Melt Shop – More Than Just an After-Tot

Sometimes, you want a good grilled cheese.

And other times, you want to go to a grilled cheese restaurant after you have already eaten dinner and indulge in some tater tots.

I didn’t plan on it, it was a total after-tot…get it?

I know, my dad humor is wasted on you foodies.

I went to Melt Shop after dinner but before seeing the inimitable Aaron Lazar in “The Last Ship” especially for these:

20141122_191416 Loaded tots

Do you see anything wrong with this photograph? Because if you do, you should probably find a different blog – this one just ain’t for you. These are decadence personified – Yeah, Amurrica! Crispy tater tots positively LOADED with creamy cheese sauce, crunchy bacon, slightly spicy pickled jalapenos, and a generous shower of garlicky Parmesan cheese. This is too much and yet just enough. It’s over the top and low end. It’s crispy bacon and salty parmesan cheese. It’s wonderfully rich nacho cheese and tart, none-too-limp jalapenos. It’s just about perfect.

20141122_191307 Heath Bar crunch and Nutella-fluff milkshakes

As if you couldn’t guess…these are also exemplary. The Nutella-fluff is almost intimidatingly sweet, with ribbons of smooth Nutella and the sugary, sticky backnote of marshmallow fluff – only serious sweet tooths need apply to this one. The Heath Bar crunch is more my style – floral vanilla milkshake studded with chocolatey, crunchy bits of Heath Bars. Both shakes are thick but still sippable, which I like – I hate a milkshake that is too thick to sip with a straw. 

I have to go back for the sandwiches, I know this. But for quick counter service, a friendly and clean dining room, and a location literally at Broadway’s doorstep…you can’t do better than Melt Shop for a delicious snack.

Don’t make it just an after-tot. 

Blue Smoke – My Favorite BBQ in NYC

I’m not a big one for BBQ. I would almost always rather have the Korean version or some steak. But, when the group wants some ribs and beers, I can hunker down with the best of them. This particular group voted to try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke.

20141109_182410 This restaurant is huge and casual – big bar playing sports on the televisions, massive tables, and Texan sized booths. This is perfect for a rowdy crowd of friends, a family with young kids, or some folks who want some wings and beer while they watch the game.


20141109_184455 BBQ potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip

Sleeper hit of my LIFE! This is almost perfect - greaseless, crispy chips that are HUGE, smoky, and a little sweet. Then they are dipped in some of the greatest blue cheese dressing that I have ever enjoyed. I mean, really…excellent dressing. Super tick and tangy with hunks of salty, funky cheese, sharp chives, and crispy bacon crumbles. The only way that this could be better is if the chips were warm, which the menu stated that they should be. These are a MUST GET.
20141109_191320 Grits

Soupier than I normally have, but delicious. A little sweet, super buttery,and the perfect vehicle for the vineagary house made hot sauce.  20141109_191325 Sampler platter

A must get if , like me, you are new to this ‘cue.

Backyard chicken – surprisingly delicious! The chicken is charred and smoky, with a hefty dose of salt and pepper. Teh meat inside is juicy and prime for the tangy housemade bbq sauce.

Sausage – I wasn’t even fast enough to snag this.

Pulled pork – excellent. Tender but not cottony with an equal balance of meat, spicy, tangy, and savory flavors. Didn’t need any other accompaniment.

Ribs – the best. I would get these baby backs again any day of the week. Sublime - almost as good as Chinese ribs. A thickly burnished, lacquered surface with fatty, soft, meaty flesh. The favorite of the platter, especially when enjoyed with the sweet and salty pickles.

20141109_200213 Chocolate layer cake

Nothing that great – a little dry, a little flat in the flavor department. The banana cream pie fares much better, but best of all is the espresso, served with a side of amaretto.

This place is great! It’ ain’t REAL down home ‘cue, but it beats the heck out of Dinosaur and it certainly scratches the itch for some great ribs and grits.

Mile End’s Awesome Smoked Meat Hash

A little late to the game, I headed to Mile End for brunch.

20141109_100728 Upside of being late to the game: Now wait at primo brunch time. Walk tight in, grab a table, and order a TON of Montreal Jewish food.

They have poutine at 10 am, y’all. I serious regret not ordering it.

20141109_102308 Latkes

The only dark spot in an otherwise shining experience. These are properly crispy without  but much too dense, bordering on leaden, within. I want my latkes like crunchy flavor ninjas not heavy potato bombs.  20141109_102314 Montreal style bagel with whitefish

The bagel is almost a revelation. It’s fluffy and chewy within, with a slightly sweet, thin, properly crispy crust. It’s lighter than typical NY bagels but with a pleasant sour tang that Montreal bagels lack. It’s a fantastic hybrid. The whitefish salad isn’t my favorite – it’s not creamy enough or seasoned enough. I far prefer Russ and Daughters -but this bagel would be fabulous with a schmear and some lox. Destination worthy item for sure.  20141109_102320 Smoked meat hash

My favorite hash in town. Sorry, mom, this even beats yours. The smoked meat here – pastrami to us hooligans in NYC – is phenomenal. Fatty and thick cut, with a peppery, spicy edge that isn’t too salty or unnecessarily greasy. It’s paired with sweet onions and soft on the inside, cirsp on the outside, cubed potatoes. Oh yeah, and it’s topped with a lovely fried egg. Add some Sriracha (available on request), and you’re in business.

The shocking part about this isn’t that it isn’t crazy heavy – the portion is perfect for sharing and the flavors are balanced and tasty.  20141109_102330 Chicken liver with gribenes

It ain’t Sammy’s, but what is? Add some pickles to the light, creamy pate and you are in business. What it lacks in salt it makes up for in smooth texture and deep, mineral flavors. Those pickled onions are sweet, tangy, and really phenomenal. I would absolutely order this again – the soft pumpernickel bread ain’t no slouch, either.

20141109_100847 Mile End was worth the wait! Prices are on the high side, but portions are fair, service is great, and food is awesome! Head here for some smoked meat and a bagel. I loved this so much that my next stop might just have to be Montreal!

Upland – A Tasty, if Pricey, Neighborhood Bistro

First the moral: Don’t run to a new restaurant just because it’s on Eater’s hot list.

Now the story:

Last Saturday night, we rushed to our reservation at Upland, the much buzzed about new restaurant by chef Justin Smille, lately of Il Buco Alimentari. It’s a seasonal restaurant with California twists from his native Upland. I used to do improv matches in Upland all the time, so I was obviously eager to see how someone could make my hometown comfort food seem high end and special.

Upland is casual but trendy, with a long, oval bar and plenty of seating. The space is dark but not too much so, and seems perfect for a double date or a quick appetizer with friends before hitting the town.

20141108_190739 Potato bread and butter with smoked salt, chives, and lemon zest

A high point of the evening. The bread arrives warm and light, with a fluffy but not cottony texture. The butter melts quickly on the bread, imparting a slightly sharp, slightly citrusy scent to the bread. We devoured this loaf and would have gladly asked for another.  20141108_193652 Beef tartare with puffed rice, anchovy, and egg yolk

Meh. The seasoning is all off for me – mushrooms make it earthy to the point of tasting like dirt. The puffed rice seems textually incongruent and the whole thing lacks salt and spice. Some tabasco sauce or lemon juice would do wonders for this, because the beef is tender and hand cut and the yolk is wonderfully rich. Unfortunately, this falls way flat for me.  20141108_193701 Crispy artichokes

Very good, if uninspired. The artichokes come in full, meaty bites with clumps of super crispy leaves. They are like potato chips, but even better because of their garlicky-buttery-lemony bath. They aren’t too greasy or too salty – bar food done really  well.  20141108_195736 Farro spaghetti with uni, scallion, and sesame

The best entree that we ordered (skip the branzino, which is fine but nothing more.) The pasta comes chilled and is naturally al dente, with a lovely, wheaty taste. It contrasts well with the briny, clean, almost sweet uni. This must be Santa Barbara uni, judging from its mild flavor. The cold, chewy pasta is tempered with nutty sesame oil, sharp scallions,and just a hint of heat. This is an excellent dish - while not destination worthy, its certainly a must get if you are here.
20141108_203801 Cinnamon sugar doughnuts

Warm, light, sweet. Very tasty, especially with the stracciatella ice cream.

20141108_190338 If this meal were half the price, I would declare it a triumph. However, for the pacing and the price…well, this is just not a great value. The food tastes like a very good neighborhood spot, but the hype is that it’s the second coming of you-know who. If this were billed as what it is – a lovely neighborhood joint – I would have loved it. So, if you go there with those expectations and very deep pockets – you will be impressed. And don’t miss the carbs here – bread, spaghetti, and doughnuts make a mighty fine meal here.

Upland on Urbanspoon

Pure Thai Shophouse’s Subtle Lunch

It’s been a long time since I went to Pure Thai Shophouse, mostly because I moved out of the neighborhood. It’s too casual to be a destination place – stools with no backs, no reservations taken, usually a long line out back. But when I stopped by the old neighborhood for lunch, I popped in here.

And wow was it worth it.

via

Curry puffs

The best curry puffs in the city. I have tried them all, so you may believe me on this. These are sublime. The pastry is buttery and flaky, strong enough to dip into the accompanying sweet and tangy cucumber sauce without breaking. The filling is dense and fragrant with curry powder. Curry has so many layers of flavor – floral and earthy and savory and spicy. This curry has them all – it’s a small handful but the flavor packs quite a punch. Don’t miss these fabulous vegetarian curry puffs.

20141103_140901

Pork Larb

This daily special is light, subtly flavored, and downright delicious. Many versions of larb rely heavily on garlic, onion, and chiles – this was all about he subtle flavors. The earthiness of gritty toasted rice powder. Pork’s inherent sweetness. Cilantro’s grassy scent. The onions are tempered by a quick minute over the heat and the garlic is not overpowering. This is a must get.

20141103_140643

Green Papaya Salad

Good but not spectacular.The chewy little dried shrimp are a welcome addition and the papaya is crunchy in a citrusy dressing. However, the dressing is too soupy and not nearly spicy enough. even though I asked for it a s spicy as it comes, it was barely at a medium heat level. This is a nice palate cleanser, but not much more than that.

Pure Thai is great for a quick Thai lunch that is easy on the wallet and the halitosis. It’s not as garlicky or spicy as my beloved Pam, but it’s not as salty either – you won’t leave feeling bloated. I’ll be back for those curry puffs ASAP!

Billy’s Bakery – A Chelsea (Trick or) Treat!

Billy’s Bakery. Yes, a cupcake bakery. Shut up, I like cupcakes more than ever now that they are uncool again.

Just like jeggings.

I haven’t been here for quite some time, and wow…I miss it!

The Chelsea shop is diminutive – just a counter, a few fresh faced employees, and a couple of tables and chairs. Feel free to take your seat outside on the bench or bring it back to your casa. Be prepared for an influx of  kids if you go after school, but the scent of chocolate and sugar makes everyone a little kid-like, right?

Red Velvet

These cupcakes really are so good. They are just what you want in a red velvet cupcake – dense and a little chocolatey with a tender, moist crumb. The icing atop is tangy, smooth, and cream-cheesy. I could eat it by the spoonful and I’m honestly a little bummed that I can’t get a cupcake totally enrobed in icing.

20141030_154737 Vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting

Ugh, what a departure from that lovely red velvet cupcake. This cake is cottony and dry with nary a waft of vanilla. The frosting is good – very chocolatey and not at all greasy or chalky – but it can’t make up for that wretched cake. Maybe I got a bad one, but wow…this isn’t tasty.

20141030_154656 Icebox cake

Where have you BEEN all of my life?! Creamy, soft filling with a slight, pleasant tang. Deep, dark, chocolatey cookies that are tender and sweet. It’s like cheesecake-whipped cream-oreo filling-cookie goodness. This is incredibly rich – I couldn’t finish more than half of it, and I really gave it my all. I would get this again yesterday.

 

Billy’s is a small but generally wonderful bakery. The treats are fairly priced (that is to say, too expensive, but you are willing to pay it), most of the cupcakes are delicious, and the icebox cake is really craveworthy. Enjoy your weekend and make it a cupcake filled one!

Happy Halloween!

Tolani Wine Bar’s Surprisingly Delicious Menu

If you need a place on the UWS that isn’t brunch, cookies, or over the top fancy, your options are somewhat limited. Luckily, Tolani is on 80th and Amsterdam to fill that girls-night-out void.

It’s a South African influenced wine bar  with a dark, cool vibe that is sexy enough for a date but elegant enough to take the parents for brunch. with a hefty by the glass list as well as an extensive selection of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons. Better yet, it has a food menu. Not just bar food, but real sharing plate, restaurant food. The kind of food that makes you salivate just looking at it but that doesn’t require a foodie degree to enjoy. Catch my drift:
20141028_194335 Tuna carpaccio with olives, fried garlic, and arugula

An interesting, savory take on tuna tartare. The tuna is paper thin, reminiscent of beef carpaccio but with an even more velvety texture. The garlic is crispy and a little spicy and the olives provide a Nicoise-esque punch of salinity. This is light and a great way to start the evening.

20141028_200943 Fish tacos

Best dish of the night, hand down. This taco is so far superior to many other grilled fish tacos in town. The grouper is meaty but mild, perfect for its spicy (but not overly so) tomatillo salsa. Crispy cabbage, buttery avocado, and a quick spritz of lime all complete the package in a warm corn tortilla. It’s juicy, crispy, spicy, and fresh…all of the things that make Mexican food great. Best of all, it’s simple. It relies on awesome ingredients so here isn’t any weird crema or nouveau wrap to muck up the clean tastes of the food. There is only one to an order here, so be sure to order enough for the table.
20141028_200949 Lamb, beef, and veal meatballs with ricotta

Delicious and so satisfying on a chilly night.  The meatballs are spicy and robust, with the lamb bringing out some earthy flavors. The sauce is long cooked and sweet; richer and more wine-y than light summer sauces. A sprinkling of salty Parmesan cheese and some creamy ricotta make this more of a stew than a meatball. Be sure to ask for more warm bread to sop up the delicious sauce.  20141028_211707 African bread pudding

I don’t know what makes this African, but it’s delicious – like a deep-fried bread pudding with a spongy texture. Crispy, light,a nd positively soaked in a thick vanilla-y creme anglais.

Tolani is well priced with excellent service and really good food! The portions are tiny, so don’t take big eaters here, but there’s a great happy hour and the food is really worthwhile. Finally, a place on the UWS that fits the bill for a relaxed night out on the town.

New York’s New “Luxe”

And now, an article that I wrote that was never published…until now!

NYC is the grand dame of USA cities. It’s known for grandiose hotels with fabled guests, storied restaurants, and rooms that have been documented in every movie from Plaza Suite onwards. However, there is a new wave of hotels that promises to make the old guard up its ante. These hotels are sparkling, swanky, and still deliver on luxury. Here’s the latest and greatest of where to rest your head in the city that never sleeps.

via

The Park Hyatt – the most anticipated opening of the year in NYC, or perhaps of the last few years. The luxurious Park Hyatt brand is world renowned for its elegant design, superior service, and incredible restaurants, but with the new flagship location in NYC, it may have well outdone itself. It’s located conveniently in midtown with a modern Christian de Portzamparc design, iphone chargers in every room, and a mini bottle of Krug in the mini bar. That’s right…Krug. Expect rainforest showers in every room, a 25th floor indoor lap pool, and – if you are interested – a breakfast at one of the hotel’s restaurants, The Back Room, that include Dom Perignon champagne, a Beluga caviar bagel, and foie gras toast. Start spreading the news – upscale in midtown is here to stay.

via

The Refinery – The 1920s meets the 2000s in this small boutique hotel. Located just steps from Bryant Park, it takes advantage of its central location with a summertime rooftop bar that lets imbibers take a break from the city mayhem and relax in the open air. It also offers stark black and white dramatic furnishings and locally created art, wifi, air conditioning, and a communal fitness room. Enjoy the seasonal fare at the hotel’s Parker and Quinn restaurant or enjoy Koreatown, only a few steps away from the hotel. Best of all, sit in your elegant room and enjoy a view of Manhattan.

via

The Viceroy – Hello, blue skies! Only a block away from Central Park, The Viceroy blends modern conveniences with the stately history of the city – after all, it’s right near the glitzy jewelry stores on 5th Avenue! Each room has luxury linens, espresso machines, and flat screen TVs. Enjoy nightly complimentary cocktails in the bar, and indulge in American fare at Kingside, a restaurant by celebrated chef and “Chopped” judge, Marc Murphy.  

Snacks and Sips at Joe’s Pub

Earlier this week I went to a fabulous show at Joe’s Pub – a great cabaret theater downtown where there is, of course, a minimum. We went far above our minimum because we were hungry, but here is what you can expect:

20141013_185323 A very well made, though ill photographed, dirty martini. It’s too bad that the picture is so terrible, because the stemware used is great (way less likely to spill than traditional martini glasses), the vodka is chilled to the point of icy, and there is just enough olive juice in there to make the drink border on savory without being salty.  20141013_185824 Fries with aioli

So good. Like gourmet McDonald’s.  No parmesan cheese, no truffle oil- just crispy, hot fries with Heinz ketchup and buttery, creamy aioli.  20141013_185842 Pickle plate

Good, if not especially memorable. Who doesn’t love a plate of snappy, vinegary pickled veggies? 20141013_185831 Homemade farmers cheese with seeded crackers

Okay, this is craveable. I would get it again in any restaurant. It’s a dense, creamy cheese that tastes almost like melted cream cheese. It’s layered with woodsy oregano and a pool of olive oil. Served with those garlicky seeded crackers, it’s just delicious.

The food is good and so are the drinks, but they are of course way overpriced – it’s a cabaret, what do you expect? The food isn’t as great as the offerings at 54 Below, but the entertainment is great, and after just 2 of those excellent martinis, you will have reached your food minimum and be in a great mood to enjoy the show.

That Time I Got to Go to The University Club

I went to a wedding the other night, and the bride knew that I was going to remark on the food.

I mean…how could I not? I’m not getting back in here anytime soon!

This shindig was held at The University Club…ultra fancy, ultra swanky – the kind of place that Jay Gatsby would risk hell and high water to frequent. It’s an immense building on 5th Avenue and the look is all dark wood, heavy tapestries, and gilded fixtures…you know the type.

I was SO glad that I put on deodorant…this isn’t the type of spot where stank will go undetected.

When we got upstairs to the ornate dining room, we were starving and I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect. Could a place this fancy and old school have food that would be appealing to the couples’ food savvy friends?

In a word – yup!

20140920_202337 Mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes

This is as delicious as something that I would make at home, after carefully sniffing tomatoes at the farmers market and schlepping downtown to get tender mozzarella. This tastes like it was made by hand by someone who really cares about ingredients – who chose tart cherry tomatoes and sweet heirloom ones to compliment each other. Who dressed the room temperature mozzarella in a spicy olive oil and plenty of pepper. This is simple and delightful. The last of summer’s tomatoes to usher in the first of the new couple’s tomorrows.

Wow…when I am good, I am GOOD.
20140920_212800 Rack of lamb au jus with wilted spinach and roasted potatoes

This lamb isn’t just wedding good…it’s RESTAURANT good! I don’t think it was the 2 martinis (because who DOESN’T love an open bar, amirite?), I think that it was just an excellently made plate. The lamb is medium rare -pink almost to the edges but not bloody or raw. It’s deep and robust, with peppery, rosemary scented jus that just cries out for those roasted potatoes. The lamb was really spectacular – I’m telling you that I couldn’t stop eating it.
20140920_222001 Dessert buffet

The piece de resistance was the entirely gluten free dessert buffet. Creamy creme brulee, vibrant macarons, airy chocolate mousse, and more. As much as you wanted, all in tiny, bite size servings.

Actually, this whole meal was gluten free and prepared and presented so well that if I hadn’t known ahead of time, I wouldn’t have even guessed it. The pacing and service is excellent, the setting is stunning and the food is modern and delicious.

Unfortunately, you have to be a member to have your wedding there, but if you are or if you get invited there…I highly recommend dieting the week before. Because this is one wedding meal thta you will want to eat.