Archive | January, 2011

Azuki Japanese Restaurant

31 Jan

My coworkers and I decided on Sushi for lunch one day, but my go-to sushi place is just a bit too far for a quick bite at lunch.  Someone found Azuki, which was close enough on 8th Ave between 36th and 37th Streets.

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The Bento Boxes seemed like a good deal, and I chose the Sashimi version.

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It looked beautiful… but it was bland. Bland. Bland. Bland.

Totally not worth it.

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The guys got a sushi sampler.  Nothing was outstanding and we all agreed it was perfectly average sushi.

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Overall, I can’t recommend this place.  Go the extra few blocks up to Kodama.

Total Nom Points: 5 out of 10


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NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2011: ilili (Take 2)

28 Jan

A request came in for a place to eat lunch during Restaurant Week for my work crew.  We needed some place near Gramercy, so my last experience with Ilili instantly came to mind.  Ilili still ranks as one of the very best Restaurant Week experiences I ever had.  Amazing food selection that all tasted GREAT and in normal person portions.  Could they repeat the awesome performance?

Beyond the food, I think the space is awesome.  Boxes with old fashioned lightbulbs hanging behind panels.  The ceilings are high, so I’m sure this place gets loud, but it’s lovely to look at.

They brought a basket of pita pillows to the table.  I remember these being tasty last time, however, they were a bit bland and stale this time.

Their Restaurant Week menu is almost entirely changed from last time, however, it’s still a phenomenal deal.  They let everyone order TWO items from the apps and then one entree and one dessert.   SO many apps sounded great.  I wound up going with the grape leaves (nothing special, but tasty).

I also ordered the Riz, which is Lebanese rice with toasted vermicelli and mixed nuts.  It also has a lovely hint of cinnamon and herbs.  This was probably the best rice I’ve ever eaten.  I could eat this for days.

Other selections from the group included the lentil soup….

The “mouhamara” which is walnuts with sundried peppers and pomegranate molasses…

The Phoenician Fries with sumac, parsley and garlic whip (Yum!)…

And dandelion greens with pine nuts and caramelized onions (called Hindbeh)…

At this point in the meal, everyone was already saying how much they were enjoying their food. And the entrees were yet to come!

One coworker was VERY well behaved and ordered the shrimp salad.  He said for salad, it was great, but I could tell he had food envy for the rest of the orders.

I was having a tough time deciding between a few options on the menu.  A couple people at the table went with my alternate selection, the Lamb Dip.  It was described as slow roasted leg of lamb on a house made bun with au jus and horseradish sauce.  It was DELISH!

But the whole table shut down when we tried my choice, the braised lamb shank.  One other coworker got it with the peppers.

Mine, obviously, was peppers-less.  And this was a show stopper.  It came with fried eggplant, labne, and mint.  It was OHMYGODINEEDTOHAVETHISAGAINRIGHTNOW amazing.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  The lamb was perfectly gamey without being too overpowering, and it was tender in an amazing sauce.  Wow.  I want to flash back and eat this all over again.

Our dessert selections covered most of the dessert menu.

Two coworkers were adventurous and got the Ashta, which is traditional Lebanese clotted cream with orange blossom simple syrup and bananas.  The clotted cream wasn’t bad, but I found the orange blossom syrup WAY too overpowering (like chewing on a plant) and the guys REALLY didn’t like it.  It was definitely an interesting flavor, just not our speed.

One coworker got the Awaimat, which is a Lebanese beignet with orange blossom simple syrup.  It was good, but I’m just not a fan of beignets unless they are from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.  Also, the orange blossom syrup in this was MUCH less overpowering, so it was much more enjoyable.

I was obviously on an ordering streak, as my Ilili Candy Bar (with chocolate kataifi crunch, pistachio and gif caramel, and chocolate ganache, which was poured over at the table) was FANTASTIC.

It was small but VERY rich.  The coffee with it was an excellent pair.

Overall, I think I can safely say this is the #1 recommendation I would give for Restaurant Week.  What’s even cooler, they have a lunch menu prix fixe all year long that includes a lunch salad or sandwich with a side for $20.  That WOULD be a good deal, but when you can get the above for $24, I have to say… RUN… don’t walk… to Ilili for Restaurant Week.  And the secret isn’t out yet, so you can still snag a reservation for next week.
Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10 (this is a bump up from last time, because it was, dare I say it?  EVEN BETTER with that slow cooked lamb sandwich)

NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2011: The Modern Bar Room

28 Jan

Still wondering where to go for Restaurant Week this time around (thru February 6th, as of now)?  This year there is a slight change:  No more Saturdays, and Sundays are optional (I’m sure a lot of restaurants are happy about that).  There are still plenty of reservations available on Open Table (though some places aren’t on there, so you have to call.)

Every year, one of the hardest Restaurant Week reservations to get is at The Modern.  I was browsing who had some openings, and was shocked to see a spot for 2 at The Modern Bar Room (in MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art) on the first day of Restaurant Week for 6pm.  I jumped on it, and invited That Lori (of Stuff I Ate) to join me.  She was more than happy to oblige.

I was slightly obsessed with the floral design in the entry-way.

Beautiful purple lilies (I think) of some sort.   It looked like a dark purple calla lily.  Simply lovely.

Right behind that was a bar, that had thoroughly stocked glass shelves.

A view of “The Bar Room.”  It was simple, tasteful, and (shocker) modern.

The menu was quite lengthy for Restaurant Week.

I had trouble choosing because so much sounded great!

It was as we were browsing this menu that we started running into the problem of the evening… our waitress was MIA.  And continued to be MIA for at least 30 minutes before taking our order, which she rushed through.  We noticed she gave everyone else a shpiel about restaurant week and how you could pick one thing from each category, however, the entrees were half portion and you could pick a full-sized portion of anything on the menu for $17 additional.

I was famished, so I scarfed through both pieces of bread quickly.  The butter was obviously homemade and delicious, but lacking in salt.  And there was none on the table… and no one to ask…

Lori decided to begin with a dish she had tried in the past, but was so enamored by it that she just had to get it again.  It was roasted Long Island duck breast with peppercorn-crusted apples and toasted pistachio-truffle dipping sauce.

The peppercorn-crusted apples were very good, and Lori LOVED them, however, I’m not a huge pepper fan.  The duck was perfectly ducky.  But the sauce… HOLY CRAP.  Now THAT was good sauce.  What could possibly be bad about pistachios and truffles?
I decided to go with the artichoke soup, since I can’t get enough archies.  The combination of the artichokes with pearl barley, toasted almonds, and ricotta was very nice, and didn’t overpower the artichoke flavor.  The biscuits had rosemary in them and were deliciously buttery.
I’m glad I had a hearty portion of soup… we proceeded to watch someone sit down, give their order, and receive BOTH apps and entrees before our entrees even came out.  The manager came over to apologize… our waitress did not.  She didn’t seem to have any problems with her other tables, however, we were the forgotten children all night.  Literally the red-headed step-children.  And SHE was a red head! (Perhaps she’s a self-hater!)
Lori chose the squab for her entree.  When it came out, it was VERY tiny, even for squab (as was mine… though I have to say, both of us left completely satisfied and perfectly full without being too full… I wish portion control was always that easy).  The squab was spice-dusted and I LOVED the cinnamony tang it had.  It also came with braised romaine, haricots verts and bacon salad.  (Did somebody say bacon salad?)  Delightful little squab.
I went with the pork belly that came with rutabaga choucroute and ginger jus.  It was a decadent few bites of porky goodness.
For dessert, I chose the dark chocolate tart that came with chocolate ice cream.  It had a delicious, crackly top like creme brulee (though made out of chocolate, not sugar).  It was scrumptious!  I even liked the chocolate ice cream, which is rare for me.
Lori chose the coffee caramel dome with vanilla ice cream and amaretto gelee.  It hinted a bit towards Star Wars…
The layers were awfully tasty, however, I forgot to take a pic.  D’oh!  I’ll link to Lori’s pictures once she posts.
I wish the light was better, but the gelee made for a very artful decoration.
Overall, besides the AWFUL waitress, the food was sensational and this ranked very high on the Restaurant Week experiences list.  The selection is fantastic and while the portions are small, they are packed with flavor, very satisfying, and in no way did I leave wanting.  If you can secure yourself a RW reservation at The Modern, DO IT!  (In fact… they have been extending Restaurant Week during the final week lately, so go ahead and snag a reservation for the week following while you can and see if they extend… you can always cancel!)
Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

Beacon

26 Jan

Mike and I had an itch for brunch, so we made a reservation at Beacon on West 56th Street between 5th and 6th Aves.  I had heard great things about their burger.

The space was beautiful.  Very open with nice decorations without being overdone.

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Lots of vertical lines in a lofty space.  And I really dug the lamp shade chandeliers.

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We were starving by the time we arrived and were thrilled to see that brunch came with a basket of breads and muffins.  Unfortunately, it took a LOOOOONG time for our items to arrive (the table next to us had similar service problems, even though the place was nearly empty).  Luckily they were worth waiting for.

Mike, of course, got the burger.

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It was perfectly good and perfectly scrumptious.

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I went with the steak and eggs, which was a filet mignon and “shirred” eggs.  I still have no idea what shirred means, but it seemed to mean fried.

The steak was in a delicious red wine sauce that I wanted to lick off the plate.  Very tasty.  The steak itself was nothing special.

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For all the buzz I heard about this place, I was expecting more.  But it was satisfying and delicious, even if the service was lackluster throughout.

Total Nom Points: 6 out of 10


Delta Grill

24 Jan

I had a long overdue dinner planned with a friend of mine and she suggested we try Delta Grill, which is on 9th Ave at 48th Street.  It’s a New Orleans themed restaurant that can just as easily be a tavern as it can be a sports bar.

Iris got the pork chops, and she was nice enough to give me a bite. These were quite good and the portion was about 4 times of any pork chop I’ve ever cooked.  They DO NOT skimp!

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We also split a side of the mac and cheese.  This looked great, but I wanted it to be better.

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I was trying to be a little healthy, so I went with the shrimp etouffe.  It was delicious!  The sauce was perfect and the shrimp had great flavor.  Even the rice was perfectly fluffy.  I really enjoyed this.

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This was a very enjoyable meal and I will definitely be back.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10


Gigino Wagner Park

21 Jan

My great aunt is one of the most fabulous people you could ever meet.  She is well over 90, has an impressive shoe collection, could out-bake anyone I’ve ever met, and tells stories in a way that makes you feel like you lived them.  She is loved by every single person that meets her.  And then she got even cooler… she joined a dance class.  I was honored and overjoyed to see her perform with her troupe in Battery Park City with the family one weekday night.  After the show and our long Jewish goodbye, we tromped through a torrential rain storm down the block to the first restaurant we saw: Gigino Wagner Park (20 Battery Park… pretty much at the bottom tip of Manhattan).

It’s in a beautiful space on the water with a view of the Statue of Liberty, however, you’ll have to take my word for it since the rain was so dreadful that a picture was impossible.

We all ordered some delicious sounding Italian food, including gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce (their usual sauce was pepper ridden).

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The gnocchi was pretty good… but I’ve definitely had better.

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I had the same sauce (due to the same problem) over pappardelle.  Again… good… but not great.

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The rest of the family ordered items like the mushroom risotto…

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And the pasta primavera.

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Honestly, everything was just average.  The space could have lent itself to being a gem in Manhattan, but it wasn’t really anything special.  The pastas were all priced between $15 to $20, which seemed pretty over priced for food I’ve had at any run of the mill Italian restaurant for half the price.  I’m curious what their brunch is like, but I wouldn’t return for dinner.

Total Nom Points: 5 out of 10


The most current GRUBBIT list

20 Jan

Mike and I have an ongoing list of places we want to eat at. I figured it would be fun to share and anyone who has dined (or wants to dine) at one of these fine establishments can leave a comment.  This also acts as a very easy repository for me to refer back to.  WIthout further ado… the GRUBBIT list 2011 (strike-outs and review links are those we’ve made it to through August 2012):

  • ABC Kitchen
  • Annisa
  • Blue Ribbon (for the brunch)
  • Breslin (still need to go back for the suckling pig roast)
  • Casa Mono
  • Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
  • Colicchio and Sons
  • Corner Bistro (for the burger)
  • Daniel
  • DBGB
  • Eataly
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • Fatty Crab
  • Il Mulino
  • James Beard House
  • Jean Georges
  • Little Owl
  • Maialino
  • Per Se
  • Porchetta
  • Strip House

Are any of these “go immediately, do not pass Go, do not collect $200” places?

Are any of these over-hyped?

Am I missing anything you would recommend that hasn’t already been blogged about?

What’s on your GRUBBIT list?

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Your NYC Nomming fact of the day: You can go to 3 New York restaurants a day, everyday, for 16 years, and never go to the same place twice. (I have my work cut out for me!)

Faux Fried Catfish and Spinach Quinoa

19 Jan

I was in the mood for quinoa, so I checked to see what Weight Watchers recipes came up and found a tasty sounding one with mushrooms and spinach.  The recipe was very similar to cooking kasha where you brown garlic and onions in a pan, then toast up the quinoa, then add in liquid and let it absorb.

(Side note: Does anyone else find it annoying to rinse quinoa?  It’s so delicious, but I can’t find a good way to rinse it without it getting everywhere)

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Then at the finale, you top it with fresh spinach (which is always surprising how much it reduces in size!) and let it steam down and stir it in.

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We paired it with faux fried catfish (it’s faux fried because it’s coated in ground up Fiber One cereal and then baked… it’s a really delicious and diet friendly way to “fry” just about any white meat or fish).

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It made for a great meal, although the more I eat catfish, the less I like it.  I just don’t think it’s my kinda fish.

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My favorite part about this meal, however, was making the leftovers for lunch the next day!  I topped the quinoa and spinach with 2 poached eggs and the mushy yolky goodness was purrrrrrrfect with the nutty quinoa and spinach.  Delish!

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RECIPE
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Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion(s), minced
1 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), minced
1 cup(s) quinoa, rinsed
2 cup(s) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional (we left this out)
4 cup(s) spinach, baby leaves, packed, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp table salt

Instructions

  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add quinoa to skillet; cook, stirring frequently, until quinoa starts to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  • Add broth, black pepper and red pepper flakes to skillet; bring to a boil. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low and simmer for 13 minutes; stir in spinach. Cover skillet and cook until spinach and quinoa are tender and liquid is absorbed, about 3 to 5 minutes; season with salt. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.

Angelo’s Pizza

17 Jan

After a delicious event at Ouidad, where we snacked on Melissa’s mini cupcakes, Lori and I were hungry for a bit more.

Next door was Angelo’s Pizza (on 57th Street between 6th and 7th Aves) and we popped in for a late night Italian meal.

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I have no idea why I took a picture of a roll, but I guess, at the time, it seemed interesting.

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We split the Pappardelle Alla Toscanese which came with sun dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms, marsala wine, aged parmigiano, and pecorino cheese in a creamy sauce.  It was quite good, and definitely a hearty portion, even for the both of us.  But I don’t think I would say it’s anything special.

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Overall, it’s hard to make a judgement based on one pasta dish.  It was good, but not REALLY good.  Probably a safe bet if you’re in the area.

Total Nom Points: 6 out of 10


Pumpkin Raviolis & Eggplant Zucchini Stacks

14 Jan

We strolled through the Grand Central Market one day, letting it guide us to what we would have for dinner that night.  It started with a tasty looking tray of pumpkin raviolis.

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And a bag of mushrooms.

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Some zucchini.

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And eggplant.

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And a VERY creative Mike, who decided to make zucchini and eggplant parm STACKS (with smoked mozzarella!)

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And they were GOOD.

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DAMN GOOD!

And the raviolis?

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I think they were okay… but I’m not sure because I was too busy enjoying the stacks.

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And it was happy times.

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And I hope Mike makes them again soon (hint hint)

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Because I’m drooling just looking at these puppies.

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Delish!