If you haven't yet been to Big Lug on Avenue A you should check it out soon. Alfredo (aka DJ Lugnut) who originally brought you the smash hit Big Lug bear/cub party on Tuesday nights at Noplace on 14th Street has taken the show 24/7 in his own great space at 85 Avenue A between 5th and 6th Streets. It looks like he made some successful tweaks of the schedule for the new year and added a few new features (like a pool table and ATM). Big Lug is that comfy gay pub that NYC has been missing. In fact they have Guinness on tap as proof of its pub-ish-ness.
If you are wondering what night to stop by, why not try Friday. Good tunes, nice crowd and friendly vibe. Plus, I hear the doorman is really hot on Friday nights.
The East Village seems to be turning into a sort of Boys Town with no fewer than 10 (more but not even sure of them all) gay bars all within walking distance of each other for easy bar crawling (or trolling depending on your motivations). Cabs are plentiful, although parking is not. And there is an extremely vast array of really good restaurants in the hood if you want to make a night of it.
Many of you might be familiar with Big Lug the party, when it was Tuesday nights at Nowhere Bar. But now my friend, Alfredo, who used to promote and DJ that party has taken the ball and run with it. He has opened up Big Lug the bar, which is open seven days a week on Avenue A between 5th & 6th Streets in the East Village.
In addition to the traditional Tuesday night party (still the only Tuesday night place to be for bears in NYC), there is a whole week of fun planned. The best part, it is not a dump like the Dugout, it is bigger than Tys and has none of the pretension of Snaxx. And if you show up on Tuesday and Friday nights, there is a really good chance you could see me. In fact, it will be kind of hard not to. And if that is not enough for you (how could it not be), there are lots of other hot guys for you to flirt with in what is a suprisingly diverse crowd.
I also have it from good sources that you should keep your eyes and ears open for information on both monthly Latin (Domingo Gigante?) and Hip-Hip nights. Just what a little bird told me. Stayed tuned. Better yet, get your ass on down to Big Lug.
And if you come hungry, stop first upstairs at Tigerland for some kick-ass organic Thai/Vietnamese. Tell them Ruggerjohnnyd sent you.
While I am quite clear that it is not exactly Zagat's, I got some positive feedback on last week's review of Latin eateries in NYC. So this week, I think I will turn my attention to Asian, or more specifically Chinese restaurants. Let me qualify this by saying that I am aware that NYC has like a million Chinese establishments - there seems to be two or three in every city block, and that doesn't include Chinatown, where there are blocks and blocks of nothing but Chinese restaurants. So this in no way is meant to be the "Best of" or anything remotely similar. It is merely intended to just say "hey, here are three or four of my favorites that I have been to." Let me further qualify this by saying that I am not sure what kind of judge I am when evaluating anything other that McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's. For much of my life, I led a rather sheltered existence when it came to epicurean delights. My few years in NYC has, and continues to expose me to all sorts of new and interesting things. All that aside, here are four of my favorites in the city:
Cross Street: Between 69th and 70th Streets. Directions: 6 at 68th St.
What needs to be said about Cafe Evergreen can be summed up (pun intended) in two words... Dim-Sum! The dishes of mouthwatering dumplings and rolls and buns moving quickly around this bustling Upper East Side favorite makes your head spin. There are carts and trays with all sort of delicious treats going back on forth all around you. You are assured to order more than you planned to because just as you think you have ordered everything you want, you get dish envy over something the couple next to you just got and you decide that you have to try that too.
Mind you, a Dim-Sum place like this is not for novices alone. You should take a guide with you... someone who knows what's what at Dim-Sum... and it helps tremendously if he/she speaks Chinese as well. If you have never been to Dim-Sum, as was my case a few years ago, you will start out feeling a little overwhelmed. But you will leave a place like Evergreen feeling a little overstuffed. A word of caution, it is not cheap. But it is well worth it. Take a group, it is even more fun and you seem a little less hoggish with all the dishes on your table (plus you can sample new dishes that other people order). I strongly suggest you make a reservation if you decide to try this place.
Some of my favorites are the shrimp and scallop dumplings, Shu Mei (pork dumplings), various rice noodle rolls and the BBQ pork buns. I am not a big fan of scallions, but I hear the scallion pancakes are to die for (I used to know someone who could and would inhale them). They also have these Sesame balls and egg custard tarts... mmmmmm.
Cross Street: Between 50th Street and 51st Street Directions: C, E at 50th St
I can tell you what I love about this place, and then I cannot tell you what I could never eat here too. I LOVE the crab meat and pork soup dumplings. As shocking as this might be, I could eat an entire order of these appetizers by myself. Actually, the last few times there, that is what I order as my entree. They are perfectly flavored and just thinking about them makes my mouth water. Now I am going to have to find someone to go out for dinner in Hell's Kitchen tonight.
Then there is the Chong Qing spicy and aromatic chicken. Now if you like SPICY food, you may like this. But to me it is nothing more than a few scant pieces of inedible spicy chicken hidden in a barrel of hot red chili peppers that made my eyes water even having on the table. I will let Eric Asimov's review of the eatery in the New York Times speak for this unusual dish:
"On the other hand, I've never had anything like Chong Qing spicy and aromatic chicken ($9.95), a daunting dish that looks like a mountain of slender red chili peppers embedded with cubes of chicken. The chilies impart a hauntingly smoky aroma to the chicken, which is also seasoned with plenty of salt and Sichuan peppercorns. The result is a true Sichuan blend of spicy, salty and even sweet flavors. On my first try of this dish, I nibbled on one of the chilies. It was mildly spicy, with a wonderful roasted chili flavor. Emboldened, I popped a whole one in my mouth, and the top of my head exploded."
Cross Street: Broome Street Directions: J, M, Z at Bowery; 6 at Spring St
This unusually decorated (with it's pink menus, zebra striped chairs, neon light glass walls, dirty plastic flowers with fake dew drops and it's interesting lighting and fixtures) establishment also has an unusual menu. The funky menu seems to fit the decor. The food is very fresh and some of the fruity sauces are very interesting, although they might be a bit much for some. But there is something for everyone on the huge menu. I personally liked the fried beef strips with mangoes and the pork chops in orange sauce. They also have amazing bamboo boats and hot pots.
Anybody else have any good suggestions on some of New York's best kept secrets when it comes to Chinese food?
Cross Street: 1st Avenue Directions: F at 2nd Ave; L at 1st Ave
This tiny, cramped yet almost cozy East Village eatery serves the most delicious Venezuelan arepas. These treats can be stuffed with 17 different fillings including a variety of cheeses, meats and vegetables. My favorite is the “De Pabellon”, which combines shredded beef, aged cheese, black beans and plantains in the tasty fried corn cake (these are made from white corn and are not sweet like the yellow corn arepas from Columbia -- they are also similar to 'gorditas' in Mexico and Salvadoran 'papusas').
I have introduced several friends (including several critical Latino friends of discerning tastes) to the joys of Caracas and they all have loved it. I suggest you check it out. Just don't go with a lot of friends, as you will have trouble getting seated. Don't forget to try the refreshing lime drink, papelon con limon.
Cross Street: Between 19th Street and 20th Street Directions: 1, 9 at 18th St; A, C, E at 23rd St
This small, diner-esque Chelsea establishment is known for its Cuban, home-style cooking - especially their Cuban sandwiches. I however loved their roast pork with white rice and black beans. Despite being covered with onions, which I am not a big fan of, the flavor of the pork was absolutely fabulous. But you had better like garlic. Especially if you try the mofongo with gravy. Don't forget to try one of the fruit shakes too.
I just recently discovered this place when I went there with friends for a post-rugby match dinner, but will be back again soon.
This little, very narrow Brazilian joint in Hell's Kitchen obviously specializes in rice and beans as the name suggests. However, their arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and feijoada (pork stew) are absolutely delicious too. I thought the meat was extremely tender and moist, melting in your mouth. Try the Guarana soft drink, it is interesting.
I will always remember my first time here. It was one of my many culinary firsts after moving to NYC. I had never had Brazilian food before and I loved it. It was a long while until I went back again, but it had nothing to do with the restaurant itself. I am glad I started going back to this awesome eatery.
Romance was in the air at Restivo Ristorante in Chelsea last night. Restivo is a small, quaint Italian restaurant that has a cozy, warm and inviting atmosphere. The room was festooned with flowers and white tree branches strung with twinkle lights. The tables were lit with candles and strewn with red rose petals.
They featured a Valentine's prix fixe menu, from which Nicky and I ordered opposite things from (better for sharing). Things got under way with me having champagne with raspberries while he had a chocolate martini with a Hershey Kiss in it. For starters I had the calamari fritte and lobster bisque and Nick had the eggplant terrine and a salad. The main course consisted of filet mignon and a nice pinot grigio for him and chicken saltimbocca and a tasty white zinf for me. We capped things off with coffee and a shot of Bailey's and Nicky ordering the tiramisu and me choosing the apple turnovers with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.
Then we went to SBNY (of all places... if you know me, you know why I would say that) to meet him for a few drinks. Then it was home for some... um, well... let's leave that to your imagination. All in all, a very pleasant Valentine's Day.
I went out to dinner last night at a Columbian restaurant in Jackson Heights called Cosita Ricas. It was quite good. I had the "special" steak. Not that I am sure what makes it special. I think it was a NY strip steak with a cilantro, but it was quite good. We also had an excellent shrimp ceviche and a not so spectacular arepa. I was sort of expecting the arepa to made with sweet corn, but it wasn't. Then I cannot believe it, but I even tasted some tongue dish... yuck. Note to self... I do not like cow tongue. Ick. But my friend wanted me to try his tongue... hmmm... and I did. The restaurant also served the tiniest bottles of Diet Coke. It took one and a half bottles to get the taste of the tongue out of my mouth. In any event, it was good to get back to exploring new types of eating establishments in the city. Coming from Pennsyltucky, I had not been exposed to many different types of ethnic restaurants and it is something I really enjoy doing in NYC and look forward to starting to do again, albeit with a different guide.