Tuesday, January 27, 2009


What do pizza and candy have in common? For many, including myself, they are guilty pleasures - the necessary treats in life that make a morning at the gym or opting for the stairs well worth your while. But, for one Carroll Gardens native, they represent a juvenile fantasy becoming a reality. A few years ago, Mark Iacono opened Lucali in an attempt to save an old, neighborhood candy store and his childhood memories from completely disappearing. While sugar treats are no longer the main attraction, the warmth and comfort felt from any trip to Louie's Candy Shop still remain intact. The addition of one large, handmade wood-fired oven might be the only excusable replacement for the soda fountain stools of the past. Mark Iacono has set up shop - and one for all ages to enjoy these days.

Lucali is as basic as it gets - serving pizza and calzones - nothing more, nothing less. Each night, the waitress runs through the fresh toppings of the day for both options. While the many different ingredients are tempting, I warn you to keep it basic - for two reasons. First of all, the cost can actually add up as no real prices are listed on the blackboard menu. Don't worry - you are not going to spend a ridiculous amount of money here. After all, this is pizza we are talking about. But, you will definitely spend much more than expected if you go overboard with the additions. Secondly, my favorite pizza was actually one of the simplest - a regular pie (tomato sauce and mozzarella) with basil and garlic. With such simplicity, the fresh ingredients were really able to stand out.

While the pizza was extremely well-made, I think the calzones are actually the highlight here. And, I am not normally a fan of calzones. In fact, I almost didn't want to order one - especially when learning they were stuffed with feta cheese. How could Greek cheese work for an Italian specialty? But, after braving a decent wait on a cold night and working up quite an appetite, we figured the additional item definitely couldn't hurt. The calzone was stuffed with feta and roasted artichokes - to be dipped in fresh tomato sauce. I loved the thin and crispy dough surrounding the fresh ingredients - all perfectly baked in the wood-fired oven. And, the feta was actually delicious!

Lucali is a great, casual spot for a group outing. It is one of the few BYO restaurants still in existence - a major plus for recessionary times. But, I swear they are really just determined to stick to the candy store basics - avoiding menus at all costs! Given the great setting and solid, affordable food, there will most likely be a wait any night of the week. Not to worry! In true neighborhood fashion, they are more than happy taking your number as you head across the street for a drink at the local sushi bar. Don't let the raw fish and bright lights tempt you! You will soon be in the cozy confines marking the resurrection of Louie's Candy Shop. The smell alone of the wood-fired creations permeating the restaurant will bring a smile to your face. Thank goodness for guilty pleasures.

575 Henry St (at Carroll)
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 858-4086
FOOD RATING (out of 5):

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Where is the TOAST in NYC?

It's the dead of winter. Large, luscious green salads full of farm fresh produce and organic ingredients are far from the mind. Well, I am here to remind you that we are only a few months away from warm days and the resurfacing of salad cravings. Which means, there is limited time to solve NYC's salad crisis.

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend in sunny LA. And yes, while blue skies almost always prevail in southern California, even locals noted that 80 degrees was unseasonably warm and lucky for a January day. The weather sent us straight to Toast - the brunch haven with ample outdoor seating for the young and trendy. No matter the day of the week or the time of day, the menu stays the same - offering soups, salads, sandwiches, eggs, and more. Despite the endless choices (and the name), I looked around and noticed the large bowls of salad dominating most tables - and eventually ours. The setting and the attitude exemplify the laid back nature of the west coast. And, brings me to my exact question and problem. Why are there not more places in NYC like Toast? Ok - it's true. New Yorkers are definitely not as relaxed as Californians, but we still love our brunch - the idea of prolonging and enjoying a midday meal. While Saturday and Sunday brunch menus at our favorite restaurants do present us with many options, these are mostly for breakfast items. I have yet to find a sit down spot that offers a large selection of entree salads. At Toast, not only are there over 12 options for meal sized salads, but you can also order them in half sizes too. No matter the size of your appetite, there is a salad for you here. Just imagine having to choose between the Chicken Chow (a bed of lettuce topped with grilled vegetables, grilled chicken breast, crumbled feta cheese, fresh avocado, tomato and cucumber served with house vinaigrette), the Garden (mixed greens, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, goat cheese, pine nuts topped with strips of grilled garden burger and house vinaigrette), or even the Cobb (a mix of lettuce, oven roasted turkey, avocado, cherry tomatoes, turkey bacon, and crumbled bleu cheese is served with a creamy vinaigrette). And this is just a small sampling of the options!

True - salads are not hard t
o come by in New York. The City is overflowing with salad joints like Chop't, Tossed, and Just Salad. You can mix and match from nearly any ingredient imaginable, but only while waiting in line and then taking it away. I want a restaurant where I can sit down and not have to craft my own salad. A restaurant where I actually have options and am forced to think about which salad to order - and one that will pass for an entire meal. Does this exist in NYC? If it does, I am definitely not in the know and would love to be enlightened! As I sat down to think more and more about this apparent salad crisis in NYC, I started thinking about my favorite salads in the city. Westville's Greek salad. The Smith's grilled steak salad. Ocean Grill's seafood cobb. Hundred Acres' herbed chicken breast salad. Yet, these are all stand alone dishes on menus full of more traditional brunch and lunch fare.

Time is ticking as spring approaches. So, I have two propositions. 1) For those of you who have always wanted
to open up a salad-centric, sit-down restaurant - serving breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner - now is the time. NYC will be in demand in only a matter of months (and I am already in need). And, 2) for those of you who are laughing at me and already know of a restaurant of this caliber thriving in NYC, please share your secret. All I ask is that the salad crisis be put to rest!

Toast Bakery Cafe
8211 West Third St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
FOOD RATING (out of 5):

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Noodle Pudding

Does pasta come to mind? Perhaps, dessert? Maybe just confusion. If you are a fan (as I surely am) of the NY Times' Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist, you may have just stumbled upon last week's recipe for Noodle Pudding - his attempt to turn leftovers into dessert. While very intriguing and somewhat appetizing, I found it even more baffling that this silly combination of words keeps sneaking into my life. I spent last Saturday night dining at Brooklyn's very own Noodle Pudding - an authentic and low key Italian restaurant located in the heart of Brooklyn Heights. It is hard not to laugh at the name - which, for me, was part of what got me excited to head there. Say it three times and I dare you to keep a straight face. How can you not already love a place whose name automatically brings a smile to your face? But, Noodle Pudding or not, the food really will keep you grinning throughout the night. This is some of the best prepared, reliable Italian food I have come across in NYC. What you see on the menu is what you get - guaranteeing your old favorites from Italy will be a surefire hit.

With such an affordable menu - both for food and drink, this is a great spot for a group. And, they actually take reservations for parties of six or more. In addition to the regular menu, there is a large selection of nightly specials. At a table for six we were able to try a great variety of starters - all of which did not disappoint. These included stuffed mushrooms, asparagus wrapped in a soft Italian cheese, grilled octopus with new potatoes and parsley, prosciutto wrapped around grilled pink endives topped with Parmesan, and sauteed shrimp with white beans and garlic. While basic, every dish was full of flavor and delivered all that was promised. My favorites were the endives and asparagus. Although pink endives are nearly identical in taste to the regular ones, I loved trying them. And grilling these bitter vegetables while adding both ham and cheese to the dish is one of the best preparations I have had. I really do just love anything with Italian cheese - the true reason that the asparagus dish came to life.

We all ordered our own main, but of course ended up passing each dish around the table. This is definitely the kind of place where a simple spaghetti and meatballs could be the winner. We all stuck to the reliable favorites and spent the meal trying to convince each other we had each chosen the best dish. There was tagliatelle bolognese, lasagna bolognese, gnocchi with butter and sage, short ribs with polenta, penne with eggplant and mozzarella, and (a little less traditional, a special of the evening) cavatappi with green olives and lamb ragu spread across the table. It is hard to say which we liked best, but easier to say that we really loved them all. The short ribs perfectly fell off the bone into a bed of soft polenta and winter vegetables - making me very curious about the rest of the meat dishes on the menu. And, I do know I will definitely always order the tagliatelle bolognese (a basic meat sauce) on future visits.

At the end of the meal, we had sampled and consumed more than a fair share of food - leaving no room for dessert. I am even ashamed to admit that we were not all able to finish every dish. The portions are extremely generous - especially when noting the affordable prices. I only wish I had read Bittman’s article before going. Had I known his interpretation of Noodle Pudding, I would have asked for our leftovers to go - an easy way to eventually indulge in a little dessert. While I am pretty sure that is not the Noodle Pudding the Minimalist had in mind, I do think he would appreciate the simplicity and authenticity of this Brooklyn establishment. Noodle Pudding (new definition): simple, tasty, and affordable no matter which way you try it.

Noodle Pudding
38 Henry St
Brooklyn, NY 11201-1338
Phone: (718) 625-3737
FOOD RATING (out of 5):

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Say "42nd Street." Times Square and Grand Central - two landmarks evoking the hustle and bustle of NYC - immediately come to mind. Say it with a British accent and you have Tudor City - one of the City's hidden gems that I only recently stumbled upon. Of course, food was the reason that brought me there, but this is a part of town that is definitely worth checking out with or without your stomach's command. However, I highly recommend killing two birds with one stone - having an excellent meal and checking out NYC's very own "Little England." Convivio, an upscale Italian restaurant located in the former L'Impero space, is Tudor City's main attraction. The rest of this quaint alcove in midtown is made up of residences built in the 1920s that reflect the architecture of England's 15th century Tudor dynasty. This is the ultimate easy and tranquil escape from the City - several quiet blocks with just one amazing restaurant. One step in Tudor City, you may even think you have stepped off the island!

While the exterior of Convivio takes you back several centuries, the interior has a much more modern, sleek look. You get the best of all worlds - England on the outside, America on the inside, and Italian in your stomach. The contemporary setting dresses up the atmosphere and the attitude - this a definite stop for an occasion. The menu offers sfizi (small plates), antipasti, primi, secondi, and contorni (sides) - traditional Italian options. However, the chefs know how to gussy up tradition - using ingredients that are exotic and prepared together to produce extremely innovative dishes. In Italian restaurants, I find it hard to pass up on pasta - and, with such inventive options - it was even more difficult to turn them down. The whole table felt the same way and made it a pasta night - much to my approval. To offset the heavy and hearty primis, we shared a few small plates to start - grilled porcini and chanterelle mushrooms cooked in red wine and burrata with roasted tomatoes, basil, and olive oil served with grilled country bread. Both preparations only heightened my love for two of my favorite ingredients - mushrooms and the uniquely smooth mozerella. We were pleased with the small portions as the dishes were not only full of intense flavors, but also left us with plenty of room to enjoy our main courses.

Onto the main attraction - the pastas! I will start with the most unique - the sardinian saffron gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin. These are tiny coiled gnocchis (a shape I had never seen before) topped with a tomato based saffron sauce. As with the traditional pasta dumplings, these melt in your mouth with the perfect amount of crab and a dash of crispy sea urchin - a great balance of flavors. We ordered another unique seafood pasta dish - cod ravioli topped with sweet sausage and broccoli rabe pesto. I was nervous that this might be too fishy, but I ended up loving the smooth texture of the cod which was complemented by the bold meat and vegetable flavors. But, the best dish of the evening was the Tortelli D'Amartice - translation: Lover's Pie. And, yes I am in love with these large, flattened tortellinis (pies, not so much) stuffed with pork jowl, tomatoes, and onions. Talk about melt in your mouth! This pasta is an absolute must - and, while extremely rich, the entire plate was devoured. We were definitely thankful we had not over ordered at the start of the meal.

That just meant there was room to overdo it at the end. And, to be fair to both the chocoholic and the caramel lover at the table, we ordered two desserts - the crostata and the budino. The spiced apple tart was topped with a walnut crumble, caramel gelato, and caramel sauce - impossible not to enjoy the combination of these ingredients. Even more decadent, the warm dark chocolate pudding was paired with hazelnut gelato and candied hazelnuts. Ok - we officially overdid it. But, it was definitely worth it. That is the beauty of Convivio - you can eat like an American while still appreciating Italian delicacies. And, at the end of the night, you can walk outside and, with (or even without) a few glasses of wine, feel like you just might run into Henry VIII, or at least one of his wives. Move over Koreatown, Little England is here to stay in Midtown.

45 Tudor City Pl
New York, NY 10017
Phone: (212) 599-5045

ATING (out of 5):

Monday, January 12, 2009


So as you know, any restaurant I write about is definitely worth a trip (or two)! These are all restaurants I have enjoyed, otherwise, I wouldn't waste your time (or mine) writing about them. But, I realize it would be helpful to be able to rate the food at the restaurants I visit. I have now put the Roach Rating System in place at the end of each post - starting yesterday with Pylos. On the right hand column of the blog, you will now always find a key that indicates what the ratings actually mean. Since this is a new feature, I will lay out the system here too...

1 Roach = Good
2 Roaches = Very Good
3 Roaches = Excellent
4 Roaches = Amazing
5 Roaches = Out of this World

If you are wondering how I would rate any of the restaurants that I have already visited, feel free to leave me a comment below that post, and I will respond with a Roach Rating!

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Meeting your significant other's mother is one thing. But, meeting their mother, one of her best friends from college, and her friend's daughter all in one sitting takes going out to dinner to a new level. This is either every guy's dream - an evening with 4 women - or every new girlfriend's nightmare. I was recently given the task of finding a place where this exact event could take place, and, as smoothly as possible. Basically, I was on a mission for a restaurant that would be easy on the ears (while still in a fun setting), reasonably priced, and most importantly, provide a great selection of food. And, in the end, I knew that the success of the evening would come down to the perfect balance of all three. In Greece, it is believed that the perfect feast relies on both the food and the company - the ultimate goal of the evening. A trip to Pylos, an authentic Greek restaurant in the east village, sent us halfway around the world - constantly reminding us of their philosophy of the importance of good living.

The comforts of the welcoming and bright interior immediately eased any initial nerves of new encounters. With clay pots dangling from the entire ceiling and white walls filled with blue shuttered windows, there was no question of the ethnicity of the food we were about to order. As in traditional Greek feast fashion, Pylos' menu is best enjoyed through sharing which was probably a relief for all parties involved. What a person orders can reveal a great deal about their personality - the perfect test for any protective parent - and this was easily avoided as we placed an order for the entire group. The dishes on the menu range from the most traditional Greek fare to more adventuresome, gourmet plates. Wanting a taste of all and in the attempt of discretely getting to know each other through food preferences, we ordered from all ends of the spectrum.

For starters we ordered the classic Greek salad, fried zucchini and eggplant crisps, grilled octopus, and their "light as air" meatballs - a great assortment covering nearly all food groups. The salad was prepared with fresh tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, capers, kalamata olives, feta and tossed with a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar. Although basic, the ingredients were extremely fresh and light. On the other hand, the octopus, their signature appetizer, is a much bolder dish. This meaty seafood is grilled, evenly charring the exterior, and topped with a balsamic reduction sauce that brings out its unique flavors. But, our overall favorite was the fried zucchini and eggplant rounds - perfectly battered and served with tzatziki sauce.

We made the same moves for our mains - a sampling of meat, fish, and vegetables. Our simplest dish was the classic whole fresh fish dressed with olive oil and lemon juice - a wonderful, light platter made for sharing. I loved the marinated grilled baby lamb chops that were served with mini stuffed eggplant and roasted potatoes. Normally there are only 4 chops in an order, but per the waitress' suggestion, she made sure there were 5 on the plate. This was a great call since I am not sure who would have sacrificed their portion (reminder: 4 hungry females, 1 Navy-serving male). Our final main which felt less Greek, but was nevertheless very well prepared, was the braised short ribs in a red wine sauce on a porcini mushroom potato puree. And, if that was not enough, a side order of papates psites - roasted potatoes seasoned with lemon, oregano, and garlic - was a must. The flavors and crispy preparation were wonderful.

It is hard to imagine how the night could not be going well after being able to share all of this wonderful food. It may have been one thing if the waitress had not brought the 5th chop, but luckily she was on her toes all night - a huge help in the selection of this greatly balanced feast. And, no feast is complete without a sweet ending. We shared a chocolate mousse spiked with ouzo and a plate of Galaktobourekakia. The word alone is amazing and, once again, reminded me of just how Greek Pylos really is. Try saying that a three times fast (or even just once) and you've earned a delectable plate of phyllo triangles filled with custard and drizzled with cinnamon and mountain honey. While it was a delicious dish, I definitely know why few people actually speak Greek as a second language. But, I am not as sure why more people do not live by the Greek philosophy - a task not nearly as difficult. All it takes is great company and great food and you have yourself some Good Greek Living - a recipe for success whether you are with old family or even just a new acquaintance.

128 E 7th St
New York, NY 10003-6100
Phone: (212) 473-0220
FOOD RATING (out of 5)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Harvest Supper

Small plates are in. There is no question about that. But, tapas normally signal some sort of ethnic cuisine - originally Spanish, and more recently, Italian among others have been following suit. And now, new-American tapas have entered the scene! Harvest Supper, from the creators of New York City's Jewel Bako, brings this trend to New Canaan, CT - a simple hour's escape from the city. A former pizza joint has been completely transformed into a cozy farmhouse setting offering seasonal plates on a frequently changing menu. When I was there just after Christmas, they were still serving the late Fall menu. While I fear that many of the items will no longer be offered on their next menu, I am certain that the new offerings will meet the high standards they have already set.

I recommend ordering three dishes per person. And, it just so happens that the menu is categorized into three sections: salads/cold dishes, seafood/pasta, and meats. For those who like variety, one from each is the perfect combination. There was not a person at our table that ordered poorly - and that is almost unheard of when each person is charged with ordering so many dishes - and, in the end, 12 dishes were brought to the table! The success of each plate speaks to the expertise in both the conception of the dishes and the chef in the small kitchen. They also actually understand the concept of small plates - providing portions that are truly reasonable - never too much, and at the same time, never not enough. The moderate prices do the same - showing that a balance between food portion and cost can actually exist.

My favorite of the cold starters was the tuna tartare. The chunks of tuna were extremely fresh and topped with paper-thin potato chips all dressed with a crisp balsamic vinaigrette that made each bite extremely light. This was a great start for heavier items to follow. The beet salad was also a huge success - but this did not stand out as anything too different from a traditional serving of this dish. For the seafood section, the rock shrimp over pearl barley with roasted artichokes and tomatoes as well as the sausage stuffed squid over black ink risotto were both very well prepared. I normally associate rock shrimp with Asian fusion dishes and was nicely surprised by this hearty, new-American preparation. And, while sausage stuffed anything is usually a winner in my books, squid can go either way. Luckily, they nailed both with this dish. The best category, we saved for last - the meats. Each dish - ranging from crispy quail to duck to ribs - was amazing. The winner were the lamb ribs served medium rare over a bed of lentils. Second prize goes to short ribs which smoothly fell off the bone onto a bed of roasted Brussels sprouts and farro.

So I lied. In the end, we ended up ordering 14 dishes. Even though I do not have the biggest sweet tooth, my motto after a wonderful meal is that there is only one way to prolong it! But, we definitely did not each need our own and so we decided upon two desserts - the chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream and the coconut and kumquat sorbets. While we all immediately jumped at the bread pudding which was indeed delicious, the kumquat sorbet ended up gaining nearly all of my spoon's attention. I would have never guessed that this unique fruit would make such a great sorbet - only confirming the actual need for both dessert and trying new things. And so, if you really want to try something new - try taking a break from the city and heading up to Harvest Supper. Grab some friends, a loved one, or even a new date. Now's the time to share a train ride, an adventure, and some delicious plates.

Harvest Supper
15 Elm St.
New Canaan, CT 06840
(203) 966-5595

Monday, January 5, 2009


There has been much to celebrate of recent. Whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, or even Kwanzaa, festivities always take over the month of December. And, most notably, the end of 2008 rang in more excitement than the average New Year's Eves as we all put to rest one of the toughest years in recent memory. Amidst all of the celebrating, one of my nearest and dearest friends faced another birthday - an event that too often gets lost in the shuffle of the change in years. This year, we were determined to ring in her new year as festively and memorably as the rest of the events taking place all month. Since we knew we would be meeting up with a large group of friends for a party later in the evening, the real pressure was choosing a spot for 6 girls to enjoy dinner and drinks while not breaking the bank. The Bowery Hotel's Gemma ended up being the perfect way to kick off the night.

With barely one foot in the door, I was nicely surprised by the rustic and welcoming decor of the restaurant - immediately changing my preconceived notions of NYC's trendy new hotel scenes. Look up, and the wood paneled ceilings are covered with hanging, woven baskets. Look left, you will catch a glimpse of a massive wax sculpture simply created from burning one candle on top of another. Take a seat, look right, you realize you are actually dining in a large space and seated farther from your neighbors than in most overcrowded New York restaurants. And, as I looked forward, I was thrilled to be dining at an intimate, semi-circular booth where we could all actually take part in each conversation. While there is so much to take in, there is just as much to settle into and truly enjoy a group outing.

The food and prices were as comforting as the setting! With a selection of antipasti, cheeses, meats, pastas, pizzas, and more, everything is great for sharing. Most dishes are what you find on traditional, rustic Italian menus and very solidly prepared. To start, I recommend the burrata caprese as well as the baby arugula, grape tomato, and parmigiana salad. Burrata and arugula are two of my favorite ingredients and, preferably with the most basic preparations. For those of you not familiar with the cheese, burrata is a blend of mozzarella and cream - creating a soft, buttery texture - how can that not be delicious? There was also a prosciutto and fig special that we shared - another typical, yet unbeatable combination.

For variety, we ordered up three very different mains - the cod, a four seasons pizza, and a tagliatelle dish. The fish and pasta outshone the pizza which was tasty, but did not stand apart from other brick oven pies. The tagliatelle was topped with an oxtail ragu and fresh ricotta. Although simple, the dish was very rich and hearty - oxtail being extremely flavorful. The cod was roasted and served over braised Swiss chard, sauteed mushrooms and barley in a white wine reduction sauce. This took me by surprise as one of the best dishes of the evening as it was the most atypical dish of the rustic menu. The fish was perfectly cooked, seasoned, and balanced with the winter vegetable accompaniments.

Six girls, three starters, three mains - and (I won't deny it) one dessert later, and we were perfectly satisfied - ready to continue to our next festive destination. We had overcome the big birthday dilemma of dining out with a group both reasonably and enjoyably in NYC. As another holiday season has come to a close, I am not going to pretend that it will be months before the next celebrations. Today is a best college friend's birthday (Happy Birthday Eli!). In a single day, yesterday, I learned that my very oldest childhood friend got engaged over the weekend (woohoo Snooz and James!!) and that one of my best high school friends also accepted and is taking the plunge (finally, but we are all so psyched S and ACA!!). And, sadly, later this week, we are sending off a close friend who has lived in NYC since the month I first arrived as she makes the move up to Boston. Yes - celebrations in 2009 are only just beginning. I have a feeling we are all going to make 2009 be more than divine!

335 Bowery
New York, NY 10003
Phone: (212) 505-9100