Ramen Lab

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The snow started to come down early that Friday. I had plans to meet up with some friends, and decided it was the perfect opening for me to try Ramen Lab in the NOLITA section of Manhattan. Later we’d all be under the influence, so what better dish than Ramen to fortify the stomach. An acquaintance of mine, when I lived in Korea, always used to bemoan the lack of Ramen joints there. Having lived in Japan for many years, he would always say that at the end of a long night of drinking, it was Ramen that would sort you out. That made sense, In New York and much of the North East its pizza, but tonight it would be Ramen, albeit in reverse.

Ramen Lab is a peculiar place, not so much restaurant as it is an advertisement for the owners. Sun Noodle Corp. of New Jersery owns this spot, and it wasn’t until after I heard about the restaurants concept, that I learned noodle peddlers were the proprietors. You’ll have to get over it ( like companies adorning your favorite soccer teams jersey) I did, was easy.

The 12 seat space, stools huddled around the kitchen, invites a new chef to prepare a new ramen each month. A truly great concept in my opinion. While NYC has its fair share of Ramen joints, why not have more, 12 more a year to be precise. Expect long waits when you come hear, as space and time are factors. I got there right when it opened more or less, and still had to wait about 35 minutes. Put your name in and order prior to being seated. Typically on the menu is one vegetarian option, and one carnivorous choice. I went with that nights American Wagyu Miso ramen. The dish that night was brought to the table by Akira Hiratsuka and his team at Brooklyn Ramen.

The broth was decadent, a visible pot piled with clean white bones proof that it took some time to cultivate the rich flavor. Also present was the clear taste of ginger. The beef was tender as were the noodles, and they really anchored the dish. Scallion and corn brought color to the bowl, and the soft boiled egg a classic ramen touch. The menu offers a lot of a la carte options, each costing a dollar or two. This is typical in many of the ramen restaurants in New York these days, and not something I’m particularly fond of. It’s my opinion that an egg should come standard with your soup. They also charged extra if you wanted your broth spicy, so hot oil was additional, which I feel should definitely be a free option. Beyond this digression, flavor is front and center, and paired with an Orion Ramen Lab is a great start, or end, to any frigid New York Night.

Xi’an Famous Foods

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When I made it to Kenmare street, I was elaited. Though my friend had canceled on me, I was still going to give Ramen Lab a try. It was friday after all, I’d just gotten off work, why not. When I finally made my final approach to Ramen Lab though, it looked like it decided to cancel on me as well, closed.

I stood dazed for a moment, what now. The yakatori place adjacent looked fly, but I was in noodle mode, and they had nothing on offer. After another moment, defeated, I decided to get going. However when I walked a little past the awning, on the other side of Ramen Lab,, a pleasant surprise greeted me, an outpost of none other than Xian Famous Foods.

Xian Famous foods first opened in Flushing years back. It became popular spot for locals, in a rundown food court on Fulton Street. Then gained additional notoriety after being featured on several prominent television shows. So what’s so special about Xi’an Famous, well it begins with noodles.

Xian famous, like many places these days, is variations on a theme. And noodles are the building blocks for the majority of their dishes here. Fresh noodles paired with a variety of meats, herbs, and spice, and broths. If you aren’t into spicy food, Xi’an famous is probably not for you. The food is quite hot, but not so much so to take away from the flavors, more of a synergy, enhancing them.

You can get many noodle soups here, But my favorites are the dry noodles,(ok not necessarily dry, but not submerged in water). I usually will get one of two dishes, the hand pulled noodles with cumin lamb or the spicy and tingly beef hand pulled. Both are spicy, and both showcase the excellent texture of the fresh noodles. On my most recent visit I got the beef, and was suprised yet again with the tenderness of the beef. It really is satisfyingly soft, and dissolves in each bite.

Beyond these noodle dishes, which I would suggest, the lamb burger is also a popular dish. Its filling and has similar flavor profiles to the noodle dishes. A good spot of quick bite, and a drink borough wide.

Friendship BBQ

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“Queens borough be the back drop,” flushing in particular. A neighborhood teeming with restaurants who draw from the far east. This is where you can find Friendship BBQ. Spice is front and center here and plenty of it. We came here on a Sunday, so I wasn’t in a rush to grab a beer. However, I did have one, as the cuisine (from Beijing I believe) is hot, and suds pair well.

The menu is expansive, variations on the theme of chili flakes. We ordered a ton of stuff, guided by my friends who grew up overseas in China’s mainland. Skewers are a must have, lamb in particular, and they come in different sizes. We got both large and small. My two favorites were the lamb with tendon, and a raw beef skewer we tried that you dip in, if I my memory serves me correctly, a soy based sauce.

We got a hot pot type skewer dish as well, that had different vegetables and meats. Every skewer was submerged in the a spicy hotpotesque broth. I’d skip this, as some of the skewers fell flat, though others were ineresting (like the mushroom one) the price is a good reason to think twice.

One of the stand out dishes, and my pick for the number one or number two spot was a simple dish of cucumbers dressed with garlic and chili flakes. This dish really shines, with bright crisp notes from the cucumbers, that make a great contrast to the chili flakes that heavily garnish the dish. This is a definite must have.

Beyond that we tried the conch, which was ok but also quite pricey. I would stick to the basics here, skewers, vegetables with chili flakes, and a beer for good measure. They also have some interesting dishes I’d yet to see, so feel free to order the chicken skeleton, let us know how it is.

Drunken Dumpling

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“New Dumpling Place Opens” read the headline, or at least that was the copy through the lense of my memory. It was just over a year ago when the Drunken Dumpling opened theirs doors. I had read about it in one online periodical or another, and was intrigued. It was most likely the allure of the largest soup dumpling this side of the Prime Meridian, but that was enough for me.

I had planned two separate occasions to visit, but was cut short both times. The first time it was a scheduling thing. I had gone at four, when they were closed between lunch and dinner, and my stomach demanded I go elsewhere. On the second occasion It was just too packed, and again my stomach protested waiting any longer, so I moved on.

As is often the case, third time is a charm. On a tepid summer day, my planned visit finally came together. Me and a friend stopped in for lunch, and quickly glanced over the menu. I like the fact that everything here is organic, and farm to table like. Lets be honest, I love dumplings, and I get them from all types of places. However, many dumpling places most likely don’t use the highest quality ingredients. Now this isn’t a knock on those places, I’m fine with that. But it is nice that there is a place like Drunken Dumping.

Many of the options are your classics, dumplings you’re no doubt familiar with, pork and chive anyone. They also have that large soup dumpling that I mentioned, but me and my compatriot decided to go with the classic soup dumplings. These were great, I personally really enjoyed them. I’m no expert when it comes to soup dumplings, but I thought they were excellent. Something you should consider if you visit.

The other dumpling choice we made to round out our meal was an interesting original (at least for me) that I’d never seen before. The chicken and cashew dumpling was delectable, light, and tasty. Add hot oil and soy sauce and you’re good to go.

Di Fara Pizza

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Out along the the yellow subway line in Brooklyn, where alphabet city seems to extend, with avenues J and U (and probably LMNOP) stands Di Fara Pizza. A relic from a different time, a vestige of Brooklyn’s past. In this predominantly Jewish neighborhood Domenico DeMarco opened this legendary pizza Mecca in 1964. What you’ll probably find most striking and certainly endearing, is that he’s been making the pies here, by himself ever since. Though his large family helps with the peripheral moving parts of the business, Domenico doesn’t let anyone else fold the dough, or cut the basil that garnishes the top of each fresh pie. An artisan, no doubt, a new york slice guru, absolutely, a pizza diva, maybe.

Whatever the label, the pizza here is definitive new york, and has held the title for best slice for decades. Patrons might gripe about the long wait, lack of AC in the summer and balk at the steep price, however these thoughts quickly dissolve after one’s first bite.

Both rectangle and round are excellent, though personally I prefer round. It will also likely come out much quicker. I once visited with some friends, we ordered the Sicilian, only to see one circle after another come out before ours. Any way you slice it, the pizza here is spectacular. Feel free to order with pepperoni(the good stuff here), and add peppers in oil that adorn the table and you’re set to go.

Hi-Collar

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A friend of mine suggested I visit this sake bar after its recent opening. I decided last night would be a good time to try it, so me and another friend went to check it out. Originally my intent was to sample a few of the sakes on offer, but was pleasantly surprised by the beer selection and decided I would try one of these first.

Hi collar is a classy place, but easy on the wallet, I found pricing to be reasonable. We tried the Yonayona Ale and an IPA, both really tasty. One of the things I particulary liked is that beer is served in chilled brass cups which serves the duel purpose of keeping your beer chilled and making you look cool. I would imagine its a similar feeling drinking out of a goblet of some sort, but I can’t remember having ever done that.

After the beer we sampled an unfiltered sake which was surprisingly smooth. When you order a glass, your sake comes in a small carafe, and they give you two shot glasses. Of course this is typical and great for sharing. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selection. Though I didn’t sample the food, it looks really good, authentic Japanese dishes. The bar tender also told me that the space doubles as a coffee shop during the day which I thought was a clever idea and use of the space. Definitely worth checking out for a drink in a laid back quite atmosphere. Also a great place for a date.

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Al-Sham Sweets & Pastries

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Al Sham comes fresh with the fillo dough, offering up some of the best sweets you’ll find anywhere. Located in what is often referred to as the Little Egypt section of Astoria, and serving traditional Lebanese confections. What you’ll find here are an array of cookies and baklava coated in syrup or honey, overflowing with cashews, pecans and almonds. The majority of the offerings are very rich, but take it from someone who isn’t a huge fan of rich desserts, they’re outstanding. beyond the large selection of baklava and cookies there, you’ll find some interesting pastries, which are typically on the milder side. Kanafeh, for example, a really tasty cheese pastry, soaked in syrup and sprinkled with pecans.

As many on the internet have stated “EVERYTHING” here “is good.” I’ve been here dozens upon dozens of times and have yet to sample something I didn’t like. Prices are reasonable and the staff is nice as well.

I brought a platter of different items to a New Years Party and it was a big hit. If you do grab a large platter, I would recommend having it weighed out on there regular plates, as opposed to the prepackages they put together on the fancier plastic dish. It will save you about eight bucks.

Mediterraneo

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I’ve been meaning to come here for years. My friend used to live in the building adjacent and this place always looked cool. What will first draws your attention is the outdoor seating that wraps along the outside, its on the corner. There is plenty of outdoor seating, which is always nice. After having been, and siting inside, I would say this place has good ambiance, and a great layout overall. I really like the wrap around bar.

Beyond the aesthetics and feel, I was interested in trying the food. Passing by it always looked good, but you never know of course. When I arrived my friends has already ordered apps, so ended up just getting a dinner item. On my friends suggestion I ordered the pappardelle with duck ragu.

I’ll say this, when I go back I will order this again, it was outstanding. Definitely get the duck ragu.

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Minetta Tavern

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Checked out Minetta Tavern last night for the famed Black Label Burger. We went without reservations, to see if we could get a seat at the bar. There weren’t any available when we got there around 6, but only had to wait about 20 minutes before some opened up. While we waited we sipped a couple of drinks from the cocktail menue the Murray Sour-Yamazaki 12 Year Whisky, Cardamom-infused Agave Nectar, Fresh Lemon & Orange and the Minetta T-Punch-Rhum JM VSOP, Sirop de Canne Fresh Mint & Lime. I liked the T-Punch most out of the two, though it wasn’t a large portion, about a third of the tumbler it was served in. The Murray Sour was also good, and a much larger portion.

We ordered both the Black Label Burger and the Minetta Burger and split them. Both were good, but the Black Label is the superior burger here. It is ultimately savory and decedent, and when I go back I’ll forgo the Minetta Burger and just get this. I got a Founders Pale Ale with the meal and found it to be a good pairing. Burgers are served with a large portion of thinly cut fries, and when you finish the last pomme frite I’m betting you’ll be full.

Beyond this the atmosphere will transport you to an old New York, when I was there I heard two separate people reference the God Father. I would suggest maybe going when its less crowded, the guy in the sports coat next to me elbowed me several times. I could have done without that.

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Sac’s Place

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Sac’s is your classic pizza parlor/restaurant and they really got this combo down. I’ve been going here for some time just for the pie, which you can just grab a slice and sit. You can often gauge the quality of a restaurants offerings if you catch the neighborhood cops dropping in for a bite, and I’ve seen them frequent Sac’s often. The pizza is real good.

People have always told me I should check out the restaurant side, and for a while I put it off. Well, having been twice in the past six months I have to recommend checking it out for yourself. The food is really spectacular, and I rarely use this adjective unless I’m referencing Spiderman (The Spectacular Spider-man title from Marvel). Really everything I’ve had here has been great, and I would check out the specials menu for sure. Anything with a cream sauce is the way to go.

I would definitely say that you should take a note from the B-52’s and Rock Lobster. The lobster and crab ravioli with shrimp and brandy cream sauce is truly a delight. I think the shrimp they serve is soaked in butter, I’ll leave it at that.

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