Park Side – Don’t Fuggedaboudit

I never watched “The Sopranos”. But I love Goodfellas. The G-dfather. Every documentary about the Gottis is currently on my DVR.

I buy into the hype. I love a good mob story! Family, loyalty, intrigue…and food. Every mob movie seems to feature mouth-watering sequences with garlic, tomatoes, and ground pork. 

And if there were a restaurant that the mob frequented in real life…not saying they DID, just saying IF…that restaurant would be Park Side in Corona, Queens.

It’s across the street from a boccee ball court, described in my Ice King of Corona post. It has a valet run by men in suits – in fact, every server in the restaurant wears a suit with a bow tie and I didn’t even see any female ones. Funny enough, this doesn’t’ strike me as sexist – this is probably because most of the head servers there are career servers. They seem to have been here since the 1960s, and maybe they have.

This is Italian-American food at its finest. This is manicotti, spaghetti bolognese, and chicken francese. Don’t be looking for any micro-farmed greens or organic wines. Look for the food that you thought was Italian. And don’t be ashamed…we all love it.

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You can sit downstairs in chairs marked with plaques that  bear the name of the regular customers who weekly sit there. You can sit upstairs, in the frosted glass, flourescent lit, fabulously 1980s Marilyn Monroe room.

You might need shoulder pads to feel truly at home here.

Feel free to come dressed in jeans or an evening gown – anything runs and the hospitality is always the same – as if you are the head of the family, gracing the restaurant with your presence.

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Bread Basket

Like none I have ever experienced – it’s what Scarpetta’s bread basket was before it got all uptown and slick. Garlicky crostini, crunchy breadsticks, and the most fabulous salami and cheese filled bread. Its’s doughy and soft, layered with spicy pork and tangy provolone cheese.

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Don’t forget to treat yourself to the hunks of salty Parmesan and the juicy, garlicky, soft roasted tomatoes on garlic crostini.

This is the start to what is sure to be a gut busting meal.

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Every meal here comes with salad or pasta. Choose the salad, but only go for the Caesar dressing if you like an aggressive, heavy hit of anchovy. You will need something green tonight, after all.

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Chicken Parmesan

The finest in the world. On the planet. No apologies, no justifications. Just the best. The juiciest thicken cutlet, pounded thin so it stays tender. The crust is thick and very crunchy. The cheese is obviously whole milk mozzarella – nothing else could be this creamy and stretchy. It is broiled until it is bubbling and brown, with crispy bits amongst the soft, chewy bits of cheese. It avoids that horrible fate of most chicken Parmesan dishes - the dreaded sog factor. This is served with a generous swath of bright, oregano-heavy tomato sauce and still remains crunchy and juicy. It just can’t be beat. There is nowhere that makes chicken parm like Park Side. 

Oh, and I lied. Get that pasta with the chicken parm – it demands it.

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Chocolate cake

Of course, for a meal this nostalgic, only chocolate cake will do, and this one delivers. Fudgy, dense, moist…just like Grandma Mary made.

Or, in this case, Grandma Maria. 

This is the grand temple of Italian American cuisine. Without it, how could places like Carbone come to be? It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for – fabulous service, atmosphere that can’t be beat, and food that is just what you want when you order it. And in huge portions.

Maybe I better start watching “The Sopranos” after all…nothing like continuing with a theme.

What’s Delicious Lately

These three dishes have tickled my tastebuds recently, and you should go seek them out!:

Chocolate Cupcake at Butter Lane Cupcakes

No, these aren’t better than Buttercup cupcakes, but they are really tasty. The gimmick is also great – mix and match the flavors of cupcakes and icing as you like. The icing comes in flavors like espresso and salted caramel, plus there is a weekly rotating flavor. The cake is a little drier than I like, but the frosting is lovely. Not too sweet, not too thick – just light, tangy cream cheese frosting that is moist and finger-lickin good.

Steak Tartare at Danji

This little modern Korean restaurant is as wonderful now as it was when it first opened. The menu continues to evolve with dishes like this. The steak is hand cut so it reteaisn a steak-like texture. It is mixed with a heavy dose of sesame oil and fragrant Asian spices. It is topped with sweet Asian pear and served with a qual egg and crispy slaw alongside. Once you mix up all the ingredients, the plate loses its lovely look but tastes incredible. A variety of tastes and textures that is cool, crunchy, spicy, salty, nutty, and very satisfying. Sit at the bar with a glass of champagne and order a few small plates, including this.

Pizza from Gloria’s

Just great NYC pizza. Thin, foldable crust. Oregano spiked sauce. A thin layer of bubbly cheese. Warm, savory, pleasantly greasy. Perfection eaten off of a paper plate with a sprinkle of hot pepper flakes.

 

Corner Bistro Comes to Long Island City

Let’s say you saw this picture:

You would, of course, think I was in the west village, waiting for a burger at the storied Corner Bistro. This small, rundown bar only takes cash, serves on paper plates, and produces some of the finest burgers in the city. Come here for a beer and a burger, not for any fancy atmosphere. Also, come here prepared to wait. There is always a line out the door and around the block, and though the burgers are fantastic, the wait can often top an hour. Not necessarily what you want when it’s 11:30 pm, you have been drinking since 5 pm, and you just want to sit and chow down.

Back to the original question, by the way? You would be wrong. I was at the new Corner Bistro, in Long Island city.

The new restaurant is similar to the original, but not exactly the same. The place has the same, relaxed, pub feel but is much more of an actual restaurant, with booths, real plates and silverware, and an expanded menu. That means brunch, a credit card machine, and the knowledge that you can come get a burger without waiting until your next birthday. But do the burgers measure up to the original?

Cheeseburger

Oh yeah. And then some. The burger here is just as huge, as juicy, and as backyard-grill good. After all, this branch uses the same grill that they do in the West Village – they just use one that is twice as large so the burgers come out fast and furious. This is similar to the burger at Burger Joint, but bigger. It’s the kind of burger that you dream in the winter, the one that reminds you of summer cook outs. Order it blanketed in velvety American cheese, and enjoy it with the requisite onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles.

Oh, and get it medium rare. This place understands how to cook burger to order. This is a big burger – you might feel sick if you eat the whole thing.

Which, of course, I did. Totally don’t regret it.

Wings

From the expanded menu. These are awesome – no other way to put it. Big, meaty drumsticks and wings that are so juicy and substantial that they really serve as a meal. They are crispy on the outside, dunked in a thick, smokey sauce that is sweet and spicy without being too fiery or too cloying. This is just a really good wing – I could easily have eaten the platter of these, if I hadn’t already eaten an entire bovine sandwich (that monster of a burger). Oh, and the blue cheese is rockin, too.

Sweet Potato Fries

Sure, you can get the standard crispy shoestring fries here, but why not go for the sweeter side of things? Though I am not often a fan of sweet potato fries, these are quite good - crispy, well seasoned, and fluffy instead of mushy on the inside. These are fresh-cut and it tastes that way – they lack the dull, almost musty taste of frozen sweet potato fries. If you like sweet potato fries, these might be your new gold standard.

Corner Bistro, LIC branch, itself is pretty gold standard. The service is excellent, the prices are just as cheap as the Manhattan ones, and the food is phenomenal. I can’t think of a better place to relax and watch a sports game with a beer and a burger.

Who am I kidding…I wish they would play Bravo on  one of the flat screens while I had a diet Coke with my burger.

But as long as I can avoid waiting in line…it’s still worth the trip!

*Disclaimer: My meal was paid for by the restaurant. I was not required to write a review and my opinions are my own and, I feel, unbiased.*

  Corner Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Lemon Ice King of Corona

As a transplanted Californian, I am constantly surprised by the food offerings found on the East Coast.

This is a vast generalization, but it can be very hard to find West Coast restaurants with the longevity of those on the East Coast. The West Coast food scene is about innovation and the next new thing. That is exciting and vital to the evolution of food culture, but it means that a lot of important and storied eateries are trampled along the way to progress. The East Coast tends to place  value on the history of a restaurant and the significance of it to the people who have dined there for generations.

That’s the reason that a little Italian ice stand in Queens is still alive and well.

Italian ices are often fruit based juices, stirred as they are frozen, resulting in a sort of soft serve sorbet. Softer than sorbet and lighter  than frozen yogurt, it is a dessert all its own that is perfect for a summer night.

The penultimate destination for Italian ice lovers is The Lemon Ice King of Corona.

This shop, serving up Italian ices for over 60 years, is quite unassuming. On a pristine corner in Corona, catty corner from the storied Park Side Restaurant, is a little storefront. You line up, wait your turn, and choose your ice. No indoor seating, no individual menus, no time to hem and haw about your order once you are at the front of the line. Just some of the best Italian ice on the planet. The line is always long, but it moves quickly.

The menu is large, ranging from the standard fruit flavors all the way to coffee and even sugar-free varieties.

Once you make your decision, watch the efficient workers gather the ice out of a  large tub, pack it into a small paper cup, and form a perfectly dense scoop that you eat like an ice cream cone. Cross to the nearby bocce ball court to enjoy your treat.

Lemon Ice

It ain’t called the Lemon Ice King of Corona for nothing. This ice is the gold standard. Once you have had it, that hard sorbet out of the carton just won’t satisfy you. The texture is incredibly smooth, with none of the hard, grainy bits that lesser ices have. It is sweet, tart, and straightforward – it reminds me of when I was a kid and used to hang out on the stoop, watching the neighborhood kids play kickball while my nonna hung laundry out the window to dry.

Well, that wasn’t my childhood, but this ice makes me wish that it was.

Pistachio

This pistachio is so much better than you think it will be. Creamier, deeper flavored, with the fatty, slightly salty taste of pistachios mingling with the sweet ice. Refreshing but also indulgent, this might be the sleeper hit of the menu – it is so satisfying, it could easily replace the need for more fatty pistachio gelato.

The Lemon Ice King of Corona isn’t just about the delicious ices or the insanely cheap prices. It is about so much more than that. It is about lining up outside with other neighborhood locals and foodies, chatting about the virtues of fruit salad vs. cotton candy flavors. It is about enjoying your ice while  watching wizened old men playing an intense game of bocce ball scream at each other in Italian before embracing each other and laughing. It is about sitting on a park bench, enjoying both the frozen treat and a view of New York that many Manhattanites never get to experience. This is community, it is tradition, and it is part of why food is so important to cultural identity. This isn’t just a dessert, it’s an icon that has not changed in over 60 years.

Here’s hoping it never does.

Benfaremo - The Lemon Ice King of Corona on Urbanspoon

Seasons 52 – Healthy Dining in Queens

This one is for those who live near Garden City, NY or are venturing out to Roosevelt Field Mall to shop for a prom dress. Because there is a new restaurant in that part of town that blows other choices straight out of the water.

Seasons 52 is an upscale eatery that focuses on seasonal food. The menu totally changes 4 times a year and nothing on the whole menu is over 450 calories. Not the burgers, not the pizzas, not even the desserts.

Clearly, I was expecting food that tasted like cardboard or plates that were the size of postage stamps.

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The first feel of the restaurant is business casual – like a P.F. Chang’s. It definitely feels corporate, but not at all cheesy.

Ripe Plum Tomato Flatbread with fresh basil, roasted garlic and melted Parmesan cheese

This flatbread, more tender than crisp, is a tasty starter. The toppings are incredibly fresh and high quality, with juicy tomatoes, sharp Parmesan cheese, and plenty of very fresh basil. Though the bread itself could be crisper, the result is light but still flavorful. It is excellent for whetting the appetite.

Sushi-Grade Ahi Tuna Seared Rare sliced and served chilled with Asian cucumber salad and sesame crisps

One of the best dishes of the day. Expertly seared ahi, smoky on the outside and mild and tender on the inside, it is soft and lush as truly fresh tuna is. The cucumber salad, fragrant with sesame oil and spicy with ginger, is a worthy counterpart, as are the crispy sesame wontons. This is a great example of how healthy food doesn’t mean fake ingredients or tiny portions – this is a great portion that, with a side dish, could easily be a full meal.

Buffalo Burger with guacamole, roasted pepper salsa and spicy chili sour cream

I had never had a buffalo burger before and I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying it was. Buffalo has a really mild taste, and when cooked to a pleasing medium rare, it is tender and lighter tasting than a beef burger. Because of its mild taste, it takes well to the creamy guacamole, spicy salsa, and smoky sour cream topping. Best of all, it tastes like an indulgent burger without any of the guilty feeling afterwards. I won’t lie, I was definitely craving some fries with this, but I made do with a side salad.

Caramelized Sea Scallops grilled and served with roasted asparagus and tomato-mushroom pearl pasta

A  generous serving of sea scallops with a nicely charred crust concealing barely opaque insides – cooked gently so they are not rubbery or fishy. The accompanying asparagus and Israeli couscous is light and herbal, a good accompaniment to the buttery shellfish.

Dessert Sampler

Seasons 52 claims to have popularized the “dessert-in-a-shotglass” that has been popularized all over the country, and they do it well. The Key Lime PIe has a buttery crust, tangy cream filling, and rich whipped cream topping, and the Chocolate Peanut Butter is a PB cup in mousse form. The deserts are tiny but very rich – an ideal ending to an excellent meal.

This place would be ideal for a bridal shower or a lunch date with your mom. Why? Because the menu is huge, varied, and well priced. Teh setting is lovely, the cocktail and wine list is extensive, and the food is so tasty that you won’t believe that it’s so healthy.

It’s so great, it almost me want to go shopping at a suburban mall on the weekend so I can go eat there again.

And that’s really saying something!

*Disclaimer: I did not pay for my meal. I was not required to write about it and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

Eddie’s Sweet Shop

It’s very unusual to be able to time travel.

That might sound like something a crazy person says, but really, it is.

Luckily, I know the secret.

The secret is in Forest Hills, Queens, where you can travel back in time to the early 1900′s.

It happens the minute you pass through the doors of Eddie’s Sweet Shop. This old-fashioned ice cream parlor has barely changed  in its over 100 years in the same spot on Metropolitan Avenue. From the outside, it looks almost fake, but on the inside, it transports you.

Tin ceilings, a soda fountain, and a counter with penny candies greets you. The wooden tables and scalloped wrought iron chairs fit right in with the turn of the century feel to the place. The only thing truly out of place is the blasting pop music – I would really love to hear some Scott Joplin playing, but then, I just love a theme.

And, I’m secretly 74

Banana Royale

Bananas, coffee chip ice cream, maple walnut ice cream, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, walnuts, sprinkles

Everything is homemade here. The soft, fragrant vanilla, sweet maple walnut, and rich coffee chip ice creams. The hot fudge sauce, thick and warm, that cooled instantly as it touched the frozen cream, becoming a semi solid mass of sweet fudge. The whipped cream (hand whipped, so I am told), that is piled in massive drifts upon the ice cream, unsweetened so the taste is clean, and of pure cream. The walnuts, sliced bananas, and sprinkles might not be homemade, but they do complete the fanciful ice cream creation, adding texture and nostalgia. The ice cream sundae comes in an old fashioned metal boat on a tiny tray, perfect for catching falling hot fudge and dripping coffee chip ice cream so you can scoop up the melted confection without having to waste a bite.

This is one of the most wonderful desserts I have had in NYC. Even if you are a visitor to the city, it is worth the trip. It isn’t just the fantastic taste, it is the feeling that you are going back in time.

After all, how awesome is it that you now know how to time travel?

Eddie's Sweet Shop on Urbanspoon

M. Wells Lives Up to Expectations, but not to its Reputation

M. Wells. Don’t pretend like you haven’t heard of it. After Alan Richman’s rather soured view of the restaurant hit the internet last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if beings living on Mars had heard of the Quebecois influenced haute-dining-meets-diner food served in Long Island City. 
Hoping to see what all the hoo-ha was about, I set out to M. Wells, run by Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis,  for lunch last week. When we got there at 11:30, there was a 20 minute wait. That’s right…at 11:30. On a weekday. Plan accordingly.
*Also…when you get out of the 7 train, walk TOWARDS the New York City skyline. If you walk the other way, you will end up in no man’s land. I speak from experience. And bitterness.*
The diner was just that – a diner. An actual dining car, with burnished chrome accents, stools at a countertop and a long communal table at which I sat. It was cramped, it was hot, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Smoked Herring Caesar Salad. 
For those of you who hate anchovies or salt, this is your salad. All the punchy, umami, garlicky taste of Caesar, but with a more pungent, fishy, intensely smokey taste to it than the original. It was reminiscent of both bacon and the whitefish salad you might get at brunch with your Bubby. With crispy homemade croutons and layers of fluffy, nutty Parmesan cheese, this was a unique and delicious take on a Caesar. Well deserving of its acclaim. 
Spaghetti Sandwich.
If this isn’t hangover food, I don’t know what is. Spaghetti and tomato sauce, bound with egg and fried, served on a soft, squishy bun. I didn’t try it, but my mom said it was fantastic. And trust me…that wild woman has had her share of drunk food. 
French Fries
Some crisp, some squishy, some salty, some flecked with herby parsley and all perfectly cooked. Not too salty or oily but enough of both to remind me that I was indulging in the world’s most perfect guilty pleasure. Good french fries are a  thing of beauty. These were perfect french fries – truly some of the best I have ever had. Deliciously savory next to the sweetness of ketchup, they were even better on their own. Just fluffy, crunchy pieces of potato. In fact, this would have been my favorite part of my meal if it hadn’t been for…
Gaspacho with foie gras. 
Sweet and acidic summer tomatoes blended with pungent onions, vibrant basil, a touch of heavy cream and a myriad of other ingredients. Incredibly complex, I can’t even begin to imagine all the ingredients in there. I definitely detected the tang of sherry vinegar but beyond that…I don’t know. It was earthy and comforting but also intricate and refined. It showcased how the most simple ingredients can be transformed into something unexpected and unusual with the right technique. If you like tomato soup, you will love this. If you like salad you will love this. Hell, if you like LIFE you will love this. This soup was the soup of the day, so it is ever changing, but if it is on the list, you MUST get it. 
And, of course, you must get it with the  seared foie gras. A generous love of seared foie floated in the middle of the vibrant bowl of soup – the most decadent ile flotant I have ever encountered. Crisp, syrupy sweet crust gave way to melting, rich, velvety insides. Warm contrasted with the coolness of the soup, the flecks of salt on the buttery foie blending in with the sweet tomatoes and the herbaceous, zingy basil. 
Banana Cream Pie
Have I told you I despise bananas? Because I do. I hate their gummy texture, their stringy outsides, and their almost sickeningly sweet taste. 
But my good friend and greenmarket guru was dying to order it. 
So we did. 
And it BLEW me away. 
Let’s start with the crust. The savory, flaky crust that was so supremely rich that Jen gasped “There must be 6 pounds of butter in there! That’s amazing!” The custard was not sweet either – speckled with vanilla beans, it was rich, smooth and deeply vanilla but only barely sweet. The sweetness came from the bananas. That’s where the brilliance lay. The bananas, naturally sweet, gave all the sugar necessary to this pie. They fairly melted into the custard, making it one smooth, cohesive layer underneath a mound of freshly whipped, unsweetened cream. By a mound, I mean a mountain and by a mountain, I mean Kilimanjaro. 
By the end of the meal, I have to say…I was a little disappointed. I received great service. Courteous, efficient, helpful and enthusiastic. The prices were INCREDIBLY cheap and the food was totally fun and delicious. I didn’t get even a whiff of the terrible service that had Richman writhing in anger. The only thing that angers me is that the restaurant is closing at the end of the month. So get there while you can. Because, even if you hadn’t heard about M. Wells before…you damn well have no reason not to visit there now.
M. Wells on Urbanspoon

Lefkos Pirgos Cafe – Pastries, Greek Style

After a night full of garlic, wine and a pre-dessert, what could cap off a girls’ night better than a visit to a traditional mom and pop style Greek bakery?
 Besides Joh Hamm…sadly, we couldn’t get him in Astoria.
 What we could get was Greek TV, a Greek staff and a plethora of Greek pastries at Lefkos Pirgos Cafe. Be aware – you come here for the food, not the atmosphere, which is casual and relaxed with a tough of “EAT YOUR DINNER,” from the slightly haggard servers. If you take pictures, they will yell at you, and if you ask for the name of the sweet you are eating, they won’t tell you. Who cares? Grab a table and chair and relax for some of the best desserts this side of Athens.
 Be sure to get a slice of the Baklava. And by a slice, I mean the mammoth hunk they will place in front of you. Layers of flaky phyllo dough are alternately crisp and moist, sandwiching a fatty, slightly savory melange of mixed crushed nuts, spicy with cinnamon and cloves. Honey envelops the entire pastry, making it all sweet and melding with the spices. You might think that you can’t finish the whole thing, but I bet you will be able to.  It is huge and it is delicious.
 Galaktompoureko – cream filled pastry soaked in honey syrup. 
It was about this time that I stopped thinking about Jon Hamm, because nothing could be more delicious than this. Dense, creamy filling was less sweet than it was tangy and rich – like a cheesecake with a whipped consistency. The phyllo dough provided textural contrast and the sugary syrup added the necessary sweetness to the dish. This was like a very ripe brie with honey – sweet, smooth, satisfying. 
And now, my favorite…These tiny nut cookies. I wish I knew their name, but in the absence of a name, I will just call them what they are – little bombs of heaven. They are heavy, rich and incredibly sweet. Loaded with nuts and those same aromatic spices. Small but packed with flavor. 
Lefkos Pirgos Cafe will never win for decor. It will never be the most cutting edge place in town. But what it does, it does exceptionally well. Well worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.
And on a night that you can’t get Jon Hamm…it makes a darned good substitute.

Agnanti Meze – Greece in Astoria

If you don’t use Twitter, you are really missing out. How else are you supposed to know what Kirstie Alley ate for breakfast? And, more importantly, how else are you supposed to know where to eat for dinner?
 A Twitter friend and foodie told me that Agnanti Meze was THE place to go for Greek food in Astoria. And since Astoria is THE place in New York for Greek food, I figured this would be the creme de la creme. 
 The casual restaurant has a lovely patio section, but be warned – by 7 pm on Saturday night, this joint was JUMPING and there was a wait. No mind, we sat at a rustic bench and enjoyed…
 This wine, which was similar to a sauvignon blanc. A little more acidic than I like, and perhaps too dry, but incredibly cheap. A bottle like this would cost twice as much in Manhattan.
Unless we were in the Meatpacking district. 
Then it would be three times as much.
 We started with a classic Greek Salad(olives on the side – and those olives were sweet, meaty and delish). This was just what I expected, only about a thousand times better. The tomatoes were ripe and sweet, the cukes crunchy and almost fragrant, the red onion added a bite but not too much, and there was pepper making the whole thing alive and a bit spicy. And then there was the feta cheese. Be still my heart…that feta cheese was the stuff dreams are made of. Creamy, soft, just salty enough to bring out the flavors of the vegetables…it was milder and more grassy than other fetas I have had. We fought over the dregs of the salad, dragging our crusts of peasant bread through the mouth-puckering vinaigrette that adorned the sweet veggies. 
 Tzatziki. If you don’t get this when you visit a Greek restaurant, you might as well just head to Applebees. What’s the point? Tzatziki is to Greek Cuisine as Butter is to French Cuisine. It practically defines it – for me at least. Made of yogurt, cucumbers, dill and garlic, this was a perfect rendition. It was creamy and tangy, with long spaghetti-like strands of cucumber binding the milky yogurt, the sharp garlic and the earthy dill. This was good on everything – bread, vegetables, fingers.
 Gigantes- Lima Beans stewed with tomatoes. If you think you have had lima beans, that is so nice for you. Till you have had these, you haven’t had lima beans. These are more like huge cannelini beans than anything else, and are so buttery that you could SWEAR that they had been injected with cream. Mild and hearty, they absorbed the rich, umami-filled taste of the stewed tomatoes and sweetly caramelized onions. There were earthy herbs strewn throughout – I know that I tasted spicy oregano in there, and I saw a bay leaf – this was my favorite vegetarian dish of the night. If you like polenta, you will love this for the same rich mouthfeel and filling sensation.
 Octopus Stewed with Tomatoes and Onions. Agnanti is famous for their grilled octopus, and I almost ordered it grilled, but at the last minute, our server convinced us to order the night’s special. As he puts it “When it’s grilled, it can only be great, but when it’s done the chef’s way, it is really something special.”
Touche, sir.
The octopus was incredibly tender, with just the merest sense of the ocean, like a piece of shellfish has that very mild seafood taste. It cut with a butter knife and was steeped in a rich and salty olive, tomato and onion stew. This was a dish for lovers of rustic food, and lovers of octopus. It had none of the rubbery texture or acrid flavor that chargrilled octopus can have. It was delicious.
 Shrimp Kataifi – shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough, served in a butter-mustard sauce. This was the richest shrimp dish I have EVER eaten. The large, snappy, perfectly cleaned shrimp were wrapped in crackling strips of phyllo dough and then positively drenched in what seemed like extra-rich butter. The mustard cut the sauce with a bit of acid, but make no mistake…this was butter central. Now, butter and shrimp are a natural combination, but this would be too much for a main course – and this is coming from the foie gras queen! As a shared dish, however, it was perfect, and was a filling and satisfying part of the meal. 
 Fried Bacalao. I LOVE Bacala, and this was the bacala of my junk food dreams – like the Greek version of New England fried seafood. Fried to crisp, pleasantly greasy, golden perfection, a puff of steam escaped as my teeth broke through the outer shell to the smooth texture within. Mild, with enough texture to tell what I was eating, the codfish inside had little or no potato, being totally full of that fresh tasting white fish. IT was served with skordalia, a potato garlic dip that was so strong it brought tears to my eyes. Forget warding off vampires…this was warding off people in Jersey. WAY too strong for me, and the only misstep of the night. Plus, these moist and crispy balls of fried seafood didn’t need anything else.
Other than my mouth. 
That’s what she said
Each table gets a complimentary serving of cornmeal cake with Greek yogurt and Sour Cherries. So, SO good – sweet cake with the slightly grainy texture of corn, creamy yogurt and sweet, tart jam. It is light but feels decadent and is a pleasing way to end a MORE than pleasing meal. 
This meal…all of it…cost just $30 per person. That includes the bottle of wine, some beer, and ALL the food. And when I say all, I didn’t even include the multiple courses of hot pita and peasant bread that were brought to our table. Or our enthusiastic server. Or the fact that we were invited to sit and linger over our glasses of wine even thought the restaurant was hopping. They didn’t want to turn over the table, they wanted us to enjoy our meal. And we did. I would have paid double, but because I didn’t have to, I will be back twice as much. 
And that, my friends, is why you need to get on Twitter.
Agnanti Meze on Urbanspoon

Duo Restaurant – The Best Martini in NYC

I have found the best martini in NYC. It is located in the delicious Murray Hill/Flatiron area, which houses Zero Otto Nove, Pure Food and Wine, and – now – Duo. Duo is owned by 2 Russian sisters whose family has a long history in the restaurant business. 
 The elegant, somewhat over-the-top space is done in purples, metallic and an ornate crystal chandelier. It is perfect decor for a bachelorette dinner. Duo is a New American restaurant that puts the focus on sexy, hip and trendy.
Case in point:
 Light up menus. Not Ipads, just plain old light up menus. Call me a sucker, but…these are kind of awesome. They make you feel like you are cooler and richer than you are. 
 And what’s wrong with that?
 If you like light, fruity drinks, start with the Pink Grapefruit Martini. Stoli, fresh grapefruit juice and mint combine in a tart but sweet drink that tastes more like lemonade than a potent drink. The mint adds an herby edge that keeps this from being too sweet.
 Of course, if you have really good taste, you will get the Double Truffle Martini. Vodka, dry vermouth, truffle juice, blue cheese and truffle stuffed olive. This is a drink for those of you who like the sharp taste of vodka, the clean, taste of vermouth, and the earthy, intoxicating taste of truffles. The truffles balance out the vodka’s astringent qualities, and make the vermouth taste lighter and more citrusy. The olive at the end is one of the best I have ever had. Juicy, briny, salty but not bitter, and stuffed with funky blue cheese and that deep taste of the truffles. This took over Pier 9 as having my favorite martini in New York. 
Pineapple Gazpacho was a fantastic amuse bouche. The pineapple retained its sweetness, but also tasted more tart than usual, picking up on the soup’s jalapeno and mild onion flavors. It was spicy(but not painfully hot), light and vibrant – the kind of thing that gets your appetite going. 
 Peppercorn bread. A bit cottony, with no discernible taste of pepper. Not an auspicious start to the meal, after the excellent drinks and amuse bouche. 
Luckily, the meal picked right back up:
Crispy Calamari Salad-frisée, bell peppers, shaved fennel, mango, yuzu Vinaigrette. 
The calamari was crisp and lightly breaded, with tender, thin cut rings of squid within. It tasted decadent but not at all heavy or greasy, with the lightly dressed salad adding brightness, the mango adding sweetness, and the fennel adding an lightness to the fried seafood. This is a perfect start to any meal. 
Poached Maine Lobster Salad -Avocado, cucumber, red and yellow peppers, jalapeño, champagne mango ‘caviar’
The generous portion of lobster was cooked expertly, until just BARELY done, so it retained it’s supple texture and exceedingly rich, buttery flavor. The smooth avocado echoed these flavors, the jalapeno added zip but not heat, and the mango brought out the brininess of the lobster, while adding a sweet, high note. The cucumbers and  peppers added texture to the mostly soft dish, making it a well conceived an executed one. This was the highlight of the appetizers, for me. 
Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad.
 If it is wrong to love this luxurious version of a plain old Caprese salad, then I don’t want to be right. The tomatoes were so sweet and juicy, the burrata so creamy and tangy and the balsamic so syrupy and sweet that it is impossible not to like this. Go on. I dare you. Try it and TRY not to like it.
Also try not to scratch your best friend with your fork while prohibiting her from getting the last of that slippery, fatty burrata. 
Sorry, Lauren…I’m sure that won’t scar. 
 At this point in the meal, we all got “sippers,” ingenious little cups made expressly for Duo that were filled with mixtures of fresh fruit and Grey Goose Vodka. They were some of the best alcoholic libations I have ever sampled – the pure taste of strawberry, litchi, or half a dozen other fruits, with absolutely NO alcoholic taste.  Though they were delicious, at $18 a pop, they were more of a novelty treat than a full on drink.
 Filet Mignon Carpaccio with Portabello Mushrooms, Artichokes and Arugula. 
Exactly what you want in a carpaccio. Beefy, full-on steak flavor in thin sheets, pounded so thin that they broke on the tines of my fork. Nary a shred of fat nor gristle in sight,just pure, juicy shreds of beef that delivered that unmistakable flavor of STEAK. Marinated portabello mushrooms doubled the umami factor, while artichoke hearts added a sharp flavor and the arugula salad was light and peppery. This was just a perfect carpaccio. The mushrooms truly pumped up the volume of this meal, leaving me more satisfied than if I had just been leaf with the beef and other vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil added fruitiness, and although it was an appetizer, it made a filling entree.
 The Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille was also above par. Uniform dices of squash, tomato, eggplant, onion and other vegetables were served in an elegant timbale that belied the hearty taste of the dish. The vegetables were all caramelized and sweet, and the textures melded so well – soft tomato, toothsome squash, melting eggplant. There were no discernible spices, making all of the flavor thanks to the varied and full flavors of the vegetables. 
Peach Cobbler with Roasted Peaches and Peach Gellee (unpictured). Get this. Just get it. The most buttery, crumbly pastry topping sweet, cinnamon spiked peaches that were yielding but not mushy and sweet not with sugar but with vanilla and their own sweetness. The gellee was like a grown up gummy bear, adding a whimsical touch to the plate, and the roasted peach was tender under a crunchy sheath of caramelized sugar. Like I said…just get it. 
 Hot Chocolate Cake, filled with Molten Chocolate Pudding and served with Toasted Marshmallow Topping and Chocolate Krispies.
Smooth and creamy chocolate, sweet marshmallow fluff, the slight crunch and pleasantly bitter taste of the krispies…There was NOTHING not to love here.

And really…there wasn’t. Sure, it is a bit on the pricier side, but you are paying for atmosphere and (excellent) service. The food is really much better than it has to be, since the drinks are so good, I would have been satisfied with eating pretzels all night. The lobster salad, filet carpaccio and peach cobbler were all so delicious that I would come back here for those, even without getting a drink.
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*