Whatever Mother Nature has cooking, being in the midst of this polar vortex doesn’t feel nearly as Death Metal as we would have hoped. Mostly we just want a comforting meal, and during winter, that means stew. The process of fortifying slow-cooked broths and sauces with meats, vegetables, and legumes is thankfully one that stretches across the vast majority of cuisines. Though humble in their creation, stews also span socioeconomic classes, from deep cauldrons heaped with luxury seafood to off-cuts made tender after hours of simmering. Until the erratic weather subsides, or in case it never does, here are 10 stews to keep you going while the earth does some meteorological soul-searching.
10. Korchma Taras Bulba, 357 West Broadway; 212-510-7510
Across town from its fading brethren in the East Village and farther still from familiar faces in southern Brooklyn, this flagship U.S. outpost of a popular Moscow chain doles out decorative clay pots filled with veal stew. An earthy sauce perfumes the entire dish, practically soaking through potatoes, mushrooms, and peppers; silken from a hit of sour cream. As a reward for making the trek, a round of postprandial vodka shots are probably in order as well.
9. Catfish, 1433 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-305-3233
Run by a trio of former bartenders from Dumbo’s reBar, this Crown Heights watering hole serves top notch classic New Orleans cocktails and a number of gussied-up Creole riffs (think alligator burger on brioche). A highlight of the cajun-inspired menu is also one of the more traditional offerings — gumbo. In this case, a chestnut brown medium roux hiding plump nuggets of andouille sausage, shredded crab meat, and shrimp over rice. Dusted with filé as is sometimes the custom, it’s a masterful version of an oft-maligned dish.
8. Hou Yi Hot Pot, 92 Hester Street; 212-625-8989
Despite relocating to roomier digs, this hot pot restaurant on the eastern edge of Chinatown gets jam-packed during primetime hours thanks to an all-you-can-eat buffet deal for $32. We’re particular to the organ-rich beef hot pot, featuring boiled balls of ground beef and two kinds of tripe. Slippery glass noodles pool in a tangle at the bottom of the bowl, perfect for ensnaring wood ear mushrooms on the slurp up.
7. Mountain Bird, 231 West 145th Street; 212-281-5752
Harlem’s sleeper hit from Kenichi Tajima and Alexandra Morris deals in French-inflected food influenced by training at one of Japan’s premiere cooking academies. Although less adventurous than, say, the cockscomb cutlet that comes as part of a “head-to-toe” sampler, Tajima’s turkey drumstick goulash is vivid in its potency thanks to a dose of smoked paprika. The pigeon-holed bird gets a reprieve when paired with mushroom whole grain pilaf and earthy winter vegetables.
6. New Ivoire, 76 East 119th Street; 212-410-5982
Hit up this East Harlem West African gem during the day for verdant potato leaf stew and a beguiling duo of sauce arachide — heady peanut stews with either smoked turkey or beef. One version tastes similar to traditional West African maafe with its tomato base while the other gets thickened with blended spinach. Both might instill you with enough courage to take a seat in the vibrating massage chair that sits near the dining area.
5. Locanda Vini e Olii, 129 Gates Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-622-9202
Inside a restored Clinton Hill pharmacy, Chef Michele Baldacci’s prescription for poor temperaments and hunger is cacciucco. The chef’s version of the Ligurian fish stew is anchored with tender, locally-caught dogfish together with octopus, mussels, and shrimp in a herb-rich tomato broth. As a backup, try a bowl of the Tuscan bread soup called ribollita, which gets a helping of trendy (though in this case, traditional) kale in addition to carrots, squash, zucchini, and cabbage.
4. Bobwhite, 94 Avenue C; 212-228-2972
Chances are if you’ve gotten to know Bobwhite, it’s been through Keedick Coulter’s pressure-fried chicken, a triumph in technique. But on occasion, the East Village spot serves a wholly satisfying Brunswick stew. A staple of low country cooking, Bobwhite switches up their proteins and vegetables — sometimes pork, sometimes chicken; okra’s made an appearance — but the base of the stew remains a zesty swamp tomatoes, corn, and potatoes spiked with Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. At $4.50, it’s an entree masquerading as a side dish.
3. Myung San, 162-21 Depot Road, Queens; 718-888-1245
The mother-daughter team that runs this modest Flushing restaurant harvest much of the produce on the menu from their home garden, resulting in unusually fresh preparations of Korean home cooking. A recommendation from the kitchen, the aggressively pungent cheonggukjang jjigae, a fermented bean curd stew that’s famous for its odor, finds onions, potatoes, and tofu in a nutty, tangy broth. Thanks to that pervasive fermentation, the dish is believed to be beneficial from a probiotic standpoint, so that your expanding gut will at least be a healthy one.
2. Benoit, 60 West 55th Street; 646-943-7373
Philippe Bertineau’s cassoulet harnesses the power of Tarbais beans, an heirloom French variety of white bean preferred for its sturdiness. The meaty menagerie — duck confit and breast, toulouse sausage, and cured ham — is hearty enough for two. Still need convincing? Bertineau is a member of the Universal Cassoulet Academy.
1. Blue Ribbon Brasserie, 97 Sullivan Street; 212-274-0404
Leave it to the brothers Bromberg to commit a delicious sin that feels completely original in this era of hybrid foods. Introducing the ‘wor matzoh for 2’, a stew-like take on matzoh ball soup that marries the fluffy rounds with an unusual assortment of forbidden (at least to those who keep kosher) delights like shellfish and pork, as well as poultry and root vegetables. The many competing flavors find their footing in the array of vibrant herbs that float in the broth, adding an Asian accent to the dish.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 7, 2014