Mister Dips: After reading Nick Solares' burger review last week I headed to Mr. Dips on Sunday afternoon with my family. We made a perilous dash across the stream of marathon runners on Bedford Ave., and I inhaled a double burger, waffle fries, and the Malter Cronkite. As usual, Nick was right. Such a good burger, such good fries, and after my disappointing cone at Dominique Ansel recently, such a great soft serve experience. I grew up on Dairy Queen so having a well dipped cone (but made with super creamy and intensely flavorful vanilla and chocolate ice cream) was pure joy.
Caveat: I've lived in Williamsburg for a decade, and as such will reflexively resent what comes to the neighborhood after my arrival. The virtues of Mr. Dips (of which there are many) do not completely erase the sins The William Vale Hotel in my mind (mostly that it's a blight on the skyline). But the building is here to stay, so why not fill it with delicious whimsy courtesy of Andrew Carmellini?
Italienne (pictured at top): To be honest, I was not in the best mood when going to Italienne. It’s been kind of a rough week, and as much as I love trying new restaurants, eating at the hip new thing isn’t as appealing as going back to places I already know I love when I’m in a terrible mood. I wasn’t even planning on going to Italienne on Wednesday night, but Sugarfish literally had a four hour wait so I buckled up and walked over.
With all that against it, Italienne had to be a really good experience — not just great food but a warm environment and kind service, too. I was ready to not like it. But man, I loved it. It was quiet without being dead. Service had a few kinks, but it was still in soft opening mode, and none of it was fatal. And to be honest, I expected everything to be way more expensive and less filling than it actually was. Plus, it was all delicious. A salad with Asian pear and persimmon was a real salad with arugula and cheese, not a tiny plate of composed fruits that fine dining or small plates restaurants tend to deliver. A cauliflower gratin mimicked the flavors of a particularly well-balanced mac-and-cheese. And a galette with apple, rosemary, and mascarpone tasted exactly like a fall dessert should taste, even though I wished it had been served warm.
I was truly charmed, and I’m already encouraging everyone else in the office to go give it a try. — Serena Dai
Chumley's: I grew up in Manhattan, but my family really only ate out at the same few restaurants over and over again. I'm saying I had never been to the old Chumley's, and I am sorry. The new Chumley's was fantastic this weekend. The steak tartare was so unique: cheese?! I was blown away by it. I also loved the salty oysters and the steak for two. I could cozy up in the space for hours and it would be a perfect night once again. — Jackie Goldstein
Fuku: I stopped in to Fuku to check out the new chicken sandwich, which comes topped with bacon and ranch dressing, that had been popping up on my Instagram feed lately. I am not sure why I ordered it as I really don’t dig either condiment on sandwiches, or in general really, except that Instagram is apparently a potent marketing tool. How can the host of The Meat Show not really dig bacon, you might ask? Because to my mind, it is not meaty enough. Smoky, salty, crisp? Sure. But not really meaty in the way a ribsteak or a spare rib or even a deep fried chicken thigh are. But I digress. The deep fried chicken thigh at Fuku, it turns out, doesn’t need the bacon or the ranch. I should note that both toppings are beyond reproach — the bacon is fried into a crisp, bronzed tangle, and the ranch is a particularly perky version, full of tang and zest —but the chicken thigh itself has enough flavor and juiciness to carry the day. Served plain, it is my favorite of the current crop of chicken sandwich. If on the other hand, you like bacon and ranch on your chicken sandwiches, I am pretty certain you will love this version. — Nick Solares
EN Japanese Brasserie: Back in 2004, when Japanese restaurants were casting about for new identities, EN was founded in the West Village. It quickly became a favorite, thanks to its unusual menu — incorporating small dishes from several regions of Japan, plus some Americanized stuff — and dramatic build-out. Its signature of freshly made tofu in a wooden box was spectacular, and so was the fried chicken: gnarly morsels with an adamantine crust. But I hadn’t eaten there in a couple of years when a friend threw her birthday party there for a gaggle of friends from all over the city.
Sure the tofu and chicken were as good as ever, but the rest of the set meal was also compelling, including a four-fish sashimi selection, pungent garlic fried rice capped with shredded shiso, big hunks of skin-on miso black cod, and a selection of Kyoto-style obanzai — the Japanese answer to Spanish tapas or Venetian chicchetti. Best of these was a toss of crunchy lotus root and unguent pork belly marinated in miso, making for a very slippery delight that had to be grasped twice or thrice with the chopsticks before traction was achieved. — Robert Sietsema
Locanda Verde: Slowly but surely, I’m making my way through a very long list of great NYC restaurants that I haven’t been to yet, and last week, I finally managed to hit up Andrew Carmellini’s charming Tribeca restaurant. It’s as good as people say. I walked in without a reservation at primetime during a weekday and was able to sit down immediately. The pastas were astounding, but the real standout was dessert. The lemon tart was incredibly well-balanced, and the milk-flavored gelato it came with had the most amazing, creamy texture. Wins all around. — Serena Dai
Sushi on Jones: When my friend told me her husband flaked on their Sushi on Jones reservation for last Friday night and asked if I wanted to go, I was pretty thrilled. Sushi on Jones — and the whole Bowery Market — feels so raw and hip. I was taking up space on the street admiring the fun neon and cute menu when our seats were ready a few minutes early. The chef had a friendly smile and I completely lost track of the pieces while sitting on the sidewalk counter eating pieces of sushi with my hands. Then a nervous looking host came up to us and told us we needed to pay and leave and our time was up. My friend and I looked at each other, we definitely had eight minutes to go of our 30 minute slot. I immediately started to protest and said I had been planning to order the extra hand roll, the host started to say I couldn't and during this weird exchange my last piece, the eel, landed on my plate. The host left to let us eat the piece, and came back about 15 seconds later. "Okay, here's what's going to happen: you're going to pay, then get out of your seats, and we'll just hand you your hand rolls on the street." My uni exploded out the bottom after the second bite. — Jackie Goldstein
Alamo Drafthouse: I’ve now gone to Alamo Drafthouse twice for movies, and I must say, I am so glad that it’s there. The movie selection is super fun, and the neighborhood really did need it. However, its reputation as "movie theater with actually good food" is only somewhat deserved. I’ve tried a jerk chicken sandwich, a steak sandwich, sweet potato fries, and regular fries, and they were all okay. Nothing to save your stomach for, but certainly not bad options while watching a movie. The boozy milkshake and cocktails were all a delight and worth sampling though. Word of warning: Their fried pickles are SPEARS. Fireable offense. Fried pickle chips are the only acceptable form of fried pickles. Do not order the dish here. — Serena Dai
Sugarfish: I left work on Wednesday around 5 p.m. to get to Sugarfish early. I had woken up that morning around 5 a.m. crying thinking about the fact that Trump was going to be the president of the USA and didn't really have it in me to wait in a line for four hours, but to my delight, 5:15 p.m. was a very safe time to get there. I waltzed right in. I don't really remember the one I visited in LA since I had gone so many years ago, but I remember my main takeaway was that the rice was loosely packed and kind of fell apart. Here, the signature rice is a little less loosely packed but I still was nervous it was all going to fall apart each time I picked up a piece. The fish was fresh and the portions were very generous. My favorite piece was definitely the crab hand roll. I left very full. — Jackie Goldstein
Smith & Wollensky: I ate at Smith & Wollensky this week, which, at one time in my life, is something I did almost every Sunday. These days I can’t get there as much as I would like, given the demands of my job, but when I do, my order remains the same: prime rib cooked extra rare, cut from the anterior of the rack to insure a large portion of the spinalis dorsi, AKA the cap or deckle, plus hash browns and creamed spinach. It is still my favorite meal, although really it is as much a personal ritual at this point. The prime rib never fails to bring me intense pleasure. The gentle funk from the dry aging informing the supple, rosy meat; the gnarled, crusty exterior rife with the flavors of slow roasting — nutty and earthy. I could eat this dish every day. — Nick Solares
Cheburechnaya: Indeed, the best dinners of the last fortnight have been en masse. The Organ Meat Society came to order in Rego Park at this long-running Bukharan Uzbek restaurant. The charcoal kebab selection was excellent, including calves liver, each dark-red chunk separated from the others by tiny cubes of lamb fat; sweet breads that trailed down the skewer like brown clouds in an angry sky; chewy lamb heart muscle; and lamb testicles that were perhaps a bit too pale and testicular. The garlic-heaped french fries cooked in tallow, and samsa pastries that each held a single lamb rib, with the bone sticking out the end, also delighted us. — Robert Sietsema
Ribalta serves doctrinaire looking Neapolitan pies replete with DOC ingredients but with a significant tweak — chef Pasquale Cozzolino has been experimenting with long maturation of his dough leading to pizzas with crusts that have considerably developed flavor. They exhibit a yeasty tang along with the familiar delicate chew of the Neapolitan style. I had a plain Margherita at Ribalta last week that was as good as it gets in NYC right now — the supple crust, the sweetness of San Marzanos, a milky pool of buffalo mozzarella, all collude to transport me to Naples in a visceral sense when I close my eyes and get lost in the moment.
But wait, there’s more! The spaghetti pomodoro is just as accomplished and is worth visiting Ribalta for even if you skip the pizza. Neapolitan native and Ribalta proprietor Rosario Procino and chef Cozzolino were somewhat aghast at what passes for the dish in NYC and set out to bring an authentic Neapolitan version to the city. To this end, they claim to have taste tested over 20 pastas eventually settling on rope-like spaghettoni paired with sauce from tomatoes called pomodorini del piennolo that are hung in a cellar like a hunk of meat to age for six months. The result is rousing. The tomatoes are sweet and vibrant but they have a secondary note that is earthy and volcanic. The thick pasta, cooked to a perfect al dente (one of the benefits of dried pasta) is the perfect vehicle for the sauce, which is spiked with basil, olive oil, and salt. The simplicity of the dish is deceptive, it is far greater than the sum of its parts. — Nick Solares