Pop Bar’s Non-Popsicles

New Yorkers have been reveling in the mildest winter in the history of the world. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the cold has not been too harsh. A warm winter is the perfect time to indulge in a summertime treat.

Popbar is handcrafted gelato on a stick. Don’T call it a popsicle – the people here kinda bristle at that term. This isn’t about frozen fruit syrups in crystalline form or cheap cottony ice cream-product covered in waxy chocolate. This is about high end gelatos and sorbets put on a stick and hand dipped in gourmet toppings.

Choose from gelatos, sorbettos, or yogurt pops in flavors like hazelnut, chocolate, coffee, and strawberry. Then, head on over to the dipping station, where you can choose from a variety of chocolate coatings and crushed nut toppings. 
I am drooling right now just thinking about it. 

Peach Sorbetto Bar
I chose the Peach Sorbetto, then had it freshly dipped in white chocolate and rolled in pistachios. The sorbet was incredibly creamy and smooth – no hard, icy patches like in lesser sorbets. The flavor was also unique – fresh and really peachy, not too sugary. The white chocolate provided a rich, vanilla-y counterpart to the light sorbet, and the pistachios were a crunchy, salty component. This was every bit as delightful as any dessert I have eaten in a restaurant.

Hot Chocolate on a Stick
Hot chocolate on stick. How brilliant is that? Hot milk, room temperature chocolate ganache. Mix and stir. Walk down the street. Try not to munch the chocolate directly off the stick.
Choose from milk, white, or an incredibly smooth and caramel-y dark chocolate.
Such a fun and simple idea. 

That’s what PopBar is. A fun and simple idea. Though the pops are a little pricey at about $4 per, they are not unreasonable. Sit at the small counter and people watch if you prefer.
Or take it out and walk around. Just don’t go too far, because you will probably want another one as soon as you finish your first. 

One Hit Wonders – Good, Le Pescadeux, Pure Thai Cookhouse

I don’t always eat full meals at the restaurants I visit – if I had 3 courses and cocktails 5 times a week, I would be gigantic, poor, and probably have palate fatigue. This is a rundown of some delicious dishes that I have had at restaurants on which I couldn’t quite write a full review, but  knew that they deserved some notice. 
This restaurant is sophisticated, hip, and romantic with candlelight and an upscale comfort food menu. Though the service was a little uppity and aloof, the food and moderate prices made up for it. 
Burger with Aged Cheddar Cheese and Fries
Coarsely ground meat with a thick, dark crust concealing a warm, rosy patty. It was so moist that juices spilled onto the plate with each bite, saturating the salty fries with delicious bovine taste. The cheese was exceptional – tangy, sharp and thickly cut, and it stood up perfectly to the sturdy but not tough bun and that incredibly meaty burger. I am a big fan of condiments, but actually, this required no ketchup. It was more like steak than a burger – just fantastic, and worth every penny.

This lilliputian SoHo restaurant specializes in Montreal style seafood. That means lots of shellfish, including a fantastic oyster selection:
Beau Soleils, Moonstones, and Pine Islands
The Pine Islands were a first time oyster for me and each one knocked my socks off. Large, soft, and positively creamy – there was no salinity or iron-y taste. These were mild, light, and luxuriously textured. A squirt of lemon was all that was needed – didn’t even use any Tabasco here.
The best part? Each night from 4-7 PM, the oysters are all half price. 
Can I get a culinary “booyah?”

Every person who has been to Pure Thai Cookhouse has LOVED it; calling it incredibly spicy, incredibly delicious Thai food in a very casual, inexpensive setting. 
Wok Curry Paste with Pork, String Beans, Eggplant, Basil, Bamboo Shoots, Green Peppercorn Kaffir Lime Curry Sauce
This is perfect for those days when you want something with flavor but not too much spice. It is not overly greasy, garlicky, or salty. The pork is tender, and the sauce is very subtle and well balanced – sweet, bitter, sour, and just a bit spicy. My sister finds it far spicier than me, but she is a major wimp. The eggplant is soft but not mushy and the pork is thickly cut and tender, with no tendons or gristly bits. Pam is still my favorite Thai in the area, but if I had to go back to work in the afternoon and didn’t want a major food hangover, this would be my spot for sure. 
And there ya have it: Some of Fritos and Foie Gras’ one hit wonders!
Good on Urbanspoon
Le Pescadeux on Urbanspoon
Pure Thai Cookhouse on Urbanspoon

Flex Mussels Shows its Seafood Stregnth

If you love mussels like I do…
Get yourself to Flex Mussels

From the moment I walked into the West Village joint and detected the mouthwatering aromas of garlic and fresh seafood, I knew I was in for something special. There was a small, modern bar in front where I watched an affable bartender shuck oysters with ease and when I walked through the bar section, I was greeted with a beautiful wall light depicting a peaceful fishing village.

The rest of the room was modern and casual, but that picture was so serene yet vibrant that it infused the whole room with a sense of relaxed enthusiasm for a night of delicious food. And when it comes to mussels, I get really enthusiastic. 

There are 23 different ways to order your mussels here, and each one sounded more tasty than the last. 

Thai Mussels

The moment the lid was lifted up, the aromatic scents of lemongrass and cilantro smacked me in the face. My mouth started watering instantly. The broth was rich with coconut milk, and vaguely sweet. This contrasted with the floral lemongrass and that punchy, assertive taste of cilantro. Bight lime made the flavor of the mussels pop, bringing out their salinity next to their naturally creamy texture and mild taste. The broth was so delicious that I longed for some rice to eat it with. And this wasn’t even my favorite dish on the table.

Fra Diavolo

That honor would go to these Fra Diavolo mussels. Sweet San Marzano Tomatoes, fresh basil, the burn of red pepper flakes and loads of spicy, biting garlic. It barely verged on being too garlicky, but avoided this by making sure the garlic was diced very finely and caramelized well. This broth was so umami – that incredible savory, sweet and spicy taste that only tomatoes give that was punched up with the taste of those wonderful mussels. So creamy and mild, so gently oceanic. They were just incredible.

Truffle Parmesan Fries

Though I really feel that the mussels should all come with fries and that these were pricey at $10 a pop, they were certainly delicious. Crispy and fresh with nutty Parmesan cheese and heady truffle oil as a dipping sauce, these were fantastic. Even so, I wouldn’t order them again. The freshly baked sourdough bread and slightly sweet wheat bread were perfect carby sponges for the remnants of the broth.

Flex Mussels is a great spot for a dinner with friends or family. A couple of pots of mussels will only throw you back about $20 ($23 at most), and with 23 different options, there is no chance of you getting bored of the options. There are other menu items too, including a fantastic looking raw bar and plenty of meat for the seafood wary. 
Flex Mussels, I will be back.
I just hope I can tear myself away from those Fra Diavolo mussels to try a new version!
Flex Mussels on Urbanspoon

Palma – No Expectations Leads to Success

When I headed to Palma for dinner, I had no expectations. Had never seen it, read about it or even heard of it. I thought every restaurant in the West Village had been found, discussed and dissected to death.

Our large party arrived a bit late, and was promptly seated at a large, spacious table. The atmosphere was relaxed and buzzing – not so loud that you couldn’t go here on a date, but noisy enough that our boisterous table was not out of place.

 Bread and Caponata

The bread was standard, slightly spongy white bread – nothing special there and they could really do better. The caponata, however, was especially delicious. Eggplant, onions, peppers and other vegetables melded into a sweet and savory melange. It was fruity, slightly peppery and almost meaty with the tender strips of roasted peppers and onions. This would be fantastic on pasta or on better bread.
Roasted Fennel
This was the best thing of the night. Fruity olive oil, pungent garlic and verdant parsley all played up the fennel’s tender-crisp texture and fragrant, licorice-y taste. Intensely savory, thanks to the garlic, the fennel had charred edges, insides that sort of melted, and a taste that was hearty without being filling or heavy. The juices it left behind were so flavorful that I sopped them up with the(sub par) bread.

Calamari Fritti

Though I usually prefer Asian style calamari, with its sweet and hot sauces, this was a well-prepared example of Italian calamari. Crispy, greaseless breading surrounding soft calamari rings, with only a hint of the sea (like really good shellfish) and no rubbery ones at all. The little tentacles were all crunch, and a hit of lemon juice brought a clear, high note to the dish. Thin slices of lemon were fried – chewy, sour, charred bites amongst the decadence of the fried fish.

Fisherman’s Stew – Mussels, Scallops, Clams, Calamari and Shrimp in a Light Tomato Broth

It started like this
And then looked like this
Truly, a thing of beauty. Briny clams, tender calamari, sweet mussels, snappy shrimp and huge, buttery scallops floated in a tomatoey, garlicky, winey broth. There were small cherry tomatoes in there, jammy and sweet next to the clams bursting with brine and those creamy, mild mussels. The wine in the broth added and acidity and the whole flavor was incredibly intense. The dough it was cooked in sealed in all the flavors, to the seafood and tomato flavors were intensified, becoming concentrated as they cooked. The dough itself was like slightly thinner naan-wheaty and hearty enough to dip into the aromatic broth. This was unexpectedly delicious and incredibly satisfying.

Palma was a worthwhile dinner! It was reasonably priced, with good service, comfortable surroundings and better than average food. The seafood stew was a particular bargain – easily big enough to split between 2 people. While it isn’t a destination-worthy restaurant, I could see myself coming here quite often if  I lived nearby. 

Sometimes, no expectations really pay off.
That’s what she said.

Empellon – The Best Fish Tacos in NYC

I headed to Empellon with mixed expectations. A refined Mexican restaurant run by renowned pastry chef Alex Stupak,  it has received everything from raves to pans. Clearly, the only thing to do was take a trip to the West Village myself and see what the scuttlebutt was about. 
 A quick drink at the bar proved that the cocktail list, at least, was up to par. My Empelloma, made with Reposado tequila and homemade grapefruit soda, was properly tart and fizzy, with the slight bitter edge of the tequila bringing out the soda’s sweeter notes. 
 The small dining room, with exposed brick walls and low lighting, is hip but not trendy or pretentious. It can be classy enough for a date or fun enough for a gals night out. 
 Guacamole and Tortilla Chips with Smoked Cashew and Arbol Chile Salsas
Of course salsa and chips should come gratis at a Mexican restaurant, but this is NYC. So, I sucked it up and paid the (obscene amount of) money for them. In their defense…they were delicious. Fresh, still warm tortilla chips, generously salted, served with creamy, cilantro laden, intensely avocado-y guacamole – not too acidic or spicy. Those flavors came from the salsas, both the nutty, smoky cashew salsa and the positively fiery chile de Arbol salsa, deep and spicy.
 Sopes with Shortribs and Salsa Roja
Sopes are little discs of fried masa, or cornflour. They are sort of like a softer cornbread or a more firm tamale – dense and moist, perfect for sopping up the juices of the tender, beefy short rib and the sweet-spicy salsa. These were delicious and hearty.
 Sopes with Smoked Plantains and Crema
Soft, slightly sweet plantains worked very well by being smoked, making them more savory and substantial. Whereas the sopes before seemed soft under the beef, they seemed dense and more toothsome here. The sopes took on the opposite characteristics of whatever topping they accompanied. 
 Queso Fundido with Red and Green Chorizo
Spicy, salty, fragrant, meaty chorizo, seasoned with…who knows what? Cilantro, cumin and smokey chiles for sure, but there were so many complex flavors that I just can’t place. The sweetness of pork melded perfectly with the many hot and aromatic seasonings, and the cheese…
 Melty, stretchy, mild and a little tangy was delicious slathered onto homemade tortillas, doused in the hot salsa and scooped into my mouth with a spoon.
Fish Tempura with Cabbage and Lime Mayonnaise
The best fish taco I have had in my life. Even better than my homemade ones. Crispy, light tempura batter that stood out almost half around the fish encased flaky, incredibly mild whitefish that was perfectly cooked with just enough of that salinity that reminded you that it was of the sea. The creamy mayonnaise added tang and acidity to the cool cabbage and the tiny slivers of peppery radish. This was crispy, creamy, salty, meaty, cooling and incredibly flavorful. It was improved by the addition of guacamole and the hot salsa, but then…what isn’t?
Empellon was a major hit. The food and drinks were expensive, but you get what you pay for, and here you get outstanding, inventive Mexican food served quickly and efficiently by servers who let you linger as long as you wish after you have finished eating. 
The only con to this meal is that for HOURS after I was done eating, I felt dehydrated. The only thing that tasted remotely salty was the basket of tortilla chips, so I can’t imagine what it was, but there was a hidden salt lick in there. 
Regardless of that fact, I would come back to Empellon, perhaps asking for less salt in the tortilla chips. I loved all the food and drinks there, and am here to settle the debate:
Empellon is a must go.
Empellón on Urbanspoon