Jan. 31. 9/10
Veselka - 144 Second Ave., East Village
Corn and coconut chowder, Ukranian kielbasa sandwich on challah, hot apple cider
Khushie - 139 Essex St., Lower East Side
Lamb Vindaloo, Naan
After my wonderful experience last time (see Jan. 16), I'd been craving a return trip to Khushie ever since. Eager to try their lamb vindaloo, my favorite Indian dish, I came in with high hopes. Again, I decided to eat in, and killed the ten minute wait by enjoying the fun music filling the little room.
If ten minutes seems like a long wait for Indian, that’s because I forgot to mention another important aspect that sets Khushie apart from the herd. Like Chinese restaurants, the staff makes everything to order rather than dishing out pre-made food. That difference, I believe, is a key factor in the great cooking they produce. It also substantially stokes the appetite, as the scents of curries, corianders and chilis of other people’s orders fill the air.
The vindaloo was, at the very least, worth the wait. It was as wonderful as the kali mirch, having a nice, building heat but also much deeper and more complicated layers of flavor. The first thing it reminded me of was the food at Sripraphai (see Jan. 8, Feb. 5), which can also be spicy but is never only spicy. There is always flavor beyond flavor. Back at Khushie, the portion of lamb was fairly good and the pieces were soft and well-cooked. It was only the last two pieces of meat that were fatty or tough. If it hadn’t been for them, I really think this meal would deserve a rating of ten.
The naan again was perfect. It was soft, light and delicious. Since trying it, it's become hard for me to have naan at other places. Everywhere I go, I want to taste like this. So far, only a few places (e.g. Angon) have come close. Needless to say, I will definitely be returning to Khushie, and though it's only been a few hours, I'm already craving it again.
Schiller's Liquor Bar - 131 Rivington St., Lower East Side
Steak frites au poivre, a glass of "good" red wine, some of Perry's bangers and mash
It was a frosty Sunday night and the East Village was so dead I thought of the eerie calms in zombie movies before the carnage starts. The Lower East Side wasn’t much crazier save for occasional indie tunes blaring out of neighborhood bars. So I was quite surprised when Perry and I got to Schiller’s Liquor Bar at 8:45 on a Sunday to find the place not only packed but full of energy. In fact, a table for two required a forty-five minute wait. (Schiller’s doesn’t take reservations, but for some reason, I didn’t mind. It was either the fun vibe or my insatiable craving for steak frites.)
We killed time and kicked back some IPAs at Welcome to the Johnsons and returned forty-five minutes later. The raucous buzz in the air had only grown. It continued unabated throughout the night, our city’s answer to crickets in the country. It makes sense that Schiller’s would be a hotspot for the chilly night in question though. Its atmosphere, consisting largely of white light and wine bottles painted black, was trendy but informal, cool but relaxing. In short, everything a Keith McNally bistro should be.
The dinner menu does feature some traditional bistro influence (French onion soup, steaks) but aims internationally to appeal to everyone. For instance, fish and chips sit alongside Cuban sandwiches and on Wednesdays, wiener schnitzel with spaetzle. Perry followed the English thread and ordered the Sunday special, a very tasty dish of strongly seasoned bangers and mash and a glass of beer. I stuck with my initial instinct of steak frites.
Before I get into the food itself, let me detour with a short word on value. As in, it's a great value. At $18, the steak frites was one of the most expensive items on the menu. The house wines are playfully divided into three columns, cheap ($5 per glass), decent ($6) and good ($7). The appetizers ranged from $6-$12.
Now steak isn’t my favorite food, but every so often, I’ll really have a craving for it. When this happens, I like satisfying it at bistros, because they provide a nice intermediary between divey diners and serious French restaurants. It’s even better when the frites are as delicious as they are at Schiller’s. The plate was stacked with fries and I finished them without complaint. The steak au poivre (medium rare) wasn’t as excellent due to a little overseasoning, but it was still delicious and went well with the good wine.
Perry very much enjoyed his meal as well although we both decided against desserts. We lingered a little longer after our plates were cleared, a little reluctant to set back into the cold night. But eventually, we had to go, leaving behind the still-powerful crackle of voices joyfully deep in conversation. 7/10