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.

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!

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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! 

David Burke’s Fabrick Brings Flavor and Flair to the Garment District

David Burke has a new baby in town…that he gave up for adoption.

Let me explain:

His new restaurant, Fabrick, is part of the David Burke group. It has his name attached to it. It draws inspiration from him. But he isn’t in the kitchen - not now, not ever.

So…how does the fare fare?

Yes, I love dad jokes. Get used to it.

20140609_185603 20140609_190207 The restaurant, located in the garment district’s hottest new neighbor, the Archer hotel, is all industrial chic with pops of color. It’s casual and airy, perfect for a quick lunch in between shopping or a first date afer work. The high tables even have actual chairs with backs, which I totally appreciate.  20140609_191559 Though the menu descriptions aren’t online yet, go for the blackberry lime rickey. It’s tart and refreshing, mixed with a good kick of vodka and a floater of prosecco. 20140609_192822 Smoked salmon pizza

Yes, it’s done all over the place and has been since 1989, but who cares? This one is excellent and even a little more unique than I was expecting. First of all, the dough is served warm, like a pizza, so the thinly cut pastrami cured salmon melts into the bread. Second, it has pickled ramps for an unexpectedly garlicky pickled element. The horseradish cream picks up the spicy coriander and pepper rub on the salmon and the final sprinkling of sweet pea shoots finishes the pizza nicely. 
20140609_201554 Candied bacon

Boy, is this good! Sure, I make it, but when I make it, it doesn’t come on a cute little clothesline. Nor does it come with house pickled vegetables to add some lightness to the dish and cur through the fat and sugar. That fat and sugar is good though…sticky, crispy, meaty, and oh so sweet. A winner in my book.
20140609_205144 Lobster bolognese

Good, but not revolutionary. The thick pasta is cooked until it’s JUST past al dente, so it’s a little mushier than I enjoy, but still tasty. A chili-infused tomato sauce that is more bright and sweet than truly spicy, topped with a generous portion of buttery lobster claw meat. It’s good…not amazing.

20140609_205228 Skirt steak with chimichurri sauce

Fabulous! This would be welcome at a steakhouse, let alone at a non-meat-specialty restaurant. The steak is charred outside and tender within. It has a beefy flavor, with a bit more chew than filet mignon but the hearty, meaty flavor really compensates for that. This is delicious with the garlicky, salty, verdant chimichurri sauce and the sautéed veggies alongside. I will absolutely get this when I return.
20140609_213539 Peach melba doughnuts

Oh Zac Young, how you make my heart melt. You are cute, you are a celerity, and you make DAMNED GREAT doughnuts! These are unbelievable. They come in a tin and then are unearthed like pineapple upside down cake. Then, a bow of creme fraiche is mixed with they syrupy, juicy peach topping so you can tempter the fluffy, bready, yeasty doughnuts with some tangy, fragrant, vanilla scented creme fraiche. This is an adult doughnut – it’s sweet and fruity but the doughnut isles isn’t too sweet – that’s why the peaches and the creme fraiche shine so brightly.

This place is a GREAT addition to the garment district. It’s not quite destination worthy, but in a few more months afer it gets is sea legs, it may bet there. The food is delicious, the prices are upscale but fair, and the service is great. I would come here any time.

Chef Burke, they done ya proud.

Disclaimer: This was a press meal. I was not required to write about my experiences, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1) Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business.  image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

image Fish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Norma’s is a Dud

Remember when I was so hoity-toity and proud about ignoring reviews and doing whatever the hell I wanted?

Wow, that was short sighted of me.

I recently went to the much maligned Norma’s in the Parker Meridien hotel. It is written up everywhere for serving huge portions of overpriced foods, for having lackluster service, and for feeling totally mechanical without any warmth.

I’m sad to say that the stories are true.

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The atmosphere is basically at the end of the hotel lobby – it doesn’t feel any more special than your standard Vegas hotel coffee shop. Which wouldn’t matter if the service were great. Or even good. But when you spend a majority of the meal flagging down your server to beg for some water and HEAVEN FORBID that you need hot sauce before you eat your eggs…it takes away from the uniqueness of the place. And even that wouldn’t matter if each entree wasn’t over $20.

Which, of course, each one is.

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Huevos Rancheros

Good. Not great. Not Cookshop, that’s for sure. The quesadillas are a great idea – decadent pockets of melted cheese and crispy tortillas topped with properly fried eggs. But there is no sour cream. No piquant pickled onions. The hot sauce is generic and the beans are watery. Don’t get me wrong, I ate this – it’s tasty. But it is not craveable. And it’s not worth it.

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The smoothie shot at the beginning of the meal was the best part. Guava, pineapple, orange, and passion fruit made for a surprisingly tropical way to start the day in chilly NYC.

However, it’s still not enough. Not nearly enough.

Do follow my review or don’t; the choice is up to you.

But dont’ say that that I didn’t warn ya.

Another Look at Koi

While reviewing  the Trump SoHo, I realized that I have been back to Koi uptown multiple times but had not re-reviewd it for years.

Let’s take another quick look, shall we?

20140325_174251 Spicy tuna on crispy rice

This never fails me. The rice is always crispy without and chewy within, with soft, fatty tuna atop. It’s pleasantly salty and a little buttery from the tuna. The kicker is that crisp, cold jalapeno that is mild at first with a heat that creeps up on you. Consistent and magnificent.
20140325_174756 Spicy and creamy shrimp tempura

So much better than Lure’s that it blows my mind. Tender, clean tasting shrimp in a crackling, thin coating and a sauce that is part hot sauce, part sweet Kewpie mayonnaise, and part crack cocaine. It’s really that good. Piping hot and a large portion. This is enough for a main meal for any appetite. It’s also a great way to get non-seafood eaters to eat shellfish. It’s crispy, mild, and covered in hot sauce…what other endorsements do you need?
20140325_175400 Shrimp chili roll

This is just damned good fusion sushi. It ain’t Nakazawa, but then, nothing is. This shrimp is wonderfully fresh and free of any off, iodine-y taste. It’s sweet and snappy atop the crispy shrimp tempura and creamy avocado roll. The sweet chili sauce is a tangy, zippy accompaniment that does nothing for its authenticity but loads for its flavor.
20140325_185125 Rice pudding brulee

Why didn’t I think of this? Sweet, rich coconut milk rice pudding under a sweet, thin sheath of crunchy sugar. Um, ideal.

This restaurant is a winner. Yeah, it’s overpriced, but it’s chic, it’s delicious, and it’s reliable. It’s a great gals night or out-of-towners rendezvous and that crispy spicy tuna is the best in the city.

So glad I took it for another spin around the blog.

54 Below Changes the Concept of Dinner Theater for the Way, Way Better

I am a dinner theater survivor.

That’s right, I have been known to sing Neil Sedaka songs while wearing wigs and false eyelashes, while octogenarians and kids eat prime rib and ask why the iced tea is so cold*.

It’s by far the hardest acting job I ever did. To warm up before a show, to say heartfelt lines, and to sing and dance to the best of your abilities while the scent of mashed potatoes waft through the air and servers drop dinner rolls on the floor is truly a difficult act.

Which is why it’s great that 54 Below has improved this ancient form of theater.

At this swanky supper club, orders for food and drinks are taken before the show. You sit at the table, enjoy a leisurely meal, and then take it the best of what the city has to offer, from cabarets featuring Broadway’s brightest to workshops of new musicals backed by Darren Criss’ production company.

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The space is classic supper club – dark wood, burgundy fabric, and well dressed servers. All of the servers here are gorgeous, so you indeed start eating with your eyes first. Though I didn’t photograph it, be sure to order the drink made with bourbon, paprika, and orange bitters. It’s really mellow, with brightness, a hit of spice, and a slightly sweet, buttery finish – almost like toffee. 

IMG_20140317_184838_243 Charcuterie plate (captured after it was demolished and as lights were dimming)

SO worthwhile! This plate is filled with soft, creamy brie, a tangy fontina-type cheese, and a wedge of lovely, rather mild blue cheese. Add to that juicy olives, marcona almost, cornichons, and a bevy of cured meats and you have yourself a really great meal! The smoky chorizo is especially excellent.

IMG_20140317_184902_159 Caesar salad

The only true misstep of the night. Fried shallots and torn basil are delicious, fresh takes on this classic dish, but they don’t save it. What did the dressing – the MOST important part of a Caesar salad – taste like? Beats me. There couldn’t have been more than a scant half teaspoon on this acre of romaine. It was like they were daring me to find it. Not a fan.
IMG_20140317_185214_371 Steak tartare

Here’s the stuff. I could have used some tabasco but other than that, it’s quite good. Coarsely chopped beef mixed with capers, mustard, and pepper get a final, luxurious touch when you mix in the raw quail egg. It’s rich but not heavy and is really well salted, which is key to a tasty tartare. Like I said, it could really use some heat, but what couldn’t? Schmear it on the toast points and you might even be able to pretend that you are in Paris, except that here, you can get ice cubes in your water.

Look, this food is not worth seeking out unless you are here to see  a show. It’s mundane and expensive. But it does the trick, and is leagues better than that hot turkey sandwich of yesteryear’s dinner theaters. Plus, it helps you reach your minimum without getting wasted on watered down vodka sodas.

And it does NOT make me have flashbacks to the old days. Thankfully.

*Yes, that was an actual question by a patron. Could I even make that up?

Wild Edibles – Oysters are in Season!

I’m an oyster lover. Can’t get enough of those briny bivalves.

So when a girlfriend suggested that we get together at Wild Edibles Oyster Bar, I was game. Wild Edibles is a seafood purveyor that has a stand in Grand Central Station and its own small restaurant in Midtown East. It carries incredibly fresh fish and offers a sustainability guide so you can see how sustainable the fish is that you are buying or eating. I haven’t ever bought fish from them, but have often ogled the goods in Grand Central Station.

The restaurant is tiny, with a small bar and a few tables. It is definitely casual and extremely focused on seafood. If you don’t like fish or shellfish, don’t eat here.

But if you do…prepare to be amazed. You can choose from a variety of menu items, specials, or even just choose a fresh fish from the market case and design your own spices and marinades for it!

We went with a few oysters:

Kumamoto – small, sweet, creamy. A great beginner oyster. 

Skookum – like the Kumamoto, but with more body and richness. 

Salt Aire – Large, briny, pleasantly metallic. An oyster for oyster lovers. 

Beau Soleil – a classic oystery flavor. Mild, briny, with a very “oceanic” taste

Blue Point – Incredibly fresh and mineral-y. Full of body with a plump texture – one of my favorites of the night.

Canada Cup – Juicy and meaty, with a very tart, briny finish. Delicious with some cocktail sauce and a slice of buttered bread to cut through the salt of it.

 

These oysters were around $2.25 each – not cheap, but absolutely worth it. So fresh, so delicious, so unpretentious. And every day there is a happy hour, where oysters are only a dollar. Great service, great food, and at those happy hour prices, I will definitely be back for more of those marvelous mollusks.

Wild Edibles on Urbanspoon

Almond Croissants at Lady M and Dining Fine at The Andaz

What have I been eating lately? This stuff:

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Almond croissant at Lady M

This bakery, famous for its 20 layer crepe cake, also makes one hell of an almond croissant. The edges are crispy and wonderfully crunchy while the middle and inner pale layers are moist. The top is glazed with sugar and sprinkled with slivered almonds. The filling is the best part. A thick layer of almond paste is hearty, nutty, and sugary – it’s like the best marzipan on the planet. The croissant is large but still carefully constructed – it’s the perfect breakfast or coffee time snack.

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Russ and Daughters Gravlax at The Shop

Perhaps the greatest gravlax on the planet, now served at a delightful restaurant in The Andaz 5th Avenue. The restaurant is stylish and sleek, but the menu is nothing like the hotel restaurants of yore. The ingredients are all sourced from individual butchers, bakers, and fishmongers from all over the 5 boroughs. It’s more like a marketplace where you can get food made than a standard restaurant. We had Schaller and Weber mini bratwursts that were juicy, savory, and surprisingly sweet. We had Feather Ridge eggs whose yolks were so thick and yellow that they were nearly orange. And we had thickly cut gravlax that is permeated with fragrant dill and pepper, layered on as lab of cream cheese and a toasted bialy studded with sweet caramelized onions. This place is a great treat brunch place.

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Burrata at The Smith

Yes, I come here all the time. And, yes, I always rave about it. But that’s because it is always…always…ALWAYS great. The service is wonderful, the prices are fair, and the food is delish. The burrata is better than many I have had in sub-par Italian restaurants. It’s a creamy, ample portion; served with salty and savory roasted red pepper relish, bitter arugula, and a couple of thick, crunchy croutons. A tasty appetizer or its own small meal with a slice or two of the accompanying French bread.

Afternoon Tea at The Plaza

This post was supposed to go live on Thursday – I am so sorry for the delay! Between the snow and the…well, the life that had to go on despite the snow…I totally blanked on publishing it! Direct from drafts, I bring you this post!

Is there anything as lovely as afternoon tea? As refined, as relaxing, as indulgent?

I think not.

And there is something especially decadent and “ladies who lunch” about enjoying it at the world-famous Plaza hotel – I mean, if it’s good enough for Eloise…

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The Palm Court is where tea has always been served. Sitting beneath a glass dome on golden chivari chairs or plush banquette while tuxedoed servers fill your cups with fragrant peppermint tea and your glasses with chilled ice water…if there is something more “Downton Abbey than this in America, I demand to know where it is. Wear your pearls, ladies, and for heaven’s sake, leave those wretched cell phones on silence.

Just call me Lady Violet.

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The Fitzgerald Tea

Though you could go with The Chocolate Tea or The New Yorker Tea, The Fitzgerald is the way to go. It’s only $10 more and includes the best desserts and luxury sandwiches.

 I always regret not getting a glass of  champagne alongside.

photo 2 (10) Tea sandwiches

The finest this side of the Atlantic. House smoked salmon – only gently smokey and incredibly silky, layered on soft white bread with dilled cream cheese. The final luxury touch is a dollop of salty caviar. I love those little fish eggs. Don’t forget the curried lobster salad, with huge buttery chunks of lobster or the truffled egg salad, topped with a single, rich quail egg in a crumbly shortcrust pastry.  The savories are The Plaza’s forte – these tea sandwiches are without rival in either taste or variety in the city’s tea scene.

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Scones are a little dense and hard, but the buttery, insanely rich, almost mascarpone-like Devonshire cream, tart lemon curd, and fragrant strawberry jam do a lot of good in making you forget the scone’s leaden texture. Not perfect but damned good. 


photo 3 (6) The desserts are just…sigh. Lovely. The brownie is a little dry but the marshmallows are soft and sweet and the cream puffs are ideal – crunchy pastry surrounding vanilla bean flecked custard. The perfect way to end a 2 hour late lunch.

Tea at The Plaza isn’t cheap. But it’s a wonderful treat to share with out of town guests, a best friend, or a loved family member. I can’t tell you how transporting it is to stop in the middle of working and shopping and laundry and emails to take 2 hours to just sit…and eat beautiful things…and drink tea out of elegant china. It’s an indulgence that I don’t often take, but when I do, I am always glad that I did.

You will be, too.