JP’s Food Adventures: On Coming Back to the LES

JP, hunting and gathering in Chinatown. Photo by Cynthia Lamb.
JP, hunting and gathering in Chinatown. Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

After seven wonderful years living below Delancey, and seven before that in the East Village, it’s time for me to do what many musicians have been done over the past decade: move to Brooklyn. While the Lower East side is where it’s at, as far as the Manhattan music scene is concerned, Brooklyn is simply a more musician friendly borough. There’s more going on, and more of my own kind there. And it’s hella cheap, if you choose the right place to land.

Cynthia and I are setting sail for Sunset Park. We have no illusions about whether our dear friends here will come visit us in our new home. Most will not. Fair enough. For years I haven’t gone much above 14th Street unless I was getting paid to do so. So we’ll be back often, both for friends and food. The food scene here has gotten more interesting over the last decade. We have an abundance of everything from super cheap to luxurious, the two often side by side. You can cover more culinary ground in a fifteen minute stroll through the LES than some cities offer in an entire day.

Sunset Park is great for Mexican and Chinese food, but it doesn’t have the breadth of the scene here on the LES. Here are some of the food related establishments that help assure we’ll be taking the eighteen minute ride back on the D train regularly.

Photo by Cynthia Lamb.

The Essex Street Market – I never tire of the juxtaposition of utterly pedestrian and downright posh here. The place is full of good stuff, and there’s now a clock ticking on its demise. Enjoy while you can.

Café Katja – This might be one of the best mid-priced restaurants in the neighborhood. Their take on Austrian food is delicious, and their prices are very fair. Can’t wait to see how things go with their planned expansion.

Eldridge Street – While I’m excited to explore Sunset Park’s Chinatown, it’s going to be tough to beat the dumpling joints and noodle shops on Eldridge. Fontana’s – a great place for drinks and live music – is right there, too. Great cheap food + drinks + live music = magic. Eldridge Street is magic.

Clandestino – I’ll still be consulting for their wine list, and I’ll still be meeting up with friends here. This is what a grown up neighborhood bar should be: not a cheap place to get liquored up, but a civilized, chill environment for relaxing over drinks. Without a whiff of pretension, which is important.

Russ and Daughters – I don’t always drop small stacks of bills on cured fish, but when I do it’s at Russ and Daughters. Because they have the best stuff, and I love cured fish.

Doughnut Plant and Kossar’s Bialys – Doughnuts and bialys are not part of my regular diet, so when I decide to indulge I want great examples. I consider these two establishments the Carbohydrate Kings of Grand Street.

El Castillo de Jagua – I see more tortas than Cubanos in my future, but the Cuban sandwich here is a long time favorite, and worth a special trip.

Yunnan Kitchen – I like their upscale take on Yunnan cuisine. My only Yunnan option in Brooklyn will be a decidedly lowbrow (albeit delicious) noodle shop, so I’ll be back to eat here.

By next month Cynthia and I will be sleeping on the other side of the river. We will no longer be doing a weekly column online, but will continue to cover the food scene for the LoDown’s print version. See you around the neighborhood.

JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well,  consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.

When I spend a little more than usual I like getting something that tastes like I paid much more for it. Domaine Lalande, 2009, Les Hauts de Lalande, Cite de Carcassonne ($16 at Seward Park Liquors) is such a wine. It’s a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot. The Merlot gives the wine some softness, the Cab some backbone and the Syrah a big fruit character. I can’t say about the Petit Verdot is doing in there. I can say this wine is huge but balanced, and incredibly smooth – almost velvety. Dark fruits are pronounced, but not overbearing, a hint of oak keeping them in line. Overall it’s a big, yet elegant mouthful.