Saturday, February 23, 2013

I Heart Franny's

One of my favorite Brooklyn go-to spots, Franny's is a Prospect Heights staple most famously known for their delicious thin crust Neapolitan style pizza, and their organic locally sourced ingredients.
 Andrew Steinberg and Francine Stephens are the owners and husband-wife team of this amazing establishment. They are extremely conscious of the local sustainable ingredients they use, and a look at the back of the menu will tell you the names of the farms where your food was born. If you are a Franny's groupie like myself you should also check out Brooklyn Larder down the street (228 Flatbush), where they sell gourmet foods and provisions, cheese, meat and some mean sandwiches. 

Just mention to me Franny's and I do my "happy food" dance. This is my happy place. It's a given that Franny's will be an exceptional meal and that I will leave here full, drunk, and satisfied. I love that the menu is constantly changing but I always have plenty of meat and shellfish free options to choose from (and often can't hold back and order the whole menu!) Some may complain the staff can be "Brooklyn snobby" but as long as you are nice and patient I have never had a sour experience. 

The room at Franny's includes a nice size bar where you can also eat, a couple of wooden tables, exposed brick walls, and a cute backyard. I almost forgot about the soap! Go to the bathroom and tell me honestly if you've ever smelled a more refreshingly delicious smell! I keep meaning to write down what the hell that is. But as you know nothing in life is perfect, and Franny's too has its minor drawbacks. There are often times long waits (be patient), salty food (sea salt is sprinkled on just about everything -- and I love them for this), and the meal does not come cheap (it's worth it). 

Yes, you are going to have to wait. Be smart about it. Don't show up with 6 people at 8:30 Thursday night and expect to be seated ASAP. Go early or late, or like me go just with a friend and hope to grab a seat at the bar. Often the bar is my favorite experience. Locally brewed beers on tab, friendly bartender, quick service, and sick food. Another tip if you are jonesing for a Franny's fix on the weekend is to go right when they open at 12, or wait until the rush dies down at 3:30 and have a much more pleasurable experience (especially with little ones in tow). 

Although the menu is ever changing, there are a few constants. The simple sounding bruschetta of garlic with olive oil and sea salt. Trust me and get this. It comes with just 2 pieces per order and each person is going to want their own. Crispy, salty, crunchy, delicious-ness. The vegetables. I'm not going to get into too much detail with specific dishes because as I mentioned they are always changing, but basically whatever vegetables are fresh they pair some yummy cheese, EVOO, sea salt, and the results are genius. I've had clementine pistachio salads, grapefruit, olive and hot pepper concoctions, all kinds of greens (kale, fennel, chicory, etc), root veggies that I've never heard of, and delicious combinations of vegetarian friendly soups (below is kale, beans and bread) -- really they are all amazing. The fried things are never too oily and usually the first to finish. I've had arancino balls that are to die for, and fried potatoes with cheese and capers and a spicy mayo that I still dream about.

The pastas are always al dente, and of the 3 ever changing pastas there are always at least one or two that are vegetarian friendly. Spaghetti with meyer lemon and parmigiano is delicious, as is their cacio e pepe when they have it. Don't be afraid of bottargo, fish roe, or even anchovies here. They are never fishy and add amazing flavor. The pizza is without a doubt something special and on par with the best of the best. They are extra thin (like a flatbread), almost burnt and are made with the most freshly tasting ingredients that you can imagine. They are served uncut (for authenticity sake) with a sharp knife. The basic pie allows their delicious creamy mozzarella and amazing sauce to shine through but my personal favorite is the ricotta, mozzarella, oregano, garlic, hot pepper pie. 
It is life changing. 

I'm usually too full at this point to think about dessert, but I've seen cannoli, panna cotta, and homemade ice creams swing by that may change your mind. After this the bill is going to come and it is going to be expensive. Don't complain. You just had a delicious meal and your wife / husband / friends / kids will be thanking you for it. You are paying for the fresh food, laid back atmosphere, and wonderful experience. 

If you haven't already been, I strongly recommend you stop reading and head over to Franny's ASAP. Tell them The Brooklyn Bite sent you. 
 And FYI ,the Franny's team is opening an offshoot in Park Slope that will be bigger and offer reservations (yay) slated for a April 1 opening. I can't wait. 

Neighborhood: Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

Bite Mark: *****

Good For: Date Night, Girls Night, Family, Neighborhood Gem, Pizza

Franny's, 295 Flatbush Ave nr Prospect Pl  718-230-0221

Friday, February 15, 2013


This year for Valentine's (or the day before as we like to do it), instead of opting for a fancy stuffy place that we've never been (last year we did Le Bernardin, year before was Daniel), we deciding on keeping it real, and just going with somewhere we love with amazing food.
L'Artusi was my number one choice and all week it was all I could think about (seriously hah).  I love this place. It's not new and it's not fancy, but each time I go they are packed with young, hip people and the service and food get better and better. I've been a number of times now and I can boldly say that L'Artusi is one of my favorite spots in the whole city (!!) 

L'Artusi is named for the famed gastronome Pellegrino Artusi and is run by the wonderful team of Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale (Dell' Anima, L'Apicio). It is an inviting and warm Italian restaurant in the West Village, with an open kitchen, white marble bar, cheese and raw bar, and comfortable booths. There's space for private dining upstairs and also boasts an impressive wine cellar. The service each time I've been here is friendly and impeccable, and the food is always EXCELLENT. Their brunch is amazing, and their dinner even better. 

When the hostess told us upon arrival to have a drink at the bar and 2 seats magically became available at that same moment, we decided to make ourselves comfortable and let Aaron the bartender take care of us. I jokingly warned him that the bar may not have room to hold all the food I was about to order but he reassured me to leave everything to him.

THE FOOD. We started with a special cheese of the night which was a House-made Ricotta with EVOO, sea salt and toasted cracker type bread with an orange marmalade. We licked it clean. The Fluke Ceviche with pear, pumpkin seeds and pomegranate was fresh and clean tasting and we had to fight over the last bite. Roasted Mushrooms with fried egg, and ricotta salata. All I'm going to say is please ORDER THIS! I wish I got a better picture. It was so f****ing good! I don't know what they do to those mushrooms but they were salty and crispy and almost meaty tasting and paired with the egg and cheese, it was heaven in a plate. Seriously, get this. 

 Next came the pastas. Their basic Spaghetti with garlic, parmesan, and chilies is anything but basic. It is spectacular. It is delicious. It is so simple yet so freaking good. Al dente and crispy and really just perfection. I could have had 3 plates of this. The Ravioli with autumn squash, sage brown butter and parmesan was also delicious but definitely had that sweet kick. It's also an excellent, excellent pasta. We went for the Red Snapper with white beans and spinach for the fish and although it was okay, it honestly did not stand up to the rest of this wondeful meal. The Cauliflower side with capers, lemon, and bread crumbs was yummy, but the Brussel Sprouts with black pepper and pecorino, Oh My Lord. I know it sounds like I keep saying this, but holy freaking cow. They are insane. 

 We ended the meal with Aaron's recommendation, the Hazelnut Chocolate Torta with Praline crunch and salted caramel gelato. Another home run. Really really excellent and delicious. Salty, creamy, sweet, crunchy. Wonderful. 
So to recap, go to L'Artusi hungry and I can guarantee you will leave happy. Do not miss the mushroom appetizer, spaghetti with chillies, roasted brussel sprouts, and hazelnut dessert. I honestly don't think you can go too wrong at L'Artusi. They are running a fabulous establishment here and they are doing it really really well. 

Enjoy, and Happy Valentines's to all!! 

Neighborhood: West Village

Bite Mark: ****

Good For: Everything! Date night, Out with Friends, Family, Girl's Night, etc, etc, etc

L'Artusi, 228 West 10th bet Bleecker & Hudson  212-255-5757

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Random fun

Love this :-)

The Butcher's Daughter

Met an old friend today at the new trendy Nolita juice bar, The Butcher's Daughter. Cute name, warm rustic setting, and a lot of kaleWe came in starving, and I was excited for some yummy healthy eats. The Butcher's Daughter is more of a juice bar than a restaurant, with some healthy light bites. Everything sounded delicious and we ordered a ton. Unfortunately, I just didn't find anything that tasted as amazing as it sounded on the menu. It was good. I'm just not rushing back. 

We started with Kale Chips. Not the best of I've ever had, but crispy and still addicting. The Smashed Avocado Toast with curry, mustard seed, lemon & olive oil on toasted 7-grain bread was good, but looked better than it tasted. The bread my friend rightly pointed out, was a little mushy, and I didn't dig the curry flavor. The mustard seeds on the top were a nice touch but after a few bites we had enough. Cafe Gitane does a much better version of this.    

I did enjoy the "Best" Kale Salad with baby kale, sunflower seed tahini, avocado, green apples, sunflower seeds and smoked sol de fleur. Light on the dressing, but the flavors paired well together, and overall was a pretty delicious salad. We also really liked the Raw Pesto Linguine with raw squash "linguine" marinated mushrooms, cashew ricotta and house made pesto. The toast that came with it was fresh and crispy and the "linguine" was flavorful and delicious. Get these 2 items. 

Although we didn't finish any of the plates, we decided on a "shot" for dessert and went for the Vampire Slayer with ginger, lemon, garlic, and cayenne pepper. What was I thinking? Not gonna lie, this was not my cup of tea. 

Overall, The Butcher's Daughter is a cute spot for juices, smoothies and some small bites. It was not mouth watering, dream about it at night delicious, and was not cheap either, but everything tasted fresh, the service was friendly and I definitely left feeling "healthy" if not fully satisfied. 

Neighborhood: Nolita / Little Italy 

Bite Mark: **

Good For: Juices & Smoothies, Light Bite

The Butcher's Daughter , 19 Kenmare bet Bowery & Elizabeth  212-219-3434

Friday, February 8, 2013

La Vara

There are wonderful things happening at this quiet tucked away restaurant on Clinton Street in Cobble Hill. La Vara is a clean, cozy, nicely designed tapas spot with white tables and chairs and exposed brick. The hostess and waitresses are all extremely nice and helpful and get extra props for their amazing pronunciation of the difficult to say spanish dishes. The chef Alex Raij along with her husband and partner Eder Montero (Txikito and El Quinto Pino), are using top ingredients and producing food that is well executed and delicious. Dinner Thursday night would be my second visit to La Vara, and I was excited for this one. 

La Vara is named for a Jewish Newspaper written in Ladino, that was run in New York until 1948. The food is considered to be Jewish influenced Spanish Food. Coming from a Syrian background, I can definitely recognize these influences in the fabulous food coming out of this kitchen. Think eggplant, chickpeas, rice, artichokes, dates and almonds, infused with spices such as cumin and saffron. 

On my first trip here we were with another couple and although I remember enjoying the meal, the portions are small and I don't think I really got a true sense of any specific dish. Even though La Vara is one of the few Brooklyn spots that take reservations (for parties of 4 or more), I almost recommend coming just 2 people. Last night we were able to sit at the comfortable bar, we got a ton of great food to share, and left feeling satisfied and happy. 

We started with the Citrus & Herb Marinated Olives, Spiced Fried Chickpeas, and Fried Artichokes with Anchovy Aioli. Get all of these. The chickpeas were addictive, artichokes crispy and perfect, and the olives were warm and spiced. We also got the Anchovies with crispy bread, sesame and hazelnuts. I like anchovies and enjoyed but if you are not a fan you can skip. Do not miss the Crispy Eggplant with Honey, Melted Cheese, and Nigella Seed. Don't be fooled by its unassuming appearance, it's DELICIOUS.  

The flash fried Peppers were a special that night, and if you like these they are salty and spicy at La Vara. Another don't miss item if you enjoy a whole fish, is the Salt Baked Fish (was a Spanish Dourado on my visit) that comes whole and you can lick the meat right off the bones it was that tender and flaky. I don't know what is in the sauce but it was tangy but also sweet and really was fabulous.

For dessert we went for the Egipcio which is orange blossom scented date and walnut tart with lemon curd and sweet cream. Perfect. Not being a huge dessert fan, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. Great end to a great meal. 
La Vara is a great addition to the Brooklyn neighborhood. It actually does live up to the hype. Try it. I know I will surely be back. 

Neighborhood: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

Bite Mark: ***

Good For: Date Spot, Neighborhood Gem

La Vara, 268 Clinton Street bet Congress & Veranda Pl  718-422-0065