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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Isan, Umami, Venison

larb ubol lunch

Larb Ubol Typically, one mediocre Thai meal and I’m done with a place. Yet, I still have a good feeling about Larb Ubol, despite the papaya side salad that was all lime and sugar and the crispy pork that was properly lush but lacking any heat to balance the fat. Lunch specials are never a prime showcase, so I will cut some slack, especially since there are eight different som tums, some using pickled fish and preserved crab, and ten larbs. This Isan restaurant can’t be only catering to office workers spilling over from Times Square–though they are certainly trying to cover all bases:  you can have your larb made with liver or tofu.

louro group

Louro  I can’t guarantee that anything pictured here will be available–at least in this exact form– because it was part of one of chef David Santos’ Monday night Nossa Mesa Supper Clubs (I was a guest, full disclosure). The theme was umami so there was lots of in-house pickling and fermenting (the walls are lined with glass jars containing many of the fruits of this labor) with standouts including thick, custardy chawanmushi with crab and aged soy sauce distilled on site,  a yogurt cake with thyme ice cream that appeared to be surrounded by an intense salted caramel that was actually made from peach umeboshi, and bone marrow stuffed with a chunky blend of beef brisket and mussels and served with a kelp cracker.  The next Nossa Mesa will be Octoberfest-themed.

Kristophe is the fancier venture from the owners of Krolewskie Jadlo, which means fresh stonework made to look aged and wine barrels instead
of suits of armor.  There is also duck in the pierogies, chanterelles in the mushroom sauces, and a kale salad apropos of
nothing. I just had a burger, though, because that’s what I was in the mood for. It might have been wiser to have just gone traditional instead of with venison
patty covered in brie, walnuts, caramelized onions, portobello mushrooms and a chipotle cranberry relish. Too much. I just wanted the pretzel roll really.

The Elm

threeshovelThe Elm has generated nearly as much skepticism as it has praise, most of it unfounded. The location isn’t obscure or difficult to reach (one stop from Manhattan, if you even live in Manhattan, and a five-minute walk?), there’s nothing that odd about it being subterranean or in a hotel (though I’ll admit boutique hotels with pools are douchey by default) and I’m not fully convinced that the neighborhood can’t sustain a more ambitious culinary venture, despite Williamsburg’s fondness for meatballs, barbecue and fried chicken.

There’s a lot of money in Brooklyn, if you haven’t noticed, allowing the restaurant to function as either a neighborhood spot or a destination. I’ve treated it as both, once on a weekend date with a shared cocotte and a bottle of wine (a Willamette Valley pinot noir) and another on a weeknight at the bar with a friend, drinking cocktails, three plates among us. Either way, you get the full amuse, bread basket, mignardise treatment.

My main resistance to The Elm was my bizarro experience at Corton, the only restaurant where I’ve ever been asked to not take photos. And I’m quick and discreet to a fault (a better shot of the chicken kiev would’ve been from above, but I’m not about to stand up during a meal and maneuver). Three years makes quite a difference in the food world, though. On my bar visit, the servers were careful to position the plates just so, primping the food for a better shot. Not only could staff care less about food photos anymore, they actively participate (not Liebrandt, himself, obviously, though he does make the dining room rounds).

the elm amuse
That amuse is a warm, hyper-savory, salty thing, with a quick bread texture. Black olive is in the verbal description, though the bite doesn’t taste
particularly olive-like. The friend who is a notorious over-salter (to the point where I’ll add extra salt when I cook for her and she’ll still add more every time) called this “salty,” a positive.

the elm, foie gras, spiced strawberry gelee, pickled strawberry, ginger

the elm brioche

Foie gras and strawberry, hit with crystallized ginger and served with brioche, could almost be a starter or a dessert like the foie gras doughnut at Do or Dine. One of the only dishes I actually remember from Corton, also involved foie gras and a fat piece of brioche.

the elm gnudi, tom yum scallop, summer onions, lime

A tom yum scallop and gnudi, foamy and  coconutty, felt more boutique hotel with a pool in Asia, despite the modern Western signifier: a nasturtium leaf like a lilly pad floating in sauce.

the elm flavors of bouillabaisse, amadai, mussel, orange confit

the elm tiny shrimp

The scallop is fleeting while the “flavors of bouillabaisse” is jam-packed like a tardis of seafood. A crisp-topped block of tilefish was the focus (lobster and mini potatoes were also lurking) but my favorite part was the tiny shrimp like you might normally see dried and used to jazz up Thai condiments or Chinese rice,  individually, battered and fried. Adorable.

the elm short rib, argan oil, heirloom carrot, pl sauce

The short rib with the PL sauce, more closely related to HP than donkey, didn’t make a huge impression on me, not because it was lackluster, but
sometimes hunks of meat, even small hunks, can get upstaged by more unexpected combinations on the table (plus, I ate half the bouillabaise before swapping for this so it wasn’t pristine–my own doing). I’d forgotten that argan oil, the now ubiquitous hair product, was edible.
the elm elysian fields lamb, charred eggplant, ras al hanout

The lamb is in a similar vein, stylistically, a little Middle Eastern with quinoa rather than couscous. I loved the deeply hued, intensely flavored blobs
(see below also). Dark stiff quenelles may be the new drizzles and drops. The smoky eggplant sheened so purple it was almost black like a good iridescent Goth

the elm chicken kiev

the elm pommes aligot

Chicken “Kiev Style” comes in multiple parts: garnishes on a plate, en cocotte and with a side of velvety cheese-infused potatoes (pommes aligot, if
you want to be precise) that rank right up there with “robuchons” (not an ill-punctuated possessive, but my household nickname for the famous butter-crammed potato puree). The browned fleshy logs contain the liquid herbed butter you’d expect while the crispy texture comes separately from the tot and wing conglomerate.

the elm chicken kiev plate

Broccolini, a candied lemon peel, aioli and a swampy blob, which logically would have spinach origins, but probably didn’t.

the elm cookies & cream, hibiscus jelly

Hibiscus jellies and cookies and cream mini muffins, not all that different in appearance from the initial olive disk, aren’t real desserts, but I never had the urge for those. I hear they’re good.

The Elm * 160 N. 12th St., Brooklyn, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: A Month or More

So, I’ve eaten a few things in my absence, a lot or not much, depending on your perspective. I don’t eat out every day, and I don’t relentlessly pursue newness. I will likely elaborate on a few of these in the near future.


JG Melon: A belated birthday burger. My first time ever at the UES institution.


L’Albero dei Gelati: No salmon or blue cheese gelato, but the savories of the day, saffron and red pepper, were pretty nice paired with cheese and salami.


The Elm: Convincing a vegetarian to eat a few dishes at the bar with me meant no large format sharing (the$48 zillion vegetables in a cocotte contains pork
broth, by the way). I will have to return.  There was a tom yum scallop.

Bagelteria: I reached new levels of laziness and ordered an egg and cheese on a roll (plus a bagel with lox to make the delivery minimum)
from Seamless on a Sunday morning.


Desnuda: Two visits ordering the exact same thing, $1 oysters and one of my new favorite cocktails, The Reformer (Cherry Heering, Elcano fino sherry, Avua Amburana cachaça, Peychaud’s bitters, and pasilla and scorpion chiles). The drink is spicy but almost melon-tasting, a surprise because I hate melon.

maggiano's aviation

Maggiano’s:  I’m no lover of Italian-American food, but I do love a new-to-me chain, and it’s rare for one of these types of places
to serve non-sweet cocktails. Yes, I went all the way to Bridgewater, NJ for an Aviation (so many leave off the crème de violette, which is the whole point)
and something called Catcher in the Rye (Knob Creek Rye, Luxardo Maraschino, simple syrup, old fashioned bitters). The food was what you’d expect.


Motorino: Delivery once, dine-in another time. The Brussels sprouts pizza is classic, despite not being particularly summery. The tomato pie with four varieties made up for it with his hyper-seasonality.

Roberta’s: So, I’d never been before. An embarrassment, considering that for me it’s hardly the arduous journey media makes it out to
be (under two miles/30-minute walk). More pizza, the Beastmaster (mozzarella, gorgonzola, pork sausage, capers, onions, jalapeno) plus duck prosciutto and a
grilled squid special. The thing that stands out the most, oddly, was the peanut butter and celery gelato that tasted exactly like peanut butter and celery. This is the only restaurant where I’ve ever seen an e-cig smoker at a table. (I have them too, but it feels too douchey to use them indoors in public.)

jail bong

Sripraphai: They really don’t believe you anymore when you say you want things spicy, yet I still go. The nam priks and assorted chile pastes in the fridge are another story and I’ll always pick up two each visit. This so-called “jail bong” is blistering hot, humid garbage funky and delicious as all get out. It was described to me as being “like blue cheese,” but I would say it tastes like the fermented anchovies that it moslty is.

Ootoya: Read more here. It’s the new Times Square branch. Pricier than a typical lunch, but also peaceful and not like anything else in the neighborhood.

gambrinus piano

Gambrinus: There’s no doing this Russian seafood café any justice in a sentence or two. The bar is shaped like a boat, staff is dressed like sailors, everyone sits
outside and drinks vodka and smokes—that’s why the indoor piano player is all alone.

Zizi Limona: There is $5 house wine at lunch, which would be compelling enough without the chicken and smoked eggplant sub with paprika-dusted fries and

jacobs pickles

Jacob’s Pickles: When our waiter informed us that a marriage proposal was about to go down, all I could do was think about ruining it somehow, potentially using Twitter pre-emptively. Unfortunately, no diamond rings appeared to be lurking in the fried chicken biscuit sandwiches.
Battery Harris: Somehow six pints of beer, jerk wings, two patties and a kale salad only cost $29. All-Monday happy hour is a feat.

dairy queen blizzard

Dairy Queen: It took me 15 years to finally ride the Staten Island Ferry, and there was a mini Blizzard (my childhood fave, turtle pecan) waiting for me on the other side as a reward. Supposedly, there will be another Dairy Queen appearing in Times Square before the end of the year, and then it will cease being special.


SanRasa: It wasn’t just the most interesting thing walking distance from the ferry, but also the only business that appeared to be open on Labor Day (even the Subway was shuttered). Lamprie, this enormous mound of basmati rice, caramelized onions, cashews and kingfish curry, a croquette that may have been fish or vegetable mush, topped with a paper umbrella and served in a banana leaf, is as good an introduction as any to Sri Lankan food.


Sadly, SanRasa’s beer garden was closed. Luckily, I was fueled by a giant can of Modelo on the ferry.

peter luger steak

Peter Luger: There was a steak for three (I hate the odd-numbered steak divvying) for my visiting mom’s 63rd birthday. Benecio del Toro was sitting at the
next table, so she at least got one celebrity sighting. Mother may know best, but I ordered the creamed spinach (am I the only one who likes it?) despite her protestations.

Dumont: Still a very good burger. Medium-rare is taken seriously.

qi tea

Qi Thai: I order delivery all the time at home, and pick-up duck salad for lunch when I’m at work in Times Square. I had never ordered Thai iced tea to go, however. Apparently, it comes in plastic takeout container. I guess it’s not so much weirder than how they put drinks in plastic baggies in Thailand.

brooklyn star marrow

Brooklyn Star: Smoked bone marrow and Texas toast is probably meant to be a shared plate, but I made it my dinner last night. It’s good having a place to eat after midnight on a Tuesday.


Greek Tragedy


I am breaking my blog silence (I really meant to be back sooner, but got sidetracked–I’ve also been trying to move my blog from Typepad to WordPress since December but hit my technical know-how limits when php became involved) to speak out on the very important topic of Chobani foulness. I got drunk (well, tipsy) off of bubbly fermented Chobani back in 2011, but no one believed me (or more likely, they didn’t care).  Now, I feel vindicated by the yogurt recall.

And just days after the Greek yogurt rah rah story in The Wall Street Journal.

It’s Fage or nothing, people.

Photo: Oikos Greek Yogurt