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.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pio Pio!

Pio Pio? I asked the waiter if the name of the restaurant means anything in Spanish. Through his thick Peruvian accent he told me, “No, it’s just a name.” I could have very well been walking into a small, low lit, and intimate restaurant in the heart of Lima, Peru. The walls are adorned with traditional Peruvian art against the exposed brick walls in its upper west side location at 94th and Amsterdam.

Pisco Sour is traditional Peruvian drink that was recommended to me, but looking around I noticed everyone had a pitcher of Sangria on the table, so I decided to stick with the trend. Sipping the sweet Sangria, I could have sworn it was juice, but heed warning, it will quickly prove not to be juice. I started with Sebiche. This is a white fish that is stored in limejuice for a period of time and the acid from the lime actually cooks the fish. It creates a unique taste and texture than that of sushi.

My main course was Picante de Camarones, which basically means spicy shrimp. When the plate was placed in front of me, I was a bit disappointed. For $20 I got eight pieces of small shrimp covered in a spicy sauce, and a scoop of quinoa with spinach and goat cheese in the center. The sauce could have been a bit spicier and I would have a like a few more shrimp, but the quinoa did a decent job of suppressing my appetite.

Pio Pio offered delicious Peruvian cuisine, but some dishes were a bit pricy for what you get. I wouldn’t make this a regular stop, but if I’m ever in the mood for deep fried mashed potato’s and Pisco Sour’s, this will be the place to come.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Grub in the Pub

I was in the mood for good beer and good food. I found myself walking into Heartland Brewery located at The Seaport, one of six locations in New York City. It’s not hard to walk into a microbrewery in NYC and find a great hand crafted beer, but what if I want lunch or dinner with that beer? Do I settle for mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers that have become a staple on pub menus, or maybe purchase a growler of ale and head back to the apartment to make dinner? No! I want good food with my good beer, and I think I may have found the answer.

An article in The New York Times argues the need for NYC microbreweries to step up the food the same way they have stepped up the brew. Author Eric Asimov wrote, “It (food) requires thinking of beer as a partner to a meal.” When I opened the menu at Heartland, I found just that. Not all items but a select few had a recommended brew that would compliment the meal accordingly, and not just wings and poppers. Being at The Seaport I felt compelled to order the catfish wrap with a barley wine seasonal brew. A large portion of grilled catfish, lettuce, tomato, and spicy tarter sauce was wrapped in a spinach tortilla and served with a side of Spanish rice.

The grub at the pub is exactly what Eric is looking for. A perfect combination of quality food and select beer has made my experience at Heartland a satisfying one; and with barley wine containing 11% alcohol, I had a hard time wiping the stupid grin off my face. So what would you have for dinner: 02’ Pinot Noir with Canadian Cedar Planked Salmon, or the winter seasonal with catfish?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soul Food in Harlem

It’s two days later and I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach when thinking back on the soul food that did me in. I had such high hopes when I had approached a line that went out the door at Amy Ruth’s in Central Harlem. Friends of mine that are accustom to southern cooking rave about chicken and waffles, and I had considered this the perfect opportunity to embrace a traditional southern dish.

The dinner started with a brick of cornbread and butter that was placed on every table. Baked macaroni and cheese, bar-b-q spare ribs, collard greens, and anything else you can find at a Sunday picnic in rural Alabama is listed on the menu with nicknames of prominent African American figures from Ludicris to Barak Obama. I felt almost criminal spreading butter and syrup all over Reverend Al Sharpton and drinking cherry Kool-Aid that shared the same consistency of the warm syrup. Upon completion of my dinner I immediately felt ill. At first I thought it was just an unconscious shame of what I just did to my body, but a few hours later it all came back up and on my bedroom floor and continued with a series of dry heaves the next morning.

I’ve had food poisoning once before and the same familiar feelings returned to haunt me. I’m convinced that it was the chicken, but it probably didn’t help having fried food, syrup, and sugary drinks. I don’t think I can ever step foot in the place again without feeling nauseous, but for anyone who has a craving for soul food, try the spare ribs and let me know how it turns out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pasquale's Rigoletto, in the Real Little Italy

“This chicken is greasy and tasteless.” These were the first audible words that came from the table behind me as I sat down in the main dining room of Pasquale's Rigolletto located on Arthur Avenue, better known as “The little Italy of the Bronx.” It wasn’t a very encouraging start, but I wouldn’t let it influence my opinion of what the evening would have for my dinner associate and I. The menu offered classic Italian dishes that went fitting with the classic Italian atmosphere of white tablecloth tables with a bottle of house red wine on each. Anyone who sat down for dinner received Italian bread with slices of provolone cheese that had come from the hollowed wheel that had been displayed as a unique centerpiece to the room.

I had decided to challenge the “greasy chicken” head on and ordered the Chicken Florentine. A family size plate contained about a pound of chicken with a layer of prosciutto held together by a francais coating. A generous portion of spinach cooked with garlic and olive oil went perfectly with the white wine and butter sauce that created that ”old world” Italian taste that everyone speaks so highly of. Greasy? Not visibly. Tasteless? Certainly not. Each bite was packed with a buttery white wine flavor and cooked to perfection. It’s possible the table behind me was served a bad batch, but they certainly got the right the second time.

The majority of the main courses average between $18 and $22, and you will most likely have enough to take home. Move over Mulberry Street, authentic Italian experiences exist in the Bronx.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Modern During Restaurant Week

I can’t think of a better way to start my blog than right in the middle of New York City’s “Restaurant Week.” This bi-yearly event gives restaurant goers a great excuse to try restaurants that normally might be out of budget. My selection for this week is The Modern, located at 9 West 53rd Street inside the Museum of Modern Art. This restaurant offers a fine selection of French-American dishes crafted by award winning chef Gabriel Kreuther.

Entering through the street side entrance a frosted glass hallway had bared resemblance to the museum but soon opened up to unique dimly lit black and stainless steel themed décor where I joined three dinner associates at a table in the Bar Room. A three-course prix fixe menu gave us a variety of Alsatian dishes ranging from quail egg to pear and duck consommé. I started with Tarte Flambé. At first taste, the flat bread topped with Parmesan cheese, apple wood smoked bacon, and onions, resemble that of an Italian appetizer. At second taste, the heavy crème fraiche that drizzled on top brought the taste buds back to France. For my main course I chose the red snapper. A heavy cream with lemon, butter, and white wine reduction sauce adorned a cooked to perfection section of red snapper about the size of a playing card. Creamed onions and mushrooms melted in my mouth as it became necessary to finish every bite. For dessert, I chose the Apple Strudel designed by Marc Aumont to complete the meal. A thin slice of warm caramel and cinnamon apple pie was complemented well with a tablespoon scoop of Amaretto liquor ice cream.

Overall, the service was knowledgeable but smug. When requesting a corkage fee, sympathetically she said, “$45,” as if we weren’t going to put a gifted $178 bottle of Sassicaia Bolgheri, 2006, on the table. The meal was rich in flavor and quality but lacked substance. I didn’t leave hungry but wasn’t satisfied with the portion size. For $35 the price was right for this week, but next time I’ll stick to meat and potatoes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

NYC Dining Critique From a Laymen

It would take me over 51 years to eat at a different restaurant a day in the five boroughs of New York City. I don’t have the time or metabolism to take on that challenge, but once a week for the next couple of months I will indulge in the many varieties of ethnic cuisines the city has to offer. From Abruzzese to Yemenite, each neighborhood brings a special contribution to the dining community and enthusiasts alike. I will critique on the overall experience of each restaurant based on a number of different categories.

Ambiance. From the moment I walk in the door I want to feel a sense of tone and atmosphere that compliments the palate. Second, prompt and diligent service with a knowledge of each dish is key to a smooth and carefree dining experience. With so much competition in the city, why return to a restaurant that does not value customer service? Finally, the most important aspect in any restaurant experience today is comparing price to quality and portion. There is nothing I hate more than to leave a restaurant with an empty stomach and an empty wallet.

I would like to stress to the public that I have no background in culinary arts or restaurant management. I’m simply an average person who loves to dine out, but so are most people who take advantage of the wealth fine cuisine the city has to offer. I promise objective criticism that will value visitors and city residents.