Category Archives: Restaurants

Melted Tetilla Cheese

Empellon Cocina’s Melted Tetilla Cheese

Every time I go to a Mexican restaurant I’m tempted by the queso fundido. Hot, melty cheese that I can scoop up with tortillas — what could be better?

Yet, so often, I’m disappointed. Sometimes the cheese arrives already cooled and congealed to the point that it needs to be cut with a knife and fork. Other times the cheese is so hot that it’s sitting under an unappetizing pool of its own grease.

The “Melted Tetilla Cheese” at East Village restaurant Empellon Cocina is simply queso fundido perfection.

Tetilla is a soft, buttery cow’s milk cheese from Galicia, Spain. Empellon Cocina serves it melted in a skillet with tomate frito (tomato salsa), kol (a sauce thickened with masa) and lobster.

Perfectly hot, creamy cheese peppered with quarter-sized pieces of tender lobster. At $19 a pop, it’s not a cheap appetizer. But it’s worth it. Plus, the light and pliable tortillas that accompany it make for quite a filling starter.

If you’re not in the NYC area and want to try this dish at home, Empellon Cocina kindly shares the recipe via tumblr. Making the tomate frito and kol looks pretty labor intensive, but this would be one seriously impressive dish at a Mexican-themed dinner party.

Empellon Cocina, 105 First Avenue, 212-780-0999

Photo: Empellon Cocina

Ivan Ramen Four Cheese Mazemen

Ivan Ramen’s Four Cheese Mazemen

One of the most surprising aspects of my pregnancy was how anti-climactic my due date was. I spent nine months in excited anticipation of May 9th, never imagining that after so much waiting, my daughter wouldn’t magically appear that day. Well, she didn’t. I was enormous, exhausted and more uncomfortable than I’ve ever been. The only thing that made the day bearable was the opening of Ivan Ramen.

It is a well-documented fact that my sister and I love ramen. And by well-documented, I mean that it was printed in The New York Times. Alex and I had been eagerly looking forward to the debut of Ivan Ramen for more than a year.

She got into line on Clinton Street at 4 p.m., preparing for the 5:30 p.m. opening of the doors. Noodle maestro Ivan Orkin himself greeted the ramen lovers as we queued up, commenting on my expansive girth as I promised to try not to go into labor in his brand-new restaurant (while also not-so-secretly hoping the spicy noodles would help speed nature along.)

After so much anticipation, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Alex and I weren’t just a little let down. It is just a bowl of noodle soup after all. Yet, we weren’t the least disappointed.

The pork meatballs are some of the best I’ve ever had — light and airy, with tofu providing a silken texture. And the ramen — absolute perfection. Thin rye noodles in steaming rich tonkotsu broth, topped with a tender slab of slow-cooked chashu.

I enjoyed the meal so much that when I still hadn’t gone into labor the next day, Dave and I went back for dinner. As evidenced by the photos on this blog, I did eventually have the baby. And Ivan Ramen, of course, was the first place we took her for dinner.

I’ve been at least five or six times by now, slowly working my way through the entire menu. My most recent order was the four-cheese mazemen. I know it seems shocking that it would take several trips before I tried the menu’s sole cheese-laden dish, but I’m more a fan of ramen than mazemen (which essentially consists of wet noodles rather than a soup.) Still, I love a good mac and cheese, and this Japanese version is just delicious.

Ivan Ramen Four Cheese Mazemen

The whole-wheat noodles are cloaked in a velvety mix of parmesan, asiago, pecorino, and cream cheese and topped with pickled bean sprouts and pork chashu. The acidity of the bean sprouts perfectly cuts the richness of the cheesy sauce. Still, this isn’t a dish for the faint of heart. I finished every single morsel but I also had to wear elastic-waist pants for the rest of the evening.

I’m planning to wait until the dead of winter or until I run a marathon before ordering this one again. While I could take down a bowl of shio ramen once a day, I’m saving the four-cheese mazemen for an occasional treat.

Ivan Ramen, 25 Clinton Street, 646-678-3859

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

I have a really terrible memory. When I’m introduced to new people, their names fly in one ear and straight out the other. I can’t remember what classes I took in college. And I often find myself wandering the aisles of Rite Aid wondering what I needed that brought me there in the first place.

Yet, I can recall almost every single restaurant I’ve ever been to. And I eat out a lot. I couldn’t tell you where the restaurant was located or when it was that I ate there, but I could recount exactly what I had and why I liked it (or didn’t.)

So when the conversation at a recent cocktail party turned to a meal that included pasta mixed in a giant wheel of cheese, a lightbulb went off. My friends Jon and Julie and I dined at an Italian restaurant that had a dish like that … maybe four, or was it five years ago?

Of course I couldn’t remember the name. Luckily for me, Jon isn’t nearly as memory-challenged. He provided the address and Dave and I were off to Cacio e Pepe for dinner.

The restaurant’s signature offering — Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe — was even better than I remembered. It’s a typical Roman dish using tonnarelli pasta, like a square spaghetti, tossed in pecorino with black peppercorns.

What’s fun is that the waiter does the tossing table-side:

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe Being Tossed

Then scoops it all right onto your plate:

A little bit of drama, a lot of cheese, and I’m one happy girl.

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe

The pasta was perfectly al dente, with the rich and salty cheese offset by the spiciness of a generous amount of black pepper.

It was gone in mere minutes.

You don’t have to have a giant wheel of pecorino to recreate this dish at home (though it would certainly be handy.) Click here for a really simple 15-minute recipe from Food & Wine.

Cacio e Pepe, 182 Second Avenue, 212-505-5931

McSorley's Cheese Plate

McSorley’s Cheese Plate

The first time I mentioned to my mother that I was going to McSorley’s Old Ale House, she responded with “Oh, do they allow women now?” Though the East Village saloon has been around since 1854, it wasn’t until 1970 that women were allowed to belly up to the bar. Apparently my mom hasn’t tried to since she started college.

McSorley's Old Ale House

McSorley’s is an NYC institution. It only serves two types of beer — “light” or “dark” house ale — and in glasses that seem much smaller than the average pint. Most patrons order multiple mugs at once, resulting in dozens of glasses crowding the wobbly wood tables.  There’s sawdust on the floor and unique full-size urinals in the men’s room that extend from floor to shoulder. (A friend insisted that these, the best urinals in NYC, are a must-see for every visitor to the bar. How could I say no?)

It’s clearly not the urinals that keep me coming back. It’s the cheese plate.

Stupidly simple yet surprisingly satisfying, it boasts roughly a dozen cuts of cheddar (or American, if you prefer), raw white onion and a sleeve of Saltines. The key is to add a smear of the insanely hot — as in clear your sinuses, sting your eyes — mustard that’s kept in pots on the tables. (I try not to think about how long it’s been since those pots have been cleaned.)

Here’s my perfect bite:

Sample cheese bite

I know, it doesn’t look like much. Yet, it goes so well with a swig of ale. It’s a must-try, at least once.

McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 East 7th Street, 212-474-9148

5 Oz Factory

Big Cheesy Crowns NYC’s King of Sandwiches

Grilled cheese is my go-to comfort food. The only problem is that I’m usually still hungry after scarfing down the classic diner version — two slices of white bread with a piece of somewhat melty cheddar in the middle. That was definitely not the case when I rolled myself home from last weekend’s Big Cheesy grilled cheese cook-off.

There were six different restaurants competing with eight versions of some seriously creative grilled cheese oozing a bevy of high-quality ingredients. Diners were given unlimited samples of each sandwich and a ping pong ball to cast their vote for best creation.

This one was crowned the city’s best:

5 Oz Factory, The Meltdown

5 Oz. Factory’s “The Meltdown” consisted of Emmi Roth Smoked Provolone, Brie, Horseradish & Chive Havarti, Roasted Pencil Asparagus, Mushrooms, Basil and Horseradish Pesto.

The Meltdown was Dave’s personal favorite (although, being a Midwestern boy at heart, I think he was also swayed by the sheer niceness of 5 Oz. Factory’s Wisconsin-bred owner.) While I thought the horseradish gave the sandwich an unexpected and tasty kick, I cast my ballot for this one instead:

Van Horn Pimento Grilled Cheese

Van Horn’s sandwich of Pimento Cheese & Smoked Mushrooms on Caputo’s Sourdough.

It ended up coming in second place. The sandwich was simple yet outrageously delicious, and I gave the Brooklyn-based shop extra points for its golf-related theme. In case you missed my earlier post, the Masters tournament (which took place last weekend) is known for its pimento cheese sandwiches. Van Horn put a high-brow spin on the sandwich and a low-brow spin on its ballot box, both of which I appreciated:

Van Horn Voting

Among the other Big Cheesy contenders was this:

Croque Monsieur

La Maison du Croque Monsieur’s “Croque Monsieur,” featuring Mushroom Ragout, Bechamel, Provolone Cheese & Truffle Oil.

The shop also had a second offering on hand:

Croque Monsieur

A “Classic Croque Monsieur” consisting of Jambon de Paris, Bechamel & Raclette Cheese.

Both of these sandwiches were quite good but a little too run-of-the-mill when compared to the assortment of unique ingredients used by other shops.

For instance, check out this specimen from Alex Mitow’s All American Diner:

Challah Atcha Boy

“Challah Atcha Boy” had Garlic Buttered Challah with Nueske Bacon, Navel Pastrami, Aged Cheddar, Fontina, Chipotle Apple Aioli and Deli-Style Potato Chips.

And this one from MeltKraft:

Melt Kraft Melter Skelter

“Melter Skelter” featured Valley Sheperd Creamery Melter Skelter Raclette-style Cheese, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Jalapeño, BBQ Potato Chips and Watercress.

Murray’s Melts also put out two strong grilled cheeses:

Murray's - The Piccante Pig

“The Piccante Pig” held Pulled Pork, Black Beans, Pepperjack and Salsa Verde.

Murray's - The Peppa Jack

And a more simple sandwich, “The Peppa Jack,”  featured Pepperjack and Peppadews.

I’m a little grilled cheesed-out at the moment but I definitely plan to hit up several of these contenders’ shops to try their other creations once my melty sandwich coma wears off. Like, maybe tomorrow for lunch.

Ritz-Carlton's Zillion Dollar Grilled Cheese

An Insanely Expensive Grilled Cheese

I live in New York City, home of some of the world’s most expensive dining options. But $100 for a grilled cheese shocks even me.

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s “Zillion Dollar Grilled Cheese” comes with a steep price tag and a description that sounds so much like a Saturday Night Live skit that it doesn’t need any additional snarky comment from me. I’m letting this one stand on its own:

“The sandwich is enveloped in artisan country sourdough bread, and cooked until golden brown in Laudemio Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi EVOO. Layered between the bread is thinly sliced black Iberico ham, sourced from pigs living primarily in the south of Spain, allowed to roam free in the pasture eating acorns until they are of proper size. They are then salted and air-dried for six weeks followed by a minimum curing process of 12 months.

The ham slices are smothered in melting 40-year aged Wisconsin cheddar infused with 24K gold flakes, taking the grilled cheese to the next level of decadence. Following are the Ellis Family Farms heirloom tomatoes, lightly drizzled with 100-year-old aged balsamic vinegar, and Oregon perigord white truffle aioli. The sandwich is finished with Hudson Valley foie gras and a sunny side up duck egg, accompanied by a skillet of lobster mac.”

If you’ve got an extra Ben Franklin lying around and can tell whether your ham has been allowed to roam free, you can find the Zillion Dollar Grilled Cheese at deca Restaurant + Bar.

Photo: The Ritz-Carlton

A Voce Columbus Circle

A Voce Ricotta

One of my favorite places to eat in Midtown is A Voce at Columbus Circle. The view of the park is beautiful and the upscale Italian cuisine is consistently delicious. I often stop into the bar for a few sides of marinated vegetables and a glass of wine. (Well, in the last eight months it’s been a glass of club soda. But you get the idea.)

One of the best parts of dining at A Voce is the bowl of fluffy ricotta that kicks off the meal:

A Voce Ricotta

It’s dressed simply with olive oil, a few mint leaves and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. The cheese is rustic, creamy and absolutely irresistible when spread on the thick slices of focaccia that accompany it.

A Voce Ricotta

It’s also a starter that can be easily recreated with minimal effort at home. But if possible, skip the grocery store tub of mass-produced cheese and get the best-quality ricotta you can find — Salvatore Bklyn Whole Milk Ricotta, which is sold in many NYC cheese shops, is excellent. Or, if you live near an Italian specialty shop, check to see if it makes its own.

The last time I dined at A Voce, I enjoyed the ricotta and focaccia combo so much that I pretty much repeated it in my lunch order:

Focacia Tramezzini at A Voce

This beautifully presented open-faced sandwich consisted of a thin slice of grilled focaccia topped with warm buffalo ricotta, ribbons of grilled zucchini and tomato confit.

A double ricotta lunch = a perfect day.

A Voce, 10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor, NYC, 212-823-2523