Category: Wheelchair-Accessible

Aska at Kinfolk Studios

90 Wythe Avenue corner of North 11th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
$120 each for 2 people, without drinks, without tip
718/388.2969
♥ ♥

I never got the chance to check out the Kinfolk Studio space when it housed the pop-up Frej, but when my friend Josh started working at what is now Aska, I really had no excuse not to support him.

The last time I’ve been to a restaurant where the food on my plate looked more like some kind of art piece rather than a meal was at Alinea in Chicago (in 2006!), but even there, the dishes looked like I was going to get something out of them. At Aska, I was in doubt the whole time that I was ever going to be full, but there was something about the combination of ingredients and the timing of the presentations that somehow worked. By the time the last course of beef was served, I was pretty satisfied even though it was just a single kalbi-like slice of short rib.

There were 7 courses including dessert, but I counted at least 3 amuse-bouches and a pre-dessert palate cleanser. There were a couple of cocktails, a bottle of wine, and a digestif that helped, too.

Best:
1. Cocktails that take forever to make!
2. The most humble cabbage dish with a tiny piece of monkfish and its liver
3. Sunchoke presentation

Weird:
1. Service – It’s a small space so they seemed to have too many staff members hanging out. At one point, we looked up from our conversation and there were 5 people at the pass. They all seemed to be stressed out and I felt very pressured to finish my plate to give them something to bus. But we did break a bottle of wine at the bar and they were nonplussed about it as they cleaned it up.

Kin Shop

469 Sixth Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets
212/675.4295
$100 for two with tip, with one cocktail
wheelchair patron may wheel in, but bathrooms are downstairs
♥ ♥

The last time I was on Sixth Avenue above 8th Street, I was at Jefferson Market buying blood sausages after a stranger tipped me about the store at Whole Foods. He saw how frustrated i was when I had to explain to the guy what blood sausages were. At Jefferson, sure enough, I found what I was looking for and noted that they also carried sweetbreads. (That’s another story.)

To me, Sixth Avenue between 8th and 14th is pretty much the dead part of the West Village; there’s nothing past the nice Filipino guys behind the counter at Gray’s Papaya unless you’re buying Co.Bigelow handwash or your morcilla for Sunday breakfast. I think Harold Dieterle’s Kin Shop will change that.

I was excited to eat at the Top Chef’s second restaurant in the city because of my experience at his first, Perilla. I had a very good meal there because of the straightforward cooking and I wanted to see what he could do with one of my favorite cuisines, a type that New York city overflows with but doesn’t excel at. (I’m sorry, but techno music and fake modern furniture do not make a good Thai restaurant–I’m looking at you Sea and all of you at Hell’s Kitchen.)

Jennifer and I followed our server’s suggestion that we share a few dishes family-style. We usually share plates anyway but I like that this was how it should be at Kin. We started with the pork and oyster salad, a beautiful mix of textures. The pork was crispy while the fried oyster gave softly inside the breading. The celery was crisp and added a fresh contrast. I’ve never been to Thailand, sadly, but to me this dish represents the flavor profile I truly love about southeast Asian food: mint, lime and chiles.

The soup with pork meatballs and bok choy was hard to resist. The broth had legs but was subtle, and the meatballs well-seasoned and bursted with flavor–just what I needed to warm up even more after the ALN cocktail with Thai pickle brine.

We were warned that the duck laab salad was really spicy, but we still ordered it. I believe there were preserved Chinese long beans in there, one of my favorite Sichuan pickles to make at home. Toasted rice added to the crunch while the Romaine lettuce mimicked Korean and Vietnamese dishes. They’re not kidding when they tell you some of their dishes are hot. The Thai chiles kicked in right on the tip of our tongues which made us take advantage of the buttery roti and fragrant Jasmine rice. It woke our senses up and also filled us up that we didn’t have room to try the crab noodles that came next. The next night though, I peeled the plastic cover back and ate it for dinner with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to keep the saltiness at bay that seemed to have settled overnight. This reminded me of the Filipino pancit, only with hardly any vegetables and more seafood flavor.

The service was unobtrusive though we had to wait for a while to get our check. Our server acknowledged that she forgot to offer us the desserts, but we didn’t mind: we wheeled ourselves out of the restaurant.

Related post/s:
Harold Dieterle’s first effort was pretty good
Wondee Siam I has really excellent Thai food

Counter

105 First Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets
212/982.5870
$80 for two, with one cocktail, with tip
wheelchair patron may dine al fresco or wheel in

I picked Counter as the first vegetarian restaurant to visit for my special project with Erin. She had sent me links to several restaurants she liked after she requested for me to start reviewing more vegetarian restaurants on this site. We made a three-night date in one week to ensure that I would actually do it. Sure there was some apprehension–I do love my meat–but I can never say I’m open to eating anything if I don’t even give tempeh a chance.

Counter had the most exciting menu that wasn’t Asian-inspired. If I was going to eat vegetarian food for dinner for almost a week, I didn’t want my meals to be regular meat dishes without the meat. Because what would have been the point of that? I could eat almost anywhere and just pick out the meat. (Sad.) I also signed up for this eating project because I wanted to see what vegetarian kitchens in the city can do besides the misconception of slathering tofu with soy and sesame oil.

Counter’s tofu with kale and barbecued peaches on a bed of jalapeño polenta didn’t disappoint. The combination of textures was interesting: the tofu was very firm without being rubbery while the kale was crunchy and hearty. The polenta had that roasted taste that only green peppers have and gave the dish the depth it needed. I could easily see these Counter accoutrements with a flank steak in another restaurant that serves meat. (Harold Deiter’s Perilla, for example.)

I also had Erin’s grilled seitan with Swiss chard in red wine-reduction sauce. Though I thought her dish needed some more salt, I liked the autumness of the entire plate since it could easily have been a braised short ribs dish. The seitan held its own without any beef support and took to the red wine really well.

However, our server forgot we were there. Erin changed her mind about getting a cocktail and she had to keep her eye out for our waitress in the almost-empty restaurant. We were pretty much left alone at our table except for the occasional diners hovering over us to check out the 3D art hanging on the wall behind me and the busboy who was relentless in refilling our water glasses.

All in all, I liked Counter for not looking like a vegetarian-only restaurant and for serving tofu and seitan with a creative spin. I was pretty satisfied by the time we got our bill, too, and even packed our leftovers to go.

Related post/s:
Perilla is in the West Village

Xiao Ye

198 Orchard Street between Stanton and Houston Streets
no phone number yet
$50 for one, with one beer, with tip
wheelchair may enter; may be hard to get to the restroom
early review: ♥

I’ve never been to Taiwan, but it has always been on my list of places to go and do nothing but eat. When reports started coming in about Xiao Ye and its “Taiwanese night market” food, I knew I had to go. I have several friends who hail from Taiwan and my mouth waters whenever they talk about the food they eat back home. I love Southeast Asian food and I enjoy sweating over that flavor profile with a cold, cold bottle of beer. I walked in once last week with a friend only to be told that they were having a private event. We laughed and let ourselves out and promised to return when they officially open. The temperature hit 90-plus again this week and so I made a trip to the Lower East Side for one of their soft openings.

I really wanted to like it. When I visited, half of the published menu on BaoHaus owner Eddie Huang’s blog was not ready and none came with any descriptions except for the obvious homage to the Wu-Tang Clan. With names like Poontang Potstickers, She Bang Fish and Buddha Sex Cabbage, I had to get the bartender’s help to find out what each dish was all about. (Can you guess what Golden Taste Balls are?)

I was told by a friend of a friend that I should skip the cocktails, so I opted for Magic Hat’s Wacko summer ale as soon as I found myself at the bar. They got the Asian weather down all right; it was steamy and it was hot and all I wanted was to eat comfort food that reminded me of home. But there’s a reason why they call such nights “soft openings”, and in my case, Xiao Ye was having a very, very soft night.

I dove in the Extreme Taste Salt-Cured Pork, generous slivers of pork belly that didn’t warrant the name nor need anything else. The meat was naturally sweet and the fat was equally addicting, but they were impossible to eat with chopsticks. I requested for a knife and a fork just so I can cut through some of the chewy skin. It would have been unacceptable to most people, but unlike most people, I actually enjoy gummy pork skin. I would have preferred it crisp and crunchy, but I knew I didn’t order chicharron.

The Taiwan Most Famous Pork on Rice by name alone had so much promise. This is a Taiwanese joint, yeah? Wrapped in mustard leaves, my rice was hard and crackly as if it had been sitting out for quite some time. There may have been a trace of pork somewhere, but most of what I tasted was the pieces of scrambled egg that was mixed in. My ghetto Chinese take-out place in Harlem would have done a much better job. I tried to put up with it, but you just can’t fuck up rice like that, so I finally told the bartender that I needed a new serving.

In between bites of the Concubine Cucumber–cucumber chunks pickled in vinegar, salt, sugar and garlic–I finished the pork belly while I waited for my rice replacement. Luckily, the second time around was warm and just right, so I felt compelled to eat it with the Trade My Daughter for Fried Chicken after I got over its name. The breaded chicken fillets tasted of cilantro, crushed peanuts and chili powder but were also heavily salted. I understood the flavor they were going for and I would have liked them if the cook was a little bit less heavy-handed with his seasonings. I would have taken my leftovers home, but I thought they were beyond repair–even the single girl eating next to me agreed when I offered a taste of my food. And I love salt! she said, but that is burning my lips!

Past the silly dish names and the Fantastik spray bottle next to the drinking glasses at the bar, Xiao Ye could be something. It’s that kind of a place bloggers and wannabe-foodies tend to love because the price and location are right, but the taste and service need to be accounted for in the next several weeks if they want to be taken seriously.

Related post/s:
Fatty Crab has the same flavors, only more focused
This review elicited a very angry letter from the owner, only for the partner to apologize for his behavior later

Marea

240 Central Park South on 59th Street
212/582.5100
$256 for two people, with drinks, without tip
wheelchair patron may dine on street level
♥ ♥ ♥

I’m still thinking of those firm, yet pillowy, cicatelli. After Convivio and Mailiano, I think I’m convinced that when it comes to putting my money down for a great meal in New York City, handmade pasta has got to be a part of it.

The cocoon-shaped cicatelli sat on a very clean but rich seafood broth. Delicate mussels mimicked the pasta’s shape and provided the dish with the saltiness it needed. The summer squash pieces, also sliced so none of them were bigger than the pasta or the mussels, were tender. I’ve never been to Italy, but if this is the kind of dish locals eat along the coast, I might just pack up my shit and move there. If this is Chef Michael White’s creation alone, then I might just invite him to move in with me.

Decadence was the theme from the minute we sat down to eat. We started with Marea’s famous uni topped with a cellophane of melted lardo. If I have to pick a dish that would give me a happy heart attack, I think I found what would easily beat roasted pork belly. This is probably one of the reasons why Marea has just been named Best New Restaurant of 2010 by the James Beard Foundation.

We took it down a notch by breaking the richness with marinated sardines and then crudo tastings of snapper, geoduck, cuttlefish (sliced like tagliatelle), tuna, mackerel and fluke. The citrus and chili oil in all of them subtly cleaned our palates. They exhibited a different kind of decadence: controlled and unassuming.

A plate of morel mushrooms were next. Behold these mushrooms that cost an arm and a leg! I’ve never had them served to me whole, so I carefully sliced them to savor their earthy flavor in every bite.

To cap our meal, we also split the bouillabaisse. There was nothing that could have stopped me from sucking on that butterflied and seared langostine. There was also nothing that could have stopped me from slurping the seafood broth with that large soup spoon and then tilting the bowl to its side to scoop more. Even if Marea is about decadence of the sea, I think this bowl of simplicity says a lot about what seafood can become when sourced from the freshest and the best, and then handled by a pro.

We finished our martinis and old-fashioneds plus our glasses of white wine. I informed the waiter that the panna cotta with rhubarb compote sounded like the perfect ending to our inspiring meal but that there was just no room in our tummies for it. A small plate of petit fours were served while we contently sighed, and to our surprise, our waiter brought us the panna cotta anyway. Eh, there was an extra serving in the kitchen, he said with a smile. I forgot about not having that extra room: you don’t say no when you get something complementary from Michael White’s kitchen; you don’t say no when you get the chance to eat at Marea.

Related post/s:
Convivio is a sister restaurant