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We are going all Italian this week here at JAETAF. Did you know that was our acronym, by the way? Jay-taff. Use it on the streets. See what happens.

This past Saturday we decided to do some heavy hitting in the Italian department. First up, some coal oven pizza at a NYC institution, Lombardi’s (incidentally, the only NYC pizzeria besides Grimaldi’s in DUMBO to operate a coal oven), followed by the Fiat Gallery in Soho with a GQ sponsored event where itty-bitty cars would be complemented by tiny shots of Lavazza espresso.

But first to fuel up on Margherita pies!

The Scene:
Lombardi’s is a pretty large place. There are multiple rooms and even a basement room (where John and I sat). From the start, the sheer size of the place concerned us. We had doubts whether a place that needed to churn out that many pies in such volume could maintain a high quality, brick oven product.  And volume needed to be produced because even though it was fairly early on a Saturday evening, the place was packed and we had to wait for a table. So we staked out seats at the bar and sipped Sixpoint beer in anticipation.  Sidenote – should an Italian brick oven pizzeria offer Sangria? Moving on…

The Grub:

We order a split pie: half Margherita to maintain standards of comparison, and half decorated with Lombardi’s house made pork and beef meatballs. Our 18″ pie has a few standout characteristics that put us on guard:

1. The crust is rather flat and evenly baked. No puffy Neapolitan cornicone here. And no coal-fired char marks, save for one large bubble.

2. The pie is stiff, lacking that floppy quality that makes a well functioning brick oven pie chewy and delightfully unwieldy.

However, there are some redeeming qualities: The basil is liberally applied, and the sauce has a simple, tangy, pure tomato taste of which we both approve.  John could have used a bit more, however.  Additionally, the cheese provides a noticeable salty, milky flavor.

As often happens, the meatballs steal the show. Moist, flavorful and bite-sized, like meat popcorn, they are a perfect pizza accessory.

The Bathrooms:

The lavatory was pretty standard issue. It seemed more like a closet with plumbing. But everything was clean. Bonus accessories included Windex (?) and a motion-sensored paper towel dispenser. The mirror was mesmerizing as well…

John and I were largely underwhelmed by Lombardi’s pie. Between the two coal oven contenders, we both agree that Grimaldi’s is considerably better. You may not – Yahoo doesn’t. You can read their opinion here.

Overall Experience: Vanilla Sky – The Average Restaurant

On with the show! We ambled several blocks to the Fiat Gallery on Wooster Street. We had been promised (via Urban Daddy) the possibility of test driving Fiats, and we both had Italian Job-esque dreams of hurtling through the streets of Soho in a perfectly polished red rollerskate.

Our test driving dreams were squashed, but we did get to sit in the show room models and make convincing vrooooom-vrooooom noises. That helped a bit.

All joking aside, the exhibit was pretty fun. The evening’s events were sponsored by GQ and we got to wander around artistically-rendered Fiat hoods, sample Lavazza espresso, sip Peroni’s, and get our photos taken!

John looks quite at home, no?

More events will be running until May 1st. You can check out the full list here.

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It was a warm(ish) spring twilight. The smell of fried chicken was in the air. Or at least in my head – sometimes I get the two confused. But what better way to spend a spring evening than chowing down on expertly fried chicken? And you can even feel good about this chicken that is fried to a delicate and deliciously salty, crunchy crisp because they birds are all-natural, local and organic.

Where is this fried chicken haven of which I speak? Dirty Bird to-go on 14th Street near 7th Avenue. I ventured there last week to get the smell of fried chicken out of my head and into my hands (and stomach).

First a few words about the bird: Chicken is an every-man’s meat (for people that eat meat, that is). It’s a staple. It shows up on the dinner table all the time. Perhaps too much? That depends on what kind of chicken you’re eating, I guess.

People often get frustrated with chicken. I know the Box does. He grimmaces like a child when it’s placed in front of him at the dinner table, recoiling visibly from his plate. His sentiments are echoed in this hilarious scene from Little Miss Sunshine:

Warning: There’s some not-so-nice language in the video. So if dropping the f-bomb ain’t you’re thang, you might want to skip it.

But at Dirty Bird, there’s no reason to curse the chicken. Let me illustrate with photos:

The Scene:
A teeny tiny storefront, the main feature is the walk-up counter, complete with extra friendly servers. Really, these people were just so nice. I feel like I should know their names.

The Food:
I ordered a three-piece dark meat sampler with garlic kale. The chicken itself was juicy and flavorful – a perfect amount of salt. The outer fry crust had me pulling all the fried bits off the bone that I could find. Plus scraping any wayward ones up that had fallen to my very cool, camping-style blue plate. It’s amazing what a little buttermilk can do. The kale mingled with some large chunks of garlic and was wading in a bath of tangy, slightly vinegar-y liquid. I scooped up every last leaf in the bowl. The kale was not overcooked and soggy, but vegetable al-dente, preserving some snap.

Also noteworthy are the Chicken Fingers: tender and juicy white meat coated in the same light buttermilk fry. If chickens had fingers, they would want these. I recommend the BBQ sauce – you can taste molasses, which adds depth to the flavor. The Mac and Cheese was off the charts. It was like hot, cheesy ice cream with pasta in it. I wanted to put it in a cone. This is a good thing.

The Bathrooms:
None that I could find.

Afterward, if you need a powder room and a glass of wine, head to the bar just up the street – The Crooked Knife. Flop onto their couches and order some Cotes-du-Rhone. That’s what I did, anyway.

Overall Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic

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I may have mentioned this before, but possibly my favorite movie of all time is Ghostbusters. John and I used to quote this movie to each other quite frequently. We still do from time to time. I recently watched it and was comforted to know that this 80’s movie stands the test of time. It’s still funny (Art Deco, very nice), and Bill Murray is….well, he’s just a genius.

And speaking of things that stand the test of time, how about a Twinkie? According to the Hostess website, Twinkies have been been hanging around on bodega shelves since 1930 (some of them quite literally). President Clinton even put one in a time capsule. I wonder what that one looks like now…

Dan Akyroyd and Harold Ramis (stars and writers of the film) were not immune to the immense power and omnipotence of the Twinkie. They worked it in to one of the best scenes in the film as seen below:

And now I’m going to tell you about a Twinkie. One that I found at Lulu Cafe in Chelsea. I had gone to Lulu in search of Intelligentsia coffee which they brew in their 8th Avenue shop. I found a whole lot more including some homemade Twinkies in different flavors.

At first I was intrigued by the sign (who wouldn’t be?):

And then the flavors! They offered:

Red Velvet Lulus
red velvet snack cakes filled with cream cheese frosting dipped in white chocolate

Lemon Lulus
lemon snack cakes filled with lemon curd, dipped in white chocolate

Brooklyn Blackout Lulus
chocolate snack cakes filled with dark chocolate pudding dipped in chocolate

Passionfruit Lulus
yellow snack cakes filled with passion fruit cream, dipped in white chocolate

I decided on the passionfruit variety and was not disappointed. The cake was moist and dense. In my opinion, real Twinkie cake is a bit insubstantial. I want CAKE. And by that I mean a mixture that is a touch hearty. This one was. And the passionfruit filling was a nice contrast: light, airy with a hint of that fruity flavor piped expertly through the center of the vanilla cake.

A few shavings of coconut graced the top along with a glaze of white chocolate to give the whole thing a graceful “petite-four” flair. I loved it.

So when your spirit storage facility is at capacity and your collection of spores, molds and fungus is getting a little out of hand, don’t panic (and DON’T cross the streams!). Just:

And then call Ghostbusters.

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Breakfast? Good choice.

My Cousin Vinny is a special movie to me. It’s one of the movies I actually own on DVD. I only purchase DVD’s of a movie when I know I will watch the film again and again and again…Some day I will give you the full list (which includes 7 seasons of the X-Files).

Also, I kinda love the white streaks in Marissa Tomei’s hair. A lot.

At one point, I got really good at imitating her character, Mona Lisa Vito: Oh you smooooth tawker. You ahhh….

But I digress.

Vinny and Mona Lisa’s discovery of grits in a sleepy Alabama cafe is one of the best-played scenes in this movie and always has me laughing, especially when Vinny literally puts one single grit on his fork and Mona Lisa pulls out her 1980’s pink camera to document the novelty of it all. But you should watch it for yourself, via this very shady video I found on youtube:

So I know you’ve heard of grits. But have you ever SEEN a grit before? And would you know where to get some good ones if you wanted them?

Of course I have a suggestion, a Vinny and Mona Lisa approved suggestion: Egg in Brooklyn. These days Vinny and Mona Lisa would stand out in Williamsburg quite as much as they did in Alabama, but I think they would make the trip for the food.

I did this past Sunday and feasted on their Eggs and Grits platter (with sweeeeeet, sweet bacon):

As the short order cook from the video suggested, these are hominy grits, made from corn. A simple concoction made no less tasty because of its simplicity. I think the secret ingredient is butter. And love. But sometimes I get those two words confused. Like when I tell people, “I butter you.” Everyone gets confused.

But these grits were just the right amount of buttered. Not greasy as all, but whipped up into an impressively light and airy pile of lightly salted creaminess. However, there was no cream added. That is the magic of grits – they have a creamy texture, but all that is added is water and seasonings. It’s like the Southern corn version of risotto.

Along with my corn risotto, I ordered eggs (over medium style) and sweet bacon. I made some sweet bacon a while back on the blog, but Egg’s is truly something special: thickly cut strips of locally sourced pork bacon made just slightly gooey with sweetness. A must order.

In addition to the down home goodness of their food, the tables come accessorized with these:

Do you have any idea what happens when I spot crayons at the table? Here’s a glimpse:

* Pirate scene not created by me.

Also, I try to steal other crayon colors from adjacent tables.

So streak your hair, dress up in leather and get yourself to Egg for their grits and sweet bacon. You’ll butter it. And take a picture, it’ll last longer.

Overall Grit Eating Experience: The Big Lebowski – The Cult Classic

Egg
135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn New York 11211
phone: (718) 302 5151

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This month’s Bathroom of the Month Award goes to Slice, The Perfect Food! While not the fanciest or most polished in terms of loo decor, I walked out of that bathroom feeling like I had visited 1 part carnival, 1 part artist studio, with a dash of wacky/artsy boudoir (see the red crystal chandelier). And with the renegade Muppet art, the only thing missing was this. The large mirrors, tidy appearance, and parquet ceiling sure helped too. But honestly, this bathroom is all about the experience. Go check it out, and while you’re at it, order a Miki.

And if you need other suggestions, let’s review our week’s adventures:

On Monday, it was Marmo’s Birthday, and we gave you a Marmo Special: Farfalle with Sausage recipe.

Tuesday was all about pizza, and we checked out John’s Jersey establishment.

On Wednesday, the Landmark Loews Theatre and Sapthagiri Indian Restaurant hit a home run double feature and make my millennium.

Finally, we hone our crane kicks for the Gramercy Tavern review on Thursday.

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On my life’s highlight reel, I have a good amount of cherished memories.  One thing I find myself doing is (pathetically) replaying these events in my head and setting them to 80’s music in cheesy movie montage fashion.  For example,  the time me and some close friends rallied to save our college fraternity house from what seemed like an inevitable campus closure via a pain in the ass administration is typically imagined through Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” appearance in Iron Eagle.

This past Sunday, the fam got together to celebrate Marmo’s birthday at the Gramercy Tavern at 42 East 20th Street.   And while it would be extreme to induct mere dining experiences within one’s life highlight reel, my dinner at Gramercy Tavern (hereinafter referred to as the”GT”) came pretty close.  So if I was to set my exceptional experience at the GT to an 80’s music/movie montage, what better and more appropriate segment to use than Joe Esposito’s triumphant masterpiece, “You’re the Best Around” as seen in the closing moments of one of the greatest 80’s movies of all time, The Karate Kid.  Please bear with me as draw on the comparisons.

I enter the Gramercy TavernDaniel Enters the Gymnasium for the All Valley Tournament

I’d have to imagine my feelings upon entrance to the GT were similar to that of fellow NJ paisan, Daniel LaRusso, as he walked into the All Valley Tournament:  Wonderment, excitement, a tinge of intimidation perhaps – only because of the rep it brings with it.  I needed to bring my blogging A-game.

The place is simply fantastic looking.  It has two general areas: the more “casual” tavern and then the restaurant, where we sat.  But there is a similar theme throughout.  Wood floors, tapestry curtains, blossoming bright colored plants, and aged iron chandeliers that look like they had been forged by knights in the pits of some dungeon.  It’s like  a Medieval Tudor-style farmhouse, with a sprinkle of magic and cheer.  They start everyone off with a delicious crispy potato puff, with olive tapenade (as seen below).

We meet Our Server – Miyagi accompanies Daniel-san to start the tournament

Our server, whose name escapes me, hands us our leather bound menus and drink lists.  After letting the fam chillax and take in the scene for the perfect amount of time, he swoops in and provides us with the headiest of tips concerning mixed drinks and wine recommendations, while seamlessly regaling us with brief, yet relevant tales of some dining history at the GT.  And my man is a pro.  Like our own personal Miyagi.  It’s apparent he has been working here for quite some time, and gives off the simultaneous impression of prompt, professional service without pressure or attitude. Point, LaRusso.

The Appetizers – Daniel-San cruises through the early rounds

Cue the music!  I order Lamb Parpadelle while Elana selects the Cauliflower Custard.  Both are tremendous.  My parpadelle has a delightfully salty flavor, owing to some beautifully cooked shredded lamb.  It is gracefully plopped in a faintly think burgundy broth, with hints of lemon swirling around in its depths.  Every third forkful or so is accompanied by a karate chop of spice to the taste buds.  It’s honestly perfect.  Elana’s custard is similarly off the charts. Like a cauliflower panna cotta of sorts, it also has hazelnuts to supply an appropriate contrasting crunch.  Truly, an achievement in science.

The Entrees – Daniel-San dismantles the Cobra Kai sidekicks en route to the Final

No offense to Daniel-San, but one of my favorite underrated moments in the tournament montage is when Dutch (played by Chad, the son of Steve McQueen) cracks Daniel’s jaw with a the back end of a slick double roundhouse.  Without question the prettiest and most athletic karate move of the entire movie.  The GT’s entrees are similarly flawlessly presented.

And like Daniel-San, I’m able to move past the beauty of my meal’s arrival and get down to business.  I ordered the Duck Breast with confit, cabbage and mushrooms.  The duck is cooked like a medium rare filet, with that sweet tasting quality that only duck meat has.  The accompanying confit is made up of darker meat and is, appropriately, a tad more salty.  The dish is held together by a lurking presence of soy sauce and peppercorns.

Elana orders the Smoked Arctic Char with sunchokes, leeks, and hazelnuts.  Much like every dish so far, it arrives as meticulously presented as one of Miyagi’s Bonzai Trees.  The leeks, which form the guts of the sauce, emit this sweet tasting mist over the char which is lightly smoked and boasting a hazelnut crust.  There is also a noticeable mustard like presence established throughout the leek sauce.  Elana is beyond pleased – like she died and went to heaven.  Quick, get this girl a body bag, Johnny.

DessertDaniel LaRusso’s gonna fight? Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!

I always get a kick out of watching Miyagi rub his hands together to heal Daniel’s leg prior to the showdown with Johnny Lawrence, which is followed up by the shameless ring announcer breaking the exciting news to the crowd.  And indeed, after ingesting dinner, appetizers, and three hunky pieces of bread with the most amazingly salted butter spread all over it, I was a little tired myself.  But a thousand crane kicks to my noggin couldn’t stop me from participating in dessert, for which our server assured us would be a highlight of the meal.

And it was. Elana’s peanut butter semifreddo was simply awesome.  A cold treat with macaroons on the side, my fork kept getting helplessly pulled over to sis’s plate.  An absolute winner.  I went with a GT staple, the chocolate bread pudding.  A warm, moist sponge cake which melted in my mouth. Like a true establishment of class, the GT also placed some fine small treats on the house to polish off our meal.

The Bathrooms – Elana had a very positive report on the washrooms: “The bathrooms had a rustic look with fresh flower arrangements, baskets of hand towels and vintage art.”

Top to bottom, the GT is fantastic in everything they do.  Not a single thing gets overlooked.  It’s our favorite restaurant of the year, and the highest rated restaurant since doing the blog.  Indeed GT, You’re the Best, Around.

Overall Experience: The Godfather



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We have been heavily caffeinated for weeks now. Well, I have. John’s been on a steady stream of downers just to counter my coffee buzz. I thought it might be helpful to post a round up of all the coffee sites I’ve visited complete with locations so you can try them on your own.

But first! One last coffee shop: Cafe Grumpy!

The Scene: I popped in there just yesterday for a morning latte. It was bustling! There was quite a line-up for coffee, but it was all so well organized and everyone was so patient and good-natured about it, I didn’t mind at all. At one point, a girl waiting for latte turned to me and said, “Were you in front of me or behind me in line?” I honestly didn’t know, but the barista cleared it all up for us – he had been mentally keeping track the whole time. Nice work.

The Coffee: This latte was exceptionally well-frothed. In fact, my favorite part of the Grumpy Latte was the milk. It was so rich and creamy (hooray for full fat milk) that after I finished my drink, I took a spoon to it and scooped up the last bits of froth that were leftover. Now that’s good foam.

I also have a fondness for the logo, which is indeed grumpy:

Luckily, I didn’t feel like the above drawing after sipping my latte.

Overall Coffee Drinking Experience: Napoleon Dynamite, The Offbeat Success

And now, onto The Roundup!

For all things Van Leeuwen, you can read:
Our first review, discussing their Greenpoint store and Panda Truck.
Or view Tim’s (from the Panda Truck) Latte Art.

Van Leeuwen Store locations:
632 Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
81 Bergen Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn

Truck Locations: Follow them on Twitter to find out where they are!

Stumptown is coming up Aces at the Ace Hotel.
Stumptown at the Ace: 18 W 29th St. New York, NY 10001
6am – 8pm daily

As is Kava Cafe, opened by Ace Hotel’s partner John Saric.
Kava Cafe: 803 Washington Street

Take a walk to one of Ninth Street Espresso‘s locations:

Chelsea Market
75 9th Ave. (Between 9th & 10th Ave)

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

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

And if you find yourself in the Italian Mega Market, Eataly, their espresso counter is worth checking out.
Eataly: 23rd and 5th Avenue

Meanwhile on 13th Street, Joe the Art of Coffee serves up delicate lattes and off-the-wall art.

550 west 120th (Northwest Corner Building)
New York, NY 10027
212-851-9101

514 Columbus Avenue
New York, NY 10024
212-875-0100

141 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10014
212.924.6750

9 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
212.924.7400

44 GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL
212.661.8580

And before we forget: The WINNER of our LATTE ART Contest? Tim, from Van Leeuwen. You blew the competition out of the to-go cup, Tim. Nice Job.

And if you need MORE coffee, don’t forget to check out:

Amy Ferraris’ The Perfect Cappuccino Trailer and our recipe for Espresso Granita!

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