Holiday Guide: Heat-Seeking Victuals
"One must have a mind of winter," as the poet Wallace Stevens famously said, "to regard the frost and the boughs of the pine-trees crusted with snow." And such a mind-set is also required for us to appreciate and even crave the foods of winter. Because who wants to dine on meal-size salads, lightly sauced pastas, and cold sandwiches as the snowflakes swirl? Accordingly, here find our dining suggestions as the holiday season approaches, ushering in three months—at least—of coldness and crystallized precipitation.
Go for the meat stews. There's nothing that satisfies as much as a big bowl of chunky flesh crammed with herbs in a broth that almost qualifies as gravy. Served on a bed of homemade noodles, the beef brisket hu mei at He Nan Flavor (68B Forsyth Street, 212-625-8299) is like a mash-up of Eastern and Western flavors, perfect fusion food festooned with huge chunks of meat, fat-rimmed and tender. Polish food, too, seems made for winter, with its heavy component of meat and starch and plain savory flavors. Hell, even the vegetable tour de force borscht often has a beef broth underlying it. But for Poland's most notorious multi-meat manifestation, seek out bigos, a stew that once supposedly greeted hunters returning from their forays. Polonica (7214 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-630-5805) offers a bang-up version of this kielbasa-and-pork assemblage, varying the terrain with strands of sauerkraut, and so does Little Poland (200 Second Avenue, 212-777-9728), a hopelessly old-fashioned (and cheap) East Village spot.
Curries are stews, right? Also featuring pork, the celebrated black curry of Sri Lanka deploys darkly toasted spices and a surfeit of coconut milk for about the richest meal in a bowl you've ever tasted. Find it at Banana Leaf (227 West 28th Street, 212-494-0000), where you can choose from an odd collection of starches to go with it, including bowl-shaped pancakes called hoppers. Sigiri (91 First Avenue, 212-614-9333) offers an equally delectable version. One of the best ways to enjoy curry is wrapped up in a Guyanese, Trinidadian, or Jamaican roti, which makes it possible to dine while maneuvering down a crowded street—of course, there might be an accident or two and the consequent necessity of paying a stranger's cleaning bill. With no seating at Terry's Gourmet Deli (575 Sixth Avenue, 212-206-0170), you'll have to eat the chicken curry roti that way. (Or wait till you get home.)
The most famous purveyor of rotis in town is Ali's Trinidad Roti Shop (1267 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, 718-783-0316), where you can score a goat, conch, or shrimp roti. But really, just walk down Flatbush Avenue anywhere around Church Avenue in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood, and you'll find plenty of examples. In Queens, head for Richie's Roti Shop (formerly Singh's, 11806 Liberty Avenue, 718-835-7255) in Ozone Park. Note that at nearly every roti purveyor, a vegetarian version featuring potatoes and chickpeas is also available, and it's nearly as rib-sticking. To further warm yourself, ask that Scotch Bonnet hot sauce (often homemade) be added to your roti as it's wrapped up.
For similarly solid winter fare, one is well-advised to seek out baked pastas, which are often denser and more delicious than their wimpy, lightly sauced summer counterparts. Southern Italian restaurants often have a tremendous advantage in this regard. Try the lasagna at Sicilian newcomer Catania (193 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-522-2880), where not only will you find the usual layered noodles, cheese, and zippy tomato sauce, but also slices of prosciutto. The steaming rectangle arrives wearing a basil leaf on its breast like a medal from the Pope himself. For the city's most delicate version, check out chef Cesare Casella's at Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto (283 Amsterdam Avenue, 212-877-4801). For a really old-school Italian-American rendition, head over to Colandrea New Corner Restaurant (7201 Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-833-0800), where the inside of the baked assemblage not only incorporates oodles of sausage and cheese, but also sports an extra layer of ground meat.
Colandrea also has several other oven-roasted pastas, including a wonderful baked ziti with eggplant (a Sicilian passion!) and big, oozy globs of fresh mozzarella, for one of the city's best wintry vegetarian entrées. The same pasta recurs in equally good form at Frost (193 Frost Street, Brooklyn, 718-389-3347). Although the restaurant is named after the street it's on rather than a seasonal manifestation of the weather, this Williamsburg old-timer could be your new winter destination. Among other things worth considering, there is a chili-laced Sicilian chicken that will burn your pants off, spice-wise, while providing enough poultry for four diners. Make sure you order the bone-in version.
Of course, we have not yet enumerated the best places to get that soul food and Anglo-American staple mac and cheese. The best encounter lately occurred at a strange mini-restaurant called Earl's Beer and Cheese (1259 Park Avenue, 212-289-1581), located where the Metro-North Railroad emerges from the ground. There the pasta is groovy rigatoni and the sauce white and on the light side. For the denser and more multifarious mac and cheese you might dream about, hit up Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster (310 Malcolm X Boulevard, 212-792-9001), where the noodles are orecchiette and the cheeses Gouda, Comté, and New York State Cheddar. (Yay!) Sending the dish spinning in a Latin direction, Coppelia (207 West 14th Street, 212-858-5001) regales its mac and cheese with fried pigskin and lardons.
Speaking of Latin-American food, there's much of a substantial nature in that arena to soothe frostbite. Start with a luscious serving of the garlicky, crackling-skinned pork roast called pernil, from La Isla Cuchifritos (1439 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-417-0668), where, despite the grab-and-go nature of most cuchifrito joints, there is ample seating. Even better is the product at El Nuevo Bohio (791 East Tremont Avenue, the Bronx, 718-299-4218), where dining on pig parts constitutes a sort of communal celebration. Once you're there, don't miss the blood sausage as well. Really, there's nothing quite like blood sausage to get yours flowing again.
But why challenge yourself when all you really want is a good roast chicken? Sure, you could pick one up at Gourmet Garage, brush off some of the excess rosemary, and eat it in the privacy of your home. But why not chow down instead at Barbuto (775 Washington Street, 212-924-9700), named after a beloved hound? Rub elbows with Meatpacking habitués and models as you fork down the signature roast chicken of the locale, via celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman. It's served with Italian salsa verde, and we guarantee you've never had a better—or more comforting—bird.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.