Monthly Archives: August 2011

Salumè: 330 W Broadway New York, NY

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I met my friend Betsy for lunch here today when she realized that her $40 Groupon was nearing it’s expiration date. When we arrived, we were seated right away at a table right in front of the candy apple red slicer. This is a well-loved Italian sandwich shop that boasts sliced-to-order meats and authentic Panini. This is not the  pressed and grilled ‘Panini’ that we NYers are used to, but actual real, Italian, non-squished Panini.

We ordered two to share; the Langhirano (Parma Proscuitto, Buffalo Mozzarella, tomato, Olive Oil) and the Stelvio (Bresaola, Parmesan, Arugula, Olive oil, Lemon juice and pepper)

The meats were pulled from their shelves and we could easily watch as they sliced it on the ‘Ferrari of slicers’, (as the Italians apparently refer to it) the Berkel. The other ingredients were carefully layered on and placed in perfect ratios on crunchy, warm, fresh Italian baguette and served immediately alongside of our iced teas.

There were 3 desserts offered on the menu, and we decided to share something. We ordered the tiramisu, which they were apparently out of. Then we asked about the chocolate salumi, which they were out of too. The third one didn’t really appeal, so, so much for that. No dessert for us.

The atmosphere is nothing special, just a small cafe with about 8 little tables. The service is fine, but not outstanding. There was literally nothing on the table at all- no flowers, no napkins, no placemats, no utensils, no glasses of water. I think most people probably come here and get panini to go instead of sitting and being served.

Including our tip, the total came to just under $50. Given our awesome Groupon for $20, it was a great deal…but to be honest, without that deal I’m really not sure that 2 sandwiches are really worth that much money. Delicious? Yes. But THAT much better than a baguette from elsewhere for 60% of that price? Probably not.


			

Cho Cho San: 15 W. 8th st. New York, NY

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I had a $10 coupon for the new ‘groupon now’ (for deals that you can buy and use right away within a time limit) and found a deal online for $20 for $30 worth of food at Cho Cho San. When I checked yelp.com for reviews and found only great things, I knew this was a good place to spend my coupon. So with a $30 credit that I paid $10 for, Gabriel and I headed over for some top-notch sushi.

When we arrived, it was fairly empty and we were given our choice of the best corner booths. Our waiter immediately brought out water, carrots/celery and a soy/miso (I think) dipping sauce (by the way, what you see pictured is after we’d eaten most of them) which I thought was a nice touch given that most Japanese restaurants don’t offer any pre-meal things to munch on.

Aside from the Obama Roll (salmon, mango, black caviar, jalapeno) spicy tuna roll (which a lot of Yelp reviewers said not to miss) and scallop sushi, we were pretty open to the waiter’s suggestions and let him choose the rest for us. He added in an octopus/cilantro roll that was incredible, a perfect shrimp tempura roll and a yellowtail/toro roll that was also fantastic. All of the seafood was perfect quality, beautifully presented and deeeeeeelicious.

I don’t usually bother reviewing sushi restaurants because for the most part, most of them are basically the same, but Cho Cho San was truly above average. Oh, and I totally agree with the Yelpers, the spicy tuna roll was one of the best ones I’ve ever had, overflowing with extra tuna on top. The octopus roll was my favorite of the night, with the Obama roll a close second. If my mouth hadn’t stayed on fire for a half hour after eating it, It would surely have advanced to the best one of the meal.

Even without our groupon, this dinner was worth every penny…but paying a total of $40 for this awesome meal made it taste even better. Check it out!

 

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders.
 http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Plan B Burger Bar: 4 Railroad St. Simsbury, CT

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I spent last weekend up at my dear friend’s house in Simsbury, CT, a place I affectionately refer to as The Happy Place. On Sunday, a bunch of us decided to go out for lunch to Plan B Burger Bar and it was a pleasant surprise. I must admit, having lived in NYC for 4+ years now, I’ve gotten pretty spoiled by the endless and wonderful food options and am always a little skeptical of trying non-NY eateries. Plan B proved me wrong- it’s a nothing-fancy kind of place, but in a very cozy, old train station atmosphere complete with Edison lights hanging from meat hooks.

The menu was mostly pub food and great sounding burgers. We all shared the cheese fondue starter which came with loads of fried green beans, soft pretzel nuggets (YUM), tater tots and apple slices. The cheese was creamy and mild and complemented the dip-able items perfectly. For my lunch I ordered the lobster sliders with a side salad. Although the lobster itself was cooked perfectly and lightly seasoned, the little rolls it sat on were soggggggggy and pretty much falling apart. The side salad made up for that though, with some of the best blue cheese dressing I’ve ever had. I would have loved to take a bottle of that home, but it wasn’t available to go.

If I’m in the area again, I’ll be sure to try one of their awesome looking burgers and onion rings. I will now happily admit that I totally understand why the locals love this place. It’s not NYC, but that CAN be a very good thing.

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders.
 http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Fulton: 205 E. 75th. New York, NY

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My dear friend Jamie will be looking after my pets when I go away in a few weeks. To thank him, I offered to treat him to a special ‘restaurant week’ dinner. We chose Fultons, a seafood restaurant on the Upper East Side near where we both live that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. For me, it’s really too cost prohibitive to go to without a great deal like the ‘restaurant week’ menu but this special enabled us to have 3 courses for $35- a wonderful way to experience a fantastic meal.

We started with dirty martinis (with extra olives for me), and some delicious bread and olive oil for dipping while we looked over the menu and decided what to order. Everything looked so good that we asked our waiter if they’d be willing to split plates for us so that we could try more dishes, and he was more than happy to accomodate. That made our choice much easier and we picked 2, 3 course meals to share and were able to order everything on the menu that we wanted. I LOVE when restaurants are willing to do this, as I’d always rather have more to taste in smaller portions rather than big plates of fewer choices.

Our 2 starters were both summer-y, light and farmer’s-market fresh. The chilled pea soup was topped with creme fraiche, pea shoots and lobster and was truly refreshing and bright. The arugula salad with pine nuts, fennel and shaved manchego was, for something so simple, absolutely wonderful and I wished I had more than my half of that dish.

For our entrees we had the striped bass with black eyed peas and fennel and the salmon with lentils and turnips. Both of the pieces of fish were cooked to perfection, seasoned minimally and accompanied by healthy, clean sides. These are the kind of dishes that fill you up, but leave you feeling comfortably satisfied, not weighed down. I was very impressed with both.

Our desserts were incredible. Although doughnuts have become a bit trite as the super-trendy dessert of the last couple of years, these were really special. Little cinnamon-y doughnut holes with 4 dipping sauces: raspberry, bavarian creme, chocolate chile, and espresso. Each sauce was even more wonderful than the next, my personal favorites being the espresso and the raspberry. The  chocolate pretzel cake was a flourless chocolate cake with a pretzel crust that melted in my mouth, served alongside a small scoop of exquisite peanut butter ice cream and a few candied peanuts. Wow. Both of these desserts were really outstanding and a beautiful final touch to an all-around impeccable meal.

As someone who dines out a lot, I would be comfortable saying that this was a stand-out meal as of late, and I’d absolutely recommend a visit if you’re looking to impress guests, parents, a date, or a friend. PLUS as we were leaving we were handed 2 small cookies wrapped up to go by the hostess. What a lovely finishing touch. Definite bonus points in my book. Bravo.

Go Burger: 1448 Second Ave. New York, NY

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Every 8 weeks, my boyfriend Gabriel and I donate blood and then go eat burgers to replenish our iron levels. I personally think it’s one of the most romantic ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I love that we have started this tradition. Yeah yeah, I understand that not everyone may think that getting stuck with a large needle is very romantic, but as far as I’m concerned, potentially saving 8 lives between the 2 of us is a beautiful way to share the love…and if it means that eating a burger can be easily justified, well that’s just a double bonus 🙂

We alternate who gets to pick the burger place, and it was his turn this time. After walking around Central Park for most of the day, we found ourselves back on the Upper East Side near where Go Burger had opened this past winter. It had some pretty good reviews online, and sounded like a worthy choice.

When we got there it was relatively empty (since we were there at the weirdo dinner time of 5pm-ish) and we were seated right away in a booth in the back at our request where the air conditioner, thank GOD, was blasting.  When our waiter came to take our order, we found out that Go Burger is part of the ‘BLT’ restaurant group, and since we’d recently tried BLT Fish and loved it, we were excited to see how this meal would be. We asked his opinion about the various kinds of fries, and he told us very honestly that the duck fat fries were really just a lot of hype and that the waffle fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings were a better way to go. We had actually already been leaning toward one of those 3 options, but eventually we strayed from that section of the menu altogether and decided to share the jalapeno poppers as a side instead at our waiter’s very strong suggestion. Gabriel ordered a ‘Monkey Business’ milkshake: banana, peanut butter, chocolate ice cream, and a ‘Ultimelt burger’ (caramelized onions, bacon burger between 2 thin rye and grilled Gruyère sandwiches) and I ordered the sliders appetizer, choosing 2 BLT mini burgers (smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, BLT burger sauce) and 1 Maytag blue cheese mini burger (maytag blue cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms). Everything we ordered (which, by the way, came out SUPER fast) was fantastic. The milkshake was enormous, and was topped with a reese’s peanut butter cup and whipped cream- nice touch. The poppers were hot, crunchy and had the meltiest cream cheese center. The burgers were fresh, high-quality, and topped perfectly. Gabriel’s burger was cooked perfectly and so was one of my sliders, but I must say that the other two were kind of over-cooked and hence a bit dried out. The bacon on them was awesome though, thick cut, smokey and juicy, and it made up for the not-so-moist hamburger meat beneath it.

Our meal came out to about $45 total, and given the excellent, friendly and super speedy service and pretty damn good food, I think that was totally fair. The menu had a lot of other tasty options on it, and it might be worth a repeat at some point- but for now, it just makes me want to keep trying the other restaurants in this group. I think BLT Steak might have to be next…

 

*photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Toscano’s: 1544 Second Ave. New York, NY

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I picked up a Groupon for $15 that was supposed to be good for a free large pizza, a salad (caesar or house) and 2 beverages for take out, dine in or delivery. When we arrived and showed the coupon to our waiter, we were informed that it was a mistake on Groupon’s part and was only supposed to be good for delivery. We expressed our aggravation and the waiter went to see what he and the manager could do about it. While he was checking, the best table in the restaurant (in the corner, by the open front window/walls) opened up and we re-seated ourselves there to wait for the verdict.

He came back a few minutes later with what we thought was pretty darn awesome news. They apparently don’t do large pizzas in-house, which was why the coupon was a problem, so instead they offered us a salad, a small pizza, 2 beverages AND an appetizer! Wow! To us, getting to try an extra dish was a total bonus, and we ended up really psyched about the mistake.

We started with some lovely foccacia, brought out in a basket with excellent olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. We also ordered 2 iced teas which were remarkably good- especially when the waiter took the extra time to hunt down some honey for us at our request. For our salad option we chose the house, which was mixed mesclun lettuce, grape tomatoes and red onions with a light balsamic vinaigrette. A nice first course to start out with; a fresh, clean, light beginning to the carb-y meal ahead.

Next, we ordered the special baked gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce for our appetizer. It came served atop some leafy greens that really helped to cut the heavy, richness of the dish. It was quite a treat, and tasted a lot more like fried cheese than gnocchi to me. Although it was baked, not fried, it had a crisp breaded crust on the outside that added a great consistency to the creamy inside. The sauce on top was creamy and decadent, and by the time we finished this and our salad we weren’t sure how much of our pizza we’d be able to eat.

I should mention that during each course, our extremely friendly, charismatic and attentive waiter stopped by to check on us, chat about how we were liking our meal, and make sure we had everything we needed. We soon found out that Chris is also a local realtor (which I will definitely keep in mind if I ever decide to leave my current apartment) as well as an opera singer. He’s not only a great server, but also a really fun and interesting guy- and if you’re lucky enough to sit at one of his tables, I’d highly suggest getting to know him a bit.

Our pizza arrived hot, melty and with a perfectly golden brown crust. The mozzarella, as Chris informed us, is handmade by the father of the owner with their old family recipe, and you can truly taste the love that goes into it. I adore family owned and operated businesses for the integrity and pride that is so clear in their service and food, and this was no exception. The pizza was delicious, not at all greasy or over-seasoned. It was made just right, with fresh tomato sauce, arugula and grilled chicken and of course, the wonderful mozzarella. Even though we’d predicted we’d surely be taking some home, we cleaned the plate and felt happily full and satisfied afterwards. We did not have that over-stuffed feeling you get when you’ve just polished off a typical NY Pizza. No, this was not grab & fold pizza at all, this was real food.

At the end of our meal when Chris came to check on us a final time, I introduced myself to him and gave him my Carey’s Culinary Adventures card. They’ve only been open for a month or so, and I figured they’d appreciate knowing that I’d be putting some nice words up about them. As a gesture of gratitude, Chris brought over 2 glasses of Chianti for Gabriel and I to sip, and I thought it was a very sweet way to end a great experience. Thanks Chris! There is no question that I’ll be back to try more of their offerings. They had quite an extensive and appealing menu and are apparently adding more to it over the next few weeks. Although we had a fantastic coupon this time, and felt like we’d just polished off about $75 worth of food and drinks for a mere $15, I would be more than happy to pay full price for food this good and service this entertaining. Welcome to the neighborhood Toscano’s!

 *photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders. http://www.magicsandbox.com/enter/Magic_Sandbox.html

Ocean Grill: 384 Columbus Ave, New York, NY

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When my dear friend Betsy offered to take me out for lunch today due to her oyster craving, (an addiction she has me to thank for sparking) I was thrilled that she wanted to try Ocean Grill on the UWS. I live on the UES, and Atlantic Grill (the sister to this restaurant, Blue Water Grill, and other favorite seafood places of mine owned by the BR Guest restaurant group) is one of my very favorites. Looking online at their menu, I could see that it was almost identical and knew it was sure to be a wonderful meal.

Delicious bread, butter and water were brought out right away and our waitress gave us plenty of time (after we turned her away twice while we chatted) to look over the menu. Betsy order a dozen oysters for us to slurp down while we decided what else to order. The oysters were brinier choices than ones I’ve had recently, but all were super fresh, large and juicy, with a trio of sauces to spoon on top.

We chose a salad of arugula, macadamia nuts, beets and fried goat cheese and a wrap of soft shell crab, tomatoes, bacon and herb mayo with a side of fries to share for our entree. Both were totally outstanding, living up to the high standards that Atlantic Grill has set for me. I would order both of these dishes again, despite a complete menu of other perfectly enticing options. Even better reason to keep coming back.

For dessert, we were informed that it was national ice cream sandwich day. Now that is my kind of holiday! Of course we HAD to share the special of banana ice cream between 2 chocolate chip cookies with a side of chocolate fondue sauce for dipping and it was a fantastic choice. A deliciously wonderful ending to a fabulous meal. If you’ve never tried the BR Guest restaurants, you should!