Monday, April 7, 2014


Manhattan's Chinatown is a maze. There are what feels like an infinite number of restaurants in this area, and if you haven't explored it properly before, you're likely to be overwhelmed by the number of hole in the wall places. 

The question I get a lot is "which of the hole in the wall places are actually good?" in other words, "where can I get a cheap and tasty meal that won't leave me feeling terrible the next day?" Yelp is not your friend in this case, unless you want to be seated next to someone who is as confused as you about what to order.

I am by no means the expert on all the restaurants in Chinatown, but I have explored and eaten around enough to be able to point you to a few of my favourite hole in the wall cheap eats. 

Tiny window store selling the best rice rolls, Sung Hing Lung Co.

You'll notice that most of these are concentrated around Eldridge Street - this area of Chinatown is known as "Little Fuzhou" and named after the vast population of people from Fuzhou living and working in this area. There is a huge focus on "xiao chi" which literally translates to "little eats" (or less literally "street eats") from Fuzhou, hence the concentration of these hole in the wall joints. 

If you wanted to try all of these places in one go, you can get one thing from each place and cover it for less than $15 - you don't even need to worry about tax and tip. But likely, you'll find yourself at at most three places before you tap out in food coma. And remember to leave your credit cards at home - it's the real experience here, so bring your dollar bills.

I was introduced to this place by my chef friend Dan at Daniel. (Enough said?) This not-so-3-star looking dining room does the best peanut sauce noodles and boiled pork and chive dumplings.
Must try: $2 Peanut sauce noodles (ask for the thick rice noodles over the egg noodles), boiled pork and chive dumplings
Address: 118 Eldridge Street

Peanut sauce noodles (ban mian) (photo credit)

Ting Jiang Fish Ball
I love it when I find a great place that isn't even listed on Yelp. Ting Jiang Fish Ball is one of those underground joints on Eldridge, on the other side of the road from Properity Dumpling. They have a pretty extensive menu for a hole in the wall joint, but I am a huge fan of their stir-fried rice cakes.
Must try: $3.75 Stir-fried rice cakes 
Address: 21A Eldridge Street

Stir fried rice cakes with pork and vegetables (chao shui jiao)

You may have heard of this famous cheap as chips dumplings joint on Eldridge. It isn't one of those over-hyped places. They do the best fried pork and chive dumplings for a ridiculously good price. There is very limited seating and usually a long wait, so consider this as a take-out joint.
Must try: $1 for 4 fried pork and chive dumplings
Address: 46 Eldridge Street

Pork and chive fried dumplings

Two doors down from Shu Jiao Fu Zhou is the very popular Vanessa's Dumpling House. If you're just passing by, you won't know that inside the tinted windows, there is almost always a queue for their dumplings, noodle soups, sesame pancakes etc etc. My favourite things to order from this menu are their peking duck sesame pancake, and the egg and chive pancake. Skip the boiled dumplings - Shu Jiao Fu Zhou does it far better, but try the fried dumplings if the queue at Prosperity Dumpling is too long.
Must try: $3 Peking duck sesame pancake, $1.50 egg and chive pancake
Address: 118A Eldridge Street

Egg and chive pancake

Located in the basement of the East Broadway Mall, you know this is going to be as dingy as it gets, but trust me, the food is delicious and so so cheap. Any of the fried goods (eaten typically at breakfast) are good - my favourite would be the triangle (or sometimes rectangle) shaped deep-fried turnip cakes and wash it down with some Chinese soy milk (sweeter and thinner). Note: this place is so authentic that you're not going to see an English menu.
Must try: Deep-fried taro cakes (called yu tou gao), fried mini pork buns (called xiao long bao here too, but not to be confused with soup dumplings)
Address: 88 East Broadway (basement)

Front to back: deep-fried taro cake (yu tou gao), deep-fried oyster-filled donut (hai li jian bing), thin rice paper noodles in soup (guo bian)

Some of the freshest tasting jerky in Chinatown - they have chicken, pork or beef, then you can choose spicy or non-spicy. It makes for a great snack as you walk around the Chinatown.
Must try: Spicy beef jerky 
Address: 85 Elizabeth Street

Spicy pork jerky

Hands down best steamed rice noodle rolls I've ever had. You can choose from a number of flavours, then they make it for you FRESH from the liquid mixture, and you can mix your own sauces - I really like to overdose on everything (peanut sauce, soy sauce, sriracha).
Must try: Chinese sausage and mixed vegetable rice rolls, sweet silken tofu (not in English on the menu)
Address: 68 Henry Street

Chinese sausage and mixed vegetable rice rolls with sriracha, peanut sauce, and a special soy sauce mixture

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Perfect for: A lunch or dinner with your colleagues
Price range: $$$$ Splurge
My rating: 7.5/10
Food: 6.5/10 Service: 8/10 Ambience: 8.5/10

I arrived at Morimoto with fairly high expectations based on a few things: it was started by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto after a stint at Nobu, fairly good ratings on Yelp plus a relatively high priced menu. I was here for Restaurant Week again, and read a review on Yelp that said this was a steal for $25. Surely it couldn't go wrong. 

Well, I really wanted to like Morimoto. I gave it every chance to impress me, and it ticked some boxes (the dessert and the presentation) but it ruined it for itself in the most important category which was the main course (the less-than-mediocre braised black cod).

It all started very well. I was seated at the sushi bar, and watched the chefs carefully prepare the sashimi and sushi right in front of me. I got the menu from the waiter, and before long, he came back with a warm towel and water. It took a little while to order, but that was expected given there was probably a lunch rush.

The lunch set came nicely arranged, with miso soup, a green salad with a beautiful citrus dressing, wood-ear mushrooms with a sweet sauce, and pickled cucumbers. All the side dishes were good, but they were overlooked when the braised cod turned out badly. The braised cod was dry and overcooked, and tasted like it had been sitting around for a while before it was actually served. I know this was Restaurant Week, but if they couldn't deliver at the same quality as they do normally then I don't think they should participate.

braised black cod with ginger-soy reduction, miso soup, suribachi sesame, mixed greens salad, mixed pickles

They did regain some credibility when they came out with the sudachi pie, which is a Japanese citrus fruit, on a pistachio tart, with pistachio gelato and chopped pistachios. The tart was creamy and tart at the same time - similar to a hybrid of a lemon tart and cheesecake, and the tartness was also offset by the cream on top. The pistachio tart and crumble added texture to the dish as well. This was very well done.

sudachi pie with fresh cream, pistachio tart and pistachio gelato

The service was fine, not exceptional, and especially not for a Japanese restaurant of this price range, which is why I gave this an 8/10 for service. 

All in all, I still can't forget about the braised cod, and I don't think I'll be making a trip back here before I leave New York. 

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese
Address: 88 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10019, USA

Monday, March 31, 2014


Perfect for: A quick coffee stop, or an all-day hangout
Price range: $ Cheap
My rating: 10/10
Food / Coffee: 10/10 Service: 10/10 Ambience: 10/10

I'm sitting in this quaint and rustic West Village coffee shop as I'm typing this post. I'm munching on this delicious slice of cornbread (after overhearing my friendly table-neighbours talk excitedly about it), and sipping on my jasmine and pearl tea with honey. I couldn't be happier. 

The magic of this neighbourhood coffee shop tucked in the heart of West Village isn't so much that it does great cornbread, great cookies, great tea, great coffee, but it's that I come here and the barista knows my name after two visits. They know everyone's name. And Jack, the owner, will pop in and say hi to everyone, then go back to doing whatever else he does. 

Everyone here talks to everyone else, because it's your local coffee house - when Jack first started this joint, he would come in and close people's laptops and get them to talk to their neighbours, because that's the sort of vibe he wanted. 

It's amazing. It's cozy. It's homey. And it smells like coffee or freshly baked cookies all day.

Don't even get me started on the coffee. I originally thought Joe (a couple of blocks away from Jack's) was my favourite, until I came here and everything changed. Not to mention, they serve me a damn good flat white - it really is my home away from home.

Meal: Coffee break
Cuisine: Coffee / Snack
Address: 138 West 10th Street, New York, NY 10014, USA

Friday, March 21, 2014


Perfect for: A quick lunch with a friend, but why not go elsewhere in Chinatown?
Price range: $ Cheap
My rating: 5/10
Food: 4/10 Service: 7/10 Ambience: 5/10

It's very rare to find a Chinese joint that has better service than food. You'd bet that it's definitely a fairly inauthentic Chinese restaurant if that's the case (ahem, Chinese fusion restaurants, I'm looking at you). After all the things I heard about the soup dumplings / xiao long bao at Joe's Shanghai, was disappointed to find that this is exactly a restaurant that offers better service than food. 

I consider myself well-versed in the soup dumpling world, having not only consumed hundreds of dollars worth when I lived near the Chinatown area of Sydney, more specifically, I was within 5 walking minutes of a Ding Tai Fung. Joe's Shanghai's xiao long baos do not compare, not even close.

I ordered one set (8) of the crab and pork xiao long bao - highly hyped, surely can't go wrong. Soon after my order, the waiter diligently brought out the tea pot and the vinegar & soy dipping sauce (this is excellent service for a Chinese restaurant). And my tray of soup dumplings came out within five minutes of that. 

The recount of the story, soup dumpling by soup dumpling:
1. My first dumpling was disappointing to say the least. The dough was too tough and thick, the soup had far too much gelatin in it, and the flavour of the filling was overwhelmingly shrimpy - not even the crab and pork flavour I was expecting. 
2. The second dumpling got worse. At this point, the soup in the dumpling was now overpowering and tasted like I was slurping liquid fat, and not even the good kind. 
3-4. The third and fourth dumplings were only memories of me trying to drown the dumplings in the vinegar & soy concoction
5-6. The fifth and six dumplings are what I would call "the point of no return" where I felt committed to finishing these bad boys (bad, being the keyword here). I don't even know why I was so committed. 
7-8. The seventh and eighth dumplings: when I saw the light. I gave up. This completely wasn't worth it. There are far better calories to be consumed elsewhere in Chinatown (which is exactly what I did).

All eight torturous soup dumplings came to $10 including tax and tip. You know what I can get for $10 in Chinatown? A lot of good Chinese food, that is not from Joe's Shanghai. You can get a duck sesame pancake from Vanessa's ($2.50), 8 pork and chive fried dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling ($2), a plate of steaming peanut sauce noodles from Shu Jiao Fu Zhou ($2), a takeaway container of steamed ho fun from a hole in the wall joint on Henry and Market ($1.75), and a piece of freshly made beef jerky from Malaysia Beef Jerky ($1) and you still have $0.75 for a rainy day. That's what I call a proper Chinatown experience. 

My key learning from this experience: don't buy into the hype - it's not worth the dollars and the calories. 

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Chinese 
Address: 24 West 56th Street, New York, NY 10019, USA


Perfect for: Fun dinner with a bunch of good friends
Price range: $$$ Exxy
My rating: 8.5/10
Food: 8.5/10 Service: 8/10 Ambience: 9/10

As one of Jean Georges' restaurants, ABC Kitchen is renowned for two things: 1) incredibly fresh good food, and 2) hard-to-get reservations. I love a bit of challenge, especially when it comes to restaurants, so here I was on a Monday night at 6pm, ready and eager to eat. 

The thing about eating alone is that you can wander into whichever restaurant and get a spot immediately (in most situations), but you don't get to try your dining companion's food either. So I'm limited to order a couple of items from the menu and left lusting after 90% of the menu. 

For my starter, I order the very popular roast carrot and avocado salad, crunchy seeds, sour cream and citrus. This was a dish combining both cold and warm incredibly well, with the warm roast carrots combined with avocado and the salad of watercress, seeds and sour cream. The dressing was perfectly tart which brought out the sweetness from the avocado and carrots. All the ingredients tasted incredibly fresh, as promised.

roast carrot and avocado salad, crunchy seeds, sour cream and citrus

And I order the ricotta cavatelli, fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and meyer lemon for my main course. The cavatelli is similar to gnocchi but is longer in form. It was served on a bed of broccoli rabe, which had a very similar taste to pesto, but made with broccoli rabe and the broccoli rabe stalks gave a similar texture to what the pine nuts would do in pesto. I probably would've preferred for this to have a little bit more bite, otherwise this dish was the perfect amount of richness and pasta-to-ingredients ratio. 

ricotta cavatelli, fennel sausage, broccoli rabe and meyer lemon

My overall verdict on the food is that it was great but not exceptional - the two dishes that I tried were simple but had different layers of texture and flavour, and ingredients were very fresh as promised.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is fun and has a very casual yet up-market feel to it. I feel like it is much more of a place that you'd go to with a bunch of friends and get a number of dishes to share. The service was fine at the bar - I wouldn't say they were very attentive at all, but then that's what you get for eating at the bar. 

Would I come back? Yes. But I'm not going to kick up a fuss if I don't. There are plenty of other places in New York that I'd go back to or want to try before I come back here. 

Meal: Brunch / Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Contemporary Italian 
Address: 35 East 18th Street, New York, NY 10003, USA


Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Perfect for: A quick slurp (a destination food stop)
Price range: $-$$ Cheap / Not Bad
My rating: 8.5/10
Food: 8.5/10 Service: 8.5/10 Ambience: 9/10

There is a crazy ramen hype here, and Totto Ramen has been wrapped up and thrown right into the centre of it. For good reason too; so far it is my second favourite (to Ippudo) ramen joint in New York. 

I arrived after a long day of trekking around the concrete jungle of Midtown, finding myself covering more tourist ground than I had planned to (a couple of hours at MoMA, to the New York Public Library, to St Patrick's Cathedral, to the International Centre of Photography, to Gotham West Market). The original intention was to get a steaming bowl of ramen from Ivan Ramen at the newly opened Gotham West Market, until I realized I was going to be wasting calories on a 3-Yelp-star joint and jumped immediately into a cab to take me to 52nd and 9th where the small Totto Ramen joint is found. 

The line was at least 20 people long at 7pm - poor planning on my part. I walked in and put my name down on the second page, limiting myself to at most a one-hour wait. Ten minutes in, the waitress came out and called out multiple names for parties of one, none showed. I happily put my hand up and said "I'm a party of one" and within ten minutes of arriving, I'm seated inside up at the bench waiting to order my ramen while looking at the incredible production line that's going into preparing the slurp bowls. 

As I'm checking my Yelp for suggestions, the waitress comes by and tells me that the Totto Spicy Ramen is very good and that I should add the Seasoned Boiled Egg, Corn and Seasoned Avocado to it. The Pork Bun is also very popular, she says. So I order the Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, add the Seasoned Boiled Egg; and one Pork Bun for $3.25.

Pork Bun

My order of the Pork Bun comes within five minutes and I can see them making it the whole time. Every place I've been do does it slightly differently - this one uses a sweeter mayo (almost American-style) and adds salad leaves to the braised pork belly. It's pretty good but doesn't come close to topping my favourite, which by the way is from Momofuku (controversial, I know, but I just prefer it to Ippudo's because of the cucumber). 

Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, additional Seasoned Boiled Egg

Shortly after, my bowl of steaming ramen arrives. The ramen noodles are chewy, or I guess you could call them somewhat al dente. The broth is rich, not so much that you cannot finish the whole bowl, but probably richer than I'd like. Everyone has their own preferences of what ramen should be like and I thought this was slightly, just slightly, too salty for my liking, and the noodles were slightly, just slightly, too soft for my liking. This is also why Totto Ramen comes a close second to Ippudo for me.

Totto Spicy Ramen with Charsiu Pork, additional Seasoned Boiled Egg

All up, with tip, my meal came to $20. It probably took no longer than 40 minutes to order, slurp, pay and go. The service was spot on and conducted with a tremendous amount of precision and efficiency (the Germans would be envious) and the ambience is simple and exactly what I expect of a place as small and rustic as this. 

So the real question is how long would I wait for this? Well, anything under 30 minutes is fine if I'm by myself, anything under 45 minutes if I'm with a friend or a crowd (the rationale is that one person should get seated faster than two or more, and if I'm alone I'm much less willing to wait because I'm not in the presence of good company). But no more than an hour because that's ludicrous to wait as long for a meal as the dining experience itself would take. But it is damn good ramen and clearly a shorter wait time than Ippudo - and if you're really clever, you would get in before 6.30pm. 

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese (Ramen)
Address: 366 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019, USA


Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Perfect for: A special occasion date
Price range: $$$$ Splurge
My rating: 9.5/10
Food: 10/10 Service: 9/10 Ambience: 10/10

If you hadn't noticed, I take food pretty seriously. And if there's Restaurant Week on when I'm around, I'll be the first in the door. So I somehow lucked out and got Monday off work, and the first thing that came to mind was that I had to go and try Gotham Bar & Grill since they are only offering their Restaurant Week menu for Mon-Fri lunches. 

So at 1pm on a Monday, I'm streaming past a number of impeccably dressed men in suits (one of whom was carrying a stack of Forbes magazines - clearly means business) to snag my table at this well-reputed restaurant - it has 4.5 stars on Yelp after a trillion reviews, that's got to mean something. I am immediately seated at the bar - because when you're dining alone, you don't have to wait - next to another lonely diner who is obviously here for the same reason I am (to take photos of food), and two men talking strictly business (I hear the words financing, Wall Street and Carolina Herrera thrown around and I immediately classify them as bankers for high-end labels).

I order from the prix fixe Restaurant Week menu:
Entree: Wild Striped Bass Sashimi with Asian pear, watermelon radish, cucumber, yuzu ginger emulsion avocado wasabi purée
Main: Pappardelle With Braised Short Rib Ragu with swiss chard, winter squash, aged pecorino
Dessert: Tropical "Vacherin" (vanilla parfait, passion fruit, mango paper, coconut sorbet)

Before I dive into the details of each, let me just say that the meal was top-notch. I couldn't fault the chefs even if I wanted to - not even on the quantity, it was all perfect. I can see why they've managed a 4.5 star rating on Yelp now.

The striped bass sashimi was fresh, the wasabi wasn't overwhelming given the avocado addition, and the yuzu ginger emulsion added just the right amount of tart to the dish, almost acting like a vinaigrette for the salad of pear, radish and cucumber.

Wild Striped Bass Sashimi with Asian pear, watermelon radish, cucumber, yuzu ginger emulsion avocado wasabi purée

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I consider myself quite well-versed in the pappardelle-sphere. I can tell you this was great - silky and al dente - a close second to the pappardelle I had at al di la, and that's competing with an brilliant Italian trattoria. The braised short rib ragu wasn't what I was expecting and wasn't your traditional Italian ragu - it was much more soup-like given the additional of the vegetables, but it was incredibly flavoursome and had me scraping the last of my plate.

Pappardelle With Braised Short Rib Ragu with swiss chard, winter squash, aged pecorino

The dessert of the 'vacherin' was described to me as a deconstructed parfait but it was really a combination of coconut macaroon, coconut sorbet, mango paper and passionfruit jelly. I'm butchering it completely but it was a brilliant combination of ingredients, especially if you're a fan of passionfruit, mango and coconut - which I am. 

Tropical "Vacherin" (vanilla parfait, passion fruit, mango paper, coconut sorbet)

As for the service and ambience, this was very much a fine dining restaurant. The waitstaff were incredibly professional all throughout and the only fault I noted was when I had to ask twice for the check (only due to the waiter engaging in conversation with other patrons). The ambience for lunch was light yet you definitely got the sense that this was where the business deals get done over lunch. 

And for $25 (excluding tax and tip) this meal was robbery in broad daylight. Yes I would do this again, I would do this every lunchtime if I had the time and spare calories to do so. Would I dine here and indulge in their regular menu? YES. I'm looking at it now and already planning a trip back.

Meal: Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Modern American
Address: 12 East 12th Street, New York, NY 10003, USA

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Perfect for: A snack!
Price range: $ Cheap
My rating: 9.5/10
Food: 9.5/10 Service: - Ambience: -

Are these the most delicious doughnuts I've had? Yes. Are they the most delicious doughnuts to exist? Probably not. But if you're near the Doughnut Plant, you most certainly need to try them. Even if it's just to embrace the American culture like I did (that's what I tell myself, I eat doughnuts to fit in, yeah.)

And because we're so lucky in this city, there are actually two locations, making it just that much more accessible. What's even better is that if you're not going to the Doughnut Plant, you can still get them from cafes and such all around the city. For example, my favourite coffee joint, Joe, stocks plenty.

I got the creme brulee doughnut. It tastes exactly as described - the shiny coating resembles the hard cracked surface and the filling inside is like the part underneath. I could eat five more in a heartbeat, but that wouldn't be so good for my heartbeat, would it?

They have square-filled doughnuts, yeast doughnuts, cake doughnuts and more. Seriously, just go and get one.

Creme brulee filled doughnut

Meal: Snack
Cuisine: American
Address: LES (379 Grand Street) CHELSEA (200 W 23rd Street)

Monday, February 24, 2014


Perfect for: A beer and pizza with mates after roaming the graffiti-filled streets of Bushwick
Price range: $$ Not bad
My rating: 8.5/10
Food: 9/10 Service: 7.5/10 Ambience: 9/10

Widely touted as New York's best pizza, you'll find Roberta's tucked away in a lesser known neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and one of my favourites, called Bushwick. Bushwick is probably only known for Roberta's - your average Manhattanite has probably taken the L train to the Morgan Ave, stepped out of the station and walked a block to wait in line for the famed prize at this hipster joint, but nothing else. 

It's not just brilliant to those from outside of Bushwick - the locals love it too. The hipster dude that runs Mary Meyer, a boutique / vintage store across the road from Roberta's said to me "it's pretty much where all the Bushwick-ers go for all their meals". (This was a somewhat alarming statement - I mean, all their meals? But then I remembered that this was America and let it go.)

So I came here after a full morning of exploring the outdoor gallery space that is Bushwick itself, and was feeling pretty peckish at 3pm on a Saturday. Luckily, because it was such an obscure time, there was no wait for me and my lunch companion. But inside the large space, it was still packed at such a time - it felt like we got the last free table. And it was a pretty good table too - outside in the courtyard, next to the heater.

This isn't one of those hipster blogs where I shy away from the most typical order - OF COURSE I'm ordering a pizza. I get the Speckenwolf (mozzarella, speck, mushroom, onion, oregano) because I'm a fan of all those things listed, and my lunch companion gets the roasted carrot salad with smoked ricotta and radish. We're sharing people, so we share. 

Speckenwolf (mozzarella, speck, mushroom, onion, oregano)

The pizza was delicious - you really can't go wrong with any of them. The base is thin and crisp - but not too thin that you've got nothing to chew on. The topping was also perfect - not too scant and not too generous. I sound like I'm drinking the kool-aid, but really it was quite perfect. The only thing I would've changed was the speed at which I ate my pizza - I would've preferred it to be warm the whole time, but that's really my own fault isn't it?

Roasted carrots with smoked ricotta and radish

The carrots were also pretty good. I am typically not a huge fan of carrots, but these were highly recommended by my fellow exploring partner-in-crime, so I had to give them a go. Honestly, they were pretty delicious with the smoked ricotta, and the presentation was definitely ace. If it were up to me, I would've added a bit of sweetness perhaps in the form of a jus, just to wake it up a little bit more.

I thought the ambience was fantastic - it's always fun when there's plenty of people around to liven up the place but you can still hear your own conversations. The heated courtyard setting was wonderful as we got the natural light without freezing our mitts off, and it made it a lot more relaxed and casual which perfectly matches the feel of the menu. 

The service was more so-so, it wasn't very streamlined and we did have to wait a while to order drinks, to order food, and to get the check. Granted they were quite busy, but... aren't they always this busy? 

The bill ran to no more than $30 per person including drinks, tax and tip. For a damn good meal. But when you visit, make sure you do more than just visit Roberta's - there are lots of amazing streetart all around Bushwick not to mention great thrift stores and a very interesting community of Central and South Americans so you're bound to find some delicious and cheap tacos if you're still feeling peckish after your pizza.

Meal: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Address: 261 Moore St, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Friday, February 21, 2014


Perfect for: A nice meal with friends after a day of wandering the shops of Park Slope
Price range: $$ Not bad
My rating: 9.5/10
Food: 9/10 Service: 9.5/10 Ambience: 9.5/10

It's not often I give a 9.5 rating. You should all know it usually defaults to 8.5. But for al di la, this was quite an exceptional Italian trattoria. Let me explain...

al di la is a very renowned Italian joint in the fancy brownstone lined, hipster yuppies turned millionaires, Surry Hills-esque suburb of Brooklyn. I.e. Park Slope. The beautiful brownstone houses easily run for over a million here, but you're not paying for just the houses - the suburb is speckled with cafes, bars and restaurants - and one of the go-to trattorias here is al di la

I had heard it mentioned numerous times - by trendy Brooklynites, yuppy Park Slopers, and on numerous lists of 'what-to-do-in-Park-Slope'. I decided that my adventures in Park Slope had to end with a dinner here. (note: al di la does do lunch, but from the one Yelp review I had read, I decided that dinner was the safer option.)

The restaurant opens at 6pm and I got here at 6.15pm, and about a third of the restaurant was already full - this is only a Thursday night. I got seated and my waiter told me about the specials - the pork loin with polenta jumped at me and so did the house-made pappardelle with duck ragu. I had also heard great things about their beetroot ravioli, but I'm a sucker for not just pappardelle but also duck so the decision wasn't that hard - especially if this duck ragu pappardelle was a once-off thing. And of course, no Italian meal comes complete without a glass of vino. 

The service was incredibly fast - my glass of wine pretty much appeared at the table. Followed swiftly by the bread (only disappointment was that it didn't come with olive oil, but with butter - it was warm, however, although it was definitely heated not fresh). Very soon after that, my pasta arrived. 

Now, I'm no Italian (surprising, huh?), but I've had my fair share of pappardelle and if there is a pasta that I could choose to be an expert on, this would be it. The pappardelle was perfect - silky yet with enough bite. The ragu was creamier than I expected - the duck fat definitely contributed to it, and probably made it richer than I would've liked. And the duck had been roasted with the skin still crispy, so the crispy skin had been added to the ragu for an interesting almost-smoky flavour, and additional texture to spice up the creamy ragu. 

Special: House-made pappardelle with duck ragu

I considered getting dessert but there was nothing on the dessert menu that really took my fancy - and to be completely fair, I had also had a slice of salted caramel apple pie three hours prior to dinner so I thought I'd behave. If I hadn't had that slice of pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, I probably would've opted for the cheese plate or the dessert special of flourless chocolate cake with walnuts and whipped cream. 

The service was superb throughout - definitely worth of the 20% tip I gave them. The waiter gave me some space while I drank my wine, without rushing me by bringing the check. That's one of my pet peeves in most waitstaff and this guy was very graceful.

The atmosphere here was also excellent - the crowd on this Thursday night is mostly Park Slopers, and the acoustics in the restaurant are great - the noise isn't so loud that you need to be shouting to be heard.

By the time I left, the restaurant was packed. Expect long waits if you're coming in a large group - but it's definitely worth the wait.

Meal: Brunch / Lunch / Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Address: 248 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215