Tolani Wine Bar’s Surprisingly Delicious Menu

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

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

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

20141028_200943 Fish tacos

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

Sushi of Gari’s Unexpectedly Whimsical and Wonderful Omakase

I like to plan my special nights out on the town. I research restaurants, read reviews, and select my meal ahead of time. I pick my outfit, eat nothing but miso soup the day of the dinner, and mentally prepare for an incredible night.

However, sometimes, a truly exceptional meal pops out of nowhere on girls night. When you just wander into a sushi restaurant with your favorite gal pal and end up not talking at all – a rarity on any night – because the food is so mind-blowing.

It might not be Nakazawa, but Sushi Gari is a celebratory, destination worthy meal for those who want a combination of excellent fish and total ingenuity.

20140529_202433 Toro with ginger and yam paste

What a start to a meal. I’m not used to such a fatty fish starting omakase, but then -I haven’t ever had an omakase like this. Buttery, lush toro topped with a zippy, piquant ginger paste. It’s fatty, savory, and tart – already, I was intrigued.  20140529_202705 Salmon with jalapeno and yuzu

I have had this at least a hundred times before, and yet I felt as though I had never tasted this combination before. After the toro, the salmon seems less fatty than usual and its oceanic flavors stand out. The bright, citrusy jalapenos cut through those deep flavors and the slightly warm vinegared sushi rice adds sweetness and a temperature contrast. It might just be the perfect bite.  20140529_202933 Miso marinated cod

Not since the creme brulee has a blowtorch been used to such satisfying effect. The cod is just like miso marinated cod – sweet, salty, and irresistible – but with the added addition of pleasantly charred, crunchy bits from the blowtorch. It isn’t swimming in sauce, it’s just accented by the miso taste. If you like miso cod OR sushi, this dish will make you sit up and take notice.
20140529_203154 White fish with crispy lotus root, arugula, and basil oil

WHOA! Here is where the innovative part of the night really starts. Tradition has no place in the meal from here on out. The whitefish is sliced so thinly that it is translucent – slippery and very mild. It’s topped with crispy, salty lotus root that is like adding a potato chip to a sandwich  -ie, brilliant. The garlicky basil oil is warm and somehow accents the fish’s mild taste instead of covering it.  20140529_203501 Tuna with pureed tofu and chili oil

Once again, the chefs pair incredibly flavorful ingredients with mild ones to a surprisingly complementary effect. The tuna is tender but not too soft. The soft component is the tofu, which is so light and creamy that it tastes like it must be full fat yogurt. The chili oil is applied sparingly is intensely spicy – just a drizzle picks up the sweet flavor of the tofu and the meaty texture of the fish. Yes, yes, yes to this.

20140529_204041 Fried white fish with green tea salt

I mean, what?! This is fish and chips, Japanese style. Fish encased in such a light, puffy batter that it seems as though it might float away on a cloud. It has a fragrant, herbal green tea salt on top that acts as the vinegar of this fish and chips. It sits on the warm, sticky rice and wow…the crispy, flaky texture just works.  20140529_204950 Salmon with tomato, onion, and pepper

Um yeah, this is a showstopper. It’s Gari’s signature piece of sushi and I see why.  I can safely say that I have never before eaten a piece of sushi like this. The salmon is flame torched and then the skin is removed. It is laid hot on the salmon with savory sautéed onions and freshly cracked black pepper. It seems so weird, but I’m telling you..it works. It’s savory, it’s salty, it’s meaty, it’s soft, it’s tart, and it’s just a little bit spicy. This isn’t an overly fishy piece of sushi and I can’t think of ANYONE who wouldn’t love this.

I didn’t even photograph the fantastically fatty toro or the sweet salmon sashimi. I didn’t even comment on the engaging and delightful sushi chefs who talked and chatted with us at the sushi bar as if we were the only patrons at the restaurant. This is an expensive meal, but it’s a worthy splurge. Special occasion – head here!

Delicious Bites in the Big Apple and Beyond

SO…

There are a few more honeymoon recaps (I know, we kept eating and staying at hotels…it would be worth it to get divorced and remarried JUST to get a second honeymoon!), but before I continue on, I wanted to let you know a few delicious dishes around town that can’t get lost in the vacay mix!

20140622_134029 Lunch buffet at Thali

This Indian restaurant in New Canaan (where my sister is currently starring as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray!) is legit. I would never think to visit this pseudo Asian-fusion looking restaurant – it looks way to chi-chi and wine oriented to have really authentic Indian food – but wow, is it fantastic. The buffet is actually better than most order-from-the-menu Indian restaurants, and even more impressive, this covers food from all over the gigantic country of India. Feather light, made to order dosas filled with fenugreek scented mashed potatoes. Saag with creamy paneer, soft and spicy Manchurian cauliflower, and smoky, garlicky daal. The service is friendly and helpful and the food…once again…is dangerously delicious.

Wear spandex pants. image (5) Red Farm’s udon noodles with short ribs

This meal was embarrassingly disappointing, but the noodles were a bright spot. I would actually go back just for them. The noodles themselves are thick and chewy, with a wonderfully wheaty taste that is balanced by a sweet, salty sauce that is neither too cloying nor too bland. It’s like the greatest Cantonese lo mein of your youth, but with way better noodles and some light notes of cilantro and sweet sugar snap peas. Plus that beef…wow. So tender and mild that it almost seems like Wagyu – this really is “melt in your mouth.” Its an ideal match for the noodles because it doesn’t totally overwhelm the noodles’ natural taste. Totally memorable.

cheesy garlic bread Cheesy garlic bread at Bistro le Steak

This neighborhood joint is a reliable, if slightly overpriced eatery that is just fine if you are in the neighborhood and want a quick, reliable, tasty bite. However, if you want to really indulge in a guilty pleasure, order the cheesy garlic bread. This stuff is just awesome drunk food served in a sober setting. Garlicky, buttery, parsley flecked bread, toasted until it is crunchy and warm. Then, it’s served on a mild, Gorgonzola fondue that is salty and just funky enough to please blue cheese lovers. It’s super indulgent and although I could easily eat this entire plate, you might want to share it as an appetizer. 

Then again, you might not. That would make me like you more. 

Foie Gras and a Million Dollar View at Bouchon

*I’m blogging on a boat from Athens to Mykonos! So far, I have eaten a room service burger topped with a fried egg, airborne welsh rarebit, and the most sensational tzatziki on planet earth. I’m thrilled beyond words, but the WiFi leaves something to be desired, so pictures for this post will be published tomorrow!!*

Anyone who left for her honeymoon the day after her wedding…bravo to you. Frankly, the next morning, it was all that I could do to order some eggs Benedict, Facebook stalk some guest photos, and crash back to sleep until noon.

But that didn’t mean that our honeymoon didn’t start right away.

We actually made it a point to have one of the most delightful lunches I have had in some time at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual Times Warner Center eatery.

The setting is quite nearly spectacular. It’s just an upscale casual cafe but it looks out onto the most magnificent view of Central Park and Columbus Circle. On a clear day, you could just sit for hours with a glass of champagne or a cup of cappuccino and watch the world go by.

But why stop there?

Foie gras terrine

If you don’t order this, do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Don’t even come home. This is the biggest must get from the entire menu. Terrine so smooth and soft that it almost melts onto the warm brioche. The apricot jam is sweet and simplistic next to the meaty, creamy foie – it reminded me of peanut butter and jelly! The brioche is clearly house baked – it’s soft and eggy. You might think that this is too much soft and rich, but no it truly isn’t. Foie is an example of too much is never enough – you always need and want more soft, rich, umami flavors and textures.

Nicoise Tartine

One of the rare ways that I enjoy tuna salad. The tuna is mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise and layered with salty capers, soft olives, and olive oil doused radishes. The radishes are wonderfully peppery and the bread that it comes on is layered with a creamy aioli and fresh bib lettuce. This is a fork and knife affair, and don’t forget the brightly dressed salad that comes alongside. It’s a grown up tuna salad, and quite a good one!

Kale salad with garlicky croutons and chicken

This isn’t your local deli’s kale salad. The kale is in large, tender leaves and tastes almost like spinach, but without that often slimy texture that spinach gets. It’s tossed in a creamy, pleasantly salty dressing (gotta be some anchovies, right) and the world’s best croutons. Honestly, these oil soaked crunchy bits of bread aren’t too hard and they don’t get soggy…I could eat a pile of them. And now that I don’t have to fit in a wedding gown any time soon, maybe I will! The chciken is soft and perfectly paoched, so it is still juicy and not at all mushy. Some fresh lemon zest adds a much needed zing of acid without watering down the dressing.

This isn’t a cheap meal. It’s a honeymoon meal. A meal where the service is excellent even when you spill the diet coke and where the portions are large enough to fill you but not so big that you feel bogged down afterwards. I had a wonderful time and would totally come here for a glass of wine and some foie gras.

Honeymooning before the honeymoon is awesome.

PJ Clarke’s – Appetizer Hot Spot

The nicest thing about NYC is the ability to walk out of  my front door and stumble into any number of awesome restaurants. No driving, no reservations, no pre planning. It’s  a (sadly costly) luxury and I never take it for granted.

When you grow up in the suburbs, you never take anything about city life for granted.

PJ Clarke’s is near-ish to my house and it says that it has been around (the original location) since 1884. With that kind of longevity, it had to be pretty good, right?

20140408_200434

The atmosphere is great – party pub, part restaurant, and entirely chill. Come here in jeans, with kids, sit at the bar for a few quick oysters…whatever you want. It doesn’t feel grimy, it just feels comfy. Major win.

The service is quick and friendly, and the food – well, a lot of it is really great!

Let’s start with the less than great:

20140408_203058

Au Poivre burger
I know, this should be the best part, right? But sadly, it just isn’t. The bun is cottony and the meat itself is underseasoned. It lacks the salty char of a grilled burger or the melting softness of a steamed burger. It’s cooked to order but there is barely any seasoning – beef needs salt. Or maybe some of that au poivre sauce which was applied so sparingly that I only tasted the spicy, hot taste of pepper in one or two bites of the whole burger. The toppings are fresh but also bland…this whole thing just lacks technique and seasoning. It’s too bad, because the raw ingredients seem great and the accompanying fries are thin and lovely. They even have my favorite ketchup.

Now, onto the better stuff:

20140408_201740

Short rib egg rolls with mashed potatoes

So delicious. What I wish my Reuben egg rolls tasted like. Thick and stuffed to the brim with tender, juicy short ribs and buttery mashed potatoes. Crisp on the outside and hearty on the inside, dipped in a rather fiery and creamy horseradish sauce, they are unmissable. This is so good that I would come here just for a drink and these. They are the ultimate guilty pleasure. So, so good, and – speaking from experience – - much easier to order than to make at home.

20140408_201748

Chopped kale salad

Shockingly good. Who would come to a burger place for a salad? Me, I guess. The kale is properly tenderized and served with creamy feta, avocado, and a bright but not sour lemon dressing. This is a great counterpart to that rather – how shall we say? – heavy main courses.

20140408_200440

PJ Clarke’s isn’t my favorite place in the neighborhood, even though the service is great. It’s just a little pricey for a sub-par burger. However, the cocktail and beer list is extensive and those short rib egg rolls are maybe my favorite dish within 10 blocks of my front door. I will be back for a drink and an appetizer in short time! Then, I can just mosy over somewhere nearby for my main course.

Gotta love the city life. 

Dan Tempura House – a Perfect Date with Myself

There is something to be said for the solo lunch. A break from work, only an hour from when you leave the desk to when you are back. A day when you can’t look at a computer screen for even one second longer. An afternoon when you have a wonderful novel or a terrible magazine. A moment by yourself where you don’t need to eat the best food for it to be…perfect.  20140328_122741 Dan Tempura House isn’t ever busy, especially at lunch time. That’s perfect for the solo diner. No one to look at you with pity while you pore over the latest issue of New York Magazine or Young Adult novel, thinking “what a sad soul who must eat lunch alone.” All you want to yell to those people is “are you kidding me?! This is better than therapy! Those silent monks don’t know what they are missing! THIS is the way to achieve ultimate happiness!!” 20140328_122750 Low sodium soy sauce, an unpictured Diet Coke, and a date with myself. Perfect.  20140328_122948 Ginger-miso salad

The same all over town. Fresh lettuce and taught tomatoes served with ample dressing that isn’t the water stuff found at some places. It’s thick and pleasantly pulpy with spicy ginger.

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Miso soup

The standard stuff you make at home – salty, warm and savory, filled with slippery tofu and a few scallions. Filling and exactly as expected.

20140328_123619 (1) Spicy tuna roll with avocado and asparagus

This is barely sushi. The rolls are huge and sloppy with rice that is too warm and borders on mushy. But the tuna is very fresh and very spicy. It’s minced with Japanese mayo and chili sauce until it is soft and creamy. The asparagus is crunchy and grassy and the avocado is buttery. It’s fresh and plentiful. It’s possibly the worst fresh sushi I have ever had. And yet…it’s perfect for a solo meal. It’s trashy. It’s delicious. It’s what I want to eat with no one to judge me.

It’s a cheaply priced lunch special. It’s always efficient, properly performed service.

And it goes so well with People magazine.

It doesn’t go so well with other actual people.

It’s a lovely date with yourself.

Texas de Brazil and Maoz – My Favorite Salad Bars!

Really quickly: 2 different restaurants that I am loving:

1. Maoz
20140330_122755 This casual, counter service import from Amsterdam has some killer French Fries, well spiced shawarma, and the make-your-own falafel sandwich or salad of your DREAMS. A killer salad bar with cumin scented carots, tangy cabbage salad, tabbouleh, roasted cauliflower, and a litany of sauces. Creamy tahini, cooling yogurt, garlic sauce so potent that it might make or break you night, hot sauce so potent and fiery that it makes your toes curl. Herby, bright broccoli and fresh cilantro laden salsa. Don’t forget the inexpensive but delicious hummus and babaganoush you can add to your salad bar. And, of course, the fried eggplant, with silky innards and a crispy shell.

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The falafel sandwich starts like this…

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and should end like this, covered in pickles, sauces, and vegetables from the salad bar. It’s all included (one trip only, except for more sauce), so don’t worry. The falafel is piping hot, fragrant with cumin and parsley, an served in a fluffy pita with crisp romaine. This inexpensive place ain’t Israel, but it surely feds the yen when I am stateside.

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2. Texas de Brazil

Remember I said I had been to a Brazilian steakhouse? Well, I am now obsessed with them and this is the best one I have been to by FAR! Modern, clean (though, truth be told, a little “mall chic”) decor, extremely well informed waitstaff, and the food is about 19 times better that the other place. A smaller but better curated salad bar filled with imported cheeses, all varieteis of spicy peppers, a soup of the day, creamy pottaoes gratin, and a host of other items. Don’t miss those tiny red peeppers that are spicy enough to rip off your top layer of lip skin or the creamy, sweet poatoao salad – almost as good as Hawaiian potato salad!

20140329_194033 The meat here is even better than the salad bar. Tender lamb chops, garlicky sausage, and the flavorful, perfectly medium rare house cut ribeye are standouts. Avoid the pork products, but everything else is commendable. And don’t miss the mini chicken Parmesan that comes around on skewers towards the end of the meal.

 I am never going to fit into my wedding gown, am I?