Barril Grill

Barril Grill is a new Brazilian restaurant in Astoria on Broadway. From what I've heard, the past two ventures there have been unsuccessful, but I think the location is good and the food—particularly the meat—is great. Hopefully this restaurant will stick around for a while.

The restaurant is a little more casual than I had expected, the lighting is too bright and the cafeteria style buffet isn't exactly romantic - and I came here on a date. I guess I was hoping for candlelight and something a bit more exotic. Really though from what I've heard of Brazilian cuisine, the thing to go for is the meat. And we got meat.

After picking a few things out from the buffet including spinach salad, black beans with some kind of meat, and a few other items both hot and cold, we proceeded to the grill window. There, a friendly cook offered us a wide selection including pork and chicken sausage, tenderloin, skirt steak and several other meats, he even gave us little free sample tastes. Everything we tried was very good.

The skirt steak was tender, juicy and flavorful (better than what I had at Novecento). The chicken sausage was flavorful, but not as tasty as the pork. The tenderloin was perfectly medium rare and was also tender and very tasty - my only complaint was that I got too much to eat before it got cold, I should have saved room for seconds.

Best of all, the price can't be beat: the by-the-pound buffet is $6.99. Our entire dinner was $7.00 each (plus a bottle of Argentinian wine, which brought the total cost for my date to an affordable $40). And furthermore the clientèle provided us with some nice entertainment: the restaurant owner was climbing on the tables to clean a water feature in the middle of the dining room, one guy on a date was unknowingly wearing his sweater inside-out, the Brazilian guy at the table next to us wouldn't get off his cell phone, and there seemed to be a DJ setting up but no one there to dance. All in all it was a delicious dinner, next time I'll probably skip the buffet and go straight for the meat counter.

Jerry's Restaurant

Jerry Joseph took a run down cafeteria and turned it into Jerry's--an upscale diner complete with booths, original stainless-steel fixtures and a counter that is not simply a bar, but a place to eat good food.

V's love of mushrooms and our recent experience with Manchego cheese while traveling in the Caribbean combined in one item I found on Jerry's brunch menu so we headed downtown to try it out. It was very good, but I read an inaccurate online menu and was a little surprised by the higher prices.

The decor was comfortable with cool cow-print (or cow skin) booths and bar stools. I didn't get too far into the narrow-but-long restaurant, but it looked more spacious in the back, where the bar is located. The service was a little pretentious, though I suspect that is normal for the neighborhood.

We both tried omelets, V choosing the Mushroom and Manchego while I tried the Chorizo, Onion and Red Pepper omelet. Our server wasn't terribly friendly, I think he could sense we weren't from SoHo, but came all the way from Queens...such tourists. So when I asked if my omelet was served with cheese, he just pointed at the menu, which said nothing about cheese. I added havarti.

Both omelets were tasty, I think we each preferred our own. I felt like V's was too mushroomy, but to her that is what made it good. For me most anything with onions in any form is good. My dish had a good combination of flavors including the onion, though the oil from the chorizo was a little unattractive on my plate. The home fries served on the side weren't anything special. I did enjoy the light salad of fresh greens served on the side, with a nice slightly creamy dressing that was not too overwhelming, but nicely coated the entire salad.

Overall it was a good meal, though the service could be a bit more friendly and the prices a little easier on the wallet.

Dumbo General Store

While wandering through Brooklyn's Dumbo I noticed a little cafe/bar whose sidewalk chalk board noted, "Kitchen open till 11 AM." It was 7 p.m., I thought I'd check it out. As I walked into the Dumbo General Store, I definitely sensed a hipster-vibe, but the place had a nice atmosphere. There was cool, if loud, jazz music playing, vintage tables and chairs, a seating area with a sofa and arm chairs for chatting over a cup of coffee, and an actual store in the back, selling art.

I took a seat at the bar to get a drink, and dining alone I asked what was best on the menu. The bartender suggested going for half a panini and half a salad, and recommended the goat cheese salad and roast chicken panini. I took him up on that and was definitely pleased. The salad was very flavorful with very rich and creamy goat cheese on top.

The panini was amazing. So often I have a sandwich where the bread drowns out all the other flavors, even if the bread is good, it needs to be in the right balance with the other flavors, and this sandwich got it spot on. The bread was crusty and crunchy, the chicken and tomatoes were complimented very nicely with a "special herbed citron mayonnaise" that reminded me of the mustard sauce from Max Brenners, and all together the flavors and textures came together perfectly.

And to boot, I told the bartender about the sign outside, which was supposed to read "Kitchen open till 11 PM," and he gave me a free beer. I tipped well and my total was still only $20.

Mesa Grill

Since its debut in 1991, Mesa Grill continues to be one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in New York City. Critics tout Bobby Flay as one of this nation's foremost practitioners of Southwestern cuisine. The distinctive decor of Mesa Grill is a Southwestern playground of whim and fantasy.

In going to Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, I anticipated a classy restaurant experience with unique combinations of food. The atmosphere was relaxed and had a southwestern flair to it, and the crowd seemed largely business groups and older couples. The only disappointment was that the courses were poorly timed and the waiter was lacking in friendliness.

I began with the “rough cut" raw tuna nachos with mango hot sauce & avocado crema. I recommend going just for this dish! The raw tuna was heaped high and positioned between the mango hot sauce (which was quite sweet) and the avocado crema. The sweet and salty contrast between the two sauces was the highlight of this dish. Although it came with just 8 chips laid out on each side, it turned out to be the perfect amount.

For the main course I had grilled mahi-mahi with roasted pineapple-cascabel chile sauce and caramelized pineapple-green onion salsa. The fish was grilled to perfection, and the sauce was delicious. The pineapple was a nice touch that gave it the southwestern flair for which Bobby Flay is known.

Dessert was an 'ice cream sandwich' that was composed of thin, dark chocolate wafers surrounding rich dark chocolate ice cream. The perfect sweet treat to end the night!

Although it is an expensive place, this was definitely a culinary treat!


I've had take-out twice now from WAVEthai and it meets my approval. Just a block from my apartment, the little restaurant doesn't have huge crowds dining in its well decorated dining room, but the food is great as take-out. I'll have to keep checking to see for when it is crowded because that's when I'd like to dine in. There's something about eating-in in an empty restaurant that is unsettling.

I've tried the pad Thai, which I can't say much about in terms of criticism or glowing praise - it was good, a nice big portion (there's always leftovers), and got the mix of flavors and textures down well. I do wish it came with a lime wedge instead of lemon, but that's nothing.

I also tried the peanut curry with chicken. If you don't know what this is, it is almost like a stew or stroganoff, served over rice, or it can be eaten almost like a soup. As take-out it comes in a quart size plastic bowl. The curry had a nice spice to it and I really enjoyed the peanut flavor. The string beans, broccoli and carrot in the mix were a good balance with the chicken.

One nice thing about the menu is the pricing, basically all dishes can be prepared with any choice of meat, poultry or seafood, and each meat sets the price. Chicken is $9. Not a bad deal for a filling and pretty healthy meal. Next time I'll try something from the wok.

Chanpen Thai

To me, Thai cuisine is always hit or miss. Before moving to New York I had a favorite Asian restaurant in the DC area, Cafe Asia, that served my "gold standard" pad Thai. Chanpen Thai in Midtown/Hell's Kitchen came close to meeting that standard. The restaurant's exterior gives a casual, fun appearance, but when we stepped inside it seemed almost formal. New York Magazine notes:

...mirrored walls add a sense of spaciousness to an already amply sized dining room bearing a slightly elevated section in back. Wooden trim with delicate, cut-out engravings skirts the ceiling’s perimeter and gilded figurines are scattered throughout.

I was trying to stretch my culinary horizons (frogs legs?!), but ended up back at my standard pad Thai again, though I mixed it up with shrimp. Woah. It was very good, though I thought it could use a little more lime and a little more peanut. We also tried the calamari which was a really unique preparation, as far as fried squid goes. The calamari was very light in color and texture, not quite flaky, but very crunchy and with a nice Thai sweet and sour sauce.

Even if the restaurant was a little deceiving from the outside—it was no Cafe Asia on the inside—overall it was an affordable and tasty dinner.


The idea was to make the Americans feel the real atmosphere of an Argentine place.

Novocento is an Argentine bistro in SoHo which I happened upon with a friend. Honestly there are only two reasons I chose it: first being there were a good number of people eating inside for a Tuesday night and second, the prices on the menu outside looked good (I didn't even look at what the actual food was).

Upon stepping inside I was happy with my choice. The atmosphere was warm and inviting with a good number of people eating and at the bar, but not too crowded that I couldn't sit down for a drink before taking a table. The music playing was loud but not overpowering, and I believe it was Argentinian.

Upon recommendation from our server, I ordered the skirt steak, with chimichurri sauce, and mashed potatoes. (My other choice was the more expensive pan-seared tuna.) I know that skirt steak isn't the most tender cut but I did expect it to be more tender than it was. The sauce was tasty, at bit salty, but good. The mashed potatoes seemed almost like they came from a box - they were overmashed. I wished they came with some kind of gravy or sauce or at least butter, but they were served plain. Odd.

I really liked the restaurant and the atmosphere and the rest of the menu looked good, but overall my meal wasn't as good as I had hoped. Still, Novocento has some allure to me and I will have to go back and try again sometime.

Dining In: Portobello Stuffed Peppers

Another adventure in imaginative cooking this weekend: Green peppers stuffed with fontina and portobello mushroom. It turned out very tasty but could use a little work to be more appealing.

I simply chopped a mushroom cap and mixed it with an approximately equal amount of grated cheese. I also sliced the 'lid' off of two medium green peppers and removed the core and seeds. Stuffing the mushroom mixture into the peppers was tough because there was so much, and I knew it would shrink while cooking so I overfilled them and placed the pepper-lid back on top.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. When they came out of the oven, the mushrooms had significantly reduced in size actually leaving extra room in the peppers, and they released a fair amount of liquid. What I will try next time is pre-cooking the portobello before mixing it with the cheese, and poking holes in the bottom of the peppers to let some liquid drain out. This was a success, and another pretty cheap veggie for dinner (I served it alongside baked chicken breasts).


Starwich is a sandwich and salad shop with a few locations around Manhattan. We stopped in for lunch on a Sunday afternoon and were really impressed. It is a casual atmosphere, you order at a counter and they bring your meal to you.

Starwich prides itself on offering its customers ingredients and signature combinations that were formerly reserved for more exclusive, formal restaurants.

I'd say they executed this mission well. We had good food that did seem more fitting for a formal restaurant. V and I each tried a salad, the "Starwich Cobb" and "Black Olive Crusted Seared Tuna." Both were very tasty, and sizable portions (except I had hoped for a larger portion of tuna). My only complaint about the Cobb salad was that the chicken seemed a little dry, but the pieces were large slices from a whole chicken breast, not the tiny chunks you often see on a Cobb salad. Overall the food was good and healthy. I'd go back, but probably not as a regular lunch spot, it was a little pricey: our two salads and sodas ran $28.

Señor Swanky's

"Eat. Drink. Save Money. This hip, packed joint is certain to fill your stomach with delicious Mexican cuisine and satisfy your desire for a unique dining experience." (emphasis added)

Five of us got together for a few drinks and a bite to eat after work at Señor Swanky's upper west side location on Columbus Ave. between 84th and 85th streets. It wasn't very impressive, especially for the size of the bill.

Basically this is a Mexican restaurant version of TGI-Fridays in most every respect. There were giant plastic red peppers hanging over the bar, our drinks were served in plastic glasses, and the food was nothing special.

Admittedly we were dining on a night when New York was experiencing a snowstorm so not many people were out and about, let alone up for margaritas in a Mexican restaurant. Still our service was slow, they couldn't accept credit cards (apparently due to a fire), and the prices were ridiculous.

I'll start with my complaints. We had margaritas ($12 each!) which were tasty - and there was a wide variety of flavors - but oddly served in plastic margarita glasses. We got a basket of chips which are hard to do wrong, though I thought they needed salt, and they weren't that fresh (I've often had still-warm chips at other places). The guacamole (I've had better) was expensive for the amount we were served. The entrees, which I had a bite of, I believe a chimichanga and a taco, were tasty but not anything special. There was one good things culinarily, the nachos. While a small portion, each chip had a nice amount of cheese, meat, onions, and peppers, etc and they weren't soggy. I just wish there were more than 8 chips for the $8.95 price.

To top it all off the server added 18% gratuity to the check—for a party of 5?!—bringing the total for not all that much food and I believe 7 drinks total, to $170. Way to much to be paying at TGI viernes.


Sunday brunch at Pascalou on the upper east side was unique, tasty and reasonably priced. I think my favorite part of our experience was where we sat in the tiny restaurant. In the main floor dining area (there's additional seating upstairs), there is a booth that is a few steps above all the others, with seats acing the front of the restaurant so you can see the other diners and have a nice view out the window over everyone's head. We had reservations (recommended, particularly for brunch) but I don't know if we lucked out with this table or it was specifically requested.

The prix fixe brunch menu ($14.95) includes an entree, drink and dessert. It offers a good variety of standards like Eggs Benedict and omelets, as well as some more 'fusion' style offerings like the crab dumplings I ordered.

The dumplings were Thai-style and served with a peanut sauce (which is why I ordered them in the first place). I was even provided chopsticks. The one-inch diameter dumplings were served in a bowl with plenty of the sauce (enough for me to spoon out extra sauce to enjoy on its own). The salad on the side (which came with each of our meals) was nice with mixed greens but was nothing special. Oddly they served what appeared to be Pringles chips as a garnish for the salad.

Our dessert options were orange sorbet served in an orange peel and chocolate cake. I tried a bite of the cake, which seemed dry, but rich. The sorbet was definitely prepared well in advance, portioned into the orange peel and frozen, which made it hard to handle on the plate. I ended up eating it using a fork to hold the orange in place while I attempted spooning out the sorbet. Tasty, but a bit of a challenge to eat.

Overall this was a great place to dine for a casual Sunday brunch. The service was friendly, the price was right, and the food was unique.

Dining In: Vegetable Lasagna

I'm adding a new feature today wherein I will occasionally post about my own culinary exploits—usually only the successes.

My KitchenAfter seeing BODIES...The Exhibition we didn't quite feel like eating meat for dinner. I made my way to the corner market and picked out a variety of vegetables (an eggplant some zucchini and two portabello mushroom tops) and set out to create something tasty. At home I found some leftover provolone and mozzarella cheese slices and a jar of Patsy's marinara sauce. I was considering some kind of eggplant Parmesan, but decided to attempt a lasagna with all these vegetables layered with the cheese and marinara.

I sliced the eggplant into rounds, 1/4 to 3/8" thick; the zucchini into lengthwise strips, and the mushroom into strips. Then in a 6 by 9 inch pan I layered the vegetables with slices of cheese and poured the sauce over the top. I sprinkled additional shredded cheddar over the top.

It baked for 30 minutes at 375° F and spent a minute or two under the broiler to get nice and bubbly brown. It was delicious. I went back for seconds.

Overall, this was very good and cheap too, all together the total cost of the food used was under $10 (since I got the sauce which usually sells for $10 for free). Plus it was very healthy: vegetarian, low in carbs and fat, and high in protein and fiber.

Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man

Max Brenner, the bald man, is creating a new chocolate culture.

There is a wide variety of good looking food on the menu at Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man and the restaurant is very unique, but there were some things that made me think it is some kind of chain. There's Max Brenner wallpaper and Max Brenner floor tiles, and the "hug mug" (which I'm surprised didn't have a tiny TM on the side). As it turns out, yes, there are numerous Max Brenner locations: two in New York City, 11 in Australia, and more in the Philippines, Singapore, and Israel — of course! I knew I'd seen it before.

The real surprise for me at Max Brenner was the diversity and uniqueness of the cuisine. You'd expect a chocolate restaurant to have some really good chocolate dishes and everything else to be secondary. What I found while dining here was a delicious brunch that really made me think about breakfast food differently.

Who's ever had mustard on a waffle? And mustard from a beaker no less! I tried the Croque Madame Waffles, served with two eggs sunny side up with melted cheddar cheese and smoked ham, as well as the Bavarian Waffles which come with smoked kielbasa sausage cooked with onions and melted cheddar, both served over waffles with a mustard sauce on the side. Both were very good but I preferred the croque madame. The egg yolk and cheese made a nice sauce and were very flavorful, and the mustard sauce added a nice little spice that wasn't overwhelming.

I suppose I should also comment on the chocolate. One Max Brenner specialty is the hot chocolate, of which I had the dark, in the "hug mug." Quite good, very rich and chocolatey. I tried a sip of the white hot chocolate which I found to be too sweet for my tastes, but if you like white chocolate, I'd say it was great. They also serve an Italian hot chocolate which is much thicker than the standard but tastes the same. There are a million other chocolate treats too, of which I had none, but they look very tempting, I'll be back some day I'm sure. Especially next time I'm in Singapore.


You'll feel like you've stepped onto a Aegean isle when you enjoy an evening at Ploes - the ambiance and food make this the next best thing to being there.

Ploes RestaurantDinner at a Greek restaurant in Astoria has got to be authentic, and Ploes is so authentic we couldn't even read the name of the restaurant on its sign: PLOES. The restaurant is decorated very nicely to the effect of a wine cellar. It has an arched brick ceiling and mosaic tiled tables.

We ordered several appetizers for a lighter dinner and enjoyed a carafe of the house red wine. Overall the dinner was good, and exciting! Our first dish was Saganaki, which is imported Greek Kefalograviera cheese, pan-fried in olive oil, then flambéed table-side! The cheese was very good, it came as a slightly crispy wedge probably 6 inches long, and about a half-inch thick. We felt that the brandy used to flambé it and the lemon juice the drizzled over the top added a weird flavor.

We also tried a mushroom saganaki, (manitaria) which was a portobello mushroom grilled with the same cheese and sautéed in red wine sauce. This was delicious and definitely was a favorite. The only thing I noticed was that the cheese slipped off of the top of the mushroom making it hard to cut the two together. I thought it was odd that the cheese was melted on the top of the mushroom rather than the gills. Regardless it was very very good, the sauce was almost like barbecue sauce and was slightly chunky with tomatoes and onions.

Finally we tried a meatball dish served with sliced mushroom and an herb sauce. These were tasty - but we really kept going back to the portobello. They surprised us with a little plate of bite sized backlava at the end of the meal which was a great way to finish a nice dinner. Overall, maybe a little pricey, but sticking with the appetizers kept the bill down and still satisfied our appetite - and the carafe of wine was a great deal!

Zlatá Praha

Whether it is our traditional hearty dishes, good Czech beer or our stylish and original folk decor, Zlatá Praha is your perfect escape to "Europe."

Upon recommendation from my grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Czechoslovakia after World War II, we dined tonight at Zlatá Praha (which means Gold Prague). She knows what she's talking about. This meal was hearty and delicious and it brought me back to family dinners from home - and particularly reminded me of my trip to the Czech Republic a few years back when I dined with some family there on their farm.

The atmosphere in the restaurant was welcoming and friendly. V described it as almost like a church fellowship hall. It was brighter that we expected, dimmer lights and candles on the tables would have made for a more intimate setting. The walls were covered with pictures of Czech people and places and all around the room were mounted deer antlers and hooves (I'd never seen mounted hooves before).

The food was very traditional and home-style. We ordered pirogi (pirohy) as an appetizer which were served stuffed with potato and with onion and sour cream on top. The onions really made these delicious.

For the main course I had HOVEZÍ PECENE NA HOUBÁCH, beef pot roast served in rich mushroom sauce with dumplings. As I said above, it really reminded me of my mom's pot roast, though without the extra vegetables. The dumplings, half-inch thick slices of basically boiled/steamed dough, were good with the sauce, if a little heavy (though I believe that is how they are supposed to be).

My dad said that pork is big in Czech cuisine, so we also tried the stuffed pork cutlet, PLNENÁ PANENKA S NIVOU A ŠUNKOU. This was a breaded, stuffed pork cutlet with blue cheese and ham, served with potato salad. The tasty blue cheese oozed out reminding us of chicken cordon-bleu, and the potato salad was not American-style, which made it good.

We shared fruit dumplings for dessert - this was something my grandma had made for me years ago. They were filled with apricots and covered with a creamy sweet cheese and powdered sugar. We couldn't finish them because the meal was so filling, but they were good.

Overall, this seemed very authentic. The service was slow, reminiscent of Europe, but I think that is the way it should be, allowing time for good conversation and to savor the meal. The prices were very reasonable, with drinks the bill for three of us was only $70.