Monthly Archives: September 2011

53rd and 6th Halal Cart, New York, NY

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I’d heard a TON about this vendor over the years and finally happened to be in the area right when my stomach started growling for lunch. The line, as always, went halfway down the block.
30 minutes later, as I wondered if this wait was really worth it, I had my $6 yellow bag full of food. I found a nice shady bench to sit on and opened my little aluminum container of WAY too much for one person to eat. I ordered the combo platter so that I could make sure to sample both the lamb and the chicken that is raved about by so many. With a ridiculous portion of yellow rice on top, a pita cut up into little wedges, and a small side salad of iceberg lettuce, green peppers and tomatoes, I wondered what all of this fuss was about. I started with little tastes of the 2 sauces I had asked for on the side: the classic white sauce and the hot sauce (by the way, ow). So, ok. Now I get it. I have NO idea why, but this food is really ridiculously good. The chicken is fresh, hot and lightly seasoned. I preferred it over the ground lamb, but that’s just my personal preference- both were really excellent. The yellow rice is sticky-licious, flavorful and plentiful. The white sauce, as everyone says, is what makes the meal what it is. Creamy and cool, kind of like tzatziki sauce but without the cucumber. I actually have no idea what is in it, but it sure is tasty.
I couldn’t even come close to eating half of my meal, but found a homeless man who was very happy to accept my 2nd half. I’m not actually sure that I’ll go back, because the too-full feeling I still had an hour later wasn’t exactly the most pleasant, but I am glad I finally tried it. Go with a friend and share one order. It’s a wisely spent $3 each for a great lunch.

Time Cafe: 44-18 Broadway, Astoria, NY

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Not worth the time? A waste of time (and money)? A pretty unsatisfying time? Time to go?  If you want any of those options, you’ve come to the right place! Otherwise, Time Cafe should be skipped altogether.

Dinner here last night was pretty sad. Three shared dishes were all poor, and would have been much better at a generic diner. We started with a salad with feta, chickpeas and kalamata olives that came with a watery red wine vinaigrette (that seemingly was made of olive juice and vinegar. I think they forgot to add olive oil) It was fine, because we were starving, but pretty darn boring and unimpressive. Our fried calamari looked good, but had almost zero flavor. The batter tasted like junky quality that was cooked in used and re-used frying oil, and even after adding some salt still the dish tasted totally bland. The grilled chicken balsamico panini may as well have been served on toasted and buttered Wonder Bread. It was just one thin, small piece of grilled chicken with a melted slice of provolone and a slightly unripe tomato. The roasted red peppers and lemon pepper mayo that was described in the menu was no where to be seen (or tasted). For $10, I could have gotten a better version of this sandwich plus a drink, chips and a cookie at Lenny’s or another deli, and it would have been on better bread. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that the fries they served with it were from someone’s leftover McDonald’s lunch.

A ‘decaf’ cappuccino that had me wired until 1am was served with a Nutella pirouette cookie (that we asked for after seeing them served with another table’s coffees but not initially being brought out for us- maybe the fact that they were old and stale was the reason why) was fine, but not hot.

Overall, for $45 (including tip) this meal was a total bummer. It was a good thing we were so hungry or my perception of the food would have been even worse.

Next time, I’ll surely try one of the many raved-about Thai places in the neighborhood instead of taking a risk wandering into a cafe just because it looks cute from the outside. My bad.

Photos courtesy of Gabriel Sanders: http://www.magicsandbox.com

Cake Boss Cafe (The Discovery Museum) 226 W. 44th. New York, NY

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When I heard that Buddy Valastro had opened up ‘Cake Boss Cafe’ in the Discovery Times Square Museum, I got even more excited to go see the Pompeii Exhibit that I’d been looking forward to for so long. Gabriel and I bought a ‘Living Social’ deal online for admission for 2 to the museum that conveniently came with a $10 coupon to the Cafe. Perfect!

After a couple of hours exploring the fascinating exhibit, we headed downstairs for some sweet treats. As you can see from this drool-worthy photo, we had reason to expect happy taste buds. Sadly, as you’ll soon read, looks can be deceiving. A long line of tourists wasn’t enough to stop us from our anticipated indulgence and neither were dirty tables and floors or a grumpy, unhelpful cashier. When we asked him if the desserts came in fresh every day, he simply muttered, “I don’t know, sometimes.” Umm, thanks.

$11.50 bought us 3 rainbow cakes (one of my all-time favorite baked goods) a chocolate chip cookie and a brownie. Pretty overpriced when we realized how totally gross everything was. $11.50 at the best bakery in Brooklyn can buy you a pound of amazing cookies and pastries, and would seriously have been money MUCH better spent…even when you consider that this was essentially free for us with our coupon.

I have a dear friend with outstanding taste who bought her wedding cake from Buddy’s Hoboken bakery, which is called Carlo’s Bake Shop. I do not doubt for one nanosecond that her cake was incredible. This is a woman who knows good food and definitely does her research. She would not, in a million years, buy a cake from someone other than the best.

That said, since I was going in with high expectations, this was a MAJOR disappointment. I do not think that Buddy, The ‘Cake Boss’ would want his name on this cafe at all if he knew how awfully he was being represented here.

I would have strongly preferred busting open a box of Entenmann’s, or even <shudder> Chips Ahoy, over this miserable excuse for a chocolate chip cookie. Under-cooked, and not in the good doughy way, this was just a total waste of calories. The rainbow cakes were so stale and dry that I could literally peel the ‘jelly’ layer off in one rubbery strip. I’ve had better at bad Bar Mitzvah dessert buffets. The brownie was crumbly, dry, and chemically. It honestly couldn’t hold a torch to a brownie sold at an elementary school bake sale that was made three nights before from a Duncan Hines mix by a couple of 8 year olds.

If I wasn’t so totally let down by this experience, I’d hop the next PATH train over to Hoboken just to see what Buddy’s fresh baked treats are really like. I think he does deserve a second chance given the rave reviews from my friend as well as because I really do enjoy his TLC reality show. I, however, just can’t fathom putting that much effort in. After all, it IS in New Jersey and that is quite a trek considering this pitiful experience. I worry that I’ll spend all that time on the train just for another crappy cookie and I simply can’t handle that. I am sorry to say that I take baked goods far too seriously to give the benefit of the doubt this time. Next time, I will just stick to the exhibit and take a little walk for my favorite chocolate cupcake instead at nearby Kyotofu. I highly suggest that you do the same. (Please see https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/kyotofu-705-9th-ave-new-york-ny/)

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Sanders: http://www.magicsandbox.com

Ca Va Brasserie: 310 W. 44th st. New York, NY

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I had theater tickets for Friday night to go see Hair on Broadway with Gabriel, and decided to look around for a place nearby to have dinner. Since restaurant week was extended this summer, it was easy to find lots of options. As soon as I saw one of Todd English’s places within a block from the theater, the choice was made. I love all of his other restaurants and was excited to try this one.

When we got there we took in the large, open, modern setting, cool, dimly-lit, art-deco, light fixtures, a large fireplace and chic, upscale decor. We were seated right away at a small table on the side of restaurant and drink orders were taken. As we sipped our cocktails and looked over the menu, we saw that the restaurant week menu was not the same as the one posted on the website. We weren’t really thrilled about the options on it and decided instead to share 2 appetizers, 2 sides and a dessert. It was the perfect choice to make, still plenty of food, slightly less expensive and exactly what we wanted to eat.

First, a large loaf of crusty French bread and butter was brought out in a brown paper, bakery sleeve. Still warm from the oven, with a fluffy inside, it was wonderful and hard to not polish off in 10 seconds flat. When all 4 dishes came out very soon after, we were delighted with our varied choices and the fact that we’d ordered the perfect amount to make a dinner out of. My favorite dish was the grilled octopus. It was slightly caramelized and served over cannellini beans, patty pan squash and herbs. SO delicious. The texture of the octopus was a little chewy, as it should be, and the flavor really came through since it was so simply grilled. The fried oysters were prepared escargot style- and although they were drowning in a herb butter, they somehow had a lightness about them. They were served with a grilled piece of garlic bread that was so wonderful to mop the sauce up with. We decided to ask for more regular bread so that we could continue sopping it up until the plate was dry. The haricot vert with wax beans and roasted shallots was prepared simply, cooked al dente and served it’s purpose as the one vegetable on the table. Light, clean and crunchy, it was excellent alongside of the heavy other choices we’d made. The last side was the mac and cheese with truffles. This was the only one I was not impressed with, and by looking around at the tables around us, we could see it was one of the most popular items to order. The truffle flavor seemingly came from a powder, there were no slivered truffles to speak of, and the pasta itself tasted over-cooked and mushy to me. Although the cheese was gooey and stretchy, it didn’t add much flavor. Frankly, for a dish this indulgent, it simply wasn’t worth the fat and carbs to me.  It was much more impressive in it’s presentation- served in a small crock with a crusty, golden-browned top, than in it’s taste.

For dessert we ordered the milk chocolate gateau with caramel sauce and peanuts. Wow. This was amazing. Admittedly, I am a total sucker for chocolate desserts but this one was definitely a winner. With a glossy ganache, a chocolate cookie crust, a mousse-y interior, a topping of caramelized peanuts, a swirl of caramel around the outside and a scoop of the most perfect vanilla bean ice cream, this left nothing to want. I sipped my pink chamomile tea with honey and was pretty much transported to heaven.

Overall, this is another top-notch Todd English winner in my book. I would be happy to go back- especially given the hit-or-miss nature of dining options in the theater district. Bravo! Encore!

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