Our Man Sietsema: '(Gasp!) Balsamic Vinegar'

Our Man has brought us another gastronomic history lesson this week, and a review of First Oasis, a restaurant that "reflects [the Middle Eastern] culinary diaspora is First Oasis on Fourth Avenue, which offers a slightly different (and maybe more assimilated) take on Syrian food than the excellent, more traditional Damascus Gate."

At First Oasis, Sietsema approves of the addition of balsamic vinegar in a fatoosh salad, but not the skimpiness of the crunchy bits of pita. The hummus beats the baba ganoush, the lamb "scores a touchdown" (kebabs and, even better is the ouzi). But when it comes to the raw lamb kebbeh balls, which Sietsema loved most the next day, when he cooked them at home like burgers.

First Oasis

9218 Fourth Avenue

Bay Ridge

(718) 238-4505

Our Man Sietsema: 'Asking Why is Useless'

Is it acceptable to learn the majority of your history/geography lessons from Robert Sietsema? We feel fine about it. Good Sri Lankan food has arrived in Gramercy, and this week, Our Man walks us through the various influences he tasted.

The restaurant, Nirvana, comes from a Buddhist rather than Muslim or Hindu point of view, which is good for us, because that means there is pork and beef on the menu, but also plenty of vegetarian options.

Sietsema enjoyed the flatbreads called hoppers with vegetarian curry. His favorite entrees came with pittu: "a perfect white cylinder compacted of beaten rice and shredded coconut, which begins to crumble and flake as it lands on your table." This, like the hoppers, comes with a choice of curries, but Sietsema found many of the meat variations bland, until he got lucky and dined on a day when the chef had decided to make a black pork curry:

This signature Sinhalese recipe toasts the spices darkly before grinding them, resulting in a flavor both brooding and complex. And the pork is fatty enough to make the curry glisten in the reflected light of the dining room's wide-screen TV.


Nirvana
218 Third Avenue
212-777-1555


Our Man Sietsema: 'Perfect Pap for Invalids'

Oh, snap. Sietsema is not a fan of Peter's Since 1969, a new spot on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. We stopped in there a few weeks ago with a very hungover friend, and had some shepherd's's pie and veggies. We couldn't say it was anything special, but when we saw that Our Man was reviewing the place, we hoped we'd find out it had improved. But no! Mushy, bland vegetables do not please anyone, except maybe infants. Plus, this is the former site of Peter's, a Ukrainian butcher shop that Sietsema mourns.

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Our Man Sietsema: 'Like a Meatball Nestled in a Brown Raincloud'

Reading Our Man's review this week, EfV was distracted by visions of a raucous birthday party in Flushing. Sietsema visited a new restaurant dedicated to the art of the hot pot, the Northern Chinese meal in which various morsels are cooked in hot broth right at the table.

We've partaken in Grand Sichuan's incineratingly spicy hot pot, and it's a good time, but at Hot Pot City, the deal sounds too good to be true:

70 items were available—an astonishing number compared with the other hot-pot places in town. The price was amazing, too: $24.95 per person for unlimited cookables, including tax and tip, with the caveat that you must stop ordering after two hours, though you can keep boiling what you still have on hand. For an additional $3, Hot Pot City throws in unlimited dim sum and all the beer you can drink, which arrives in foamy pitchers and tastes like Bud. For a diner with a big appetite and a bottomless reservoir of culinary curiosity, this was one hell of a deal.

It might even be good enough to convince our more provincial friends to get on the 7 train. If it's running.

Hot Pot City

40-33 Main Street

Flushing

(718) 886-3266

Our Man Sietsema: 'A Pig-de-Force'


Though the bistro is no longer the hippest thing going in the restaurant world, Manhattan is teeming with mediocre ones. But this week, Sietsema turns his attention to a couple of newcomers to the genre that turn out to be better than passable.

Belcourt has the mood down, and wins the roast chicken award. The menu is somewhat hit-or-miss, but when it hits, you get a "delectable lamb burger" or "impossibly tender octopus."

Metro Marché, located inside Port Authority, doesn't feel quintessentially bistro, and the roast chicken there was, at least on one occasion, disappointing, But the menu is a thorough compilation of bistro best-hits, including four versions of moules frites, the ubiquitous frisée salad with lardons, very good crab cakes onion soup, plus a "real bouillabaisse, sporting a brick-red broth, plenty of shellfish and monkfish, and rouille-smeared croutons."

Belcourt

84 East 4th Street

(212) 979-2034

Metro Marché

625 Eighth Avenue

(212) 239-1010


Our Man Sietsema: 'Some of the Best Indian Food in the Region'

Jersey City is the hot shit, have you heard? Sietsema introduces us to its Little India this week. Specifically, he basks in the meaty joys of Karnataka at Udupi Palace, where Our Man man declares some of the best Indian food in the metropolitan area is being made.

Sounding like really kinky porn, mutton sukka ($7.95) describes several fine large chunks of sheep cooked down to coarse chocolate sludge with coconut milk, like the best examples of beef rendang found in Indonesian restaurants. The sheep, however, is outdone by the goat achari: bone-in pieces of meat, almost full chops, lounging with swatches of lime-skin pickle in thick sauce. The taste is pungently acidic and the color is oily red. Note: Indian gravies are not considered done until oil oozes like the Exxon Valdez.

At Udupi Palace, though, the menu meanders to other regions, too—east for chicken chettinadu, north for alu gobi, and south for dosas.

Udupi Palace

789 Newark Avenue

Jersey City

(201) 876-4773

Our Man Sietsema: 'Oddly Vaginal

We read Sietsema's review with particular interest this week, as we have recently been loving us some roti, and Our Man, who was recently in Trinidad honing his taste buds, has just discovered a strip of roti shops in Rockaway.

Most exciting, and most likely to get us out there, is news of the presence of duck, which we haven't seen in Bed-Stuy, where we most often consume the bundles of curried meats and vegetables.

Oh, he also found some pastry called "vaginal butter flap," which is your new nickname.

Our Man Sietsema: 'Hooray for BYOB!'

Jason Neroni's fighting days were entertaining, but we always felt bad for him, being such blog-fodder. Blogs are so mean! Our Man Sietsema has remained a fan, though, and seems very pleased that Neroni has landed in a kitchen—however small—rather than behind bars, without access to pig parts.

And about the pig: At Cantina, a tapas restaurant, Sietsema enjoyed Serrano ham, pork croquettes, and then, unimagineably, something the chef calls pork shoulder "dulce de leche." Here's what Our Man says about that: (We think we'll have to taste it to believe it, though.)

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Our Man Sietsema: 'A Bewildering 246-Item Menu'

Our Man has crashed a Chinese wedding, sampled the foods of many regions, and emerged to declare Pacificana, known mostly for its dim sum, a worthy dinner destination. The huge menu is Cantonese-focused, but sprawls in all directions. Sietsema was pleased with the Northern ventures in lamb and a Hakaniese pork belly, but he advises Sichuan lovers to skip the bland version at Pacificana.

As for the main event, the Cantonese strengths come from the sea—or the fish tank, anyway:

Offered with little fanfare on the lengthy seafood menu, pan-fried whole flounder ($22.95) is a miracle of the fryer's art, and crisp with a rice-flour coating. The maître'd sailed over to ceremoniously debone it, and the freshness and clear flavor of the fish was riveting. And why not? It had been swimming in a tank at the end of the room a few moments ago.

Pacificana

813 55th Street

Sunset Park

(718) 871-2880

Our Man Sietsema: 'But Really, What does it Mean?'

Our Man has been to the Market, and he wasn't too impressed. Market Table, which SIetsema reviews this week, is the market/restaurant that now stands where Shopsin's used to. Our Man finds it all a little too gimmicky, and the food itself is generally good, but not special enough to redeem the place.

No brilliant inventions or science-chef flourishes here. Instead, we have a standard braised lamb shank deposited on a yellowish amalgam that might be cheese grits or puréed root veggies ($20); and the usual skin-on-chicken piece with a single bone protruding like an amputee's stump ($17). Both are competent but unexciting, and so is a strip steak ($29), disappointingly offered with an artichoke and olive mélange, but no starch.

In addition, the list features such over-fished specimens as cod and halibut, which makes the whole market-driven concept, which is traditionally tied to sustainability efforts, look a tad disingenuous.

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