Monday, June 22, 2009

Taste of the East Village

I spent Sunday afternoon with my friends exploring the eclectic cuisine of the East Village. We weren't attempting to recreate the gluttony of the Taste of Ann Arbor; we were more interested in sampling the unique flavors of the neighborhood.

We selected smaller, cheaper places and partnered up to ease the pain on our stomachs and wallets. Our parents taught us proper manners, so we shared everything. This is why I've listed so many items -- I didn't actually eat four entire sausages and six scoops of ice cream. Here is how the food tour went down:


Otafuku
236 East 9th Street
What I Tasted
- Takoyaki: deep-fried balls of dough filled with chopped octopus, ginger and scallions, and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed flakes and fish flakes
- Okonomiyaki: fried savory pancake filled with cabbage, squid (you can also get pork, beef or shrimp) and a couple different types of shredded vegetables, and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed flakes and fish flakes

The flavor was great, and the octopus and squid were cooked perfectly and were of excellent quality. The only thing I'd do differently is lessen the amount of the okonomiyaki sauce and mayonaisse. This easily was the most filling meal.

Wechsler's Currywurst & Bratwurst
120 First Avenue
What I Tasted
- Wild boar sausage
- Sauerkraut
- Currywurst & fries
- Chicken apricot sausage

The wild boar and chicken apricot were juicy and flavorful and didn't even need the spicy dijon served on the side. The sauerkraut, as is to be expected from an authentic German wurst haus, was fantastic. I'm only used to curry from Indian and Japanese food, but the homemade curry sauce smothering the bratwurst was a pleasant surprise. Also, this place has an excellent selection of beers for about $6 each.

Seoul Station
81 St. Mark's Place
What I Tasted
- Spicy pork Korean tacos

The taco was my favorite dish from the entire afternoon. The tortilla was somewhat crisp, but still foldable. The spicy pork was intense. It had just the right level of spice -- hot enough for a decent kick, but not so hot that my mouth was burning. And it was only $2.50 for a single taco. You could easily make a satisfying meal with two of them. Also, I saw Spicy Squid over Rice on the menu. The opportunity to try that dish is worth a return trip.

Crif Dogs
113 St. Mark's Place
What I Tasted
- Tsunami: a bacon-wrapped house dog with teriyaki, pineapple and green onions
- Cheese fries

Once again, Crif Dogs serves up a winning bacon-wrapped hot dog. I usually go for the Spicy Redneck but my eating partner, E-Dawg, was visiting from LA, so I let him choose our fare. My only stipulation was that he stay away from the Philly Tubesteak. Not to take anything away from the bacon, but the Tsunami further supported my belief that pineapple makes everything better.

Australian Homemade
115 St. Mark's Place
What I Tasted
- Peanutbutter
- Strawberry cheesecake
- Banana caramel chip
- Macadamia crunch
- Rum raisin
- Belgian chocolate

It was all awesome! I have a major sweet tooth, so your ice cream must suck immensely if it disappoints me. I listed the flavors above in order of what I liked best.

Ten Degrees
121 St. Mark's Place
What I Tasted
- Rose sangria
- Red sangria

Ten Degrees is a fun wine bar. They had a 2-for-1 happy hour special until 8pm, so nine of us shared four carafes of sangria for a very agreeable $99, which included tax and tip. I would stay away from the rose sangria and stick to the red. There is an excellent couch area situated right by the sidewalk, so it's also great for enjoying the weather and people-watching. With such a great atmosphere and an amazing drink deal, Ten Degrees is a nice alternative to any all-you-can-drink brunch spot. (I realize this was not technically a restaurant, but we ate the liquor-soaked fruit from the sangria. I think that counts as food.)

Poco
33 Avenue B
What I Tasted
- Lobster mac-n-cheese
- Crispy pork belly with navel orange slices & pickled ginger

At this point, the group had splintered and only four of us remained. The cheese in the lobster mac-n-cheese was a bit runny but took nothing away from the superb taste of the manchego & lobster. The pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The combination of flavors was exceptional.

El Castillo de Jagua
113 Rivington Street
What I Tasted
- Pineapple tres leches
- Guava tres leches

Situated next door to the Hotel on Rivington, this hole-in-the-wall Dominican spot serves the best tres leches I've tasted in the city. The pineapple and guava provide mere hints of flavor, so they don't overpower the dessert. And at $3 for a fairly large slice, it's quite a deal. (I know this is no longer East Village, but we wanted tres leches dammit.)

The total damage for the afternoon was only $55, an outstanding price for six restaurants, an ice cream shop and a wine bar. Thanks to all of my friends who participated in this food crawl. We'll do it again later this summer with a Taste of Nolita.

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