NYT Critics’ Picks: Restaurants

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The Smoky Allure of Lebanon Wafts Through Wafa’s Express

All afternoon the scent followed me, smoke rising off roasting meat, and rose water like a balm thumbed behind the ears: the perfume of Wafa’s Express in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.<p>The menu could belong to any of the city’s frill-free Middle Eastern restaurants. But everything here is a little bit …

Restaurants

Parts Are Greater Than the Sum of the Chicken at Torishin

Consider the chicken. Consider each part of the chicken. Consider eating each part of the chicken, one after another, grilled over charcoal at a yakitori restaurant called Torishin.<p>Dark neck meat first, gathered in a ruffle around a bamboo skewer. When stuck to its long root of bone, the neck is …

Restaurants

Simple Taiwanese Food, Full of Secrets, at Mama Lee in Queens

I did not expect sorcery from a preserved turnip.<p>It was the only ingredient in the omelet on my plate at Mama Lee, a small, plain-spoken Taiwanese restaurant in Bayside, Queens. The eggs had been beaten loosely, so flecks of white still showed, and hustled from the pan when patchy bronze. Inside, …

Restaurants

Adventure (Try a Goat’s Head?) Is Still on the Menu at Babbo

When the waiter asked if we wanted the last roasted goat’s head, I didn’t think it was a big deal. It was just another night at Babbo.<p>This was around 1999, a year after it had opened, when Babbo had few peers among Italian restaurants, serving unusual meats with a side of light decadence. In this …

Restaurants

We’ll Always Have Paris, at Augustine

Keith McNally switched on the lights of his latest restaurant, Augustine, on the first day of November. New McNally projects always incite anticipation but not a great deal of suspense. Certain things are known before the first oyster is popped open. One of those things is the presence of …

Restaurants

A MacGyver of Slow-Cooked Meats at Franklin Barbecue

AUSTIN, Tex. — “How much brisket are you having?”<p>That’s the first question the man with the knife behind the counter will ask when you reach the front of the line at Franklin Barbecue. He won’t stab you if you don’t have an answer ready, but I might.<p>By that point, you or another person who is …

Butterfunk Kitchen Is Driven by Soul Food and Built on Memories

“This,” the waitress said, stroking the glass jar on the table as if it were a beloved and dangerous pet. “It is not mild; it is not medium. It is hot. Go slow.”<p>I wished she had been there on my first visit, when I fished a pepper out of the jar and ate it whole. Time stuttered. In such heat, …

A Different Kind of Alexandria Library, at Little Egypt

I have never seen branzino look quite like this, like some ancient, jewel-encrusted weapon unearthed from volcanic ash, prickly with glistening shards, crushed obsidian and olivine. Steam rises from the fish’s mouth, a long, pensive exhale.<p>The armor — cracked wheat, cumin, allspice and garlic, …

Sahib, in Curry Hill, Lets You Eat All Over India

Anybody who tries to tell you that the place to go for Indian food is Jackson Heights, Queens, hasn’t been there in a long time. Beyond question, Jackson Heights is the first stop for anyone seeking an education in the Tibetan syllabus: momos filled with brothy beef under their bellybutton pleats; …

Tables for Snooker and Bhutanese Food at Weekender Billiard

It’s Saturday night and every snooker table is taken at the Bhutanese pool hall in Woodside, Queens. The players are all men, most with roots in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, the young ones lanky in faded rock tees and track pants, their elders slouching in bomber jackets and bright white kicks. …

Culinary Clashes End in Harmony at Chinese Tuxedo

The bend halfway down Doyers Street in Chinatown used to see more killings than any other stretch of road in the country. The Bloody Angle is safe now, but not quiet.<p>The gangs there have been replaced by packs of roaming young people who come for siu mai and har gow at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, or …

White Gold Butchers Slices to the Point: Meats Cooked Simply

I’ve finally found a new restaurant on the Upper West Side that I want to recommend to people who don’t live there. It has only taken me five years.<p>In my time as critic, I’ve searched the streets between Lincoln Center and Columbia University for good places to eat. I’ve come across some, but I …

The New Chumley’s Raises the Culinary Bar

If you heard that Chumley’s is open again, you were misinformed. The dim, spare, beer-scented hideaway in the West Village is gone, torn down, not coming back. At its old address is a restaurant that has nothing in common with the original except a name, a door, an archway and framed photographs …

Glimpses of a Gilded Past at Fowler & Wells

You enter Tom Colicchio’s new restaurant near City Hall through what is suddenly the most stunning hotel lobby bar in New York City. The Beekman hotel’s bar is at the bottom of the atrium of the 1883 Temple Court Building, which rises up through seven floors of elaborate cast-iron railings to end …

Slurping Solo, in Sweet Isolation, at Ichiran in Brooklyn

Ichiran, a Japanese ramen chain that touched down in Brooklyn last fall, makes one kind of soup, the opaque ivory pork broth called tonkotsu. Like a heart surgeon who operates only on the left ventricle, it has staked out a niche within a niche.<p>Within its microspecialty, though, Ichiran presents …

A Mazelike Trail to Tibet at Lhasa Fast Food in Queens

In the middle of lunch at Lhasa Fast Food, someone started blowing a sacred conch. I peered down the hall. Next door, a jeweler was pressing his lips to a shell half-sheathed in silver.<p>Lhasa Fast Food was once just a counter at the back of a cellphone store in Jackson Heights, Queens, where pint …

The Art of Flavor at Flora Bar in the Met Breuer

I’m on the verge of giving up trying to explain why Ignacio Mattos’s food is so good.<p>I once wrote that the cooking at his first restaurant, now closed, dabbled in “deep, surrealist weirdness.” At Estela, the place on Houston Street that put him on the map, I described his food as “almost familiar, …

At Pata Cafe, Few Ingredients but a Mélange of Thai Flavors

At Pata Cafe in Elmhurst, Queens, a tree climbs from the floor through the ceiling. It’s as if you’d popped through a trap door into a secret clubhouse. A stuffed monkey lounges on a branch, a homage to Bua Noi (Little Lotus), a gorilla who has spent her life in the rooftop zoo of the Pata …

At Aska, a Nordic Chef’s Vision Bears Fruit (and Lichens)

One of the 20 or so courses served to me the first time I ate at the new Aska in Brooklyn was a cluster of nasturtium leaves, next to a bundle of burned herb sprigs and flower stalks, tied up with a string. It looked pretty and pagan at the same time, like a page from a Martha Stewart lifestyle …

Sichuan Dry Pot, from Subtle to Scorching, at MaLa Project

The rooster testicles lie on the plate as pale as butter beans, as fat as skewed thumbs. At MaLa Project in the East Village, they’re listed on the menu as “Rooster’s XXX,” but they’re not particularly shocking to eat: They taste creamy and almost peaty, like wayward eggs, without the profound funk …

Filipino Food Worth the Wait at Bad Saint in Washington

WASHINGTON — I have now spent roughly twice as many hours standing on the sidewalk outside Bad Saint as I have spent inside eating its Filipino food.<p>This is not an ideal ratio, but at least I had company. Bad Saint, in this city’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, has never taken reservations since it …

Mumbai Xpress, a Good Reason to Stray for a Snack

The fritters look armored, torpedoes sheathed in tapioca pearls. The outside crackles, but inside the tapioca has gone gooey, clinging and pulling like mochi. It’s a delightful trap: crunch, then sink. The flavors, too, give and take, pulverized peanuts leavened by ginger, sunny lemon pulled down …

Thai Food Strikes Out in a Fresh Direction at Fish Cheeks

In the early days of Thai cuisine in the United States, when pad Thai and spring rolls were exotic treats, Americans fell hard for the interlocking tastes of lime, fish sauce, chiles and herbs. Over the years, that love has grown lukewarm. Many of the restaurants weren’t very good to begin with, …

Tamales, for Many Meals and Courses, at Alimentos Saludables

In pursuit of tamales, I have lurked outside Roman Catholic churches after Spanish Mass and chased down ladies pushing blue coolers in shopping carts along the street. Even a run-of-the-mill tamale can be a glorious thing, the musty-sweet essence of corn fortified by lard and chicken broth, the …

TsuruTonTan, a Japanese Chain That Knows Its Noodles

The news reports filled the city with gloom. From out of a big Manhattan real estate firm had come a change that few locals expected or wanted. Reactions were apocalyptic. There was a shared fear that we were moving in the wrong direction, that the values of our community were being trampled by …

An Indian Chef Comes Home Again at Paowalla in SoHo

After Tabla, Floyd Cardoz doesn’t owe New York anything. In his 11 years as the chef of that restaurant across from Madison Square Park, he used the language of Indian cuisine to say things we had never heard before.<p>A native of Mumbai, he showed us that the Indian spice cabinet can perform many …

For Banh Mi, Violet’s Bake Shoppe Has the Math Down

Some argue that banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich, lives and dies by its bread, a cloud in crisp armor, preferably made with a pinch of rice flour for extra spring and crackle.<p>Others keep score by what lies within: layers of fish-sauce-laced charcuterie and musky pâté; cooling strands of pickled …

Le Coucou Pays Rich Homage to Old-School French Cuisine

New York City cannot compete with Los Angeles’s patchwork quilt of cuisines, Northern California’s sainted ingredients, New Orleans’s discerning and passionate diners. What sets New York’s restaurant culture apart is that it never quite shakes the past and has never fully severed its ties to Europe.<p>…

They May Be Bars, but Don’t Tell the Chefs

Restaurants have made bar food their own. In fancy kitchens serving fancy dining rooms, chefs have found almost inconceivably fancy ways to make pub and roadhouse food. The burgers are ground to order and slapped on rolls fresh out of the oven; the hot dogs are squirted with proprietary condiments; …