125 E. 4th St., nr. First Ave. 212-982-4868
Although you can’t throw a brick in this town without hitting a falafel shack, that doesn’t mean that the Underground Gourmet wasn’t happy to stumble upon the brand-new Taj-Almoulouk, a tiny Middle Eastern nook with ten tables and a rack of hookah pipes at the ready. The menu hews close to tradition with its focus on meze, salads, sandwiches, and kebabs, all fresh and exemplary. The hummus is daintily swirled and dappled with good olive oil; the puck-shaped falafel, made from a combination of fava and chickpeas, is delicately crisp on the outside, soft and creamy within. Most notable, though, are the made-to-order flat breads, including one topped with za’atar, as well as the pliant pita used for sandwiches. Astute chroniclers of pita pedigrees might recognize a doughy similarity to the eminent Moustache mini-chain, and as it turns out two of Taj’s owners used to work there. And that beats having another Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in the neighborhood any day.
224 W. 20th St., nr. Seventh Ave. 212-255-5511
A year to the day after Caroline Bell and her husband Chris Timbrell opened Café Grumpy in their Greenpoint neighborhood, the professionally caffeinated couple expanded to a cozy Chelsea storefront two doors down from the 10th Precinct (Bell recognizes the detectives by their “cool suits”). Like every coffee shop that takes its craft seriously, Grumpy serves the full roster of espresso drinks, but there’s also something special for the “regular coffee” drinker: a half-dozen single-origin roasts from North Carolina’s renowned Counter Culture Coffee, each ground and brewed to order. Rather than conventionally brewing drip coffee, Grumpy has invested in two Clovers, the brainchild of a pair of wired engineers from (where else?) Seattle. Each cup is made fresh, from bean to brew, in about 40 seconds, with a hybrid French press–vacuum pot technology that allows the barista to make adjustments for grind, dose, water temperature, and contact time. The resulting flavor nuances and freshness don’t come cheap: The machines, which make their East Coast debut at Grumpy, retail for $11,000 apiece. Soon, customers will be able to order samplers of all the Clovered coffees and attend regular cuppings.
120 Macdougal St., nr. Bleecker St. 212-228-6303
To a certain young, chirpy, calorie-counting segment of the population, life wouldn’t be worth living without its purportedly healthy post-gym ice-cream alternatives. In celebration of this truism, and also the fact that Los Angeles and Pinkberry did not invent frozen yogurt, comes Yoláto, a New Jersey–based company with a proprietary yogurt supplier and big plans for expansion. As the name suggests, yoláto is the gelato of frozen yogurts, or so the owners would have it, and its signature cool and tangy soft-serve is available plain or with the requisite fresh strawberry, kiwi, pineapple, blueberry, and blackberry toppings. (The shop also carries some 30 flavors of hand-scooped “yogurt-gelato.”) “Some people are comparing us to Pinkberry,” says partner Chris Solano, “and although they have a nice presentation, to me their yogurt’s a little bland,” not realizing he may be inciting an ugly East Coast–West Coast frozen-dairy-treat war.