Monday, December 7, 2009

About Town: Knodel, Caramel Artisans and Pretzels, Oh My!

Interior of the Northern Spy Food Company

We may be in a recession with tons of people out of work, but it hasn't dampened the entrepreneurial spirits of chefs and other ambitious business minded foodies. Downtown is a-buzz with a bunch of new (or newish) places that I've come across in the last couple of weeks.

Here's my list and first impression of places you need to visit:

Kinski: Austere wood and autopsy bright florescent lighting meets Austrian Coffee House.
I only had a rosemary angel food cake garnished with what I think was dried rose petals and an Americano coffee (get some drip Kinski).

I like the feel of the place, reminded me a bit of cross between the first City Bakery and the first Momofuku - all modernist plywood and bright lights (can I mention the bright lights again? The eating area would so benefit from some floors lamps on dimmers....maybe it's my age, but really, you need sun glasses to eat here).

They have a unique selection of dumplings both sweet and savory (nougat knodel anyone?) or the bread knodel (knodel = dumpling) with goulash. No mention on the menu where they get their meat for said goulash, but the menu and the well equipped kitchen suggest these people are serious about sustainability and other locavore issues (and of course I'll ask next time I'm in).

So far I've only visited once for a takeout sweet that I was underwhelmed with (I'm old fashioned when it comes to these things I'd much rather have had a traditional or chocolate angel food cake then rosemary and rose petals). I couldn't really taste the rosemary and the rose peddles had no flavor and the texture of cardboard.

The Americano tasted like burnt hot water, I got rid of it in a block.

Now I know that doesn't sound like a recommendation, but I really do want to go back and sit at the communal table and do a serious tasting of their food. The place has a great vibe and I love that they are doing something new and interesting. Cranberry nut bread with goat cheese and fresh herbs and dark bread with butter, honey and crisp apples both make my mouth water as do the knodels. I'll up date you further after I've visited more .

Not far from Kinski, as you walk west, is a place called Papabubble, a chain that originates in Barcelona that makes what they call artisanal caramels. I'd call it pulled toffee, but no matter what you call it they have created a great fun space that makes caramel in the old fashioned way - without corn syrup! When you walk in there is a caramel maker kneading some brightly colored wad of caramel. A little further away someone else is stretching the caramel over a big hook on the wall. It's great food theater! On the counter are a half dozen samples.

This is definitely one of the more fun and unique places to open since Rice to Riches put gourmet flavors of rice pudding on the map (check out their web site it's hysterical).

Speaking of unique, over in the East Village Sigmund opened about a month ago on Avenue B with a mission to change your mind about how you think about pretzels. I had the Gruyere and paprika, which was soft and chewy and delicious. They offer several sides and I chose grain mustard, but sweet butter, nutella and many others are available, as are pretzel sandwiches and home made filled donuts. The flavor of the day on Sunday was passion fruit curd with coconut.  Good thing I'm diabetic, otherwise I'd be very fat.

I was able to finally sample the food at Northern Spy Food Company, a place on East12th Street that I'd mentioned here before and have been anxiously awaiting to try.

They're still stocking their shelves and getting up to speed, but their dedication to local, quality ingredients shines through in every dish. Don't think about appetizers and entrees when you eat here it's all about small dishes even though there appears to be 4 "main" dishes: squid, polenta/veggie, chicken and pork.  You'll want to spread out and try a bunch of the sides, salads and sandwiches as the big 4 aren't really enough for more then a light meal (at least the squid wasn't - I have to go back and try the other!)

I started off with the kale salad with cheddar, squash and almonds. The almonds gave the salad a wonderful crunch, the kale was finely shredded, the cheese subtle, the flavors melded well and I love how local and seasonal it is. I wish the squash cubes were smaller and crunchier in this dish the squishiness of the squash seemed a little out of place, even though it was quite tasty.

My squid dish was perfectly plated and every aspect of it was done just right. I ate it all up, but I think it really could have been helped out by a condiment of some sort, some fish sauce or hot sauce or chutney, as it leaned towards bland.

The trend in restaurants not to have salt and pepper on the table really pisses me off. OK, fine, you don't want to have them pre-set cuz people steal them, how about bringing them to the table when you get your food so the customer doesn't have to ask?

Neils grilled cheese was awesome and they were wonderfully accommodating about removing the mushrooms (he's over mushrooms, long story...) I really appreciate this as so often restaurant kitchens can be fairly entrenched about not making alterations to dishes.

The side of fingerling were OK I think they would have benefited from more crunch which could easily be accomplished by roasting them longer, as served they were a bit mealy. These are small easily fixed problems. The cookie selection plate was great, chocolate chip, corn meal apricot, Sandie's and a dark chocolate disk cookie all were very tasty. They have several desserts, like Seckle pear tart and chocolate cherry cake, that having me itching to return (along with a reasonably priced cheese selection for 10 bucks).

Northern Spy Food Company is one of the most exciting restaurants to open in the East Village in many years, I look froward to eating there often and am anxious to see their food shop expand and become the lively marketplace it deserves to be.

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