Tag Archives: home cooking

Toojay’s Original Gourmet Deli. 3501 S. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, FL

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My mother and I had to go look for a dress at the mall and we decided that we were really too hungry to do any productive shopping. I’d had the matzo ball soup from here once before and was really impressed that a non-NYC restaurant could pull it off so well. We were seated right away and the huge menus were brought out for us. There was a ton to choose from including salads that sounded great, deli sandwiches, healthy options and full meals at a great value.

I decided on the chicken marsala that came with a side salad (with great blue cheese dressing), fresh baked rye bread (YUM) the vegetable of the day, and roasted potatoes. I decided to swap my potatoes out for sliced tomatoes so that I wouldn’t feel the guilt that would come from eating the bread AND potatoes…one starchy source was plenty for me after a few days of driving from NYC and eating totally unhealthy fast food for most of the meals. I was pretty impressed with the food overall. It’s not a ‘fine’ restaurant, but reminded me of a good NY diner. The chicken was cooked well, with nice, big pieces of mushrooms, the broccoli on the side was cooked just right and the bread was delicious with an excellent crispy crust and soft interior. If I wasn’t so full from my generous portion, I probably would have treated myself to one of the many tempting dessert options. Maybe next time!

Neo Sushi Studio: 1410 1st Ave, NY

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For our final dinner in NYC before the big move to Florida, Gabriel and I were VERY lucky to have our dear friend Betsy take us to Neo Sushi to celebrate. I’d never been, but recently read some reviews claiming that it’s a new UES treasure, even better than Gari or Sasabune (Sasabune, though it’s ridiculously expensive and I have only been once is what I think of as the best sushi I’ve ever had) and at much more reasonable prices.

We were seated right away and the very friendly waiter came to chat with us about what we were in the mood for. We decided to let him choose for us, and I’m very glad we did. He sent over the hamachi sashimi to start. Thinly sliced pieces of exquisite fish topped with cilantro and yuzu black pepper. WOW. This was so incredible and I already felt that this was indeed a special restaurant with a very talented chef. Next we had the Spicy Tuna Rice Crisp. These were little fried rice balls, somewhat reminiscent of tater tots if they were made of rice instead of potato. We were told to top them with the spicy tuna and then dip them in the sauce. Delicious. The mix of hot and cold, spicy and salty, crunchy and squishy was so enjoyable and whimsical. Then the main sushi spread arrived. We had a beautiful assortment of sushi including; salmon with tomato, tuna with soy cream, and hamachi with garlic. We also had a spicy tuna roll and another roll that was filled with asparagus and scallop (If I’m remembering right) and topped with a hot pepper sauce and a special black salt. The salt was a little too much for me, but I enjoyed the crunchy texture of it.

This whole meal was such a wonderful treat and I’m sorry that I didn’t find out about it sooner. Being that it was just a few blocks away from my apartment, I would have gone much more frequently had I known that It was so wonderful. This was such a perfect last meal in NY and exactly the way that I want to remember the NYC dining scene: amazing food, great people, friendly service and reasonable prices. I hope you’ll go check it out.

Delhi Heights: 37-66 74th st, Jackson Heights, NY

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Known as the place in NY to get great Indian cuisine, this street in Queens is filled with one lunch buffet after another at super low prices. We checked Yelp when we arrived in the area and saw that just about all of them have 4 stars, so we figured we just try the first one we saw. Delhi Heights advertised a $10 AYCE buffet and had hardly anyone in there, so we decided to head in.

About 10 silver bowls with lids and ladles lined one side of the restaurant and we checked them out before taking a seat. The waiter brought out fresh, hot nan and water in little silver cups and told us we could dig in.

I filled my plate with little tastes of just about everything that was offered. Amazing spinach paneer with huge chunks of cheese, mushroom masala, chicken tiki, lentils, peas, and basmati rice. I used the nan to scoop everything up and before long was totally stuffed. The food is absolutely incredible and at $10, a true bargain. I suggest you take the trek out to Queens to try it for yourself.

3E Taste of Thai. 34-16 Broadway, Queens, NY

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I have always heard that the best Thai food in NY is in Queens. It took me a very long time to go check it out- and actually this was only a week before moving out of the city to Florida. Well, better late than never. 3E Thai was indeed some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had and at prices that are FAR below my previous favorite (Land, on the Upper East Side)

Gabriel and I were in the area to pack up his apartment for our big move and when we finished our long day filled with boxes and packing paper, we were excited to replenish our lost calories with some great food. We arrived at 3E Thai and were seated right away in the fairly full restaurant. We looked over the menu and, after realizing that the prices were so awesome, decided to share a bunch of things.

We started with a spicy Tom Yum soup, one of my favorites, that came with a few large shrimp. The broth was full of lemongrass flavor with a little kick and we finished it quickly. Next, out came an awesome papaya salad, wonderful shrimp dumplings and an order of chicken satay. We shared the Pad Thai entree as well and it proved to be a bit less peanuty and heavy than it sometimes is. The whole meal was so fresh, light, and healthy and I’m a bit bummed that I won’t get a chance to repeat this whole meal. Oh well- at least I got to try it once! Go check it out…for half of the cost of a meal on the UES, you can eat twice as well.

La Mela: 167 Mulberry st. New York, NY

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Last Thursday, Gabriel and I threw a going-away party for ourselves. We had an absolute blast doing karaoke and enjoying cocktails with about 35 friends at 2nd on 2nd in the East Village. When the party ended, we found ourselves starving and rather buzzed (well, okay I was plumb drunk) and everything around was already closed. We decided to wander over to Little Italy to see if we could luck out with finding somewhere open to get big, satisfying plates of pasta. Lo and behold, we found La Mela. Open, mostly empty, pretty inexpensive and with great reviews online.

We were seated right away and quickly scanned the menu. Water and bread were brought out and our orders were taken. I chose the traditional spaghetti and meatballs which came out just a few moments later. Perfect. It totally hit the spot (from what I can remember) and left me with 2 extra meals worth for the following day. The meatballs were huge and delicious and the pasta sauce was bright, flavorful and hot. The pasta was definitely not homemade, but it was fine anyway, and the price was very fair.

If you’re in the area, especially late at night, I’d suggest giving it a try.

Nino’s: 1354 First Ave. New York, NY

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Last night marked two days before I run the NYC half marathon for my second time, and what better reason is there than to go feast on 3 courses of rich Italian food at Nino’s? I’ve walked past Nino’s many time, being that I live less than 10 blocks away, and it always looks fairly empty from the front. What I did not realize is that the back is totally packed and hopping with a well-dressed Upper East Side crowd. Mixed ages, some on dates, some with family, and even a couple of birthday celebrations, this restaurant is clearly a favorite of locals. Judging by the many signed photographs and books, it’s also a celebrity hotspot.

Nino, the dapper gentleman who owns the restaurant,  warmly welcomed Gabriel and I and led us to our table. It was a good thing we had made a reservation because there were only a few free tables that evening, and I again wondered how I’d never been in before. A grand piano in the corner was played by a musician with a lovely voice, and his tasteful mix of standards and show tunes made for a pleasant mood. He showed beautiful restraint and control with his voice, and I really enjoyed the old school flavor of listening to live music while we dined.

Our waiter came out for our drink order and brought us crusty bread, bean/garlic/herb dip (YUM!) and water along with our menus. He went over the specials for us and gave us a few minutes to decide. I should definitely take this time to mention that the service was the standout at Nino’s. As much as my personal preference tends to be more contemporary, innovative, creative foods, the impeccable formality of the service at Nino’s is very special. The menu is traditional Northern Italian, and it is very comfortable with that fact. No crazy foams and strange flavor combinations here, just classic, time-tested favorites. The dishes are served with the flair of restaurants that have been around forever and cater to a crowd who will accept nothing but premier treatment. We were checked on frequently during and between courses but it was done in a way that didn’t feel over-bearing at all, just attentive and wanting to make sure we had a great experience.

Now, on to the food. The dishes we ordered were as follows: For our starters, I had the Pera e Prosciutto: Charred pear wrapped with san daniele prosciutto, reggiano chunks and truffled honey. The combination of flavors and textures on the plate were absolutely wonderful. The slight crunch of the pear wrapped in salty prosciutto went so perfectly with the crumbly reggiano and the drizzle of truffle honey tied it all together in such a luxurious way. This was my favorite dish of the evening. Gabriel had the Carpaccio Alla Romana: Thinly sliced filet mignon served with arugula, shaved artichokes, reggiano, basil and lemon drops. The meat was sliced beautifully and was incredibly tender. It was slightly lacking in flavor, but the reggiano and lemon helped to brighten it up a bit. A bit of black pepper really made it come alive for me.

For my entree I had the Capesante: Seared diver scallops with onion marmalade, english peas, diced pancetta and almond browned butter. I must admit that I was a bit disappointed with this one. I felt that the scallops were over-cooked, the sauce they sat in was too strong for such a delicate mollusk and that the peas it came with did not taste like they were fresh- or maybe they were also just a bit over-cooked. The flavor was excellent and I love scallops, so I was happy to eat them anyway, but I think this dish could use a bit of re-working in general. Gabriel’s entree was the Ravioli Fatti in Casa Homemade ravioli: stuffed with ricotta and prosciutto cotto, sautéed with butter and vegetable broth with a hint of pesto. I preferred his entree choice to mine. I felt that the vegetables on top (a mix of thinly sliced squash, peppers etc) were a lovely assortment for the beginning of spring. The thin dough of the ravioli was delicate, but strong enough to hold a delicious interior filled with prosciutto and ricotta. The buttery sauce was light and complemented the ravioli beautifully. Judging from these two entrees, I would imagine that sticking to the more traditional Italian pastas is the way to go when ordering from Nino’s menu. If I return, I plan to try the Spaghetti Carbonara or the Gnocchi.

For our desserts we shared two; the delicious, creamy, rich, tiramisu and the strawberries with custard (I’m not sure of the exact name of this dish but it is one of their specialties) I’m always amazing by tiramisu in general, that something so incredibly rich can also taste so light. This was a wonderful dessert, and beautifully presented. The strawberry dessert was prepared table-side in a dramatic presentation. Our waiter whisked together egg yolk, cream, amaretto and champagne into a warm custard and poured it over a glass full of ripe strawberries. Next, he dusted a coating of biscotti crumbs over the top before he served it to us. This was not something I’d normally order (no chocolate!) but It was a refreshing way to end a lavish meal. The custard was creamy and almond-y and not the liquor was not over-powering like it sometimes can be. We decided to each order a cappuccino and were delighted when they were brought out with an impressive tower of fresh fruit and fresh homemade biscotti. Just when I think I’m totally full, it’s amazing to me that I can always find just a little more room for the extras.

Overall, Nino’s restaurant is a real class act. It’s clear to see why it’s a celebrity in it’s own right, and why it attracts people with a taste for the traditional to dine here time and time again. Bravo Nino’s and thank you for a wonderful evening.

 

Mille-Feuille: 552 Laguardia Place NY NY

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My friend told me about this bakery when I told her that I’d finally made it to Maison Laduree. https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/maison-laduree-864-madison-ave-new-york-ny/

She told me that the macrons here were the best in the city, and I, being a huge macaron lover, had to check it out asap. After lunch together, we ended up with a little extra time to kill so we wandered over together so I could see what all of her raving was about. Well, WOW. I have never doubted this particular friend’s food-raving about anything because she is basically never wrong. This went even further to prove that point. It was so so so so so right.

Yes, they are expensive. Yes, the place is tiny. Do I care? Nope, not at all. These macaron are indeed sent from heaven. They are fluffier, WAY more flavorful and more texturally complex than any other I’ve tasted. The fillings were a bit thicker than most other bakeries make them- and especially in the salted caramel one, that was something I really appreciated. I had the vanilla, the salted caramel, the coconut and the pistachio and  it would be difficult to pick my favorite. They were all seriously out of this world. GO. Go immediately…and please bring me back a few.

p.s. I have also heard that the croissant are amazing here but I filled up on the macaron this time…I’ll plan to try them next time I go. They were making almond ones when I was there and If I’d had 30 minutes to wait for them to be ready, I totally would have…they looked incredible.

El Cantinero: 86 University Place. New York, NY

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Gabriel had been telling me about El Cantinero for a while because he thinks it’s great Mexican food, reasonably priced, and (most importantly for him) they don’t charge extra for chips and salsa. When we got there, we were initially told they wouldn’t seat us until all 4 of us arrived, but just a few minutes later the host changed his mind and led us to a great table towards the back. We’d specifically asked for a quiet-ish spot and he gave us a large, round table that was kind of tucked away. Perfect.

Chips and salsa were brought out right away and drink orders were taken. Our friends arrived just a few minutes later and the waiter came back to take their drink orders and to bring us water and menus. So far so good. At that point I asked for an order of guacamole for the table. (request #1)

He came back about 5 minutes later to take our orders and check to see how our drinks were. So far, so good. I asked if the guac was coming out and he said it was on it’s way. (request #2)

Our meals were brought over and everything looked great (except for Gabriel’s order which didn’t include the stuffed pepper he’d ordered, but ok- he was hungry and happy with what came instead).

I found it odd that our entrees arrived and our app still hadn’t so I made that known by asking the waiter about our guac. (request #3) He apologized and asked if we still wanted it.

We ate about 3/4 of our entrees. The guac came out! Hooray! It was quite good even though we were already filling up and slowing down. Better late than never. Kind of. I was not impressed with the service at all. The waiter hardly checked on us at all and the timing of the guac’s arrival was really pretty pathetic. Maybe they had to go harvest the avocados. My chicken mole was good- though not the best I’ve had. Overall, the meal was so-so. My frozen strawberry margarita was delish though!

When our bill came, I honestly thought there was a mistake. 4 of us, one app, a few drinks and 4 entrees came out to well over $120. For pretty typical Mexican food I thought that was really too high but oh well, at least we had plenty of time to catch up with great friends!

Would I go back again? Um, no. Doubtful. Right near me is my fav Mexican, Maz Mexcal.

https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/?s=mezcal

Next time I have a Mexican craving, that’s most likely where I will go.

 

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.

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.