Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Galanga; Not so Spicy

Any restaurant fortunate enough to be nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village is almost guaranteed to thrive off of the eclectic vibe that the area produces. Approaching the glass front of Galanga Inc., I could see groups of young crowds with NYU sweatshirts and a mixture of older men nursing cocktails at the bar. I was originally drawn to the establishment by a New York Magazine web article that traces the owners’ history back to Wondee Siam, a renown upscale Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.

From the moment I sat down at the tiny table along the glass front that peered onto the brown brick homes along West 4th Street, I immediately felt uncomfortable. The waitress came to the table stone faced, dropped two menus and asked sharply, “What do you want to drink.” I said, “just water” with an apologetic tone wondering if I had done something to insult her. Fortunately, that was the last words she spoke. Throughout the evening, she somehow took our order, refilled our drinks many times, and presented the check without a single word or facial expression.

The hardwood backless stool made my legs fall asleep after about 20 minutes, and the four square-foot table left us with little room for error. The extremely low lighting created a cave-like atmosphere to the point I could only read the menu from six inches away.

None-the-less, I was in the mood for spicy Pad Thai, and I made a point to tell the waitress of exactly how spicy I wanted it. The faintly spicy Pad Thai was the last straw.

I am completely turned off by what was supposed to be an acclaimed Thai restaurant in an area that rarely disappoints. Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad and the price was right ($10-$15 per plate), but it was no different, in quality or taste, than that of your favorite neighborhood Thai take-out hole-in-the-wall. To top it all off, the inconvenience of cash only extended my dining experience with a trip to the ATM next door.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prost to Heidelberg

Prost! That’s German for cheers, and there are plenty of reasons to say it at Heidelberg. Located in the Upper East Side on 2nd Avenue between 85th and 86th Street, this is one of the last remaining authentic German restaurants in a neighborhood that once was primarily German. Established in 1936, the family owned restaurant creates a detailed atmosphere that transports you to a cozy cottage in the Bavarian countryside. The wait staff dressed in Dirndl and Lederhosen sashay past the tables with mugs and boots of German beer – yes, boots.

The glass boot became iconic after the movie Beer Fest and still remains a challenge for beer enthusiasts alike. For $26.95 and a $60 cash deposit for the safety of the glass, you can test the strength of your stomach with a 2-liter boot full of beer.

But be sure to save room for dinner. For my main course, I chose the Jagerschnitzel that came with a side of spaetzle and red cabbage. A veal cutlet covered in a brown cream and wine gravy sauce, and topped with sautéed mushrooms melted in my mouth. I used the spaetzle (funny shaped egg noodles) to sop up what was left of the delicious sauce. The red cabbage had a sweet and sour taste to it that didn’t go with the rest of the meal, so I left that alone. Upon completion of my meal, I still had half my boot left, and I realized that it would not only be my appetizer, but also my dessert.

I recommend this restaurant to anyone in the mood for some Bratwurst or boiled pigs knuckle. I was completely satisfied with the promptness and cheery disposition of the German wait staff and the quality of the food they served. Dinner entrées are a bit pricey, averaging $21 per plate, but you will get what you pay for.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pio Pio!

Pio Pio? I asked the waiter if the name of the restaurant means anything in Spanish. Through his thick Peruvian accent he told me, “No, it’s just a name.” I could have very well been walking into a small, low lit, and intimate restaurant in the heart of Lima, Peru. The walls are adorned with traditional Peruvian art against the exposed brick walls in its upper west side location at 94th and Amsterdam.

Pisco Sour is traditional Peruvian drink that was recommended to me, but looking around I noticed everyone had a pitcher of Sangria on the table, so I decided to stick with the trend. Sipping the sweet Sangria, I could have sworn it was juice, but heed warning, it will quickly prove not to be juice. I started with Sebiche. This is a white fish that is stored in limejuice for a period of time and the acid from the lime actually cooks the fish. It creates a unique taste and texture than that of sushi.

My main course was Picante de Camarones, which basically means spicy shrimp. When the plate was placed in front of me, I was a bit disappointed. For $20 I got eight pieces of small shrimp covered in a spicy sauce, and a scoop of quinoa with spinach and goat cheese in the center. The sauce could have been a bit spicier and I would have a like a few more shrimp, but the quinoa did a decent job of suppressing my appetite.

Pio Pio offered delicious Peruvian cuisine, but some dishes were a bit pricy for what you get. I wouldn’t make this a regular stop, but if I’m ever in the mood for deep fried mashed potato’s and Pisco Sour’s, this will be the place to come.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Grub in the Pub

I was in the mood for good beer and good food. I found myself walking into Heartland Brewery located at The Seaport, one of six locations in New York City. It’s not hard to walk into a microbrewery in NYC and find a great hand crafted beer, but what if I want lunch or dinner with that beer? Do I settle for mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers that have become a staple on pub menus, or maybe purchase a growler of ale and head back to the apartment to make dinner? No! I want good food with my good beer, and I think I may have found the answer.

An article in The New York Times argues the need for NYC microbreweries to step up the food the same way they have stepped up the brew. Author Eric Asimov wrote, “It (food) requires thinking of beer as a partner to a meal.” When I opened the menu at Heartland, I found just that. Not all items but a select few had a recommended brew that would compliment the meal accordingly, and not just wings and poppers. Being at The Seaport I felt compelled to order the catfish wrap with a barley wine seasonal brew. A large portion of grilled catfish, lettuce, tomato, and spicy tarter sauce was wrapped in a spinach tortilla and served with a side of Spanish rice.

The grub at the pub is exactly what Eric is looking for. A perfect combination of quality food and select beer has made my experience at Heartland a satisfying one; and with barley wine containing 11% alcohol, I had a hard time wiping the stupid grin off my face. So what would you have for dinner: 02’ Pinot Noir with Canadian Cedar Planked Salmon, or the winter seasonal with catfish?