Category: West Village + TriBeCa

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

Perilla

9 Jones Street between West 4th and Bleecker Streets
212/929.6868
$147 for three, with a bottle of wine, without tip
♥ ♥

I’ve watched Top Chef enough to know that the judges sometimes can’t make up their minds between “cooking outside the box” and “sticking with what you know”. You had Carla who finally stuck with the food most familiar to her and she made it to the final round. You had Marcel the twat who does everything Wylie Dufresne style and the judges sometimes thought it–he–was too much. But then there were episodes when the contestants were not trying hard enough or were trying too much–you just couldn’t predict what the judges were going to say next.

When Frank Bruni gave a less than stellar review to Perilla, Harold Dieterle’s first restaurant, my heart went out to the first-season Top Chef winner. I can’t even imagine the anxiousness chefs feel when their new restaurant opens in New York City because one review can either make or break them. Three years later, Perilla is still in business and thankfully so because I had a very good dinner there a couple of months ago with some friends. We were looking for a low-key spot to get together and catch up with our holiday stories, particularly a small place where we didn’t have to scream at each other to have a conversation. In fact, Perilla doesn’t even look like it came from a TV winner. I gather that if people who have never seen the show walked in the restaurant, they would think the same way I did: Oh, this is nice and cozy and that’s about it.

I walked in and joined the standing queue at the bar one prime Saturday night. My friends joined me a few minutes after the bartender made my martini and we were soon seated right next to the kitchen entrance. I went for the sure-fire lamb while my friend ordered the fish; her fiancé, beef. A hamachi crudo was refreshing with yuzu and the notorious duck meatballs didn’t disappoint. Brussels sprouts and sunchokes are usual fare in seasonal menus and they both served their purposes well at Perilla.

The portions were larger than what I usually see in the city for the same prices, and considering I was unemployed at the time, I couldn’t complain. The food and the service matched the ambiance: nothing was overdone because everything was modest. Maybe now that chef Dieterle has made it past Bruni’s claws, he’d be willing to cook outside of his comfort zone. But you know what? Maybe I’d like for him to cook just the way he’s been cooking.

Related post/s:
There’s Market Table a few blocks away
wd-50 is for you if you prefer the East Village

Market Table

54 Carmine Street on the corner of Bedford
212/255.2100
$90 each for a group of three, with a bottle of wine, with tip
♥ ♥ ♥

Is it too early to name my favorite restaurant of 2009? Last year, I ate at Dovetail the day after Christmas (and a week after its official opening) and it set the bar for my 2008 dining. If Market Table set the tone for the year last Friday, then the bar is pretty high for me right now.

Four of us giggling girls were ten minutes late for our round table at Market Table. I got a call from the maitre d’ while we were turning the corner on Bedford. I hate being late most of all, so I ran ahead of my friends to apologize to the front of the restaurant. It’s in the old Shopsin’s space with large glass windows facing the corners of Carmine and Bedford, but it’s warm and welcoming as you step inside. The maitre d’ shrugged off our tardiness while our waiter treated us as if we’ve been coming to the restaurant for the last few months.

Market Table opened first with a store, but the demand for more tables was high so they went full force with just the restaurant. Former Mermaid Inn chef Mikey Price joined forces with Little Owl’s Joey Campanaro and Gabriel Stulman to open a larger space in the West Village with a menu that’s hearty and, to be honest, hard to fuck up. At Market Table, the kitchen showed how simple food can be so good if you just execute well.

The beef carpaccio was served with an egg salad, shaved Parmesan cheese, capers and croutons. The thin slices of beef were so fresh, they melted in our mouths. If one of us didn’t like the idea of raw beef, I didn’t have to convince her to try them. The seared scallops were sweet and succulent and lightly charred to perfectly meld with the slices of bitter blood orange and tangy hearts of palm. The hamachi sashimi with the limey vinaigrette was the first one to go; the hazelnuts gave it texture and the apple some crunch.

I can’t give the grilled lamb T-bones justice here. You should just go and order them medium-rare and taste for yourself. Why can’t every lamb I order be as good as this? They were the most expensive item on the menu at $32, but each serving comes with two large chunks good to share between two. Of course, the three of us got our own. The watercress and sunchoke salad that came with it made it extra special, drizzled with red wine reduction and melted Gouda cheese. The pork tenderloin was so moist and naturally sweet with pancetta wrapped around it. The small roasted tomatoes and banana fingerlings made it more exciting than just plain potatoes.

The desserts were the weakest during our visit. The brownie wasn’t the moist type we all were panning for while the butterscotch pudding wasn’t the favorite. I think we were all looking for something more dense and cake-y. (I can only imagine how heavenly it would be if the Dovetail pastry chef swooped in at Market Table.) But if a casual get-together ends with a high-end dining experience, give me a cup of mint tea and I’ll call it a very good night.

Related post/s:
Dovetail
Little Owl

Matsugen

241 Church Street at Leonard
212/925.0202
$75 for tasting menu, without drinks, without tip
♥ ♥

66 was a long time ago but entering Matsugen reminded me of those long lunch hours I used to take to eat at an expensive restaurant and only pay lunch prices. I had a delicate dim sum meal back then, even before Chinatown Brasserie opened, and it cost triple what I would have paid at Jing Fong. No screaming waiters, though, and the white tablecloths remained white even after several dumplings and shumais.

Contrary to popular belief, Jean-Georges Vongerichten is not the chef at Matsugen. Put together the Matsushita brothers wanting their first U.S. mainland restaurant and Jean-Georges needing to replace 66 and you have a high-end Japanese restaurant in a beautifully-designed Richard Meier TriBeCa space. It’s more chic than Honmura An (ahh, more memories!) and it’s more serene than EN Brasserie.

Is it expensive? Definitely, especially if you’re used to Sobaya like me. But if you want to impress, it’s a good place to go, not just for the soba noodles made in-house, but also for sushi, sashimi and even shabu-shabu (also considerably more expensive than Shabu Tatsu’s). If you spend some time looking at the menu, you can get away with paying less than a hundred dollars for two. You won’t be achingly full, but you’ll get the idea why a big-time chef like Jean-Georges would be satisfied with only being behind the scenes on this one.

If you don’t want to be bothered with the several pages of Japanese food with detailed descriptions, the $75 tasting menu when we visited included uni with yuzu jelly–a beautifully assembled starter that’s as creamy as the freshest sea urchin around–a sushi plate, a lobster salad, a bowl of hot soba and a dessert. I highly recommend the hot soba in duck soup and the hot soba with Japanese yam. The noodles yield freely and the broth is so clean: refined Japanese food has never been better.

Related post/s:
Four years ago: EN Japanese Brasserie
One of my favorite noodle recipes to make at home
Skip the desserts at Matsugen and cab it to ChikaLicious instead

Hakata Tonton

61 Grove Street off Seventh Avenue South
212/242.3699
$30 each for four, with a bottle of sake, with tip
♥ ♥

I love pigs’ feet. There I said it. I’ve caramelized them before with a tart salad and I’ve grilled them to serve at a summer barbecue party. Hakata Tonton worships the tonsoku. Hakata Tonton and I were made for each other.

The grilled version is so gelatinous, succulent and generously fatty, you can’t help but suck every part until you’re just spitting out the small bones. The hot pot comes with tofu, dumplings and pork belly, as if the trotters weren’t enough to make the broth rich and tasty.

There were four of us, hungry after a few glasses of wine and beer, so we didn’t just stay with the pork but also ordered the chicken wings in sweet soy sauce and the beef short ribs. We threw in the yellowtail sashimi salad in there for a palate cleanser. The yuzu paste and ponzu sauce were just perfect for slathering and dipping because they provided the right amount of kick in each dish. (When I was in Vancouver, I bought a few jars of yuzu paste from the Japanese grocery store to take home with me.)

A few beer and sake bottles later, we left full and a little tipsy. Our wallets weren’t empty and we were happy to be escorted out with free Pez candies from the waitress.

Related post/s:
Walk around the area for P*Ong
Mas (farmhouse) is a more expensive option around the neighborhood