Friday, January 11, 2013

Bits & Morsels: Where to be seen in 2013

Barraca — the Renaissance man of Spanish Tapas establishments.
by Erin Frankel

Where to be seen (dining) in 2013. In the voluminous and vibrant New York City restaurant scene, tastes run fickle. Each year, high rents, a grueling economy, and temperamental appetites precipitate the closing of rooted establishments while novel culinary trends and arbitrary tastes fill the void. Hence, the fleeting nature of New York's dining scene can create lasting food memories.

The guacamole bar at El Toro Blanco.
The new year always brings a fresh dose of both reinvigorated classics along with the new and noteworthy (i.e. indulgent trends). Some rate number one in ambience, others in service, and others, most importantly, in the quality of food and libations. But, everyone has a reason to dine in New York in 2013.

This is precisely why I'm starting this year's dining column with a well-sourced list of restaurants to visit in the new year:

El Toro Blanco. Executive Chef Josh Cappon and Jon McDonald, the powerhouse duo behind Lure Fishbar and B&B (Burger & Barrel), consistently remain on top of their game. Clearly, it's no surprise they opened arguably the hottest restaurant on the city's restaurant radar (for at least this week).

Cappon and McDonald opted for a contemporary retro-cool vibe, one that follows the La Esquina/Miss Lily's trend of straightforward, yet creative, interpretations of casual street food. The many counter tops promote conversation between diners, including a 100-tequila-stacked bar with faux cowhide-topped leather seats and a guacamole bar! The art-deco-inspired decor brings you into what I imagine as 1970's Acapulco.
Blanco bar.
The main dining room.
Cappon trades in traditional Mexican dishes for more crowd-pleasers, successfully eliminating many of the fried dishes and heavy sauces for a lighter, more balanced menu. Dishes range from hearty empanadas filled with the plump, juicy gulf shrimp, tomato, garlic, and cilantro over a tasty roasted tomato salsa sauce to the more delicate entrees like pan roasted gulf snapper dressed with a traditional sauce of tomato, garlic, Spanish olives, capers, Mexican oregano, and pickled jalapenos.

257 6th Ave
(Btwn Bleecker & W Houston St)
Seared tuna tacos.
Shrimp empanadas.
Sonoran cheese crisp.
Enchiladas de pollo.
Pan roasted gulf snapper.
Barraca is the Renaissance man of Spanish Tapas establishments — boisterous, intimate, vibrant, charming, bold and comforting. The latest Spanish Tapas restaurant to open in the West Village is filled to the brim on most evenings, however, on an off weekday, you can almost have the entire restaurant to yourself (the perfect time to try its expansive list of sangria and tapas).

There's a roster of regional specialties including the Pulpo alla Parrilla — grilled October with baby potatoes, roasted peppers, and pimenton de vera; and the gambas al ajilo — shrimp sauteed with garlic sauce piquillo peppers, and spicy cayenne.
Barraca's rustic dining room.
Best mode of ordering is to complement the more commonplace dishes with Barraca's creative twists on traditional Iberian cuisine, as in their special Huevos Rotos, a bold dish with layered flavors. The "broken eggs" are served with crispy potatoes, pork belly, fried green peppers and tetilla cheese, creating an unexpected balance of flavors on the palette. Lastly, you must save room for Barraca's diverse assortment of Paellas, an ambitious medley of ingredients and textures; my favorite being their squid ink rich paella negra, for two.

81 Greenwich Ave
(Btwn 11th & Bank St)
Huevos Rotos Con Tocino.
Barraca has a diverse assortment of Paellas, my favorite being their squid ink rich paella negra (serves two).
Sen. Sushi maestro, Tora Matsouko of the famed established, Sen in Sag Harbor, has now opened his second outpost hiring Food & Wine's 2011 People's Choice Top 10 Best New Chef's in America, executive chef Bryan Emperor and Hiro Sawatari. Sen's Sag Harbor location has been the East End's temple of traditional Japanese cuisine for over 18 years. Now, Hamptonites no longer need to withstand the long waits at the Sag Harbor location's small, incredibly popular restaurant as the new Flatiron location is twice its size.
Sen's zen flatiron location.
Here, Matsouko still offers a similar menu with his perfect traditional Japanese techniques, yet heightens the sensibility with World Asian influences. He experiments with such concoctions as the Tatsuta, the specialty marinated chicken wings with tangy grated radish; the Tar Tar, a choice of tuna or yellowtail with takuan pickle, shallot, cured quail egg, and crispy wonton dressed with a spicy yuzu dressing; and the Mero, chef Emperor's specialty, Japanese sea bass with crisp puffed rice under a black goma ponzu sauce.
Wagyu Croquette: katsu sauce, foie gras center.
Yakitori: organic chicken, mikado teriyaki sauce, shaved green onion.
Salmon Sushi.
Daikon Salad: pickle giant radish, black sesame seed, rice vinegar, wild sesame oil, red chili flake.
The decor mirrors the upgraded cuisine, distilling traditional earthy Japanese design refashioned for an urban experience, featuring a glowing lounge made of wood, a modern geometrically linear dining room with reclaimed tree bark, Asian oak, and bamboo under suspended screens in raw blackened steel.

Tip: Ask Tora to recommend the perfect sake to pair with your meal. You will find he has an unprecedented knowledge of sake pairing.

12 W 21st St
(Btwn 5th & 6th Ave)
The serene scene at Sen.
Arlington Club. Culinary stalwart chef Tourandel from The BLT Group has teamed up with the chic Tao Group to open Arlington Club, another elite clubhouse for the rich and rapacious. The Tao Group brings the taut velvet rope to the neighborhood where born-and-bred Upper East Siders dine. With reclaimed wood from the 1800s and a huge clock imported from the 1920's Union Savings Bank, the group has successfully transformed the space from a quaint neighborhood sitting area into an expansive roaring twenties-inspired dining room.
Arlington Club's interior.
The colossal yet elegantly designed space brings a proper level of energy to the Upper East Side while retaining a neighborhood-y vibe. As for the menu, Tourandel has brilliantly married his steakhouse culinary prowess with Tao Group's contemporary Asian cuisine, recalibrating the traditional steakhouse menu with dishes ranging from Cote de Boeuf to raw fluke in a Thai chili and yuzukosho sauce.

1032 Lexington Ave
(Btwn 73rd & 74th St)
Tuna Osaka.
Cote de Boeuf and fries.
SakaMai. The recent opening of SakaMai brings an outright progressive movement to the city by combining a sake lounge with a new breed of Asian American comfort food. Sakamai's sleek yet intimate digs are outfitted with a diverse range of rooms, starting with the a mini sake tasting room in the front, then a curtained dining area, a more intimate back room against a fireplace, and a chef's table upstairs.

Owner, Tanner Fehl, has assembled a "dream team" (Chef Takanori Akiyama, GM/Sake Sommelier Yasu Suzuki, Food & Beverage Director George Kao, Creative Director Natalie Graham, and Mixologist Shingo Gokan) to "demystify sake and shochu by taking it out of the sushi realm."
Clockwise from top left: The main bar, the pour bar, and the main dining room.
The menu comprises small Japanese tapas-styled bites, all meant to be shared. The selection is one of the most innovative I've seen in this city, offering twists on classics like the bamboo shoots with grilled takenoko brushed with ginger tamari and extra virgin olive oil; the mizayaki namban styled "southern" fried chicken confit in a smoked paprika tartar sauce; and the chef's special kampachi and maitake rice pot for two, with salmon roe, mitsuba, and Tokyo scallions over Koshihikari rice from Japan.

157 Ludlow Street
(at stanton)
Uni Crostini. Torched uni and Parmesan Reggiano flakes on toast.
Egg on Egg on Egg. Sea urchin and white sturgeon caviar on bed of scrambled eggs.
l.e.s. STEAK, 28oz . 35-day dry aged CAB bone-in ribeye.