Carma

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Carma
38-40 Carmine St,
New York, NY 10014
(212)243-0388
Official Site

A la carte tasting is what I often refer to as small plates or tapas style dining. To be able to sample a variety of dishes is a pure joy to the palate. Along Carmine Street in the West Village, Carma, an Asian tapas and wine bar allows guests with such experience. Their modern Asian fare with Western influences was created by the same executive chef of the Michelin starred DinTai Fung. The food was such hit for New Yorkers that Carma expanded to the East Village with Carma Dim Sum Bar.

The restaurant has two separate dining rooms filled with smooth wooden top tables and Danish designed chairs. It has exposed brick walls, herringbone pattern oak floors, and light bulbs that drop down from the ceiling illuminating the whole space. During good weather, an outdoor area in the back is available for al fresco dining. The vibe in the restaurant is chill and is equaled by a tremendously friendly service.

One menu is offered all day at Carma that consist of mainly small plates made for sharing. Many of the dishes are moderately priced, none exceeding more than $20 (except for the whole fish which is market price). Dining in a group allows everyone to easily sample the whole menu.

Highlighting Carma’s “Signature Dim Sum” was the Foie Gras Soup Dumpling. Decadent foie gras infused soup trapped inside the dumplings is released in one bite. This was probably the best dumplings I’ve ever had.

The tapas selection of Tempura Fresh Water Eel…Burrata Cheese, Cucumber, Served with Bun, was nicely done in putting together the richness of the Burrata cheese with the eels graininess. Mexican inspired PEKING DUCK TACOS – Shredded Peking duck marinated in homemade Hoisin BBQ sauce came in three small hard tacos. The combination of the flavorful shredded duck meat and the homemade guacamole created a terrific filling.

Fresh White Fish Cakes looks more like Chinese mini buns than a cake. Cooked pan fried, giving top and bottom a burnt crust, and in the middle of the cake was the delicious grounded white fish stuffing. Five Spice Beef…Served with Pickled Radish were slices of sweet marinated cured beef served in room temperature. It had dry texture similar to beef jerky but is also tender and is easily chewed.

The Kung Pao Organic Chicken Breast…Hot Chili Pepper, Peppercorn, Spinach Sauce was not your typical Kung Pao chicken. The sauce was made from spinach sprinkled with pepper corn and nuts that surprisingly went extremely well with the all fieriness on the plate. This was an ingenious reinvention of classic Chinese fare. The Organic Chicken Lettuce Wrap on the other hand was the weakest and the most uninspiring dish I had here. Yet it still managed to please my palate with its flavorings.

 

Vegetable dishes such as The Spicy Hunan Chinese Celery & Smoked Tofu had a good blend of spiciness and smokiness. The mixture of the contrasting texture of the tofu softness and the crunchiness of the celery worked well together. Roasted Japanese Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce was served piping hot in a cover bowl. Once the cover was removed it yielded beautiful savory aromas. Eggplant served like a sponge absorbed all those fantastic flavors from the sauce.

“Carma House Special” like the Baked Miso Cod, was a sumptuous piece of cod coated in sweet sauce. Fresh sautéed Chinese broccoli and eggplant on the plate serve as a terrific accompaniment to the cod. The fried Coconut Milk Calamari has a beautiful crispiness and the distinct coconut milk can be tasted in the batter.

The kitchen’s creativity in reinventing Asian cuisine and incorporating global ingredients was impressive. On every plate there was an assortment of flavor combination that worked well with one another while also keeping the taste of the Far East intact. To pair perfectly with their food is their decent drink list that consisted of an eclectic wine selection, imported beer, Asian inflicted cocktail, and an assortment of sake.

New York City is full of “Modern Asian” or “Asian Fusion” restaurant, which have its unique differences. This can cause some confusion on the plate which type really is. At Carma, they are able to blend East and West cooking that produces a successful “Asian Fusion” cuisine.

Il Pesce

Il Pesce Il Pesce
@ Eataly Downtown
101 Liberty St
New York, NY 10006
(212)897-2895
Official Site

In less than ten years mega food market Eataly has taken the world by storm, opening branches in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Currently Eataly has set up shop in New York City and Chicago, but soon, it will be expanding its reach in Los Angeles and Boston. The summer of 2016 has marked its continuous expansion by opening a second location in downtown Manhattan’s Financial District. Though not as big as the original one in the Flatiron, it occupies a sizable square footage on the third floor of the brand new skyscrapers, 4 World Trade Center. Along with the market, it boasts a wine bar, a coffee shop, a gelateria, and four restaurants that include another outlet of the sea food haven, Il Pesce.

Dining Room

Designed with counter seating in front of an open kitchen, Il Pesce also has a spacious dining area that is frequented by tourist, finance industry workers and Battery Park City residence. The space is filled with marble top tables paired with white washed wooden chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows that look down on the World Trade Center Memorial.

POLPO SALMONE

A single menu covers both lunch and dinner consisting of antipasti, pasta and entrees, as well as raw items. For appetizers, the POLPO-seared octopus with gigante beans, chicory, and pickled onion was a joy to eat. The dense octopus meat was easily chewed and flavorsome. The SALMONE MARINATO-House cured salmon with pickled peppers, radish, and cucumbers had a clean and distinctive cured taste.

CASARECCE CON GRANCHIO

Excellent al den te pasta dishes like the TAGLIATELLA AL NERO DI SEPPIA CON COZZE –house made squid ink tagliatelle with mussels, garlic, white wine, chili flakes, and parsley had a very good mild saltiness, and a strong deep sea presence. The CASARECCE CON GRANCHIO – Afeltra gragnano Casarecce pasta with lump crab meat, braised leeks purée, chili flake, chives, and bread crumbs on the other hand, had hints of spiciness blended nicely with lumps of delicious crab meat.

CAPESANTE ALLA PIASTRA

RAZZA

The main course of CAPESANTE ALLA PIASTRA-Seared scallops with purple potato, grapefruit, celery salad, and pancetta vinaigrette was terrific. The scallops were beautifully complemented with strong sour acidity. The RAZZA-seared skate wing with roasted baby carrots, lemon, capers, and brown butter, where the skate was cooked in brown butter gave it a pleasant nuttiness. Enhancing the fish was sour elements on the plate. TONNO- seared yellow fin tuna with peperonata was a beautiful piece of tuna. It had wonderful seared texture and a tender reddish inner section. The tuna scrumptious flavor was fittingly accompanied by the peperonata’s sweetness. The FRITTO MISTO ALLA LIGURE-ASSORTED FRIED SEAFOOD LIGUR-IAN STYLE was extremely fresh and delicately crispy. This was an oceanic delight to have.

TONNO

FRITTO MISTO ALLA LIGURE

Il Pesce’s uncomplicated cooking produces dishes that are both appetizing and satisfying. The freshness of the seafood brightened with layers of acidity, sourness and hints of spiciness can be tasted in every plate.
The casual atmosphere of the restaurant were matched with informal and friendly service. The staff has very good knowledge of the food and wine that it serves.

In the last five years, New York City has witnessed the rise of gourmet food market with quality places to eat in them, and there’s no signs of slowing down as more openings are stated in the future. Eataly was at the forefront of this movement when it opened in 2010. It’s newer and smaller downtown location have restaurants such as Il Pesce that are capable of delivering well-made food.

Ilili

Dining Room

Ilili
236 5th Ave
New York,NY 10001
(212)683-2929
Official Site

Lebanese cuisine is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as high-end dining in New York City. It’s mostly associated with small falafel shops and food carts. Up to this day there are still only a handful of venues, such as Al Bustan and Almayass. So in 2007, when Lebanese born chef, Phillipe Massoud opened the restaurant Ilili steps away from Madison Square Park, in the Flatirion District, it was an ambitious undertaking that was eventually followed by success and consequently was embraced by the dining public.

Visible along Fifth Avenue passerby’s can’t help but notice the bustling dining room of Ilili, occupying a huge space that can seat at least 200 diners. Guests are greeted by a spacious lounge with wood panel walls, suede benches, and long bar in back with a thick stone top. The main dining room is designed with an abundance of wood and dominated by uncovered large round tables with cherry red armless chairs. The room’s high ceilings create an echo that can get loud on busy nights but that’s what gives Ilili its fun atmosphere. Tucked in the corner of the room is chamber that has more of an intimate settings and much quieter compared to the main dining room, the tables are covered in white cloth are setup for two people.

Lounge

Dining Room

Leading the kitchen at Ilili is Chef Massoud. He left Beirut for New York at a young age to escape the civil war and after college; his love for Lebanese cuisine led him back to Lebanon cooking with some of the country’s best chefs. He returned to the US in the late 90’s to head the kitchen at Neyla in Washington D.C. before settling in New York.

Ilili offers a la carte lunch and dinner menu to go along with their $25 lunch pre fixe special and the lounge offers small bites and drinks. Small plates or Mezzes are separated in hot and cold. For the hot mezzes I had an excellent Octopus-lamb bacon, Piquillo peppers, garbanzo beans, eggplant. Firm but tender octopus meat was flavored beautifully with the intensity of the lamb bacon. Meanwhile the grapes gave it a touch of sweetness along with the vegetables creating a balanced dish. The Riz-Lebanese rice, toasted vermicelli, mixed nuts was more of an accompaniment with the main dish and exuded wonderful aromas. Cold mezzes to dip Ilili’s freshly baked warm pita bread were the Mouhamara- walnuts, sundried peppers, pomegranate molasses and the Hommus-chickpea puree, tahini, lemon and olive oil. The Mouhamara’s has a complexity that includes some tanginess and sweetness while the hommus was slightly refined than a regular one. Presented neatly before being mix by the server the Chankleesh –feta cheese, onions, tomato and zaatar . The assortment of spices and herbs, tomato and onions had the character of a salsa and with the addition of the feta cheese giving it another dimension.

Some of the entrée that I’ve had were the Mixed Grill-chicken shish taok, beef kebab, kafta lamb chops, garlic whip trio, seasonal grilled vegetables, a carnivore delight for two. It’s a plate of nothing but perfectly grilled meats. With both beef kebab and lamb chops that are extremely moist and flavorful and the chicken and lamb sausage was terrific. Chicken Taouk Duo-chicken breast & thigh, sumac, tender juicy chicken skewered and grilled with aromatics seasonings.

Mixed Grill

Served as a whole from head to tail, Citrus Trout-citrus cells, orange tahini, arugula, smoked almonds, was grilled perfectly and placed on top of a light cream citrus sauce. The orange and grapefruit cells added another level of acidity that went well with the trout. The lone non-meat entrée was the Semolina Gnocchi-yogurt, pine nut, orange zest. It had an excellent hint of orange that paired delightfully with the sourness and thickness of the yogurt used to blanket the gnocchi. A garnish of pine nuts was added for extra texture.

Warm Date Cake with coconut sorbet, carob, chocolate was the one sweet plate that highlighted the dessert. The duo of warm and sweet with refreshing cool sorbet played on the palate in both temperature and flavors without being muddled. Pieces of carob and melted chocolate were brushed on the plate where the cake and sorbet sat on top and added some sweetness.

Warm Date Cake

Chef Massoud reinterpreted classic Lebanese cuisine using non-traditional ingredients and incorporating his creative approach with a Mediterranean twist while keeping the flavor profile. Cooking contains a lot of grilling and searing, yogurt, fruits and vegetables appeared constantly on the plate. Paired wines and drinks are tailor fitted with Ilili’s food. It’s vast list was curated with wines from different parts of the globe while also focusing on local Lebanese wines and “Arak” traditional spirits in the Middle East. Its cocktail program is another strong point. The drinks are creative, one of my all-time favorites “From Beirut with Passion” a refreshing fruitiness that also can be dangerous if you don’t take note on how many you’ve had.

Arak

Visiting to dine or to have drinks Ilili’s staff shares an enthusiastic approach to each guest. The front of the house greets everyone that comes through the door with a huge smile while the dining room personnel provides service that is efficient and personable without being too patronizing. With a packed dining room that can get a bit loud, confusion and not being on the same page can occur but the staff is able to handle this without any issues.

From Beirut with Passion

This restaurant had polished a humble cuisine with sophistication and with a price tag to go along with it that New Yorkers are willing to pay. For the past eight years they have created a following of locals and celebrities alike. Its kitchens cooking techniques, mixologists artistic libations draw inspiration from Lebanon and the restaurants urbane atmosphere make Ilili one of the finest in the city for haute Lebanese dining places.

The MasalaWala

Interior

The MasalaWala
179 Essex St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 358-9300
Official Site

To find a good Indian restaurant in New York City is easy as there are pockets of areas across the five boroughs. In Manhattan, East 6th St. between First and Second Avenues and in the 20’s on Lexington Avenue is packed with such places. Indian cuisine from the different regions of the country are well represented here. But in the Lower East Side, there is a restaurant called The MasalaWala. Specializing in serving the street food of India and the rest of South Asia, Masala meaning a mixture of spices and wala a person that serves or provides a service, it is a local treasure of the Lower East Side. The MasalaWala inhabits the intersection where Essex meets Houston Street, a miniscule space that is designed to maximize every square foot available packing it with dark wooden tables and hard wood chairs. The restaurants humble décor is designed with a visible open kitchen, walls of exposed red bricks with paintings, and tiny light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

Exterior

Dining Room

With a menu that is extensive, and can be overwhelming, with all the goodness it offers at an affordable price range. Separated by vegetarian, meat and sea food choices, starter dishes average in the single digits, while entrées hover around $17 with only a few that cross the $20 mark. For starters there is the Malai Tiger Shrimp Tandoor-grilled Tiger Shrimp marinated in sour cream, nutmeg and sesame. Four pieces of wonderfully grilled shrimp were the second most expensive on the appetizer menu. Chowringhee Pani Puri – Semolina puffs, potatoes, chickpeas, and tamarind are small pastries with a savory filling. Dip it into the tamarind sauce for a nice hint of sourness. Wala Veg Sampler-Assortment of Mumbai Samosa, Dilli Bajji and Paneer Pudina Tikka is a delicious sample of non-meat offerings on one plate. Their watery Spiced Lentil soup has a good nutty flavor while the hearty Aloo Masala Roll- spiced potatoes, tomatoes and cilantro was a generous serving and more than enough as a meal.

Malai Tiger Shrimp

The entrées, Chicken Tikka Masala-Tandoor-grilled chicken in fresh tomato cream sauce with fenugreek, a creamy sauce that drowned the grilled chicken with its consistency and traces of sweetness. The intense spiciness of Chicken Madras-South Indian specialty curry with tomatoes, ginger, mustard seeds and curry will be much appreciated by those who enjoy a lot of heat with their food. Jalfrezi chicken- A tantalizing combination of paprika, tomatoes and coriander in a hot and tangy sauce on the other hand had a delightful depth of piquancy while also having the wonderful mixture of spices and herbs in the background. A paneer entrée of Mattar Paneer -North Indian favorite with pressed cottage cheese, green peas, herbs and spices, where cubes of cottage cheese swam in a tomato based sauce seasoned with different spices.

Vegetarian entrees like the Bhindi Do Pyaza (Okra) – sautéed okra, onions, tomatoes, dried mango, had beautiful aromatics with all the ingredients it was sautéed in. The vegetables married well with one another and the okra was not over cooked like it often can be, causing the dish to thicken, but instead it provided additional texture. Baingan Bharta (Eggplant)-Roasted eggplant, spiced tomatoes, cumin. The combination of tomatoes and roasted eggplant mashed together while also having a peppery substance made up a pleasant dish. To soak up the curry sauces plain biryani rice is served with the entrees or different types of roti or naan are available as a side order. I usually prefer the fresh garlic naan as it gives that extra garlicky tang that goes well with the restaurants curry sauces.

]Traditional Indian sweets make up the desserts like the Rabri Ras Malai,cottage cheese dumplings in sweet condensed milk, garnished with rose water and pistachios. The mildness and texture of the cheese prevent it from being overly cloying, instead it creates the right amount sweetness. Gulab Jamun Khoya,dumplings in sweet saffron syrup are round spongy like dumplings that are soaked in a sugary syrup, quite a contrast from the other but nevertheless this gives the palate sweetness afterwards that complements the savory dishes.

Naan

Lunch and dinner at The MasalaWala is always pleasing. The kitchen produces good food with straight forward and honest cooking. The mixture of different spices and herbs bring out bold flavors in every dish. There is a great deal of consistency here, on my most recent visit my palate resonated with the tastes that are still familiar from before. The restaurant has a decent list of alcoholic beverages that includes imported beer from India such as King Fisher as well as European and domestic wines at a price with very little mark up.

A family owned restaurant, the owner’s father was always at the restaurant at the times that I visited The Masalwala. With his welcoming nature, he sets the tone for the staff to provide a more personal service. He stops at every table to chat and greets guest as they come in while also thanking them for their patronage as they leave.

The MasalaWala brings locals and visitors together with its delicious and reasonable price dishes in an inviting atmosphere. An all-day dining on any day of the week, this restaurant has never failed to deliver a good meal. This is one of the best tasting Indian restaurants in New York City and I’m not the only one that shares the admiration, a quick search on Google will bring up a plethora of favorable write ups from blogs and other review sites.