Tag Archive | "Restaurants"

Tongue tacos in Manhattan


Walk down a street in any given Mexican city and you will find many taco stands, the good ones before the bad ones.  The aroma of spicy meat and vegetables will guide your feet to the perfect stand.  Most have meat or pork tacos, but every once in a while you might run into one that serves lengua, Spanish for tongue.

While Manhattan doesn’t have the stands on every corner, you can find tongue in Harlem at the brick and mortar hotel, Cinco De Mayo  Restaurant at 1028 Amsterdam Ave. has them.  No such aroma on the sidewalk, but you’ll know to go in by it’s big Red, Green and white canopy on the west side of the street.

They charge $2.95 a taco, which isn’t too bad.  In Northern Mexico they go for about a dollar each.  The tongue isn’t made directly from the meat.  It’s boiled, peeled then sautéed, normally with tomatoes and onions.  Then it’s topped off with cilantro in true Mexican fashion.  And to make it even more authentic, you have to squeeze a little lime on it, preferably from your cold Corona.

It’s most common to eat them with corn tortillas.  You might need two, because the tongue tends to be somewhat watery.   A normal person will probably be satisfied with about six tacos.  The beauty in that is to vary them.  If you’re not feeling bold, have a couple steak tacos, maybe some head-meat tacos.  Once you have tongue, you can graduate to tacos made from head muscles.  And that’s the gateway drug for entering the adventurously delicious world of brain and tripe tacos.

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In downturn, Harlem sees hope in opening restaurants


(Photos by Vadim Lavrusik)


After running a small cupcake shop in the West Village for three years, Tonnie Rozier decided to come back to his roots by opening up a second shop in Harlem.

Rozier, 40, said he hadn’t considered opening up a shop in Harlem because the rent always seemed so high. But when a friend approached him with a location off Lenox Avenue in Central Harlem last spring with a great rent price, he couldn’t resist.

He considered the fact that he was taking a risk with the recession taking a toll on small and big businesses alike. But Rozier was looking further ahead, and already noticing new businesses moving into the neighborhood. And it was a homecoming for the Harlemite who grew up and has lots of family there.

Tonnie’s Minis Opens in Harlem (Audio by Vadim Lavrusik)

“Harlem has been on its way back for many years now. And I saw the vision, but never thought it would become what is has become today,” Rozier said.

Though there’s more than 40 cupcake shops in Manhattan, Tonnie’s Minis is the first in Harlem. But it’s not the only first for a neighborhood that is seeing new food businesses (map) opening up and the community buzzing that these are signs of economic recovery.

Part of the buzz stems from new jobs that these new restaurants will create. Applebee’s alone is hiring 250 new workers for next week’s opening off 125th Street. The neighborhood is also awaiting the openings of several restaurants off Lenox Avenue, including a Jamaican and soul food restaurant called Jams, rotisserie chicken shack Spinners, and OneBar, a high-scale bar.

Though the exact number of restaurants opened in Harlem in the last year was unavailable, Community Board 10 has approved 49 liquor licenses so far this year.

Franc Perry, chairman of Community Board 10, which represents Central Harlem, said though he didn’t want to jump to conclusions on what that means, he certainly is optimistic about the opportunities it brings into Central Harlem – a neighborhood with an unemployment rate topping 20 percent. The city’s overall rate is 10.3 percent.

Though there has been a spurt of restaurants openings in Harlem, Andrew Rigie, director of operations at New York State Restaurant Association, said there is no doubt that the economy has still created a dip in restaurants’ sales. People are cutting back on going out, and one would think that Harlem would be worse off than other neighborhoods with such a high jobless rate. Though more new restuarants are opening, those that have been open longer have better chances of weathering the stark economy because they already have a customer base, experience and operating capital, Rigie said.

Harlem welcomes ‘Eatin’ good in the neighborhood’

So why would anyone want to open a restaurant during such economic turmoil, and why in Harlem? For Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, which operates 34 Applebee’s locations in the New York metro area, the answer is simple. Demand in Harlem, plus cheap rent, a dash of risk, and years of experience is why Tankel is opening an Applebee’s on 125th Street.

“I think it is an underserved community,” Tankel said. “There are few places there right now where a large group of people can go in and sit down and get some good food for a reasonable price.”

Damaa Bell, who writes the UPTOWNFlavor blog on food news, said she thinks the new Applebee’s will be successful in Harlem because there is a shortage of restaurants that can accommodate large groups.

“When you think of dining in Harlem they are often small venues that can accommodate up to 10 diners max. An Applebee’s would be popular with families,” Bell said.

Bell points out that an Applebee’s just opened in the Marble Hill area has been successful because it is the only eatery of its type in the neighborhood, which she says is similar to Harlem.

Tankel said he also hopes he can attract some late-night customers. Though many restaurants in the area close around 9 p.m., Applebee’s will be open until midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. He acknowledges that maybe there is a lack of late-night demand or owners worry about crime, but said that is something he will have to re-evaluate after seeing how business goes.

“We’ll see how it pans out because we’re not immune to the economy, but we’ve definitely made the adjustments,” Tankel said. Though sales are down a bit at some of his locations, Tankel said they attract people by offering them value deals like bundling menu items with a $20 deal for an appetizer and two entrees. This keeps the total bill higher for the restaurant, but is still a good deal for the customers, he said.

On Tuesday, the restaurant’s hiring center was full of people filling out applications for the 250 full- and part-time positions available. The Labor Department reported Friday that the national jobless rate had dropped from 10.2 to 10 percent, the strongest report since the recession began – a glimmer of hope for those that have recently lost jobs.

Jeffrey McCaskill, 20, stopped in between classes at The College of Technology to fill out an application for a cook. McCaskill, who is currently unemployed, said he needs to get a job to help pay the family bills.

He’s predicting the restaurant, which sits at the corner of 125 Street and 5th Avenue, will be really busy despite the downturn.

“Sure people are struggling, but I think you’re starting to see more places opening up and they’re starting to build again,” he said. “It’s great. It gives a chance for people to get a job.”

McCaskill is one of 5,000 people that had filled out applications as of Thursday, according to Tankel.

“I hope I get it,” McCaskill said.

Real estate and a developing neighborhood

Though Tankel had been looking to open a franchise in Harlem for about six years, each time a potential location came up he was faced with obstacles in construction or price.

However, with the drop in real estate prices, rents in the neighborhood have gone down dramatically too, which is why Tankel took advantage of the location, he said.

Charles Belanger, a real estate broker turned restaurant owner, knows that better than anyone.

“The market obviously collapsed,” he said. “So I went into the chicken business.”

Belanger, who was a broker for more than 20 years in Manhattan, took his store front real estate office off Lenox Avenue and turned it into a rotisserie chicken and sandwich shop. On Thursday, he was working on cleaning the entryway of the shop on its first day open. Customers slowed to see what the new restaurant had to offer, some eyeing the side real estate office signs still visible from its previous incarnation..

Belanger already had the location and didn’t want to just give up on the space. A food business made sense for the neighborhood, he said.
“People gotta eat.”

Because it is a low-income neighborhood, he said it wouldn’t make sense to open an electronics store, which would be difficult to compete with a big box store that gets its products less expensibely from overseas.

“You can’t ship a roast beef sandwich from China though,” he said.

Belanger said he decided to stay in Central Harlem because of the growth in real estate development and businesses the neighborhood has seen in recent years.

“Harlem does have a bright future,” he said. “It’s an area in Manhattan that has seen a lot of growth in recent years.”

He said a combination of factors like city tax breaks contributed to the growth. Also, The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Corp. has given $2.5 million in loans over the last 12 years to restaurants in Harlem, giving them the necessary cash to get started.

But most residents will point to the Clinton Foundation’s move into the neighborhood and its sweeping efforts to improve the neighborhood. Last year, the foundation launched the Harlem Restaurant Program, which used public funds and tax incentives to teach restauranteurs in the neighborhood better business skills.

Richard Howard, who stops at Rozier’s new cupcake shop almost eveyday after he picks his kids up from school, said ever since Clinton’s foundation came to Harlem a lot of new businesses moved into the neighborhood.

“I think that Harlem has kinda become the new mecca of new businesses,” Howard said. “It’s becoming like a SoHo or Delancey street. Well, now it’s Harlem.”

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Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)


In time-honored New York style, the mayoral candidates are eating their way to the campaign finish line.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge, racking up votes with hot dogs at Nathan’s, a second helping of pickles at the Queens County Fair and even a “Mike Bloomberg sandwich” at Lioni’s Italian Heroes in Bensonhurst. “Next time, put some hot peppers on it!” was the incumbent’s verdict on the pastrami, mozzarella and mustard sandwich.

But shrewd as Bloomberg is, few know their way to New York’s heart through its stomach — or enjoyed getting there as much – as well as Ed Koch, New York’s mayor from 1977 to 1989.

“Not as many politicians enjoyed food as much as Ed,” says Koch’s former press secretary and former New York Post political writer George Arzt. “He ate a lot more than Bloomberg does.”

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries.  Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries. Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

For Koch, eating on the campaign trail, whether stopping at a street vendor or taking a slice of pizza offered by a local shop owner – and always smiling for the cameras – was not just about scoring votes. It was about being polite.

“You’re there, you’re campaigning and if someone offers you a pizza, to turn it down is plain rude and stupid,” says Koch, now 84, in his Midtown office at law firm Bryan Cave. It was also simply about eating.

A gourmand who these days twirls capellini pasta at high-end diners like the West Village’s Il Mulino and Trattoria Dell’arte on Seventh Avenue, Koch says he relished the pizza, deli sandwiches and hot dogs “with the real casing” that he ate while campaigning for mayor in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Unlike some candidates, who may discreetly pass half-eaten knishes or pizza slices off to an aide before moving on to the next photo op, Koch boasts: “I ate the whole thing.”

It was a way of showing respect to voters, says Koch. “People want to show their community at its best,” he says. “The best and quickest way to do that is by offering some food that the community feels especially proud of.”

Joyce Purnick, who covered New York politics for 35 years for the New York Post and New York Times, agrees with Koch’s food philosophy. She says it’s particularly important for politicians to have a big appetite in the Big Apple.

“Favorite dishes are a matter of ethnic pride, or even regional identity in the politics of New York,” says Purnick, over the telephone. “It could be pizzas with Italians, burritos for Latinos or the hot dogs from Nathan’s. We all grow up eating certain foods on certain holidays and it’s very much a part of our culture.”

Former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from 1994-2005, puts it more bluntly. “You want a political debacle, turn down a regional specialty and watch the fallout from that one. It’s just like kissing babies: You’ve got to do it.”

Koch says he never turned down a meal on the campaign trail. Running for governor in 1982 against Mario Cuomo, whom he beat out for mayor in 1977, he was asked to milk a cow in upstate New York. He was then asked to drink the milk. He did.

“Milk directly from a cow is not so good because it’s hot,” says Koch. “I like cold milk, but not direct from the cow. You just try not to show discomfort.”

His discomfort did show once, but not while campaigning. At a Bedouin feast he attended traveling between the Sinai desert and Israel, Koch was given sheep’s eyes, a local delicacy. “You’d take it and then secretly throw it over your shoulder,” he says. “The eye looks at you – very intimidating.”

Koch’s enthusiasm for food photo ops back home sometimes worried press secretary Arzt, particularly at dessert time. “You have to beware of chewing on camera, you have to beware of getting chocolate all over your face, you want the less messy foods when you’re going out,” says Arzt.

But Arzt says that the greater danger for politicians at food stops is the people they’re eating with. When a person approaches a hot-dog-chewing politician for a photograph, Arzt says, “The one thing that goes through the aides’ minds is, ‘Is the guy part of the mob?’”

To ensure he wasn’t snapped with a mobster, Koch would joke with anyone approaching, asking them to raise their right hands and swear they weren’t “a member of la Cosa Nostra.”

Eating your way to power can be more dangerous still for out-of-towners, as South Dakota Sen. George McGovern discovered while campaigning in New York for the 1972 Democratic presidential primary. McGovern ordered a kosher hot dog from a street vendor in Queens, along with a glass of milk. The Jewish community he was courting slammed him for the non-kosher combination.

More recently, President Obama was mocked by conservative pundits when he ordered a cheeseburger with spicy or Dijon mustard at an independent burger joint in Arlington, Va. Sean Hannity teased on Fox News, “I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President.”

Between photo-op pizzas, burgers and an on-the-run campaign diet of hot dogs, takeout, ice cream and soda, Koch struggled with his weight while in office. “It’s always easy to put on weight when you’re campaigning and eating junk food,” he says.

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Scheib, who as White House chef fed Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush, says the photo-op foods and gala dinners, sometimes 5 or 6 meals a day, also

took a toll on the first ladies. “They were thrilled just to get back to the White House and get back on a more low-cal nutritional diet, get their vegetables, lettuces and soups back in,” he says. “They’d come back off the campaign trail and get into a purge type of thing to get ready for the next wave of all this food.”

Since leaving office, Koch has used the private gym at Rockefeller Center most mornings to manage his weight and is comfortable giving advice to others on staying in shape. Visiting Ariel Sharon at his home in the Negev, in southern Israel, he told the former Israeli prime minister, “You’re getting too fat and you’re going to die prematurely.”

“He said, ‘I hardly eat,’” Koch recalls. “And, of course, that wasn’t true; he ate like a horse. He came to Gracie Mansion, where I lived, and he ate off everybody’s plate. I was amazed.”

But Koch himself has not been dieting lately.

From June to July, the former mayor spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had his aortic valve replaced. Slimmer than he’s ever looked, with suspenders holding up too-large pants, the older, more somber man than most New Yorkers remember, says he does not need to worry about what he eats for now.

“It was touch and go because of complications,” he says of the surgery. “I lost 26 pounds in the hospital and the doctor said that until I gain 10 pounds I was under no restriction. I left the hospital at the end of July and I’ve only gained back about four and a half pounds. I have six more pounds to go, during which period I can eat whatever I want.”

Ever the New York politician, Koch thanked the team of 20 hospital staffers who worked on him with a food stop worthy of a thousand Post flashbulbs – a dinner at Brooklyn’s 120-year-old Peter Luger Steak House.

He ordered a slab of steak, medium rare, and told his guests, “If any of you order anything other than steak, I am going to make it public.”

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The unlikely recession-proof item: The oyster


Shouts for “Luis,” the gloved four-time champion, reverberated off the basketweave ceiling, as a hundred enthusiastic onlookers filled the subterranean Grand Central Oyster Bar.  As part of the annual Oyster Frenzy shucking competition, oyster-lovers craned their necks to watch the master shuckers and their bloodied fingers last Sunday while busy bartenders and waiters warned customers of a 45-minute wait for oysters.

Sandy Ingber, executive chef, delighted in the festivities. But he had more than the festival to be happy about. While most U.S. restaurants have suffered from the current recession — 68 percent of restaurants reported a yearly sales decline in August, according to a survey by the National Restaurant Association — the Grand Central Oyster Bar’s sales rose 3 percent over last year, he said.

On the supply end of the oyster chain, Robert Rheault, the president of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, which represents 1,000 shellfish farmers, said production in New England “has been increasing at double-digit rates for a decade.” (He included Long Island in the New England sector, the main oyster source for New York restaurants.)

Recent government grants have restored oyster cultivation in the Northeast, and unlike many fish, the oyster can better sustain environmental changes and has adapted well to the region’s turbid waters and polluted coastal estuaries. Oyster farmers can thus produce a steady supply at relatively stable prices for restaurants. Rheault, who manages his own boutique oyster farm, said “Speaking for myself, demand has been surprisingly strong through the downturn.”

Ingber made some changes in his menu to lessen the recession’s impact. “Through this bad economy and the crisis we just went through, we’ve tried to hold our prices down,” he said. “One of the great things about our menu is it’s a daily written menu.” As such, he is able to respond to the changing prices from his suppliers — an oyster farm in New England or a wholesaler at the Fulton Fish Market — and fills his menu with less expensive items if necessary. “My menu is a little more fairly priced throughout the economy. And it shows.” He said the restaurant sells approximately seven to nine thousand oysters weekly, a small increase from last year.

In the Flatiron District, Jay Shaffer has also seen “a small upward trend from last year” at Shaffer City Oyster Bar and Grill, which he has been operating for 12 years. “I think it’s more of a recession-proof item out there,” he said. Like Ingber, he saw customers buying less expensive oysters, and has introduced a more cost-friendly alternative for his diners, such as a happy hour at the bar from 4 to 8 p.m. from Monday to Saturday when $3 oysters are half price. The restaurant sells between  3,000 and 10,000 oysters per week, he said.

Oyster lovers have created a cult of loyalty that withstands economic troubles. Peter Slatin, associate publisher and editorial director of Real Time Analytics, said: “The recession has cut my salary by one-third. Nonetheless, I continue to eat oysters.” In the past year, he has had to close his business and take on a lower-paying job, yet he could not give up his oysters. “In fact, I believe I ate oysters three nights in the past week,” he said.

On a recent Saturday night, Lara Zibners, a pediatrician and oyster devotee, sat at the bar of Shaffer City with her husband, Gernot Lohr. “On the level of what we spend in our budget, oysters are a small blip on the numbers,” she said. “For us, oysters are such an enjoyable blip in that budget that we’ve never stopped.” She said she and her husband eat between two to eight oysters about two times a week at the average cost of $1.50 to $3 per oyster — a weekly range of $6 to $48.

Zibners praised the oyster’s health benefits. One oyster contains a gram of protein, six calories and the most concentrated dietary source of zinc, according to the National Institutes of Health. But the most salient point of the oyster for her is its “sexiness.” She was not referring to the oyster’s supposed aphrodisiac quality but rather its ability to stretch out the dinner date with her husband. “It’s not a quick fix. You choose it, enjoy it, talk about it.”

Shaffer also extolled the experience of eating an oyster. “They’re an escape from an everyday eating experience,” he said. “You don’t see it at home. People see it as a difficult thing to acquire on their own. And for people who love oysters, they see it as extra special. You have to keep eating them.”

Back at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, Luis Iglesias, who holds the record for opening 15 oysters in one minute, became a five-time shucking champion and picked up his check for $1,500 as the audience slurped away.

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French food event, sans frogs legs

Chicken skewers by Alberto Herraiz of Fogon restaurant in Paris at Le Fooding d'Amour Paris-New York on September 26

Chicken skewers by Alberto Herraiz of Fogon restaurant in Paris at Le Fooding d'Amour Paris-New York on Sept. 26.


The French culinary organization Le Fooding will host its first New York event this weekend at P.S.1 Contemporary Arts Center in Long Island City. There will be no frogs’ legs or escargot.

Instead, the diverse menu includes teriyaki-pineapple pork ribs and a simmered beef with chilled camembert meringue among other non-traditional choices.

“No one eats frogs’ legs and beef bourguignon anymore in France. We don’t deny that part of our history, but we are much more open minded to new things,” said Anna Polonski, the media cordinator for Le Fooding.

While all of France might not be eating pineapple ribs regularly, the diverse food options at the Le Fooding event this weekend is indicative of an opening up in French cuisine towards new flavors and styles. The traditional French meal of meat with lots of sauces can still be found, but there are more and more options.

Steve Zagor agreed that French meals have changed in recent years. He is  the director of management programs at the Institute of Culinary Education. He said traditional French food contained “a lot of butter and a lot of complicated preparations.” But, he continued, “today, it’s much more simplified, much more healthy.” He thought about that phrasing before correcting himself, “it’s less unhealthy” he said.

Irene Sax, a New York based food writer who teaches in the food studies department at New York University, said there has been a significant increase in Asian and African influences on French cuisine in recent years.

Polonski, who is here in New York to help organize the Le Fooding event, called Le Fooding d’Amour New York-Paris, pointed to people like Inaki Aizpitarte, the chef at the Paris restaurant Chateaubriand, as an example of how world cuisine is becoming more influential in French food. She compares David Chang’s Korean inspired Momofuku restaurants like Noodle Bar and Bo Ssam in Manhattan, to Aizpitarte’s causual, multi-ethnic inspired Paris restaurant. Polonski said such laid back, experimental cuisine  was not present in France ten years ago.

Food in France is still about the taste rather than the calorie count. But Polonski said chefs like Stéphane Jégo, from the Parisian restaurant L’Ami Jean, which has three stars out of five in the prestigious Michelin rating guide, are focusing on what is known as terroir cuisine, regional food with a focus on taste and the quality of products. Jégo cooks simply “typical French meat with butter, but much more refined” said Polonski.

Le Fooding has two main projects, publishing an annual restaurant guide and putting on large public events that incorporate food. But Le Fooding is about more than just the food. “The idea is to gather what’s happening right now, in terms of food, art and music” said Polonski. In that vein, Le Fooding guides include graphic designs representing the feeling invoked by certain restaurants. Their events are only loosely based around food, while incorporating music and art.

The only criteria to get into the guide are simple: the reviewer has to want to eat at the restaurant again and the restaurants must be “sincere and honest,” according to Polonski.

Polonski said Le Fooding is trying to help people see how food can be fun and enjoyable in many different venues and styles. Last year, the week long Semaine de Fooding event focused on the history of cuisine. Famous chefs at the event described how today’s common dishes were made 100 years ago. Chefs there explained how salmon, for example, was once cooked in a crepe and served with heavy sauces and potatoes. Now, the tendency is to serve it almost raw with a simple relish of cilantro said Polonski.

Le Fooding d’Amour Paris – New York will bring some of Le Fooding’s favorite chefs from New York and Paris together. David Chang of Momofuku and Daniel Boulud of Daniel’s, are two of the six New York chefs who will be there along with six French chefs, including Stéphane Jégo, of the Paris restuarant L’Ami Jean.

There will be cheese and wine on the menu both nights. But most of the dishes aren’t traditional French fare. Instead, fried corn with scallop butter, Bo Ssam, a Korean dish made of steamed pork wrapped in lettuce, and Moroccan couscous will be included. Salted chocolate-hazelnut  and bourbon-vanilla ice cream will also be served.

According to Michael Batterberry, the author of “On the Town in New York, the Landmark History of Eating, Drinking, and Entertainments from the American Revolution to the Food Revolution,” the French first brought ice cream to the general public in the United States. Batterberry said ice cream was made popular by the French in their outdoor pleasure gardens in the Bowery after the French Revolution.

Le Fooding d’Amour takes place this weekend, Sept. 25 and 26, from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and the benefits will go to Action Against Hunger. The new edition of Le Fooding comes out on November 12 in France.  The guide includes 800 reviews of restaurants, all in France.  For the first time, the guide will have brief translations of reviews into English.

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