Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bits & Morsels

Schmaltz Crostini at Takashi.

by Erin Frankel

Breaking into Offal. I wouldn't call myself a beef-eater per se. I would also never turn down a juicy burger or a nice cut of steak. I wouldn't, however, choose to eat only beef and beef organs. So I was clearly ambivalent when a friend asked me to join her at Takashi, an intimate yakiniku ("grilled meat") in the West Village that serves sustainably sourced beef grilled right at the table.

In New York, we ofttimes equate Japanese cuisine with sushi and, at times teriyaki, noodles, or tempura. By meal's end, Takashi had completely transformed my view of Japanese food and my uncertainty towards beef offal.
Takashi's interior, looking west towards Hudson.
At Takashi, the technique is called yakiniku, or better known as: thinly sliced beef marinated with a sweet and salty seasoning and cooked over a hot grill right at your table. At Takashi, you'll find every beef organ imaginable ranging from the offal belly to the heart to the chewy large intestine to the fatty beef cheek.

You will want to brace yourself before diving into the offal organ experience with some rich, bold Japanese sake and some non-offal starters like the delicious uber-spicy red red kimchi.
Red red kimchi at Takashi.
Sake at Takashi. Special sauce at Takashi, which I would have happily drank in place of sake.
Then you will move on to what is arguably the best beef tartare I've ever had: the Yooke. Thinly-sliced chuck eye tartare in a special tangy sauce is topped with a raw quail egg yolk, Japanese seaweed and a wedge of lemon. We also had to try the Schmaltz Crostini and the Bake-It-Yourself Oxtail and Potato Curry Pie dipped in a Cilantro Cumin Yogurt Sauce.

Now the fun part. You can choose any organ of your choice to be grilled and seasoned right at your table. Since I am an offal organ virgin, I asked Reese, the friendly, dynamic manager, to bring me the two most delicious organs ... which woudn't leave me too squeamish.

We started with the belly, originally seasoned with a mixture of soy, garlic, salt, and sesame oil. Then after grilling the meat ourselves, we drowned it in Takashi's special miso sauce. We moved onto the chuck flat, a large chunk of raw meat which is best eaten fully charred and wrapped in a large lettuce leaf and miso sauce.
Yooke. Hand-sliced beef tartare at Takashi.
Offal belly wrapped in lettuce at Takashi.
Dessert. Definitely order the Home-made Madagascar vanilla softserve ice cream, with the toppings of your liking. We chose them all!

Get the Shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), the Kurogoma Kinako (black sesame and soybean flour), the Azuki (sweet beans), the Hoji or Green Tea syrup and the salted caramel, and gold leaf. Yum.

The experience at Takashi is eccentric, interactive, and adventurous (to say the least). In fact, Takashi is one of Anthony Bourdain's favorite NYC restaurants and was featured in Monday night's Layover episode! You know you're here to take you out of your comfort zone.

456 Hudson St
(between Morton St & Barrow St)
Homemade Madagascar ice cream at Takashi.
The Upper East Side's newest Farm-to-table Mediterranean neighborhood spot: Amali.

The team behind the famed Il Cantinori and Periyali has replaced their old Persephone space with a casual and elegant (but not stuffy) affordable Mediterranean-inspired restaurant called Amali. Warm hues line the walls with dim lighting on classic Mediterranean marble and wood. The menu, impressive in its breadth and delicacy, features Croatian, Italian, Spanish, Tuscan, and Greek influences all aligned with a Farm-to-Table sentiment.
Arahova feta at Amali. Buffalo ricotta crostini at Amali.
The small and large plates are all designed for sharing, with lighter starters and sides and hearty, rustic portions of meat.

If you want to try a variety of delicious starters, I suggest the Buffalo Ricotta Crostini topped with fresh chilies and spitiko olive oil, the Arahova Feta topped with grapes, agrodolce dill, and dandelion or the grilled octopus, marinated with red wine and oregano vinaigrette.
Wild mushrooms at Amali.
Grilled octopus at Amali.
Amali's menu is particularly unique in its vegetable selection, something you must order. Our favorite was the Wild Mushroom with tome ballad cheese and slow poached meadow creek egg. As for the entrees, a must is the beautifully tender brazed lamb chops with sweet autumn flavors of pumpkin and puffed farro.

Although many of the dishes are dazzled with a sophisticated Mediterranean touch, the technique here is rustic and familiar, making Amali an ideal neighborhood destination.

115 E. 60th Street
Lamb chops at Amali.
The West Village's newest Gastropub: Whitehall Bar + Kitchen

The veterans behind the famed Highlands and Mary Queen of Scots have now traded in their ties with Scotland for a laid-back London-inspired gastropub called Whitehall. The 85-seat space has an industrial, vintage vibe. The slated wood benches, black leather banquets, and cement flooring and bar puts a sophisticated spin on the traditional British gastropub.

The elegant theme is mirrored in chef Chris Rendell's menu, where you will find classic British dishes with refined tuning and greenmarket influences like the Whitehall Salad, a mixture of baby gem lettuce, red onion, ouray cheese, crispy bacon, pear vinaigrette; the Spiced Butternut Squash Salad with toasted almonds, lemon feta, watercress; or for entrees, the Root Vegetable & Curried Lentils Stew topped with minted yogurt.
No. 7 at Whitehall. The Whitehall salad.
The Bitter Chocolate Fondant with whisky hot fudge and gingerbread ice-cream is sensational. Pair all of this with one of Whitehall's selections of specialty cocktails like No. 3 (my favorite) made with Plymouth gin, yellow chartreuse, lemon juice, muddled ginger and orange bitters.

Whitehall Bar + Kitchen
19 Greenwich Avenue
The root vegetable and curried lentils stew at Whitehall.
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