FOOD CURRENTLY: Sriracha, Foraging, and (iPhone) Apps

Bro, do you even forage?

With the amount of coverage regarding the looming Sriracha shortage – beloved condiment to gutter punks, French chefs, food bloggers, and your mom, (and starring briefly as a Lay’s flavor) – one has to ask if we’ve hit Foodie Critical Mass. There’s never been more excitement or conversation about food, restaurants, and the food system, which is great. Sriracha is the perfect embodiment of where we are with food culture, a rags to riches story featuring an entrepreneur bringing to light a previously unappreciated cuisine by using an easy-to-get and very bold flavor profile. Its ubiquity is shocking; a recent trip to the Bahamas landed me in the island’s poorly stocked grocery store, featuring only cans of tuna, wilted iceberg, and a fully stocked Sriracha aisle.

Mass appreciation at hand, the widespread obsession with eye-wateringly hot foods has grown as well, so facing this shortage, now’s the chance for a new star to take center stage. Gochujang, the funky fermented Korean hot spread (you’ll find it in any Koreatown BBQ) is an easy sub. Szechaun peppercorns, made famous by Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese, make your tongue numb, and the still-long waits suggest that Mission’s cinnamon challenge quality has definite appeal.

Perhaps, though, Fredrik Berselius’s brilliant foraging for Aska could be the buzzy new thing (maybe facilitated by the help of the anything-on-demand Wunwun app). It’s hard to imagine drunk bros foraging for conifer sprouts in Washington Square Park, but I don’t think that anybody foresaw sending children the to the hospital with inflamed stomachs from Flaming Hot Cheetos. Just imagine what it would mean for Santacon. Next year…

This Week’s NY Happenings: LUCKYRICE, Taste Of The Nation, Manon

NOW: The Mother Of All Rice Fests Returns
LUCKYRICE is back in New York and ready to celebrate all things Asian with a superstar lineup. Tonight is the kickoff, with Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, and it’s already sold out. Fortunately other tickets remain, as the festival tours through ramen with Chuko, Filipino food with Umi Nom, and a cabana night market at The Maritime Hotel. On Thursday night the focus shifts to “chef cocktails.” Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto hosts while luminaries from Experimental Cocktail Club, Macao Trading Co., and his own Tribeca Canvas put Asian accents on some very fine sips.

LUCKYRICE kicks off tonight, April 29th. Cocktail Feast: A Journey East starts at 8pm on Thursday, May 2nd, at The Bowery Hotel (335 Bowery, East Village). Tickets for the cocktails are $40. To learn more aboutt he hotel, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides. Photo by Parliament of Owls.

NOW: Taste Of The Nation
Seventy of the city’s best bars and restaurants will all be in one place tonight as the 26th annual Taste of the Nation goes off at 82MERCER. Players like ACME, Pouring Ribbons, and The Dead Rabbit are only the beginning, and all proceeds go to fighting childhood hunger.

Taste of the Nation starts at 7:30pm on Thursday, April 25th, at 82MERCER (82 Mercer St., Soho). General admission tickets are $225 ($185 is tax-deductible). To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

WEDNESDAY: Manon Opens In Meatpacking
Moscow’s Cafe Pushkin peeps take another stab at NYC with glossy Meatpacking triplex Manon. The kitchen is run by a former Public hand, working up seasonal ingredients with international accents. Industrial ironwork meets chandeliers on the glossy interior. Opulence, it has it.

Manon (407 W. 14th St., Meatpacking District) opens Wednesday, May 1st. To learn more about the restaurant and lounge, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by checking out BlackBook’s NY City Guides, & signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email. 

Top NYC Restaurants and Bars of 2012

The end of 2012 brings excitement for what’s to come in 2013, but also a slew of tasty memories from dining and drinking out for almost 365 days this year. Of all the places I tried, these nine New York places, people, and events stuck out.

1. Xixa: Opened by the team from Traif, this cozy, yet swank Mexican food restaurant proved a real winner in my book. From their delicate butterfish ceviche, to the fresh braised artichoke guacamole, to the whimsical wine list dedicated to fierce woman in show business, this Brooklyn eatery is worth going back to in 2013.

2. Mission Chinese: Yes, it’s that good, not to mention fun and comforting. But don’t take my word for it, when Danny Bowien opened up his second location of Mission Chinese in the Lower East Side, the first being in the Mission district of San Francisco, he hasn’t had a moment to breath since the press and fandom has been so great. Aside from that, he makes a mean mapo tofu. 

3. Charity: Pete Wells said it best in his New York Times article, “What made an equally deep impression on me, though, was the restaurant industry’s response to something else that seemed to come out of nowhere, the beating the city took when Hurricane Sandy trampled over the region.” All over the city, and country for that matter, service people rallied to help restaurants and bars that had been hit hard by the fall storm. You go NYC. 

4. The Expansion of DavidsTea: When this Canadian-based tea company came to the West Village in 2011, no one really knew who they were, or what they were about. But, between an energetic staff and tea blends including a cinnamon-green called Exotica, and coffee mixed with mate or pu’erh, they now have a solid following, which means, they keep opening up new shops all over the city and that makes me happy.

5. Gallow Green: I can’t help it, I adore Sleep No More. Now, with the airy Gallow Green bar on the roof, you don’t have to drop $75 to get a little theatrical entertainment at the fabled McKittrick Hotel. There they have live music, small bites, and excellent craft cocktails like Blonde in Peril, which mixes vodka, Lillet, and crimson port. 

6.  Yunnan Kitchen: For a first venture, Erika Chou and chef Travis Post nailed it. Impart that’s because the food is phenomenal, but the other part is due to the lack of Yunnan-style Chinese food in the city. After traveling in the Yunnan province, Post learned to serve up stellar plates of tea-smoked duck and fried pork belly, which people flock too, even if NYC’s Chinatown is just a few blocks away.

7. The Pines: At the end of September, the owners of Littleneck opened The Pines next door to their shop in Brooklyn. The inside looks like an abandoned lodge, which makes sense given they scored dishes, signs, and knickknacks from a summer resort bearing the same name as the restaurant. Not that you would just go for the décor—it’s chef Angelo Romano’s cooking that won us over with dishes like his oxtail cappellacci and the pork shoulder with chestnut, pineapple and rye berry.

8. Justin Warner: Watching the quirky chef and co-owner of Brooklyn’s Do or Dine team up with Alton Brown on Food Network Star had me actually paying attention to the show for the first time. Plus, he won!

9. Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria: The vibe this NoHo restaurant exudes is a modern-industrial-meets-Italian-village sort of thing, and it works. So does the food expertly prepared by chef Justin Smillie. Of all the new Italian places that have opened in 2012, Smillie’s plates of bucatini cacio e pepe and gnudi with brown butter and cherry tomatoes shine through the rest.

Freemans’ Truly Bespoke Menu

Just when you thought Taavo Somer and William Tigertt’s chic Freemans Restaurant  couldn’t get any hipper, they decided to have Bench-Made Bespoke Studio open up in one of their bookcase-shrouded rooms. Adding on to the already stylish clothing boutique Freemans Sporting Club, the sleek barbershop, and the cabin-in-the-woods-style restaurant, Freemans has become the go-to for the modish male looking for a trim, a suit, and lunch.

To get to the studio you have to go down Freeman Alley and into the restaurant. Then up the stairs, past deer heads and stuffed birds, and through the bookcase (with real books!) and straight into the arms of master tailor Felix Aybar. While you look at Bespoke belts and wallets, choose fabrics, and get fitted for what-have-you, you can dine on Freemans’ a la carte menu and sip cocktails, which are also custom-made to your liking.

Last night they kicked off the opening of the shop with trays of Mai Tais, dumplings and pork buns by Mission Chinese, and Sunday Paper’s video about a kick-ass Chinese chef. As well-heeled people wandered around sewing machines and cutting tables, sipping drinks and delicately munching on the street food fare, Bespoke’s studio director Alex Young announced the shop and invited anyone to come by and visit – by appointment only of course.  Watch the video below:

Mission Chinese from Sunday Paper on Vimeo.

New York Openings: Mission Chinese and Pok Pok Come East

It says more about New York’s reputation than it slights the West Coast that two beloved Asian outfits, Portland’s Pok Pok and Frisco’s Mission Chinese, have taken their talents eastward. Pok Pok NY, the Thai standout from notably un-Thai chef Andy Ricker (of Vermont), opened last month on the Columbia Street Waterfront (the original Pok Pok will continue its tenure as a Stumptown establishment). Ricker made a soft debut in March with Pok Pok Wing, a dorm room-sized munchie spot on Rivington.

While his new space grew in proportion with the cross-borough move, it will pack in just as close given the steady lines outside. Stuffed hen, crepes with PEI mussels, and a spicy minced pork salad using a recipe inherited from an 84-year-old Thai man are standouts. The entire menu is thoughtfully annotated with hints and recommendations (e.g. Khanom Jiin Naam Ngiew: “Hard to say, easy to eat.”). The dream of Andy Ricker is alive in Brooklyn.
Back on the island of Manhattan, San Francisco’s semi-ironic dive Mission Chinese has opened up a branch on Orchard Street. Maybe chef Danny Bowien wanted more convenient access to his pal Martha Stewart’s studio, or maybe the Food Bank for New York City needed more love—75¢ of each entrée goes to the charity. As Martha notes, Bowien hadn’t cooked Chinese food before starting up at the Frisco shop, but his lamb cheek dumplings, kung pao pastrami, and thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes don’t report to General Tso anyway. The Twin Peaks-meets-dragon-paraphernalia interior is tight, but it’s open ’til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, so feel free to stumble in when you’re feeling charitably saucy.
Joan Didion, in an early essay on New York, laments that after her relocation from the West she knew she didn’t belong here because she wasn’t from here. But after spending half her adult life in New York, she’s just as good an example as any that if you can make it here, well. You know.