Restaurant Review: Sugarfish

Details: Located at 33 E 20th St., New York, NY 10003. Official site is http://sugarfishsushi.com/

Sugarfish is a pretty well known sushi place in Los Angeles that opened its first location in New York City. The main thing to note about Sugarfish is it’s price and quality. Most sushi places in New York City are either of the higher end that is priced around one hundred dollars or higher, and the lower end sushi places that are priced around ten to thirty dollars. There is no in between. Sugarfish is unique in that it seeks to fill this gap. Prices for the omakase range from forty to fifty-ish dollars.

Also important to know is that this place does not take reservations. This means that if you show up and there is no wait list, then you either need to have your whole party there and be ready to sit right there and then, or you need to leave. Since its opening, Sugarfish has had wait times lasting hours. It is very popular, especially since it’s relatively new. However, because of their seating method, if you show up on off peak times (not dinner or lunch times), then you will likely be seated right away. Personally, we arrived at 4:00 PM on a Friday and were seated right away. We saw a guy trying to finagle himself a reservation for later, but he failed and left angry and dejected. Oh well.

Additionally, they don’t accept tips. The tips have already been worked into the price for the food. I liked this, but it may be good or bad depending on how you feel about tipping. They still charge tax though.

Omakase is essentially chef’s choice; you let the chef choose what he wants to serve you rather than picking yourself, which makes sense since we aren’t all sushi chefs who’ve spent years mastering our craft. I confess that this was my first experience with anything remotely omakase-esque. For years I’ve been trying to find a friend who liked sushi enough to dish out the dough for an omakase. Sugarfish solved this problem by offering a cheap enough option while being fairly reputable (I read about it on some food blogs and heard a celebrity mention it on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show).

Me and my friend ordered “The Nozawa, Trust Me,” which was the most expensive omakase option they had at fifty one dollars. This comes with Edamame, Tuna Sashimi (a bunch of raw tuna served in a citrus-y sauce), two pieces of albacore sushi, two pieces of salmon sushi, two pieces of snapper sushi, two pieces of yellow tail sushi, two piece of hirame sushi, a toro and a blue crab hand roll, and the daily special. In our case, the chef seemed to run out of the salmon special so we got two pieces of scallop sushi instead. Later, he realized he had some more so we got one serving of the salmon special, which was salmon sashimi in a citrus-y sauce.

In regards to taste, two things became apparent upon that first bite. Firstly, rice matters. The rice that came with the sushi we ate was warm, soft and seasoned well, I imagine with some kind of rice vinegar or wine. This makes a world of difference when mixed with the cool, soft, raw fish, which sometimes came with a sauce for itself. Secondly, the quality of fish matters. In those first bites, my conception of what is or is not good fish and, indeed, good sushi expanded greatly. My scale of quality and satisfaction expanded. These two points combined and forced me to realize one conclusion: all sushi that I’ve eaten before now has been pretty shit. It’s been trash sushi. It’s stuff you get off a buffet line, stuff that’s been sitting around for a while, or stuff made by chefs who have not received proper training. What I ate at Sugarfish was undoubtedly a class above any sushi I had eaten before.

With that said, my meal at Sugarfish made me just that much more aware of how much higher the standards of sushi can go. For instance, the toro hand roll was essentially mashed up toro, likely not even close to the quality of sliced toro sushi. The blue crab roll, though tasty, was cold and clearly kept refrigerated and tasted less fresh than the sushi we had. In other words, there was room for improvement.

Without a doubt, Sugarfish is a good place to go. It offers sushi that is worth at least it’s price tag, if not more. What I gained most from my meal here was not just some tasty pieces of raw fish, but imagination and hopefulness. I know now that there are higher levels of deliciousness in regards to sushi than what I had previously thought. Most importantly, I’ve learned that not only are there higher levels, but, in my opinion, those higher levels are likely worth their price tags. I’ve now caught the sushi bug and look forward to trying omakase elsewhere and at higher prices. Sushi of Gari and Tanoshi Sushi, I’m looking at you.

Additionally, the service was very, very good. Everyone was very nice and friendly. The waiter was nice enough to offer the salmon special for free after discovering they found some more. The environment was also nice. Can’t complain about trendy dim lighting and exposed brick.

Score: 8/10

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Restaurant Review: Mapo Galmaegi

 

Located at 136-71 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing, NY 11354.

Mapo Galmaegi is a relatively new Korean barbecue place in the heart of Flushing. It’s surprising to see since the area is mostly Chinese, but I am very glad it opened and is a welcome addition to the area.

The interior is pretty classy and comfortable.

You can order a la carte or you can get all you can eat. I prefer the all you can eat option which will cost somewhere around forty dollars if you include tax and tip. Here, you can get your standard bulgogi and galbi varieties. They also have pork belly, brisket, and sirloin steak. The quality of the meat is really great in my opinion and definitely better than Picnic Garden. What is noteworthy is that you only get one sirloin steak if you choose to the all you can eat option. The other meat choices you can order as many times as you want.

Service is fantastic and closer to what you’d expect at a higher end, Korean barbecue place that’s not all you can eat. The waiters are very attentive and will direct you to when you are supposed to eat a piece of meat.

Additionally, I like the appetizers or bon chan they have here. They have your standard Korean appetizers, but they also do that egg moat thing. The egg moat thing is a mixture of egg and other ingredients (I think some kind of stock is mixed in as well) which is poured into a groove surrounding the circular grill. As you grill your meats, the juices from the meat will fall into the egg moat surrounding the grill, adding some more flavor. The result is a grilled (or steamed?) egg that captures the flavor of the marinated meats. It’s really good.

Score: 8.2 My new favorite Korean barbecue place. It is easily better than Picnic Garden. It’s a better environment and less hectic, plus it’s still all you can eat so you will never leave this place hungry or wanting more. Definitely recommend this place to anyone who likes Korean barbecue and wants all they can eat.

Restaurant Review: Gu Shine Taiwanese Restaurant

Details: Located at 135-38 39th Ave, New York, 11354. Couldn’t find an official website.

Before talking about Gu Shine, we first need to discuss the restaurant located at 135-25 40th Rd, Flushing, NY 11354. This place is known by many names like 66 Lu’s Seafood Restaurant according to google, 66 Prince Restaurant according to yelp, and just plain 66 according to my friends. It’s been open for at least a decade. Unfortunately, we were walking by the place and saw that it closed. In it’s place a pharmacy will arise, and that is just depressing. 66 was one of the only two main Taiwanese restaurants left in Flushing and with its closing, that leaves only Gu Shine.

There are a number of things to look forward to at Gu Shine. You could get the lunch boxes, which only sell during lunch times. These generally have a main meat component with sides, rice and a soup. The sides vary, but it’s usually some kind of vegetable. Some examples of the meat portion are pork cutlet, chicken cutlet, braised beef, and fish.

If you come at dinner, they have a deal where they serve two main dishes and a soup for twenty five dollars (at least at the time this was written). You can add dishes for eleven dollars a piece. It’s a family style affair. There are a large number of dishes to choose from. Two of my favorites are the shrimp with egg and the diced spicy chicken with peanuts. The soup I usually get is the clam soup. It has heavy ginseng and is great if you’re feeling under the weather.

Lastly, you can just order directly off the menu instead of looking for their specials. I most often see people ordering the beef with spicy pepper. They also sell the chicken cutlet, pork cutlet, and a number of other over-rice dishes around the clock. They also have the classic Taiwanese dishes, like stinky tofu and the oyster omelet.

Score: 8/10 I love this place, and with the closing of 66, this is the only Taiwanese game left in town. If you’re craving some home style Taiwanese food, then this is the place.

Restaurant Review: Toloache (NYC)

Official site: http://toloachenyc.com/media/toloache.html

Came here for dinner but forgot it was restaurant week. Oh, well. We went to the location on Thompson Street.

Normally, I group most Mexican food with Italian food; just different forms of the same three or four ingredients. Nothing special. Sometimes though, I’m surprised by something that is just a little better than what you normally get with these kinds of foods. This was one of those times.

I had the prix fixe menu, which came with a quesadilla de buratta, the entrana (steak), and the flan de dulce de leche.

The quesadilla was all right, but it had this citrus-y dressing on it which made it great. The entrana was perfectly cooked steak, but what really made this dish amazing was the brussel sprouts. The steak came with these amazing tasting brussel sprout salad in some kind of seasoning and dressing. I could’ve eaten bowls of just those brussel sprouts. The flan was also great. Good texture and tasted even better with the berries.

My friend had some tacos, a margarita and Mexican corn. She said it was good, too.

Score: 8.2/10. Looking forward to coming back again.

Restaurant Review: Daeji Daeji (Flushing, NY)

While Koreatown in Manhattan is more convenient, most people who know about Korean barbecue will testify that Murray Hill in Queens is the absolute best place to get Korean barbecue in NYC. On one late night, me and some friends decided to head over and indulge ourselves there. The place we decided to go to was Daeji Daeji (nothing else was open as it was one in the morning).

This place is fantastic. Firstly, the appetizers… man I love Korean appetizers and this place didn’t skimp. They had a large selection including duboki (rice cakes in spicy sauce), steamed egg, and fried dumplings.

As for meat, we ordered the LA galbi (short rib), the pork belly, and the sirloin steak. The galbi and pork belly were amazing. The sirloin steak was likely a poor choice. If you want a steak, you may as well go to an American steak house. If you want galbi, go Korean barbecue.

Service was amazing. They usually close around two, but they let us stay till two thirty without saying a word until after we asked him. We were guilty and greatly appreciative. Plus, our server did a great job cooking the food and helping us to additional servings of duboki and steamed egg.

Watch for that price though. It was about forty dollars per person.

Score: 8.4/10 So, so good. If you get a chance, it’s worth a visit.

Yelp Site: http://www.yelp.com/biz/daeji-daeji-flushing

Facebook site: https://www.facebook.com/daejidaeji/daeji daeji

Restaurant Review: Oh Taisho! (St. Mark’s, NYC)

I’ve passed by this place countless times, usually turned off because of the huge line that’s usually in front of it. Well, I’m happy to say I finally tried this place and it was great.

I think Oh Taisho! is mainly known for their skewers, but they so many other great things, too. We ordered two order of meal A; that’s meat balls, chicken, gizzard, chicken skin, and pork belly skewers. I especially liked the pork belly, but they were all very tender and delicious. We also ordered beef skewers, the duck with garlic chips, and the salmon cream yakisoba. It was all great.

The service was nice.

The prices weren’t that bad. About $1.50 per skewer, which varies depending on the skewer.

Score: 8/10 They also have ramen, rice bowls, and okonomiyaki. I’m definitely coming back. I just hope it’s a little less crowded next time.

Official site: http://ohtaisho.com/

Restaurant Review: White Bear (Flushing, NY)

There is only one thing to get at White Bear: wontons with red oil (the #6). While the oil may be red, it is not that spicy and mostly offers flavor. This is the opinion of someone who hates spicy food.

You could try some of the other items, like the Dan Dan noodles (noodles covered in the same sauce as the wontons). Maybe you want something blander, which would likely be the wonton soup. They also sell frozen dumplings if you want to bring something home (they won’t cook the dumplings, only wontons and noodles).

But really, anyone who has ever been here gets the #6, twelve wontons with red oil sauce for $5.00. Nothing else is nearly as good.

Additionally, this place may be hard to find. You’ll recognize it by the white canopy with the words “White Bear” on it. It’s pretty small and dirty. There are maybe seven to ten seats inside. The front lady doesn’t speak that much English, but she knows the names of the items on the menu.

Score: 8/10 Damn good for five bucks.

Yelp page (no official website): http://www.yelp.com/biz/white-bear-flushing

Restaurant Review: Le Parisien

Details: Located at 163 East 33rd St., New York, NY 10016. Official site is http://www.leparisiennyc.com/.

I found this place through a quick internet search for relatively cheap French food (within the $20-$30 range) and I am so glad I did.

Le Parisien is a small, French restaurant in Midtown Manhattan that seeks to replicate the feel of a small French bistro. Although I’ve only been here for dinner, their brunch looks pretty good.

The space is small. Around fifteen seats. However, this only helps add to the feel and ambiance. It’s the perfect blend of casual yet romantic. A perfect date spot and a great place to bring your friends. Service was good, too. Charming staff.

In regards to food, the menu is as small as the space. Around a ten appetizers and ten entrees, with some off menu specials that change periodically. With that said, the food is fantastic.

I’ve been here twice. The first time I ordered the filet mignon carpaccio as an appetizer, followed by the steak tartare (raw beef) as an entree. My friends ordered the rainbow trout almondine and the bistrot steak frites (steak and french fries). My second time I ordered the duck confit.

For my first time eating steak tartare, it actually wasn’t bad. I’m probably never going to order it again. Its just chopped raw beef without that much preparation. Not exactly something to pay money for in my opinion unless something is added.

The filet mignon carpacciao was very good. So was the duck confit, where the only real downside was that after finishing the dish, I wanted even more. My friend said the trout was also very good.

However, the bistrot steak frites was by far the best thing out of all the above. Its cooked in a sauce of wine, thyme and onions which yields an extraordinarily tender, tasty steak. If I go back — and I will — then I will undoubtedly order that.

Score: 8/10 Loved the food. Loved the ambiance. The small menu and small space actually add to the experience instead of detract. Definitely coming back.

As a side note, the steak tartare was no longer on the menu as of my last visit.

Restaurant Review: Loukoumi Taverna

Details: Official website is http://www.toloukoumi.com/.  Located at 45-07 Ditmars Blvd., Queens, NY.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating at Loukoumi Taverna, a Greek restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria.

Service was great. The staff was very friendly. This might have been because one of us was a regular who spoke Greek, so the staff were very cordial.

As for what we ate…

We started with wine and some hot appetizers; the Tirokeftedes (fried cheese balls), the Ouzokeftedes (meat balls meant with Ouzo), followed by the Grilled Calamari. I thought about taking pictures, but I feel like it’s pretty rude unless everyone else at the table is participating.

The food we received looked exactly like the pictures from their website, except that the grilled calamari was chopped, not whole. It was all delicious. I love cheese and anything deep-fried, so the cheese balls were great. The meat balls were good with a little melted cheese drizzled over them and a sauce made with fruit, apple I think. The grilled calamari was also very good and tasted of lemon in addition to the olive oil.

We then split two entrees: the Bifteki (ground lamb mixed with herbs, spices and cheese) and the Solomos Ampelofyollo (Salmon with herbs, and I think mushrooms and some kind of fruit, wrapped in grapevine leaves and roasted.

No picture for the fish unfortunately.

Both dishes were delicious. The bifteki was well seasoned and moist. The fish though was tender and had a surprisingly tasty fruit flavor to it. I’m unsure if it was the grapevine leaves or something they wrapped with the fish when they roasted it, but it was very good. I also ate some of the leaves, which were also good.

After all the food we were stuffed and refrained from dessert. We were served the complimentary namesake of the restaurant: Loukoumi. From what my friend explained, loukoumi is a confection, a flavored gel made mostly of sugar. It can be flavored like anything, from orange, to tree sap, and even rosewater.

The one we received was flavored with rosewater. An interesting thing, it tasted how potpourri smelled.

Score: 8/10 Loved it. Can’t wait to come back and try the grilled octopus and loukaniko (grilled sausage).

Restaurant Review: Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare

 

Details: Located at 200 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201. The food is a combination of French, American, and Asian influences.

After reading an article on how incredibly racist Cesar Ramirez at Chef’s table is toward Chinese people, I thought to offer testimony as to my experience at the restaurant.

For those unfamiliar, Chef’s Table is (at the time I wrote this) one of only a handful of three-starred Michelin restaurants in the United States (there are around ten in the country), one of seven of such restaurants in New York City, and the only one in Brooklyn. The Michelin star is currently the gold standard in restaurant reviews and three stars is the most anyone can get.

Of note is the set up. The restaurant only seats around eighteen people with nine people per serving (Momofuku Ko has a similar set up, but has since lost its three star rating). Reservations are taken at least thirty days in advance (and only on Mondays) unless there are vacancies. The reservation system is somewhat standard for restaurants of this type and cost. Speaking of costs, everything is paid before the meal with total costs being around 300 US dollars (at the time of my meal).

The food is a combination of French haute and Japanese, a fusion. Dishes range from roast squab and truffles to sea urchin and Wagyu beef. They only serve dinner ( and only a couple of servings per  night). Dinner consists of fifteen to twenty relatively small dishes meant to showcase the Chef’s ability. The menu changes periodically depending on what chef Ramirez wants to do.

Now for my experience.

Arrival was fine and the staff was nice. The setting is intimate as you can see the kitchen and all food being prepared. What was disheartening was the rule against note taking and pictures. Afterwards, chef Ramirez would tell us that pictures were banned because of an unfavorable article written about him using a picture. I read somewhere else that note taking was to prevent people stealing his recipes. It sort of felt like being in kindergarten.

The food was very good, and may be the best meal I’ve ever had. Everything was delicious, but a few dishes were especially noteworthy.

The imported uni on toasted brioche with truffle sauce and a slice of truffle on top is something I will never forget. It was my favorite thing on the menu. I could have eaten twenty of those. Maybe more.

The chawanmushi with foie gras was interesting. The soup was almost entirely clarified butter.

The truffle cream risotto was the most comforting dish I’ve ever had.

The shiso sorbet was refreshing.

The wagyu beef… tasted like a very tasty sponge. With citrus.

In regards to who our fellow eaters were, seven out of the nine people on my side of the table were of Asian descent, likely Chinese. Two seemed to be fellow chef friends. Two others were regulars who were on their fifth visit to Chef’s Table. If Chef Ramirez hates the Chinese, he certainly didn’t show it then. He was reserved, but courteous.

Even more surprising, treatment of another class of individual was also  fairly respectful: VEGETARIANS. From what I observed, their food was also delicious (Chef’s Table accommodates vegetarians; don’t know about complete vegans) and they were treated no different from other customers.

Score: 8.8/10 Great meal, but I doubt I will ever return. There are other Michelin starred restaurants to visit.

Edit: Here’s a fast and dirty list of dishes, not in any order. It was written down from memory.

Uni with black truffle on brioche, chawanmushi with foie gras and seafood, oyster with truffle (mushroom gravy), Shiso ice cream, wagyu with daikon, turbo with green pea, koti kashi (rice) with black truffle, two sashimi dishes, two cooked dishes, caviar with cauliflower, lobster (not so good), soba tea ice cream, spiced iced cream with sugar globe, petite fours, and squab.