Monthly Archives: November 2011

First Avenue Coffee Shop: 1433 1st Ave, New York NY


Oh Yelp. You really let us down this time. I was so excited to see the 4 star reviews for First Avenue Coffee Shop. I LOVE finding little hole-in-the-wall places that turn out to be awesome and from reading the reviews, I thought that’s what we were in for. It certainly doesn’t LOOK like anything more than a typical coffee shop, but people were raving about the service and the food here so we gave it a shot.

We sat down in the back and looked over the incredibly reasonably priced menu before placing our orders. I was feeling very positive, already thinking that we’d be back for breakfast soon- and to try some of the other appealing sandwiches on the menu.

I ordered a cheeseburger with grilled mushrooms and the baked potato skins appetizer and Gabriel got a burger with fries and a milkshake. (We planned to split the potato skins)

First, they brought Gabriel a burger that was totally different than the one he’d ordered and he had to send it back. When he explained again which one he wanted, the waiter had to refer to the menu to see what was supposed to be on it. Then, my burger arrived, which was fine- although it was served with 2 tiny little excuses for pickle spears that were probably the tail end of a jar…but still no appetizer had arrived. Ooookay. I guess we’ll eat our entrees first and then have the app later. The burgers were okay- but nothing special. Neither was Gabriel’s fries or his shake. Just nothing exciting typical diner food. The service was really slow and sort of incompetent. Sorry, but just because you say ‘my friend’ before and after everything else, that does not equal good service.

Ten minutes later, 2 little pathetic potato halves arrived. They looked nothing like the photo in the menu, and were covered in little pieces of green pepper instead of the scallions that were described. We also realized that a baked potato with bacon and cheddar was actually 2 bucks LESS than the app- which was essentially one sort of hollowed-out baked potato- not a plate of the crispy skins we were expecting. We also had to ask for sour cream- which was in the description but not brought out with the dish. Although they tasted pretty good, we were pretty pissed about the pricing and complained to the waiter about it who agreed to charge us at the baked potato price instead. The whole thing was kind of weird.

Overall, we were totally disappointed with this meal- and neither one of us felt very well for the rest of the day. Hmmm. I will not going back after all. Womp Womp.

Chez Carey! Thai shrimp lemongrass soba soup


                                                                                                                                                                                                           After a chilly evening run, I decided to experiment with a belly-warming soup for dinner. One of my favorites is the Tom Yum soup that most Thai restaurants serve. Not being someone who likes to follow recipes, I attempted to recreate something similar that could satisfy my craving. I also wanted to feel full, so I decided that adding buckwheat soba noodles to it would make it a more complete meal than the soup which is normally just broth and shrimp and a few veggies. As always, this recipe is really just a concept and can be played with as you see fit. I’ll give you a list of ingredients I used and a basic idea- and you can run with it from there. This turned out wonderful but (note to self) next time I will only add the noodles to the portion I plan to eat because the following day, the remaining noodles had pretty much sucked all of the soup up and I had to add some water to reconstitute it.

Add to 8 cups of chicken stock the following:

grated fresh ginger

sliced garlic

slivered scallions

chopped chiles or jalapenos.

a couple of teaspoons of oyster sauce

long pieces of lemongrass (so that you can easily remove them later)

a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce

a couple of tablespoons of almond butter (whisk this in once the soup has simmered for 10 minutes or so)

Let that all simmer for 20 minutes or so and them drop in a pound of cleaned shrimp. Continue to simmer until the shrimp turn pink and curl up.

Cook your soba (or vermicelli, or udon etc) noodles in a separate pot of boiling water. (this is the part I didn’t do…I made the mistake of adding the noodles to the soup along with the raw shrimp. I won’t do that next time)

Put a cup of raw baby spinach in a big bowl. Add a scoop of noodles on top of that. Fill the rest of the bowl with the soup and finish with a little hot sauce. Voila. Yum. Well, Tom Yum. Sort of.

P.S. I think next time I will also add some baby corn and straw mushrooms to this.

Wonjo: 23 West 32nd st. New York, NY


Last night was Gabriel’s birthday and I wanted to take him out for dinner at his favorite restaurant, Woo Lae Oak. What a bummer to try to make a reservation there to find out they’d closed last spring! Oh no! Now what?

We decided that going for Korean BBQ in Koreatown would be a fun alternative. Although it doesn’t have the fancy atmosphere that Woo Lae Oak had, the BBQ food and charcoal grills on the table made for a similar experience. After asking a bunch of my foodie friends for their suggestions, we settled on Wonjo because it’s one of the few left that still uses real charcoal instead of gas.

We were seated within just a few minutes of our arrival (without a reservation) which was great- especially since it was very crowded and pretty much every table was full. We’d been warned that service could be a bit gruff, but we disagreed. Our waitress was friendly and smiley, and between her, another waiter and a bus boy, we were very well attended to. I ordered a glass of white wine and Gabriel asked for a bottle of sake and then the fun began.

We got our food all almost all once and it totally covered our cozy, corner table; the seafood platter, the vegetable and mushroom platter, an AMAZING seafood scallion pancake that was oooohhhh so good, edamame, and tons of little appetizer-y salad-y things that traditionally accompany Korean food. I’d try to describe all of them, but since I really didn’t know what most of them were, your guess is as good as mine. I can say that the kim chee was delicious as was the vinegar daikon, the steamed egg, and a bunch of other misc dishes that were interesting and totally enjoyable. I think this is a case where the pics can tell you a lot more than I can.

The production of hot coals being poured into our charcoal grill was dramatic and we quickly felt the warmth it provided. The waiter and waitress did our cooking for us, carefully placing salmon, octopus, shrimp, clams, mussels, mushrooms and vegetables on the grill and occasionally coming back to flip or remove them for us. Everything was so fresh and tasty, and a really healthy meal overall. (except for the scallion pancake which was worth every greasy calorie) It wasn’t until the end that we got a tip from our neighbors that if you winked twice and asked for it, you could have a bowl of wonderful sticky rice with your meal. Oh well, now we know for next time.

This is not a cheap dinner, but a very worthwhile one and I’m quite sure we will be back. It’s not just the great food, but the total dining experience that people come here for. It’s a meal and an activity all in one! What could possibly be better than that?!?!

Celeste Diner. 63 Tillary st. Brooklyn, NY


After walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, I realized that I was kind of in a rush to have a bite to eat and head back home to teach my evening voice lessons. Celeste Diner was the first restaurant that we came across so Gabriel and I popped in for a quick lunch.

We quickly looked over the typical diner menu they brought us and each decided on a wrap with fries for $8.50. When the waitress informed us that sweet potato fries were an option, I got pretty excited. I looooooove sweet potato fries, and these were really good ones. Coleslaw (better than average) and a yummy pickle came with our wraps. The wraps themselves were huge and kind of sloppy, but very good. Mine was grilled chicken, swiss, lettuce and tomato and Gabriel’s was grilled chicken, salsa and avocado (with regular fries)

For a cheap, quick lunch, this was a great stumble-upon choice. Clean, great service, good food. Thanks Celeste!

Talia’s Steakhouse: 668 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY


Gabriel bought a coupon for a $75-for-a-3-course prix-fixe dinner and a bottle of wine (A $150 value) from a while back. The expiration date on the coupon was getting close and after running 8 miles today and coming home starving, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to use it. The truth is, we were going into this with a sense of humor. I’d read a ton of REALLY awful reviews on about Talia’s and wasn’t expecting much. I was actually sort of looking forward to the fun that comes in writing really bad reviews and I’m laughing as I tell you that the only disappointment in this meal is that it was not at all disappointing.

Maybe it was simply because we went into it with such low expectations, but I have to say- this was actually a very nice experience. As soon as we were seated, the waitress brought out water, warm pita bread, an herb margarine and olive oil with basil. A few minutes later the owner himself brought us some hummus and tahini on the house- what a lovely surprise. Our bottle of red came soon after that, and we commented to each other, so far so good. What was everyone on Yelp complaining about?

We placed our order from the Prix Fix menu- with options that weren’t terribly exciting, but appealing nonetheless. We started with a mixed salad- it was better than ‘basic’ with hearts of palm, spinach and tons of other fresh veggies. The dressing was creamy and flavorful and the crunchy toasted pita bread on top was a great little bonus. The other appetizer was a middle eastern sampling of chicken fingers and other fried goodies. They were all tasty and different with flavors that were out of the ordinary for me. A little ‘too’ deep fried for my liking, but crunchy, hot and with a great green tahini sauce it made for a nice dish. We each ordered steaks for our main course, mine with a side of delicious sauteed mushrooms and his with steamed spinach. The sides were fine- though not particularly creative or interesting. The meat itself was ok, not fantastic; flavorful but a little overcooked and tough. For dessert we shared the chocolate souffle with vanilla ‘ice cream’ (non-dairy) and the tiramisu. Being that this is a Kosher restaurant, we found the non-dairy attempts to be pretty satisfying. The souflee was the standout here, rich and chocolate-y and right out of the oven…what’s not to like about that?!?!

After we finished eating I asked our waitress to have the owner come chat with us but was told that he was either outside or downstairs smoking. Ah. That’s where the cigarette smell was coming from. We had actually been chatting with the people at the next table over from us about the smell wafting in- and when we found out it was coming from the owner himself, we realized there would be no one to complain to about it. Well, that’s not really very cool at all. It was the only thing I wasn’t okay with at this restaurant and I hope that he reads this and takes it into consideration the next time he wants to satisfy his nicotine craving. We are eating in your establishment sir, and you are taking away from the experience by contaminating our noses.

Other than that, there was a great guitarist/vocalist performing while we ate and I personally really enjoyed that. He had a lovely voice and picked music that I really enjoyed. It seemed that the other patrons were really impressed as well and I thought it was a nice touch. The one other thing that wasn’t such a nice touch were the 2 flat screen TVs playing football games. This is a fairly classy restaurant, not a bar, and the TVs really cheapened the atmosphere.

All in all, I felt that for the $75, this was a great value. I’m not sure I would have felt okay about paying the full $150 price that it’s usually worth- but given the circumstances we were very pleased. Although I do not keep Kosher, I would recommend a visit to Talia’s for those of you that do.

Sapori D’ischia: 5515 37th Ave Woodside, NY


About 6 months ago I saw an article in NY Magazine about eating out in Queens and I noticed that S’apori D’ischia was right near Gabriel’s place. It was described as the original Eataly- a market by day that transforms into an intimate restaurant at night. It sounded appealing, but expensive and I wondered if we’d ever go. A few months later, when we saw a $29 deal online that was good for an appetizer, 2 entrees and a dessert, we grabbed it.

We made a reservation and headed over last night. Walking through an industrial section of Queens, we wondered where exactly we were going, and what it would be like. Just when we thought there was no way there was a restaurant nearby, we turned a corner and found an adorable entrance leading into a candlelit, romantic establishment. With just a few tables taken, we were told we could choose any of the tables for 2 that were available. We picked one near the keyboard- which was soon brought to life by a man softly singing standards and accompanying himself.

We each ordered a glass of wine and started noshing on the delicious bread, olives and olive oil that was brought over for us. When asked if we wanted flat or sparkling water, we chose flat- having no idea that we’d be charged $4 for it. I recently read a bunch of reviews on Yelp and found that a lot of other people had the same unwelcome surprise on their check and think it would behoove the waiter to actually mention this when you order it. Apparently, tap water is not an option here. Huh? Anyway, when we complained about it, they did remove the charge for our bill and also brought out a plaque with the restaurant’s ’10 commandments’ on it. One of the ‘commandments’ was no tap water. Well, that’s all fine and good if you actually INFORM your customers of that, but to show this after the fact is not so cool. Anyway, as I said, once they removed the charge from our bill we were appeased.

We ordered the grilled baby octopus to start with and it was brought out in a cute, little flower-pot-looking-vessel. Delicious. The octopus was crisp on the edges, slightly smokey, with beans and herbs in a savory sauce that was excellent on the bread we hadn’t already finished. For my entree, I ordered the spinach ricotta lasagna which, albeit a tiny portion, was superb. Incredibly fresh, homemade noodles with a light, cheesy filling all served in a delicious tomato sauce. Gabriel got the short ribs over whipped potatoes which was incredible- tender, not at all fatty, and SO full of rich flavor. Both entrees were definitely on the small side- but I would always prefer small, high-quality meals as opposed to huge plates of decent food. This way, you finish your meal feeling satisfied but not like you are about to pop.

Our dessert choices were rather limited. All we were offered was sorbet, gelato or the nutella banana- which we chose. It was just a sliced banana on top of some nutella, some caramelized crunchies on top and a scoop of vanilla gelato. Boring, but tasty nonetheless.

Overall, this meal was a lovely experience. I enjoyed the feeling of being somewhere that only insiders know about, off the beaten path. By the time we left, the place was totally full of people who seemed to be regulars. I thought the food was some of the best authentic Italian I’ve had in a really sweet, romantic setting. We don’t go out to Queens that often, but when we do I’d be happy to make a return visit, and I’d be curious to see what the daytime market is like.

Guantanamera: 939 8th Ave, NY, NY


After attending a movie screening in Midtown West, Gabriel and I found ourselves turning to GrouponNow to find a local deal for dinner. There weren’t a ton of options coming up, so when we found a $20 for $40 to Guantanamera (a Cuban restaurant with pretty good ratings) we  headed over. We skimmed over the menu outside, peaked inside at the dimly lit bar and the man hand-rolling cigars in the window, and decided we were intrigued enough to check it out.

The hostess asked if we had reservations, which we didn’t. She told us that it would be about a 20 minute wait so we decided to sit at the bar to have a drink. Just three minutes later we were told that a table opened up downstairs for us. Great! As we headed down into the cozy, candlelit cellar, I was relieved to hear  that the loud music and competing voices trying to hear each other over it from upstairs was left behind.

Water and menus were brought over immediately and our drink orders were taken. With red and white sangria as options, I decided to try the white which I’d never ordered before. The waiter described it as lighter and sweeter than the red and told me that If I didn’t like it, I could switch. I DID like it! It wasn’t full of fruit chunks like I usually see it, but it was fruity and refreshing without being too strong.

For our meal, we decided on an order of Paella, a side of tostones with garlic sauce, a side order of braised spinach and the empanadas appetizer. The Paella was wonderful and had tons of great stuff in it- sausage, chicken, lobster tail (one tiny piece), shrimp, calamari, peas, clams, mussels, oh my! It was plenty for the two of us to share, and with the app and the 2 sides made for a really nice meal. The tostones, though not as awesome as they are at Pio Pio ( were very tasty and crispy and came with a wonderfully garlic-y dipping sauce. The spinach was also deliciously full of garlic and the perfect green accompaniment to a very starch-heavy meal. The empanadas were ok- not really noteworthy and we both preferred the chicken one to the beef.

For dessert we shared the Tres Leches cake and it did not disappoint. Moist and milky, just like it should be, it was clear why this is one of their most popular desserts.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Guantanamera if you want to try Cuban food in a fun setting. I would definitely urge you to make a reservation- when we left it was a total mob scene and jut trying to get out was a challenge. If like us, you don’t want to shout to hear each other, ask to be seated downstairs. Enjoy!

The Plaza Hotel, Palm Court: Afternoon Tea.


Afternoon Tea at the Plaza has been on my NYC bucket list since I moved here almost 5 years ago. Being that it’s so very pricey, I thought it was something I’d just fantasize about but never actually do. I was beyond excited when I got an email from my dear friend saying that she’d scored a Groupon deal for tea for two and was going to take me there. When we went to the Food Hall downstairs at the Plaza for lunch a few months prior, we’d gone up to take a peak at the Palm Court where tea is served. It’s such a gorgeous, quintessential, NY setting, that stepping into the room feels like a little sample of another time in history.

When we arrived, the hostess seated us at a large table in the back and told us that a lot of people were there using their Groupon deals since they were expiring soon. The waiter came over within a few minutes, took our order, and returned a few moments later with our tea. I ordered the Montebello Apple Spice tea which was a lovely bright pink color. It had a subtle cinnamon taste with just a hint of ginger, and the apple taste was fruity and slightly tart. When I added a small cube of brown sugar it was perfection.

About 10 minutes later, a waitress brought over our 2, 3-tiered displays of treats. We’d ordered The New Yorker and The Chocolate Tea to share. We started with the adorable savories and sandwiches on the bottom tier of The New Yorker. All of them were quite tasty, but my favorite was the prosciutto, mozzarella and pesto. Also pictured are the following: cucumber/radish/herbs, smoked salmon/endive, Roquefort/red grapes/watercress, and roast beef/horseradish. Although tiny, these were all delightful, creative and beautifully prepared.

On the next tier were the scones. Fresh-baked and served with (not pictured) the most wonderful spreads: a lemon curd- which was divine, a Devonshire double cream, and raspberry preserves. I found that combining all 3 of those toppings resulted in a flavor and texture party that I was happy to attend.

At that point, we moved over to the chocolate side and started with the awesome fondue. The little red, cast iron pot heated over a flame and the chocolate became shiny and melty. We enthusiastically dipped the strawberries, pound cake, homemade marshmallows, pineapple and bananas in the chocolate, each bite more wonderful than the one before. The pretzel rods were slightly stale and we both left most of them behind.

On the top tier of both displays were the sweetest cakes/pastries/truffles/cookies etc. so even though we felt like we’d already eaten plenty of sugar, we decided that was really our dessert. I have to say, it was this tier that was the disappointing one, when in my mind, it should have been the best. The cakes were slightly dry, the pastries overly sweet, the cannoli was so stale that the knife we used to split it in halves basically mushed right though it with no flaking. The black & white cookies, a classic NY staple, was not a classic black & white at all but merely a shortbread cookie with icing. What? This is how you represent a black & white to tourists? Nooooo. That’s just wrong. I liked the little fruit tart and the chocolate truffle the best, but even those were no more exciting or impressive than a typical wedding dessert table.

At this point, realizing that my tea and water glass had both been bone dry for more than 20 minutes, I realized just how much the service was lacking. Maybe it was because we were Groupon customers, but I was pretty surprised that no one had come by to ask how everything was after we were served. When we still hadn’t received a check another 20 minutes later, we decided to just leave a tip on the table and go. It was only then that our waiter practically chased us down, receipt in hand, telling us that we had $19.50 in taxes left to pay. The bill also stated that the gratuity had been included in our Groupon payment. When we explained that we’d just left a 20 on the table for the tip and that he could use that to settle our tax bill, he agreed and let us go.

Overall, I am sort of bummed to say that this whole experience was kind of so-so. Yes, the room is exquisite. Yes, the feeling of history in the Plaza is very special. The food, tea, and service however left quite a bit to be desired. I left feeling that the whole tea-at-the-Plaza thing is really just a lot of hoopla and totally overrated. I must say, the tea service at Alice’s Tea Cup is much less expensive and about a million times better. Save your money and try that instead…but definitely swing by the Plaza to gaze at the lovely room.