Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dry-mouthed and Smiling

What’s a perfect end to a concert at Carnegie Hall? A big-ass sandwich at Carnegie Deli! Just take a quick walk around the 7th Avenue corner from the world famous concert hall and you will find the place that gave New York City delis a name. Since it’s opening in 1937, this world class deli has enjoyed the patronage of pre and post concert goers as well as anyone hungry enough to take out a sandwich stacked with six inches of meat.

At first step through the door you get a sense that this is no ordinary corner deli. Signed pictures of celebrities and public figures that have eaten there cover the walls like trophies. Everyone who sits down at the 40-seat restaurant is greeted with a free plate of deli style pickles (which I suspect are home-made due to fact that they did not taste quite ready to come out of the jar).

Looking at the long list of sandwiches on the menu, I know there is only one that I truly came for - hot pastrami($14.95). Everyone from popular New York Times critic, Mimi Sheraton (1979), to Dr. Phil have raved about the pastrami; and the fact that the deli pickles, cures, and smokes it’s own meat, I knew I was in for a unique taste. That’s exactly what I got. The salty, spicy, pink beef was bursting with flavor. The rye bread that failed at holding sandwich together only served as a small side to the meat. After two bites the sandwich fell apart. Giving up on eating with my hands, I covered the mess on my plate with spicy brown mustard, picked up the fork and knife, and dug into the medley of flavors.

I’m glad I chose until after the show to take on the Carnegie challenge. With a stomach full of meat and mustard I was asleep in less than 30 minutes but woke up dry-mouthed and smiling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blockheads - A San Francisco Treat

Best bang for your buck thus far- Blockheads! You’ll know it when you see the black and white puppet photos that act as sort of a restaurant mascot. Or look for the tequila bottles that fill every square inch of the bookshelf walls at its Hell’s Kitchen location at 50th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. Cheap food and cheap booze (at least for NYC) with great taste and quality can be found at anyone of its seven locations in Manhattan.

Their claim to fame is in the cooking and ingredients. The menu offers a variety of “San Francisco style” Mexican dishes with fiber rich vegetables and steamed or grilled meats. It also has a sizable vegetarian section and a few dishes that are dairy-free. I ordered the chicken fajita burrito ($12). White rice, red onions, green peppers, and seasoned grilled chicken were protruding out of an eight to ten inch burrito wrap and weighed about a pound. It came with Spanish rice, refried beans, and sour cream on the side. I also topped it with the salsa from the bottomless chips and salsa that is offered at each table. High quality ingredients that the restaurant has claimed to provide could only achieve the rich flavors.

Come for the food, but stay for the drinks. I highly recommend their specialty drink, “Red Nosed Bull-Dog.” A Margarita-filled plastic cup topped with a shot of sangria and a Coronita bottle buried upside down in the whole mix makes for a happy face. Is the Margarita mix cheap? Yes. Does it do the job? Absolutely.

Blockheads did it! Great food, reasonable prices, and cheap drinks. Lunch, dinner, or after hours – it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Big Little Italy

It’s 11 a.m. on a Saturday and already the streets are filled with active crowds weaving from store front to store front. Young, old, families of five, and small groups of college kids brandishing their maroon and white Fordham University apparel. Yes, I’m back in the Belmont community of Da Bronx. It would be completely worth it to spend the rest of the year reviewing each of the 20 Italian restaurants, 13 deli’s, and the 7 bakery’s and pastry shops that thrive from the visitors that regularly flock to area from places as far away has northern Connecticut. But that would be selfish of me, so for now I’ll cover the area as a whole.

I know I’ve done this area before with an earlier entry of Pasquales Rigoletto, but there are some areas you just have to come back to. “The Little Italy of Da Bronx” spans 4 blocks of Arthur Avenue and two blocks across 187th Street. This area offers a touch of authenticity that can’t be matched by the over crowded and commercialized Mulberry Street. Small deli’s and meat markets prepare sandwiches with imported Italian meats and produce. Bakery’s and restaurants bring an old world taste to its patrons that once could only be found somewhere on the boot.

Sampling some of the food doesn’t even require walking into a store. Clam bars wheeled in front of seafood markets are lined up and the down the side walks. Help yourself to raw oysters or clams right on the sidewalk with your choice of sauces. Or enjoy a sandwich, full course meal, or coffee and dessert right on the curb during a beautiful spring day.

The area has also attracted celebrities and media outlets. Bobby Flay has featured world renowned Mike’s Deli on The Food Network. Influenced by the areas abundance of fine Italian cooking Flay created a recipe called, “The Arthur Avenue Burger” which includes an abundance of Italian seasonings. Prominent Italian figures such as James Gandolfini and Rudolph Giuliani have been known to frequent the deli for a hero or a hand rolled cigar. Even a picture of the presence George W. Bush is a hanging centerpiece on a deli wall.

Arthur Avenue is, however, quite removed from Manhattan. Taking the subway through the south Bronx to Fordham Road makes the area well worth the special trip.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Brunch at Isabella's

Open-air and upper class is the best way to describe one of New York City’s most revered restaurants; Isabella’s. It wasn’t quite noon on a Saturday afternoon when I walked into the bright, breezy dining room. Men sipping on dirty martini’s and women with Mimosa filled flute glasses reassured me that brunch in New York is not a lost art. Marble floors, palm trees and thatch chairs had me scouring the bar for Humphrey Bogart nursing a Bourbon Whiskey. The large glass doors that line the perimeter open up to the southwest corner of the Museum of Natural History, creating a unique relaxed comfort only the Upper West side can provide.

The lunch menu and special brunch Eggs Benedict menu screamed gourmet Americana. Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich, Free Range Turkey Burger and Seared Scottish Salmon were all tempting choices, but I put the Grilled Steak Sandwich to the test. Between two pieces of toasted rye bread were medium grilled sirloin steak, mozzarella cheese, watercress and horseradish mayonnaise. The medley of flavors had me anticipating each bite. Accompanied with the sandwich was a serving of beer battered onion rings. Although the onion rings didn’t stand out as anything gourmet, it did compliment the flavors of the lunch.

My fiancé, who is partial to Eggs Benedict, couldn’t help but order from the extensive list of the Benedicts menu. Smoked Salmon, Crab, and Filet Mignon Benedict are unparalleled items on a typical breakfast menu, but it was the BLT Benedict that got the call. An open faced English muffin was topped with lettuce, slice of tomato, thick apple wood smoked bacon, two poached eggs and smothered in creamy Hollandaise sauce.

The lunch menu ranged from $10.50 to $17.50 per plate, but the quality of food and preparation makes it well worth the price. Reservations for Isabella’s are highly recommended. The high quality and unique menu is no secret to local New Yorkers and you can expect a full house at any given time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Galanga; Not so Spicy

Any restaurant fortunate enough to be nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village is almost guaranteed to thrive off of the eclectic vibe that the area produces. Approaching the glass front of Galanga Inc., I could see groups of young crowds with NYU sweatshirts and a mixture of older men nursing cocktails at the bar. I was originally drawn to the establishment by a New York Magazine web article that traces the owners’ history back to Wondee Siam, a renown upscale Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.

From the moment I sat down at the tiny table along the glass front that peered onto the brown brick homes along West 4th Street, I immediately felt uncomfortable. The waitress came to the table stone faced, dropped two menus and asked sharply, “What do you want to drink.” I said, “just water” with an apologetic tone wondering if I had done something to insult her. Fortunately, that was the last words she spoke. Throughout the evening, she somehow took our order, refilled our drinks many times, and presented the check without a single word or facial expression.

The hardwood backless stool made my legs fall asleep after about 20 minutes, and the four square-foot table left us with little room for error. The extremely low lighting created a cave-like atmosphere to the point I could only read the menu from six inches away.

None-the-less, I was in the mood for spicy Pad Thai, and I made a point to tell the waitress of exactly how spicy I wanted it. The faintly spicy Pad Thai was the last straw.

I am completely turned off by what was supposed to be an acclaimed Thai restaurant in an area that rarely disappoints. Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad and the price was right ($10-$15 per plate), but it was no different, in quality or taste, than that of your favorite neighborhood Thai take-out hole-in-the-wall. To top it all off, the inconvenience of cash only extended my dining experience with a trip to the ATM next door.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Prost to Heidelberg

Prost! That’s German for cheers, and there are plenty of reasons to say it at Heidelberg. Located in the Upper East Side on 2nd Avenue between 85th and 86th Street, this is one of the last remaining authentic German restaurants in a neighborhood that once was primarily German. Established in 1936, the family owned restaurant creates a detailed atmosphere that transports you to a cozy cottage in the Bavarian countryside. The wait staff dressed in Dirndl and Lederhosen sashay past the tables with mugs and boots of German beer – yes, boots.

The glass boot became iconic after the movie Beer Fest and still remains a challenge for beer enthusiasts alike. For $26.95 and a $60 cash deposit for the safety of the glass, you can test the strength of your stomach with a 2-liter boot full of beer.

But be sure to save room for dinner. For my main course, I chose the Jagerschnitzel that came with a side of spaetzle and red cabbage. A veal cutlet covered in a brown cream and wine gravy sauce, and topped with sautéed mushrooms melted in my mouth. I used the spaetzle (funny shaped egg noodles) to sop up what was left of the delicious sauce. The red cabbage had a sweet and sour taste to it that didn’t go with the rest of the meal, so I left that alone. Upon completion of my meal, I still had half my boot left, and I realized that it would not only be my appetizer, but also my dessert.

I recommend this restaurant to anyone in the mood for some Bratwurst or boiled pigs knuckle. I was completely satisfied with the promptness and cheery disposition of the German wait staff and the quality of the food they served. Dinner entrées are a bit pricey, averaging $21 per plate, but you will get what you pay for.