Best Of :: Food & Drink
Ever since a fire nearly a year ago closed the premises—a shack, almost—amid Russian auto-body shops at the ass end of Coney Island, pizza fanatics worried that the pies would not be the same. They needn't have been concerned. The place looks nearly identical, and the margherita pizza at Totonno's Pizzeria Napolitano still arrives puffy like an overweight, out-of-breath runner, slightly charred from the 900-degree coal-burning oven, and puddled with the finest mozzarella and canned tomatoes. Totonno's was founded in 1924 by Anthony Pero, who was one of the original pizzaioli at Lombardi's, where American pizza was invented, as the world looked on in awe.
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.