guess? Nope.

At that point, I’d been eating their rye for weeks without issue, and I’d decided to continue to do so because (a) it had been fine so far and (b) I love Katz’s. But I wanted to be certain about the risks I was taking, so I sent Rockland an(other) email in an attempt to perhaps find out about any measures they were taking to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. The reply I received, from Rockland’s Food Safety Manager, was as follows:

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concern on the allergen in our facility. I would like to inform you, our Rye bread is manufactured in a plant that is tree nut free and no equipment is shared with any tree nuts or any kind of nuts.
We are a HACCP certified company with specific programs and cleaning procedures to prevent cross contamination as well we have programs to control any use of allergens.
The allergen disclaimer on the bag, it is a generic statement found on all Rockland Bakery products, and in most cases, it is requested by our customers or governmental offices, however, like in the case of the Rye bread, it really doesn’t apply.
If Katz and Frankel’s, in fact are using our Rye bread, in both cases, the bread is free of any tree nut and nuts contamination.

I sent a few more emails to a few more addresses to be absolutely certain that above information was, in fact, accurate, but I didn’t get much back…except for what seems to be Rockland’s official allergen statement, which I’ve attached here. (Spoiler: It’s consistent with the above email, which comes as no surprise, because it was written by the same guy.) Good news, I guess.

While I don’t like how much misinformation I received—inconsistent answers are one of the easiest ways for a company to put me off—I’m inclined to trust that Rockland’s rye is made in a nut-free facility. Of course, I understand that such hubbub is enough to sour many nut-allergics on Rockland (and Katz’s, by extension). It may have been a deal-breaker for me, too, if I’d gone through all this before I got myself addicted to this goddamn pastrami. Too late now, though. (Plus, I really do believe that Rockland’s bread is safe.)

That is, of course, just my personal stance, and as always, you should only eat where you’re comfortable eating. My goal in rambling like this is to provide you with (more than) enough information to come to your own conclusions about Katz’s and their rye. (And by the way, it’s certainly possible to avoid bread at Katz’s. You can order the meat on its own, or you can go for any of their other bread-less offerings, though neither of those options is, uh, canon. Still, doable. I recommend the three-meat platter.)

Anyway. All I can say, really, is that Katz’s works for me. Proceed past the following salami wall at your own risk.

IMG_5070

Katz’s is loud and chaotic and almost always packed to capacity (with ding-dongs, no less), but all that’s easy enough to ignore—just focus on the smell of the meat. When you walk in, you’re given a ticket (don’t lose it or you’ll be out $50), and then you’re on your own. If you choose to go the self-service route, you’ll eventually figure out that you’re meant to take your little ticket to the appropriate counter and use it to order some food. If you’re getting a sandwich (as you should be), you’ll want to tip the dude who slices your meat, and then you’ll want to take your drooling ass to a table and get to business before anything goes the slightest bit cold.

The first time we went, Sam and I both ordered pastrami on rye—a mistake, considering how huge those sandwiches are. (Half of one is pictured below, in a bit of disarray, because I’m a klutz.) To our delight, our cutter let us sample some hot pastrami before he piled it onto our sandwiches. (Apparently, that’s SOP; we’d had no idea.) Over the din, he looked for our approval, and over the din, we gave it. And then it was sandwich time.

IMG_5033

The sandwich. The sandwich. The sandwich. I’d really rather not play into the circle-jerk, but my honest-to-goodness opinion is that this sandwich is about as good as it’s reputed to be. It didn’t change my life. It didn’t stop my heart. It isn’t the best thing I’ve ever eaten. But it’s absolutely delicious. That much is undeniable. The pastrami, thick-cut and peppery, really does melt in your mouth. It’s very fatty, though not sickeningly so, and the sour of the mustard complements it wonderfully. The rye is just okay, but really, who cares? It’s all about that pastrami, baby. And the pastrami is damn good.

The corned beef (pictured below—first untouched, and then in the inevitable state of disarray) is wonderful, too. So wonderful, in fact, that some days, I even prefer it to the pastrami. (Which I like more depends on little more than which I had last. Seriously: Corned beef is criminally underrated.) Like the pastrami, it’s incredibly tender and juicy—but it’s saltier, tangier, and to me, it tastes a little cleaner (though I’m fully aware that it isn’t “clean” by any stretch of the word).

Corned beef on rye from Katz's DelicatessenHalf a corned beef on rye from Katz's Delicatessen

If plain pastrami/corned beef sounds too boring, you’re wrong, but consider trying the Reuben. It’s made with meat (pastrami or corned beef), sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese, and it’s pretty solid. I could’ve done without the Swiss, and the rye couldn’t quite hold the combination of greasy meat and wet sauerkraut, but you know what? Messy as it was, I enjoyed the hell out of the one Katz’s Reuben I’ve eaten. It’s not quite on par with its kraut-less brethren, but it’s a good option when you’re in the mood for something a little different.

I like their knishes, too. (Actually, I like stuffing fallen sandwich meat into their knishes. Same thing, right?) They’re under $5 each, which is low for Katz’s, and I like to use them to supplement my usual meal of a half sandwich. (Sam and I have fallen into the habit of splitting a sandwich and a knish. That brings the meal-for-two price down to $25, which is a lot easier on our wallets than the double-sandwiched alternative.) Katz’s offers both square and round knishes, by the way. I’m partial to the square ones, but some insist that round is the way to go. Do with that what you will.

Anyway. I’m, like, 1,700 words and 5 photos deep here, so I suppose I should probably stop going on about this place. Suffice it to say, then, that I am a huge fan of Katz’s—at lunchtime, at dinnertime, and even (and especially) at 2am on a Saturday night, when there’s hardly anyone there and the bathroom floors are covered in sawdust. There’s just something about that place that makes me happy.

And okay, a lot of that something is the food, but there’s more to it, too. The atmosphere: the bustle, the smell, even the tourists—even the misguided ones, who spring for waiter service and then insist on ordering turkey on wheat, extra mayo. The enormous dining room, the hanging salamis, the kitschy celebrity photos that cover the walls. The cutters and their perpetual need to poke fun at me. The sense of coming together over something (pastrami, duh). And, of course, the fact that even I can take part.

Find Katz’s Delicatessen at 205 East Houston Street, on the corner of Houston and Ludlow. And remember: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LOSE YOUR TICKET. (Also, here’s some further reading, because Katz’s fascinates me: a lovely description of a night at Katz’s, and an explanation of how they make their pastrami.)

Tagged , , , , , ,

Terrace Fish & Chips

Fried fish, calamari, and fries from Terrace Fish & Chip

Until last week, I had no idea how much I needed a reliable source of fried fish. But now that I’ve found Terrace Fish & Chips, there’s no unknowing what I now know: I need this stuff, and I need it often.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea how I found out about this place. I keep a list of restaurants to look into, and Terrace sort of just showed up on it. I know I must’ve added it, but I don’t even remember having heard of it. There it was, though, begging me to call and ask a bunch of repetitive questions. So I did.

The man who answered the phone assured me that there were no nuts or nut products involved in anything at Terrace—and why would there be? It’s a very straightforward place. They do fried seafood, grilled seafood, seafood salads, seafood burritos, seafood sandwiches, and seafood rice. That’s it, so it isn’t as if there’s much room for nuts. I was psyched.

The first time I went, I tried a bunch of different things (all of which I’ve ordered many times since): the fried fish, the crab sticks, the calamari, and, of course, the fries. The woman behind the counter switched around one of their (many, many) pre-set meals for me so that the above assortment would count as a combination meal (and thus cost a whole lot less), which was very nice of her—especially considering the fact that she could’ve just as easily told me to get over myself and either (a) settle for one of their six trillion pre-sets or (b) pay the menu price for all the shit I wanted, but she didn’t. She just asked what I wanted, found me a similar meal, and made the necessary substitutions. Small potatoes, but I appreciated it.

Service was quick, too. Within 5 minutes of placing my order, I was out the door—and on a bench around 20 feet away. (There are only like four chairs inside the restaurant, but there are plenty of public benches in a cute little square-like area outside, so the lack of seating doesn’t matter all that much.)

By the way, these “fish and chips” are not British-style (which is to say that they aren’t fish and chips at all). But if you go in with that in mind, everything’s still pretty good. At places like this, it’s all about your expectations, and if you walk into Terrace expecting a big heap of greasy, fried, American seafood, then you’re going to leave happy. (I know I did, at least.)

Fried crab sticks from Terrace Fish & Chip

The fried fish (pictured at the top of this post, atop calamari and fries) is boring as hell, in the best possible way. It’s the sort of boring that comforts, and I must admit that I’m a fan. It’s a little fishy, a lot crispy, and a wee bit salty—and that’s all it takes to win me over, really. It comes in huge pieces, and it’s supremely satisfying, in that way only fried food can be. Swoon.

The calamari is a little bland, too, but it isn’t unpleasant. It’s neither too tough nor too mushy—and to my surprise, tartar sauce goes a long way in brightening up the flavor. (I’d really like it to come with lemon, but oh well. Meals come with ketchup, hot sauce, and tartar sauce. I hate ketchup almost as much as I hate hot sauce, and tartar sauce is pretty hit-or-miss with me, but I’ll make do.)

The crab sticks (pictured second above) actually aren’t bland; they’re sweet and chewy—not tough, but chewy—and when they’re fresh, they’re sickeningly delicious. (I’ve tried to eat them as leftovers, and all I can say is that I do not recommend you do the same. Ick.) Aesthetically, they always remind me of the Angry Whopper—I have no idea why, because they don’t look much alike—but I can assure you these things aren’t anywhere near as revolting as any of Burger King’s latest cries for attention. They’re good, and that’s all I really have to say.

Anyway: Terrace Fish & Chips isn’t the most exciting place to eat. Their food isn’t gourmet, nor is it particularly interesting, but it’s damn good at being what it is: an inexpensive fried seafood joint that seems to have erroneously slapped the phrase “fish & chips” on its awning. [Actually, their awning says “fish & chip,” singular, but their website (and most others) say “fish & chips.” It burns.]

Find it at 77 Pearl Street, not too far from Pier 11/Wall St.—you know, in case you were planning a trip to IKEA or something.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Yuka Japanese Restaurant

Yuka's all-you-can-eat menu

Listen: I’m sorry. All-you-can-eat sushi is an abhorrent concept, and I’m actually sort of ashamed to be writing about it again. But a nut-free restaurant is a nut-free restaurant, and I don’t really have the luxury of being as choosy as I’d like.

Sushi’s tough, though. Bad sushi and those who swear by it make me irrationally angry, but I can’t shake this perverse compulsion I have to try out every nut-free Japanese restaurant I come across. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of these places are so obviously the exact type of thing that riles me up; I read about them, tell myself I’m not interested, and then find myself there within a month or two. The food’s a joke, but I don’t care. More often than not, I end up becoming a regular at these godforsaken places. It’s insane, and I have no idea what’s wrong with me.

…Let’s move on.

I first read about Yuka on this list of New York City restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat sushi deals—a list I was reading because, as I said, there’s something wrong with me. Yuka was one of the least expensive options on the list, so I gave them a call, and sure enough, they’re pretty much nut-free. There are no tree nuts or tree nut products in any of their dishes, but they do use peanuts in a roll or two of theirs. Fine by me—so on a particularly boring Sunday night, my boyfriend and I made the trek uptown.

The restaurant’s small and dark, with string lights and origami birds hanging from the ceiling. Tables are very close together—we ate about six inches from the couple next to us, both of whom kept (literally) overflowing their own glasses with canned Coke. In all, though, the atmosphere wasn’t particularly unpleasant; it was just…strange.

All-you-can-eat was indeed available—at $23.95 per person, which is a pretty good price. Your whole party doesn’t have to go for the all-you-can-eat deal, but be warned: If one person does, and the waitstaff catches the others sampling off the all-you-can-eater’s plate, all will be charged the full all-you-can-eat price. This rule—along with the others, which concern time limits and fees for leftover food—was printed on paper and secured under a layer of glass on our tabletop, along with a partial menu, a beer ad, and a sushi identification chart. Weird, but whatever.

Ordering is done with paper and pencil, which is straightforward enough (though certainly a little less fun than ordering via iPad). You can place as many orders as you’d like, but Yuka will charge you for the food you leave behind, so make sure your eyes and stomach are in-sync, lest you end up on the receiving end of a few contemptuous side-eyes. Overall, Yuka is pretty similar to most other all-you-can-eat places; there’s one real rule, and it’s “be reasonable.” If you can handle that, you’ll be fine.

Anyway, I guess I’ve avoided talking about the food itself for long enough. I hate to say this, but…it’s actually all right. It isn’t good, mind you, but it’s tolerable—and even enjoyable, if you’re prepared for what you’re getting yourself into. The sushi is better than Kikoo‘s, better than Marumi‘s, and generally just better than I’d expect of a) all-you-can-eat Japanese and b) the particularly unpleasant stretch of 2nd Avenue on which Yuka is located. And although the variety of fish isn’t all that wide, it isn’t oppressively narrow, either.

We ordered three rolls—salmon, tuna, and shrimp tempura—and a whole bunch of nigiri, too. When it comes to rolls, I like to keep it simple, especially when I’m eating at a restaurant I don’t (yet?) trust, and that isn’t just because I have food allergies. In my mind, it’s pretty tough to disgust-ify something as simple as a salmon roll, but a roll with eight different components? That’s a whole different animal—one I’m not willing to bet on.

When we started to eat, the first thing I noticed was the temperature of the rice. Unlike most sushi joints toward the worse end of the spectrum, Yuka’s rice isn’t even the slightest bit cold. In fact, it’s almost too warm, but when it comes to rice, I’ll take too-warm over too-cold any day. Most of the fish is an inoffensive room-temperature, but some pieces are inexplicably cold, which is very off-putting, to say the least. For the most part, though, temperatures are solid. Such a relief.

That first night, our rolls surprised me. Salmon and tuna were simple and pleasant, and shrimp tempura was refreshingly no-nonsense. I’ve gotten used to restaurants putting some crazy shit (ranch? RANCH?!) in their shrimp tempura rolls, but the folks at Yuka seem to know better. They use shrimp, avocado, rice, and seaweed—no cucumber, which was strange, but fine by me—and it’s actually not half bad. (If you’re trying to strategize, though, stay away from this one. It’s the most filling thing I’ve eaten at Yuka.)

Truthfully, the nigiri was even more surprising. The salmon was buttery; the squid was nice and firm, without bordering on tough; and the shrimp was sweet, though a bit boring. The whitefish and the yellowtail were both very cold and very bland, but I got over it. I was paying less than $25; what right did I really have to complain?

And that’s the thing: I expected very, very little of Yuka, so naturally, I ended up with a better meal than I’d prepared for. Perhaps that’s why I don’t find myself descending into an irrational fit of rage every time I walk through Yuka’s doors—well, that and the whole unlimited-food-for-cheap thing. For what it is, Yuka is actually pretty great. It isn’t high-end, and it’s full of misguided Upper East Siders, but you know what? It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it’s satisfying—and it’s way, way better than most other sushi at its price point.

Find Yuka at 1557 2nd Avenue, between 80th and 81st. It’s pretty far uptown, but that’s fine—you can use your train ride to mentally prepare yourself for the absurd amount of food you’re about to (try to) choke down.

[Sorry about the lack of photos in this post. I tried, but I couldn’t get a single decent picture of the food itself. It’s dark in there, and things move really quickly. I’ve failed you; try Yelp.]

Tagged , , , , , ,

Essen New York Deli, Part I

A pastrami sandwich from Essen NY Deli

Man, Jewish delis are the best.

I’ve had a lot of luck with kosher food, but until now, that luck has been reserved for baked goods. I’d never been able to find a nut-free delicatessen—that is, until I heard about Essen, a glatt kosher deli in Midwood, Brooklyn that happens not to have any nuts in house.

It sounded too good to be true, so I sent Essen an email to double-check. The response I received, in its entirety, was as follows: “Hi, we do not cook with any nuts but we are not a 100% nut free environment. Any questions please call us.” That response could have meant a whole lot of different things, so I did end up calling with a few further questions.

After being transferred a few times, I ended up on the phone with someone who really seemed to know what he was talking about. He explained to me that, while they don’t cook with any nuts at Essen, they don’t like to call their food “nut-free,” as they have no means of controlling what their customers (or employees) bring in with them. They prefer to say that they make food without nuts so as not to mislead anyone with severe allergies. So far, so fair.

Bread’s trouble, though, and I wasn’t about to make a trip to Midwood without the promise of a sandwich, so I was sure to double-check on that, too. With me still on the line, the man on the phone called up his bread supplier, put him on speakerphone, and asked him whether there might be any nut traces in their rye or club breads. The answer was “no,” and that was that. Within 30 minutes, I was riding the Q to Avenue J.

[Before I move on, I’d like to emphasize just how competent and knowledgeable this guy was. I asked what “we are not a 100% nut free environment” meant, and without a second’s hesitation, he jumped into an explanation that demonstrated a degree of allergy awareness that was really refreshing—especially at the tail end of a few hours of restaurant-calling. He was patient, clear, and actually helpful, and I was incredibly grateful. Serious props to the folks at Essen for that one.]

The restaurant’s bigger than I expected it to be, with a few different rooms full of tables. There’s counter service at the front, and it’s easy enough to get food to-go, but Sam and I opted to eat in (mostly because I’m absolutely hopeless when it comes photographing food without a table to help me out). Ourselves excluded, all the patrons were Jewish—and most seemed to know one another, too. We got a lot of funny looks, but such is life in an Orthodox neighborhood for even the most modestly dressed of goyim. In all, everyone was friendly enough.

Essen has two menus: one Chinese and one with traditional deli food. Before I’d even sat down, I knew I’d be ordering the hot pastrami on rye. (How could I have considered anything else? Pastrami’s at the base of my need-hierarchy pyramid.) Sam got the Yitzy’s Favorite Deluxe (fried skirt steak with gravy on a club roll), which came with french fries and onion rings—and as we tend to, we split both sandwiches.

First came the cole slaw and pickles, though. The cole slaw was good, if a bit sweet—though it was much, much better after a few too many bites of pastrami. There were two types of pickles: half-sours, which were all right, and full-sours, which I much preferred. The full-sours tasted inexplicably like salami, but we didn’t care much. We ate them quickly, and our sandwiches arrived soon after.

The pastrami on rye (pictured above) cost $14.95, and it was worth every last penny. Fatty, tender, and juicy, the pastrami itself was really tasty, if a bit thin-cut—and the bread wasn’t half bad, either. It held its integrity, at least. (I tend to hate rye, but how can you hate anything that’s acting as a vehicle for a few inches of freshly-carved meat? You can’t.) As a whole, the sandwich was simple and delicious, and I’d already begun to crave another within an hour of finishing my first. (Unfortunately—or fortunately, perhaps—I was back in Manhattan by then. Oh well.)

The Yitzy’s Favorite ($22.95) wasn’t my favorite, though I didn’t actually dislike it in the slightest. It wasn’t at all bad, but the fried steak just wasn’t anywhere near as good as the pastrami, and the club bread was worse than the rye, too. I loved the gravy, but the sandwich was a little boring overall—and it’d cost $8 more than the pastrami, which just made me feel like I was paying more to miss out. Nothing was wrong, but I’m not exactly in a rush to order the Yitzy’s Favorite again.

The fries it came with were pretty terrible, by the way. (Like, inedibly bad. Neither Sam nor I could get through them, which is sort of saying a lot.) And the onion rings were not onion rings; they were strands of hot onion adorned every few inches with clusters of fried batter. Regardless, they were delicious, though certainly a little strange.

With tax and tip, the meal was on the expensive side, but I maintain that it was absolutely worth its price. Fortunately, Essen is far enough away that I can’t stop by every day, which should go a long way in keeping me from going broke. Their menu’s pretty big, and I’ve only eaten two of its offerings, but you know what? I’m ready to say with confidence that I love this place.

Perhaps one day I’ll let go of the pastrami (yeah, right) and try out the rest of the menu. I’d like to try their knishes, or their matzah ball soup, or maybe some of their other sandwiches, at least. Perhaps I’ll even get around to trying a few things off their Chinese menu—though I think that’ll probably deserve a post of its own. (That’ll be part II—stay tuned.) But for now, it’s pastrami for me.

Find Essen New York Deli at 1359 Coney Island Avenue, between Avenue J and Avenue K. (It’s not that far away, really. From Manhattan, it’s 40 minutes on the Q, tops—way less if you’re starting off downtown.) Beware, though: They are Jewish, so they won’t be open on Shabbat. They close at 2pm on Fridays, and they don’t reopen till 11am Sunday mornings.

Tagged , , , , ,

Joe’s Pizza

joespizza

If you Google “best pizza in NYC,” you will come across Joe’s. That’s just the way it is, especially if you’re looking to purchase by the slice. And while the articles that’ll come up are all just products of a huge best-pizzeria circlejerk, there’s just no denying that Joe’s is good.

It’s places like Joe’s that give New Yorkers grounds to brag about pizza. Theirs is simple, cheap, and quick—exactly as pizza should be—and it’s good, too. As their website says (errors intact): “At Joe’s, you won’t find any pretentious concoctions nor do we serve bargain pizza made with who-knows-what.  It’s just the old-school, real deal New York Pizza.  No string-bean, asparagus covered, wild turkey surprise pizza here.” And it’s true: Joe’s is the real deal.

As far as I can tell, they’re pretty much nut-free, too. (Really, most plain old pizza places are.) At Joe’s, there’s pizza, there are toppings, and there are drinks. Sometimes, there are salads…though I’ve never actually seen one. That’s it. No nuts—that I know of.

Of course, if that isn’t enough for you (and why should it be?), I’m sure the folks at Joe’s would be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’d recommend asking in person, though. In my experience, calling pizzerias to ask about allergens typically doesn’t go all that well. (It’s near-impossible. “Nuts? No, sorry. We have pepperoni, sausage, peppers…”)

Does Joe’s offer the city’s best slice? I have no idea. My personal favorite is (and probably always will be) My Little Pizzeria‘s plain slice, which I’ve been eating regularly for half a decade now—but what do I know? (A few things, I guess. But only a few.)

In any case, I like Joe’s. A lot. For a good lunch, it’s so absurdly cheap and easy—how could I not be a fan? My preferred Joe’s is the one located at 7 Carmine Street, right off of Bleecker. It’s open till 4am (5am on the weekends), and it’s right across from Father Demo Square, whose benches make up for the lack of indoor seating at Joe’s.

There are two other locations—one by Union Square (150 14th Street, between 3rd and 4th) and one in Williamsburg (216 Bedford Avenue, between North 5th and North 6th). I’ve never been to either, but I assume they’re pretty similar to the Joe’s on Carmine—i.e. worth a try, at the very least.

Tagged , , , ,

Taqueria Diana

taqueriadiana

I know, I know. This blog is filled with posts about nut-free taquerias; how could I possibly have found another? Well, I actually have an answer: I found Taqueria Diana here, where I ended up after a Google search of “best nachos in NYC.” 30 minutes later—after I’d called and made sure the folks at Taqueria Diana don’t use any nuts in their kitchen—it was time to go.

I went pretty late in the day, and they were out of both carnitas and elote—which, to be honest, had me pretty disappointed—so I got a tray of nachos al pastor and Sam got a burrito (also al pastor). I tried his burrito, and…it was pretty bad. The filling was mostly rice and beans, and when Sam gave up on holding the burrito together and let its contents spill into onto his tray, I couldn’t deny how much what fell out reminded me of a cockroach infestation.

Unnecessarily mean comments aside, the burrito was undeniably mushy and bland, and I probably won’t ever eat another. The nachos, however, were a different animal entirely. (Not literally. Same meat.) For $12, it’s a huge portion—and it’s really good, too. Seriously: I can’t stop ordering them. It’s becoming a problem.

The chips (homemade!) are strong enough to hold the toppings: cheese, beans, guacamole, crema, salsa, jalapeños, carrots, salsa verde, and the meat of your choice. There’s plenty of cheese, always fully melted and well-distributed—and there’s a whole lot of guac, too, which I can’t help but appreciate. The salsa verde isn’t all that flavorful, but there are squirt-bottled salsas of various heat levels all over the restaurant, so the verde’s a non-issue, really. Even the beans are good (and I’m unashamedly anti-bean).

Best of all, these nachos are entirely free from that nasty-ass, movie-theater-tasting slop called “nacho cheese” that everyone and their mother seems to need to drizzle over tortilla chips. (Ugh. Ugh.) They’re missing pico de gallo, too—but I’m willing to accept that as long as nacho cheese stays out of the picture, too.

The pork itself—which is the one meat they never seem to run out of—is pretty dry and boring, but that’s my only real complaint. The earlier I go, the better the meat is—so perhaps it’d actually be good if I could manage to show up around lunchtime. (Or perhaps they won’t be out of carnitas. One can hope, right?) Meat aside, though, these nachos are pretty solid, and I’m grateful to have found them.

Two tacos— from Taqueria Diana

I’ve tried the tacos, too—al pastor and chicken, both pictured immediately above)—and while I prefer those at Los Tacos (and Otto’s, too, on a good day), these definitely aren’t bad. There’s plenty of crema to go around, and I’m a sucker for anything with a bunch of cilantro sprinkled on top, so it wasn’t all that hard for these to keep me chewing. Still, the tortillas were sort of shitty, and both meats fell totally flat. The al pastor was as described above, and the chicken was mushy-soft, in a tuna-fishy sort of way.

Via delivery—and only via delivery, because I can’t seem to ever get out the door before 3pm—I’ve actually been able to get my hands on both the carnitas and the elote. Though everything got a bit soggy in transport, I can still say that I liked the carnitas a whole lot better than the al pastor. On the other hand, the elote fell a bit flat. It had way too much mayo and not nearly enough cheese, and the corn itself was pretty bland—though perhaps it would’ve been better if it hadn’t just traveled a few miles in a tin foil cocoon.

Anyway. I’ve done a fair amount of complaining in this post, but I do like Taqueria Diana. The tacos are good, the nachos are great, and the elote’s all right, I suppose, though it’s not as if I’ll ever crave it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get my hands on their carnitas in-store—or maybe not. Either way, I’ll probably continue to eat at Taqueria Diana. That’s kind of just what I do.

They have three locations: one on 2nd Avenue, between 7th and 8th (129 2nd Ave); one on 6th Avenue, between 17th and 18th (601 6th Ave); and one on the corner of 9th Avenue and 39th Street (524 9th Ave). It’s not McDonald’s, so they’re all a little different. I’ve only been to the 6th Avenue location, but I look forward to trying the others, too.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Lombardi’s Pizza

IMG_4311

Lombardi’s, which has been around since 1905, was America’s first pizzeria. It’s pretty well-known—and not just for its historical significance. Their pizza (always New York-style, which they more-or-less created) is known to be pretty damn good, if a bit expensive. So I was pretty excited when I saw them listed on AllergyEats a few months back. Evidently, they don’t use any nuts in anything—so I was basically obligated to give them a try.

The first time I went, I asked the host whether there were any nuts present in the kitchen and whether there might be any chance of cross-contamination. He confirmed that there were no known nuts in anything they served and went to double-check with someone else about the cross-contamination issue. A few minutes later (the wait for a table was around 20), another man showed up and told me that the only way there’d be any nut traces in anything would be if their flour was cross-contaminated, and he didn’t believe it was. Of course, he couldn’t make any promises, but overall, I was satisfied with his answer.

The first time I went to Lombardi’s, my boyfriend and I split a plain Margherita pie, which we both loved. The mozzarella was fresh and well-distributed (though I wouldn’t have minded if they’d have doubled the cheese, really), and the tomato sauce was pretty much perfect—none of that sugary nonsense you’ll find at lesser eateries. My favorite part, though, was the crust: never soggy, never burnt, and never too thin nor too doughy. Perfect, really.

I’ve since discovered that I prefer the white pizza (pictured above), which is made with mozzarella, ricotta, romano, basil, and a whole bunch of olive oil. The whole thing is incredibly rich and creamy, and I highly recommend it, especially to the sauce-averse. It can get a little sickening after too many slices, but that’s more a problem with me and my overeating than with the food itself. Really, I have no gripes with this pizza. It’s good.

Actually, I have very few Lombardi’s-related gripes at all. (Well, I have a few. It’s tourist-heavy, it gets pretty crowded around mealtimes, and it’s cash-only, with an ATM that costs almost $4 per withdrawal.) But those issues aside, Lombardi’s is pretty good. And it’s  nut-free. What more can I ask for?

Find Lombardi’s at 32 Spring Street, on the corner of Mott and Spring. Remember to bring cash, though—and come ready to watch in awe as table after table of middle-aged tourists take to their pizzas with forks and knives.

Tagged , , , ,
Advertisements