Monday, June 20, 2011

Around the World in New York City

I've discussed in the past the vast variety of cuisines in the singular city of New York. It's really mind-blowing. You can get pretty much anything, and at exceptional quality. Last fall I shared a post which visited three culturally diverse restaurants, Vanessa's Dumplings (China in the Lower East Side), Caracas Arepa Bar (Venezuela in the East Village and Williamsburg, Brooklyn), and Tuck Shop (Australia in the East Village and Chelsea). I decided to do that again! This time we are traveling to the Middle East (in the West Village), Italy (in SoHo), and China (in... well, Chinatown, haha). Don't fret! Passports are purely optional. Come along for the ride...

You may best remember Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar from their participation in Bobby Flay's Throwdown. Technically, they may not have beaten Bobby, but their falafel is infamous as some of the best in the city. Taim is a Hebrew adjective meaning highly pleasant to the taste, or delicious. Their menu is strictly vegetarian, their falafel is gluten-free, and only particular items (that are noted with an asterisk) contain dairy or eggs.

This tiny eatery barely offers any seating (a total of 7 stools clustered together against the walls and window). Most people take their food to go, and I can understand this, as on the day I visited Taim the small air conditioner barely made a difference in pacifying the blistering heat. I still decided to dine in-house since there were plenty of seats available, and I generally hate eating on my lap if I don't have to (it was definitely no cooler outside, anyway).

Mixed Falafel Platter - three falafel flavors, hummus, tabouli, Israeli salad, za'atar pita, and sauces (hot sauce, tahini, and amba) $11.50

I had dined on Taim's falafel sandwiches in the past ($6.25 each), along with some of their delicious salads, but this time decided to try their Mixed Falafel Platter so I could try all three varieties of their famous falafel. They include the traditional version, which is green and includes parsley, cilantro, and mint, Harissa, which is mildly spicy and contains Tunisian spices, and their red falafel which is not spicy and contains roasted red peppers. The red falafel had a mild sweetness to it, while the Harissa did have a slight kick, but nothing too fiery. I loved them all, but perhaps liked the green and Harissa ones best.

From top to bottom: Harissa (Tunisian Spices), Red (Roasted Red Pepper), Green (Traditional)

The tiny falafel balls come piled up in the center of a mound of fresh hummus. They are served with sides of tabouli, Israeli salad (cucumber and tomato), za'atar-spiced pita (choice of white or wheat), and three sauces: hot sauce (a mixture of oil, hot pepper flakes, and herbs), tahini, and amba (a mango-based curry sauce). I thought all of the elements were flavorful and well-balanced. I loved the texture of the falafel (which were served PIPING HOT), and the fact that they were small meant more of a yummy crust (and who doesn't love the crust?!). The hot sauce was very hot, the tahini was cooling, and the amba was savory-sweet with a nice curry flavor. I washed it all down with some fresh ginger and mint lemonade, which didn't taste much of ginger OR mint, but it was still quite refreshing on such a hot day. All in all, Taim is certainly not as cheap as some other falafel vendors in the city, but they know what they are doing, and they make some mean falafel! Definitely hit them up for great Middle Eastern vegetarian cuisine in the heart of the West Village.

Taim Falafel and Smoothie Bar
222 Waverly Pl
(between 11th St & Perry St)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-1287

Michael White has made a splash in New York City with his two Michelin starred restaurant Marea. He has expanded his small empire to include a total of seven restaurants, including Osteria Morini a more casual  adventure into the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. A menu heavy in fresh pastas also includes cured meats, cheeses, seafood, meats, and vegetables. A friend and I split two appetizers and two pastas for our meal, which was just the right amount of food for us. We started with the Rucola salad, a mixture of arugula, artichokes, and Parmigiano. It was delicately dressed and really focused on the simplicity of the herbs and artichokes. A nice starter though not too exciting.

Rucola - wild arugula, baby artichoke, parmigiano vinaigrette $11

We also tried the Ricotta di Pecora, a serving of fresh whipped ricotta cheese topped with peas, asparagus, nepitella pesto (a member of the mint family), and walnuts. It was served with crostini. We loved this simple creation, a great balance of fresh flavors and bright green vegetables with the fluffy and mild cheese. This was definitely my favorite antipasti of the two we had, and I would highly recommend it.

Ricotta di Pecora - whipped ricotta, peas, nepitella pesto, toasted walnuts $13

We selected two pastas with very similar ingredients, and yet the dishes themselves were quite unique. First, the Cappelletti, ravioli stuffed with truffled ricotta and tossed in melted butter and prosciutto. The filling was incredibly fragrant of truffles and ethereal in texture. These ravioli were like little clouds with a bit of saltiness from the prosciutto. They literally melted in our mouths, so good!

Cappelletti - truffled ricotta ravioli, melted butter, prosciutto $18

We also tried the Garganelli (basically hand-made penne) with Battenkill farm cream, truffle butter, and prosciutto. This sauce was a bit richer due to the addition of cream, but still included a faint truffle flavor which was again accentuated with prosciutto. Whereas the Cappelletti were fluffy and airy, the Garganelli were much chewier in texture. We loved both, and enjoyed seeing how a different pasta shape (with a lot of the same flavors) can yield a completely different effect in the finished product. We loved our visit to Osteria Morini and would happily return to try more of the tantalizing menu.

Garganelli - Battenkill farm cream, truffle butter, prosciutto $18

Osteria Morini
218 Lafayette St
(between Kenmare St & Spring St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-8777

Selecting a single Chinese food experience in all of Chinatown is really like finding a needle in a haystack. There are so many options, so how can you pick one to talk about or try? The truth is, it's impossible. It really depends on what you're craving. Are you seeking authentic dim sum? There are countless options, and yet I can happily recommend the Golden Unicorn where I've dined before. Cheap dumplings on the go? It's technically in the Lower East Side, but Vanessa's is definitely my go-to spot. Hand-pulled noodle soup? Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles Inc is a good choice there. I'm sure there are so many others, but if your heart desires soup dumplings, there is a place for those too. It's famous for them, in fact. They even feature a video on their website on how to properly/safely eat soup dumplings. It's pretty funny :)

Joe's Shanghai Restaurant has won many awards, and currently has three locations (Chinatown, Midtown Manhattan, and Flushing, Queens).  When we ventured to their Chinatown location, we realized just how popular they are. A huge crowd waited outside the packed restaurant. It's rare to see this kind of line outside of weekend brunch time, Shake Shack, Ippudo NY for ramen, or Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge. New Yorkers don't usually like to wait for their food. It's gotta be really good to be worth the wait. At Joe's Shanghai, they wait.

 Crab Meat with Pork Meat Steamed Buns (Soup Dumplings) $6.95

When you're first seated at one of their communal tables, the first thing they ask is if you want the soup dumplings. I guess it takes a bit longer to prepare, so they want to get that order out of the way :) We tried their crab and pork ones (technically called "steamed buns" on the menu). They were so delicious and definitely a fun experience to eat. The pork was juicy and the crab flavor was prevalent throughout the broth. I would have happily placed an additional order for more of these. Definitely next time!

Scallion Pancake $2.95

We also ordered their scallion pancakes, which were crisp, chewy, flavorful, and just slightly greasy. Definitely a good choice as a starter. As our main dish, we tried their sesame chicken. It was the crispiest sesame chicken I've ever had (which is worth noting as the sauce usually makes it soggy), but it was a bit overcooked and dry on the inside. Fortunately, the sauce was tasty, and steamed white rice and broccoli came free with our meal. Overall, this is a fun spot to enjoy Chinese food in Chinatown (a balance of "real" Chinese food and "American" Chinese food), the prices aren't bad although the wait can be. Definitely worth stopping by to try their fabulous soup dumplings!

Sesame Chicken $14.95

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St
(between Bowery & Doyers St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 233-8888


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