Archive for January, 2009

Eat: Svenska Brothers Open Tribeca Coffee House, Kaffe 1668

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kafsm4Nestled amid the impersonal buildings of lower Greenwich Street that sport corporate neon signs for Whole Foods, Bank of America and T-Mobile, is Kaffe 1668. It’s a cozy coffee shop opened in October 2009 by Swedish twin brothers Tomas and Mikael Tjarnberg.

“This neighborhood needed a good coffee shop,” said Mikael Tjarnberg, sitting next to an equally tall and skinny Tomas, both of whom live about three minutes away from Kaffe 1668. On a recent Sunday afternoon, jazz played on the sound system, smells of brewing Ethiopian blends filled the air and nearly every seat was filled by young families, couples or people working on their laptops taking advantage of the free WiFi. Mikael continued, “We wanted to create a very high quality place with a focus on good coffee: fresh kafsm2beans, good roasters, and a nice environment as well.” Kaffe 1668 serves single brewed cups of coffees from a revolving roster of Direct Trade (better than Fair Trade) beans that might originate in El Salvador or Rwanda. Kaffe 1668 also serves a full array of espresso drinks and tea.

“We take our tea very seriously,” added Tomas, all of which can be smelled prior to purchase at the clever, magnetized “Tea Sniffing Station.” Kaffe 1668 also carries an impressive selection of baked goods including Swedish Chocolate Balls, all made daily by manager Aya Nakanura. Tomas explained that “kaffe” is “coffee” in Swedish, and “1668” is the year that coffee became New York City’s favorite breakfast beverage according to some history books, overtaking beer.kafsheep

Kaffe 1668 has a definite northern European feel, but it’s not obviously Swedish, except for a few discretely placed elk-shaped items and the not so discrete abundance of wooden, woolly sheep, ranging in size from a toy to a rocking horse. “This is new,” stated Tomas, referring to the sheep—some arranged in clusters, others hidden in nooks—that have multiplied in the past three months, “it’s a little excessive.” Mikael, the sheep-buying enthusiast of the two brothers, mentioned that eight more sheep are currently in transit from Sweden.

Kaffe 1668
275 Greenwich Street (near Murray Street)
212 693 3750
Weekdays: 6:30am to 9pm
Weekends: 8am to 9pm
www.kaffe1668.com

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Eat: The Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Chinatown with Little Italy Native Arthur DiBiasi, Part 1

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Part 1: The Introduction

Arthur DiBiasi has recently discovered Chinatown’s wealth of Vietnamese restaurants, despite living next to Chinatown his whole life as he’s a Little Italy native. “I just sized it up for a while,” says DiBiasi of the less than nondescript restaurant Pho Bang on Mott Street that he’d become curious about. “But I’d heard weird things about dogs and cats,” concedes DiBiasi, referring to the meats people are known to eat in Vietnam.

dscn8593sm1DiBiasi is a food connoisseur, he’s often at home preparing one of his famous Italian cheesecakes or giambottas (Italian roasted stew), or dining out at one of of the neighborhood restaurants. He’s pals with chefs at the best local restaurants and specialty shop owners in the area, such as Peasant and Di Palo’s, and splurges on a $100 bottle of balsamic vinegar once in a while. But surprisingly, given his daring and adventurous pallet, DiBiasi had never tried Vietnamese. “I love Chinese food,” he stresses, as he is a fixture at Congee Bowery Restaurant and very happy eating the most disturbing item off the menu, “but I just thought Vietnamese was a totally different animal.”

A recent impromptu group dinner at the subterranean Doyers Vietnamese Restaurant had him face to face with his first pho, the traditional Vietnamese soup with rice noodles. It peaked his interest, but instinctively he knew there was something better. It prompted him several days later to venture into Pho Bang, the restaurant he’d been surveilling on Mott Street.

dscn8592sm“I ordered the soup with a pork chop to play it safe,” recalls DiBiasi; he ordered take-out so he could eat it in the privacy of his own home. When he unloaded the contents, it was soup in a container, a pork chop and a snarl of fresh greens–Thai basil, bean sprouts and lemon. “I ate the soup, then the pork chop and threw out the greens, I thought it was decoration.” He knew something was not right and the following week he ordered the same meal at the same restaurant but stayed.

He stared at his soup when it arrived. In a moment of humility he called over the waiter, “I knew I was doing everything wrong, I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me.” The waiter took the knife out of DiBiasi’s hand, cut the pork chop into pieces and put it in the steaming bowl of soup, adding ripped-up basil leaves, bean sprouts and squeezed lemon juice. “I consider that the first time I ate Vietnamese and it was phenomenal.” A few days later, feeling adventurous, he ordered Spring Rolls, deep fried rolls with pork, which arrived with a plate of lettuce and mint. “The waiter, who is like a friend at this point, wrapped the lettuce and mint around the roll, dipped it in the sauce for me.”

DiBiasi has since become a Vietnamese food expert with the zeal of the recent convert. In just a few months he can walk into almost any Vietnamese restaurant in the neighborhood and he’s greeted with warm hellos from the wait staff and owners. He rips into the various piles of leafy greens, wrapping and dunking Spring and Summer rolls as if he had been born in Vietnam. “The food is clean, fresh, not as greasy as Chinese. It’s cleaner on the palette, it’s a totally different experience.”

dscn8590smArthur DiBiasi’s neck in neck winners thus far are Pho Bang Restaurant and Tu Do. Details to come in the next installment where DiBiasi will compare his favorites with Nan Son on Grand Street.

Pho Bang Restaurant
157 Mott Street (between Grand and Broome Streets)
212 966 3797

Tu Do
102 Bowery (between Hester and Grand Streets)
212 966 2666