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Eaters' Journal 3/11/16: Cafe Altro Paradiso, Nix, The Heyward, Maialino, Emilio's Ballato, and More

Field notes from Eater editors about recent meals around New York City

Cafe Altro Paradiso: I stopped in super briefly here for a couple glasses of wine and a couple of snacks (spending around $80 fwiw), so I can't give a proper assessment of a full meal here. But I will say the space is beautiful, understated, very grown-up. And "cafe" is appropriate in the moniker — it seems like the ideal place to park yourself for hours and just have people come to you for a day of meetings. Or, even more humane, to while away an afternoon with a book and a coffee. — Kludt


El Atoradero: I took Sietsema's advice and went to El Atoradero for brunch on Saturday. Holy moly, this place is the real deal. Our server described the consomme de pollo as "really good for hangovers," which turned out to mean that the ultra-flavorful broth was filled with not just chickpeas and onions, but also approximately a dozen whole chicken livers, tangy and rich. It's possibly not everyone's idea of heaven, but it totally is mine. The carnitas have already gotten plenty of well-deserved love, but I think the real star of the brunch menu is the breakfast torta. It starts with the basics — avocado, black beans, cheese, pickled jalapeños — and sends it all the way up to brunch heaven by way of a perfect hash of chorizo, potato, and egg.—Rosner


Bica: I was a coffee shop person even before I was a coffee person. I love the atmosphere, I love complaining about the lack of outlets, I love stumbling upon new ones and seeing how they fit into the neighborhoods around them. The most recent? Bica, the coffee shop and takeout window inside George Mendes's Lupulo. The part of the corner space earmarked for morning coffee is cute: warm and welcoming, with a small walk-up window and pastry display on the 29th Street side. The coffee is good, served hot and fast — or, in the case of an iced mocha, cold and not too sweet. Portuguese egg custard tarts, the best I've had in recent memory, make for a good portable treat at a great price: $2.50 each; $12 for a half-dozen. And the array of small, snacky breakfast sandwiches (bacon, presunto, or linguica) are all $7. — Chopra


Here is a Look Around Freud

Photo by Nick Solares

Freud: Anyone who took Abnormal Psychology in college will be interested in Freud. Not the pre-eminent Austrian physician and theorist who influenced every author, artist, and social scientist in the first half of the 20th century, but the new restaurant on LaGuardia Place. Naming a restaurant after a figure of that stature – whether you buy his spiel or not – seems at best disingenuous, or at worst, stupid. Would you call a restaurant Moses or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example?

"I like the way this place looks," breathed my dining companion in a husky voice as she contemplated the dark, tongue-and-groove-paneled, nook-filled premises, which seated maybe 60 at regular tables, banquettes, and along a bar. At least the place wears its goateed (or maybe we should say goaty) theme lightly, mainly via a series of invented cocktails named after concepts that have enlivened the popular imagination: the [Freudian] slip, libido, catharsis, déjà raconté (a type of déjà vu), and taboo. The two cocktails we tried were good and not too sweet, but neither of them had any apparent connection with the concepts implied by the names. Shouldn’t "catharsis," for example, almost explode out of the glass, while "libido" taste slightly of messy sex?

Puerile and even desperate as the concept is, the food via chef Eduard Frauneder is delectable, with a farm-to-market theme added to the modern Austrian cooking pioneered here by David Bouley at Danube and Kurt Gutenbrunner at Wallsw, though such Teutonic specialties as wiener schnitzels, hamburgers, and spätzle have been part of the New York menu for over 150 years. The pressed pork neck with bacon was enjoyably smoky and salty, while a root-vegetable salad that looked pretty on the plate almost redeemed the meal, health-wise. Still, it’s hard to avoid an eye-roll when you admit to your friends you’ve just visited Freud.—Sietsema


Nix: It's hard not to call chef John Fraser's newcomer Nix California-inspired, with its veggie menu, white-washed walls, and cascading foliage running along a far wall. There's even a tapestry that wouldn't be out of place at an eatery like Cafe Gratitude in Venice. But, ultimately, the fresh, clean look feels slightly more proper than SoCal's general relaxed restaurant nature, and food — though devoid of meat — is surprisingly polished. My problem with most New York restaurants that purport to being plant-based or vegan is that they don't actually know how to treat vegetables. I don't need my broccoli masquerading as a hot dog. I also don't need a veggie burger loaded with so many fixings that, calorie-wise, it challenges McDonald's. Just give me high quality, seasonal vegetables that are simply prepared in a way that enables a plate to shine. And that's generally what Nix is doing. The menu is adventurous enough without feeling like it's trying too hard. Shiitake mushrooms over polenta crank the umami, and there's a totally delicious kale salad studded with sweet roasted sunchokes and dusted with Gouda. Yes, this is a vegetable restaurant, but prices are affordable enough ($18 and under) that I'll be returning very soon. — Odell


Photo by Nick Solares

Emilio’s Ballato: Emilio’s Ballato is the best Italian restaurant in Little Italy. And I don't just mean in relation to the dwindling cadre of tourist traps that once sat chock-a-block further down Mott and Elizabeth streets. I mean even in relation to modern classics like Peasant, Osteria Morini, or even the on-hiatus Torrisi.

Remember that photo of Billy Joel that loomed large on the wall at Torrisi? Billy Joel himself looms large at Emilio’s; along with other A-list musicians and actors too numerous to mention (although Lenny Kravitz deserves a shout out for leaving a new awning as a tip a few years back). Emilio’s Ballato is the real deal and an indelible part of downtown NYC history. The restaurant is precisely the type of place that Torrisi sought to evoke. Yet to eat at Emilio’s Ballato is not to wallow in nostalgia, rather it is to become part of the story. As a benefit, the food is really rather good.

I am convinced, for example, that the tagliatelle Bolognese that I had there for lunch last week (and many times prior) is the finest incarnation of the dish being served outside of Bologna. The homemade pasta — supple but with a pleasing chew, the chunky sauce, redolent with thyme and the deep, profound flavors of slow cooked meats and spiked with red wine — is soothing and comforting; familiar and evocative. It doesn’t take me to Italy. It lets me know I am right here at home in NYC.— Solares


Milk & Roses: My first favorite Greenpoint restaurants were oddball cafes like Eat Records, Greenpoint Coffee House, and the Queen’s Hideaway. They have all gone the way of the Dodo, but Milk & Roses is still keeping the Geenpoint dusty weirdo flame alive. I recently enjoyed an excellent Italianate egg sandwich during brunch, while my companions had gingersnap pancakes and a big-ass plate of crispy waffles. Good coffee, and they piped in some French jazz station on the stereo.— Morabito


Photo by Daniel Krieger

Maialino: I was having a tough few days of writing, so after I made deadline on a recent weeknight, I took a hard pass on a formal review dinner and checked out Nick Anderer's Roman-esque Maialino, the second Danny Meyer restaurant to switch over to no-tipping. Swung by just before 10:30 p.m. on a Monday and the room was bumpin' with people whose sweaters looked more expensive than the suits I buy (this is, after all, The Gramercy Park Hotel). My staple order is the chitarra with anchovy butter. The funky delicacy was, for a time, an off-the-menu secret, but now it's front and center where it should be. And as I wrote the other day it's one of the dishes that somehow ends up costing you less under gratuity free dining ($21, versus $21.60 under the old system after tip).

Alas, no anchovies for Sutton because I ended up doing a little research eating for another review (so much for no work dinner, right?). So I went with two Roman classics, tonnarelli cacio e pepe ($22) for my "starter," and bucatini amatriciana ($24) for my "main." Portions were sturdy for the prices, which is a good thing given that you can pretty much sneeze through an appetizer and two pastas elsewhere and wonder where all your money went. But here, I could feel the sweat collecting on my brow when I tried to finish. Sometimes you want tiny portions, and sometimes you want calories. This night I wanted the latter. Well done, Mr. Meyer. Maialino is still strong.—Sutton


The Lucky Bee: The way to this girl's heart? "We serve the full menu at the bar." The food and cocktails at The Lucky Bee were real good. Favorites: nahm jim oysters, pork & sesame dumplings, and the mussaman curry with lamb shoulder. I found the salt and pepper chicken wings to be heavy on the salt. It should be noted that my guest and I still ate them all. Plus the coconut pudding, banana, toasted marshmallows, and homemade honeycomb dessert is killer.—Diez


Hahm Ji Bach: This is a big group and family friendly Korean place right around the corner from the original Kang Ho Baekjong and Sietsema favorite Mapo Korean BBQ out in the K-Town of Queens, Murray Hill. This one is especially nice because they're one of the few Korean barbecues that use charcoal and they have a really broad menu, so you don't have to focus exclusively on the grilled meats. Especially enjoyed the Hoe Naengmyun (cold noodles with marinated raw fish) and Jaeyook Bokeum, an incredibly delicious pork stir-fry. We're pretty sure they toned down the spice on a lot of the dishes that were advertised as super spicy, which kind of sucks, so make sure to insist on spiciness if that's what you're after. NB: They take reservations for parties over six.—Kludt


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Photo by Daniel Krieger

Kings County Imperial — I felt weird about coming here after a friend had a negative experience overhearing a questionable comment about Hong Kong from the chef, but in the heat of last minute decision making, this is where my crew of North Brooklyn people ended up. Our waitress was lovely and cheery, and my Year of the Monkey cocktail was very strong considering it was on tap. The food, though, was just okay, with everything from the mapo dofu to the crispy garlic chicken being slightly too sweet for my taste. — Dai


Whole Foods: Rambling by the Whole Foods at Union Square recently I spied a signboard advertising the day’s cafeteria special, Tamale Meals ($5). I wondered what a tamale meal could be, but throwing caution to the winds motored through the crowds to the rear of the sales floor, where a humongous food-service installation occupies much of the room. There were units dispensing hot food staffed by guys with chef hats, dozens of stainless steel tubs protected by sneeze guards forming what might be the world’s largest salad bar, and an inconspicuous rack filled with tamale meals girded in plastic, discounted from an absurd $7.99 to $5.

I made the purchase and went upstairs to a dining room that overlooked Union Square, and tore the plastic off my meal. The two tamales effectively imitated plaster of Paris, with a few random shreds of chicken and no apparent salsa inside. Underneath were some unadorned beans that might have been poured from a can and yellow rice with desiccated mixed veggies like you pour from a freezer bag.

It was really the worst and most abject meal I’ve eaten lately, even though the packaging listed 73 lush ingredients, among them sour cream, avocado, green chiles, tomatillos, Monterey jack cheese, cilantro, Mexican oregano, celeriac, and chile d’arbol. From my perspective I could only count six or seven, certainly not including anything as moist as sour cream. WTF Whole Foods? How do you get by with outright lying on the label?—Sietsema


Avant Garden: This is the most comfortable restaurant I've eaten at in a long time. The chairs are cushiony and have backs! I'm not bumping into anyone while eating at the bar! I can hear my dining companion speak! Avant Garden immediately felt welcoming, as if the restaurant actually wanted me to spend time eating a meal. The food itself was delightful. If they opened a stand just serving their toasts, I could see myself buying them regularly, even if I felt ridiculous paying $12 for it. I'm not vegan, but apparently, I was in good company. Neither were our chefs: "We used to cook real food," they said.— Dai


Photo by Daniel Krieger

The Heyward: "Cleaned-up Southern" restaurants in New York City are often awful and/or embarrassing. But this Williamsburg establishment bucks the trend. The food is pretty but also satisfying, and there’s no cutesy bullshit on the menu or in the dining room. Sietsema touches upon many of the menu's highlights in his two-star review. On a recent Saturday morning, I loved the biscuits, the Hoppin' John, and the luxe avocado toast. Great service, fun soundtrack, pleasant space. — Morabito


Dimes: Okay, I finally went to Dimes. Cons: The dining room is deafeningly loud, the table arrangement is labyrinthine, the carob acai bowl is truly repulsive, I think the host was stoned out of his mind. Pros: The service (beyond Mr. Stoned Host Dude) was great, and the customers really are, on balance, remarkably pretty, and looking at them and their cool outfits is awfully fun. — Rosner


Pasquale Jones: No surprise here: Charlie Bird's little brother Pasquale Jones is seriously delicious. Spicy coppa pizza, agnolotti with guinea hen, ricotta with parmesan crisps, bowl of multi-colored Tootsie Rolls in the bathroom, grilled cuttlefish: all very easily crushable. You'll want to time it right here since prime-time reservations are hard to come by. My friend and I arrived early on a Tuesday and were able to snag two seats at the gorgeous bar. Pasquale Jones feels like it's been around for years.—Diez

Top photo: Cafe Altro Paradiso by Nick Solares

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