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?

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

Breakfast in the City

I have been all about breakfast lately! Bye bye steak and spaghetti, hello eggs for breakfast, waffles for lunch, an roast beef hash for dinner. Here’s where I have been getting my fix!
IMG_20140223_115007_989 Country breakfast at Citrus

Sure, this place might be most known for its trendy Latin-Asian fusion, but it does a damned good skillet fried egg with crispy bacon and a side of creamy, cheesy grits. It’s not mind blowing, but considering that it comes with a (spicy and potent!) Bloody Mary, the price is really reasonable. The bacon is crispy, the grits are buttery and rich, and the eggs are cooked but not at all rubbery. Plus, it’s super kid friendly, right down to the fountain where you can let your little ones congregate – there is always at least one parent there watching over all of the others.

That’s when you enjoy that Bloody Mary. 
IMG_20140217_084259_522 French breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien

I haven’t ever seen any Parisian eating a breakfast that even remotely resembles this, but if they knew how tasty it is, then they would be all over it. A soft boiled egg, with tender whites and a thick, hot yolk, is the ideal vehicle for slabs of tangy levain bread. Or, you can slather the bread in whipped cream cheese and top it with some soft smoked salmon. This hits all of the great breakfast points for me – eggy, light, filling, and savory. It will keep you full until lunch without feeling like you have a carb hangover.

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Chuao maple bacon chocolate bar

Okay, so it isn’t breakfast, but it has maple in it. And bacon. But not too much – just enough to add a really salty note to that creamy milk chocolate and almost insanely sweet maple.  It’s the ideal mixture of sweet, sharp, and very rich - there iss o much cream in the chocolate that it melts on your fingers. They sell tiny bars of this, which is great…because when I buy big one, I eat the whole thing.

After all, it does count as breakfast. 

 

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.

Nice Matin is Nice Indeed

This post originally appeared on Whisked Foodie.

Nice Matin may just be the most underrated restaurant on the Upper West Side. It is open all day, so you can always get a drink or a small plate at the bar. It is nice enough to frequent with business colleagues yet casual enough to visit in knock-around clothes. And the prices are perfectly on point with the hood – it’s possible to get a tasty entrée and a glass of wine for about $30.

However, the best part of this sunny, spacious, Provence-style bistro is that you needn’t even order an entrée to get the best of what Nice Matin has to offer.

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Roasted beets with chevre

The beets are sweet and tender with a bit of bite toward the center of the root. It is substantial, especially with the creamy, soft goat cheese and light sprinkling of fresh chives.

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Cold leeks

They are braised, not to melting submission, but only until they are somewhat tender. They still have quite a bit of crunch and signature, onion-y bite. Leeks are very rarely done this way stateside, and it is a vibrant side to heartier dishes.

The chickpea fries, a unique take on the French-Italian Riviera treat socca, arrive to the table piping hot. Their thick outer layer, crunchy and salty, breaks open to reveal a warm, soft interior that is earthy and utterly reminiscent of chickpeas. It is falafel’s subtle sister.

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Of course, you could get a French-inspired main course of moules Provençale, Tuscan chicken under a brick, or even the restaurant’s signature five-napkin burger. The nightly specials, like bouillabaisse and roast duck, offer more straightforward, honest cooking with a French bent.

But why would you go that route when you could order so many small dishes plus some wine from the excellent by the glass list for the same price?

Nice Matin isn’t only overlooked by those who don’t go there. Sometimes, it’s overlooked by those who do. Step out of the box, and order off the appetizers and side menu the next time you go there, and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you have been missing.

Lincoln – The UWS Fine Dining Destination

Hooray, it’s 2014! Back to work after a wonderful week with family and friends, rejuvenated and ready to tackle your career with passion and energy.

Who’s ready to play hooky?

If you are, come meet me at Lincoln Center. Sure, we can see “The Nutcracker fi you want to, but I had something else in mind. Something a little more…delicious.

Lincoln, Jonathan Benno’s Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center opened to great fanfare a few years ago, but the buzz quickly died down. Now, it’s often overlooked for flashy, new places that feature reclaimed wood, pop rocks in dessert, and tasting menus composed of 781 single bites.

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Lincoln is in a large, modern space that seamlessly blends comfort and sweeping, striking aesthetics. The open kitchen is sparkling clean, the bar area is small but extremely well laid out, and the soaring windows give views of either 67th street or the iconic Met opera house. It seems laughable that a restaurant should be so dramatic yet so comforting, but there it is.

Now onto the important stuff…the food.

Don’t think pasta…think Italian inspired with seasonal dishes.

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Butternut squash amuse bouche

This is what I man by seasonal. In snowy weather, I don’t want salmon ceviche. Give me something warming and comforting. Give me a  sweet-savory soup with a spicy, crunchy topping.

In an adorable teacup.

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Bread

All of which is excellent, not to say totally memorable. Crunchy, wheaty grissini and soft  foccacia with pleasantly crunchy salt atop are the best of the lot.

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Dip it in the accompanying eggplant and chickpea hummus. It’s rich, earthy, and positively velvet in texture. It has a nutty note from the chickpeas and roasted garlic adds a mellow, sweet note. It’s worth ordering an extra piece of foccacia just so that you can sop up every ounce of hummus without using your finger. As I did.

photo 1 (1) Chicory and Parmesan salad

The perfect winter salad. Nothing tarted up or overdone about it. No mealy out of season tomatoes. Just crisp, slightly bitter chicory and radicchio in a bracing, vinegary dressing. The cheese is excellent quality – it embraces the softer, nuttier sides of Parmesan that enhance and complement the lettuce instead of competing with it. Few salads show this amount of restraint, to this excellent effect.

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Seared cobia with arugula custard, hen of the woods mushrooms, and cipollini onions

Oh yes. Cobia is meaty an rich, like a cross between swordfish and mahi-mahi. It’s juicy and thick, with a mild taste and buttery texture. Seared until the outside is lightly crispy with a wonderful salty crunch. The custard is pleasantly bitter, highlighting the sweet onions and the meaty, woodsy mushrooms. This is a very filling, thick cut of fish- it’s prepared beautiful and is balanced in taste and texture.
photo 1 (2) Apple semifreddo with apple cider doughnuts

This is how you do downtown-uptown food. Creamy semifreddo, somewhere between ice cream and nougat, filled with a pool of rich maple syrup and cubes of green apple gelee. Served alongside are dense, warm, spicy-sweet apple cider doughnuts. Tart, sweet, crunchy and cooling…these are all aspects of this dessert. A lovely finish to a lovely meal. 
photo 2 (2) Oh, and don’t miss the bitter orange caramels from the mignardises plate, either. 

Lincoln is just the type of place I want to visit more this year. It’s unique and has a distinctive view of food. Plus, the 2 course lunch special for $36 is a very fair deal and delicious to boot. The food is wonderfully tasty, the service is professional, and the atmosphere is totally lovely.

Like I said…wanna play hooky?

A New Look at Some Old Joints

I can’t go out and eat at new restaurants every night, can I ? After all, just last night I made my favorite kale and tomato recipe (added some sausage, nixed the beans) – sometimes, you just need to revisit an old favorite menu or recipe because nothing else will do. With that in mind, here are some little known dishes from previously blogged restaurants:

2013-02-12_10-33-39_925 (1) Mexico City Chilaquiles at Rosa Mexicano

The only reason this isn’t blogged is that the review was already lengthy. This stuff is wonderful – not quite up to my Arizonan past, but leagues better than most of the Mexican food in the city. The sauce is creamy but not gloppy or heave, and is at turns tart, spicy, and savory. I could – and did! – lap it up with a spoon. I’m not a major fan of ham, but this steak is mild, thin, and very crispy underneath the well scrambled (read – not rubber) eggs and super crispy tortilla strips. This is a very hearty breakfast and only needs a couple of Bloody Marias to make it a brunch worth repeating.
IMG_20140128_131801_015 (1) Kale salad at Blossom

Okay, usually I like the more indulgent food here, the stuff that tastes really indulgent and dirty. But every now and then – you know, when my  pants are especially tight  and my face looks like it’s bloated in a fun house mirror – I need something that is a little healthier. Enter the kale salad. the kale is obviously massaged within an inch of its life, because it’s very soft and tender. It’s layered with diced red pepper, creamy avocado, and the creamiest, nuttiest, wonderfully salty tahini salad dressing. It’s very light, which is sometimes just what you need. This is so addictive that I actually had it twice in one day.

If you order it for delivery, then they can’t tell that it’s you and make fun of you.
IMG_20140127_183217_958 (1) Bolognese at Lincoln

I mean, what IS this stuff?! It’s utterly fabulous! Veal, pork, and beef cooked in a bright tomato sauce. Oftentimes, bolognese is heavy and filing, but the abundance of acidic, juicy tomatoes really broke up the meaty, earthy taste of the meat. the pasta is in long, lasagna-like noodles that perfectly capture the juicy meat and salty Pecorino cheese. This will only be around while the restaurant features the Emilia-Romagna part of Italy, so get it while it’s hot! A new part of the country soon take center stage at the menu and you don’t want to let this gem go untasted!

Where to Gain Your Winter Weight

Welcome back to the coldest, slushiest, wintery week ever.

Get out those snowboots and turn on those sun lamps, because boy will we need them!

Or, just eat some of these foods. Because nothing makes the winter better than the enjoyment of  gaining winter weight:

Carbone

I went to this much-lauded Italian eatery courtesy of Gallo Wines. They are celebrating their Hearty Burgundy’s 50th year. This wine is rich, juicy, and tannin-y, but I liked the pinot grigiot even more. It’s light, crisp, and slightly aromatic with pears. The price point is great and I would TOTALLY buy this wine for any dinner party.

Now..to the good stuff…

Carbone is extremely cool. It’s retro to the max. Think waiters in wide lapel maroon suits, tableside Caesar salad (a little bland with the world’s best croutons), and veal Parmesan. It’s Park Side done the cool, hip way.

But while the food is good, it doesn’t measure up to the outrageous price tag.

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The Clams Fantasia are as close as I got to really seeing the point of the hype  - juicy, tender clams layered under uni and lardo. This trio is a total winner. The uni is soft and so mild – not at all metallic or fishy. It is creamy underneath that layer of glistening, melted lardo. It’s a very upscale version of clams casino – warm, porky, and savory. Yet, it is more subtle and the flavors run deerper. This is a fabulous dish.

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The garlic bread is pretty great, too. And the service is wonderful. Long story short – on someone else’s dime, this is an delicious restaurant. Otherwise, there are other Italian places to head until the menu gets cheaper or it’s easier to get a reservation.

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Kefi

Now THIS is a restaurant. Loud, crazy, late for our reservation, and too hot. BUT – they gave us a round of drinks to apologize for the late seating time, sat us at an ample table with a super efficient waiter, and served us a ton of delicious Greek food for a MORE than reasonable price. I hope to give a full review very soon in the future, but for now, stick to the ultra smoky babaganoush, the creamy, garlicky tzatziki, and whatever the grilled fish of the day is. This brook trout came swimming in a bright wine sauce, flecked with earthy oregano and parsley. It is flaky, moist, and light – delicious. With a side of buttery, tender broccoli rabe – get that stringy bitter stuff out of your mind – this is so good that you will forget that it is good for you.

Don’t worry, you can rectify that with the glasses of sugary sangria that come your way.

Like I told you, gaining weight is one of the best parts of winter – so let’s make it happen, ASAP!

Carbone on Urbanspoon

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.