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.

Forgoing the Bread at Olympic Pita

One of the first blogs I ever read was Midtown Lunch. Back then, it just covered midtown and it was only in NYC – not this uber famous, national publication that it is now. It was just one guy – Zach Brooks – writing about places he liked to eat his workday lunches. He loved spicy, cheap, ethnic food – hello, my tastebuds.

That’s where I first learned about Olympic Pita. And yesterday, I finally tried it.

Olympic Pita is a kind of funny set up – from the front it looks totally like a take out place, with a long counter where you can help yourself to salad bar fixings and order your falafel and schwarma sandwiches. The back is late 90s bar dining chic – you know what I mean. Real plates, slick lines, and the top pop hits playing on the radio. I wouldn’t come here for a date, but for a convenient lunch or dinner that is nicer than your local pizza joint, it’s ideal.

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Moroccan cigars

The first time I had these was when I was a kid. My parent’s glamorous friend made them – she also introduced me to guacamole, so I guess I have her to thank for the awkward freshman that I experienced years later. I haven’t had them since but the minute that I tasted these, I was transported back to 1994. It was a total time machine. Wafer thin, crispy skins like spring rolls filled with a deeply savory, mineral-y meat filling. They say that it’s beef but it tastes almost like liver. It’s that rich and smooth. Dipped in the nutty, smooth tahini sauce, it is a really hearty appetizer. They are light, crunchy,a nd intensely meaty. Perfect for a wintery day.

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Iraqi Chicken

Oh YES. I haven’t ever had Iraqi chicken before and it is really great. The chicken has a charred, woodsy taste like it is grilled over an open fire. The chicken is ground and mixed with fragrant coriander, garlic, and other spices and herbs before it gets grilled. The result is a very earthy, fragrant sort of kofte kebab – it’s dense and juicy. Delicious.

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The salad bar is another don’t miss. There are tart pickled turnips, turmeric infused cabbage, tangy coleslaw, and some of the spiciest hot sauce I have ever tried – can’t wait to go back and choose some other side dishes.

I can’t wait to go back and try the famous laffa too – who goes to Olympic Pita and doesnt’ get bread, after all!? The food here isn’t cheap, but that’s because it’s kosher. The meat is expensive and it’s also a commodity to be serving Kosher food – so yeah, a sit down lunch will cost around $16 a person. However, the take out sandwiches seem much less expensive – can’t wait to go back and check those out. And for heaven’s sake, get some bread!

 

How to Waste an Entire Month’s Rent at The Plaza

There are times when you need to do something stupid.

I don’t mean something that could hurt you or someone else.

I don’t mean something that is illegal.

I mean something that is expensive.

I mean heading to The Plaza Food Hall and ordering a cheese plate that is massively overpriced.

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You can, however, smile nicely and say “please” and “thank you”, and the server, so used to snobby or borish customers, will cut you and extra portion of cheese and throw some prosciutto on there just because you are polite.

Maybe he can tell that you are having a rough day.

Maybe he can tell that you will have to return a new coat to afford this little outing.

Once you order, make your way through the hordes of tourists to the seats at the end of the counter.

Then, you will be brought a very large cheese board – so large that it almost – ALMOST – justifies the insane price tag. The hunk of Humboldt Fog is huge and almost room temperature. It’s creamy and light, with none of that barnyard-y taste or crumbly texture of lesser goat cheeses. The manchego is semi-soft and nutty with the briny green olive tapenade and the sweet red grapes. The prosciutto is obviously fresh – it almost melts upon contact with your tongue, leaving behind only a sweet, mild, porky taste.  Don’t forget the freshly toasted pretzel chips, crispy and pillowy at once.

After all of that, you may want to spend a little more money

Just because, go big or go home right?

And since you won’t be able to afford rent this month, you may not want to go home.

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So you might as well go have some champagne in The Rose Club.

Go to the mezzanine level, away from the family tourists and with the Euro-cool folks who think that they have more money than you do but less money than the think they do.

Just order that half bottle of Krug. After all, it’s all downhill from her anyway. You are at the Plaza, chomping on sweet candied nuts and being served by men in tuxedos.

And that Krug…wow.

I have rarely had champagne like this. It’s so balanced – clean and crisp with toasty and heady notes – it almost reminds me of mustard in the way that incredible mustard is a sensation for your nose and palate. It’s the perfect accompaniment for a bad day, a good day, a cheese plate, or any combination thereof.

And it’s a great memory when you are mushing together the dregs of old soaps instead of getting new ones because soap money is nonexistent this month.

Of course, if you didn’t waste all of your money on this, you might want to check out this Lamb Cooking Class at Fairway. Learn how to cook Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb, Roasted Leg of Lamb, and a flurry of side dishes and dessert before getting to eat your creations! Even better, you get wine pairings from the coolest wine aficionado I have ever met, Joshua Wesson, and the money from your ticket proceeds the New York Common Pantry. Head here for more details – I wasn’t paid to tell ya about this, I have just been to Fairway’s classes, and they are awesome! 

What I’ve Been Eating Lately

And now, for a quick look at some of my favorite recent eats around the city:

IMG_20130827_083434_015 Pomme Palais macarons

Disclaimer – I work for this joint. But I’ll be damned if these macarons aren’t outstanding. Wow…they are made fresh, every single day, by a marvelous staff who painstakingly fills each crunchy almond cookie with fragrant raspberry jam, nutty pistachio ganache, or fudgy chocolate. You never get a stale one, because they are replaced every single day without fail. And a fresh macaron – chewy, crispy, light, and intense – is perhaps my numer one favorite sweet treat. These are among the best in the city.

IMG_20140112_123147_467 Vodka slice at House of Pizza and Calzones

I could shoot myself for not taking a beauty shot, but hey, at least the underskirt was captured, right? Besides, pictures could never capture the intense, cheesy wonderful nature of this slice. The vodka sauce is very creamy and sweet, with only a mild tang from tomatoes. It’s so rich next to the milky fresh mozzarella that covers the slice. Yet, it isn’t flat or boring – the sauce is generously spiked with oregano and the paper thin crust provides a wheaty, earthy backbone. I can’t recommend this slice enough – it may have replaced sausage and onion as my all time fave slice flavor!
IMG_20140113_131432_835 Anything at Viand

How many diners are there in this city? About a gajillion, right? But how many good diners are there? I have been to like 4 – and this is one of them. The place is pristine, with good service and they never look at you weirdly if you come in alone and just want to sit and read a trashy magazine…or a Pulitzer Prize winner…because that’s what I read. The salads are fresh, with no limp or slimy veggies, and there are curly fries.

Curly fries, people.

Get an omelette, get a turkey club, get a slice of homemade pie, and whatever time you get it, it will be fresh, delicious, and delivered quickly.

Long live the reliable diner. 

NYC’s Best Lazy Buffets

I happen to love a good buffet. The hedonistic, gluttonous, slightly(more than slightly?) trashy experience of eating mountains of sushi, prime rib, eggs Benedict, and “gelato” until your stomach is distended and the clock has turned from AM to PM.

But…there is something a  little better than the standard buffet, which also includes lines, sneeze guards, and less than optimally heated food.

That would be the lazy person’s buffet.

Where the endless food is just brought to you. You don’t even need to get up from your chair. Expandomatic pants are all that’s needed.

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Churrascaria Plataforma

Have you ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Because if not – and you eat meat – you have been missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. A pleasure that starts with cheesy, puffy yuca rolls, like doughy gougeres. That progresses to a massive salad bar filled with vegetables, pasta,  spicy bean stew, and other items. A pleasure that reaches its savory climax in the parade of meats. Servers come to your table and slice you different cuts of freshly roasted meats – as much as you can handle. Literally – you have a little token that you make red when you want to stop eating, but as long as it’s green…you keep getting fed. And this stuff ain’t hot dog meat, either. We are talking smoky pork chorizo, garlicky rubbed steak, salty and wonderfully rare prime rib, Parmesan crusted juicy pork chops, and every kind of rib you can imagine. Don’t forget the bottomless mashed potatoes, fried bananas, and french fries. And don’t forget to come early…you can stay as long as you want and with food this tasty and at a price this reasonable-you will want to eat as much as you can.

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Moti Mahal Delux

This New Delhi export makes the UES the best brunch neighborhood in town. For just $15, you get intricately flavored, delicately balanced Indian food – as much as you can handle, and then some. Pungent bhel poori, creamy tikka masala, buttery dahl, fragrant saag paneer, fresh naan…and the menu changes every weekend. If you gett he brunch special, you get what the Michelin-recommended chefs want to make that day. And if they would eat it themselves, why wouldn’t you eat it? The food is not heavy or salty – it’s complex in flavor and texture, and is highly recommended for the most discerning Indian food connoisseurs (not that I’m discerning, but I have had a lot of tandoori in my life…just saying). Do NOT miss out on the gulab jamun for dessert – the yeastiest, warmest, softest doughnut I have had in  many a moon. As added bonuses, service is excellent and the menu is very vegetarian friendly.

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Mish Mosh at Sugar and Plumm

Not a buffet, but it might as well be…do you SEE the size of this thing? Vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, potato chips, gummy bears, chocolate candies, whipped cream, blondies, and chocolate sauce…and a spoon.

Or 2 spoons if you want it to be more of a meal with loved ones and less of an ode to lactose tolerance and gluttony.

Whatever floats your boat.

It isn’t cheap, but it is insanely decadent (LOVE those salty chips!), and where else can you go at 9 PM and see an entire menu filled with desserts, fit for an out-of-town guest (for those times when a diner just won’t cut it)? It’s over the top, but then, that’s just what buffets are.

Especially lazy person’s buffets.

I’ll meet you at the table.

Moti Mahal Delux on Urbanspoon