Archive for the ‘Top Gun’ Category

So far in my quest to be slightly late for work….um, I mean find good coffee, I have visited the following caffeine-dispensing institutions: Kave Cafe, Ninth Street Espresso (two locations) and Eataly. We also featured an epic journey to the Van Leeuwen store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with bonus shots of the Panda truck (23rd and 6th).

I plan on continuing this research until I collapse in a heap of over-caffeinated exhaustion. Sounds pleasant, right? Anyway, I’ve been asking for coffee shop recommendations, and one that popped up was Joe the Art of Coffee. Joe has a few locations around Manhattan, but I chose to visit their 13th Street locale.

As you can see from the above two photos, the signage conveyed some very promising messages. I was intrigued.

The Scene:
The 13th Street location is a wonderful hodgepodge of art, mini tables and piles of pastries. A small flight of stairs brings you to the seating area, with the coffee counter just behind. In the mornings, there is usually a line up the counter, but there is plenty of entertaining art lined up on the walls to amuse you while you wait. Like this little number:

and at the tip jar:

The Coffee:
I ordered a latte (I may have mentioned this is my favorite coffee beverage). Sometimes I think good graphic design makes food and drink taste better. I’m definitely guilty of buying wine by the labels, and this to-go cup is an excellent example of well-designed, portable information:

But back to the latte itself! The taste was smooth and light. I would say I would have liked a little more kick – a little heavier on the espresso in the espresso-to-milk ratio, as I felt that the coffee flavor was too mild. However, the milk was steamed to a delightful, drinkable froth that wasn’t too foamy or too liquid.

I’m going to start giving points for latte art. This one was pretty good, but a little undefined – especially on that left side. I do like those feathery wisps that are seeping into the milky-white blob, though. And the leaf-topper is well done.

Coffee Drinking Experience: Top Gun

Overall, Joe the Art of Coffee is a great place to grab a giant scone and a morning cup, hang out at one of the little tables and listen in on other people’s conversations (I overheard a fascinating one between a teaching assistant and a professor….something about the conjugation of German verbs…). The latte taste was mild, but very well prepared. It just didn’t give me the “juice” I was looking for.

And yes, we will be giving out latte-art awards.


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What happens when a new pizzeria is coupled with considerably positive buzz?  Well, we review it of course.  Even if that means enduring a late winter rainstorm to check it out.  Such was the case with Rubirosa on 235 Mulberry St., which Elana and I visited just last Sunday.

Actually – while Rubirosa may be new to the immediate area, its pizza making philosophy has been around for quite some time.  Chef Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo has cooked at Esca and Osteria del Circo, but his formative restaurant experience began at age 12 washing dishes and making pizza at his father Giuseppe’s Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat’s.” (NYMAG)

The Scene – And if indeed Rubirosa’s pies hail from old family tradition, so too does the overall feel of the place.  It’s a lot like your (Italian) Grandma’s house, especially if Grandma was really cool and kept a fully stocked bar with various kinds of whiskey and aperitifs.  It’s a long, somewhat narrow space, with a quaint and charming vibe – tin ceilings, mahogany framed pictures, filament visible light bulbs and, where we were sitting, antique radio equipment.  There’s even a steady collection of oldies music, which I’ve never had a problem with.  Even our water comes served in a large, old school carafe.

The Grub – Elana and I start things off with 3 rice balls, which come accompanied by a small bowl of extremely fresh and flavorful tomato sauce.  They have a wonderful snapping but forgiving crust, which gives way to a great tasting mixture of cheese, rice and pork bits.  The breaded spheres have very good consistency – the goo is not gushing, and the crust is not crusty.  There is perfect moisture and togetherness throughout each bite.

For pizza, we order their Vodka Pizza and their Classic Pizza (we opt for the smaller sizes of each).  Of the two, the Vodka is the winner.  It’s a hot mess of sauce, melted cheese, and a thin crust – which gets utterly, yet somehow beautifully, dominated by the pie’s heavy ingredients.  As I lifted each slice from the pan, portions of it would get left behind due to the weight of it all until what was finally on my plate wasn’t actually a slice at all, but rather a steaming mound of saucy, succulent slop.  And it’s delicious! The Vodka sauce is creamy, it’s cheesy, and it keeps its tomato flavor well.  A little more kick could have made it flawless, although Rubirosa does provide some crushed red pepper should you desire.

The ingredients of the Classic are as you’d expect – cheese, bread, sauce.  Both pies have a very thin, evenly pressed crust, yet the Classic’s has not been soggily penetrated by an abundance of Vodka sauce.  The tomato sauce stands out, it is exceptional. Almost in Grimaldi’s league.  The cheese, however, is a bit unnoticeable and sparingly applied.  It’s still a darn good slice however, easily foldable and light – almost effortless to take down.  As a server was kind enough to show me, each pizza is made within a gas pizza oven, with revolving shelves.

The Bathrooms:  I send sis off to the Bathroom to pick the food out from her teeth.  Her review is as follows: “There may not have been subway tiles, but the vertical wood panels continued the “grandma’s basement-chic” style. The chalkboard paint on the walls, gave the atmosphere a more playful vibe, although I would have liked some chalk to add to the decor. Large mirrors and a supply cabinet were pluses.”

Rubirosa is proof of my latest theory that there is no wrong way to make a pizza, provided you know what the heck you are doing.  And they clearly do. I’ve never quite had a pie like this, and I’m glad I came to experience it.  If you go, make sure to order a Vodka Pie, which was the highlight of the meal.  Unfortunately, this does not count as a visit to Grandma’s house. Ungrateful bastards.

Movie equivalent – Top Gun – The Well Working Formula

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Searching for a decent cup of coffee can be a challenge. Luckily for me, my path to work intersects with Van Leeuwen’s Panda truck stake-out of 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. A large Intelligentsia Americano with a bit of half and half from the big yellow truck is my usual and fool-proof order.

However, sometimes I’m not in range of a Van Leeuwen truck (GASP!). And sometimes, I go out of my way and travel to the far reaches of the universe (Alphabet City!!) just because I want to try something different. We are supposed to be giving you sage advice regarding taste, are we not? Therefore, we must adequately research – throwing caution to the wind and occasionally being late for work because we stopped to take a photo of a parked cherry red Vespa while ambling ever-so-slowly back to the Flatiron District. And by “we” I mean “me”.

Sage is great by the way, especially in a brown butter sauce with cheese ravioli.

But back to coffee! This past Wednesday, I was no where near the Tompkins Square neighborhood. But I travel well, so I ended up at the 10th Street (between Aves A and B) location of Ninth Street Espresso.

I rolled up to the counter at the back of the long, narrow shop and ordered a latte. Normally during the work week I have a regular coffee or an Americano with a little half and half. But a latte is perhaps my favorite coffee drink. I enjoy a good cappuccino – if I can find one, but there is something decadent and also breakfast-y about all that steamed milk poured over the perfect amount of espresso. Especially if it is served in a bowl.

The Ninth Street coffee blends are made from Intelligentsia beans. I was overcome with pleasant emotions at this revelation – startling both barristas with my reaction. Ninth Street gets their coffee from Intelligentsia, and then creates their own custom blend. They also sell packages of these blends at their store locations.

My latte was a fine blend of milk and espresso – a touch more bitter than I usually like. Nevertheless, the milk was both frothy and creamy (it shouldn’t be all foam like a cappuccino). And the steamed milk art was very impressive as well.

Fully caffeinated, I strolled West on 10th Street to work, snapping a few random photos along the way.

Like some very cool iron-worked doorways:

And a Vespa, John’s dream vehicle.

John recently asked me if a Vespa would be tax-deductible. I responded only if we were using it to deliver pizzas at our Neapolitan pizza joint in Austin, Texas. Which doesn’t exist, by the way. But these are the things we discuss over gchat during the course of the day.

Anyway, I made it to work (mostly) on time, but I needed to further research Ninth Street Espresso. I decided to visit their Chelsea Market location for a compare/contrast.

Their Chelsea Market location is a walk-up counter and has a fast-paced, we-mean-business attitude in contrast to the more low-key, relaxed 10th Street vibe. I like this peppier vibe. It makes me think that the barristas have been drinking the punch. Or the coffee, as it were (or is).

I again order a latte, and am more pleased with the results at this location. I know they are using the same beans (perhaps they blend them differently here?), but the espresso is smoother, perhaps indicating a more balanced ratio of espresso to milk.

The milk art was, however, a little more elaborate at the 10th Street location.

Coffee Drinking Experience: Top Gun – The Well Working Formula

Ninth Street Espresso


Chelsea Market
75 9th Ave. (Between 9th & 10th Ave)      212-228-2930

Alphabet City
700 East 9th Street (Between Ave C & D)

Tompkins Square
341 East 10th St. (Between Ave A & B)

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Elana, remember when we tried to cram Pizza, in all of its forms, into one “Pizza Month”…? Heck, not since  Apollo Creed’s choreographed entrance in Rocky 4 can I recall such an overestimation of one’s own capabilities.  And we all know how that ended.

But in fairness to us, we never really thought the idea was possible.  We just figured that it would be a cool idea to devote one month towards Pizza.  But since shifting our efforts into maintaining an Italian focused blog, there are now no limits as to the frequency for how often Pizza will be discussed.

And, in light of this, what better Pizza to feature than the legendary square-cut, cheese-beneath-sauce, Sicilian pie found at L & B Spumoni Gardens in Brooklyn; the first pan made pizza to be featured on the blog.  Never mind the fact that a dispute between myself and a fellow Italian over a parking spot distracted us a bit, we were dialed in.

From the look of it, the slice merely looks like focaccia bread with some “gravy” splattered on top, yet there is more than meets the eye to this little guy.  Underneath L & B’s thick tomato sauce is mozzarella cheese. Yes, cheese under sauce.  Combined with the pan cooked bread, each bite has a pillowy soft, inviting nature to it.  The pizza, ingredients wise, is not particularly mind blowing if one were to dissect the main players: the sauce packs a mediocre, pasty tang and the cheese does not taste much different than Polly-O.

Nonetheless, there is indeed a magic to it all.  Elana and I comment on its superior “mouthfeel” – you know, that hard-to-explain quality of certain foods and drink that seem to set it apart from the rest, like a Reeses peanut butter cup?  Well, this pie has it.  Anchored by it’s thick, yet slightly moist, pound cake-like crust, the L & B slice becomes more addictive with each bite.  And feel free to order seconds or thirds; despite the pie’s threatening look, it’s actually quite light and easy to take down.  Elana’s ordering a second slice without hesitation.  We are both significantly hooked.

Those expecting a charming ambiance: don’t.  The inside is nothing flashy.  Tables may endure a cycle of about 3-4 lunches before getting a wash down.  But it’s nothing offensive; and if you came here for the scene, you’re not in the right frame of mind.  L and B’s pizza is famous for a reason, and you’re missing out if you have yet to make it out there.

Movie equivalent – Top Gun

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Recently, I was lunching at Eataly with a group of colleagues. Actually, I just wanted to use “lunching” and “colleagues” in the same sentence.

I was hungrily devouring a pizza with the other members of a food photography class that I was taking. We had come to Eataly to do some on-site food photography. Come for the pictures, stay for the food – that kind of thing.

Readers of this blog know of the obsession John and I have for pizza, so I used this opportunity to sample Eataly’s version.

Eataly’s pizza menu offered the Neopolitan-style, wood fired, personal sized pizza characterized by a thin crust with a floppy center and a charred yet moist and chewy outer crust (or cornicione).

A member of our group suggested sharing a pizza. But I needed to research! For the blog! For our readers! For science! Also, I was hungry. So I politely responded, “I’ll be taking one down all by myself. But thanks for the offer!”

Besides, when I share food, I’m always mentally tallying the number of pieces that I have in relation to everyone else in an effort to be polite. It’s too much mental energy when I’m trying to eat. Plus, it usually leaves me hungry.

I selected the Verduretta, a traditional Margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella) topped with roasted eggplant and red peppers.

The portion size was generous. I did not, in fact, end up taking the whole thing down by myself. Leopard-like black char spots graced the outer crust which sloped downwards to a very thin and flexible inner pizza. The tomato sauce was tangy and the strips of roasted eggplant provided a smokey and woodsy quality that had me wishing these veggies had been more generously applied.

While the eggplant scored high marks, the roasted peppers seemed just decorative accents as they were a more generic, from-the-can variety and didn’t add much flavor.

As for the mozzarella – the marshmallow-like dollops were an excellent consistency: they retained a good meltiness even upon cooling, and were never plastic-y or dry.

John would call this a “solid” pie, and I would agree. Technically and traditionally sound in crust and cooking method, yet lacking a bit in depth of flavor from its veggie accoutrements.

Overall Pizza-Eating Experience: Top Gun, The Well Working Formula

Bonus Section! I’ve you’ve read this far, you can see a few photo highlights from the Eataly tour:

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This week’s review: The Elysian Café located on 10th and Washington in Hoboken.  A pretty cool and classy venue, as far as the ‘Boken is concerned.  And with charming decor both inside and out, it’s the perfect local spot to wash away my Labor Day blues, which have set in exceptionally hard.  I pick up Elana at her apartment, and we make the walk uptown.

Upon being greeted by the hostess, we are lucky enough to get a table outside which didn’t look possible at first.  The outdoor seating is packed, as it should be.  The weather is still nice, and the Elysian’s outdoor scene is one of the best in Hoboken.  Its curbside location is great for people watching, yet it feels deceptively secluded with its trees (or is it just a tree?) that create an intimate feel.  Inside, there are two rooms: both of which have considerable, yet quite dissimilar, character.  After all, the brownstone building dates back to 1895, and, throughout its history, housed both an ice cream parlor and hair salon. (This interesting factoid prompts me to daydream of getting the dome trimmed as I sit in an old time barber chair while eating spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs).

Our outdoor table is small but equipped with cool dishtowels with a faded stripe down the middle in lieu of a napkin.  I like these things, just way cooler than some ol’ napkin flapping around in the breeze.  I’m pretty sure only good restaurants do this, but I’m probably overreacting.  Like I said, it is Labor Day – and I am emotional and reading too much into things.

Drinks are first.  And while the selection looked pretty awesome, our ultimate cocktails were just ok.  My drink, the English Dandy (Hendrick’s, Lemonade, mint and club soda) was great. It was mild and tangy, like a gin drink should be.  Elana got the Hendrick’s Pink 75: (Hendrix, Maple Syrup, lemon juice, rose champagne). It was a bit too tangy and tart for both of our tastes.

For appetizers, we ordered 12 Kumamoto oysters (we had asked for Blue Point, but they had run out, and gave us the Kumamoto oysters at the Blue Point Price – a nice gesture) which were nicely presented in a bucket of ice. These suckers were extremely fresh and came with some garlic vinegar sauce which paired well with the oysters.

For entrees, I ordered the Burgundy Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon gold taters and tempura onion rings, and Elana selected the Cod, which was new on the menu.  The ribs were very good – juicy and flavorful, and when I was too lazy to pick up my knife –tender enough to accommodate fork-only cutting.  The taters and onions were a great compliment.  Elana’s cod was equally impressive, it came in a tomatoey-white wine broth with little neck clams, and chorizo (!!). The cod was perfectly flaky, and the broth light and smoky (flavored by the chorizo).

Since Elysian is a French Bistro, we had to order their Crème Brulee, which was fantastic.  A snappy, slightly burned outer crust, which, when cracked, gave way to a cream of perfect consistency and taste.  Lots of visible vanilla beans too.  I could have eaten 15 of those things.

Elana took one for the team and made the to trip to the bathrooms which she described as “very clean and orderly….With….wait for it….and Xlerator!!!”  ‘Nuff said.

The service at Elysian was ok. The dinner took slightly longer than expected, and our waitress (a nice young girl) forgot our fries…which, by the way, are awesome here. But we were so full that we did not care, nor were we charged for them.

Also, for those wondering, Elysian has a good cheese selection.

We really enjoyed our experience at Elysian.  While it falls short of the ultimate food experience, their dishes are well presented and made.  It’s a solid, upper echelon choice for those dining in Hoboken. We’ll be back for sure.

Overall Experience – Top Gun

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