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Eaters' Journal: Randazzo's, Wildair, Russ & Daughters, Sons of Thunder, and More

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

Turntable 5060: Craving Korean fried chicken — you know, the kind with the spicy coating, sometimes with a crackly sweetness to it — but not wanting to drag ourselves up to Koreatown, a friend and I stopped by Turntable 5060 in the East Village late on a recent evening. The place is a bit off-putting from the outside, looking a little like a boarded-up gang clubhouse. The inside is more like a radio repair shop from the 1940s. Many of the wicker chairs have backs, and most tables are big and improvised. Indeed, the East Village is thankfully still rich in these kinds of idiosyncratic places.

Located at the corner of 4th and Avenue B, the place turns out some excellent fried chicken at discount rates. In the style of Korean fried chicken places, wings, drumsticks, or an assortment may be chosen, and flavors of hot or not. Boneless is also available, but who in their right mind would order that? The rest of the menu is filled out with mainly Japanese snacks such as edamame and seaweed salads. Probably the best thing we sampled that evening was this potato cut into a helix and fried, then squirted with ketchup and spicy mayo. I’ve never had a spud with so much crisp surface area, a product of food science genius. It’s called the Twister. Also worth getting is the bulgogi pizza. — Robert Sietsema

Randazzo's: If you haven’t been to this Randazzo’s and live in NYC, and especially Brooklyn, this should be on your list of essential dining destinations. The Italian seafood restaurant in Sheepshead Bay serves up food that the menu refers to, with no sense of irony, as "red sauce dishes." The clams and oysters are as fresh as you could hope for and are handled with more delicacy than you will find at Grand Central Oyster Bar. Skip the fried clams, which come from a plastic bag and were clearly pre-made — a fact betrayed by the dense, dark brown breading. It's a stark contrast of the light, golden batter that graces the fried calamari, which is what you should order here. Simply put, it is as good as the dish gets. The crisp, translucent batter reveals a milky, succulent flesh, which exhibits a subtle brininess.

The shrimp are almost as compelling, and both benefit from being dunked in the restaurants legendary "sauce," a thick, dark tomato concoction redolent with oregano that comes in medium and spicy. The latter is more of a slow burner rather than the up front heat of a vinegar-based hot sauce. The accompanying biscuits are a bit of a cultural oddity: They are dense, crisp, and dry. They're more like Melba toast than a Southern biscuit and need to be soaked in sauce to soften them up a bit. The other compelling aspect of dining at Randazzo’s is that you will be exposed almost exclusively to real New Yorkers, with their gruff outer borough accents and boardwalk manners. — Nick Solares

[Wildair by Krieger]

Wildair: I must be the last food writer in this city to make it in for a meal at Wildair, and man, I regret not showing up earlier to the party. What Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone are doing in their tiny sliver of a kitchen has such a distinct point of view, one that's rooted in so much joy — in the act of cooking, for sure, but also in the act of eating. There's so much that's gloriously tactile about their food, from the warmth of the fresh bread (served with a grassy, spicy pool of Sicilian olive oil), to the calciferous brine of clams slurped out of their shells with xo sauce and foamy almond milk, to the slick, sweet Georgia white shrimp, fist-size and head-on. The shrimp are served in a brothy, garlicky sauce counterweighted by cilantro and celery. We ate them whole, shell and all, per our server's suggestion.

The menu at Wildair hews to the style of listing ingredients instead of describing preparations, and for once, I was glad of it. The two best dishes (like, so good that I paused in the middle of eating to send an all-caps, profanity-laced text message to Nick Solares, thanking him for berating me into choosing this restaurant for dinner with my husband) are ones that I might have ignored as cliché if they'd been written out more descriptively. Black bass ceviche? You'd think it would be a yawn, but in von Hauske's and Stone's hands, it's eye-opening. The bright flavors of fish and citrus and pineapple slice through a swirl of husky, smoky 'nduja — and it's beautiful, too, served under a blanket of paper-thin slices of turnip, pickled to a pastel lavender and layered over the top of the plate like fish scales. Skip the grain bowl, right? Except no, seriously, don't. Wildair's is exquisite, a medley of crisped grains served warm underneath a tangle of arugula and roasted artichoke hearts, tossed in a ramp vinaigrette. It's one of the best restaurant dishes I've had in ages, and so good I want to go back again tonight for more. — Helen Rosner

Russ & Daughters: Made a rookie mistake and went to Russ & Daughters on a Sunday, thinking that it would be no big deal to pick up a sandwich. Alas, the crowd felt like that of the L train at rush hour — lots of needy people, squished into a very small space. We picked up a number and braced ourselves for a long wait by the bakery case.

An endearingly grouchy man helmed the bakery and sweets section on his own, servicing people like an enthusiastic tourist who kept asking for more helpings of Australian red licorice. "So good!" she said after she sampled one. "I need to bring this back to LA." I was confused. What was so special about them? Did Russ & Daughters start making their own or something? "Yeah," the man growled. "I make them in my apartment." (He does not make them in his apartment.) Meanwhile, a tour group stopped by in front of the shop. The guide did not let them stop to buy anything, which made sense because of the wait but seemed like torture for anyone who spent ten minutes hearing about food they can't eat.

Anyway, we finally got our bagel sandwiches and ate them on a bench outside. The fish was good, but the bagel was hard and flavorless. A black-and-white cookie we picked up was also hard and flavorless, not even as good as a bodega one. Still, it was hard to be too upset. The sandwich ultimately hit the spot after hanging out with tourists for 40 minutes.— Serena Dai

Sons of Thunder: Poke has been huge in LA for the last couple of years, and now NY has a handful of spots serving the Hawaiian dish. As a raw fish fan, I've been curious about the quality of the places opening here. I was not a fan of Pokeworks (found the tuna to be borderline inedible), but Murray Hill restaurant Sons of Thunder, on the other hand, is killing it. I've only had their classic Ahi Tuna (they also serve a somewhat odd mix of hot dogs, fries and shakes), but was immediately won over. The tuna tasted super fresh, served with seaweed salad, which I added nori to. Although I didn't order this way, you can split your bowl half and half and pick from two different poke options. For a healthy and fresh $12 lunch, Sons of Thunder is the move. — Kat Odell

Downtown Bakery: One of my favorite Mexican joints in town, on lower 1st Avenue in the East Village, has started serving the burritos referred to in San Francisco’s Mission District as "mojado," or smothered. One called La Caballo ("the horse") is filled with grilled steak and comes inundated in crema and guacamole. It is supremely delicious, but you’re going to have to eat it with a flimsy plastic knife and fork. Consider it a challenge to your dexterity. — Robert Sietsema

[Tørst by Krieger]

Tørst: I did not know that Torst had such a big day drinking scene until I popped in on a recent afternoon. At 3 p.m., literally every bar stool was full. We ordered the sourdough with whipped butter, which arrived warm and crusty. This is like the kind of bread service you get at the start of a fine dining meal. You could eat it as a light meal for one, it’s so satisfying. The fancypants Tørst dog was equally great, and the Welsh rarebit was gone in 60 seconds. —Greg Morabito

Sri Ganesh Dosa House: You’ll be greeted by the elephant-head god as you enter this wonderful dosa diner in Jersey City. I recently went with a first timer on a weekday afternoon and found the place wonderfully empty, with just three or four tables of diners. This is quite a contrast to the crowded conditions on the weekends, when the streets are thronged with shoppers. We stepped back to the order counter and requisitioned a serving of upma, a marvelous dish of doctored cream of wheat filled with lentils, chiles, curry leaves, black mustard seeds, and fenugreek. It comes with a dab of bright red mixed pickle. My friend the butcher and I also grabbed a butter Mysore masala dosa, which had been dabbed on the inside with in incendiary masala, and brushed with ghee. Even for a carnivore, it was culinary bliss. — Robert Sietsema

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