Monthly Archives: February 2012

Amber: 1406 3rd st. New York, NY

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Our time living in NYC is quickly coming to an end. We are moving to Florida at the end of March (and yes, of COURSE I will continue blogging and reviewing there). The days of a sushi restaurant on every block will be a thing of the past. This is one of the things that Gabriel and I will REALLY miss (as you can read about on our blog byebyeny.wordpress.com) about living here, along with the plethora of livingsocial, groupon, scoutmob type deals that are offered in this city.

We bought a deal for Amber that included 2 apps, 2 classic rolls and 2 entrees for (If I remember correctly) $30 and went to cash in last night. We were surprised to see that it was very crowded on a Tuesday night, and wondered how many others were there with coupons. We actually overheard the waitress ask the next table over from us if they had one, so it must be the reason it’s so packed. The service was very friendly and knowledgable but definitely on the slow side and we had about 5-10 minutes of waiting between each plate that was served.

We, as always, decided to share everything. We started with the BBQ ribs and the shrimp and veggie tempura starter. Just to be totally honest, I completely forgot to take a pic of the ribs so this one is a pic I found online. It actually came with a small side salad with a few slices of (presumably, canned) peaches. The ribs were on the fatty side, but crisp and flavorful. The tempura was so-so. Definitely not as light and flakey as it should have been, but the generous pieces of zucchini and eggplant sort of made up for that.

Our 2 rolls were the highlight for me. One was spicy scallop, which had large scallops in each piece rather than the chopped up kind that a lot of sushi places serve. The other was snowcrab and tobiko which was a little too salty for me, but fresh and a bit different that the ‘classic’ rolls I’d usually order. They came with the seaweed on the outside as I requested it, and were tightly and expertly wrapped.

For our entrees we had the chicken with basil sauce and brown rice and the bird’s nest. Hmm. These were somewhat disappointing. I couldn’t detect any basil flavor on the chicken – just an overly-sweet, orange-colored sauce. The eggplant in this dish was really tasty though, it kind of saved the dish from being a flop. The bird’s nest was totally the opposite of the impressive display I’d anticipated. At most restaurants, it’s served in a beautiful noodle-y basket but here it was a (presumably pre-made) bowl that looked (and tasted) a lot like styrofoam. The chicken, shrimp and veggies inside were fine, but certainly nothing unique or noteworthy.

Overall, I suppose I’d go back for the sushi, but probably not for the entrees or anything out of the ordinary. The sushi was quite good- but not spectacular…and given that I pass about 20 other sushi places on my way to Amber, I guess the likelihood of a return visit is pretty slim.

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Onegin: 391 6th ave, NY NY

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To call this evening a special experience would be a huge understatement. As someone who has Russian roots but minimal knowledge of the culture, this was an eye-opening journey of cuisine that I got to enjoy without even purchasing a plane ticket.

When Gabriel and I arrived we had our choice of seats in this very lovely restaurant. We chose the red velvet chairs near the windows and sat down for what was about to be a truly unforgettable dining adventure. As we looked over the menu, we quickly realized how little we knew about Russian food aside from blini and borsht and we decided to let our knowledgable waiter take the lead for us. The array of food that appeared was seemingly endless and in between 3 vodka cocktails each, we managed to eat an insane amount.

The pumpernickel bread with dill butter that started us off was wonderful. Fresh and soft with an earthy, nutty flavor. The creamy, whipped dill butter was impossible to not slather onto each slice.

Our first 2 appetizers were very traditional; red caviar blinis and the holodets. Neither of us had ever tried holodets and we were a bit wary of it at first. It looked frighteningly like the jelly that comes with gefilte fish and I’m not really a big fan of that, generally speaking. This was certainly unusual to me and I always say, I wil try anything twice. (I often don’t like things the first time around but they frequently grow on me). This was one of those cases. The first few bites were ummmmm, well, not my favorite consistency in the world…but the more I ate (in between sips of my delicious sour cherry cocktail) the more I liked it. It was enhanced with the sides of homemade horseradish and Russian mustard. Different indeed, and I have to admit, the sheer uniqueness of it in a world that consists of a ton of pizza, sushi and other familiar-to-me foods, was enjoyable. The blini were out of this world. Accompanied by awesome red caviar, sour cream, scallions and chopped egg, they were the perfect consistency and combination of flavors. The presentation was also really impressive, displayed on it’s own little wooden board. We polished them off in about 3 minutes.

The next courses brought out to us were our soups. I had the hot borsht with beef and Gabriel had the Ukha (Russian Fisherman’s soup). Each came with a side of bread- mine were 2 little wonderfully garlic-y rolls and Gabriel’s was a mushroom/fish cake. I didn’t love his soup- it was really just a basic fish broth which was a little too ‘fishy’ for me and not terribly exciting, but my borsht was phenomenal and went perfectly with the garlic rolls. At this point, our waiter brought out 2 homemade horseradish infused vodkas for us, garnished with a crunchy little gherkin. YUM.

Next we shared one entree, I’m not entirely sure what it was called because we let the waiter choose it for us, but it was basically a cutlet made from veal and chicken and fried. It was a bit on the greasy side and not my favorite flavor in the world, but the mashed potatoes and grilled fresh vegetables that came with it were awesome and I happily ate them all.

At this point we were pretty darn full but felt we just *had* to find room to try a traditional dessert. How could we skip a homemade halvah that the waiter promised was truly incredible? We couldn’t…and it was. It seriously changed my mind altogether about what halvah is. This was velvety, milky and cool, with the flavor of rich hazelnut and cashew and served with fresh berries and whipped cream. Excellent. I HIGHLY recommend trying this dessert if you’re like me, constantly ordering the chocolate option on any dessert menu. A great way to branch out without straying from creamy, rich, sweetness.

To finish our meal, we opted to try tea from the very cool lit-up tea box. We had fun opening each jar to have a sniff before deciding which ones to try. I had the lychee green tea and though I am probably still wide-awake writing this because of it, it was worth it. It was presented in such a glorious way in little cast iron tea pots with a sliver-wrapped glass that the waiter explained was how they serve tea on the trains in Russia. How cool is that? Alongside of our tea he served us condensed sweetened milk, brown sugar cubes, honey and cherry jam. What a wonderful treat this was- and a lovely way to sip our way to the end of this meal. Well, we *thought* it was the end until our awesome waiter appeared once more with yet another house infused vodka to try. This final one was made with a natural hazelnut and coffee infusion. I would never have thought that those flavors would work together but this turned out to be my favorite drink of the night.

Overall, I found Onegin to be a really fantastic restaurant. I recently read some negative reviews about it online and think they are totally unfair. I hope that the naysayers give this gem another try. It is honestly one of the most special dining experiences I’ve had in New York. Bravo Onegin, and thank you for an outstanding evening.

Hunan Delight: 1469 York Ave, NY NY

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It is really ridiculous that it’s taken me this long to write up a review for Hunan Delight. I’ve been coming here for 5 years since it’s at the top of the block that I live on and it’s WAY better than average chinese food. The Japanese food is pretty darn good too- but I usually stick with Chinese.

If you live on the UES and haven’t ordered in or dined here, you are truly missing out. My boyfriend and I are regulars for both delivery and dining in- we go almost weekly. It’s best to eat there because you get FREE WINE with dinner. The wine is actually pretty good too! When you get delivery, it’s super fast and hot- but the crunchy noodles and duck sauce are not as good as the ones you get when you eat there. The food is plentiful, inexpensive and reliably good.

Today we shared the moo shi vegetables with pancakes as well as the healthy steamed shrimp option with 6 vegetables (mushrooms, black mushrooms, jicama, carrots, baby corn, and bok choy) and sauce of our choice (garlic). As always, the food was great quality, served quickly and with friendly banter.

We often get the healthy steamed choices with either chicken or shrimp and for the price it’s a great deal.  The lunch specials are also an amazing bang for the buck. I recommend the BBQ spareribs, crab rangoon, cashew chicken and juicy dumplings. Everything they make is really surprisingly good. No need to trek down to chinatown!

I will DEEPLY miss Hunan Delight when we move away from NYC next month. I hope you will continue going there on my behalf. BRAVO Hunan, I wish more restaurants up here were as fairly priced and awesome as you.

Centolire: 1167 Madison ave. NY NY

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My aunt chose Centolire as the restaurant to celebrate my beloved Grandmother’s 96th birthday in, and what a perfect choice it was. There was an elevator to get to the upstairs dining area, and we were seated at a comfortable table near the windows. The decor is tasteful and cheery with fresh flowers, lots of sunlight streaming in, and orange and gold banquets. The service which was slightly on the formal side, was incredible knowledgable and attentive, save for some empty water glasses towards the end of our meal.

A $25 3 course prix fix was a very reasonable cost for a fine quality meal and the menu was full of so many appealing dishes that we all had a tough time choosing. Luckily for me, my boyfriend and I have very similar taste in food and were happy to share everything, so we were each able to try 6 dishes instead of just 3.

The fresh Italian bread that arrived in a basket alongside delicious olive oil was a good indication of the food to follow. Wonderfully fresh and high quality, the excellent olive oil was clearly carefully selected.

We began with our appetizers: a risotto topped with a bacon wrapped scallop and a baby artichoke, arugula salad with parmesan. Both were fantastic, and even though the one lonely scallop looked like not quite enough to share, it really was. Cooked to perfection and wrapped with a thick slice of bacon, this was amazing on top of the creamy, cheesy risotto and had we opted for the entree sized portion of it, it would have been too much. The salad was simple but fresh and delicious, and the thick slices of parmesan on top were again clearly of high quality.

For one of our entrees we chose the grilled salmon with broccoli rabe, which turned out to be good- but pretty boring. The fish was very fresh and cooked perfectly with a crisp crust. The broccoli rabe had large sliced of roasted garlic and was not at all bitter as it sometimes is. That said, the dish lacked anything exciting or original about it and we were a little disappointed with it’s simplicity.

The ‘strangled priest’ pasta with chicken ragout was a total hit. I’d never had this oddly named pasta before- they were almost like little twisted dumplings and had a great sort of springy consistency to them. The creamy, tomato-y chicken ragout had a similar texture to pulled pork and was something quite different than I’ve had before. I throughly enjoyed this dish and pretty much licked the bowl clean.

Alongside of a delicious cappuccino we shared our 2 desserts. The 2 scoops of gelato were incredible, on one side was pistacho and the other was amaretto flavor. I LOVED the amaretto one and really would have like a giant container of that one to take home. It had little ribbons of the almond cookies going through it and I was pretty much in heaven except that it was gone too quickly. The blueberry and vanilla creme tart turned out to be much more cake-y than tart-y but very good no matter what it was called. It was not too sweet but had a lovely crumbly texture and large fresh blueberries inside.

Overall, I was very pleased with Centolire, especially since the reviews online are kind of mixed and I didn’t go in with terribly high expectations. I would absolutely recommend a visit and think it’s a great choice for a date, a group or even dining alone. When we went, it was a fairly mixed clientele, centering around what seemed to be families and I got the feeling that it’s generally a local Upper East Side crowd. Bravo Centolire!

 

 

Popbar: 5 Carmine st. NY NY

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Gabriel and I *almost* ruined our appetites here before going for dinner the other night, but decided to hold off until afterwards. It was the cute storefront that drew us in, and the clever hot chocolate presentation that got us to purchase a cup each. Displayed in the glass case as little chocolate bars on popsicle sticks, the hot chocolate includes one block of milk, dark or white chocolate on a stick and a cup of steamed milk. I had the milk chocolate choice and enjoyed stirring it and letting it melt into the milk. A lick of the chocolate bar gave me a nice, creamy, indulgent treat and my first sip of the drink was warm and cozy. It was a great flavor, not overly sweet, just rich and chocolatey. Yum. The price is on the high side at $3.75 each, but you are kind of paying for the novelty of it. I’m not sure I’d go back, but I really liked the idea of it and plan to make some at home myself with a chocolate bar and milk steamed in my little at-home-frother. Yum. Thanks for the idea!

Ido Sushi: 29 7th ave south. NY NY

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It sounded like a great deal. $39 for up to $98 dollars worth of sushi and drinks. The specific details said: 2 glasses of wine or beer, 1 hot or cold appetizer and a sushi/sashimi/maki roll dinner for 2. When we arrived and we seated, the deal seemed to change a bit. First of all, the total was up to $91 worth. The wine or beer was only the ‘house’ type, not what we actually wanted. (and pretty bad, probably from a box) and the appetizers couldn’t exceed $15. When we totaled our meal up it actually came to around $85. Although it was still a nice deal, I did not appreciate that it mysteriously changed from the description and the waitress, quite frankly, was pretty rude and dismissive about it. When I showed her the original offer on my Iphone, she simply said ‘That’s not how we do it, it was a typo”. Oooookay, thanks.

As far as the food goes, we started with the scallops and mushroom appetizer which was tasty, but tiny. If we’d actually paid the full $15 price for it, I would have been very disappointed. The sushi/sashimi/maki roll platter was very good quality, presented quickly and attractively, but really wasn’t as much food as we had expected. We finished everything in about 10 minutes and left with bellies that needed more. We actually ended up hitting another sushi place (Miyabi on West 3rd which is quite excellent, though I did not blog it this time…) a couple of hours later because we were still feeling hungry. Kind of hilarious, but also a ridiculous waste of money that we didn’t really want to spend.

Had this meal been at it’s full price, I would have been appalled. We could have gone to Yuka (one of our favorites uptown that offers a $25 all you can eat deal) and been MUCH happier. As it were, after leaving the 18% tip and tax, this meal cost us about $60 and we were not impressed. Although the atmosphere was cute and cozy, and there was a pretty good live jazz trio playing, the seats were uncomfortable, the food was overpriced and the service was nasty. I would not return.

Saffron Garden: 304 E. 78th st. NY NY

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I crave Indian food just a few times per year. It’s not really my favorite, but once in a while I get an intense hankering that just won’t go away until I satiate it. Today was one of those days. It just so happened that I was walking past Saffron Garden, hungry and with a craving, and I noticed a Groupon Now deal for pay $6 for $10. As luck would have it, they have a $9.99 lunch special advertised in their window. It was fate indeed.

It was an empty restaurant, which wasn’t off-putting given that it was 3pm,  kind of a weird time for a meal. I sat down and was given a vague idea of what the lunch special included. Frankly, I didn’t really care. I asked if spinach paneer was an option, which it was, and looked forward to whatever else the lunch included as a surprise to come.

It began with a delicious hot and crispy potato/pea samosa with a side of chick peas and the 3 classic sauces that I love. One is a chopped onion mix in a red sauce, one is mainly cilantro and herbs (yum) and one is a sweet brown sauce. I wish I knew more about these and what is in them, I just know they are the common trio at most Indian restaurants and I’m definitely a fan of putting them on everything I’m served.

Next came a basket of naan, a dish of basmati rice, and a dish of spinach paneer. Everything was surprisingly delicious, especially the chunks of cheese in the creamed spinach- YUM. The naan was a bit over-cooked and crispy instead of soft and chewy, but it was great anyway and made a great vessel for my spinach and sauces.

The service was a bit lacking, very slow and he hardly spoke any english. It was also a problem that the waiter TOTALLY didn’t understand how Groupon works- he actually kept saying no no no, it wasn’t good except for dinner- but I showed him that it said clearly that it was valid from noon until 9pm. He persistently asked for my phone number so that his boss could call me later. I insisted that they’d need to speak with Groupon instead and wrote down my coupon number on my check for him. It was a bit annoying, but not a big deal, and certainly not a reason to not return.

If I do end up craving great Indian food at an extremely reasonable price, I will most definitely go back and I’ll probably try ordering delivery in the near future. The rest of the menu looks quite appealing and tempts me to branch out from my normal choices. Mango shrimp? Perhaps next time.