Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Back to the basics at Jack's Wife Freda

Jack’s Wife Freda is an intimate, unique and somewhat quirky restaurant with two locations in Manhattan: 224 Lafayette Street in SoHo and 50 Carmine Street in the West Village.

What kind of food is it? ZAGAT characterized it as, “‘delish’ American fare with a ‘Middle Eastern twist’” while New York Mag called it, “South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine.” I personally have no idea where the “grandmother” vibe came into it, but it seemed to me like a menu that brought dinning back to the basics (vegetables, fish and meat) in a delightfully unpretentious way.

You’ll understand what I mean when you take a look at the menu. You can’t help but notice the drawings on their paper are simple sketches of individual items and basic cookware. And the vibe of the restaurant is classically café-chic with wooden tables, café bistro chairs and brass light fixtures. I looked over to our neighbors, two young women – one with a whole fish, the other with a burger and fries, each plate sparsely decorated with hardly any garnish. I appreciated that. It allowed the food itself to stand out on the plain white plates. And there was nothing trying too hard about it: nothing camouflaged in superfluous lettuce, herbs or sauces – just food on a plate.

My friend and I chose the spiced beet dip as our appetizer, which was pretty amazing. It was much creamier and sweeter than I imagined and was topped with crumbled feta cheese and herbs. The pita, which was served on the side, was warm and grilled, and consistently replenished until we finished our dip. For our entrees, we both ordered the same thing and loved it. The dish was called, Ground Lamb and Eggplant “Lasagna” – “lasagna” was in quotes since there was no actual pasta involved. Instead it was three layers of eggplant baked with a lamb meat sauce and presented in a white ceramic dish. The cheese on top was melted and slightly brown and tasted like a delicious moussaka – perhaps an influence from yet another region of the world. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A taste of Caracas, without the 5 hour flight

In the mood for something different? Last night, John and I went to a Venezuelan restaurant in Brooklyn called Caracas Arepa Bar. There are a few different locations in the city (one in the East Village at 7th and 1st, one in Roneria, Brooklyn and another in Rockaway), but we went to the location on Grand Street in Williamsburg.

The vibe was super relaxed with tea light candles, green wood tables and unfinished walls. The bar in front channels the vibe of an old shack decorated in plywood and a tin roof. The back room hosted the main dining area with walls of art showing city views of Caracas. There was a 15 minute wait which to me is always a good sign of great food and a popular spot, plus the host offered us waters and kept a close eye on our table so that our experience wasn't too painful.

On top of the atmosphere, the food was great. They specialized in arepa, which are sandwich buns made out of 100% corn flour giving them a grainy but soft texture. They had a ton of arepas to choose from on the menu - about half were vegetarian.

We started with an order of guacamole and chips, made out of dried sweet plantains. They provide you with a small bottle of sweet and spicy sauce which is really to die for, so don't be put off by the plastic bottle. We were smothering it all over our food. I'm only now regretting that I didn't ask for the recipe...

For our main meal, we ordered one arepa each. Our server recommended 1-2 per person, but since we also ordered the appetizer we thought it would be enough. We were right. I chose the first one on the menu called, De Pabellón: shredded beef, black beans, white salty cheese and sweet plantains. The savory and sweet combination was amazing, and the beef tasted as if it had been marinated for days. It left me full and deliciously satisfied.

"De Pabellón" arepa: shredded beef, black
beans, white cheese and sweet plantains
John chose the special: pork shoulder, sweet plantains, cheese and jalapeño. It was recommended by our server, but unfortunately wasn't a great choice. John said the only thing he could taste was the jalapeño, which dominated the flavor so much that he couldn't taste the meat... or anything else.

That said, we were on our way to a concert at Brooklyn Bowl and wanted a casual meal that wasn't your typically predictable dine and dash chain (i.e. Chipotle or Chop't). This was the perfect change to our normal dinner out and I would definitely recommend stopping by. There was so much more on the menu to try, so if you go -  please let me know if you find a new favorite dish!