Andanada 141 – Hidden Tapas on the UWS

In New York City, you have to look down or you will miss stuff.

You will miss a pile of dog poop you are about to step in, a dropped 20 dollar bill, or sometimes a hidden neighborhood gem.

I mean, have any of you even looked into the basement level of 69th Street near Broadway, into the charming restaurant Andanada 141?

It’s a tapas place with live flamenco dancers and music twice a week, a beautiful covered garden out back, and a jovial, upbeat atmosphere that is perfect for a date with a loved one or close friend. It’s lively but not too noisy and the by-the-glass wine list is varied. The rose cava is especiallydelightful.

20140826_193855 Patatas Bravas

Not the best version of the dish, but it fits the bill. The potatoes are peeled and very creamy with an exterior that could be a little saltier and crisper. The tomato sauce is weirdly sweet, but the mayonnaise is clearly homemade. It’s rich and eggy – the perfect foil for those hot potatoes.
20140826_193422 Cod Croquettes
On the money. Be sure to dip them in the accompanying red pepper sauce, which is smoky and a little sweet instead of spicy, or they will taste too fishy. The sauce eradicates any note of fishiness or funk. All you are left with is a thick, crispy crust and soft interior. Don’t miss the garlic shrimp either, which come snappy and swimming in garlicky oil that is the perfect bread dip.

20140826_191248 Fried Artichokes

Crispy and dense with a flurry of nutty Parmesan cheese. It needs some acid and salt – maybe a Caesar-like vinaigrette would help? But as it stands, I wouldn’t get these again.
20140826_191230 Ham Croquetas

Hit of the night. A thin, crunchy breadcrumb shell outside soft, mashed potaot-meets-Ibercio-fatty-porky-goodness inside. Steaming hot and the right mix of hot, soft, crunchy, and salty. We should have ordered another dish of these!

Andanada 141 isn’t going to win the best tapas restaurant of the year. But the food is very good, the prices are great, and the service is friendly. Sit there for hours or get out of there in an hour flat – it’s up to you. I would totally come back here, get the shrimp, potatoes, and both croquetas again.

See what happens when you look DOWN to smell the roses?

Bites to Savor This Weekend and Beyond!

Food I’m enjoying around town:

20140525_195750 Chocolate mint ice cream bar from Treat House

Generally, I find these gourmet Rice Krispy treats overpriced and dry – nothing beats licking the spoon of some still warm, freshly made treats. But this ice cream version does surprisingly well. The ice cream is what kicks it up the notch – it’s really, sharply minty 0 this is a grown up’s treat. It’s coated in a thick layer of crisp chocolate and the “cookies,” which are really Rice Krispy treats, provide a crunchy, chewy counterpart. This is a fun, light ending to a meal out on the UWS.
20140809_115858 Haul from Tucker Square Greenmarket

SUNGOLD TOMATOES SUNGOLD TOMATOES SUNGOLD TOMATOES. This year, the sungolds are INSANE. Sweet, light, juicy, firm…they are perfect raw and even better slowly roasted. The peaches are just going out of season now, but you can still find some wonderful late season ones - yellow peaches;  the whites have been super mealy. Tiny bell peppers and sheep’s milk cheeses in pungent blue and tangy yellow. This farmer’s market is never too crowded and never too expensive – the vendors are lovely and invite you to try anything that looks delicious and the variety is usually excellent. Give it a go, and say hi if you see me! 20140819_184057 20140819_191126 Mexican food at Dahlia’s

Nothing groundbreaking, but there are strong margaritas, fair prices, and an adorable patio looking over Harrison Street – worth the price of admission! You have to savor this sunlight as long as you can – September is upon us and this lovely weather will be but a memory sooner than we can imagine. The guacamole is plentiful and not crazy expensive and the menu is full of lots of familiar Tex-Mex fare – order up and enjoy!

A Day in Heaven on Arthur Avenue

This weekend, I went to foodie Disneyland.

No, not Stew Leonard’s. Another, less suburban, grittier, and infinitely more charming Foodie-land.

I went to Arthur Avenue.

I religiously followed Serious Eats’ excellent suggestions. I tried all things yeasty, porky, and cheesy.

I came home and, with friends and family,  I cooked.

It was a foodie day for the ages.

In the middle of the Bronx is the real, live Little Italy. One small block, filled with shop after shop of salt packed anchovies, huge cans of olive oil, and sun dried tomatoes swimming with garlicky olives and vinegary peppers. Butchers selling everything but the moo, cluck, or oink. Old nonnas chatting up beefy young men making mozzarella right in front of you, huge men in neon track suits sipping espresso as children run around the pastry shop, and octopi the likes of which I haven’t seen since Greece. Come hungry, since every place you frequent will ply you with samples. Anything you see, you can try, and there is no pressure to buy – because everything is so tasty that the shop owners know that you will buy. And you want to patronize these stores. It’s totally different from shopping at a big box grocery store because you see where your business is going – it’s going to these men and women who make this food fresh every single day and carry on the tradition of their ancestors. It’s a privilege to see living history.

Let alone taste it.

20140816_135241 Vincent’s Meat Shop, where every kind of animal you can imagine is sold. Everything from meatloaf mix to obscure cuts like breast of veal to elegant meats like quail and whole lobes of foie gras. The staff is helpful, efficient, and more than happy to tell you exactly how to cook your purchase.
20140816_135704 Freshly shucked Kumamoto and Peace Passage Oysters, on a stand outside of Consenza’s. The Kumamotos are especially memorable – creamy and slightly citrusy; accented by a spritz of lemon. These require no sauce, though ample accouterments are supplied should you need some for your sidewalk stand up snack. Ice cream truck ain’t got nuthin on the oyster cart.  20140816_140428 Fresh mozzarella from Casa della Mozzarella. The shop is tiny, sweltering, crowded, and intoxicating. Hunks of garlicky roast pork, wedges of calcium crystal-studded Parmigiano Reggiano, pots of piquant pickled mushrooms, jars of fiery Calabrian chili paste…this narrow store is a treasure trove of all things delicious. The mozzarella, which will be offered to all customers as samples, is unparalleled. As rich and soft as burrata, it should be enjoyed room temperature and well salted. Get the big globe…you won’t be able to stop eating it. And don’t forget to sample EVERYTHING…you will want to buy it all.  20140816_152755 Yes, we took home our cheese from Calandra’s in the carseat…we had to. It was that precious. Though the burrino was a bouncy, tasteless round of cheese surrounding an unattractive globule of cold butter, the truffle cheese was the most potent I have ever had. The taste reverberates on your tongue up to your nose and down to your toes. It goes on and on way after the cheese has melted away on your tongue. The Prima Donna cheese, an award-winning mix of Gouda and Parmesan, has the semi soft texture of gouda with a sharp, nutty, salty Parmesan taste. And the house made ricotta is…unreal. Soft and creamy, it’s more like a milkshake than a cheese. We ate it with honey and truffle oil on bread, and it would be perfect with roast peaches and basil as dessert. Or on brioche with some bitter marmalade as breakfast. Or on a spoon at midnight as a secret, perfect snack.

You know, whatevs floats your boat.  20140816_164752 The parade of cheeses, with soft sundried tomatoes in oil and fruity, salty, and juicy olives.  20140816_164801 Warm mozzarella and home-grown tomatoes(not my own…it helps to have friends in high places) and basil. Salting the mozzarella is key…it brings out the pure, milky flavor. 20140816_164811 White bean salad with oregano, garlic and red pepper olive oil, and more of those sundried tomatoes. 20140816_185658 Rack of lamb for the cost of a single steak at most restaurants. Cooked by one of my culinary partners-in-crime with piquant chutney and a thick coating of herbed breadcrumbs. Notice the thick fat cap – hard to find that at the local grocery store, right?
20140816_185702 Fresh basil and regular spaghetti with beef and lamb meatballs and homemade tomato sauce. The pasta was cut to order to our thickness specifications. I don’t even have words to describe my joy at eating this light, fragrant pasta with those juicy meatballs and bright, oregano forward sauce. This dish was also prepared by that culinary partner-in-crime. You see why we keep him around…he is handy with a haul from Arthur Avenue.

Viva Arthur Avenue!

Turning 30 at Daniel

My 30th birthday was pretty much the biggest birthday celebration that I have had since my bat mitzvah. It was multiple days, surprise after surprise, tons of friends, and a meal I have looked forward to since I first read Garlic and Sapphires.

That’s right…I finally had dinner at Daniel.

Some people might call Daniel Boulud’s eponymous flagship restaurant over the top or antiquated. I find it neither. Rather, it fires on all cylinders, all the time – from the moment that you walk into the grandiose yet sleek space, with cavernous ceilings and stools for ladies’ handbags, to the moment that you leave, the taste of warm, vanilla scented madeleines on your tongue as the hostess walks into the street to get you a cab – you are treated as you should be.

As a dear friend who just so happens to be used to the finest things in life.

Even if this is a massive, once in a VERY long while treat.

Please note – because photography is frowned upon, there are no photos of this epic meal. So, for those who are not reading inclined, I do apologize, but who wants to incur the wrath of the chef making you one of the great meals of your life?

Tasting of Heirloom Tomatoes with Chilled Soup, Salad with Coomersdale Cheese Octopus Terrine, Chorizo Oil, Arugula Salad

The terrine was a miss (muddy tasting and dense), but everything else was a resounding hit. The gazpacho is rich and earthy and sweet and savory. Truly complex, highlighting every facet of the tomato’s flavor. The salad was light and acidic, with curls of sharp, salty cheese to round out the vegetable’s flavor. It’s tomato season, and the chef knows how to remind you of that in the most delicious way possible. It’s better than my gazpacho and better than any gazpacho I have ever had. It’s just the essence of tomatoes in the best way possible. 

Crispy Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with Artichoke Purée, Pine Nut-Raisin Chutney, Pickled Jalapeño

Delicious. Shrimp at its best is sweet and tender, with a slight snap and a very barely salty hit. This is all that and more, with a crispy coating and rich sauce. The sauce is so very…artichoke-y…that it truly can’t be compared to any other taste. It’s smooth and vibrant with flavor that stands in startling juxtaposition to the shrimp. The pickled jalapenos add just a touch of vinegary heat and the chutney is sweet and chewy. Once again, this dish highlights the chef’s ability to play with textures and flavors on all facets – it’s masterful.

Seared foie gras

The best I have had since Paris. No exaggeration and no other reason for me to expand upon it. Melting, meaty, rich, and a tad sweet. Perfection.

Alaskan Red King Salmon Baked in Clay with Melilot, Roasted Fennel, Huckleberry Coulis
Marcona Almond Pommes Duchesse, Sauce Genevoise

This salmon is almost otherworldly. It’s brought the table in a thick, gray slab of clay. Then, tableside, the head server deftly removes the top layer of clay by tapping it with his spoon until it breaks off cleanly. The salmon is served medium are all the way through, as though it were cooked sous vide. It’s almost creamy in texture and the taste is just the cleanest, butteriest salmon you have ever had. The melilot is a sweet, grassy herb that adds some unexpected lightness to the  fatty fish and the huckleberry coulis is just groundbreaking. Berries and fish…who would have thought? It’s such an unexpected, delicious take on fish. This dish is sublime – King salmon is only in season a short time and  I can’t recommend this enough.

Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant Liquid Caramel, Fleur de Sel, Milk Sorbet

A down home, rich, moist chocoaltey cake with a liquidy caramel center. It’s such a familiar set of tastes after a meal of nouveau and unique tastes – sweet and soft with creamy milk sorbet.

Of course, some mignardises finished the meal.

This meal is perfect from start to finish. Not too much, not too little. The service is helpful but not overbearing – for example, when we ordered a glass of sauternes to share with the foie gras, our server graciously put it in 2 glasses without us asking. And the cocktail and wine list…extraordinary. Of particular notice is that sauternes – the most expensive glass of wine that I have ever ordered, but also the most delicious. It’s thick and tastes like raisins and heaven – it enhances the foie to no end. You can do a tasting menu or a prix fixe, which is what we chose to do, and then each added a course. This allowed us to try dishes like the spot prawns and my husbands delicious beet cured hamachi. 3 hours for 4 courses and it felt like I was in a dream the whole time.

This meal is a major splurge and a worthwhile one.

Here’s to turning 30 at least 5 more times.

Dinner at Juni is a Journey

Juni is not for everyone.

Which is not normally how I start the review of a Michelin starred chef’s (Shaun Hergatt’s) restaurant.

But it isn’t. You have to like fish. You have to like strange textures. You have to like being out of your element, and you even have to like sometimes not liking the food.

You have to love the journey.

And then you will love Juni.

The restaurant is located in a hotel – it has a modern, low key decor that could be any mid-upscale restaurant in any city. It’s nothing special.

And then the food starts to come.


20140809_192911 Baguette with green olive tapenade and saffron aioli

The saffron aioli is fragrant and reminiscent of paella – it’s heady and rich, to much for some people but just perfect for me. The tapenade is a wholly different experience. There is no taste of olives at all – it is salty, but not briny or slightly bitter like olives sometimes are. The tapenade is incredibly garlicky, salty, and is almost like a very smooth pesto. The warm baguette absorbs the savory flavors and the emulsion just sinks into the crevices of the bread, making it a flavor bomb before the meal even officially starts.  20140809_193851 Goat cheese and carrot chip

Yep. The cheese is dense and a little tangy, and the chip is extremely brittle, almost melting into a sugary sweet, carrot-y taste. It’s fun and unexpected – I have rarely had anything so simple yet so well-balanced to start a long meal.

20140809_194244 Raw zucchini with tomatoes and cucumber gelee

This man loves vegetables and it shows. Here, a pristine zucchini, no longer than my forefinger, is hollowed and filled with earthy, ripe tomatoes confit and jiggly cubes of light, almost sweet cucumber gelee. It’s all about the pure taste of the vegetables, which are at their peaks this time of year. It couldn’t be more delightful.
20140809_194703 Beets

A gelatin bonbon that is for all the world like beet jello. Earthy, tangy, extremely beet-y. Loved it.  20140809_195036 Chicken skin

But it’s vegetarian, made with oats. Tastes JUST like chicken skin. The best part of fried chicken. I could chomp this like popcorn.  20140809_195233 Ham and cheese sandwich

With crispy Iberico  ham and very sharp cheese spread. Cheese Whiz this ain’t!

For the tasting, I got the tomato tasting menu. It’s served though September and all that I can say is: GET IT!

20140809_195837 Tomato carpaccio with freeze-dried goat cheese

Soft, lush segments of tomatoes with the richness of sundried tomatoes but none of the salty flavor or leathery texture. The flavors of the earth and the powder texture of the freeze dried goat cheese work well together.
20140809_201603 Tomato gazpacho with toybox tomaotes

Well balanced – none of the abrasive, acidic punch of lesser versions. Smooth and thick, with tons of super sweet toybox tomatoes and a verdant, basil laden panna cotta in the middle.  20140809_202914 Halibut with tomato concasse

The best piece of halibut I have had in I don’t know how long. The flavors are simple and straightforward – fresh fish, sweet tomatoes, and a little hit of something spicy, but not overly hot. It’s light, it’s fresh, and it’s classic technique at its finest – no molecular gastronomy here, no smoke and mirrors. Just perfectly butchered and cooked fish that is mild and flaky, in a light tomato sauce.  20140809_204646 Braised lamb belly and tomatoes with pommes puree

Dish of the night. Shaun Hergatt himself came around to every single table and chatted with us about the dish. He was charming, jovial, and told us that we like it because it’s so much like American bbq. He started playing around with braising lamb belly until it is soft and melting in his 20s, and now finally got to put it on his menu. Layering it with bright and sweet tomatoes really gives it a bbq-sauce type of taste, and the cloud of potatoes is buttery and light – ideal with the fatty, tender lamb. This is dynamite.  20140809_211107 Goat cheese and caramel ice cream with tomato marmalade and candied pecans

Sweet and creamy. Like dulce de leche with a slightly piquant taste from the goat milk. Crunchy candied nuts and jammy, wonderfully sweet tomato marmalade. This tomato menu really fit the bill.

The whole meal was fascinating – I didn’t even show you the foie gras and cherry bon bon, the squid ink and truffle bites, or the burrata ice cream. Not everything was the best I’ve ever had, but it was all so interesting. I would totally recommend that a major foodie come here, because you have to want to try new and different things. Hyssop, lamb’s tongue, and oyster leaves (yep, they TOTALLY taste like oysters) were also on the table. The format has several different price points and the kitchen is super flexible. The staff is lovely, the chef himself is always in the kitchen (now, THAT’S a rarity, these days), and the food…I mean, we had bbq lamb in a fancy restaurant.

It really was one hell of a ride. 

Sushi Dojo – The Best Sushi Deal in NYC

Here’s the short version – if you want high end, expertly prepared, traditional sushi at a superb price, run, don’t walk, to Sushi Dojo. It isn’t the best in town, but it’s absolutely the best for your money.

Here’s the long version:

Sushi Dojo is somewhat of a renegade on the high-end sushi scene. It’s run by David Bouhadana, a young, Caucasian sushi chef who works behind the counter the whole night with his staff, kibbitzing with regulars and blasting current rock music that seems like it would be more at home at a hip Tribeca coffee shop than a hallowed temple of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant is quite small, with only a few tables and a long sushi bar, and the sushi bar’s seats are…wait for it…comfortable and wide, with tall leather backs. Now, this is something that I could get used to – how often have you emerged from an othewise delicious and luxurious sushi experience only to have a backache from the miserable, hard stools that the establishment provides?

The vibe was actually perfect for our girls night out – less so for a romantic date or quiet meeting. I’m telling you, the chefs were chatty  and jovial and we never once felt out of place with our boisterous laughter.

20140812_185944 Fried shisito peppers

Totally unnecessary but expertly made – the lightest, crispest batter I could imagine with very spicy, zingy peppers – these are only for lovers of spicy food. Some aren’t too spicy, but some are – so let’s not play Russian Roulette if you aren’t up for the game, okay?

And then the sushi begins – 10 pieces for $45. That’s right, 10 pieces of this glimmering, beautiful, sushi for $45. That is a fantastic price. Just look at this stuff: 20140812_190435 Snapper

Light, clean, with a melting texture. This is the ideal appetizing bite to start a meal, and the vinegar-y, barely warm rice highlights the fish’s individual tastes.  20140812_190614 Mackerel

Thick, richer than the fish before, buttery.
20140812_191127 Tuna

Lean, tender, mild. 
20140812_191710 Tasmanian trout

So much milder than salmon, with an almost sweet finish and buttery texture.  20140812_191848 Toro

Soft, lush, just rich enough without being too fatty. Beautifully cut.
20140812_192012 Uni

Santa Barbara Uni, the best in the world to my palate. Soft and airy, with the vaguest briny, sea-water aftertaste that leaves a clean, fresh finish on the tongue.
20140812_192431 Eel

Steak like and rich. I could have used a little more eel sauce, but then – I love that sweet stuff. This is an excellent, meaty cut of eel.  20140812_192802 Aji

Always one of my favorite fish. Very clean and pleasantly salty, in super thin slices that fairly melt into the rice.

20140812_193233 Fried shrimp head

The hit of the night! We got this after an (unpictured) excellent raw shrimp nigiri, and were instructed to eat the whole thing. So, we did. The best fish and chips meets crispy potato chip tentacles. Yes, that’s exactly what it tasted like. Tender, crunchy, buttery, and salty. I could snack on these each and every day! 20140812_193449 Anchovy

A little strong for my taste, but that’s just personal preference – the fish is presented beautifully and the wasabi is fresh and nasal clearing.  20140812_193851 O-Toro

As rich as they come. Almost white with fat and so incredibly rich that we just sat in shock for a few moments after eating it. The perfect way to end any sushi meal.

We went for the 15 course sushi menu, which is $80 per person, and not quite the steal as the $45 omakase. On another night, I would absolutely get the $45 menu. That’s where we got the uni, the eel, and the toro – they don’t give you cheap or ill cut fish on the less expensive menu. It’s a tremendous value for sushi that might not be the best in the city, but is heads and tails above most places that charge at least as much, if not more.  It lacks the innovation of Gari or the “je ne sais quoi”  quality of the holy grail of fish that is Nakazawa, but it is really right behind them. I would call this a wonderful place to take someone who is already a sushi enthusiast – the atmosphere is so atypical and the chefs are so talkative and friendly that anyone who has spent a kajillion dollars on high end sushi in the past will appreciate this unique and ultra delicious experience.

So, long story short: Sushi Dojo could easily become a somewhat affordable obsession.

Skip These Dishes at These Excellent Restaurants

I tend to only write about the restaurants I love. Because, unless the errors are really egrigious or a restaurant htat has been lauded is so not worth your time and money and I think that you should actively avoid it.

However, many good restaurants – even great restaurants – have one or two clunker dishes. Dishes that, if you orer them, may color your view of an otherwise excellent restaurant.

So, when visiting these restaurants, you should avoid these dishes:

20140601_182341 Red Farm fried lobster and cheese sticks

To be honest, this whole meal was kinda a disappointing. But these cheese sticks were by FAR the most miserable item that we ordered. Yes, miserable. Fishy lobster. I can’t even remember any other taste, because the lobster was so offensively awful. It tastes fake, rotten, foul…ugh. And maybe that’s why the rest of the meal was disappointing. I need to go back and enjoy a meal without the gross taste of bad shellfish in my mouth.
20140609_192830 Fabrick red snapper ceviche

Loved this meal – hated this dish. Weird, fishy, off taste (in case you can’t guess, anything less than totally pristine seafood is my major gustatory bugaboo) and the fish skin was not crispy enough so it turned rather soggy. By all means, skip this and order the lovely flatbread or the addictive candied bacon.
20140704_184348 Minetta Tavern oxtail and foie gras terrine

High end cat food. Bizarre, slimy texture that is so dense that the meat itself almost gasps for air. The flavors are muddied and it seems like a waste of excellent ingredients. Do yourself a favor and order a different appetizer from the excellent menu.
20140705_114241 Russ and Daughters Cafe new Holland herring

This just tastes like a big ole slimeball with a visually displeasing tail and some rather tickly bones. I so badly wanted to love this. I know that all over Asmterdam this is considered a delicacy and that these particularly tender and mild herring only come in for a few weeks every year. The lines can wrap around the corner of the Russ and Daughters shop when word comes in that this stuff is in stock. And…yet…I just couldn’t get into this. Oh well, more for you.

Breakfast at Maialino

I have wanted to visit Danny Meyer’s Maialino since it opened. It’s supposed to have sensational rustic Italian food, with homemade pastas, fabulous antipasti, and of course its namesake crispy suckling pig face.

So, of course, I ended up there for breakfast when none of these items are offered. 

What I found was a meal that was way too expensive and yet…so delicious that I could totally see myself going again. 

Rent can be late this month, right?

20140806_082144 The restaurant itself is lovely – very large and spacious by NYC standards, with a casual bar upfront that serves fresh juices for breakfast. There is a large dining room that is covered with homey checkered tablecloths that feel like grandmas house and small dishes of excellent salt flakes that remind you that you are not.  The vibe is somewhere between business and foodie casual – it would be the perfect place to take a business lunch with a colleague who just happens to love great food.

20140806_084529

Robiolina with pickled onions and roe

Okay, this is the smallest dish for the price that I have ever seen. I can’t call it a value. It just isn’t. What it IS is really delicious. The toast is crunchy but thick enough to have some give under the toasted surface. It’s topped with a thin, creamy schmear of robiolina cheese – like a tangier cream cheese with a lighter, more airy texture. Its crowning touches are a few vinegary pickled onions, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and some fresh, bursting with briny flavor trout roe. This is your bagel with novie gone high class and on a diet. It’s slim, it’s elegant, and it’s sophisticated. This is more of an amuse bouche than a whole meal, and it really is very pricey, but it’s delish.
20140806_084525 Scrapple ai Maialino

Now, THIS is fairly priced and something that I would order again and again. The hockey puck sized terrine looks dense, but beneath its thick, crackly crust is the loosely packed, sage scented, sweet and savory pork sausage of my DREAMS. It’s incredibly juicy and tender, with that pork flavor singing through, especially when lemon juice hits the patty, a la Wienerschnitzel.  20140806_084650 This stuff is as rich as a Kardashian and more enjoyable  as all of them put together. You won’t be able to eat a whole one unless you have a nap on the schedule immediately after breakfast – plan to share this with someone as a fabulous side dish.

I loved Maialino as much as I thought that I would, though I did get some sticker shock. I would love to go back for dinner and see if the portions make the prices a little easier to swallow – the food is surely delicious enough to warrant a second go-round. 

Benihana – Making My Birthday One to Remember!

Okay, so I indulged in one of my favorite, basest pleasures on the night that I turned 30.

It involved a ton of grease, a sweaty man performing tricks, and a private room.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

We went to BENIHANA!

I haven’t been here for YEARS. I used to love these sort of teppan yaki places – jovial waitstaff, food for days, onions that turned into volcanos (though sadly the volcanos these days have no real fire – seems that one too many drunk ladies set her hair on fire.

I really do miss those volcanos.

But everything else is totally the same as my suburban youth! I mean, it’s like time has stood still, from the dark interiors to the white clothed chefs!

20140801_210811

It’s still dinner and a show!

20140801_212404 The chef flirts with you and your friends shamelessly and, yes, is very handy with a spatula.

20140801_204940 Onion soup

Tasteless – totally limp scallions and raw mushrooms. The soup tastes really minerally and meaty in a rather abrasive way – this was really the low point. But it was included with the meal - I didn’t even remember that restaurants still included things with meals. We got this with the price of our entree…what’s the last time THAT happened to you?
20140801_205459 Ginger salad

Iceberg lettuce, a fluffy tangle of carrot shreds, and piquant, spicy ginger dressing. It’s JUST like I remember it!

I mean, am I listening to Backstreet Boys and wearing knockoff Juicy sweatpants again or am I just imagining this time travel? 20140801_212605 Chicken fried rice

A $5 upgrade and well worth it. It’s made in front of you with fresh chicken, diced onions, and SO MUCH seasoned butter. Piping hot, marvelously greasy, and just enough soy. I dare you to finish the gargantuan pile of fried rice.  20140801_213457 Hibachi steak and mushroom

A lot of steak, cooked to a lovely medium rare. A little tough, but with wonderful salty, meaty flavor and juicy mushrooms. And so much of it – what’s the last time that I had this much steak for $25? My parent’s house in 1990? 20140801_214337 Scallops

Buttery, tender, and so delicious that the fair price will, again, surprise you. They lack the dense texture and slight briny taste of really high-end, dry scallops, but in this setting and with the other high fat, high salt food, this is ideal. It stands up to the other strong flavors. They are so mild and buttery – they are ideal for people who are skittish around seafood. The shrimp, which is included in each meal, isn’t quite as memorable, but it’s snappy and garlicky.

20140801_204927 Benihana was possibly my favorite birthday night ever. It was tasty, well priced, and so, SO fun! Private room, birthday photos from the chef, and more nostalgia than I could shake a stick at. I can’t recommend this place enough for a celebration where the atmosphere and price point matter at least as much, if not more, than the food.

Next time, I’m bringing my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper and really making the theme work! 

Forty Carrots is as Good as Gold

New Yorkers are a cultish little crew.

If New Yorkers like a particular store, they will shop there regardless of the bad service, iffy merchandise, or remote location.

If New Yorkers are loyal to a hairdresser, it doesn’t matter if that hairdresser moves to Philadelphia – the true New Yorker will schlep.

And the feelings that they have for frozen yogurt run deep and passionate.

When my girlfriend brought me for frozen yogurt right before my birthday, I thought it was just a light lunch date.

I didn’t know that she was initiating me into Satan’s lair.

IE, Forty Carrots.

If you get here on a weekday and don’t mind waiting for 10 minutes, you can almost always sit down for your meal. On a weekend, I’m sure that it would be MURDER to try to get a table.

20140731_134732 Try not to trip over the yummy mummies, hordes of tourists, and fashionistas on your way to the table. If you have a low tolerance for ladies who lunch, this may not be the place for you. However, if you love to people watch as much as my friend and I do, settle in for the best reality non-tv on the face of the planet.  20140731_140729 Chopped Greek salad

Surprisingly huge – most of the women here look as though they haven’t eaten this much food since Thanksgiving when they were 11. This is fresh, really tasty, and I’m telling you – big enough for a light lunch for 2 or a really filling lunch for 1. The chicken is warm and crispy outside, tender inside. The veggies are finely diced, with crunchy romaine lettuce, cucumber, juicy kalamata olives, and plenty of creamy chickpeas. The dolmades alongside are soft and salty, filled with dilled rice that is somehow creamy but not mushy.  The pita is warm and soft and the lemon oregano dressing is tart with mustard, creamy, and just rich enough to up the light salad’s ante. I would get this again.

Except…I never will again.

Because, you know…next time I will be getting this:

20140731_142746 Frozen yogurt with carob chips and Oreos

This is the best frozen yogurt I have had – ever. Period. When I was a kid in Southern California, fro yo shops were all the rage. I remember going all the time with my dad and sister, getting huge cups filled with nonfat gray cookies ‘n’ cream yogurt that had a weird, airy consistency and was doubtless filled with enough chemicals to kill a horse.

Aah, California in the 90s.

But this was not that.

This is rich. It’s creamy. It’s tart but not bitter or bracing. It’s sweet in a very clean, milky, fresh yogurt-y way. The coffee flavor is wonderfully complex, with notes of espresso, caramel, chocolate, and almonds. The carob chips are a nostalgic throwback andthe oreos…well, I haven’t ever said no to an Oreo and I’m not going to start now.

This place isn’t stupidly expensive for how much food you get and the food really is delish. If you can either stand the crowds or get your food to go, it’s so worth it.

So get me a candle and prepare me for the initiation.

I’m joining the Forty Carrots cult.