CHATEAU ALIK: CONFUSION AND CHAOS

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I don’t normally post negative reviews, mostly because I’d rather tell people what they should try instead of what they should avoid. But, based on my experience yesterday, I’m compelled to write something now.

Chateau de Alik is a restaurant in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn, and the experience I had yesterday might have been the most hilariously terrible level of service I’ve ever experienced at a “high end” restaurant. For the most part, the restaurant is like any typical russian restaurant in the Sheepshead Bay/Brighton Beach area. Gaudy aesthetics, a menu with no clear theme, and waiters who tend to cater better to other Russians than to Americans. Considering my whole family is from Russia, I figured I’d be getting decent service, but what followed could only be found in a slapstick comedy.

Our reservations were for 4:30, and we were informed that there is a big party scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and that we need to be finished eating by then. with two and a half hours, I figured that was fine, there was only five of us, how long could it really take to get through a three course meal? The answer is two hours and fifteen minutes when your waiters forget to serve you. As we were seated we were given three menus, all in russian, which my brother and I can barely read. It took five minutes for the waiter to actually bring two more menus for us, and we just happened to luck out that they ran out of russian menus and “had to” give us the english ones.

The menu itself is all over the place, it seems like the chef knew he wanted to have expensive dishes on the menu, and based the entire menu on that alone. There’s nothing that actually brought the menu together. There were french dishes, and italian dishes, and russian dishes. The next issue is there was no separation between appetizers that are meant for a single person and appetizer that were meant to be shared with the table. We ordered four appetizers, tuna tartar, escargot, smoked bacon and tomato salad, and fried calamari. The escargot and tartar were tiny dishes, with barely enough food on the plates to share. the salad and calamari on the other hand were enormous. Unfortunately the former were meant to be shared and the latter were for individual people.

Now the service, this is where we really had some fun. Now I will qualify what follows by saying that there was a large party for a one-year old being prepped while we were eating so the waiters were distracted. Having said that, if your staff can’t handle serving a table while preparing for an event, then you really shouldn’t be taking reservations. Our waiter seemed particularly clueless. It started with a complete lack of understanding of what my brother and I were trying to order, because we were ordering in English. It got to the point where we had to point at things on the menu for him to know what we wanted. As orders would finally come in, they would not come in all at once. Half the table would be well into eating their appetizers before the other half got anything. My brother suffered in particular, as he ordered the bacon salad, which they clearly forgot to make. As every other appetizer was almost eaten, we finally got a hold of our waiter and told him that the salad had not been brought yet. Turns out, it takes 30 minutes to cook bacon, at least that’s what the message from the kitchen to us was, that “they were still cooking the bacon.” More realistically, they obviously forgot. My brother then asked for water, and instead of bringing a pitcher to pour for the table, they took his glass away and returned it filled with water. Instead of making the waiter take four more trips to refill all our other glasses, we asked for some water to just be brought to the table. They brought sealed bottle of Voss water… and then charged us $4.50 per bottle. We eventually finished our appetizers and waited a further 30 minutes before the entrees would be served. Once again they were not served simultaneously and there would be some people eating, while others weren’t. Finally, when we tried ordering dessert, the waiters did not know what was on their own menu. They were out of two of the options and were offering desserts made at a completely different establishment. This was all topped off by the fact that at all times half the staff was just standing around chatting and half was running around setting up for the party. We’d have to wave our hands frantically for anyone to notice us and two different times things were dropped right behind us. My brother and I were dying of laughter by the end of this meal. The meal reached the point of being one of those movies that are so awful that they become hilarious.

I would say that the food was a small redeeming factor but it really wasn’t. It’s not that the food was bad, it was mostly adequate, but it wasn’t the quality of food one would expect for the prices that were being charged. The sauce for the calamari was so chunky and unsausy that you couldn’t really dip anything into it. At one point I just forked out a huge piece of tomato so I could at least have some of the dip with my calamari. My brother had rice with his entree, some of which seemed undercooked as he had a bit of crunchy rice. To boot, his scallops had little bits of crunch on them. We couldn’t tell if the scallops were poorly washed and still had some sand, or if the top was so over cooked that we were crunching on little burnt pieces of the scallop. I ordered a rack of lambs, and though there was plenty of food on the plate, the lamb was not uniformly cooked. I asked for medium-rare and while one my cuts was medium-rare the second was very clearly medium, with the entire center being a solid pink.

Perhaps it was a bad night, perhaps the experience is better for a large party than for a small one. Whatever the issue was for the staff that night, it was enough to ensure that I will never willingly return. As my brother and I exited the restaurant, we noticed that directly adjacent to Chateau de Alik, was an authentic looking chinese restaurant, meat hanging in the window and all. We both thought the same thing, that we’d have rather gone there. suffice it to say, I won’t be returning and I plan to actively tell people to avoid this place unless they want a good laugh or they’re willing to shell out a lot of money for a mediocre experience.

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Hearty Ramen on a Brisk Fall Day

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Welcome back friends and strangers. I want to start off by apologizing for my extremely long absence from the blog. Circumstances kept arising that kind of kept me away from all you lovely people. First in March, after an amazing lunch at The Cannibal that I was going to tell you about, I had my phone stolen on the way home, and with it went the photos. I plan to make a return trip during dinner one day to sample their pig’s head, and I’ll be sure to report back to you then. After that, I had my last set of law school finals and then went straight into studying for the Bar. After all that and some time to relax and some more time to scramble to find a job, however temporary it may be, I have finally returned. And with my return, I want to tell you about a lovely ramen shop around the Boerum Hill area in Brooklyn called Ganso.

To make this different from usual, I’ll be adding in my brother’s thoughts about the place because we didn’t really see eye to eye. I blame his opinion on setting incredibly high standards, since the only ramen he’s ever had other than Ganso is Ippudo and Totto Ramen, which is an insane standard to put other ramen up to. We ended up trying three different things because (a) I was super hungry, and (b) I need to be able to write about something.

BUTA KIMCHI BUNS

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The first appetizer we shared was the Bota Kimchi buns. Deliciously braised pork belly accompanied by jalapeño kimchi, spicy mayo, and a cucumber. For this one brother and I had pretty similar views. We both thought that, overall, the pork bun was very good. Not great, not particularly memorable, but definitely very good. I found the pork to be just a smidge dry, and both brother and I thought that they put a bit too many things into the bun. A bit less kimchi would have made it loads better, the pork kinda got lost in everything else. But, the kimchi tasted great, and the spicy mayo balanced the dish well. Brother says he wanted the spicy mayo to be thicker, but he’s an idiot and I don’t agree. He also said he loved the buns and that they were super silky and he would want nothing more than to chow down on the buns all day whilst admiring their silkiness. I’ll grant him that one, the buns were beautifully soft.

CRISPY GYOZA

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The crispy gyoza are where brother and I differ the most. He didn’t really didn’t care for them, and I thought they were delicious. These five wonderful pot stickers were filled with pork, garlic, and chive and came with a chili soy sauce for dipping. For me, the batter was moist and tender and the meat made for a great precursor to the pork-filled ramen that was to come. The only issue I had was that they could’ve done with 15-20 seconds less cooking. You can see in the picture that they just got a little to burnt and, in a couple spots, went from that beautiful golden-brown color to the charcoal black color. And those parts did come with a bit of that overcooked charcoal taste. But no matter, I would gobble those things up all over again if I had the chance. Brother, on the other hand, said they were his least favorite part of the meal and found them too salty (I could not disagree more, and think it’s more due to the fact that he drenched his pieces in the soy sauce for too long and too much). I tried to press him to figure out what he specifically didn’t like about it, but he just said “I don’t know, they’re tasteless, but they’re also salty. I think they’re tasteless because they’re salty.” That’s all I’ve got for you, I don’t know how else to describe his opinion. All I’ll say is, everyone in the joint was eating these bad boys and no one seemed to have an issue with them.

GANSO RAMEN

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Now we get to the main event, the ganso ramen. Usually I like to go straight for a restaurant’s spicy ramen option, but I’ve done a lot of damage to my stomach in the last few weeks and figured I’d show it some mercy and go for the place’s signature ramen, instead of just getting the spicy one. I tried to push brother to get the spicy one so we could sample both, but at the last second he switched back to this one. This ramen comes with a shōyu broth, angelh air braised pork shoulder AND pork belly, ajitama egg, bamboo, chives, and some other greens. The pork belly was divine. Completely tender and juicy, it melted in my mouth without having to chew. Brother, who usually hates fat on meat (you should see him butcher steaks as he takes off the fat) said that he loved the fat on this; it really was just meaty juicy perfection. The ajitama egg came as a close second to being the star of the dish. The yolk was in that wonderful little area between completely liquid and completely solid, and… you know what, I don’t need to describe it, it tasted just as good as it looks in the photo. The pork shoulder was a nice toss in, but ultimately unnecessary. I would’ve much rather preferred more pork belly. This isn’t to say the shoulder tasted bad, it just wasn’t contributing much to a bowl of ramen that already had such great pork already in there. Brother said his piece was too tough and chewy for his liking. I didn’t get that with mine, maybe it just seemed that way after how easy it was to eat the belly, I don’t know. I didn’t think it was badly cooked, just not really contributing much. Finally the broth, another area where Brother and I disagree. Brother said he found the broth very generic and bland. I again contribute this statement to the fact that he’s subconsciously comparing this broth to Ippudo’s broth. I mean, if you’re going to make that comparison then obviously he’s right, but it’s a silly one to make because this broth was just fine in its own way. I actually liked that it was not too fatty and heavy, which would have obliterated me if it were. By the end of the meal I was just full enough that I could make the trip home without dying. The broth was nicely flavored for me, maybe nothing that special, but certainly not the bland, hot water that Brother is trying to make it out to be.

Overall, Ganso has a bit a ways to go to be able to compete with the real big dogs in the New York ramen market, but it certainly can stand its own ground. I had a great time there, and hope you give it a try.

Hanco’s vs. Nicky’s: The Great Banh Mi Battle

Alright the title is misleading. First I’m not just comparing banh mis, I’ll be looking at the appetizers too. Second, neither place is really “great” compared to some of the other banh mis you can get in NY. So why these two? Well because I spend way too much of my time on campus and these two vietnamese shops are the closest for delivery purposes.

Ease and Timeliness

To make this contest as even as possible I ordered from both locations for delivery, and had them delivered to the same location. When it comes to ordering, Nicky’s takes the win simply because it’s on Seamless and Hanco’s isn’t. Hanco’s is on GrubHub, but the menu there isn’t even up to date, so if you ordered online you wouldn’t be able to get the appetizer I got because they only started selling it. Now you may ask, “why not just order by phone?” Well, that’s what I had to do for Hanco’s and that’s ridiculous. Might as well just revert back to the stone ages. I’m not some cave man that I should be picking phones and calling places. We all know that the only thing phones are used for at this point is texting, playing games, and browsing the internet. However this overall category becomes a draw because of delivery time. Hanco’s delivered in less than thirty minutes (I think they got it here in twenty minutes actually). Nicky’s took over a fucking hour to get their food here, that’s not okay in my book. Actually, it’s not a draw, I’ll take the speedy delivery time over the ordering convenience. Slight edge to Hanco’s.

Appetizers

Now we get to the meat of the issue, literally… because we’re talking about food. I made a funny. From Hanco’s I got an order of spring rolls.

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These things are fucking delicious. The shell is crunchy, if not a bit greasy and the meat inside tastes so juicy. It came with a container of nuoc cham for dipping, obviously, but it tasted so good on their own that I started to feel guilty dipping them.

For Nicky’s I went with an order of summer rolls.

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Now here’s probably where I fucked up. Hanco’s actually has summer rolls too and I should have probably compared summer roll to summer roll, but the spring rolls at Hanco’s are too good to pass up, my stomach got the better of me. However I’ve had their summer rolls before so comparisons can still be made, I guess. Nicky’s rolls were pretty good for summer rolls. The veggies tasted fresh and crisp, and the shrimp really had some flavor to them. As you can see in the photo, they also came with a container of nuoc cham sauce. Hanco’s summer rolls have a little less taste in their shrimp, but Hanco’s gives you peanut butter sauce with the summer rolls instead of the nuoc cham sauce. And that peanut butter sauce is a real difference maker. Hanco’s gets a bit less taste out of its shrimp than Nicky’s but it provides you with a much better sauce. So, for reasons of both taste and variety, the edge for appetizer goes to Hanco’s.

Banh Mi

Finally we get to the most important part, the sandwiches themselves. To make it as comparable as possible, I got pork sandwiches from both locations. Also, for both orders, I asked for the spiciest level they have.

Hanco’s Sandwich

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Hanco’s really hits the spot with this sandwich. The meat is a bit chewy and it’s hard to take a bite without pulling out the full chunk of meat, but the flavors are good. I told them spice, they gave me spice, still not as spicy as I would like, seeing as how that was their spiciest level and I could’ve taken a lot more, but at least there was spice to taste. The bread is nice and crispy, and the pickled veggies have got some real flavor to them and compliment the spice nicely.

Nicky’s

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Oh Nicky’s, they had so much promise, but this is where it all falls apart for them. First, I don’t know how sensitive the rest of you are to spice, but I didn’t feel anything with this sandwich, such a disappointment. Their meat was actually much easier to chew through, but without the spice and any real flavor to the meat, it seemed like such a waste. The veggies were fine and I liked that they threw in a cucumber, which Hanco’s didn’t have. The sandwich itself also seemed a smidge smaller, either that or I was so hungry by the time the food got there that nothing could satiate me properly at that point.

So, if you find yourself in downtown Brooklyn, somewhere around the Fulton Mall area, and you think to yourself, “man, I really want a banh mi but I’m much too lazy to take a trip into Manhattan,” then Hanco’s is the place for you.

Nargis Cafe: Borat May Not Approve, But I Do

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For this one, credit will have to go to my grandparents. They spent the entire summer nagging that we needed to eat here, but for one reason or another it took forever to actually go. It’s a small, cozy Uzbeki restaurant (don’t let Borat’s opinion of the country deter you though), with outdoor seating and a friendly atmosphere, though the music is much too loud; it’s a restaurant, not a club, and people actually want to hear each other talk. Get with the program. If you’re going to go, go with a group because, as you’re about to see, the appetizer portions only come in family style sizes. And if you only speak english, don’t worry the menu has translations. Oh, and you can BYOB, or at least they didn’t care that we had our own stuff, so bring what you like.

The Appetizers

Non

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Okay, I’m cheating here. This is more of a side than an Appetizer, but it’s the first thing we ate so just go with it. The non is okay, but nothing special. It comes in warm, which is great, but not fluffy enough on the inside. On its own it was only okay, but it worked nicely when incorporated with other dishes.

Spring Salad with Cheese

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I should note at this point that I wasn’t involved in ordering any of the apps, so this may have not been the most original thing to go with. Having said that, that’s exactly my complaint with the salad; it’s plain and generic. The ingredients tasted fresh enough I guess, but at the end of the day it’s the same old salad that one might get at any other slavic restaurant. It tasted fine I guess, but nothing to go out of my way to get; feel free to ignore this and try something more fun.

Fried Eggplant Salad

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As someone who doesn’t normally like eggplant at all, this was a delightful surprise. It’s light, with a hint of spice, and a good cold app considering the weather was death outside. Save the non, and eat it with this; it works wonderfully as a spread for the bread. Or eat it on its own, what the fuck do I know.

The Soup

Lagman

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This is soup’s a real winner; it was also an integral part of my grandparents’ pitch to get us to go here. Last year for brother’s birthday, we took the family to Ippudo for some of the best ramen in NYC. So when it came to selling Nargis Cafe, they kept repeating, “they have soup just like the japanese place.” Let me tell you now, the soup is good, but it’s no ippudo. It’s also not a ramen, so I’m not sure why the comparison was being made in the first place. Point being, it’s very good, maybe even great. The broth has a nice thickness to it, not too thick that it makes the whole soup feel too heavy, but thick enough that it doesn’t just taste like flavored water. It’s also spicy, not very spicy, but it’ll slowly build up as you slurp away. In the soup were also homemade noodles, some diced beef, and vegetables. The noodles were lovely, a smidge flat and soft. Brother claimed they were udon noodles, I don’t think that’s the case. Similar, maybe, but not actually udon noodles. the meat was well cooked and soaked up the broth well so you got a lot of flavor out of the meat. The veggies didn’t do much for me though, at least not the peppers. They were just…well there, I can’t say they added anything unless you really like bell peppers. But there’s so much going on in the soup already, they felt largely unnecessary. Also, I should note here, there are two soup sizes. The menu doesn’t say this, but you can order a half-soup, which is the size of the above photo. I don’t know how big the full size is, but I can tell you, you don’t need the full size. You’re working your way through a lot of food here, let’s not get greedy, you’ll be stuffed by the end anyway.

Hot Entrees

Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first.

Samsa

I don’t even have a photo for this one because it just wasn’t worth remembering. Brother ordered this one, and he probably wishes he could forget it ASAP. The Samsa is a meat pie, except there’s way too much bread, and the meat is just not that good. Poor guy, he was warned not to order it, but he went ahead anyway. He wanted to try something new and, alas, things did not go his way. This is a critique of only the meat samsa, they also have a pumpkin samsa, but I doubt it’s any better. With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Manti

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I. Love. Dumplings. And god damn it these were good! They’re steamed meat dumplings and are lightly seared to brown the dough just enough to add some nice color. the filling is really superb, meaty, and soft, and tender. Brother claims that one of his dumplings was too chewy, that he may have gotten a fatty piece in there (he hates fat in meat, weirdo) but I didn’t have the same complaint with any of the ones I ate. So I’m going to chalk this complaint to either a freak mistake that no one else tasted, or he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Get the manti and enjoy.

Chebureki

No photo for this one either, not because it was bad, but because people ate it too quickly before I had a chance to get my phone out for the photo. I also started filling up here too much and still had more food on the way, so I only ate a small sliver. These are deep fried meet pies, flatter than the samsa, and much tastier. The dough wasn’t really that memorable, but the meat tasted great, from the small amount I had. Everyone else seemed to love it, so I’ll just adopt their opinion here. I was kinda starting to die from the amount of food I’ve had at this point, so you guys might want to order less when you go.

The Kebab

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What you see here, is a single piece of kebab. Don’t let this fool you, there was originally a whole skewer of them just for me. What happened here was a two part problem. The first, I was so out of it from all the food by this time, that I forgot to take a photo right away (this was the last piece from my skewer). The second is that it smelled so good, I dove in much too quickly and didn’t remember to take a photo until the food sedation kicked in again. Having said that, I had the lamb kebab, and it was delicious. It was moist, tender, and beautifully cooked, if not maybe a little under-seasoned. It also came with a mountain of onions soaked in lemon juice. I say soaked, but I really mean drowned. The lemon was way too strong. There was also a skewer of beef kebab going around, but that one didn’t really tickle my fancy. It was overcooked, much too chewy, and just didn’t compare to the lamb. The skewers come with 4-5 pieces, and you might be thinking to yourself, “I’m gonna need more than one skewer if that’s all I’m getting.” You’re wrong, take it from me, by the time you get to the kebabs, you’ll barely be conscious enough to complete full sentences, much less eat more than one skewer. The food coma will be strong, but damn well worth it.

Fries

I won’t waste much time on this, but someone ordered fries for the table and they were worthless. They didn’t fit the rest of the meal, nor were they good on their own. There’s enough food here that you don’t need to concern yourself with such a bad side dish.

One final note. This didn’t happen to me, but apparently this is the case. You need to tell them that you don’t want all your food coming at once, or they’ll send out all the food at once. So just let them know that you don’t want all the food sent out at once and you’ll be good to go. Or have all the food at once, maybe that’s the more fun way to go. Do whatever you want.

The Redhead: Southern Comfort in the East Village

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A couple weeks ago I had the chance to visit to visit a lovely little spot in the east village for a friend’s going away party. Located a little off of 1st ave on 13th Street, The Redhead was one of the best meals I’ve had all summer, if not also one of the heaviest (in retrospect it may not have been the best idea given that it was about 90 degrees outside that day). So, without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Bacon Peanut Brittle

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The first thing we ordered was a bowl of bacon peanut brittle. This led to a bit of confusion because what we were served was more of just a smal bowl of peanuts that seemed to have been cooked with bacon, but it wasn’t the type of peanut brittle that I expected. The visual confusion soon faded as I ate some and whatever visual issues I had with it became irrelevant for two reasons. The first was simple: it was delicious. I didn’t so much get the taste of bacon with the peanuts, as much as I got the smokiness of the bacon, which went oh so well with the peanuts. The second, was that I was immediately reminded of something else I ate, the Urban LumberShack concrete at Brooklyn’s Shake Shack location (fun fact, for those of you who don’t know, I was the first civilian to eat at that location). The connection made sense very quickly as the bacon peanut brittle used in Shake Shack’s concrete is in fact the the same brittle we were currently munching on, giving the Redhead instant points for nostalgia factor.

Magic Hat Circus Boy

About a third of the way into the brittle we were served our drinks; after the waiter informed me that the beer I actually wanted was not available anymore, he recommended me the Magic Hat Circus Boy, claiming it was similar to what I ordered. I, mistakenly, took his advice and this turned out to be the only disappointing part of my meal. I’d talk about the color and head, but it was served in a bottle so I have no idea what either actually were. The taste though was nothing special at all. The issue wasn’t even that it tasted bad, it just barely had any taste at all. The one upside was that it was a pretty light beer to drink, and given the weather outside, probably for the better, but overall forgettable (as soon as I finish with this I’m going to do my best to forget it all over again).

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

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For my entree I went with their buttermilk fried chicken and, holy fuck, that’s where the southern comfort really hit home. Along with two pieces of fried chicken (one dark, one white),  it also came with a piece of cornbread and a small spinach salad with strawberries and candied almonds. The chicken was simply glorious, I don’t know how else to describe it except poultry perfection. The skin was beautifully fried and stayed crunchy throughout the whole meal. If I had the chance, I would just have them fry up pounds of that skin for me, take it home, and just wrap all my meals in it. Between the crunch and the perfect seasoning I couldn’t help but close my eyes and smile as I slowly chewed away on my first bite. The dark meat was right up there as well; amazingly moist and just melted in my mouth, I really couldn’t have asked for a better piece of poultry.

The breast wasn’t as great but, then again, I’ve never been a big fan of white meat. Obviously it was more dry than the thigh, and the skin didn’t have that same, amazing crunch that the thigh had. Still though, for white meat, it was some great piece of meat.

As for the cornbread and salad, both were good, but the salad was definitely more memorable. The cornbread was well made, but a bit dry for my liking. The flavor was definitely there though, that I can’t complain about, but it would have really benefited from a bit more moistness, especially since I only bit into after I already started eating the breast, thirsts were quickly built that needed immediate quenching. The salad though was another part of the plate that really just hit home nicely. There wasn’t anything intricate or complex about it, but the simplicity was refreshing, as were the strawberries. The freshness of the salad and the sweetness of the strawberries really created a nice dichotomy from the savoriness and heaviness of the chicken. Spot on pairing in my book.

Cuban Style Grilled Corn (stupidly, I forgot to take a photo. Apologies to everyone.)

For my side I went with their cuban style grilled corn, which was two pieces of corn on the cob, grilled, and covered with cheese. I traded one of the pieces with a friend for one of his drop biscuits. The corn was good but not great, in retrospect it didn’t really fit with the rest of my meal and the cheese slightly overpowered the flavor of the corn. It was good, but if I were to go again I might want to try something else. The drop biscuits were more confusing than anything else. They’re served with a bowl of honey that you’re supposed to dip the buiscuts into and I guess it’s a southern thing, because I didn’t really get it. The buiscuts were kind of sweet enough on their own already and it’s a good thing this was the last thing I ate because the sweetness of the buiscuts and the honey kind of killed the palate. It wasn’t bad or anything exactly, I just don’t really understand how it fits into a dinner, it seems closer to something that you would snack on while drinking tea or coffee.

Speakeasy Double Daddy IPA

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After dinner, we ventured over to The Hop Devil Grill (some readers may remember that this is the bar that makes up my two favorite blocks in the city for food and drink), where I had the pleasure to partake in the Speakeasy Double Daddy (double IPA). The photo doesn’t really do the beer any visual justice. It poured a very pretty amber/dark orange color with about a finger and a half of an offwhite head. It had a lovely, distinct citrusy smell to it, which definitely came through in the flavor, along with some strong hops (to be expected when dealing with an IPA). It was a great beer, but poorly chosen as it was also incredibly heavy and, given the weather, may not have been the best choice. It was not a commute back home, I’ll say that much. Save this for when the temperature cools down a bit.

Overall it was a great meal though, if not a bit expensive. The buttermilk chicken alone sold me on the place right away; everything else was just the icing on an already delicious cake. A warning though, it really is a heavy meal, so if you go, prepare accordingly.

A Culinary Bright Light in the Wasteland of Sheepshead Bay

As I mentioned in a previous post, I moved to Midwood, Brooklyn a few years ago. Except for a rare few places, it’s mostly a desolate wasteland for food lovers, and it gets worse as you travel farther south into the Sheepshead Bay area. Once there you basically have three options as 90% of eateries will fall into these three categories: 1) Russian food, 2) mediocre seafood, or 3) Russian seafood. The 10% that fall out of this category are either too expensive, owned by Russians, or both (as a first generation american from Russian immigrants I can safely say there’s no escape when you get that far south in Brooklyn). And yet, the other day, I finally found a little spot that somewhat redeems the area. A little sandwich shop, a month old, half a block from the Sheepshead Bay train station named Randazzo’s Sandwich Spot.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like much (a good sign for my love of hole in the walls) and if you just look in while walking by you’ll probably confuse it for another average pizza joint that litter the city.

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But once inside, things take a sharp turn for the better. I’m not a creative person, especially when it comes to thinking of food to make for myself. So it always irks me a bit when a deli doesn’t offer an interesting menu of sandwiches, since I’ll probably just walk out with a roast beef and turkey with russian dressing or a pastrami with mustard on rye (oh Katz’s how I love thee…sorry, had a moment there). And that’s the first way this little spot impressed me, the menu was substantive and fun; they gave real options to choose from that I wouldn’t think of myself, because let’s face it, if I can do it myself why am I there at all. My brother and I promptly ordered two sandwiches and shared to get the most of the experience.

The one I went for was the Soprano: spicy cappicollo, prosciutto, fresh mozz, basil, tomato, oregano, black pepper, oil.

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At the first bite, there’s only one thought that comes to your mind: freshness. Everything in the sandwich tastes unbelievably fresh and delicious, the meat is perfectly sliced and there’s a perfect amount in it, the bread is soft and delicious. It was light, fun, and that fresh mozz, mouthwateringly good. And it was so refreshing too, which having just come from the gym (which I reluctantly just joined and hate. Also made this the perfect lunch as I got to gain back the very few calories i lost and add some on top of that.) and the day as hot as it was, made the sandwich all the better. Then you notice the flavor depth of the sandwich, as you eat you taste all the ingredients perfectly and it’s salty and cheesy and meaty and delicious, and then out of nowhere you finally taste a small kick from the cappicollo, and it’s like you’re biting into the sandwich for the first time all over again.

Then came my brother’s selection, the diablo: spicy sopressata, spicy capicoolo (using the word spicy instead of hot to avoid the confusion of whether the sandwich is heated or not), pepperoni, spicy peppers, pepper jack cheese, and spicy mustard.

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First, it gets all the same compliments that the Soprano got, tasted great and everything was fresh. To add to this, the spice of the meats was perfect, though the mustard may have been a tad overpowering. You could really taste each meat individually as chewed and it made you never want to stop chewing. And once again, the cheese was phenomenal, fresh and brilliantly made. The one downside had more to do with external factors, but with the day as hot as it was already, and having just come from the gym, eating something spicy may not have been the smartest decision on my brother’s part. Otherwise, both sandwiches were simply fantastic.

Now for a couple criticisms. First, the name. As much as I love this little place, is “Randazzo’s” really the name you want to go with? It was a good think I ate before I found out the actual name or I might not have taken it as seriously (figured out what the name was when as I picked up a menu mid-eating). Problem being, they’re only a moth old, they can’t exactly start changing names now…or maybe they can, what the fuck do I know? My second issue was inconsistency with the aesthetic they were trying to create. They were promoting themselves as fun and original. While eating there, a customer and the owner/manager got into a conversation about another, more popular deli, to which the owner/manager said the place is good but overpriced and too plain, too ordinary. He said that’s where Randazzo’s would be different. And it’s true, the menu selection is interesting and the prices are pretty decent. But, then you look at their fridge for beverage selection and it’s the same old soda schlock: pepsi, coke, etc. If you want to be original why not be original, why not get some boylan’s. I would have loved to chow down on my sandwich with some black cherry soda from boylan’s. And take it a step forward, get the minimum license you need to sell beer, beer and a sandwich is a staple lunch and you already have one of the best american breweries in your borough, Brooklyn Brewery. It would have been great to have my sandwich accompanied with some Brooklyn Pennant Ale. But oh well, no use crying over milk that isn’t even there to be spilt. My final complaint is the little blurb they have on the front of their take out menu. Mostly it’s fine except that the first sentence says “for over 80 years, our family has been in Sheepshead Bay, providing this neighborhood with the highest quality foods and customer satisfaction.” But they only opened a month ago. So, what’s the deal? Did they own another place before? Were they just giving out food to the neighborhood for 80 years before they decided to open up shop? I don’t know, and I didn’t read it until I got home so I didn’t get a chance to ask. It’s not a big deal, but it irks me a bit.

Overall the place was still great, of course I only ate two sandwiches so I’ll have to make several more trips to increase the sample size, you know, FOR SCIENCE! I’ve used enough adjectives already to explain how much I enjoyed this place, so I’ll throw it over to Homer Simpson to give a more audio/visual explanation of how much I liked this place: Homer’s review.

Heaven is Made of Cheese and Tomato Sauce

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A few years ago I had to move from Long Island to Brooklyn. I didn’t much care one way or another about the move as I really just dwell in my room most of the time anyway. The one shining moment about the move though was when I realized how close I would be to the most magical place in the city, Di Fara Pizza. In the middle of Midwood, a predominantly orthodox jewish area of brooklyn, is a little pizzeria that, for all intents and purpose, has no reason to be there. And yet, even with its quasi-misplaced location, it’s probably the most successful storefront in the area and that’s for only one reason, the food. It looks like nothing on the outside (pic above) and inside isn’t much better (recently renovated though, not that one who hasn’t been there before could tell) but, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you, this is the best slice of pizza you’ll ever come across.

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The place is run by a little old man in his mid 70’s, Dom DeMarco, and his kids. His kids help with taking orders and preparing the ingredients for the next pie, but Dom is the only one who ever makes anything, slowly, by hand, fresh per order. At first it will seem like he mechanically moves around the workstation preparing one pie after another, and to some extent that’s true. But as you watch him, and if you don’t get there early you’ll be watching for a while, he almost looks like he’s dancing. There’s no real precision to his workmanship, everything is by feel. How do you spread the sauce on? Dump some on and spread until it looks good. Is the pie in the oven done? Let’s shove a hand inside to check. Watching him work is really half the pleasure of the entire experience, well not half, but a good portion. As you stand there, the smell of the cooking pies fills you with hunger and anticipation until finally your turn arrives, and what meets you is simply perfection.

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The process. It takes a long, long time to get your food. The first reason is that he’s an old man, so cut him some slack. The second is the amount of ingredients and steps that go into each pie. He starts with some designer dough that’s special ordered and spreads across his work table. Once it’s in a nice, thin circle, he pours on the tomato sauce. This sauce is magnificent, made from plum tomatoes. They’re never completely crushed into the sauce so every now and then a slice comes out with a little chunk of tomato. Make sure to fight tooth and nail for this slice because those pieces of tomato or mouthwateringly unbelievable. Next, he drops on two different cheeses, buffalo mozzarella, and and some parmigiano-reggiano because if you’re gonna use cheese, you better make it the best damn cheese you can get your hands on. Then we pour some extra virgin olive oil both under and on top of the pie and into the oven it goes. Every now and then he’ll slide his hand into the oven and check the pie, and turn it by hand. I would have a photo of this, except I flinch every time I see him do it, pretty sure his fingertips have lost any feeling they may have once had. Once he decides the pie is read he pulls it out and lays it on the counter, bringing delight to the owner of the pie, and jealousy from everyone else still lying in wait.

He then sprinkles the third and final cheese, the gran padano; one of the sharpest and most delicious cheeses to ever find their way to a pizza (I always ask for some extra of the padano, they put it in a container so I can sprinkle more on later). The pizza is still so hot at this point, you can stand and watch as this third cheese melts its way into the pie.

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After that comes the final touch, some cuts of fresh basil, and another small pouring of olive oil to complete the pie.

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The end result is magnificence (though don’t be greedy and bite int too quickly, I did that today. Burned my lip and got a blister, still finished my half of the pie though because somethings are just worth the pain).

Here are some tips and tricks for visiting Di Fara. First, it’s right off the Avenue J stop on the Q-Train, but if you want to drive make sure you’re with other people, that way one of you can look for parking while the rest get in line. once inside, break off into groups again, one person stays in line to make the order, while the rest scramble for a table and chairs; the place is small and every second counts, time is of the essence. Next, come early. I usually arrive 20-30 minutes before they open, because once they get going, it takes longer and longer for your pie to come to you (especially when some asshole forgets where he is and orders five pies to go). This is what the line looked like 15 minutes before opening (Brother held my spot while I went to take this photo. Got there 30 minutes early and was  still only third in line, my skills are slipping):

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They have a weird system for who gets what pie, if you order multiple pies then your pies have to come out close enough to the same time for them to be yours. If you order two pies and only one is ready, it will go to the next person who ordered one pie. The optimal group size and order is to come with four people and order two round pies to stay. If you order to stay they’ll give you one pie and cook the second while you’re eating. If you’re waiting on your first pie, and a square pie has come out for slice orders GET ONE. The square pie is absolutely amazing, thick crunchy crust, globs of cheese floating on top on a pizza so hot the cheese is still partially liquid. It’s a must have. If you’re ordering to go, go for one round pie and one square pie, it’s a lot of food, and day old pizza for breakfast is the best. Next, when ordering, don’t order slices of the round pizza, go for the pie; this is for two reasons. First, because so many people order pies it’s hard for him to make a pie for slices, and he only makes them one at a time, so you might be waiting a while. Second, a slice of pizza is $5, but the pie is $28, so you actually get a per slice discount when you order the pie (take home what you don’t finish, can never go wrong wit too much pizza). Finally, don’t get toppings. The pizza is perfect the way it is, don’t sully it with more than what’s necessary. So, get on out there and enjoy a slice of heaven.