For over 40 years, Giambelli 50th has graced the East Side with renowned authentic Italian cuisine. You can expect the white glove treatment from host Frank Giambelli and his staff in this elegant, upscale restaurant.

Giambellis is a classic Italian restaurant in midtown that has stood the test of time. It is a restaurant her family has visited many times and someplace I wanted to experience too. So V and I went for "Christmas dinner" before heading home for the holidays.

The restaurant appears as though is hasn't changed at all in its more than 40 years. From the arrangement of the tables, to the upholstery, to the menu and staff (though I suppose they have aged), everything seems original, and classic.

Perhaps my palate is becoming more refined, or my standards too high, but I wasn't entirely impressed with our first two courses. I ordered fried zucchini to start that was rather tasteless, and I found myself adding lots of salt to the dish. V had a mushroom salad that was good, but nothing terribly unique. My pasta, Linguine "Amatricana," flat spaghetti with prosciutto, onions and tomato sauce, too was a bit bland, though I really liked V's Paglia e Fieno, white and green noodles with prosciutto, onions, and cream sauce.

The real treat though was dessert: Zabaione, a frothy concoction of egg yolks whipped with wine and sugar served over fresh berries. We loved the table-side preparation of the dessert and it was a delicious indulgence to kick-start the rest of our approaching "filling" holiday meals.

I'm glad I experienced Giambellis and I wouldn't turn anyone away from such a classic New York experience as dining here, where even the Pope once came. Next time I'll choose a little more carefully from the menu. Oh and one other surprise—this was the first restaurant I've been to with a "captain" and an associated line on the bill for a "Captain Tip" (as I first saw on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Johnny Utah's

I went to Johnny Utahs with my office for our holiday party. Really, the highlight here is the mechanical bull in the middle of the restaurant - which several of my colleagues attempted to ride, while I fended off the peer pressure to climb on. The atmosphere has a nice country feel, for New York City, that is it isn't too country-esque though the walls are wood, and the decor is southwestern. We pretty much had the main room to ourselves and most of the service was appetizers - chips and salsa, guacamole, wings, etc. The food was good, but nothing too notable our extraordinary. I think it is more of a touristy place, but it served a good purpose for our party and we definitely had a good time. Maybe I'd go back in the future if it fit a specific desire - or if I wanted to compete in the bull riding championships!


Enjoy inventive American cuisine with a coastal Mediterranean flair in an exquisite environment blending old world baroque elements such as silk chinoserie wallpaper and black Murano glass chandeliers with downtown touches like distressed brick walls, granite archways and a magnificent backlit mosaic tile "floating staircase" custom made by Sicis of Italy.

Amalia is sure good at run-on sentences in their descriptions. But there is more I'd add, notably the unique placement of artwork and old-world paintings...on the ceilings! The dark atmosphere and candlelight combine with a trendy crowd to make a pretty happening restaurant.

I'd say that Amalia isn't quite a formal restaurant but it is definitely upscale (and pricey - luckily this meal was compliments of my alma mater, thanking me for my donations). We had excellent service throughout our three-course meal with wine. The food was very good and the menu had some interesting selections, with a handful of words I'd probably have to look up before ordering. I think I'd go back if I had the budget for a fancy pre-theater meal, or a guest who'd appreciate the cool crowd and atmosphere.

Five Guys NYC

Five Guys is a burger place that started down in the D.C. area and I went there every now and then before I moved to New York. I was excited to see that they're now spreading up to the city. A few weeks ago Five Guys opened in midtown, a few blocks from my office. The day it opened, the line was out the door with an hour and a half wait! Now, fortunately things have calmed down a bit and when I went, the wait was a more reasonable 5-10 minutes.

Five guys isn't gourmet, but they make one of the best burgers I've ever had. Compared to so many other burgers, from McDonalds to any other pub or the frozen patties I often have off the grill at barbecues, Five Guys tops them all. The burgers (made with two hand-formed patties) are juicy and flavorful, and the free toppings are great too. I do wish there was a little more grill char taste, but really the burgers are just great. I like to let the burger sit for a few minutes after I get it to allow all the flavors to combine. In those few minutes, I simply enjoy the great fries Five Guys makes from fresh potatoes. They're more like boardwalk fries, a little crispy, but also a little soggy, with the skin sill on. The fries are served in a foam cup but really that serves little purpose because they add probably double that amount of fries to the brown paper bag everything comes served in. Simple and tasty, with malt vinegar, or ketchup. Plus, don't forget the barrels of peanuts set out for snacking while waiting in line. All in all it makes Five Guys a great place for a great burger. I'm glad its close to the office, but not so close that I'll be there every day for lunch!

Mickey Mantle's

Since opening in 1988, Mickey Mantle's Restaurant and Sports Bar has established itself as a New York Institution, one of the city's most popular restaurants.

V and I went for dinner at Mickey Mantle's - overall it was a fine experience, but I wouldn't rate it as one of my favorites. The restaurant is pretty typical of most sports bars and the food is rather expensive. Admittedly I had a large steak, and it is New York City, on Central Park South.

The atmosphere is basic sports bar, with a good umber of TV's throughout the restaurant, and of course Mickey Mantle and other sports paraphernalia on the walls. There were a few odd things though, our table had a booth seat on one side and a chair on the other and they were not at the same level, meaning V was sitting a few inches lower than I.

We started with a spinach and cheese dip that was very good. It remained creamy even after it cooled down, and the flavor was smooth and rich, but not too strong. As I mentioned, I had a steak, the Cowboy Steak, which was described to me as a steak on the bone rubbed with a mix of spices and peppers. I couldn't taste many spices when it came out, mostly just the nice flavor of a good char on the grill. The steak was huge, 21 ounces, and I attempted my best effort at finishing it, but with the spinach dip, a side of mashed potatoes (which were quite good, a little chunky, with a cream gravy) and the broiled tomato it was too much to finish (though I got close). Fortunately I had a good workout at the gym earlier in the day. V had a more reasonable Kobe Chopped Steak with mushrooms and asparagus. It was basically a fancy hamburger patty, and even though it was Kobe beef, that's how it tasted.

The service was adequate, but nothing special. I'd say overall, Mickey Mantle's is a bit expensive - or really it's just not that special of a place to me. I suppose I prefer something other than a sports bar aimed at more of the tourist crowd.

Fairway Market Cafe and Steakhouse

I heard about the Fairway Market Cafe and Steakhouse from a Food Network show, that recommended it as a place for a great steak at a very reasonable price. The restaurant is actually secondary to to a much larger grocery store. I suppose that because the food for the restaurant come straight from the store below, the prices can remain low.

V and I went for dinner and ordered from the $29 prix fixe menu, which offers most everything on the main menu in a three course meal. A good $15 bottle of wine rounded out the meal.

For an appetizer I ordered the white bean soup, which I expected to be kind of thick or creamy, but was actually a broth based soup. It wasn't as hearty as I expected, but it was pretty good. V had roasted clams, which were in a nice butter sauce and were a good start to her meal.

We both ordered steaks, V the Prime Dry Aged N.Y. Strip Steak, and I the Marinated Skirt Steak. Both were good, V's more tender and mine with a bit more flavor. I had mashed potatoes on the side that were over mashed, but the fries with V's steak were well seasoned and crispy.

For dessert V had apple pie which was good, but I wished it was warm. I had a slice of carrot cake which was pretty moist and had a coconut frosting. I've had better, but it was a nice end to the meal.

The restaurant is pretty simple, upstairs from the grocery store, filled with wooden tables, light metal chairs and some large pictures and banners on the wall showing fruits and vegetables. We arrived early for a Friday dinner to a relatively empty dining room, but by the end of the meal the place was close to packed. The service was good, and our waitress was vary friendly.

Overall the meal was good, but not great. I suppose for the price it was what you would expect. I don't know if I'll go back, but if I lived on the Upper West Side, I'd definitely be a regular, for a satisfying, cheap, dinner.


Craftbar is Craft's informal sister-restaurant, where Chef Tom Colicchio applies the same philosophy of simple food derived from the finest ingredients, to casual dining.

I've seen Tom Colicchio as head judge of the reality cooking show, Top Chef. I didn't know much about his cooking style but I guess the show worked for him because I looked up his restaurants in New York and made a point of going - to one of the cheaper ones at least.

Craft Bar has an odd atmosphere, it seemed kind of unfinished to me. High ceilings, white walls, a cement floor...the one unique thing was a catwalk crossing the space, though it didn't seem to have any purpose other than for storage. I suppose the atmosphere was good for the young, casual crowd. The servers were dressed casually, with black t-shirts and pants.

As a starter our server brought little crispy bread sticks that had a nice saltiness that I couldn't resist. We each ordered appetizers. I had the pecorino fondue which had a little sweetness to it, with a few hazelnuts on top. I didn't think of it as fondue, more just a broiled cheese with some chips. But regardless, it was cheese and it was good combination of sweet and salty. V had a squash and gruyere soup that was not too sweet and a great dish for fall. Another appetizer was the chickpea fries, which were rather interesting. They were very thick, probably half-inch square and a few inches long, they were 'supple' but not very crispy. The olive aoli dip that came with them was very good.

For entrees we each tried something different. V and her friend, Lonestar, each had the chantorelle risotto that I found to be really, really good - it was very smooth, almost cheesy. The braised short ribs, in a mild consommé were delicious and very tender. The hangar steak, which I ordered, was fairly peppery, but quite tender, which is a feat with this cut. The onions and potatoes on the side were also very good.

Overall I found the menu at Craftbar to be well...crafted. The dishes were unique, and along with that, the service was very good. It ended up being an expensive meal, but we went all out, with two courses each and plenty of drinks. I was definitely satisfied with the meal and the restaurant as a whole. I'll have to try the other Craft restaurants now!

Bon Appétit Supper Club & Café

The Bon Appétit Supper Club & Café is a temporary restaurant set up across the street from my office. I just noticed it one day last week and by the end of this week it will be gone. Basically it is a marketing gimmick for Bon Appétit, some celebrity chefs and other food and dining-related companies. I was hoping that since it is all a marketing event that the food would all be free, but alas, it isn't: dinner, at the 'Super Club' is $125 a head (admittedly, this is for a five-course meal). Luckily lunch at the Café is much more reasonable (at least for New York): $7-9 dishes and cheaper sides and soups.

I've tried a few of the lunch items, including the Roast Beef sandwich with Marinated Red Onions and Blue Cheese, which was great. It comes on a peasant-style bread that is a nicely chewy yet crusty. Blue cheese is always a favorite for me, as are onions. I wasn't as impressed with Govind Armstrong's Tropical Rolls with Sambal, which were kind of a spring or summer roll filled with vegetables and mushrooms. I thought they were difficult and messy to eat and though I liked the crunchy texture of the vegetables (carrots, peppers, snow peas, and I think fennel), the mushrooms added an odd taste and slithery texture. Eventually the rolls fell apart before I could finish them so I mixed everything up, with the provided dipping sauce, into a julienne vegetable salad that I found easier to eat. I also really enjoyed Emeril Lagasse's Corn and Crab Bisque. It was creamy but not too rich and amazingly the vegetables in it (corn, scallions) remained fresh and al dente. There was a good amount of crab too! And don't worry, I didn't eat this all at once—being that this is across the street from my office, I've had a few chances to visit and sample things from the menu.

The whole atmosphere is interesting, though I can tell it is temporary. It reminded me of something a candidate for "The Apprentice" would put together. You can see wires taped down in some areas, and the dining room paint job is dark, and darkly lit most likely to hide anything unsightly. The walls are a dark blue, with 20+ foot ceilings and hundreds of little (2" by 6") mirrors strung from the ceiling. There are rows of high-top tables for seating that I imagine get changed out for dinner service. And at the head of the room is a kitchen are for live cooking demos. Unfortunately the demo the conducted didn't come with samples...we were just instructed to buy the cookies from the café. The café area is painted bright green, probably to make it seem larger, as it has gotten very crowded during the lunch rush. (The cashiers need to pick up the pace.)

But, finally, my hopes of marketing freebies were realized; upstairs they've got Häagen-Dazs giving away samples, along with Evian, Godiva and others. Plus you get a free tote bag if you spend more than $10, and even more free stuff if you pay with a Visa card. Who says marketing doesn't work?

This is New York City: This is Food

Visit NYC: This is food

From Gothamist:

One of the city's biggest industries is the tourism, and the city announced a major push to keep the tourists coming in. Mayor Bloomberg and other officials kicked off the "first-ever global multimedia communications campaign to promote New York City." An advertising campaign titled "This is New York City" will features outdoor posters, internet advertising and a TV spot. Plus, the NYCVisit website features ways for visitors to plan their trip.

I really like the "This is food" poster (at right) and was impressed by the dining section of the website. They've also got a cool commercial that will be part of the $30 million national advertising campaign. Looks like getting reservations at the best places is going to get even harder! Though the Wall Street Journal recently reported on "the rising influence of food blogs [that] has chefs plying Web critics with dinners and drinks to avoid bad write-ups." I'm still waiting for my call.

Bar Americain

An American brasserie, Bar Americain celebrates the foods of America with a healthy dose of the bold flavors Bobby Flay is most known for. ...Bobby combines his American menu with the energetic fast pace of the time-honored European brasserie.

This is my second brunch at Bar Americain, the first having been almost a year ago before I moved to the city. Both times though I was impressed with the creativity on the menu along with the impeccable service and expansive, elegantly designed dining room.

The restaurant is one huge room with 20-foot ceilings and kind of a 20's-style-meets-futuristic decor. Behind the bar is a massive mirror (of multiple panels) that dominates the wall, but balances with a few columns and other pieces that serve to divide the space and the cool five-foot diameter lights that hang over circular banquettes. Off to one side, you can see the kitchen and the raw bar, both things I appreciate. The whole space managed to maintain a sense of intimacy, in that I wasn't distracted by what was happening around me, yet keep an open and spacious feeling. I have yet to visit the mezzanine, which "provides an ideal vantage point for people watching with a slight respite from the bustle of the main floor below."

On to the food. From what I remember, the brunch menu hasn't changed too much in the last year, and that's fine with me: stick with what works. The menu is arranged more like a dinner menu, with appetizers, sides, the raw bar, and entrees listed, along with an selection of cocktails — with everything themed more around breakfast and lunch, than dinner, of course. There were so many dishes that were appealing, it was tough to settle on just one. Luckily I was able to taste a few others.

As I was craving Hollandaise, I ordered the Crawfish & Crab Cakes, with poached eggs and a tarragon Hollandaise. The dish was delicious, though the tarragon was a bit strong in the sauce. I almost wanted to order the Cajun Hollandaise from another dish (which looked amazing) but I didn't want to veer from the chef's choice for the dish. Another favorite at our table was the Blue Corn Fried Eggs. The menu doesn't do the dish justice: we had all passed it over until our server explained how it comes together with eggs over easy atop a large blue-corn 'chip' with chilies, black beans and crumbled cheese. I was jealous of V, who was enjoying every bite. Like this dish, others on the menu were typical of Flay's southwestern style, and they were all very original and well executed.

The Smoked Chicken Pot Pie comes in a ceramic crock with a sweet potato biscuit crust and was very fitting for the season, as it has begun to cool down. The Biscuits and Cream Gravy was tempting with artisanal ham (I wonder exactly what that means?), sausage and scrambled eggs. The previously mentioned Cajun Hollandaise comes atop poached eggs, Tasso ham, and a griddled tomato that looked amazing and also fitting for Flay's style. And the list of things I want to try goes on: an open-face omelet with peppers, mushrooms and goat cheese; Bananas Foster Crepes; and a Grilled Pizza, with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and toasted garlic. Flay has really put together a great menu.

Finally, to top off the atmosphere and the food, the service too is top notch. Our server was friendly and attentive, he knew the dishes and drinks so well that he was able to convince several of us to change our orders. Still he knew too just the right amount of attention to give and stayed back during most of the meal, allowing us to enjoy the company and conversation at the table. Really, everything came together at Bar American for a great meal. I'm grateful to V's family for inviting me along to this and so many other great meals!

Café Boulud

Café Boulud pays homage to the food chef-owner Daniel Boulud grew up with in France and celebrates the food he loves in America. Café Boulud's dynamic menu, created by Daniel Boulud, Chef de Cuisine Bertrand Chemel, and Pastry Chef Eric Bertoïa, is divided among four headings that reflect Daniel's four culinary muses: La Tradition, the classic dishes of French cooking; La Saison, the seasonal specialties of the market; Le Potager, a celebration of the vegetable garden; and Le Voyage, the exotic flavors of world cuisines.

V's family was in town and specially selected Café Boulud for dinner after drinks at the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar. (I was lucky the reservation was for after my class, though the restaurant was busy when we arrived, and we weren't seated until 30 minutes past our reservation.) The restaurant has an understated elegance, that in my mind was meant to put the focus of the experience on the food, not the room just as is noted on the restaurant website:

The dining room’s rich, wood paneled surfaces and plush upholstery in muted neutral tones pay homage to the elegant modernism of a 1930's Parisian rendez-vous, creating a sleek backdrop for the palate of flavors on Café Boulud’s eclectic menu. ... The space is decorated in subdued earth tones: banquettes in shades of cocoa, walls upholstered in sandy hues, ivory colored curtains, and custom wool carpeting inspired by traditional Tibetan design woven in shades of hazelnut, sage and caramel.

The menu's four different headings, plus an addendum of market specials were all so tempting it took us quite a while to each decide on what to order. There were two preparations of foie gras, lots of mushroom dishes, and plenty of seafood among just the appetizers! I ended up ordering the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from under the "La Tradition" heading. It was served with homemade ginger bread, roasted pear and Swiss chard. The presentation was beautiful, with the pieces of the dish stacked atop one another. The pear went well with the fattiness of the foie gras, which had a bit of a crispiness from the sear. For something I sample so rarely, this was a great execution.

The main courses were equally difficult to choose from: bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, roasted venison, rabbit "schnitzel," roasted glazed duck breast, a beef duo with short ribs and aged strip loin, plus sole, halibut and pastas. Each of the preparations was unique and fit within its respective heading.

I opted for the roasted and glazed duck breast, from under the seasonal heading. This too was served with chard as a greenery, oyster mushrooms and farro, which was kind of like a rice though it is a form of wheat. The duck was very tasty and tender. The glazed had a nice sweetness that wasn't to strong, it was nice to get a little in each bite. I also tried V's bacon wrapped veal tenderloin, which was served with polenta. "It was quite delicious," she commented. "the flavors were distinct in that the bacon didn't overwhelm the veal." I agree, though I actually thought the bacon could have been a little stronger in flavor. We both thought there could have been more polenta as it was just a small dollop under the veal.

I only got a bit or two of the Beef Duo, which V's mom ordered, but it was definitely an amazing dish. The braised short ribs were tender and so flavorful that even the small bite I tried filled my mouth with great, slightly salty, tastes. The strip loin was equally (but differently) flavorful—these flavors are hard to describe but both emphasized the meat's flavor rather than masking it with strong sauces or marinades.

To add to our dinner, the service at Café Boulud is almost too good. With several people serving us there was a little confusion about drink orders at one point, but otherwise the service was spot on. Our server was very attentive through the meal and the sommelier(s) recommended some great wines. When each course was served, a team of servers surrounded our table and on cue all of our plates were placed at once—it made for a nice effect.

Café Boulud is an excellent restaurant. The food and the service are top notch. The formal but calm atmosphere leads to a more mature (less trendy) crowd that befits the restaurant and Chef Boulud's intention of a Parisian rendez-vous. Thanks again to V's parents for inviting me along!


I happened upon Peasant a few blocks from one of my favorite restaurants, Public. I was immediately impressed by the space as we walked in, with a large wine bar at the entrance and rustic wooden tables in the back framed by a big brick oven. We couldn't get a table actually, they were booked full, but there is another bar in the basement that serves food. It was one of the coolest dining experiences I've had in New York.

The dynamic at Peasant interesting because of the unfinished peasant-like atmosphere combined with fancy food and wine. The basement bar is even more rustic, with distressed wood paneling on the walls, almost rickety handmade tables that were knotted and bumpy and bench seating. The space was dim and candlelit, and cramped. But I liked it. It is amazing the things you'll pay for in New York: dinner at a rickety table in a dark basement. The menu is Italian, with some good pastas, seafood dishes and some more unique offerings like quail and of course pizza. The food was good, not stellar. I really enjoyed the various olives that were set out in the bar areas that we munched on before taking our table.

I really was impressed by the atmosphere and the overall experience at Peasant. It was a little expensive, which is typical though oxymoronic for something whose name basically means poor, but I guess it goes to show that with simple ingredients you can make great things, and even in what might be though of as grungy a great space can emerge.


RESTO features traditional Belgian food with a New York regional flavor. Farm fresh ingredients incorporated with traditional elements of Belgian cooking yield to an inventive and savory menu. RESTO will stay true to the gastro pub format by offering an assortment of Belgian beer to complement the Belgo-French slanted food.

After studying abroad for a semester in Belgium, I was intrigued when I heard that a new Belgian restaurant was opening in New York City. V and I eventually made our way to Resto for dinner, and after a few drinks while hovering at the bar, we got a table.

The restaurant isn't very large, though there are a good number of tables and seats at the bar. A mirror along the back wall gives the illusion of more space. There is a wide selection of Belgian beers on tap and in bottles, and each is served in its respective glass.

We tried two main or "grand" plates from the menu. First, the burger, with gruyere, red onion, pickle, mayo, and of course a side of frites. Somewhere I had heard that the burgers at Resto were one of the best things on the menu, today, I can't find any reviews elsewhere online saying that. To me the burger was good, though it was overcooked and lacked a juiciness I was hoping for. The frites of course were the real star, and they were crispy and nicely seasoned, served in the traditional cone, set in a metal holder with a little dish on the side for mayo or other frites sauces. The other dish was another traditional Belgian meal: mussels (also with frites). The portion was pretty large, and mussels of course take a while to eat, but they were very good.

Complimenting the food we drank Belgian beers of course, and they were each unique, though I wish our server would have recommended some that might be better with the dishes we ordered, or better suited to our tastes. There's definitely a good selection of beers, some of my favorites included. We finished off the meal with a Belgian waffle with vanilla crème fraiche and a little chocolate. The waffle was not too crispy on the outside - perfectly done, and the crème fraiche gave our meal a tangy finish.

Taverna Kyclades

Taverna Kyclades is your first stop for what Zagat calls "perfectly cooked seafood at a modest price". Step in and immediately feel at home as our friendly staff cater to your every need. Enjoy brilliant dishes made with the freshest ingredients including seafood brought in every morning from the fish-market.

It is always a good sign when a restaurant is crowded, you know right off that it has got something going for it. And in Astoria, in a Greek place, you know it is authentic. Taverna Kyclades is right on my corner, all the way out in Astoria, on the last stop on the N train, yet it is always packed, and gets amazing reviews. I'll have to add mine to that list — even after the up-and-down experience we had at dinner.

Reservations aren't accepted and with my parents in town, we came around 8:30 to put our name on the list for a table. There's no bar, or real waiting area, so we stood on the sidewalk, waiting almost an hour for a table. I eventually got a few menus for us to look at and ordered a round of drinks to hold us over. Eventually we got an outside table and sat down to dinner.

It was worth the wait. We started with a few appetizers, including Fried Calamari, Fried Squash and Eggplant with Garlic Dip, and Pan-Fried Greek Cheese. Note the 'fried' theme. All these dishes were great — to start, I love cheese, and the fried cheese was salty and chewy and hot, with a spritz of lemon juice it was delicious. Along with these appetizers we ordered a carafe of Greek red wine which was good, and reasonably priced.

Continuing our fried theme, we ordered a plate of fried sardines (mom's favorite) as an entree, along with a Swordfish Kebab with Vegetables. I'm not the biggest sardine fan, but these were good even with the bones. The swordfish was tender and moist.

Then, as we were each sampling our variety of dishes, and as the restaurant continued to be very busy, a waiter ran by our table, knocking the entire carafe of wine over and into my white linen shirt. It was a mess, and I quickly went to the bathroom to clean up. As I was walking back to the table, the manager approached me to ask how they could help me with my shirt, and offered to clean it and replace it. By the time I returned to the table, the waiter had cleaned up the mess and replaced the carafe of wine. A few minutes later they quietly gave me some cash to buy a new shirt. So really, even with the unfortunate circumstances, the staff handled it very well, and luckily for me, I was able to get my shirt clean just by soaking it overnight in a little laundry detergent - so in the end we came out ahead!

Even with the spill and the wait, I was really happy with this meal, and I'm sure I'll be back the next time I'm in the mood for some good seafood. There's lots more on the menu that I'd like to try, and plenty of what we had, I'd order again.


With more than 20 combined years of food service and restaurant experience the owners of Cafetasia had an idea to create a restaurant that the positive things they'd observed in other restaurants — service, quality, price, design and ambiance — and make them even better.

This restaurant really surprised me. I had imagined Cafetasia to be similar to Republic - a casual place with communal tables serving noodles and other simple Asian food. This could be an accurate description, but really the atmosphere at Cafetasia is much more intimate, even with the communal seating. The restaurant is rather dark, with candles hanging at varying levels from the ceiling, kind of like the dining hall in Harry Potter. Similar tall oil candles are on each table. All this combines to make a romantic space, but then you can also be seated at a large communal cafeteria-style table which makes for a much more casual and friendly atmosphere. These two almost conflicting styles combine well actually, even in the rather small dining room. I've experienced both and my only complaint is that the service is a little spotty.

I've been to Cafetasia twice now and tried a variety of dishes. There is a good selection of unique dishes in sizes from extra small to extra large, which makes for a simple way of choosing what you want from the menu. The pricing is equally as simple, with each size dish having a set price-range from $3 to $14.

I've ordered several of the small dishes including the Calamari Fritters with light-spicy ginger-avocado sauce. The calamari wasn't too crispy, but it was cut into strips rather than the typical rings. The sauce was also unique and a little spicy, though it seemed a little thin. We also tried the Sa-Tae Chicken Chicken skewers with peanut sauce and cucumber relish, which were a little more typical with a nice grilled flavor and a great peanut sauce. Another small dish, the Beef, Mushroom and Pepper Teriyaki is a kebab-like skewer topped with ginger-teriyaki sauce that carried a lot of flavor and was a pretty good size for a 'small' dish.

One of my favorite dishes, from the 'medium' list, was the Thai 'Mieng-Kum' Coconut Wraps which are a combination of ginger, onion, peanuts, lime, crispy shallot and roasted coconut flakes in a Boston lettuce wrap. Served with tamarind sauce, which is kind of like honey. You drizzle the sauce over the filling and then eat the wrap in two or three great crunchy bites. Another medium dish was the Salmon Roll Tempura, which is a sushi roll of salmon and avocado with a spicy wasabi-plum sauce. It had a bit of a kick to it but was a great combination of flavors and textures. It was sliced in half on a diagonal, instead of into smaller typical chunks, which made it a little difficult to eat.

From the large dishes my dad had to try the Duck Pad Thai, a special the night we were there. The dish was typical with rice noodles stir-fried w. eggs tofu, bean sprouts, scallion and sprinkled peanuts, but there was good amount of duck and it was served in a interesting molded sandcastle-esque shape (like an overturned pail of pad thai). There are two dishes on the menu with chicken and basil and I had a tough time getting an answer from our server as to which was better. I eventually gathered that one was served with noodles and the other with rice, though the menu itself didn't say that. We tried the rice one, Minced Chicken with Thai Basil, which was kind of a collection of chicken, bell pepper, onion and garlic with spicy basil sauce that could be served over rice. It had some strong flavors which I really liked though the Thai basil is little different from the basil I'm used to in Italian and other cuisines.

One cool thing about the menu at Cafetasia is that you can order in sort of a tapas style, adding more dishes as you go if you're aren't filled up yet. We decided to do just that, but it took forever to find our server to place the order and then it took a while for the last dish to come out that we almost forgot about it as we finished the rest of our meal. Eventually the Baked Striped Bass with shiitake mushrooms, ginger, celery, and Chinese plum and soy sauce was served, and it was pretty good. The fish wasn't as tender or flaky as I would have liked, but the sauces and vegetables were great.

Overall the atmosphere and prices at Cafetasia really make it a great place in my book. The food is good and unique, but could use a little fine tuning, and the service needs a bit of work. I've already been back, and I'll keep this great restaurant in mind for the future because it can fit the bill in many ways.


I read a lot about Public, a restaurant near Little Italy and the Bowery, and decided to take V there to celebrate our first year together. It was a great choice: we had a truly unique meal with great service. It is hard to describe what 'kind' of restaurant Public is, even on their website the food is described only as "Free-spirited fusion." I'd say it is Australian/New Zealand-ish cuisine, which is definitely something new to me (though it is a bit similar to American and European).

We started our night in the Monday Room, next to the restaurant, it is a wine bar featuring 60 wines from around the world. The menu itself was cool, with, I believe, a kangaroo-fur cover. We had a interesting sommelier, with an accent, a handlebar mustache, thick-rimmed glasses and a three-piece suit. V was convinced this whole get-up was an act, because the accent was indistinguishable, and his look was so peculiar. I couldn't put my finger on it either, but overheard him say he was from Spain, which, to me, seemed reasonable. If we go back we'll have to see if he's changed to being from Romania or something with a new costume and a different mustache. Anyhow he was very friendly and helpful in guiding our wine choice. I ordered a great bottle of Spanish wine, Viña Pedrosa, that I thought was amazing. I'm no wine connoisseur, but it was smooth and full and rich, all things I like. All together the service was top-of-the-line - they even offered to take the flowers I had for V and put them in water for her.

Dinner at Public: the view from our tableSoon, the hostess from Public came to seat us. We had a nice table in the main dining room where we could sit side-by-side and see the whole space. Before arriving we had checked out the menu so we had a few ideas in mind for what to order. There are quite a few unique and exotic dishes to choose from. I'm lucky V is adventurous!

To begin with, we selected another bottle of wine, Public has a separate wine list than the Monday Room. I can't remember the vintage, etc but this was another great bottle. Then, for starters we ordered:

  • Cured wild boar with Garrotxa cheese, marinated olives and caper berries. This was thin slices of meat, kind of carpaccio-style, but it was cured so it had a rich flavor that was great with the cheese. It was not too large, which is good for a starter but at the same time it seemed a little pricey.
  • Grilled kangaroo on a coriander falafel with lemon-tahini sauce and green pepper relish. This was great. I've never had kangaroo before (nor boar), and the meat was tender and juicy. The relish was a bit spicy but getting a little bit of it in each bite added a nice kick. The falafel added a nice texture and some more subtle flavor. We both really enjoyed the dish.

On to the main courses, which were also rather unique, if not quite as exotic. I ordered the roast lamb sirloin on crispy goats cheese polenta with saffron braised baby vegetables and harissa aioli. Here the meat had great flavor but was a little tough. I really enjoyed the polenta, which was kind of compressed into a ring and served under the meat. The vegetables were nice but nothing amazing, little carrots and onions, etc.

V ordered the roast New Zealand venison loin, with Cabrales dumplings, oyster mushrooms and salsa verde. Lucky her, I kept wanting to try more of this, as it was definitely our favorite. The meat was just great, very flavorful and tender and cooked just right. Of course mushrooms are always a good thing, and the dumplings added some starch to the plate.

Honestly, I know we had dessert, but after two bottles of wine and a digestif (good scotch!) I can't remember what I chose. I'm pretty sure there was some chocolate, and maybe a caramelized drop of was good! And indeed, Public was a perfect place for us to celebrate: not too formal, great food, and great service all around—plus they have little bars of soap in the bathroom that you can take home! We we're even considering going back just two days later.

Tastee Corner

Tastee Corner is a little diner a block or so from V's place. We checked it our for Sunday brunch and had a good diner experience. I wouldn't expect much more. The staff is really friendly and prices are good, as is the food. I've gone back a few times for a quick bite to eat before work and the service is quick. The atmosphere is typical diner, but very friendly and community-centered. For a quick, cheap breakfast, I'll go back.

Negril Village

Negril Village is an authentic Caribbean place in the Village. I really liked it. V and I went with some of her co-workers for dinner. When we walked in, I was kind of surprised to notice a club downstairs, but when you walk up into the restaurant, it really is a nice space, with great decor.

We ordered a few appetizers to share, including the Negril Nachos with salsa, guacamole and melted jack cheese, over "island chips" with jerk chicken. These were great and made unique with the chips, which I believe were a mix of corn and plantain chips. The mixture of toppings was great, every chip had something on it, and there were plenty to share. We also tried one of the samplers with calamari, sweet plantains, and some kind of fritters - fried stuff is always good, but I guess not that memorable because I can't remember the other item served with the dish.

For dinner I ordered the Jamaican Saltfish Cook Up. This is cod, served with stewed plantain, boiled green banana, yam and dumpling. It was recommended as a standard traditional dish by our server. It was different than I expected, but good. The fish was served shredded, mixed with the plantain in a large mound (there was plenty). It definitely earned its name, as it was rather salty. The sides were rather bland and tough, they each needed to be cut with knife and fork and didn't carry much flavor. This "food" as they call it in the Caribbean is the staple with most every meal.

V ordered Rasta Pasta, a spiral pasta, with roasted vegetables and oven dried tomatoes in a light cream tomato sauce. It was good, but didn't strike me as terribly Caribbean. I was also able to have a bite of the Caesar salad with salmon, which was light and tasty. The Seafood Creole, another main dish, comes in a small cast-iron pot filled with plenty of varied seafood. I didn't try it but it looked good. For dessert we had the red velvet cake, which was sweeter and less chocolatey than I expected, but still quite good.

Overall I really liked the crowd (which lent to the authenticity of the place), the atmosphere, the service and the food. But next time, I'd try something else from the menu.

Dispatches From Abroad: Hot Pot

Hot Pot: click to see food notesI recently returned from a trip through China (thus no posts lately). The food was great and widely diverse - even if it was all "Chinese food." One meal in particular was a truly unique experience: Chongqing's famous Hot Pot.

My travel companions V, Sunia, Kevin and our friend Peter (who has been teaching English in China for almost three years, and guided us on the trip), joined one of his students, Tracy, along with her twin sister Cecelia and their parents for a hot pot lunch at a nice restaurant in Chongqing, called 巴渝红 (or Ba Yu Hong - "ba yu is the traditional name for Chongqing and Sichuan district, hong means red in Chinese," says Tracy).

Generally, meals in China are served family style, with lots of different dishes placed in the middle of the table (often on a lazy susan) with everyone poking their chopsticks where they want. Hot pot is much the same though the lazy susan is replaced by a pot of boiling broth sunken into the middle of the table (you could consider it Asian fondue). In our case, there were actually two pots, one inside the other. The inner pot had a mildly seasoned broth, while the larger outer pot was filled with a red-hot spicy broth.

By the way, the inside pot also had a whole pigeon already cooking in it when we walked in to our private dining room. And by whole pigeon I mean, the whole bird from the head, with beak and eyes, on down, submerged below the neck.

We did our best to ignore those beady eyes out of respect to our hosts. At this meal we learned a bit more about Chinese dining customs and etiquette. Private dining rooms are also common in Chinese restaurants, we experienced several on our trip ranging widely in ambiance. Because the table was round (as they so often are in China), the 'head' seat is that which faces the door, and is generally at the North of the room; Tracy and Cecelia's step-father was seated here, with Peter next to him. Peter taught us about toasting and how it is customary to toast the table as a whole and the host individually during a meal. We also learned that you should clink your glass lower than the person you're toasting as a sign of respect. This became a bit of a game as everyone was deferring their respect to the other. You can also toast anyone at the table and generally once you toast one person, you should toast everyone else, individually. Sometimes we did an extra special toast - a 'gān bēi' - which means "bottom's up" wherein we'd down the whole glass of beer. So there's lots of toasting going on at special meals like this. At least the beer is weak.

As for the meal itself, once we were all seated, the servers began to bring out small plates of raw meats and vegetables to cook in the broth. The dishes included:

  • beef
  • pork
  • lamb
  • lotus root
  • winter melon
  • several different mushrooms, including "tree ear"
  • noodles

We also had a few more 'unique' items served up, including:

  • chicken feet
  • intestine
  • cow stomach
  • eel
  • congealed duck blood
  • and the aforementioned pigeon


Of course, my other etiquette lesson is always try everything your host offers. It was also my attitude toward all the cuisine on the trip. If they eat it, so can I. Still, putting down congealed duck blood or stomach lining was a bit tough. To top it all off, though the servers placed these raw dishes around the table, as the meal went on the simply dumped the whole plates right into the broth, so we never knew what would come out when we stuck our chopsticks in!

The chicken feet and stomach were both tough and gritty, with little flavor besides that of the broth. I was afraid to try much from the spicy pot because spicy foods are tough for me, and adding new organs to that mix I feared could be dangerous! So there wasn't much flavor to some of the items I tried. The duck blood looked more like a slice of liver, I don't know how they managed to congeal it like they did, but I was told it was a medicinal food and I should eat lots. I managed to cut off a 1-inch square piece (not much, about a quarter of a 'slab') and try it: kind of like a textured Jell-O, also without too much flavor, but definitely a bit hard to take down. I managed to avoid the eel and intestine. The pigeon wasn't too bad actually. At one point, the server removed the bird from the pot and pulled the meat from the bones, dumping it back into the pots. It tasted very much like dark meat chicken, and was surprisingly good.

It was the noodle that just about did me in. These noodles were thick and slimy; I'd say 12 to 18 inches long, almost a centimeter wide and maybe half as thick. They were kind of a clear color, maybe rice noodles, very chewy and difficult to bite through. So, I slurped the whole noodle into my mouth and at this point struggled to chew and swallow it. I nearly gagged, and I was extra worried because of some of the less appetizing food items around, but managed to get the whole thing down. From there I stuck to things my palate was more used to.

Overall it was an amazing meal. It was really a great cultural experience both in terms of the food and the family who invited us to join them. I was definitely lucky to have the experience and it is something I won't soon forget. Perhaps I'll have to try it again here in New York at Caffe Swish, which offers a similar hot pot experience.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que was started by three bikers, bound together by the love of good food, a 55 gallon drum cut in half, and a serious case of wanderlust. The Harlem location, nestled under the grandiose Riverside Drive bridge, this place possess the same charisma, style, and flavor of its upstate counterparts. Harlem Dinosaur has become a favorite destination for Manhattanites, locals, and everyone in the tri-state area.

I saw this place featured on the Food Network (I wish I could remember the show); they gave it a good review as a non-touristy place in New York, though they do have multiple locations around the state, so it can't be that unique. The atmosphere is a little contrived, with street signs and other knick knacks on the walls, but the crowd is quite diverse including the original bikers but also bicyclers, tourists and plenty of Harlem natives.

The restaurant is not too easy to find, or to get too, really, up at 131st Street in Harlem. V and I walked over from her office, which I thought would be a quick walk, but we ended up a little lost trying to find the place. Once we arrived, we were quickly seated, though there seemed to be a good crowd even for a Saturday afternoon. The menu is pretty simple, a lot of BBQ: pork ribs, and pulled, sliced and chopped meats. Pick one and a side or two and you're good to go.

I ordered the ribs and V opted for the "Big Ass Pork Plate, pork shoulder smoked low and slow the ‘ol timey way. Hand pulled & piled high." Both were very tender and had great flavor — not too strong or burned and not tough on the outside. Plus the portions were quite sizable and satisfying on a hot day, along with a pitcher of beer.

We picked some sides as well, including Bar-B-Que Beans, Syracuse Style Salt Potatoes, Mac & Cheese, and fries. These were good, but not amazing. The salt potatoes were the most interesting; whole little potatoes boiled and then pretty much drenched in salt and garlic butter. The butter and garlic was a little overwhelming and didn't make for the most appetizing side. I'm sure if the same ingredients were combined in mashed potatoes (and you couldn't see the grease) they'd have been much more satisfying.

Overall Dinosaur Bar-B-Que certainly filled my summertime craving for BBQ. The meats were great, the sides okay — I guess the way it should be. Plus the prices were reasonable — now if only it were a little more conveniently located.

Casa Bella

Some family friends were in town and invited me to join them for dinner in Little Italy. I couldn't make a restaurant recommendation, because all I know about Little Italy is that there are a lot of great places to eat. Walking down Mulberry Street, we came upon Casa Bella and decided to give it a try.

Located at our famous outside mall, on the well known corner of Mulberry Street, where the GoodFellas walk by. There are plenty of colorful tables, umbrellas, music, singing and real good Italian food. That is what our restaurant in old fashioned Little Italy is all about.

It was a very nice dinner, and the service was attentive and friendly. I tried the gnocchi with chicken and three cheese sauce. The pasta (gnocchi) was a little dry on the inside, not as soft as I've had before but the sauce was very good. The chicken was thinly sliced (almost deli-meat like) and then cut into small pieces. It made it easy to get a bite of gnocchi with chicken. My only other note on the dish was that it was all white: white pasta, white sauce, white-meat chicken, on a white plate, perhaps a different color plate or a garnish would have helped to make it a little more visually interesting.

We tried a variety of desserts including the cannoli, double chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and Italian cheesecake. One description of the cannoli was "cinnamony" which was interesting and apt, even though there wasn't cinnamon in it (I don't think). The chocolate cake looked delicious and rich, though I didn't try it. The mousse was light - "the way it should be" - and the cheesecake was Italian style, with ricotta, so it was lighter and softer than the typical New York style cheesecake.

Overall it was a very nice meal, with friendly service and good Italian food. After I finished my dish, I was enticed by other plates I saw around the restaurant, so perhaps I'll go back and see what else to try. Little Italy tends to be a bit touristy, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good dinner. I was definitely lucky to have such a nice meal with some great people (thanks!).

Le Pain Quotedien

The focal point of Le Pain Quotidien has always been the communal table. It has immediate appeal as it embraces customers - whether total strangers or close friends. It welcomes everybody, allowing everyone to relax and enjoy the unique atmosphere.

I like the philosophy and the atmosphere of Le Pain Quotidien. We stopped in after a stroll through Central Park, looking for brunch. I was really impressed with the food and the manner in which it was served - cool plates and just an overall rustic atmosphere.

I ordered a Cobb salad which was pretty good, with large portions of the typical Cobb salad toppings, and a slightly spicy dressing. Being that it is a bakery, bread was served on the side, and it was crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside, just the way it should be.

My only complaint is that it seemed a bit pricey. The communal, casual, atmosphere reminds me a lot of restaurants like Panera which are quite affordable. The prices at "Le Pain" were probably double Panera's. For four of us, brunch, with coffee, was something like $80. I guess it is a bit of a step up, and it is in new York City, but still, that's expensive! This location is only a block or so from my office, so perhaps I'll check it out again and see if I can find some better deals, on their great food.

Landmarc TWC

Everyone seems to be writing good things about Landmarc and its new location at the Time Warner Center.

landmarc [at the time warner center] remains true to its original vision — delicious, straightforward bistro food with an award-winning wine list, all at reasonable prices. an amalgam of industrial and natural materials — exposed brick, hardwood floors, rebar and rusted metals, along with a smattering of luxurious materials, recall the downtown roots of landmarc’s tribeca outpost while creating a sense of luxury for this flagship location. [sic]

After all this hype, I really had high expectations for my dinner at Landmarc. We went, with V's family again (thanks!), for dinner after a show on Broadway. Overall I was satisfied, but I feel like the restaurant doesn't quite know what it is yet.

As I was walking home from dinner, I decided that Landmarc is like silly putty. Careful planning and intense research with the hope of developing the next breakthrough didn't quite result in what was expected, but produced a fun product that can be enjoyed by everyone. Such is Landmarc TWC. The atmosphere is fun, with a cool design and fun music playing, the staff wear black t-shirts keeping it not too dressy; but it isn't quite as much of a breakthrough as expected.

I haven't been to the TirBeCa location, but I know that it has been successful and is much smaller. This new location has a cool industrial decor with rebar on the ceiling and weathered wooden tables. It seemed a bit odd that our table looked out to a shopping mall. Even if the Shops at TWC are upscale, it brought the atmosphere down a notch from upscale to "dinner at the mall" for us. I imagine that if we were seated with a view out at Columbus Circle, I'd have been much more impressed.

The menu is unique, a folded sheet of tabloid sized paper, arranged somewhat peculiarly with lots of options under various headings. I had heard good things about some of the appetizers, "a few of the items, like the roasted marrow bones and goat cheese profiteroles, are already classics." So that's what V and I ordered. I found the marrow bones certainly to be unique, but difficult to eat. The plate came with three thick bones, kind of like those I'd give the dog, along with grilled bread, caramelized onions and a little bowl of sea salt. I stacked little bites of each element, but it was a real challenge to get the marrow out of the bones. V's profiteroles, or cream puffs were very good, with a nice taste and texture.

Because I had steak the night before, I decided against Landmarc's hangar steak (or others) and ordered mussels with chorizo and onion. They came in a cast iron pot with plenty of mussels and lots of sausage mixed in. I like mussels because they force you to take your time eating, though they are a bit of a messy meal. I found the seasonings to be very good, though bites of mussel and sausage had the chorizo overpowering the more subtle flavor of the mussel. This was also served with a large basket of french fries, that made for quite a sizable dinner. I couldn't even come close to eating all the fies, but they were tasty on their own and dipped in the mussel sauce.

V enjoyed the filet mignon with a sauce called butter maître d'hôtel, which is actually a pat of herbed butter placed atop the filet and allowed to melt into the steak as you eat it. It was very good, as a filet should be. It also came with the same french fries on the side. We also tried the "crushed potatoes" (they don't allow substitutions), and we were curious as to what these would be. Mashed? No, crushed is very accurate, they're small potatoes cooked and slightly smashed and seasoned before serving. Nothing amazing, but a unique preparation.

We didn't try any desserts, but it is worth noting that they are only $3 each, and they look very good. Our server did bring out a few house-made caramels which were a nice end to a very nice meal. I'm glad I went to Landmarc, it didn't quite meet my preconceived expectations, but, like silly putty, it is a lot of fun, and I'll probably give it another try now that I know what to expect.

Marriott Marquis Times Square Broadway Lounge

"The Broadway Lounge, overlooking Times Square, serves cocktails, tasty tapas and light fare." Sometimes you just have to take in the true tourist experiences available in New York, even if you live here and "never go near Times Square." This lounge, on the 8th floor of the Marriott Marquis, overlooks the heart of Times Square, and offers pretty good food and drinks to go with the views. I found it nice to be above the hustle-bustle of the crowd.

The food we ordered was pretty good, we tried just a few appetizers, including edamame, a quesidilla and some kind of fried cheese ravioli with marinara sauce. I found the edamame well seasoned but a little over cooked, making the bean-pods feel a little loose, though the beans themselves tasted just fine. The food was good, but really the experience is about the views and the location. This is definitely a place to bring visitors to show them a good time in Times Square above the hectic mess of the sidewalks below.

Gramercy Tavern

Opened in 1994, Gramercy Tavern is a renewal of the classic American Tavern offering refined, contemporary American cuisine, warm hospitality and unparalleled service in an historic landmark building.

I was lucky enough to be brought along with V's family for an amazing dinner at Gramercy Tavern. I was more than impressed by my dining experience: the food was spectacular with service to match. We were lucky enough to get a dining room reservation at the last minute due to someone else's cancellation. Before we arrived I didn't realize the "Tavern" is separate from the "Dining Room" each offering a different menu. The Tavern menu is more typical with several appetizers and entree options, where the dining room offers a three course prix fixe and several tasting menus. We chose from the fixed price menu.

Even before the first courses were served we enjoyed an amuse bouche (tiny bite-sized morsels served before the hors d'œuvre or first course of a meal), which I believe had onion and perhaps some kind of seafood, scallops perhaps. It was a nice light start to the meal. We were also served rolls, one of which was a unique olive bread with chunks of olives baked in.

I ordered the Open Crab Ravioli with Razor Clams and Nettles, and when it arrived it looked amazing. The openness of the ravioli was was more like a little seafood and pasta sandwich. But, I was also tempted by the Tuna & Beet Tartare with Radish and Hazelnuts, which V's brother J ordered. He typically doesn't share at dinner, but I managed to negotiate a swap. I think we both ended up happy. The tuna was mixed with beets, something I generally don't like. The beets weren't too crunchy but the combination of the textures was well balanced. From what J said, the ravioli was very good too. The nettles, a fresh herb, added a nice flavor.

The second course was even better. I ordered the Hanger Steak & Braised Short Rib with Snap Peas, Runner Beans and Puffed Potatoes. The steak was cooked perfectly, and the short rib was flavorful and tender, easy to eat with only a fork. The puffed potatoes were a bit of a surprise, they were lightly fried balls of mashed potato, that actually were a very light addition to the meal which contrasted nicely with the heavier steak and ribs. Thinking of steak and potatoes...the portions were just right, not huge, but very satisfying in the scheme of the entire meal.

V had the Monkfish with Spring Onion, Swiss Chard and Mussel Broth, something new for her, and I think she was satisfied. I tried a bite and found the texture a little grainy or stringy, not flaky like most fish. But it was tender and light, not too rich or buttery, which was nice for a summer meal.

Before talking about desserts, I want to mention the decor. I liked the Tavern area a little better than the dining room, in terms of decor, but then again the dining room really is about the food. The dining room had an authentic home-style feel to it with weathered walls, light stained wood paneling, curtains and exposed beams. There were quilts and paintings on the walls and beautiful flower bouquets all around the dining room. My first impression though was of something more like a "Country Kitchen" restaurant from back in Minnesota. But what Gramercy did was to really evoke that home feel and bring it up to a very classy level. I'm sure the bouquets were real flowers and the space, though large, was well divided to provide some intimacy. Additionally the service was amazing. Every detail was accounted for: from having the right fork for my appetizer, to the way they cleared the table after each course quietly and discreetly - I don't think we ever heard a clink of dishes, in fact we noticed that each piece of dinner wear was picked up individually and neatly stacked so as not to disrupt our conversation.

Now for dessert. Which was preceded by another amuse (which was good, but I can't remember at the moment). I had Milk Chocolate Praline Mousse with Mocha-Grand Marnier Ice Cream. It was the coolest presentation I've seen in a long time. The mousse was served in almost a candy-bar form, a long bar shape, it was light but chocolatey, kind of like a mousse Kit-Kat. The ice cream was on the side with a candy sugar droplet made by the pastry chef. V had Warm Chocolate Bread Pudding with Cacao Nib Ice Cream. I will admit that I was a little jealous of her dessert, which was rich and delicious. The warm bread pudding helped to melt the ice cream a bit, which is just they way I like it. I only got one bite!

Gramercy Tavern really shows a lot of respect for the food they serve and for the customers enjoying it. The service shows it, ans does the level of cuisine that comes out of the kitchen. I am really grateful that I got to experience such a great dinner! When another special occasion arises, I know I have a good place to go.

Grand Cafe

Grand Cafe is another Greek place in Astoria, surprise. I've walked past multiple times and I always see people enjoying big salads and other good looking food. We dropped in for a bite to eat and were pretty satisfied. The decor was nice, nothing amazing, they have a revolving door which i found amusing because every other window/door was open to enjoy the outside air. We sat at a window and had a nice view of the people walking by. Because the salads were always so appealing, I tried the cobb salad, and V had the portobello salad. My only complaint was the dressing which was too mustardy for me, I prefer blue cheese or ranch, but still it was a nicely composed salad. V's salad was "quite delicious" the best part was the cheese, she said. It came with goat cheese, yellow, red and green peppers, and of course the mushroom. She ate everything, except the lettuce, but really the toppings are the best part - I guess there wasn't any dressing on it (or it was on the side). They served a nice pile of pita slices on the side which were warm and fresh from the grill, giving them a nice, subtly charred flavor. The prices were pretty reasonable for the area, about $12 for a salad, and we added a bottle of wine too. I liked it. I'll go back someday.


I've read a lot about Morandi, and a few weeks back while exploring the Village (in search of a random artist on the street - long story), I walked past it (it is very near Central Kitchen), which inspired me to give it a try.

Morandi is a rustic Italian trattoria from restaurateur Keith McNally. Executive Chef Jody Williams creates regional dishes from Italy such as Pici al limone and Pizzoccheri al forno. In warmer months, Morandi welcomes guests at its sidewalk café.

V and I made reservations for dinner, but then I got sick and we bumped our plans back a few days to a Sunday brunch. We made our way downtown after church and as we walked to the restaurant we realized that the Gay Pride parade was about to begin. It definitely would have been an interesting meal with a parade marching by, but it turned out that the restaurant was a few blocks from the parade route.

Morandi goes a long way toward creating an authentic atmosphere for their restaurant, from the phone message with a nice Italian accent, to "WC" on the bathroom doors, shelves lined with wine jugs in the dining room, exposed beams along the ceiling, and artisan breads stacked near the kitchen, it all evokes the "rustic Italian trattoria" they're going for. Eating outside with views of New York city and lots of parade participants and spectators decked out in various attire walking by during our meal took away from the atmosphere a bit, but it was still quite nice. It definitely made for good people watching. Where else but New York city can you see drag queens and get authentic Italian at the same time?

The brunch menu had some interesting choices. We started with Cestino di pane, a selection of sweet breads including ricotta fritters, sugar donuts, Italian croissants, anise donuts, grape focaccia and sweet bread. We got little pieces of each of the breads and it was nice to try them all, though my favorite was the ricotta fritters. Our server told us they'd be served warm, but they came out room temperature.

I tried the Fagottini con prosciutto, a baked crepe with ham and fontina. It was very good with great ham and cheese tastes complimented by a soft crepe that was nicely crispy and buttery around the edges. I was very satisfied. V had Trofiette al pesto, a pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans. I thought it would be odd to have potato in a pasta dish, and I wondered how it would be served. It was much different than we expected, the beans and the potato were mixed into the pasta itself, with he potato julienned into thin strips that fit well with the texture of the pasta. The pesto sauce was very good and gave the dish a nice green color.

After our meal, I was definitely satisfied, though I wanted more - not because I wasn't full, but because I felt like I didn't get the whole Morandi experience. Next time, I'll go for dinner, and I'll sit inside to really soak it all in. Overall it's pretty reasonably priced, with good service and a great atmosphere.

Carnegie John's

New York Magazine ranks the cart I sometimes get my lunch from on the street as 8th best in the city. It's definitely good and cheap.

To put it in SAT terms, Carnegie John’s is to Tony the Dragon’s as Mary’s Fish Camp is to Pearl Oyster Bar—the difference being that unlike those feuding fish ladies, should Tony and John meet up on the street, neither would attempt to scratch out the other’s eyeballs. Tony Dragonas, you see, taught his Greek compatriot John Antoniou the chicken-and-rice ropes, letting John run the show when he was away. When there was nothing more that Tony could teach John about grilled chicken breasts, Italian-sausage sandwiches, and combo platters, John, as straight-A students often do, struck out on his own—with Tony’s blessing, of course. Read more...


What sets Ovelia apart is the emphasis on their charcoal grill. They grind their own sausage in-house, in addition to several other homemade specialties. The dishes are full of flavor, and there is a full bar to complement any dish with a glass of wine or cocktail.

We’d been in Ovelia once before, for a drink after sushi across the street at Go Wasabi, and found the décor and drinks very appealing. The bar has integrated fiber-optic lights and in the back there are cool flames shooting up the walls tornado-style.

Upon our return for a meal though we weren’t quite as satisfied. The drinks were expensive for the neighborhood at $8-10, and the food wasn’t anything amazing. Though admittedly we didn’t have the aforementioned homemade sausage, we did order from the grill. V tried the pork chops, which were tough and over dry. I had the ground beef and lamb kebabs which one review called a “dish worth scrambling for.” I disagree. The meat wasn’t anything special, cooked well done, and more chewy than anything else.

The best part of our meal though, was the cheese appetizer, which consisted of three hot cheeses, including halloumi, feta and saganaki. Each was distinct in its taste and texture, and I enjoyed them all (even though halloumi remains my favorite cheese of all time).

Overall, I may go back for an appetizer, maybe a drink if I’m in the area and in the mood for the atmosphere, but otherwise, I didn’t find the service or the entrées that good.

Firehouse Tavern

Firehouse Tavern is a great bar/pub just a few bocks from Central Park on the Upper West Side. After the longest run of my life to date, I dropped in with V and a few of her Volleyball teammates. I don't have much to say about the place, other than that I really liked the atmosphere, and the food was above par for a bar (I rhyme!).

The decor is that of a firehouse, natch. There are old fire station things like fire extinguishers, photos of dalmatians, fire helmets and sirens throughout. I believe, though they could have just decorated it so well, that the space was actually once a fire house.

I ordered a BBQ chicken pizza, which was very good, with a hand tossed crust that was chewy and crispy at the same time, with red onions, BBQ sauce, chicken and cheddar cheese. V enjoyed the boneless chicken wings, which I found funny (boneless wings?), and spicy. It's definitely a nice place to come after a long day in the park.

Umbertos Clam House

Umbertos Clam House is my first restaurant in the Bronx! Now all I have left is to eat somewhere in Staten Island to complete the "Restaurant Reminder Quinfecta™". Anyhow, Umbertos claims don't add up to the real experience they provide. Located in little Italy in the Bronx, on Arthur Avenue, the restaurant is in the heart of a real Italian neighborhood, with great markets, delis, bakeries and butcher shops. I expected an authentic meal, not necessarily the pinnacle of cuisine, but at least quality Italian food, even for a Friday lunch. Really to me though the restaurant seemed more like a chain seafood/Italian place, with lots of nautical stuff screwed on to the walls and lacking the authentic charm of the rest of the neighborhood.

The lunch menu wasn't very large and we all decided to take the lunch special, which included salad and an entree. The salad was plain, the typical house salad, with iceberg, a few cucumber slices and a cherry tomato, with a little plastic cup of dressing. For an entree I figured they'd have a good fish and chips, so I ordered it. It was probably the worst fish and chips I've ever had, seriously. The fries were soggy and flavorless, and the fish was dry and the breading was thin and close to soggy too. No crunch, no texture. It was disappointing. Further our service was slow and stuttered with one or two of us having to wait for their order after everyone else was served. Too bad. At least it was on the office! Maybe I need another Bronx experience to really claim the Quinfecta. (Probably more in Brooklyn too.)

p.s. Sorry I haven't posted much lately, I've got a backlog of about a dozen restaurants I'm beginning to work on today.


The great thing about New York City is that there is something for every niche, and because of the diversity and size of the city, so many unique places can thrive. For example Crumbs is a bakery near Union Square that just makes really unique cupcakes. My brother and I happened upon the place and were entranced by the delicious looking treats. I tried a cookie-dough cupcake and it was good. It just looked like cookie dough frosting but tasted more like regular frosting, on a white cupcake. A little bit of a let down. There are so many more flavors to try though, I'm sure they get it right on a few.

The E.U.

The E.U. or The European Union if you want to spell it out, serves a variety of European cuisine in a great environment, and with excellent service. It has been on my list of restaurants to check out for a while. It is a very popular dinner spot; we walked in and were added to the list for a table, but ended up just eating at the bar.

That was no problem. The bartenders were friendly and very helpful - the beer list was filled with unique and rare offerings, as was the wine list, and they could easily describe each and were happy to offer samples. The same went for their knowledge of the menu. We got recommendations on what to try and what to avoid. I was even able to convince them to give me the Sunday special on Saturday.

We tried the Charcuterie Plate, a selection of cured meats with house-made pickles and olives, which was pretty good. I enjoyed trying the different meats offered, and it served as a nice starter. Other appetizers we tried included oysters from the raw bar, and a seafood gnocchi (amazing...creamy sauce that was good to the last drop).

As I mentioned earlier, I was able to convince our bartender to give me the next day's special, a hangar steak (my favorite) with fries. It was great, the meat was juicy, tender and flavorful. The fries, served in a cone, Belgian-style, were crispy and well seasoned.

Overall dining at the European Union was a great experience. I really liked the atmosphere, the prices were reasonable (a little expensive, but great quality and service), and the food was great from start to finish. This is definitely a place to take out-of-town guests, just try for a reservation.


Momento is an Italian restaurant down the block from V's new apartment. We figured we needed to try it out now that she's a neighbor. I went in with hopes it could be the new "crepe place" (where we were pretty much regulars on weekend mornings), but it can't quite fill that hole after her move. We went on a Wednesday night and were one of only two or maybe three tables seated. This allowed them to keep a great focus on our table, so the service was very good. The food too was good, though we didn't go all out trying a lot from the menu. V and I each had different salads, she tried the Caesar and I had a blue cheese and pear salad. The special was two-for-one drinks, which made the meal rather affordable - we each had two glasses of wine, for a total of $12 - in Manhattan, that'd be the cost of a single glass! I'll have to go back again on a more busy night to see how everything stands up.


Zabar's is much more of a market than a restaurant (though they do have a little restaurant area), but I think I deserves writing up because V and I got the makings of a great picnic there, which we enjoyed a few blocks away in Central Park. They have a great selection of meats and cheeses and practically everything else you'd want from a good grocery store or market. We got a few kinds of cheese, two types of salami and some crackers, all of which were great, and quite reasonably priced. Plus their pastry counter has amazing cakes and pies. I had a pecan cheesecake and V had an apple tart, which were nice individual (or maybe for-two) portions. For something like $25 we had a great picnic. I need to learn which salamis are which for next time!

Athens Cafe

Athens Cafe is one of the best Greek places in Astoria. You can sit there for hours on end and enjoy watching people walking by with a cup of coffee or a beer without any trouble. We were there from 8 p.m. till about 1:30 a.m. this night. I think our waiter was happy to have us because we ordered plenty of wine and food as we sat and talked throughout the night.

You can tell this place is authentic because it is always crowded. When we arrived the crowd was watching a Greek soccer match, with everyone waving flags and wearing yellow AEK jerseys.

We ordered a dip sampler which came with four traditional dips: one with feta, another with dill, and two others I can't remember. Oddly there wasn't hummus. The portions looked small, but we had to order extra pitas to finish it all.

Next we tried a "Greek Pizza" which was served with feta, halloumi (my favorite), Greek sausage and tomatoes. It was pretty good, but the pizza wasn't very large around and the crust wasn't too sturdy, so I had to eat my slices with knife and fork. The sausage was fairly dry, but had a nice flavor.

Dessert was the traditional loukoumades, fried dough balls glazed in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. They remind me of the state fair. The portion was huge - we had the plate on our table for hours and still didn't finish everything. This definitely isn't the healthiest dessert, but divided between 3 or 4 people, it is a good treat.

Really the best thing about Athens Cafe is the atmosphere and the attitude of the place. You can sense the friendliness and the community. It is always crowded, and the food is always good. I've been there many times, and I'm sure I'll be back many more.


O'Neal's is a large pub not far from Lincoln Center. I stopped in for a drink and a bite to eat after an event nearby the other day. The space was more of a restaurant than a bar, with a large mural and plenty of table seating. I ordered an omelet, which was an interesting offering on a 'late night' menu. It was pretty simple with potatoes, scallions, and bacon, but no cheese so I can't rate it that high. Fries, served on the side, were crunchy and a nice dinner addition to a more typical breakfast item. Overall it's a simple place, and the cuisine isn't amazing, but it is reasonably priced and better than a lot of typical pub fare.


Locale's style reflects the neighborhood's modern yet multi-cultural chic aspect, which has become a signature of present day Astoria. Locale's diverse menu can accommodate almost any taste, whether it's and early afternoon brunch or an intimate dinner.

I'd been to Locale before I even moved to the city, but this weekend was my first time back. The small restaurant is a few blocks off the subway line, tucked away in a residential part of Astoria. It has a great atmosphere that's a combination of restaurant and lounge, with a couches on an elevated area in the corner and floor-to-ceiling windows around the dining room. The restaurant was crowded, though I'd say it is a little pricey for the neighborhood, but the cuisine is definitely above average.

We ordered the fried zucchini as an appetizer. It wasn't even on the menu, but our server suggested it, and we were pleased with the choice. The strips were lightly breaded and crispy, and not too greasy. There was a saucer of marinara sauce for dipping, but it was too chunky and the zucchini strips too thin to make it easy to dip into and get good 'coverage'. >We also tried the crab cake, which was served with a dill sauce that I found to be a little overpowering, V liked it though. It wasn't that 'lumpy' but didn't seem to be loaded with much bread either.

I ordered the seafood pasta which was served with a whole assortment of seafood: scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari and crab. There was a good amount of everything but some of it, like the scallops, was grainy. The pasta itself wasn't anything special, and the sauce wasn't quite what I expected, as it was rather thin. I had ordered the dish with a white sauce which was flavorful but thin, and didn't really stick to anything.

Other times we've eaten at Locale the food was very good, and we tried tonight to keep the price down. I can imagine that at a restaurant like this you really get what you pay for, and there are some chef's specialties like the Mozzarella Olivata which is homemade cheese served hot with olives and tomatoes. It is distinctive and delicious. The restaurant has a great atmosphere, good crowd, good service and a unique take on the cuisine, I'll try it again sometime when my pocketbook can better take the hit.


Welcome to Koliba, the best Czechoslovak restaurant in the New York City area. We offer authentic Czech and Slovak dishes and drinks. Come and enjoy our casual and friendly atmosphere, and get a feel of a true central European dining.

KolibaKoliba is the second Czech restaurant my grandmother recommended in my neighborhood. I've jogged by it several times before, but it always seemed closed...turns out my Monday jogging route corresponds with their one day off. I was coming home late from work and thought I'd take the long way home and see what the menu had to offer.

The restaurant was homey with a cabin-like atmosphere; there was lots of Czech paraphernalia on the walls–wooden toys, mounted game, plates. The space wasn't very large, I'm guessing there were seats for about 40 people and a small bar. The menu is short, and it seems they focus on a few standard specialties. If you want a 'special order' they advise there will be a longer wait for preparation. Everything was modestly priced, the most expensive entree being $16.75, and most closer to $10-12. The imported Czech beers were cheap too. I had a half-liter BrouCzech for $5.

I ordered beef with cream sauce (pictured) which was simple but tasty and hearty. It was three slices of pot roast with plenty of gravy. There was a lemon slice with cranberry or boysenberry jam for garnish, and a plate of dumplings on the side. I'm not certain Koliba is "the best Czechoslovak restaurant in the New York City area" but they do a nice job serving good food at a good price. Maybe it'll just become my 'regular' bar!

Just Arthur's

Just Arthur's is a traditional Italian restaurant on the corner of Steinway and Ditmars in Astoria. I went there for dinner with V, because we've jogged by a few times, and a friend said it's pretty good. Before we headed out, I searched for reviews, and found one so glowing I thought the reviewer was paid to write it and a few others that were more in line with what I thought (after dinner).

The service was friendly and food was good, but not anything really unique that blew me away. V had a penne dish with sausage. I enjoyed a few bites, and as leftovers the next day with some added cheese, it was great. I had meatloaf, something I figured I wouldn't make at home anytime soon, served with mashed potatoes (real) and corn (from a can). It was pretty good, but not too memorable. The side salad was iceberg lettuce with a few cucumbers, carrots and cherry tomatoes--and the largest glob of ranch dressing ever.

Overall: good for a low key and relatively cheap dinner in the neighborhood, but i probably won't be bringing many out of town guests.

Kabab King

At Kabab King, we have served Halal food for over 10 yrs to our Muslim community in America. Kabab King specializes in excellent diverse ethnic food including Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Turkish and Chinese Cuisine.

I don't pretend to know much about Halal food or Indian or much of any Middle- or far-Eastern cuisine (from what I hear, American 'Chinese' food really isn't that authentic, too). So it is hard for me to know if what I ate at Kabab King, a restaurant in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights, was good or not, but I liked it and the overall experience was culturally enriching!

The restaurant is very casual, you order from a counter and take your tray to eat. Being that I was culinarily ignorant and had no idea what to order, I went up to the counter and asked for recommendations. The guy there happily suggested we head upstairs to the $7.99 buffet which had a wide selection of foods to try, and we obliged.

We arrived a little early for the lunch rush and the buffet/dining room was almost completely empty, but they really do go for the King theme - the room was large and open, packed tightly with ornate tables and chairs. It was like we each had our own mini throne!

I tried a little of just bout everything, filling my plate with small spoonfulls (spoons full?) of various meats and sauces. The only problem with this course of action was that I still don't know what I ate, because nothing was labeled. I can say that the naan was good. Otherwise, I found that an open mind (and palate) is a good thing!


Agnanti meze was founded in December 2002 in Astoria, the heart of the Greek culture in New York. This family oriented restaurant, offers an outdoor patio in the summer overlooking Astoria Park, and a cozy atmosphere with a fireplace in the winter.

What a surprise. Many times I've jogged past this small corner restaurant, next to Astoria Park, just a block from the river, and almost a mile from the last stop on the N train...I thought it looked quaint, quiet. I convinced V to walk down there to dinner on Saturday night, not expecting a wait, let alone a crowd. As we approached the restaurant, I thought there was some kind of emergency because there were so many people congregating outside. As it turns out, Agnanti is a hot spot! The space is small, probably seating 50 max, and there is no bar area, so if you're waiting for a table, you're waiting outside. The crowd was diverse: older couples, families, and an odd number of pregnant women, I think there were three at one table.

I was happy we decided to go and the food was great, but there were a few downsides to our experience. First, I was lucky V was willing to wait with me for a table. We stood outside for at least an hour. Our name was never on a list, the hostess just knew what order to seat people.

Things got off to a better start once we were seated. I figured out it was a Greek restaurant (I couldn't tell by the name or decor, and there wasn't a menu outside). We ordered a few appetizers and smaller items instead of main entrees, starting with Saganaki. This is a traditional Greek cheese baked in a dish and served with a lemon wedge. You just eat it, and it was very good, and very cheesy. You can't go wrong there. We followed that up with Mushrooms Kalitsounia, homemade dough wrapped around mushrooms and herbs. These were amazing. Kind of like little raviolis, they were hot, crispy, creamy, and salty all at the same time (sounds familiar).

I then had an order of mussels which were seasoned with a white wine sauce and sprinkled with feta cheese. They were great, and a nice dish to take your time eating and enjoying. I shared a few with V, but she was busy enjoying the swordfish, which was a little dry, but flaky and really very steak-like. It was quite good. Both were reasonably priced too. I found it surprising that the seafood was less expensive than the meat and poultry dishes.

So all the food was great. The odd thing was the service. We waited forever to get in and then our food was brought out so quickly we felt rushed. Perhaps because we were one of the last seatings, the kitchen was closing down. Then, after our rushed meal, our server never came around to see how things were, offer coffee or dessert, or even the check! We waited another half hour before flagging someone else down to get the bill. Then after paying, by credit card, they told us to tip in cash. I needed to make change to leave a proper tip, but the server never came by again...I felt bad leaving a measly tip, but there wasn't anything I could do. The food was good enough that I'll give Agnanti another try. Next time I'll make a reservation, and hope for the best.

El Boqueron

El Boqueron serves authentic and traditional tapas, that is, small entree dinner portions from various regions of Spain. We dish up exquisite dishes that leave your mouth savoring for more.

El Boqueron is right on the corner near V's apartment and though she's lived there for nearly two years, we've never been. Finally it seemed like a good time to try it out. The restaurant seems a little too fancy for its location next to the elevated subway tracks in Astoria, the prices of some entrees seem a little high, but we enjoyed the food and the friendly service.

Continuing our trend, and because of the fact that this was a tapas restaurant, we ordered a few little dishes, starting with a spinach salad. It was served with warm crunchy bacon bits and a very nice dressing, which made for a good start to our meal. Next we had a few slices of Manchego cheese, a white Spanish cheese, that is to me, kind of like a mix between cheddar and Parmesan.

From the hot tapas choices, we tried the stuffed mushrooms, which weren't quite as good as we'd hoped. I think because they were rather small mushrooms, and the stuffing, vegetables and bacon, wasn't very bacony. Overall they tasted fine but weren't amazing.

We also tried (for the second time this week) chicken croquettes. About the size of two 'tots,' they were crispy with an almost creamy filling of ground chicken. There was some kind of white cream sauce on the side which was great to spread on the hot 'tot' to cool it down a bit. (I had originally posted this as a description from another restaurant, but that was a mix up and has been corrected for the record).

Our last 'tapa' was my favorite, and probably the simplest too. Chorizo sausage cooked with Rioja wine, was served sizzling in a crock. Hot and perfectly seasoned, not too tough and not too dry, the sausage was very good. It was a nice way to end the meal too. We decided against dessert and that made for a reasonable bill and a satisfying meal.