Friday, April 3, 2015

New American with Nordic Flare at mrnilsson

Cod Chicharron with American Caviar & Dill
at Sage General Store
24-20 Jackson Ave., Long Island City

You may already know Sage General Store as the home of the three-course bacon brunch that begins with a cheddar biscuit with bacon marmalade and ends with a double chocolate and bacon brownie capped with Jack Daniels whipped cream.  But if you think you know the menu like the back of your hand, get ready for a pleasant surprise.  The décor, cutlery, china, and even the napkin folding is now changing for dinner service with the arrival of Long Island City’s newest dinner pop-up—mrnilsson.  The flare is Nordic, and the menu is focused around four and seven course tastings, as well as a meticulously crafted a la carte selection of small and large bites.

“It’s a big change for the neighborhood,” explains owner Leslie Nilsson, “which thinks of us as comfort food—but I just wanted to do something different at night.  It’s such a cozy, romantic place.  And the people [who] have come for the tasting menus—man, you can feel the joy.  They’re having such a refined, excellent experience right here in Long Island City.”  She envisions Court Square to become a food destination, with such neighbors as M. Wells Steakhouse and LIC Market.

“The original restaurant, Sage American Kitchen, was across the street on Jackson,” Nilsson recalls, “and just had three seats in the window.”  They offered high end takeout with a catering kitchen in the back.  In 2008, she opened Sage General Store at its present location.  Shortly thereafter the recession hit hard—which, luckily, is when they appeared on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  But after six successful years, Ms. Nilsson was itching for something to change.

In terms of the bacon brunch, she smiles, “That’s not broken, so let’s not fix it.”  Customers can still enjoy the charm of the General Store menu six days a week for breakfast and lunch.  But when lunch service draws to a close, the paper plates are put away and the fine china comes out.  Wooden pastry crates are removed, and votives are lit next to pink and purple bouquets of wildflowers.  But what exactly is behind the name change?

Birch beer glazed lamb belly with pumpkin milk

“We like to say, ‘Mr. Nilsson is at the Sage General Store,’” says Ms. Nilsson, whose Scandinavian ancestry serves as partial explanation of the name.  “Mr. Nilsson is also Pippi Longstocking’s monkey,” she laughs.  “As a kid, I always thought it was funny he shared my name.”  Several chef resumes sent to her were addressed to Mr. Nilsson, which also played a factor.  But the real reason is her adoration of Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, whose record, Nilsson Schmilsson, was here all-time favorite album.

“[The chefs] are rock ‘n roll guys,” she explains.  “It’s not all just delicate and beautiful.  There’s some real meat and power behind what they are doing.  Greg [Proechel] came from Blanca and Eleven Madison Park, which just got their four star review again.  Michael [Kollarik] has cooked at the Dutch and for Momofuku.”

And yes, the food is beyond special.

“Because of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, we became famous for our rotisserie chicken and macaroni and cheese.  So the guys have put together this genius chicken dish.  They debone the rotisserie chicken, and then they sous vide it so it gets super deliciously tender, and then they bake it in a hot oven to get it super crispy.  Then they puree the macaroni and cheese—it’s the same recipe with the five cheeses—and then they foam it onto the plate with crispy kale chips.  My daughter is fourteen, and she says, ‘Mom, I could eat that every night.’”  After just one bite, I think I would gladly devour it daily, as well.

When asked if there is anything on the tasting menu that cannot be ordered a la carte, she replies, “We would open it up.  We don’t want to be dictators.  People think, because it’s a tasting menu, that it’s highfalutin—but it’s not.  The food is really accessible, and the guys serve it to you and explain it themselves.  They don’t go overboard and tell you the province of where the cow came from—we’re here to have fun—we’re not here to bore you.”

Dry aged Long Island Duck with Kumquats, Rutabaga, and Blackened Eggplant Puree
Mrnilsson is a New American restaurant with a Nordic flare, which has a lot to do with the artistry of the plating. “It’s also about foraging, pickling, and the integrity of the ingredients,” explains Nilsson, “—and treating the vegetables with great respect.”

“Walk-ins are definitely available.  We want it to be a neighborhood spot for those nights when you don’t want a burger.  I’m so proud of being in Long Island City for 18 years.  I feel like LIC Market and M. Wells have upped the game, so I decided I needed to up the game here, as well.”

She has certainly upped the game with a superior team of fresh talent, creating artistic dishes worthy of multiple accolades.  If this is the direction the neighborhood is headed, we are in pretty good hands.

mrnilsson on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Images from Piora for the Village Voice


430 Hudson Street

RIGATONI red wine, duck sausage, charred fig, spigarello 

BARBEQUED OCTOPUS fermented pepper, basil, pine nut

CARROTS pistachio, yogurt, ham

ROHAN DUCK jujube, farro, black garlic

ROHAN DUCK jujube, farro, black garlic

Friday, April 18, 2014


Images from Narcissa shot for the Village Voice.


21 Cooper Sq., New York, NY

ROTISSERIE-CRISPED BEETS bulgur salad, apples, creamed horseradish 
ROTISSERIE-GRILLED SWEET POTATO jerk spices, peppers, tofu aioli  

DUNGENESS CRAB SALAD blood orange, hearts of palm, hazelnuts 
CARROTS WELLINGTON bluefoot mushrooms, sunchokes, gremolata 

LAMB LOIN spinach pie, piquillo peppers, cauliflower

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weighing in on Pounds & Ounces

While Chelsea may be a fantastic area to play, lounge hop, and people watch, one thing it has seemed to lack is a one-stop shop where you can enjoy delicious food either as a snack with friends over conversation, specialty cocktails, intimate lounge seating, a communal bar with a great group scene, or secluded dining, along with outdoor seating in great weather.  And then I met Pounds and Ounces (160 8th Ave at 18th Street).

I was pretty thrilled to discover Jeff Kreisel had recently taken over as Executive Chef, as his creations in Long Island City at Penthouse 808 had really elevated rooftop dining in my neighborhood.

In a recent post by The Village Voice, the chef explains, "The whole dinner menu is new. We still have some burgers, but we've added lighter fare and gluten-free options, and we've focused on seasoning properly, portioning properly, and sourcing very locally."

Chef Kreisel is working on the lunch menu and a late night menu, so I can't wait to return soon to see what new dishes he has in store.  In the meanwhile, here are is a preview of what a great dinner menu he already has set in place.

Summer Watermelon Salad with mint, cucumbers, tomatoes, ricotta salata, toasted pine nuts, & lemon dressing.
Chicken Liver Pate with truffle salt
Citrus & Herb cured salmon with beet couscous, citrus creme fraiche, and corn blinis
Lobster Corn Dogs with Meyer Lemon Aioli
Seared scallops with eggplant caviar, roasted tomatoes, crispy sunchokes, & aged vinegar
Seared Halibut with maitake mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, and scallion-ginger pesto
F&Kn Burger with onion marnalade, fontina, pineapple braised short ribs, pickled green tomato chips, on brioche.
Pounds & Ounces on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Hurricane bunker becomes Vietnamese hotspot

It is only a spring roll—a common Asian appetizer I have mindlessly consumed so many times before—and yet somehow I have rapidly devoured three of these crispy golden fingers before even realizing I have yet to dunk one into the accompanying chili sauce, which I apparently have subconsciously deemed unnecessary. Delicately crispy wonton wrapper crackles at the bite and gives way to a steaming center of tightly bundled al dente glass noodles, tiny slivers of carrot, and sweet lumps of fresh crabmeat. The flavors are intense, the textures playful, and I do not want to share even one of the four.

Fortunately my friend is a vegetarian—always a safe dining companion when I don’t want to share everything on my plate. “That has crabmeat in it, right?” he asks, after gauging the absurd degree of pleasure on my face. “It does…,” I say, as if genuinely sorry.

“You know, maybe I could be pescetarian just for one day?” he smiles as I watch in horror while his greedy, assuming hand snatches up the last spring roll. Taking notice of my clenched fists, he snaps the roll in two, and returns the remaining half to the plate, laughing. A spring roll this excellent can really heighten your awareness of just how monotonous and lousy most other renditions can be. It almost ended a friendship today, after all. I am already grinning, and this is merely the first taste of what is to come.

The quality of food is beyond surprising, given the restaurant’s less-than-sparkly location on a rather barren strip of Metropolitan Avenue in Ridgewood. Partially named as a play-on-words with the Vietnamese vermicelli known as bún (pronounced boon), Bún-ker Vietnamese is also quite literally just that—a bunker.

The space was initially intended to be a boutique seafood distribution site, Fish & Ships. Because it was just a storage space, “the location really didn’t matter,” explains Jimmy Tu, chef and partner. “Rent was cheap, so originally that’s why we chose this location.” Tu has cooked throughout Vietnam, Thailand, San Francisco, and New York City—where he actually opened Eleven Madison park, and cooked there for two years.

Hurricane Sandy saw things a little differently, and after putting the seafood distribution out of business for almost a month due to major damages and no flood insurance, the team decided to close the business, and open Bún-ker in its place in January.

“The chefs develop the menu, and I develop the concept,” explains partner and general manager, Roy Zapanta—childhood skateboarding buddy of the Tu brothers--pun intended--Jimmy and Jacky (chef and sous chef, respectively). Previous collaborations have included Skinny’s Cantina in Long Island City. With gingham tablecloths, plastic soldier figurines keeping guard above the windows, buckets of utensils on each table, and a bamboo and straw thatched ceiling, the tiny dining room is buzzing daily with locals clustered around tightly packed tables, some communal.

The draw here is simple, excellent, Vietnamese cuisine. After deciding to leave the fine dining industry, Jimmy Tu spent a month and a half in Thailand and Vietnam studying street food, befriending local establishments, analyzing their recipes and techniques. “Noodles are a really big street food in Vietnam—” Tu explains, “just a big stock pot. We also use a Japanese grill with real charcoal, because out in Vietnam, it’s all charcoal, which definitely adds to the flavor.”

Take, for instance, the ‘Saigon Special Banh Mi’—a flaky baguette stuffed with 5-spiced pate made in house, steamed pork shoulder ground with cinnamon, sugar, and fish sauce, and garlic sausage—all garnished with pickled vegetables, mayo, cilantro, jalapeno, and a ribbon of sriracha.

The ‘Pho Ga’ is an intense, rich, flavorsome chicken noodle soup with a smoked shallot broth with juicy Bo Bo chicken that develops over the course of eight hours. It’s the kind of soup you believe can fix any problem, cure any illness…

Even simple plates explode with flavors carefully coaxed in the kitchen. Tomato garlic fried rice is like a crispy mountain of stir-fried risotto and marinara. Creamed taro leaves taste like southeast Asian collard greens, with a hint of curry, ginger, and garlic (a Filipino dish inspired by Zapanta’s heritage).

vegetarian banh xeo with enoki mushrooms and bean sprouts
The banh mi variations stray from tradition, as well, available as a cheesesteak with havarti and gouda, or with chili mackerel, or even grilled lemongrass pork. The ‘banh xeo’ appetizer is a crunchy Vietnamese rice flour and egg crepe crepe ‘taco’ loaded with shrimp, bacon, bean sprouts, and lettuce (the chef’s mother’s recipe).

Drinks are limited to a cooler where customers serve themselves water, or order an artichoke kefir iced tea, or Vietnamese black coffee. Next week they plan to introduce several homemade soft drinks including flavors like lime-ginger-mint, tamarind, or chili lychee.

Until then, plan on cooling your palate with a bowl of coconut tapioca pudding, with tender miniature pearls studded with slivers of young coconut, pineapple, star fruit, and palm seeds.

Simple food, masterfully executed, with no pretense.

“That’s why I left fine dining,” elaborates Jimmy Tu. "I was at [a different upscale restaurant in Manhattan], and there was this little window where you could see into the dining room from the kitchen. And all you could see were CEOs, businessmen, and a lot of people I couldn’t really relate to. And I was like, is this what I am going to do for the rest of my life? So after that, I kind of went back to my roots, cooking the food I grew up with. Street food made with a lot of love.”

Bún-ker Vietnamese
46-63 Metropolitan Ave.
Ridgewood, NY 11385
(718) 386-4282
Tue &Wed 5 – 10:00pm
Thur & Fri 5 – 11:00pm
Sat 12pm – 11pm
Sun 12pm – 10pm

Bún-ker on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 19, 2013

Jack & Coke French Toast is what's for brunch at The Shady Lady

The Shady Lady * 34-19 30th Ave, Astoria * (718) 440-9081

Go ahead and start making your weekend brunch plans now, because you just might want to spend both Saturday and Sunday sampling the outrageously delicious sunrise recipes Chef Billy Pappas has created for The Shady Lady.  Pictured above is the chicken biscuit... a homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with crunchy fried chicken, melted cheddar, crispy bacon, and a blanket of country-style sausage gravy.

Does the syrup above look slightly more mahogany than your classic Jamima?  That's because it's a reduction of Jack & Coke.  A delicious, sweet twist on an exceptional version of the brunch classic.  They even do a version with a croissant and whipped cream.

I flipped over this skillet of appropriately named 'back to bed mac & cheese,' with al dente pasta shells in bechamel with cheddar and bacon, and a soft-centered egg baked into the top layer.  My friend and I nearly sword-fought with our forks for the last few bites.

On the lighter end of the spectrum are a plate of Greek yogurt with a mixed berry compote, falafel wraps, oatmeal with cinnamon and bananas, or this egg white frittata studded with cherry tomatoes, spinach, and goat cheese.

These homemade biscuits are absolutely flawless, and should at least be ordered as a side--or better yet under the corned beef hash benedict with giant savory cubes of corned beef and country potatoes under a generous ladling of creamy, citrusy hollandaise.

The Kentucky Hot Brown is another one to send you crawling home for an afternoon nap, but man oh man, is it delicious!  This open-faced sandwich is piled with roasted turkey, grilled tomatoes, bacon, and a velvety mornay sauce that is toasted to golden-crusted perfection.

One brunch cocktail plus a juice or coffee is included in the price, though $20 can add on a bottomless brunch of bloody mary, mimosa, or house sangria.  Though The Shady Lady eventually plans to serve brunch on Fridays, as well, presently brunch service is only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Shady Lady on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An entire menu worth ordering at Salt & Fat

It arrives at the table resembling a toddler’s attempt at a sandcastle, absolutely nothing about the appearance screaming mouthwatering. A simple prodding with a fork and a cautious bite later, however, yields revelatory sensations—textures and flavors simultaneously familiar and exotic. Those fluffy grey pieces of down are actually shaved Hudson Valley foie gras, rendered light and feathery, cloaking a heaping mound of cinnamon-dusted mandarin orange segments which explode like sweet, tangy bursts of fresh orange juice. 

The blend of citrus and foie gras is reminiscent of a luxurious creamsicle, given a playful crunch by paper-thin stained-glass tiles of bacon brittle. It is one of the ugliest, most profoundly delicious dishes I have ever tasted. And it is a quintessential introduction to the technique and delicious whimsy of Chef Daniel Yi, owner and chef of Salt & Fat in Sunnyside.

A native of Sunnyside himself, Yi grew up in a Korean American household, which shaped his definition of New American cuisine. “Eating spaghetti or a slice of pizza with kimchi was one of my favorites as a child“, explains the chef. “Because of eating American and Korean food growing up, it is deeply reflected in my cooking.” Salt & Fat’s fluffy BLT bao buns look like Pac-Man savoring a power-up of tender pork belly medallions with shredded lettuce, ruby tomatoes, and spicy mayo. 

Lobster & Citrus
Though Asian influences are undeniably sprinkled throughout the menu, the New American cuisine borrows influences from around the world. The inspiration for the name? “Even though salt and fat are associated with unhealthy eating, they aren't necessarily bad or unhealthy ingredients. They are actually the backbone of anything and everything that is tasty and delicious.”

Dinner begins with a complimentary brown paper sack of warm popcorn popped in bacon fat, an addictive replacement for bread service. The one page menu is comprised of seventeen plates intended for sharing, all ranging from $8 to $23 and accompanied by a carefully edited selection of wine and craft beer.

Crispy Berkshire Pork Trotter
Must-tries include the oxtail terrine, which looks more like a sinful chocolate brownie, falling apart at the touch and melting on the palate, served with a caramelized onion puree and roasted mushrooms.. Who knew pigs’ feet could evoke such a gleeful response? Here, the pork trotters are tenderly prepared in a torchon, then breaded like a gargantuan crab-cake, and topped with a slow-cooked egg that acts as a rich gravy. The sous vide sweet & sour duck breast with buttered lychee is gorgeous in every way. A salad of succulent lobster claw and tail meat over frisee and citrus segments is jazzed up with an ancho vinaigrette.

Absolutely plan for dessert, like the rice crispie treat with marshmallow ice cream, or a seasonal selection of ice creams and sorbets, which presently include thai iced tea and miso apple. No room for a sweet ending? The check comes with mini Korean cran-yogurt probiotics, the perfect icing on the cake of an eclectic, excellent meal.

Salt & Fat
41-16 Queens Blvd, Sunnyside, NY 11104
(718) 433-3702
Tuesday – Saturday 6 to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday 5 to 10:00 p.m.
Closed Monday

Salt & Fat on Urbanspoon
® All Rights Reserved by Bradley Hawks
© Copyright 2011 Bradley Hawks
All images & articles are the sole property of Bradley Hawks unless otherwise specified. Please email for permission to use.


Related Posts with Thumbnails