Skip to content

Archive for

Shovel Time: The Gorbals

twoshovelI’ve lost all ability to gauge what others will find compelling. My call for birthday travel mates to the Aqueduct casino fell flat (I decided to just take myself out to Bâtard) yet an equally arduous journey to Forest Hills to sleuth out the Northeast’s only Sizzler has generated interest. The Gorbals on opening night was also not a strike out.

Who wouldn’t want to eat in the nation’s coolest Urban Outfitters that’s barely an Urban Outfitters. Space Ninety 8 could be described as a concept store. Or it could be described as “More Anthro. More Curated,” as a sales clerk was explaining to a customer. “We don’t have sales,” he added.

That means you’ll weave past the macramé dreamcatchers, white lug-soled sandals, one size fits most Eileen Fisher for millennials linen shifts, and Japanese lip balms in containers camouflaged as fruit. All of a sudden a bar appears on the horizon of the men’s section on the third flor. Take a left and you’re dining in-store next to an open kitchen.

the gorbals cocktails

On the early side, the restaurant was populated but not at capacity; there were enough free seats to cause arrivals to balk at sharing the communal table in the back. The crowd was also slightly older than one might imagine, and by older I just mean over 30 with a sprinkling of the truly middle aged. (I went for a beer afterward at Iona and there was not one person over 24–or wearing a bra–in the back garden.)

the gorbals banh mi poutine, thrice-cooked fries, hoisin

I was expecting small plates, and for the most part they were. Not so with the banh mi poutine, total blogger bait which appeared first, unbidden, and was appreciated all the more for it. I wouldn’t describe this as tasting like a banh mi, though. The rich hunks of pork adhered to the fries and pickles with melted cheese kind of translated as cubano. Regardless, I couldn’t stop picking at the delicious pile.

the gorbals falafel-crusted lamb sweetbreads, cool ranch hummus, green garlic

Falafel-crusted lamb sweetbreads completely made sense–even the subtle ranch-flavored hummus didn’t seem out of place. What is ranch anyway but buttermilk and a dill-heavy herb-blend?

the gorbals jewish lunchbox, fried barley, gefilte fish cake, poached egg, dill'd kimchi

I didn’t catch a photo before the “Jewish lunchbox” was shook up in front of us. This was the least successful dish, perhaps because the barley posing as rice was lukewarm. Timing was a little haphazard, but I won’t begrudge anyone on their first night. Gefilte fish holds no nostalgia for me, though I can appreciate a spongy fish cake, a nice runny egg yolk and kimchi (with more of that dill).

the gorbals chewy carrots, smoked brown butter, almond cake

You should order at least one vegetable. Carrots, shriveled  with a velvety texture, come with nearly candied brown tufts called almond cake that based on color and the dish’s vaguely Nordic vibe kept signaling rye to my brain. Not rye.

the gorbals bacon-wrapped matzoh balls, horseradish mayonnaise

The friend who had taken me out couldn’t decide if the bacon-wrapped matzoh balls were a “dick move” or not. A dick move that got slightly neglected because they came at the end of the meal and were a little heavy (I blame the poutine) even if the horseradish sauce livened them up. These might work better as bar snacks.

I guess this is L.A. food, though it feels just as much like Brooklyn food. The “Barn” section of the menu is where the fun is concentrated, and I would characterize this food as fun. In many ways, it’s less serious than the merchandise on the floor. Nothing is outrageously priced, nothing is overly precious. I guess fun is pretty subjective? (says the person who wants to spend a summer day playing Keno in a dark, smoke-filled space). The talons attached to the schnitzel were causing some commotion; one had to be sawed off at the table before the woman would accept the plate and another diner requested the gnarled chicken foot be removed before leaving the kitchen.

The Gorbals * 98 N. Sixth St., Brooklyn, NY


American Falafel

The AP article, “Falafel to go: Mideast food chains expand abroad” illustrated with a photo of Cafe Bateel (Bateel is the Godiva of the United Arab Emirates but with dates not chocolate) quickened my pulse a bit.

Abroad doesn’t automatically equal the US, however. It’s Russia, Turkey, the “Far East” and more regions of the Middle East that are getting the slightly upscale cafes found in malls.

We’re also not getting Man’oushe Street, the Dubai chain specializing in the namesake flatbreads commonly topped with Kashkaval cheese, thyme and sesame seeds.

America just gets Just Falafel. The first US branch recently opened in Fremont, California (NYC and New Jersey are both listed as locations on the website) which prompted the addition of a new regional variation to its line-up of wraps called the Californian. You know, beets and salsa. There was already an American served on a sesame-studded bun with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar–and everybody’s favorite: cocktail sauce.

By that score, the New Yorker will be garnished with thousand island dressing and kidney beans?

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Skewers, Shawarma, Sable

snack eos duoSnack EOS Ninth Avenue near Times Square can feel more exciting simply because it’s not Eighth Avenue. Even so, there are a few charmers like Larb Ubol that stand out, and now Snack EOS, which was new to me, and possibly new period. Peaceful and non-plasticky, it’s a nice respite from the humidity and suitcase-draggers–and the $14.95 snack box isn’t a bad deal for a sit-down lunch. The taramosalata (pictured) with lots of warm pita and a yellowfin tuna skewer a.k.a. kalamaki with olives and a farro salad, is just one combo from a choice of three starters and an equal number of mains.



la goulette delivery

La Goulette Can you accurately judge a restaurant based on delivery? Probably not. La Goulette already gets points, though, for being one of the only Tunisian restaurants around (and by around, I mean that I can walk to). I appreciated that you could get chicken shawarma (there is merguez, but not much lamb in other forms, oddly) in a style not involving pita or rice. Who cares whether roasted cauliflower and artichokes are a traditional accompaniment  or a modern concession, it worked. There’s plenty of starch in the falafel and hummus-filled “veggie mix.” Don’t worry.

baz bagels nova & sableBaz Bagel It might also be wrong to choose a nouveau Jewish cafe based on the wallpaper. I’ve been researching palm tree and fern wall coverings for the past month and wanted to see some in the wild. (I was also obsessed with the Alloro’s green interior when it first opened, but never enough to prompt an in-person visit.) The food? That’s more difficult to parse. I wasn’t at Baz under pure food-enjoying circumstances to start with (beyond the wallpaper-scoping) yet even if I was paying more attention, the price to proportion might’ve seemed slightly out of whack.. One would think  something described as a tasting plate (nova and sable) and costing $18 would be shareable. Not so. A bagel sandwich might make more sense–or moving on to Black Seed or Russ & Daughters Cafe next time.


Tears by Proxy

Twice in the past two days I’ve encountered examples of dining-induced tears by proxy. I’m not sure if this counts toward my ongoing Crybaby Compendium. I’m pretty sure Judge Judy would consider this hearsay and bust a gasket over it.

I haven’t watched the video responsible for these tears, so it’s possible that simply hearing about salad dressing could make a woman cry. Could someone less cynical go watch it and report back?

* * *

Because I’m a crybaby about dining alone but not getting a nice birthday dinner because I’m too self-conscious to dine alone would be more tear-provoking, I have been toying with the idea of sushi, the solitude-averse’s compromise. In my reading up, I came across Eric Asimov’s 2011 review of Sushi Yasuda, which opens with an anecdote about a  friend who enjoyed dining at the French Laundry alone.

“Wouldn’t she miss out on the communal relishing of shared flavors, delights and memories?” he wonders.

Sure, but she wanted the freedom “to laugh or to weep as the mood dictated, without the sort of inhibitions companions might pose” as we all might want.

Asimov gets it, but wants to make it clear that he’s a guy so this has not been a problem for him. “Being a somewhat stolid male, I have rarely found crying at the table to be an issue,” he reassures.

You and me both. I still haven’t made a birthday reservation. And I’m still not clear whether or not it’s ok to cry during Yasuda’s omakase or not.

Super Birds

New York City has been the recipient of an untold number of national chains over the past few years, some more high-profile than others. Even The New Yorker deigned to comment on Dairy Queen (online only, naturally). The Perkins in Harlem? Not so much.

I’ve been anticipating the City Hall Denny’s a little bit, I’ll admit, despite never being in the vicinity. Denny’s was my teenage go-to, across the street from my high school football field, complete with a cigarette machine in the lobby and bottomless cups of coffee. There weren’t a lot of choices for meeting friends to  chain smoke at 9pm on weeknight. (Clearly, downtown Portland was cooler but that took 45 minutes on the light rail rather than ten minutes in a car). You might think it was the Moons Over My Hammy that was embarrassing to order, but it was actually the Super Bird, my usual (turkey, bacon, swiss and tomato on sourdough–that’s a club, right?) that generally made me laugh out loud (this was pre-LOL) when saying its name.

It turns out, though, that I will soon be living just five blocks from another impending Denny’s (East New York will get there first, most likely), right on Northern Boulevard, not so far from the now-shuttered, sidewalk seating-free IHOP. It appears that Queens was not big enough to handle the two breakfast giants.

I love me some arepas and chilaquiles, but this is going to be big.

P.S. Did anyone ever eat at a Sambo’s–there’s one left–by chance? I certainly did.

Loose Ends

Ugh, I managed to practically lose the entire month of June, and July is already escaping me. Can I talk briefly about a few unrelated things that aren’t new?

Fireball Whiskey is apparently a thing among the cocktail set. Punch said so, and then posted this more pedestrian Williamsburg evidence today. I’m pretty sure I bought my sister a bottle of Dekuyper Hot Damn! for one of her birthdays in the early ‘90s, but until recently that had been the extent of my cinnamon-flavored liquor knowledge. Fireball was rampant in New Orleans, and I finally caved at Twelve Mile Limit when faced with a French 75 twist called the Spitfire (just add champagne–probably prosecco, in reality–and lemon juice). It’s easier to take risks on cocktails when priced in the single digits, not $14, the new $12. No, the picture is not great. Maybe it’s the inverse of “camera cuisine.”

Should I care about endless appetizers at TGI Friday? I don’t really.

I do care about NYC’s first Melting Pot. Why is no one talking about this? Maybe it’s too hot to think about melted cheese.

I wouldn’t go all the way to Florida for the experience, but I definitely need to see one of these new re-modeled-for-millennials Olive Gardens.

Smith & Wollensky is opening its first international location in London.

Maza Loukouma and Espresso Bar, a Greek coffee bar, is supposed to open in Greenwich Village next month.

Jackson Heights has a new international chain Pastes Kiko’s, which I’m excited about because turnovers not tacos, obviously, but also because it’s just four blocks away from my new co-op (I’m going to scope the hell out of the neighborhood come September).

I could take or leave the healthy Belgian chain Exki that also recently opened. By the way, my sporadic Serious Eats column, “Fast Food International” was a victim of the recent site revamp. Anyone dying for some amazing NYC-centric international intrigue?

I thought Bolivians hated fast food—it’s the country that’s always trotted out as being McDonald’s-proof—but I guess now that we’ve depleted all of their quinoa, they’ve been forced to embrace KFC. Wow, Ventura Mall is clearly where it’s all happening in Bolivia. There’s a new Sbarro too.

I’m pretty sure this is the first food commercial exploiting normcore fashion (just the white guy, to be specific). Sensible since it doesn’t get much more normcore than Chex Mix. Enjoy.



Pasar Malam

threeshovelOver. Malaysian food in a burgers-and-oysters neighborhood always seemed to good to be true. (5/18/2016)

Sometimes I think Instagram is good for nothing (unless you consider foodie weddings/group vacation rental parties/storm clouds over skyscrapers as something), and other days it’s great for letting me know that there’s a new Malaysian restaurant down the street hosting a media event where apparently everyone’s eating nasi lemak. What’s this? Pasar Masam on Grand Street? I was there the next day.

I wasn’t so sure about Malaysian food in Williamsburg, but I will give the restaurant credit for opening on one of the soupiest weeks of the year. It might not be a real open air night market–the no nonsense back-lit signage advertising multiple permutations of roti is spot-on, though–but they couldn’t have orchestrated the humid monsoon effect any more authentically. I can’t think of a single outdoor meal eaten in Malaysia where I wasn’t sweating to the point of distraction.

Pasar Malam is from the same owners as Laut near Union Square, the mishmash Thai-Malaysian restaurant you rarely hear much about. Here, there is pad thai, papaya salad and tom yum on the menu, but that’s it. I don’t think they even need it. We’re over saturated with Thai restaurants already and suffering a dearth of Malaysian, especially in Brooklyn.

pasar malam roti prata

I managed to rope in two others on short notice so I could  try more dishes (I’m always amazed at the diversity of food quirks: one doesn’t like hard-boiled eggs, the other eggs scrambled with seafood, i.e. char kway teow and chili crab). I will be back for the meatier things like murtabak. And maybe brunch, which is supposed to happen?  The roti station is prominently featured at the top of the menu and in the back of the restaurant, so you can’t really pass on the flaky, grilled pancakes  (plus your server–all super invested in your trying and liking the food–probably won’t let you). Roti prata is a slightly thicker, chewier version of the more-common-in-NYC roti canai, and served with a thin lightly spiced curry, no chicken or potato chunks. One person could easily eat a serving themselves, and might want to, but only make that rookie mistake if you don’t plan to order much else.

pasar malam rojak

Rojak isn’t a superstar with the name recognition of satay, or even laksa, but the salad exemplifies Malaysian flavors with its sweet-savory balance that teeters on weird. Ostensibly, it’s a crunchy fruit salad, made up here with pineapple, green mango and apples, but also cucumber and jicama, plus chopped up fried cruellers for a little chew (I like the versions that also include squid for even more chew). The whole thing gets dressed in a thick, burnt umber shrimp paste dressing (I could’ve used more) that’s like a fishy molasses and garnished with sesame seeds and crushed peanuts. Mexican fruit preparations with salt, chile and lime get at this odd combo, Thai papaya salads with dried shrimp, a little palm sugar and fish sauce get pretty close, but nothing really reaches the fruity-fishy intensity like rojak.

pasar malam chicken satay

Satay always seems boring to me, but the classic grilled chicken with peanut sauce was sweet, smoky and in appropriately demure-sized chunks to retain moisture. While the flavors aren’t watered down and I wouldn’t really call this nouveau anything, there are some creative liberties taken–the Hainan chicken rice being fried rather than steamed may give some pause–for instance, our server really wanted us to try the tandoori satay. Who knows? It’s probably good?

bk malaysia crunch frank

If you want serious liberties taken, look no further than the new Burger King Malaysia tie-in with the latest Transformers movie. This potato chip-topped hot dog could give a Colombian perro caliente a run for its money, if not for the chicken wiener.

pasar malam garlic shrimp

And as if to be proven wrong in my know-it-all self-sufficiency, we were brought a butter garlic prawn each after ignoring the glowing recommendation. Yes, they were good, really good, and like a spicier, curry leaf-fragrant version of salt-and-pepper shrimp.

pasar malam mantou & chili crab

To be honest, after you’ve had chili crab twice in your life, the novelty wears off and you might just move on to less messy dishes that don’t require extracting precious morsels from goopy shells. That was why I was not bothered by the use of soft-shell crab in the Singaporean classic. The sauce leaned more sweet and sour than spicy, as tradition dictates, and really the egg just gives it body a la egg drop soup minus the massive amounts of corn starch. Thankfully, no one messed with the accompaniment: fluffy mantou, available steamed or fried. Don’t think that I didn’t notice that orange chile ring artfully placed on the tip of the battered leg.

pasar malam nasi lemak

The other thought I had when first seeing photos online of the conical mounds of coconut rice was that Pasar Malam was really going to mess with my plan to not eat (I said nothing about drinking) any carbs until my birthday, 23 days into the future. Clearly, I caved before I barely began. More than just some curry, rice and a few fried anchovies and peanuts tucked into a banana leaf package to go, this was serious sit-down dinner-style nasi lemak. The chicken curry also comes with multiple shrimpy, fishy sambals, pickled achar–and that requisite hard-boiled egg half.

pasar malam fish head curry

I’m not convinced that Williamsburg is full of the educated eaters the owner thinks there is, but I do appreciate the presence of a fish head curry. And yes, I was warned it was a fish head. And yet I was dismayed by the lack of an actual head, eyes intact, cheeks for the picking. It comes pre-hacked, which actually makes it fussier to eat, necessitating a lot of sucking gelatinous bits from nooks and crannies rather than being able to dig in yourself with chopsticks from a more stable mass of flesh. Served with okra and green beans, this is a creamy, coconut milk-based version, not the hotter, orange-tinged broth style.

pasar malam michael jackson

There is no liquor license yet. There is a Michael Jackson, though, my favorite un-PC name for the popular black-and-white soy milk and grass jelly drink.

Pasar Malam has made me a little excited about Brooklyn dining, something I had been feeling jaded about recently. I’m only sad that I finally got an interesting, non-meatball/bbq/fried chicken restaurant so near to my apartment, mere months before I move to Queens. Nice knowing ya.

Pasar Malam * 208 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY