Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bits and Morsels

The Whole Megillah at Kutsher's Tribeca.
by Erin Frankel

As I was willing winter away, I tried out five new restaurants over the past two weeks. Turns out, I will miss the hearty fare that winter brings. Here's to some great winter dishes.

Circolo. One of NoHo's newest Italian trattorias, Circolo is modeled after the owner's ten-year-old Posada Margherita, a jetset favorite on the Tulum (Mexico) beach front. In Italian, circolo means "club," in regards to a local place to meet friends for food and drink. Thus, the 75-seat minimalist '50s-inspired decor mimics that of a chic Italian supper club. The menu captures the classic soul-warming pleasures of Italian cuisine by maintaining a simple approach to each dish with locally sourced ingredients.

Start with the hearty Tuscan Meatballs, a crispy ball filled with beef, chicken, and potatoes served with three different homemade sauces, including the homemade mayonnaise, the spicy tomato sauce, and the salsa verde with parsley, olive oil, and basil. Then move onto the even bolder handmade Pici pasta with a rich wild boar ragout and shaved pecorino. This will keep you warm for days.

45 Bond St
Hearty Tuscan Meatballs at Circolo.
Tronco of Bruschetta, fresh seasonal selection of local vegetables, and artisanal cured meats at Circolo.
Grilled octopus /w pistachios at Circolo.
Pici pasta with wild boar ragout at Circolo.
Antojeria La Popular. Cheap, mouth-watering Mexican street food has, once again, found a foothold in SoHo. La Esquina paved the way, Pinche Taqueria's two locations followed, then the uber-popular Tacombi at Fonda Nolita, which satisfied our longing for inexpensive, casual and authentic Mexican cuisine for a few years.

And now, Antojeria La Popular has rounded out downtown Manhattan's thirst for reasonable and relaxed Mexican cuisine. Married couple Regina Galvanduque and Andres Mier Y Teran (also behind Viva La Crepe and Taka Taka) found an intimate little den in a subterranean space on Spring Street to serve their vibrant, fresh, and warm quality of Mexican food. "Antojo" literally translates as "little whim," while the definition of "Antojitas" (Spanish for "Tapas") is "a Mexican street snack designed to satisfy a craving."

Oaxaca's crunchy cricket on a heated corn tostada.
Regina explains that Antojitos, the corn-meal based street snacks of Mexico, are "pressed and molded by hand into different shapes and typically act as carriers for salsa, cheese, stewed or grilled meats."

The menu is executed and designed by Regina's father, chef Andres Figueroa, to reflect Mexico's rich culinary culture, highlighting the crisp and zesty flavors in crispy corn tostadas, chipotle chilies, and bright green tomatillos. Each tapas on the menu is inspired by a particular state within Mexico, embodying the best selection of the its fresh, local flavors. My two suggestions on the menu include Tijuana's salmon taco topped with crema, poblano chile, red onion, and hot pasilla mayo in a crispy, warm blue corn tostada; and the signature Oaxaca's crunchy cricket on a heated corn tostada, dressed with crema fresca, locally-grown minced onion and avocado, plucked cilantro, and smoky medley of chipotle peppers.

Antojeria La Popular
50 Spring St
Tijuana's salmon taco at Antojeria La Popular.
Kutsher's Tribeca. What food-obsessed Manhattanite hasn't dreamed of a Modern Jewish American bistro modeled after your grandparent's favorite 100-year-old Catskill resort? The noshes at this modernized Jewish American hotspot will keep you toasty for days. If you ever had a Jewish grandmother, the Eastern European menu will look familiar, but with some added contemporary twists and turns.

The crowd pleaser on the menu is the classic pastrami reuben with fries, pickles and slaw. A simple Jewish deli sandwich in theory, yet executive chef Mark Spangenthal has transformed the staple into an extravagant version of itself.
Kutsher's Tribeca: Not your grandma's Jewish Deli.
If you're still struggling with the raw New York weather, the perfect choice is The Whole Megillah; and not just for its name. This is matzo ball soup on steroids. Here, you have chicken soup with large, moist matzo balls, finished with a potpourri of kreplach, carrots, celery, chives, and dill.

Kutsher's Tribeca
186 Franklin St
Crispy potato latkes at Kutsher's Tribeca.
Classic pastrami reuben at Kutsher's Tribeca.
A close-up of Kutsher's reuben.
Housemade Charcuterie at Kutsher's Tribeca.
Bill's Gay Nineties. Chef John Delucie has once again succeeded in pleasing the palettes of the cash-strapped scenesters. Bill's Gay Nineties was born in the 1920s when it opened its doors as a "speakeasy" during Prohibition. In today's version you'll find everything just as it was, unchanged and unspoiled, raid not included!

There's a cozy, tavern-inspired bar on the ground floor and a more exclusive two-story main dining room that feels like a pre-war living room of an 18th century art collector. Like all of his other restaurants, Delucie stays true to his standard cooking as "comfort food for millionaires."
The Bar at Bill's.
The dining room at Bill's.
Classic hearty American staples are all over the menu, like the bicoastal selection of oysters, simply garnished with wedges of lemon and a zesty mignonette sauce; the hot and spicy conchiglie al forno with fresh eggplant, San Marzano, scamorza, and opal basil; and the restaurant's special dry-aged ribeye, garnished with horseradish lardo and roasted garlic perfectly paired with the rosemary flavored french fries.

Bill's Gay Nineties

The fries at Bill's.
Prime-aged Porterhouse at Bill's.
Conchiglie al Forno at Bill's.
Clarkson. The hottest restaurant to hit the city's dining scene is Clarkson, conveniently situated on Clarkson street in the West Village. Like Georges Forgeois's other French-style bistros, Clarkson evokes an old-world feel; the dining room and large bar area is modeled after an elegant 1920's train car dining space, which includes tables made in Paris in the 1940s surrounding a large mahogany bar, and a more intimate zebra-print room in the back.

However, Forgeois has traded in his standard French cuisine for American-inspired seasonal dishes with an emphasis on carefully-crafted cocktails and an impressive raw bar. Favorite dishes on the menu include the creamy Burrata with crispy eggplant and persimmon mostarda; the shaved raw brussels sprouts mixed with speck, pecorino, pine nuts, parsley, and lemon; the roasted red beet salad with spicy chickpeas and a side of feta yogurt dressing; and the charred octopus with baby artichokes.

225 Varick St
The bar at Clarkson.
The orange cocktail with red on top is the New York Sour (bourbon shaken with lemon juice and simple syrup served on the rocks with a float of dry red wine). The purple cocktail is the Provencale (Lavendar infused Fords Gin stirred with herbes de Provence, infused French Dry Vermouth, and dashes of Cointreau). The red cocktail is the Malena (rye whiskey stirred with Campari, ruby port, drops of orange blossom, and orange bitters).
Beet salad at Clarkson.
Shaved brussels sprouts at Clarkson.
A selection of cheese and charcuterie: artisanal and imported sliced cured meat with the Five Smoke Tumbleweed (hard, raw cow cheese from Pennsylvania), Chaource (soft cow cheese from France), and Formaggia Al Tartufo Bertagni (semi-hard cheese from Italy).
Burrata (crispy eggplant, persimmon mostarda, basil). The Butter-Poached Half Lobster (mascarpone mezza luna, tarragon, roasted butternut squash).
The Braised Beef Shortribs (caraway spaetzle, baby carrots, brussels sprouts leaves, horseradish).