Dress down, glam up

It's the Hollywood way.

It’s not just the carpet that’s red. It’s the restaurants and the bars as well. Red doors, red booths, red tablecloths.

Red sauce, too. It turns melted cheese orange in Dan Tana’s chicken Parm; acts as thick, savory glue in the spaghetti and meatballs at Little Dom’s; and graces the crust of Jon & Vinny’s LA Woman pie, which gets finished with dollops of burrata, fresh basil leaves, olive oil, and flaky salt. There’s also the cocktail stuff, paired iconically with cold, perky shrimp at Dear John’s. And gochujang, favored by The Prince to lend spice to noodles and rice cakes. Lest we forget Heinz ketchup! That’s slathered on burgers at In-N-Out and squeezed over piles of The Apple Pan’s fries.

Welcome to Hollywood, where everything proper is lipstick-colored. Velour tracksuits and botox are norms. Hipsters are aplenty. This is where movies are made. Pull up to the valet in jeans and a sweater. Hopefully, you brought a light jacket. As long as your hair looks clean, your skin is glowy, and you know how you like your martini, you’re good to go. 

Here’s a bit of advice. Next time you’re in LA, pick a theme. The city is giant and there’s so many places to hang, dishes to eat, drinks to drink. It could be Thai food or taco stands or the latest spots driving buzz.

Personally, I just got back from kicking it old-school. I sipped on ice-cold Tito’s (dirty and dry), scanned walls of autographed headshots, people-watched, and passed the Parm—all while wondering if I’d ever move here. Someday, maybe.

💄🍸


Announcing: The Some Meals Considered List

Have you ever thought “I would totally make use of a map with all of the places considered on SMC”? Well, you’re in luck! FOLLOW IT HERE.

H/t Phil Toronto for the suggestion. I’ll continue to add to it as I write. Stay tuned for more spin-off lists in the future.


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Burritos, fajitas, and tacos

Cravings of the American West.

I come from a family of skiers and snowboarders. The spring breaks of my youth were spent mostly in Colorado, sometimes in Utah, and once in Idaho (at Sun Valley). In favor of powder and to steer clear of ice, we always traveled west for ski vacations. When I think of the food that we ate—apart from mid-mountain lunches of chili and chicken tenders—I remember smothered burritos packed with rice and pinto beans; sizzling platters of meat strips, peppers, and onions served with flour tortillas; and tacos with pico de gallo and guac. Not the “authentic” fare you’ll find in Mexico or on the coast of California, but Americanized staples. Loaded with carbs and laden with protein, Mexican-American cuisine is the perfect fuel for days spent burning calories on the slopes.

As my siblings and I grew older, went to college, and started our careers, my family pivoted from spring skiing to Christmas in the mountains. Our home base became Park City, Utah—a relief due to the reliability of the SLC airport compared to DIA, and a slight bummer given the state’s disadvantageous liquor and marijuana laws. All contrasts aside, some things never change when you’re skiing out west. The craving for a shrimp burrito after clocking in 15,000 vertical feet is one of them.

You’ll find that on the menu at Lone Star Taqueria, a funky Mexican joint two miles off the SR-210, about halfway between the bases of Alta and The Canyons. Look for a patio lined with tin chairs in mismatched colors, pull into the parking lot, admire the car covered head-to-toe in bumper stickers, then step inside to order. Ask for a basket of freshly fried tortilla chips, a side of cilantro mayo (unless your choice of entree already comes with), and a cold Modelo—if you’re not the one driving. Grab a few miniature plastic containers and fill them with sauces in green, orange, and red; mild, medium, and spicy. Dig in.

A few days later, it hits again. This time, you want tacos. So you send it down to El Chubasco in a Park City strip mall. You get yours Mexican-style with cilantro and onion, unless you prefer the American version with lettuce, cheese, and chopped tomatoes. A side of rice speckled green with more cilantro completes the order. Yet it’s the salsa bar, stacked with buckets of condiments on ice, that makes your day. There are juicy slices of lime; vinegary pickled onions and jalapeños; chipotle and cilantro cremas; salsas made of tomatillo, mango, chile arbol, habaneros, and more. Use your complimentary chips as vessels to try them all. Go crazy. Leave happy.

This is comfort food: not the best Mexican food you’ll ever have (I hope), but satisfying all the same—and an extra layer of warmth on cold days spent carving moguls and catching up with loved ones.

🌯
Lone Star Taqueria
2265 Fort Union Blvd, Cottonwood Heights, UT 84121
(801) 944-2300

🌮
El Chubasco
1890 Bonanza Dr, Park City, UT 84060
(435) 645-9114


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A family affair

Real home cooking from a mother-daughter duo.

Jersey City is on the come up. In fact, a friend who lives in The Heights told me they’re calling her neighborhood “the new Williamsburg.” With that comes great restaurants. These days, you’re seeing food-obsessed Manhattan dwellers and Brooklynites hop on the PATH to Razza—an acclaimed pizzeria I’ve yet to try—and make the trip to sample seasonal goodies at Bread & Salt. There’s another place that’s worth the trek. I know because I ate dinner there last Sunday.

Saarim’s brother Saaran was in town. Although he now lives in Virginia, the two of them are from Dhaka—and they were craving Bangladeshi food. Our usual go-to is Boishakhi, an eatery in Astoria that specializes in biryani, fish curry, chicken roast, tandoor meats, and other special-occasion foods. There are several other good Bangladeshi restaurants in Jackson Heights, such as Premium, which is known for its sweets, and Tong—a street cart that makes exceptional fuchka (the Bangladeshi answer to pani puri). But few places cook the kind of everyday food that Saarim and Saaran grew up eating at home. That’s why Saarim was itching to try Korai Kitchen ever since he read about it in the Times.

When we arrived, we were greeted gregariously by Nur-E Farhana Rahman, who co-owns the restaurant with her mother, the chef Nur-E Gulshan Rahman. “Is it your first time?” she asked excitedly, and we nodded. “Your first time having Bangladeshi food?” she clarified. “We’re from Dhaka,” Saarim assured her, and her smile deepened. “Oh! Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here,” she said, as she shuffled us to a table. “My mom cooks everything fresh and homemade, so the menu differs every day,” she explained, as a server brought us a plate of just-fried piyaju—onion fritters that bear resemblance to Jewish latkes. Fittingly, it was the first night of Hanukkah.

Next, we were to grab a plate and fill it with the myriad of offerings from the buffet. Nur-E Farhana shepherded us encouragingly (“before the next few parties arrive for their reservations”). Chicken curry, fried fish, bhorthas (mashes) of eggplant and bitter melon, stir-fried cabbage, lightly spiced cauliflower with peppers, egg curry, daal. That’s just what ended up on my plate; there was more. As soon as we settled back into our seats, a bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp swimming in soft chunks of pumpkin—the evening’s special—arrived on our table. “You want paratha?” Nur-E Farhana inquired, and we said yes, in unison. This is the kind of food that requires mopping up, and the flaky rounds of pull-apart starch were the perfect vehicle to do so. We ate mostly in silence, went for seconds, and somehow made room for dessert.

As we enjoyed bites of mishti dhoi (a fermented sweet yogurt dish that resembles the top part of a cheesecake) and phirni (rice pudding) alongside hot cups of cha, the chef made her rounds. “Did you like it?” she asked, and we assured her that we did. “We came all the way from Brooklyn,” Saarim stressed. Nur-E Gulshan’s eyes softened. “You don’t know how much that means to me,” she replied.

The cost of all of that for three, plus the warm feeling of home for two, is just under $70. I call that a bargain.

👩‍👧
Korai Kitchen
576 Summit Ave, Jersey City, NJ 07306
(201) 721-6566


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A brilliant brasserie arrives in Brooklyn

Move over, Balthazar.

Balthazar isn’t very good anymore. I knew it the moment I drove my spoon into a dried out and sour half-grapefruit during breakfast hours many months back. I was always more of a Pastis girl myself, having grown up in the West Village. Now that’s back on the scene, and while it’s not the same as it was on the corner of 9th Avenue and Little W 12th St, it’s certainly not bad. Pastis 2.0 still has that magic glow, those recycled subway tiles, the colliding energy of Meatpacking grit and downtown glamour. But let’s face it, the aesthetic is tired. Timeless, sure, but tired. The brasserie has been begging for a reinvention. And while Frenchette, from the famed McNally vets Riad Nasir and Lee Hanson, was a home run, it’s kind of small. Dare I say more like a bistro than a brasserie?

So when I heard that Jake Leiber and Aiden O’Neal of one of my all-time favorite restaurants (Chez Ma Tante) would be taking a swing at this, I was excited. They took their time testing recipes and getting set up in the booming ground floor of the Wythe Hotel, formerly home to Reynard. It was no small feat: both the space and the menu are much bigger than CMT’s, and while they are situated a stone’s throw away from their quiet Greenpoint corner, their new digs are smack dab in the flashy, tourist-filled section of north Williamsburg. Finally, in the first week of December, Le Crocodile was open.

Boy did they succeed. What’s funny is that with all the year-end lists being published, I’ve been considering the best New York restaurants of 2019. I thought F&F, for sure, but that’s a slice shop. I haven’t yet made it to Llama San, and while Pastis was super buzzy, it was ultimately nothing new or extraordinarily delicious. Rezdôra made waves, but I’d still pick Lilia or I Sodi, any day. There are others I could call out but the truth is that at the eleventh hour, Le Crocodile arrived on the scene and hit the ball out of the park. It really, really hits.

These guys know their way around a pâté, so you’ll want one of those. When I saw the oeufs mayonnaise chaud covered in trout roe on Instagram, I knew I’d have to have that and I wasn’t wrong. There are perfect pickled mussels; plump, savory, and bright. Thick rounds of luscious leeks covered in hazelnut vinaigrette. A contemporary, salad-like approach to escargot, with a vibrant broth and twirls of fennel in place of pools of butter and garlic. And my favorite dish of all: Sardinian pasta with tomato and cod—a little bit tart, a little bit sweet, and a lot of umami. It tastes like a summer lunch in coastal Italy, but instead it’s the dead of winter in New York and you feel lucky. 

But holy hell, those fries. They’re everything you want, need, desire. Size-wise, crisp factor, golden levels, check. If you’ve been to Chez Ma Tante, you know they make the best aioli in the game, and just dipped in that they’re A-OK. But they’re best after having soaked up the jus of the juicy grilled chicken served under a roughly chopped salsa verde (Leiber worked at Barbuto for many years). And they’re definitely not bad when wiped through au poivre, sidling up to steak.

We were so full we didn’t have room for dessert, but Le Crocodile offers 12 in total, which makes me so happy. I want to try them all. Madeleines and profiteroles, creme brûlée and chocolate pot du creme. Maple pie. Tart au citron. There’s more! I’ll get to them, soon.

All that, in a stunningly handsome room with ceilings so high, warm vibes abound, cute but not cutesy white coats on every server, and martinis served with a personal carafe of extra libation—on ice.

Don’t run, walk. The Balthazar of Brooklyn is here... and it’s better. 

🐊
Le Crocodile
80 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
(718) 460-8004


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This porridge is just right

Channeling Goldilocks.

Khao tom is a Chinese-Thai rice porridge that’s eaten for breakfast. Unlike congee, which is thick and gloopy, khao tom is watery, cloudy, and loose. The base tastes like nothing more than rice and warm water, but the toppings that come with impart plenty of flavor.

At Noods n’ Chill in Williamsburg, you can choose two (out of 10) for $15 or four for $28. It’s your first time—both eating this dish and dining at the eatery. In fact, Noods n’ Chill just opened. It’s the first day they’re serving porridge to customers and you’re getting a 15% “Friends & Family” discount on your meal. So you might as well spring for more.

The time is 11:30 am and you’re not in the meatiest of moods, so you opt for sauteed morning glory—fresh, crunchy, and coated in a salty brown liquid accented by fish sauce—chopped up chunks of egg omelet laced with sour fermented cabbage in one iteration, and diced preserved sweet radish in another, plus sugary slices of Chinese sausage glazed in lime juice.

The porridge is self-serve and all-you-can-eat. You sip on a green tea from Chiang Rai that’s rich, floral, and deep-emerald in color, awaiting your toppings. Soon enough, each order comes. You grab your chopsticks, situate ribbons of this and nuggets of that atop your rice soup, and begin to fill your spoon with new combinations, bite after bite. Tart, sweet, and salty hits are grounded by the mild, warming liquid dotted with al dente grains. Before you’ve emptied the contents of your bowl, you’re already looking forward to enjoying the dish again.

And then there’s dessert: pillowy pieces of steamed, Thai-style brioche dipped in a pool of kaya, the coconut egg custard that hails from Indonesia. It comes in two flavors, vanilla-y pandan and herbal Thai tea. As you swipe the bread through each and plop the jammy cushion into your mouth, you can’t help but think of Oompa Loompas—The Willy Wonka factory workers with orange faces and green hair.

Noods n’ Chill is a tiny little spot, more like a storefront than a proper restaurant, with a smattering of bar seats and a single table that seats no more than six. Porridge and sweet snacks are reserved for the weekend, served from 11 am to 4 pm. Otherwise, you’ll find many of the dishes offered at the eatery’s sister restaurants in Prospect Heights and Ditmas Park (called LOOK and Mondayoff, respectively), like fried chicken wings and crispy watercress salad, in addition to a large variety of noodles.

Given my predilection for both of those restaurants, I doubt the rest of the menu will lead you wrong. But as far as I’m concerned, the best time to come to Noods n’ Chill is at brunch, when you can eat something novel, tasty, and wholly satisfying.

I’m calling this porridge the dish of this winter. Go get some, stat.

❄️
Noods n’ Chill
170 S 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-7695


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