Gusto

Gusto, you had me at Burrata!

Every Thursday, Gusto (pronounced goose-toe) receives a shipment of burrata from Italy. We may need to be at Gusto every Thursday from now until – well, forever!

Fork and Spoon fell in love with Roman cuisine and burrata this past summer while in Roma with our wonderful friend Mauro. Since returning from our vacation we had been aching for true Roman cuisine – Gusto certainly does not disappoint.

The restaurant is on busy Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich Village. The atmosphere is welcoming and comfortable. Dark tables, comfy seating, not too noisy, fabulous staff!

In the kitchen of Gusto is the fabulous Saul Montiel. What a vision. What a fabulous menu. He isn’t one of those stay in the kitchen and hide chefs. That being said, he isn’t one of those always out of the kitchen chefs that make you stop to wonder who is actually doing the cooking!

The menu is wonderful. So wonderful it is really hard to decide what to order. We wanted everything!

We decided to go with a few appetizers and a pasta – oh, and dessert, but we didn’t really need to say that, did we?!

First up, Carciofi alla Giudea. SMall artichokes, deeply fried. Crispy crunchy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. Slightly different than one would be served in Rome where you see gigantic artichokes completely flattened. These were hearts, which had advantages – not as many tough outer leaves. A squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, and life is beautiful!

 Then, Raviolo con Uovo e Pancetta. Made in house and fabulous. One big, beautiful raviolo stuffed with buffalo ricotta (also flown in) and an egg. Sitting on top a piece of crispy pancetta and fried scallions. What a flavor combination. Tender pasta, creamy ricotta, rich egg yolk, salty pancetta – heaven on your fork! Did I mention it swims in sage butter? No? Well, ‘nuf said …

And the special antipasti this night, stuffed zucchini flowers. Ugly to photograph, delicious on your tongue! Cheesy and gooey inside, lightly battered and fried. Crispy and tender and so summery and wonderful!

Let’s not forget our reason for coming to Gusto! BURRATA! FLown in every Thursday, diners come just to have a fix taste of this creamy delicious cheese. firmer on the outside (like mozzarella) and soft on the inside – well, if you haven’t tried it you absolutely must. It is amazing! Served simply with fresh tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. We could have had just this, twice, maybe three times and called it a night.

We shared Tonnarelli con Cacio e Pepe. To die for. Tonnarelli is a fresh, square-ish pasta, the perfect foil for the pepper and pecorino romano cheese. Oodles of salty, sharp cheese against the peppery bite of freshly ground black pepper. So simple and so perfect. What else is there to say – except jump in!

And for the first time in the history of our friendship Fork refused to share a dessert with Spoon. I told Spoon, ‘get your own. I will not share.’ Fork had tasted this dessert before and knew this was not something to share, not even with your best friend. Fresh peaches roasted, amaretto added in and simmering until it begins to thicken, brown sugar for a bit of sweetness, to gild the lily mascarpone cheese, really cold mascarpone cheese. Sweet peaches, drowning in an almondy syrup. It is enough to make you soon!

Go, taste, enjoy, relax, no one rushes you. Try everything. Go back, try it again. When you’re at Gusto, you’re with family. Enjoy!

Gusto ~ 60 Greenwich Avenue ~ New York, NY ~ 646.502.9901
Gusto Ristorante E Bar Americano on Urbanspoon

The Mussel Pot

As you walk along Bleecker Street, you are at no loss for restaurants. Any cuisine you can imagine, any price point, fancy, casual, fast food, good food, not such good food.

Along this stretch of restaurants Fork, and new found friend, Whisk, came across  The Mussel Pot. And the Mussel Pot may be a combination of most of the above descriptions!

We arrived at 6:30 and the restaurant was empty. The garden tables were all full, but the interior tables were completely empty. The restaurant itself is lovely and warm, beautiful mirrors run down one wall and the room is lit by dainty glass chandeliers. The garden has 6 tables around a small waterfall and coy pond. Sadly, they were all taken, but we were able to sit at the table right next to the door.

Our waitress, Jacky, came over and introduced herself to us. Pleasant, warm, and attentive. We asked for the wine list and found a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio. Truthfully, the wine is a bit on the pricey side and this bottle was not chilled enough. THe bus boys were quick with ice, filling water glasses, and whisking plates away. Never once did they approach the table to remove a plate until it appeared both of us were done. HUGE points for that one!

We ordered two appetizers. They took a ridiculously long time to come out of the kitchen. The surprise in this? One of the appetizers was raw.

With or without the long wait, this appetizer was outstanding. Tuna Tartare. Seriously fresh tuna, sitting on a 1/2″ thick disk of guacamole. The guacamole was fresh and chunky and a perfect partner to the tuna. On top of the tuna were some microgreens and a splodge of a citrus miso mayo type condiment. To give the plate a little texture there were some house-made potato chips served alongside. The chips were a really nice addition to the tartare. You could scoop some up on the chip and have all the wonderful flavors at once.

Our second appetizer was Fried Calamari. Fork is a total sucker for fried calamari. Sadly, this was not so great. The presentation was lovely. We loved the idea of three sauces. And there ends the love fest. Fried calamari consists of 2 parts – the legs and the rings. There were perhaps 3 rings and all the rest legs. Whisk doesn’t mind the legs. Fork really doesn’t like them at all. Really, not at all. And the rings that were there were very chewy – like rubberband chewy – which usually means they were frozen. The coating, while really crispy, was not seasoned anywhere near enough.

Then there were the three sauces. There was a spicy remoulade – spicy here is the key word. I was too spicy to enjoy. The Fork and Whisk like spice in their food but not to the point of inedible. There was also a tomato sauce water. It was flavorless and so thin in consistency that nothing stuck to the calamari when you dipped it in the sauce. The third was a chimichurri. All we can say about that is  – meh! Really disappointing appetizer.

So, the schtick with the with the Mussel Pot is – well, really, it doesn’t need explaining – MUSSELS. There are 5 different cuisine styles and 15 different ways to have mussels. They range from intriguing to what were they thinking. What is glaringly absent from their line-up is Moules Mariniere.

The mussels are all served in individual stainless steel mussel pots. Okay, we get it. mussels, mussel pots. Cute. Problem? They are pretty tall and you are eating peering over the top of your pot, holding your fork or spoon at an odd angle. Really not a comfortable way to eat.

Whisk ordered the Paella style which included clams, chorizo, fennel, tomatoes, peas, white wine, saffron, bay leaf and lemon juice. The clams were unnecessary. The broth was  delicious. There was a background warmth to it that turned out to be cloves.  Really nice combination of flavors. 

Fork ordered the Posillipo style.  A light tomato sauce, garlic, white wine and basil. Very good mingling of Italian flavors.

There are plenty of mussels in each pot. They serve bread with the mussels so you can sop up all the sauce – which is also difficult with the gigantic pots! They bring a small slice of bread each, which seems kind of silly. But they gladly bring more if you ask.

Nothing really struck us for dessert. But we were instantly drawn to the Cheese Plate by the words “a variety of the finest imported cheese accompanied with honey comb, fig chutney and candy hazelnuts.” (They desperately need someone to proofread their menu). Okay. There was Brie. There was, to quote our waitress, some kind of parmigianio. There was Havarti with dill – the least dessert type cheese you could ever find.  There was fig chutney. There were candied pecans which were very soft, which means they have been sitting around a while. There were grapes. Now, if you are missing TWO essential ingredients on a composed plate and are subbing – don’t you think you should tell the patrons and ask if they would still like to have that dessert? We couldn’t recover from the honeycomb, candied hazelnuts and havarti.

Nothing was terrible, but nothing was outstanding beyond the tuna tartare. The staff needs to be better informed of what is in each dish, what is not going to be available and most of all – how to pronounce things on the menu.

Oh, one last thing. If Fork or Whisk had gone downstairs to the restrooms before we ate, we would have left. There is. The worst. Fish. Smell. And (as if you need another thing) they have unisex restrooms. Gross. And the floors are all wet from God only knows what.

Try it. Perhaps your experience will be different. I, for one, am very glad I had a 30% coupon from Blackboard Eats or I would have been far more disappointed.

Mussel Pot ~ 174 Bleecker Street ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.260.2700
The Mussel Pot on Urbanspoon

Japonica

As you walk around New York’s Greenwich Village you can practically throw a chopstick and hit a sushi restaurant, so what makes Japonica so special?  Fork thinks it starts with the super friendly and accommodating staff and the authentic Japanese decor, but the main reason has to be the fresh and incredible sushi. The restaurant is as clean as clean can be, colorful lanterns hang everywhere.

Japonica was opened in 1978 and quickly became one of the Village’s restaurant institutions. Often very crowded, reservations are a must. The waiting area is teeny tiny and the wait can be a torment. Without a reservation, the key is to go before 6:00 pm or not long before closing.  Along with tables, you can dine at the sushi bar as well.  There is also a tatami room for parties.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. The huge and quick turnover ensures that every morsel presented to you is fresh and Japonica’s exacting standards ensure that it is of the best quality available. The menu is huge. A huge variety of both raw and cooked items. The menu is a little on the pricey side, but the bento boxes are a great value and the maki are both varied and inexpensive. On the other side of pricey is the quality, which is second to none, and the HUGE portions you are served really make this restaurant a value.

Fork, Tea Strainer and Chopstix met at Japonica for dinner. Japonica is one of Chopstix’s favorite haunts. This being Fork’s first trip to Japonica, Fork followed Chopstix’s lead for ordering.  Being a piece of cutlery that is used to 3 courses, Fork was surprised to be told that an appetizer would be SO unnecessary.

The dinners all come with a salad to start. In most of the Japanese restaurants Fork has been to the salad served with dinner is a very sad salad. Wilted iceberg lettuce and dried up bits of carrot, usually slathered in a poor rendition of a ginger dressing. Not so here. This was a very large, extremely fresh mesclun salad mix, with bright, crisp carrots. The dressing was great. Not too thick, not too much, great balance of flavors – slightly sweet, slightly savory. Wonderful beginning to our meal.

Fork and Chopstix ordered the Deluxe Sushi.  While it rings in at a whopping $35.00, the cuts of sushi are huge.  The fish is very fresh, very high quality, the type of fantastic sushi you get cravings for and spend years searching for.  There were 8 pieces of sushi, a salmon roll, a piece of tamago (egg cake) and Tobiko (flying fish caviar). By the time  Chopstix and Fork finished, we were stuffed to the gills (we love food puns, don’t you?).  Many times after finishing a sushi platter your taste buds are left not completely happy or satisfied. When you finish eating sushi at Japonica, each of your taste buds has been hit and each are totally satisfied.

Tea Strainer ordered the Dinner Bento Box. This dining experience starts off with a bowl of miso soup. Once you finish your soup, placed in front of you is a large tray laden with lots of goodies. The bento box always arrives with a small garden salad, 2 vegetable dumplings, and asparagus; then a choice between 4 items – Tea Strainer chose unagi mini donburi (BBQ eel rice bowl); and then another choice between 4 items for the ‘main’ – Tea Strainer chose sushi.  All this for only $24.50

Ah, dessert.  A culinary adventure cannot truly be had without dessert. Because we all were so stuffed, dessert needed to be something small. Mochi Green Tea ice cream was the perfect choice. Sweet, yet small. As an explanation, mochi is actually a Japanese confection made from pulverized sticky rice, this paste then surrounds green tea ice cream. Green tea ice cream is slightly sweet and has a very nice distinct flavor.

We were allowed to eat at a very slow pace, not rushed or hassled. Water glasses constantly – and quickly – filled. All the staff smile and are accommodating. After we finished eating we were sent a glass of ice cold, sweet plum wine. Perfect ending to a perfect meal.

The wine list here is great – we went through TWO bottles between three pieces of cutlery! Beer is also available. Definitely make a reservation – or go at off hours. If all else fails, they deliver! PJs, sushi and a Godzilla movie, sounds like a plan to me!

Japonica ~ 100 University Place ~ NYC, NY ~ 212.243.7752
Japonica on Urbanspoon

Centro Vinoteca

Front

Another gem! Another wonderful restaurant week choice! Another wonderful restaurant, full stop!

Nestled in Greenwich Village, on the corner of Barrow Street, Bleecker Street and 7th Avenue South is the wonderful Italian restaurant Centro Vinoteca.   For those of you foodie trivia buffs, you might know that Centro Vinoteca is where Leah Cohen from Top Chef, season 5 works, and where Food Network’s Ann Burrell got her start.

The exterior of  Centrois plain and unassuming. The interior a lovely combination of warm and modern. Tables not too small, not too c lose together. Great half banquets – they look like leather sofas – facing great leather chairs on the other side. There are two levels of this restaurant and both charming and inviting.

Nothing, though, is more inviting and welcoming than the staff! Manning the door is Kyle.  Warm, friendly, funny, and extremely knowledgeable about every item on the menu.  He came over introduced himself, and then our wonderful server Joey.  We ordered iced tea and were very happy to not only find out that the glass was bottomless, but that before the last sip was taken someone was there, pitcher in hand, refilling the glass.

Now, anyone who follows along with Fork and Spoon and the rest of the cutlery drawer knows we really try to order the prezzo fisso menu – really, we do – but things call to us and it can’t be helped. And trust me, at Centro Vinoteca EVERYTHING on the prezzo fisso menu is great. You know how many times you may find one thing, perhaps two, on the restaurant week menu that you think are clunkers – no clunkers here.

Deviled EggsWhile we were looking over the menu, and both thinking ‘we aren’t ordering from the  prezzo fisso  menu’, Joey arrived with a little wooden dish adorned with four beautiful Truffled Deviled Eggs, and announced that Kyle thought we would like to try these.  Those of you who have preconceived notions about deviled eggs – like Fork – can let them go. These are not Grandma’s picnic deviled eggs!  These are fantastic, subtley truffle flavored deviled eggs.  I was happy and sad that there were only four little gems on the plate.  I could have eaten many more of them, but that would have stopped me from enjoying the incredible delights to follow.

On Centro’s prezzo fisso menu there is an appetizer consisting of the truffled deviled eggs, zucchini and parmigiano fritters (yes, fritters) and a BLT. Since we had already eaten the truffled deviled eggs we decided to go off the prezzo fisso (without much encouragement, mind you) and order the other two members of the trio of piccolini.

FrittersFirst up was the Zucchini and Parmigiano fritters. More, more, more and more.  Fork and Spoon could have easily cancelled the rest of the order and eaten plate after plate after plate of these.  The fritters themselves were pingpong ball sized. Beautifully golden brown on the outside. Light and airy on the inside. Sprinkled over the tops of these little balls of deliciousness was freshly grated nuggets parmigiano cheese. On the said, a little ramekin of a spicy tomato sauce for a kick of heat. All together, totally awesome. The zucchini in the fritter isn’t soggy or overpowering. We were told that the secret of the zucchini was to be diced, and then sauteed, and then drained and added.  Sauteed first, the zucchini was not soggy and didn’t let off water during the frying process and that kept the simple fritter batter from getting soggy! Even an old Fork and Spoon can learn something new and interesting!

BruschettaOur second appetizer was the BLT – pancetta, frisee and tomato confit on crostini. Yummy!  Tucked under the frisee was a great spicy mayo thing that just lent a little heat and more interest to this simple, but tasty appetizer. The pancetta was nice and crisp and the tomato confit delicate and flavorful. Tomato confit seems to be the ingredient of the season, but with a horrible growing season as we’ve had in the northeast, what else can you do with tomatoes that aren’t quite flavorful enough! The roasting process with good olive oil and herbs opens a whole new world for tomatoes, and we are very grateful for it! The frisee, which Fork does not always like, was the perfect foil for this Italian styled BLT – well, actually, a PLT!  

BreadWhile we were waiting for our entrees to come out, a lovely basket of fresh bread and a cruet of olive oil arrived. What a wonderful  combination. Fork and Spoon wishes more restaurants would substitute good olive oil for butter! At least offer both!

The entrees were a little harder to pick. Kyle to the rescue again! He suggested we try one of the paninis as they have just been recently added to the menu. Well, all right! We are never one to shy away from something new!

PastaOur first choice, Pici Pasta with a Sweet & Spicy Ragu. Yes, we know it’s July and hot, but we couldn’t resist this sauce and handmade pasta! Pici is an unusual cut of pasta. It is mostly known in Siena and Venice. In Venice it is called Bigoli. Because of it’s consistency after about a 20 minute  cooking time, it is a perfect pasta to pair with a meat sauce like this ragu.  The sauce itself was made from lamb and spicy sausage.  It was spicy but not overbearingly so. Sprinkled over the top was freshly grated parmigiano. It was wonderful and warm and comforting. Regardless of the weather this dish was wonderful.

One of the nice things about ordering this dish was being asked if we were going to share – which we were, and having the pasta brought out on two plates! Each serving was ample enough for each of us, on one dish it would have been huge!

PaniniNow, to the second entree. We ordered one of the new paninis on the menu, a fresh mozzarella panini with speck and arugula. I really wish Spoon and I could rave about this panini the way we raved about everything else on the menu, but we can’t. The speck was sliced too thickly and that made the subtle smokiness of it far too overwhelming.  There was no way the mozzarella in this sandwich was fresh mozzarella. And while arugula usually gives a nice peppery hit to anything it’s paired with, there wasn’t enough of it here to counterbalance the speck. If you ask Fork, this sandwich – besides the speck being sliced thinner – needed something, maybe a balsamic reduction. Sadly after a bite each we just couldn’t go on. By the way, the hand cut, fried to order potato chips were incredible!

Dessert was the easiest of the lunch to order.

FondantFirst we had the Warm Chocolate and Pine Nut Fondant. This scrumptious little chocolate cake was very rich and oozed chocolate when you cut into it. Laced throughout were toasted pine nuts, Atop was warm chocolate sauce with bits of salted pine nut brittle. On the side was a quenelle of mascarpone cream sitting atop a tiny sprinkling of the salted pine nut brittle. Spoon loved the mascarpone cream. Fork would have preferred something cold to counter the warm chocolate fondant. But either way this dessert was delicious!

CookiesThe other dessert was right up Fork’s alley! Sweet Taralucci with Salty Caramel.  Taralucci are an Italian cookie baked until crisp.  These were crisp, and delicate, and so buttery, and so good. As if this cookie needed help to be any better, it was paired with a ramekin of salted caramel.  The salty caramel against the rich buttery cookie was outstanding.  I must confess, we were so full at this point that it was very hard to eat all of these cookies, and it is a generous amount of large cookies, and Spoon just happened to have a baggie in her purse, those cookies came home Cookies gonewith me to be savored quietly later that night!  There is no better photo of a plate of cookie than and empty plate of cookies, and these were *poof* gone!

There was an upshot to our not liking the panini. A restaurant team that listens. Our server must have said something about the entire sandwich being sent back, and while we were waiting for change, Kyle came by and asked what was wrong with the sandwich. Because the items were new to the menu they wanted feedback, good or bad. We explained the problem and what we felt would be improvements. Kyle found the manager and we all talked about the menu and the sandwich and the entire afternoon ended on a wonderful note – especially with my little bag of taralucci for later!!

The folks at Centro Vinoteca also own Gusto (another on our list to try), on 11th Street ad 7th Avenue and and Mangia with locations on 57th Street, 48th Street, 23rd Street and Wall street.

Centro Vinoteca . 74 Seventh Avenue South . NYC, NY . 212.367.7470
Centro Vinoteca on Urbanspoon

No. 28

Pizza. Has to be one of the staples of a New Yorker’s diet. And good pizza – well, there’s nothing like it! Combine great pizza, a warm atmosphere, great prices and a charming staff and you have it all!

No. 28 has it all and then some! The secret of their success is the use of the best ingredients and tired and true methods of preparing pizza dough. Because of these things, No. 28 has earned a much coveted ‘Pizza DOC’ stamp of approval.  If you are like me and don’t (or didn’t) know, the DOC is to pizza what DOC is to wine a stamp of quality awarded by a central body.

img_04661

Walking down Carmine Street you would never think twice about this unassuming place, especially from the plain front with a bright yellow awning that simply says Pizza. Once you walk into No. 28 you are greeted by the family that owns and operates this warm and inviting establishment.

img_04672

One side has the take-out operation and the other saide a sit down restaurant.

Large, chunky wooden tables, simply set, great wines, and a simple menu – oh, and bottomless iced tea! Really, does it get better than that

They have salads and some antipasti on the menu, they even have pasta dishes, but why crowd your appetite with anything but the PIZZA! The salads are good, as are the antipasti, and the pasta, but once tried, you will agree – it’s all about the PIZZA! Iam sure that most of the magic of this pizzeria comes from the dough and the brick oven baking.

If you ask for water, they bring a large pitcher filled with ice and water to the table and leave it there for you during the meal. Their wine list, while small is very good and reasonably priced. They brew fresh iced tea each day and gladly bring refills as often as requested.

This is not hovering, fawning all over you service -which I prefer. I like to order and then be left alone to my coversation. There is always a waiter or waitress nearby whose attention is easy to get and they are very accomodating.

The pizza menu is varied and has something for every taste bud. Pies can be ordered 14″ (which is round), an 18″ which is  oval, and 29″ which is also oval.  The 14″ is a hungry person personal pizza size, the 18″ you can have two different pizzas and the 29″ three different pizzas.

img_0470

We have been eating our way through the listing and have definite favorites, but haven’t found any we don’t like.

There are three different Margherita pizzas. One Plain (tomato and mozzarella), one Original (Tomato and fresh mozzarella) and Reginella Tomato, Mozzarella di bufala and basil. While the Reginella is the most expensive of the three, it is certainly the tastiest.

Our favorite is the Patate; ricotta, potatoes, and walnuts (no tomatoes). Yes, potatoes on pizza sounds odd. That’s what we thought too, but it is so yummy!

Our other favorites include San Daniele (Prosciutto San Daniele, Rucola {arugula} and mozzarella) and the Pere (Pears, Gorognzola, mozzarella and walnuts). The Pere needs to be in small doses as the gorgonzola can be too overwhelming in large amounts.

Frankly, we are yet to try one of their wonderful pizzas that we don’t like and I am sure that has to do with the brick oven cooking and their pizza dough.

No. 28 is located at 28 Carmine Street (off the corner of Bleecker near 6th). Actually it is across the street from Pompeii Church. No credit cards, cash only.