41 West 57th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
$120 each for 2 people, with drinks, with tip
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The disclaimer here is that I know someone in the kitchen at Betony. I met Josh in 2008 when I went to the Spotted Pig for Fergus Henderson’s visit from the UK. Josh came all the way by bus from Delaware just to eat the chef’s food and we immediately got along and shared our plates. Since then, he’s worked in several other restaurants and we’ve shared more than just pig’s face to eat. It was a given that I would support him at his latest gig even if Betony was not started by his old friends from Eleven Madison Park.
Betony brings the food experience back to basics, or at least it makes you feel like you’re eating very simple dishes. Josh’s marinated trout roe with cucumber looks just like that: trout roe served on a rice cracker, but I found out later that the puffed rice was made from scratch, the roe was marinated in dashi and the cucumber was a bavarois using the cucumber juice that was turned into a fluid gel.
The shellfish ragout is one of their best dishes. The lobster with the season’s peas was decadent, and the cured pink snapper subtle and clean.
Eleven Madison Park won all those awards not because of how fancy their food was but because of how simple they made everything look. It’s the quiet simplicity that will make Betony successful; New York City diners will just have to make room for more excellence.
2211 Frederick Douglass Boulevard corner of 119th Street
$45 each for 2 people, with drinks, with tip
Finally, a new addition to the Harlem restaurant scene worth writing about. Shauna and I walked around the neighborhood to try and cool off from the hot Saturday weather and got a drink at Bier International before moving on to Vinateria for food. I’ve walked past it a few times while they were under construction and I’ve been looking forward to eating there since they put up their logo using a nice typeface. (Harlem is teeming with laughable typefaces on storefronts.)
Whoever thought of serving the cavatelli pasta with rabe as an appetizer was a genius. I like my pasta dishes just fine, but I never want a whole plate of it because I always lean towards trying more than 1 dish off the menu. We ended up splitting that pasta dish, which was the best out of all the lot, plus the following:
- Halibut tartare – I’ve never heard of fish tartare using halibut instead of tuna, and it felt a little short because of the usually bland white fish. There was a surprising sunchoke purée underneath–surprising because most Harlem restaurants have not jumped on the farm-to-table bandwagon–which gave the dish all its flavor, but the fish could have used some more salt and lime for added brightness. I forgot to ask where they got their fish but we trusted that they were fresh; no reports of being sick after!
- Octopus Frisée Salad – The octopus was sparse but very tender and the potatoes were a great match with the greens.
- Arugula and Radish Salad with Anchovies – We could have used more anchovies. It wouldn’t have been obvious if they served it on a small plate rather than a bowl. The vegetables were well-seasoned though and made up for it.
The service was quite attentive but they kept pushing their filtered water which is unnecessary for a New Yorker like me. The cocktails were a saving grace because I have been looking for a place in the neighborhood where I can get a decently-made drink. I hope Vinateria only gets better as the crowd starts to build up.
68 Clinton Street off Rivington Street
$87 for 2 people, with 2 beers, without tip
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Pork, with a side of pork, is what I always hear when Filipino food is being described to me by other people. Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen sticks to that mantra at Pig & Khao, a Southeast Asian restaurant with a lot of Filipino and Thai influences.
As soon as we walked to the outdoor space to be seated, I felt immediately at home seeing the sun decals on the wall that come from the flag of the motherland. The menu was very familiar too, with crispy pata (roasted pig’s thigh), green mangoes, sisig (sizzling pig’s face) with egg, chicharon (pork rinds), and adobo. Cohen has added her own spin to the dishes: the pork rinds with spices that included cinnamon and the adobo using quail with Sichuan peppercorns.
There’s no shortage of fish sauce and vinegar flavors, and when coconut was used in the rice and in the cod, my eyes rolled back because of the richness and tastiness of the flavor profiles. My only regret is not coming with more people so that we can try and share more plates.
254 South 2nd Street off Havemeyer, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
$55 each for 2 people, without drinks, without tip
Email chezjosebk at gmail dot com for reservations
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Back in 2009, I had a very impressive dinner at a pop-up restaurant inside the Brooklyn Fare store for $70 per person. Three years and three Michelin stars later, the tasting menu is now $225. So when I heard that chef Jose Ramirez-Ruiz used to cook there and at the old Isa and is now running his own popup at the Whirlybird Cafe, I jumped at the $55 chance before the rest of the food world raises his prices.
You take a risk when you decide to support a pop-up restaurant. As someone who’s served dinner to groups of people on the down-low, I know how it is to cook in a borrowed kitchen without the resources one may have if they were working in a real restaurant. Not only do you prep and cook the dishes for your customers, you also serve and clean up after everyone’s left. In the end, you realize that you really only do it for the love of cooking.
Chef Jose Ramirez-Ruiz, and his sidekick of the night @wandrlstng, both love to create and cook. The dishes were grown-up and technical, and the vegetable-focused dishes were adventurous, savory, and delicious. As a carnivore, I am impressed when someone can push a vegetable’s limit to different heights.
Armed with a nice bottle of Haden Fig Pinot Noir, we sat by the window facing the street to enjoy our meal. I’m going to try to describe what we ate here. Apologies to the chefs if my taste buds misidentified something.
- Salted cod spread with warm crepe that reminded me of a Korean scallion pancake
- Vegetable broth that was so rich I couldn’t believe it was not made out of meat bones, served with small pieces of ramp stalks
- A beet green dusted with powdered yogurt
- Soft tofu with peas
- Date bread and the most delicious and evil ramp brioche served with ramp butter
- Young lettuce with Phu Quoc flavors of fish sauce, vinegar and Sriracha
- A surprising combination of strawberries, turnips and salmon roe that worked
- Asparagus, mushrooms, and olive sauce with a surprisingly technical foam made from canned tuna
- Confit of carrots, cardamom and wild watercress
- Amazing textures of creamed spinach, beets and millet with an arrow leaf spinach
- Savory parsnip brûlée with mustard creme
- Beet yogurt hazelnut bar