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Little Luxuries at Jack’s

Jack'sLaura E. Lee Jack’s, 101 Second Ave.

Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar, at 101 Second Avenue, is in the East Village, but not of the East Village. Jack’s introduces itself with the false modesty of a neighborhood speakeasy: The plain white door bears no sign, and the chief adornment of the facade is the air conditioner’s ventilation unit. The word “Luxury” is a sly joke as it applies to décor; it is meant to be taken with deadly seriousness, however, when it comes to food.

Jack’s has the most refined cuisine in the East Village, save for Degustation, around the corner on East 5th and also owned by restauranteur Jack Lamb, and perhaps also David Chang’s several Momofuku restaurants. The format at Jack’s, as at Degustation, is small-scale plates, though Jack’s is surely one of the city’s few seafood tapas places. The combination of small plates and a small menu means that a party of four can eat practically everything Jack’s serves, though a sounder approach might be to order two or three each of five or so dishes.

My wife and I invited our friends Roberta and Jerry, who say proudly that they never eat out. Jack’s, consequently, blew their minds. The first dish to arrive was the roasted oysters, which are served in their shell on a bed of peppercorns in a tureen, thus creating the momentary illusion that you have much more to eat than in fact you do. The oysters are made with chorizo, setting up a glorious battle between plump brininess and sharp smokiness. But there was much more. “I just got a whiff of something,” Jerry said. “I think it’s some kind of cheese.” Read more…

At B Bar, A Garden Paradise

Gas CafeJoel RaskinB Bar and Grill, 40 East Fourth Street.

When I sat down the other day to have lunch in the garden courtyard of B Bar and Grill, at 40 East Fourth Street, I did the natural thing. I took a seat facing out towards the Bowery. But then I thought: Why am I looking at traffic when I could be looking at the garden? And so I turned my back on the street.

Here is what I saw: A light breeze stirred the branches of the six great, spreading locust trees which grow inside the courtyard. Straw baskets, some as big and broad as beehives and others the size and shape of Chinese lanterns, hang from the branches, and the breeze had set them in gentle, bobbing motion. It was a warm day, but the broad leaves filtered out the sunlight and cast dappled shapes on the brick floor. The garden is enormous — a 3,000-square-foot space where a gas station once stood — and the sounds of talk and clattering silverware drifted up towards the sky. The East Village is not a serene place; but B Bar is.

There is a very complex, and very charming, interplay between “indoors” and “outdoors” at B Bar. Only one half of the roof is open to the sky; the other half is covered by a bamboo trellis, which leaves stripes rather than blotches of sunlight on the brick tile of the ground — that is, floor; no, ground. The surrounding wall is pierced by wide openings which offer prospects of Fourth Street and the Bowery. At B Bar you are embowered, but your beloved street-world is very much with you. Step through the wall, and you’re there.
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At Northern Spy, Purity on a Plate

Northern Spy Food CompanyMeghan Keneally Northern Spy Food Co.

Northern Spy Food Co., at 511 East 12th Street between Avenues A and B, is a very pure place. The produce is locally grown, the wine is artisanal and even the very simple décor — blue benches lining white walls — “incorporates as much reclaimed and repurposed materials as possible,” according to the restaurant’s website. The meat comes from “the best and most progressive butcher on the East Coast.” Even the name conjures up purity, since a Northern Spy is a New York State heirloom apple.

I was not initially aware of the depth of Northern Spy’s commitment to purity. At lunch the other day, I asked my waiter if the turkey in the turkey sandwich was regular Boar’s Head. He shot me a look of pure disbelief; maybe he thought I was needling him. The turkey came from a farm in Pennsylvania; it had been roasted in-house, and then shaped into a roulade for uniform slicing. And the turkey was, indeed, dense and moist and darker in color than most commercial birds, and made for a beautiful sandwich.
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At Caracas, The Holy Arepa

CaracasIan Duncan Caracas Arepa Bar, 93½ East Seventh Street.

Caracas Arepa Bar, at 93½ East Seventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, is just about the only restaurant in the East Village which is crowded at lunch — at least the only one worth eating at. This came as a huge surprise to the owner, Maribel Araujo, who told me the other day that she never thought the place would develop a lunch crowd. I said, “There’s no mystery — you’re the only place that’s that good and that cheap.”

Caracas is a tiny, clattering little restaurant which specializes in arepas, the soft corn-flour pocket bread eaten all over Venezuela. The arepa at Caracas has always struck me as the perfect combination of pliability — to hold the filling — and crispness. Maribel explained that while all arepas are cooked on a griddle, Caracas puts theirs in an oven for an additional 10 minutes, so that the dough on the underside fully cooks without losing its springiness, while the outside reaches the proper state of crunchiness. I have no source of comparison, but I once brought arepas from Caracas to Penelope Cruz, and she pronounced them completely authentic. To be strictly factual, I shared them with an extremely beautiful woman from Caracas who looks as much like Penepole Cruz as a mortal can. She was very impressed. And that was recommendation enough for me.
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Taking Steak Seriously at Buenos Aires

PICT8808Hadas Goshen Buenos Aires, 513 East Sixth Street.

As a person of encroaching middle age, I have a largely declinist worldview. Certain things, however, give me hope for the next generation, including the large numbers of thoughtful young persons who have rejected their parents’ counsel in order to engage in pleasingly unhealthful activities, including smoking, drinking to excess, and the eating of large quantities of red meat. Thus, despite public service ads advising Americans to eat more “plant matter,” the 16-ounce steak is making a comeback in the youth setting of the East Village.

Allow me, then, to introduce Buenos Aires, a restaurant at 513 East Sixth Street which features the high-cholesterol cuisine of the South American pampas. I would be predisposed towards any restaurant with that name, since in Buenos Aires I learned to eat cuts of meat, and even inner organs, that I had never tried before; at a little stand in San Telmo — the city’s East Village, more or less — I ate rich, greasy slabs of flank steak taken straight from the grill and slapped between thick slices of white bread. ‘Twas very Heaven.

Buenos Aires-the-restaurant is a no-funny-business steak place. The décor features a few standard photos of tango dancers, and two large-screen TVs which are turned to soccer games night and day, thus bathing the place in the electric green glow of distant soccer fields. You can, if you wish, order spaghetti, lobster, chicken or various kinds of milanese—breaded beef cutlet. But why bother? Stick to the house specialty.
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The Day | A New Voice

RoccoAndPhil2Rachel Wise

Good morning, East Village.

Our community is filled with writers whose bylines are recognized well beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood. Today, we’re proud to note that James Traub, a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine who is equally adept at writing about foreign policy or regional governors in Afghanistan or baseball royalty in the Bronx, is bringing his talents to The Local.

Mr. Traub, who has an office on Second Avenue, sought us out for the opportunity to explore the neighborhood he loves in print. He will be writing about the East Village’s extraordinarily diverse food culture in a series of idiosyncratic reported posts that we’ll be featuring over the coming weeks and months. We hope that he will be the first of many of our neighborhood’s authors who choose to share their voices with The Local’s readers.

In other neighborhood news, we wanted to let you know that there is a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss the new rules on community gardens. The NYC Community Garden Coalition is hosting the meeting at the New School in Wollman Hall, 66 West 12th Street, fifth floor from noon to 4.

NYU Journalism’s Stephanie Butnick will attend the meeting and offer her report Monday. In the meantime, you can read more about the recently enacted rules here.

EVGrieve has a nice interview with sketch artist Terry Galmitz, whose new show “My East Village” opens this weekend. And if you think bedbugs are a big deal here in the East Village take a look at what they have to deal with up the road a piece.