Best Of :: Food & Drink
Given that the city has of late been beset with a surplus of high-end pizzerias, it's easy to forget that the best pizzas don't necessarily require a wood-burning oven imported from Naples. And that's why the pies that Mark Bello teaches his students to make at Pizza a Casa are such a revelation. Bello doesn't use fancy ingredients—think Fleischmann's yeast and AP flour—or a fancy oven (it's set at an attainable 500 degrees Fahrenheit), but the crusts that he conjures up are as crisp, chewy, and delicately charred as anything served at a restaurant. The toppings are applied with expert balance and minimal fuss, and the best part is that you can easily make it at home. Power to the people.
This doesn't mean I'm forsaking my first love, Katz's pastrami, but the smoked-meat sandwich at Mile End is denser, redder, and offered in a sandwich that's just the right size for one person to eat, which means I don't have to go around looking for someone to share it with me. Spread mustard on it and add a sour pickle, and I'm in culinary nirvana. The cute and cozy premises of this Boerum Hill newcomer is another plus.
A haystack of glistening vegetables sat before me: bright green garlic chives, pungent Chinese celery, carrots, woodsy mushrooms, onions, matchsticks of fried purple taro, and onions, all of it surmounted by the snap, crackle, and pop of crispy lo mein noodles. There wasn't a smidgen of meat, poultry, or fish anywhere to be found in the Farmer Special at Yee Kee H.K. Style. This unreconstructed empire of crunch at once telegraphs not only the poverty of a Chinese farmer's life, but also its vegetable bounty—in a way I've seen nowhere else but the city's fifth Chinatown. Did I mention it's supremely delicious?
The restaurant rose like a phoenix after a devastating fire, and the food became better than ever, as if the near-death experience stimulated it to greater efforts. The pan-roasted farm chicken at Annisa from chef Anita Lo's original menu remains the best thing: a bird—surprisingly plump compared with the desiccated specimens found elsewhere—that has undergone a subdermal stuffing of pig foot, causing the skin to shine like the face of a nervous debutante at her first ball. The bird is scented with white truffles, too, making it hopelessly rich and satisfying.
One of my favorite things to eat in the world is upma, a South Indian porridge that begins with plain cream of wheat, but then gets mutated like hell by the addition of such things as black mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, ginger, and pistachios. Imagine my excitement at discovering that upma is incorporated into a dosa at Jersey City's all-vegetarian, mainly vegan Sapthagiri, with a wrapper made of crushed and fermented moong daal. Woo-hoo! The covering adds a grassy taste to the pesarattu upma, and the whole thing challenges your ideas of what to expect from Indian food.
It was a brilliant move on the part of chef Daniel Holzman to take an Italian-American classic, the meatball hero, and make slight improvements to it, instead of transforming the fuck out of it so that it was no longer recognizable. He began by selecting really, really good bread, which yields soon after you chomp down, instead of resisting your teeth and squirting the balls out the end. He also used fresh mozzarella instead of the crap you find in most pizza parlors. The meatball hero at the Meatball Shop is memorably delicious, and enough like the original that it would pass as such with most meatball-hero aficionados—including myself.