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Where We Ate This Week

Editors' notes on dining and drinking at Hearth, Contra, Ghost Donkey, Flaming Kitchen, and more

Welcome to what has been Eaters' Journal, field notes on where we've visited for a sip, a bite, or a longer meal. In this format, we'll build on visits so you can read past entries as if thumbing through a journal. This week we've got some gems, including a little takoyaki stand on Doyers Street. Have suggestions? Leave them in the comments.

Upland: Here's a question. Should restaurants serve their weekend menus on national-holiday Mondays? I know some do, but I went to "brunch" at Upland this "weekend" — on MLK Day, which I am lucky to also call a company holiday — and had my heart set on their version of shakshuka, named eggs in hell. And then we got the menu, which was eggless, and then we realized it was actually Monday, which is not a weekend, and then our server kindly told me we could not order from the Sunday brunch menu since it was not, in fact, Sunday. This makes sense objectively, and instead I got a very great kale and stracciatella sandwich with some equally great fries, but I'm still bummed that I missed out on the eggs. (345 Park Ave. South) Sonia Chopra

Contra: Over the weekend, I settled into the bar here and ordered the abbreviated, $48 menu. My friend ordered the other three offerings from the night so I was still able to try them all. The beef with Castelvetrano olives and butter was so wonderful, I hated having to share it and yes took more than half before swapping plates. The two desserts were light and lovely, but the winner was easily yogurt sorbet with buckwheat mousse and puffed amaranth. Oh, and the bread here is divine; another item I regrettably had to share with my dinner companion. (138 Orchard St.) Patty Diez

Yogurt sorbet, buckwheat mousse, puffed amaranth, coffee.

A photo posted by Contra (@contrany) on

Takoyaki Stand: Doyers Street, one of Chinatown’s oldest thoroughfares, is hopping. First there was the Nom Wah revamp, then the appearance of upscale Chinese Tuxedo, offering stylish pan-Chinese food in a former opera house. Now, right across the street, has appeared a stand that specializes in Japanese octopus balls. Open only on the weekends, it offers four of the rubbery orbs for $4, dusted with bonito flakes and shredded nori, and the customers are lining up. — Robert Sietsema

Hearth: The second I found out pastry chef Karen Demasco —formerly of Craft and Locanda Verde — was making desserts at Hearth, I made a reservation. The food at Hearth is good; it's hearty; it's fine. But the desserts are classic Demasco: Not overly fussy and based on straightforward, seasonal flavors they shine because of her flawless and consistent technique. Buttermilk panna cotta has that gentle, child-like wobble against ruby segments of grapefruit and large, crunchy candied walnuts. Whole-grain apple cider doughnuts (two to an order) are the perfect ratio of crisp, sugared exterior to cake-y interior; a swipe of creme fraiche on the plate provides a tart foil to their fatty sweetness. Demasco often puts a steamed pudding of some sort on her menus. Right now at Hearth, it's a toffee date cake with a piece of poached pear. I wish this version had been stickier, more slap-you-in-the-face sweet, but therein lies the elegance of Demasco's restraint. Want to get that sugar rush going? Get the dessert called Stella's pudding: a glass layered with a rich chocolate cream, mascarpone, candied hazelnuts, and devil's food cake. Or, allow me to recommend that you just order them all. (403 E. 12th St.) — Daniela Galarza

Gunter Seeger: Check out this egg shell layered with maple Chantilly and steamed egg with truffle and soy, garnished with trout bottarga. It's one of the special dishes at this restaurant with an austere design, where Seeger's skillful cooking turns out superlative versions of ingredients: a lobster, a scallop, or even the lowly egg. (641 Hudson St.) — Melissa McCart

Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya: Not too long ago, the Bromberg Brothers added an izakaya to their empire of bakeries, bistros, fried chicken joints, and sushi bars. Located on the mezzanine floor of the Sixty LES Hotel, one story up, the place — which has entrances off both Orchard and Allen streets — boasts a pair of large dining rooms: one offers a convivial bar and plush booths, the other looks like a giant sushi bar, with well-lit chefs at one end of the room, as if on stage.

A friend and I stopped by on a snowy evening and dived into a few pieces of sushi, while sitting in the bar. It was excellent. The teriyaki skewers, however, were a mixed bag, some good, some a little off, the former including swatches of short rib with little dabs of garlic mayo, the latter spongy tongue that tasted like the refrigerator. We liked the straightforward bowl of ramen, but didn’t relish the wad of shredded tripe. In all, we sampled nine dishes, knocked back two sakes and a beer, for a total of $180 including tax and tip. "That cost too much," my friend said as we exited down the lantern-lit stairway, flanked by walls painted with stylized flowers. (187 Orchard St.) — Robert Sietsema

Hearth: I visited Hearth earlier this week with a particular Eater editor who loves desserts, so the game plan was to order one savory dish each, and then the whole dessert menu (a request not-so-cooly met by our server). I went with the whole wheat rigatoni that was served with a cheesy pork ragu. The dish was nice, but it was garnished with rosemary. And like, too much rosemary. Like, whole pieces from the sprig that cut my mouth. Soon the four desserts we ordered arrived and the warm, crispy-but-almost-moist apple cider doughnuts made me forget it all.(403 E. 12th St.) — Patty Diez

Happy #nationaldonutday! Mmm...Apple cider donuts.

A photo posted by Hearth (@hearthrestaurant) on

Rabbit House: Yoshiko Sakuma is the heart and soul of this tiny restaurant, which, as it turns, out, is a terrific place for sake, wine, and tea as well a half-dozen oysters or rabbit involtini, also known as braciole. There's often a jazz trio on Sundays, which I'd like to go to if only to see how the place accommodates musicians and customers at the same time. (76 Forsyth St.) — Melissa McCart

Ghost Donkey: Okay so, I'd heard the words "ghost donkey" thrown out in the office before but I never actually realized my colleagues were talking about an actual bar in the actual city of New York. Turns out it replaced a gin bar, Madame Geneva, I used to really like. And while I would love to turn this into a lament for NYC's gin bars —Where are they all going? When will people quote Casablanca now?!— Ghost Donkey is actually really, really good. The cocktails are nicely balanced for a tequila/mezcal-heavy menu (and you can get some other drinks as well), the guac is great, and the mushroom nachos we ordered were among the very best nachos I've had in the city (see banner photo). Plus the space is just really fun, all dark and neon and a great place to go with a group of friends. We got there around 7 p.m. on a weeknight and beat the crowds. (4 Bleecker St.) Sonia Chopra

Flaming Kitchen: I first visited Flaming Kitchen after a very positive review from our critic Robert Sietsema, and although I knew he loved it, I didn’t anticipate how much I would, too. I went for the second time last week when I was in the mood for a casual dinner that wouldn’t require a long wait.  It didn’t disappoint, and the Sichuan section of the menu surpasses anything I’ve had in Manhattan before.

The first bite of ox tongue and tripe cold appetizer is bright, garlicky, spicy, and not at all greasy. The tongue is tender, and all of the tripe slices are thin enough to maintain a texture that doesn’t require an awkward amount of chewing. A cumin lamb dish was made with very thinly, very uniformly sliced pieces, which meant that none of the thick, gamey slices that so frequently plague other versions of this dish were left behind. And a heaping bowl of braised whole fish in chili oil managed to be delicate and only mildly spiced. It was perfect. All of the dishes felt purposeful in every way — like someone truly cared about each bite. I can't wait to go back. (97 Bowery St.) — Serena Dai

Flaming Kitchen fish hot pot Paul Crispin Quitoriano

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