Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bits & Morsels

Arroz Negro at Socarrat Nolita: paella with black bass, squid ink, shrimp, squid, and scallops.

by Erin Frankel

Bringing the beach to New York. I started last weekend with a taco tasting at what can arguably be called New York City’s best taco joint: Tacombi at Fonda Nolita on Elizabeth Street.

Originally parked on a beach in Playa del Carmen, a 1970's-inspired Volkswagen is now stationed in the middle of a lofty old garage designed to suggest a casual beachside taqueria. As a rule — the simpler the better. Line up to the van and order from a short daily selection of Aaron Sanchez’s finest picks of veggie, fish, seared chicken, or braised beef tacos (ingredients rotating on the regular) all for the cost of $3.69. Not too shabby.

Some of my favorites were the beef short ribs, sweet corn with poblano peppers and queso fresco, and the marinated chicken with black beans and plantain topped with guajilo chile. The groovy surf videos projected on a large screen, tropical plants, fresh ingredients, and the always endless entertainment of my seven close girlfriends crowded around a table took us from a cold Manhattan night to warmer, convivial summer days ahead.

Tacombi at Fonda Nolita

267 Elizabeth Street (between Houston and Prince)
917.727.0179

The Vintage Taco Van at Fonda Nolita.
Fish Tacos.
An assortment of Tacos, which normally include veggie, fish, seared chicken, or braised beef.
On Saturday evening I made my way to Socarrat Nolita, the newer, larger version of the itty-bitty Socarrat Paella Bar in Chelsea. Despite the change in location and size, the core of the restaurant remains the same.

White Sangria at Socarrat Nolita.
Socarrat Nolita brings the same dynamic spirit of southern Spain to a casual, quiet block in Nolita. The restaurant exudes an air of warmth from the low sexy lighting to the lush drapes and exposed brick. And the cozy ambience matches the hearty cuisine in the classic yet progressive menu.

Owner Lolo Manso has procured creative combinations on classic Spanish dishes. The restaurant very clearly specializes in traditional paella, plus paella of all genres, ranging from lobster (a new addition), calamari, and cod to the lamb and eggplant varieties. The result: a blissful marriage of sweet, salty and spicy uniting in crunchy layers of rice.

However, paella is not the only thing on the menu. A bounty of savory tapas and an assortment of $3 montaditos are also definitely worth a try. Some of my favorites included the white gazpacho soup topped with avocado and the sizzling shrimp, garlic, olive oil, and guindilla hot pepper. The small and large paellas are all suited for sharing, so arrive with backup. Socarrat Nolita should be your new go-to Spanish haute spot.

Socarrat Nolita
284 Mulberry Street (nr. East Houston)
212.219.0101

White Gazpacho soup.
Beet Salad with Goat Cheese.
Potato and egg omelette with aioli.
Gambas Al Ajillo.
Goat Cheese and Boquerones Montaditos.
Paella de Verduras: eggplant, cauliflower, artichokes, tomato, garbanzo beans, and sugar snow peas.
I ended my weekend with a Sunday night dinner on Bond Street at a perennial favorite of mine, Il Buco. Il Buco is undoubtedly one of Manhattan’s most charming restaurants. The restaurant’s history as a quirky antique store endures in its décor, which has an Italian accented bucolic American feel. The cozy, rustic, tuscan-themed dining room is adorned by a blaze of kerosene lighting, local artisanal chandeliers, dozens of candles, and vintage knick-knacks in every crevice of the room. While the larger room is outfitted with long wooden tables, you can also sit in the hidden wine cellar, famed for inspiring Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

A glass of Merlot at Il Buco.
The menu echoes the décor: An inventive play on rooted Mediterranean cuisine with an Italian slant. The menu changes daily so don’t get too attached to anything. However, there are some mainstays on the menu that are must-tries.

The chef brilliantly juxtaposes texture in his Burrata and crispy watermelon radish starter. The watermelon radish and charred pickles subdues the Burrata’s rich consistency, lending a lighter flavor to the cheese. A celebrated dish and favorite is the Cevoloncro, an exquisite twist on a Caesar salad with the adaptation of tuscan black kale mixed with a very light anchovy vinaigrette and parmesan. A new favorite of mine is the Cavoletto, brussels sprouts sweetened with a poached egg and mullet bottarga.

You can’t go wrong with any of the homemade pasta dishes on the menu, which change on a regular basis. The Maltagliati with hedgehog and white elf mushrooms, dusted with mint and parmesan was surprisingly delicate. Even though seafood is the restaurant’s forte, you must try the venison. The chef adds a dainty consistency to typically gamey meat, but retains the hearty panache.

You can pair all of these delicious dishes with Il Buco’s solid selection of decently priced predominantly Italian wine, and some of the finest Umbrian olive oil, developed exclusively for Il Buco.

This should explain why Il Buco is always packed every night of the week, and will withstand the test of time.

Il Buco
47 Bond St # 1
212.533.1932

Burrata, watermelon radish, meyer lemons, and charred pickled onion.
Cavolonero: tuscan black kale, croutons, anchovy-lemon vinaigrette, and parmesan.
Cavoletto: Brussels Sprouts, poached egg, and mullet bottargo.
Maltagliati ai Funghi: fresh pasta sheets, hedgehog and white elf mushrooms, mint, and parmesan.
Venison with Farro and Honey-Roasted Plums.
What else I ate this week:

Gustorganics
(519 Avenue of the Americas, 212.242.5800). You will typically find me here at least once a week with my friend Aaron Zises. The casual, simple yet contemporary vibe makes it the perfect neighborhood dinner spot. While I’ve been hearing the word “organic” rather frequently, Gustorganics is one of the only NYC restaurants that is licensed as 100% organic by a third-party certification agency, NOFA-NY. Not only is the food green and progressive here, but the bar is certified organic.

All of the featured fresh fruit and vegetable cocktails are unique and delicious ... and healthy! I recommend pairing any of the fruit-infused mezcal drinks with any of my following favorites on the menu: the Gluten-Free Gusto soup, the whole-wheat gluten-free vegetable pizza topped with mozzarella, a protein salad topped with skirt steak or tofu, or the sweet turkey meatballs. 
Protein Salad with Avocado at Gustorganics
Vegetable Whole Wheat Pizza with Mozzarella.
Eggplant Parmesan.
Rubirosa (235 Mulberry Street, 212 965.0500). Joe & Pat’s, a Staten Island institution, has now been transplanted to a trendy street in Nolita. Chef & Co-owner, Angelo Pappalardo, who started cooking at Joe & Pat’s at age 12, has now teamed up with his old friend, Al Di Meglio (from years in the Circo kitchen), and the Jane’s Angelo Bianchi. The space is rustic with a hint of style. The dark wood furniture and low lighting complemented by some indie rock music will make you feel invited into a hipster’s home. There are three different rooms, each with a distinct vibe. The first room is narrow and animated while the second room is spacious and retains a chill aura. The room in the rear has an open skylight and is open to the pizza oven, so it's a great spot to watch the chef do his thing.

The portions are fairly large here and are made to share. The menu consists of a large bruschetta list, salads, pastas, and pizzas. I recommend that you start with the meatball bruschetta and the rubirosa salad, which is topped with country bread, mozzarella, tomato and basil. Then, share the Mushroom, Prosciutto, and Pea pizza, which was one of the more unique combinations of ingredients and toppings I’ve had (unfortunately, my picture below doesn't do it justice).
An assortment of Bruschetta at Rubirosa.
Wedge of Lettuce with Blue Cheese.
Rubirosa Salad with country bread, mozzarella and tomato.
Mushroom, Prosciutto and Pea Pizza.
Good Restaurant (89 Greenwich Ave, 212.691.8080). Everything at Good is, well, really GOOD. I meet friends here for Sunday brunch quite frequently and the menu never gets old ... and neither does the incredible brunch special! For the reasonable price of $21, you can order any brunch dish with a side of your choice and a Chipotle Bloody Mary or a Passion Mimosa. Everything here always feels GOOD: the ambience, the food, the drinks, and the people. The modern, sleek décor mirrors the polished contemporary food.

I recommend you try the Roasted Red Pepper, Leek and Cheddar Omelet or the Basil & Goat Cheese Egg Scramble. If you aren’t into eggs, the Vanilla Buttermilk Pancakes are a must as are the Tuna Salad Sandwich and the Turkey Club. All of the juices are freshly squeezed and refreshing (both with and without alcohol).
Basil & Goat Cheese Egg Scramble at Good Restaurant.
Roasted Red Pepper, Leek and Cheddar Omelet.
Tuna Salad Sandwich.
“A Taste of Greenwich House”

On Monday, March 14th, Greenwich House will host the 9th Annual “A Taste of Greenwich House” event at Metropolitan Pavilion. Attendees will feast on a variety of exquisite cuisine from around New York City as they support the critical programs of Greenwich House, including help for victims of child abuse, medical care for home-bound seniors, support for those living with HIV and AIDS and may other services desperately needed in New York.

For tickets contact Yojiro Moro at YMoro@greenwichhouse.org or call 212.991.0003 x 403. To purchase tickets online and to learn more about Greenwich House, visit www.greenwichhouse.org/taste2011.

I know where I'll be.
Follow NYSD Dining on Twitter.