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Archive for the ‘Lower East Side/East Village’ Category

Every once in a while you hear about a place that’s so hip you wonder where it attaches to the thigh bone. It’s a place for those who are in-the-know, super-cool, and in possession of other hypthenated adjectives. So when my world-traveling friend L (whom I go to school with in the UK, but also lived in NYC for 3 years), made me a list of must-dos and -eats in the city, I knew she’d be a veritable fount of insider information. She gave me not one, but two gems (the second of which will be detailed in an upcoming post).

The first restaurant is La Esquina, or the Corner. I like to think of it as a Mexican speakeasy. At first glance, this restaurant on the Lower East Side is very obvious to spot: its name is emblazoned in neon lights and a theatre marquee touts the yummies on offer. There’s a walk-up takeaway window and inside is a narrow diner-like seating area to enjoy their tacos, tortas, and other selections. However, the secret is revealed when you approach the bouncer-looking dude standing in front what could be the door to the broom closet. Ask him for a table and he’ll open the door, direct you down the stairs, through (yes, through) the kitchen, and into the dimly lit basement bar and brasserie. Surprise!

It’s a small space and booking is definitely advised. However, the night I ate there we showed up relatively early (7pm) and were lucky to score a table right away. My dining partner was E, a friend from Hong Kong whom I hadn’t seen in two years. There was a lot of catching up to do and it was imperative the food was as great as the gossip. We ordered small plates and sides to share and La Esquina did not disappoint. (On a side note, as it was so dark, I’m sorry the photos are of variable quality. I’ll have to figure out a good setting for “speakeasy”.)

Some of our favorites included the taquitos, which are not the fried version (aka flautas), but literally, little tacos (taking on their “-ito” suffixes nicely). I especially like the pulled pork (front) which were exquisitely juicy and tender. The pepper and pickled onions added a nice tangy crunch as well.

Another highlight were the fried plantains covered with salsa verde and queso fresco. The mild salsa and creamy cheese combined to become almost like guacamole and I devoured each bite thinking this dish was genius.

Last, I’d definitely recommend getting the elote callejero, or grilled corn (pictured at the top). I know everyone raves about the corn at Cafe Habana just a few blocks away, but to be honest, this one had the cotija cheese, the chili powder and the lime – and it tasted just as good! Given that I liked the other dishes here better than those at Cafe Habana, my own too-cool-for-school insider tip is this: If you’ve only got time for one Mexican meal in town, make it at La Esquina.

La Esquina (The Corner)
114 Kenmare Street (between Kenmare and Lafayette)
646-613-7100 (You can book 21 days in advance!)
Cost: ~$35/person

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A couple weeks ago my friend J and I made plans to do the in-vogue thing for New York: brunch! She made a short-list of her favorite brunch spots in the city and lo and behold, the Clinton Street Baking Company was at the top. I’d seen Clinton St. on Yelp, with its 4 stars after more than 1500 reviews and everyone raving as passionately about the pancakes as the 2-hour (!) wait for brunch on the weekends. I guess it’s because word’s gotten out: TimeOut New York named it “Best Breakfast/Brunch” in 2007, and New York Magazine declared it had the “Best Pancakes” in the city 2008. More research unearthed the fact co-owner and chef Neil Kleinberg worked under Rick Moonen, so I was expecting some pretty fantastic cooking. J and I, ever the smart cookies, opted to take advantage of our flexible schedules and brunch on a weekday.

We arrived on Thursday morning around 10:30 and even then I was told a table for 2 would require a 30-minute wait. However, as we entered I realized why: the place is small, especially for US standards! It’s basically a narrow diner with roughly five tables and a few counter seats, holding a total of 32 occupants. You’d be wise to bring just one of your (myriad) friends. Alternatively, follow an insider tip I heard: Come for dinner, where you can still enjoy their pancakes from the “Breakfast for Dinner” section of the menu. Alternatively, get them for takeaway!

J, a savory brunch fan, ordered the Spanish Scramble, a three-egg scramble with goodies like chorizo and melted monterey jack cheese mixed in, served with a side of hashbrowns and sourdough toast. I, like most people in the diner, ordered the famous pancakes with blueberries and warm maple butter.

I had a bite of the scramble and enjoyed the saltiness of the chorizo, but to be very honest, the pancakes stole the show. Each bite was so fluffy and the just right balance of buttery-creamy goodness. The blueberries added great tartness while the warm maple butter lent a lot moisture to the dish. My only complaint was I found the maple butter to have a slightly cloying, saccharine aftertaste. I’ve read mixed accounts of whether Clinton St. uses Grade A or Grade B maple syrup for their butter (does anyone out there know the truth?); my only guess is on the day I dined, the maple butter was made with Grade B. From what I know, it’s traditionally a bit darker (compared to its Grade A counterpart), with a sweeter, thicker taste and not used for the table as much as Grade A. The richness of the Grade B was a bit much for me.

In any case, it was a great plate of pancakes and I. Ate. Them. All. Dare you not to do the same!

Clinton St. Baking Company
4 Clinton St. (between Houston and Stanton)
New York, New York 10002
646-602-6263
Cost: $20/person with tax and tipĀ 


PS: In case you’re inspired to have your own pancake party, check out food blog The Pancake Princess and the Protein Prince! This cute blog features two authors sharing recipes for the baking fiend in you AND the side craving something more substantial. Recent posts include recipes for French-inspired tarte tartin pancakes and pumpkin pancakes – perfect as the weather starts to turn. MMMMMMM.

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