Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rouge Tomate

America, meet Rouge Tomate - the latest European import straight off of Fifth Avenue. No need to window shop past this one. There's room for all styles and sizes inside - as long as you are willing to check all insecurities at the door. I do think this restaurant was strategically placed. This may be a first-time experience where you feel so good after eating a three course meal that you head straight over to Madison and try on those clothes you were eyeing earlier. Originating in Brussels seven years ago, the restaurant has finally found its second home in New York City. My only question is why it has taken so long to get here?! In an age where obesity headlines American news, this is just what the neighborhood, city, and country ordered.

Rouge Tomate is the spa of all restaurants - focusing on balance and health in its food. Their concept dispels the myth that high-end dining is bad for you. I definitely feel that eating out too much (basically not being able to control ingredients) is why Americans are so unhealthy. And, let's be realistic - who really goes out and stops themselves from finishing off an amazing dish even though they are well aware that the portion could probably feed a small family? Well, head over to Rouge Tomate and you no longer have to rely on willpower. You can finish off an entire meal and not feel guilty about it. The chefs, working with nutritionists on each and every dish and drink, prepare everything so that you no longer have to think about being unhealthy. For just one meal, you can turn off your brain and let your stomach do the talking. And, the chefs guarantee to answer with balanced, delicious, and even hearty dishes - a combination that is truly hard to come by.

The best part about the experience is that it's not in your face trying to be healthy - that would be a complete turn off for me. I still like to envision a chef with butter, oil, and sugar running between burners. While this may not be the case in this kitchen, the menu looks like any other - offering everything from red meats to pastas to foie gras. However, I did love knowing deep down that no matter what I ordered, it wouldn't haunt me on the beaches of Charleston the next weekend. Since I can get beer or wine anywhere, I decided to start off with one of their signature juices - the Green Tornado - tarragon, spinach, butter lettuce, fennel, mint and lemon juice. My curiosity took over and I had to order it. Since it was front and center on the menu, I guess I should not have been surprised when it was extremely refreshing and tasty - basically a crisp, green lemonade.

The starters were my favorite part of the evening. We shared spring pea risotto, tuna poke, and white asparagus. The Tombo Tuna Poke was served with sugar snap peas, honshimeji mushrooms, jicama, and sesame. This was delicious. The raw fish was extremely fresh and cut into large chunks mixed perfectly with the bold flavors of the vegetables. I also loved the warm white and green asparagus with black trumpets, farm egg, dandelion, and Banyuls vinaigrette. This was a very hearty and slightly deceptive dish - making me think twice about how they could have possibly prepared it in such a healthy manner and yet, taste so good. But, the key at Rouge Tomate is to trust the chefs - and this was my first reminder to keep doing just that. The mains continued to be almost as baffling. While they all were extremely fresh and well-balanced, it amazed me how the chefs truly brought flavors together, again allowing the mind to forget about the restaurant's underlying mission. For those who like whole fish, the whole brook trout stuffed with wilted arugula and served with french green lentils, capers, and citrus gremolada is an excellent option. While served whole, the fish is deboned and extremely delicate and moist. I was also really impressed with the fettuccine with morel mushrooms, fava beans, parsley mint pesto, and toasted almond - spring is in the air (and plate)! It's impossible for me to pass up anything with the combination of fava beans and mint.

Now, at this point in the evening, some diners may claim to be full. Others, like myself, will admit to being full, but with a tiny section open for dessert. I recommend making room for a taste or two more - as the final touches are very good, yet modest in size. As mentioned earlier, stop thinking and just enjoy. Have faith in the chefs of Rouge Tomate as you can certainly handle one last innocent splurge. For the fruit lover, go for the Meyer lemon custard on olive oil cake served with frozen yogurt parfait and blood oranges. The chocolate lover should opt for the caramelized banana napoleon served with roasted banana sorbet and hot cocoa. Both are great, but certainly will not set you over the edge - and that's a promise. That dress down the street is still calling your name.

Like any great spa, there were numerous personal touches throughout the evening that made the entire experience memorable and borderline addictive. Yes, I will definitely be heading back to Rouge Tomate for more pampering in the near future. While the amuse-bouche at the start of the meal definitely set the stage, the palate cleanser before dessert certainly sealed the deal. Since I can admit I will never be able to rely on willpower when in the face of gourmet food, it's nice to know I can head to a spot where I can turn my brain off, but still be kept in line. Spa and dinner for the price of one. Now that's a recession deal if I've ever heard one.

Rouge Tomate
10 E. 60th st.
New York, NY 10022
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flea Market Cafe

It's Tuesday. Last weekend is already a distant memory and this weekend couldn't feel further away. People always talk about the Sunday or even Monday blues. But, let's admit it, the Tuesday blues rank right up there - especially when it's cold and rainy with May just a week away. And, between 60 Minutes and Gossip Girl, the first few nights of the week aren't half as bad as some make them out to be. But, Tuesday really is a tough one. It's a night of the week when I feel like I should still be staying in - cooking and saving money - well, at least saving up for my plans later in the week. But, in all honesty, by Tuesday, I am usually ready for a night out of my apartment. And, what better way to get through the week than head out for a low key outing? Well, thanks to the recession, the Flea Market Cafe in the east village has made it possible for you to enjoy a Tuesday night out - and without the guilt!

Forget pretending like the new 90210 is remotely decent. Get out and head to this quaint French cafe for all-you-can-eat mussels and fries - an offer available only on Tuesday nights. For $18.50, you are served all the mussels and fries imaginable, in addition to a glass of red wine, white wine, or beer. Few could argue that isn't a bargain since a standard glass of wine is nearly that amount alone these days. And, the best aspect of the deal is the variety of mussels offered. There are 4 choices: marinière (Chablis, shallots & herbs), roquefort and brie (chablis, roquefort, & brie), thailandaise (coconut milk, chablis, & green curry), and provencales (tomato, garlic, parsley, & chipotle pepper). There is really no reason not to sample all of them - especially since each one is very flavorful and different. And, trust me when I tell you that the roquefort and brie is a must as this was definitely an unexpected surprise for me. My other favorite was the classic marinière - but, the real treat was being able to try all and then go back for more on the favorites.

While I am the first to embrace a deal, I usually shy away from "all you can eat" specials. We all know I love to eat. But, I really do find that one serving (especially American ones) is definitely more than enough. And, typically, it's pastas, pizzas, or some other heavy food that is offered in bulk - and so I, unlike my male counterparts, can never really take full advantage of those deals. However, I think the Flea Market Cafe has it figured out - and I'll attribute that to their very European feel. It's probably the same reason "French Women Don't Get Fat." Mussels are not the most filling of dishes - until, of course, the pot is bottomless. I can proudly say that I got my money's worth from this special. While I didn't go for a refill on the fries (it was actually hard to hold back since they are the perfect French frites), I, along with the rest of my group, managed round two with the mussels.

Did I mention how much I love Tuesdays? Consider this the new hump day, for food at least. This is a great way to get a jump start through the week. And, now you can stay home Wednesday night - keeping on track with Lost (or getting caught up on 90210 if you really have fallen for it). Before you know it, the weekend will have practically arrived. After all, summer really isn't too far away. And, in warmer times in NYC, we all know that Thursday officially marks the start of any great weekend.

Happy Tuesday!

Flea Market Cafe
131 Avenue A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 358-9280
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Millie's, Gilly's, and Bernie's

I try not to judge a restaurant by its name. But, I have to admit that I can't help feeling naturally drawn to one named after an actual person. There is just something really personal about it - something that begs me to enter the front door and learn the actual story behind the name. Or, at least, learn about the food behind the name. My affection for personally named restaurants also goes back to my upbringing in Richmond, VA. It was there that I was introduced to Millie's - my very first gourmet restaurant. Even though I know it's probably not the case, I really felt that I, at age 12, had been the one to discover it! I still feel like I can call this restaurant my very own - making that particular place and name that much more personal.

It is amazing to see that 15+ years later, Millie's is still going strong (much to my credit, I'm sure). The restaurants roots are actually Californian - starting in the 1980's in LA when owner Paul Keevil bought a tiny diner named Millie's from a couple, Millie and Jack. It quickly overcame its diner image with the inventive, gourmet cuisine he began producing. When he moved to Richmond, Paul took both the atmosphere and his culinary expertise with him. Located near the old row of tobacco warehouses along the James River (an area I used to fear going to, but now completely appreciate), Millie's definitely still has a casual diner feel - booths with individual jukeboxes, stools at the counter, and an open kitchen. The food, however, is anything but dineresque. The menu changes daily, but offers everything from Southern to Asian to Italian to Mexican. It is one of those places where everything looks so appetizing on the menu, so I usually end up ordering two starters for my meal. While the menu does so often change, look out for repeats. If spotted, do not pass up the crispy duck spring rolls with orange hoisin and cucumber salad or the seared sea scallop with asparagus risotto and ginger-carrot broth. Both are starters, but together make a great, filling meal. One of my favorite main courses which is actually so popular that it is almost always guaranteed on the menu is the Thai spicy shrimp with asparagus, shitakes, lime, red cabbage, cilantro, and peanuts over soba noodles. You really cannot go wrong with anything ordered. There are truly few spots where the energy level and quality level have been able to stand the test of time - and Millie's, making its way from west to east, really is one of them.

For years, I, along with close friends and family members, have been trying to get my mother, aka Gilly, to start a catering business. She (well, her cooking and love for food) is basically the reason that I was drawn to frequenting and discovering top-notch restaurants. Her kitchen could take on any of my NYC favorites any day of the week. And, last weekend during Easter, she did just that - boasting her amazing culinary skills to me once again. Since my sister and I hardly make it home more than three times a year, my mother basically goes over the top with any home-cooked meal. And, our encouragement definitely doesn't stop her. Last weekend, our feasts fell on Saturday night and Sunday for Easter lunch. My mother is capable of cooking all cuisines - and last Saturday at Gilly's, it was Mexican night. She made a filet mignon with a tomatillo-chipotle sauce. This is a great dish for a dinner party. Each plate had a layer of the salsa (so good I wanted to dip just about anything in it) under a lightly fried corn tortilla creating a nest for the beef filet. The filets had been sauteed and broiled for a minute or two with a slice of manchego cheese on top. To accompany such a decadent dish, we made a jicama (pronounced HICK-a-ma) salad with avocado, mint, jalapenos, lime and cayenne. This extremely light Mexican vegetable looks like a turnip, but has a sweet and crisp taste to it. It was a great compliment to the rich beef dish, but both had very nice spice and kicks to go along with it.

Since we were going strong, Gilly continued right on through to Easter morning. I can't remember the last time I spent Easter at home, but it was great to be there. I felt like a kid again as I searched around the house for my Easter basket - and to find it full of malt balls, peeps, various chocolates and jelly beans. Well, there was one indicator that I had grown up. I had to smile admiring the two 3.5 ounce jars of Duke's Mayonnaise sitting prominently in my basket on top of all my candies. There is nothing like Duke's - and sadly, they don't sell it up North. But, with these carry-on friendly jars, my kitchen pantry in NYC just seriously increased in its value! We then sat down to our final feast - Lamb Persillade from the Barefoot Contessa with a side of crispy smashed roasted potatoes and fresh asparagus. The meal was delicious - shouting springtime in both presentation and taste. Now, why is it that I only make it home just a few times a year?

And then, there is Bernie's - the Richmond sandwich shop that brings generations of Virginians together every day at lunchtime. No trip home is complete without a stop at this divey joint located in one of Richmond's many strip malls not far from the University of Richmond. I have no idea who Bernie is, but I like to envision him as a jolly, old man who peaked in college. This place is covered in pennant flags from colleges all over the US. Sure, I had to send them the Middlebury flag, but they immediately placed it right up there with the rest of them. The concept and menu is simple - subs, subs, and subs. Choices are basic - meat, cheese, and hot peppers. Hands down, there is really only one, well maybe two ways to go. Order the Italian (ham and salami) or Salami with cheese and a few hot peppers to give it a nice kick. No need to order more than a half for $3.75 since this is usually more than enough. There is just something about the way the sub bread is toasted and the right amount of ingredients that makes these sandwiches different from any others. If I could find something even remotely close to this in NYC, I might never get homesick again. Although, its fair to say that nowhere in New York would people actually wait 45 minutes, as we did last week, for a sub! But, just think of it as a time to socialize since I have never left there without running into a familiar face.

So next time you are in Richmond or if you need an excuse to get down there, just check out Millie's and Bernie's. You might even want to ring up Gilly- you never know what she will be serving and there just might be room for you at her hot ticketed table. That's the nice thing about names - they are an introduction. Once you learn them, you start to know a place or a person. If nothing else, it's an entryway. And, you never know what you will find behind the name. Certainly, there is a last (and usually a middle) name to follow. But, what I find more interesting is what is beyond the name. A name can only get you so far - it's personality and talent that will take you the distance. Millie, Gilly, and Bernie definitely have it and it's up to you to enjoy it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


In case you hadn't heard, pizza is in. If I had a nickel for every time I have read or heard that comment in the past few months, I could probably pay for an entire pie by now. I have always thought of pizza as a New York staple. However, I think many people have spent years worrying that it is unhealthy and then really only indulge in a slice (or two) late at night. Well, as times get tougher, pizza has never looked better. And, who really cares how it makes you look as long as it tastes great and is light on the wallet.

Spunto, one of the latest additions to the pizza craze, has arrived - warming up the west village as a traditional brick-oven joint. With a large bar up front, brick walls, and booths, the atmosphere reflects the ultimate pizza parlor - the kind of place that every neighborhood would welcome. I can already see myself on a random night grabbing a Blue Moon at the bar and watching as the baseball season unfolds. But, I really recommend grabbing that beer before your friends arrive, and then moving to one of the booths to enjoy a selection of several pies and pitchers of beers. Even if you don't go with a large group, it is possible to order individual pies, all made with the very same thin consistency as the regular ones. However, in all honestly, I would still prefer going with several people. It simply ups the odds of sampling a variety of pies.

Pizza, beer, and salad are truly the perfect trio - and Spunto is a dealer of all three. The salads are great for sharing and made with traditional Italian ingredients that are extremely fresh. We started wih the arugula and bocconcini salad - arugula, bocconcini mozzarella, black olives, seasonal tomatoes, and sweet red onions tossed with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. But, I know you are most curious about the real focus of the evening - the pies. I was overly impressed with these thin-crust brick oven pizzas. The most important aspect for me is the crust and this was perfectly crispy and thin - and never burnt. The next element that they nailed is the cheese - not too much, which definitely reduces the amount of grease and highlights the toppings. Of the three that we ordered, two are musts. The Shroomtown - marinara sauce and cheese with portobello, shitake, and button mushrooms topped with white truffle oil - is delicious. These are all the flavors that I love together in one pizza. The Big Pineapple - marinara sauce and cheese topped with fresh pineapple, smoked bacon, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil - is a different option from what I would usually order on a pizza, but I was nicely surprised by it and truly loved it. Again, they do not overload it with toppings. The chefs at Spunto are all about consistency - and they even know how to manage that on pies with 4+ ingredients.

Whether it's to sample several other intriguing pizzas on the menu or to create my very own pie from the inspiring list of toppings, a return trip is already guaranteed. And, whether you want to believe it or not, I truly feel that pizza really does not always have to be an unhealthy option - Spunto being the prime example of this. While it is all about moderation, it is also all about the weight of a slice. Something this thin and crisp will surely keep you in a similar form. As my dad always said when he went on his great no-bread diet back in the '90s, "Stay away from the poof. It's what makes you poofy." Stick to the thin crust and you will be feeling great for the upcoming bikini season in no time.

65 Carmine St.
New York, N
Y 10014
(212) 242.1200

OD RATING (Out of 5):

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I think the team behind Da Silvano is on to something. In fact, I am sensing a new trend, and the opening of Scuderia may be the start of it. As it becomes more and more apparent that the New Depression is here to stay, upscale NYC restaurants are trying to figure out ways to simply stay afloat. While some are offering recession specials and others have been forced to actually close up shop, Silvano Marchetto, Fabrizio Sotti, Leyla Marchetto, and Alessandro Bandini, let's call them Team Silvano, have discovered a new way to not only survive, but to also prosper. So what's their secret (and what's this new trend that I'm predicting)? Opening a restaurant outlet - a discount dining haven! The key to success is advertising the new spot through both the loyal diners and the brand of its well-established, upscale original restaurant.

While Scuderia is not an overly cheap night out, it certainly offers significantly lower prices than Da Silvano, located directly across the street. Sixth avenue between Bleecker and Houston may as well now be known as Team Silvano Row - home to Da Silvano, Da Silvano Bistecca, and now, Scuderia. Da Silvano has been prospering as a celebrity hot-spot in the West Village since its opening in 1979. But, as we all know, times are changing. It's now time to cater to all New Yorkers - and why not do it all in one block? Team Silvano has done just that hoping to attract its loyal customers and beyond.

When you walk through the doors of Scuderia, it is apparent - mission accomplished. You will immediately think to yourself, "What recession?" This place is hopping. The location, the price, the drink, and the food are right. And, its sister across the street can vouch for it. Although, don't expect to be able to hear your neighbor or the specials of the evening as happy, well-served diners tend to be more vocal and carefree. At least they recognize the high volume in the room and provide each table with its own blackboard of daily favorites. The menu offers everything from paninis to pastas to pizzas to hearty dishes - all at very reasonable prices. We began the evening with the brandade special served with grilled country bread. I am a huge fan of this puree of cod, olive oil, and milk and was very impressed with this version of it. Another great starter to share that can be found on the regular menu is the arancini di riso - fried rice balls with beef ragu.

For the main courses, I was most impressed with the pizza and pastas - all very affordable and very homemade - all in all, a very rare combination. The pepper pappardelle with beef cheek ragu was extremely rich and full of flavor. We also tried the special pasta of the evening - tagliatelle with baby clams and ramps. Not only was this a delicious dish, but it made me very happy to realize that it's officially ramp season. Spring is actually here, even if it doesn't quite feel like it yet! And, finally, one of my favorite items on the menu was the pizza Occhio di Bue with mozzarella, pecorino, spinach, pancetta - topped with a fried egg. This is a truly European dish - and one that Americans often shy away from. I promise, the egg is what every great American pizza is missing.

So, keep an eye out for new restaurant outlets opening near you. It will only be a matter of time before the next well-known culinary team sets up its very own discount shop. And, if they are smart, it will be within a stone's throw of their original space. After all, it is most important to keep your customers in close proximity in eager anticipation of the days when the economy starts to pick up again. If Isaac Mizrahi did it for Target and Martha Stewart can proudly showcase her name at K-Mart, successful restaurateurs need not be shy. Thomas Keller, I hear there is a vacant space in the Time Warner Center. It's finally ok to admit that it pays to be trendy.

10 Downing Street (on 6th Ave @ Houston)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 206-9111
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, April 6, 2009


If People Magazine had a Star Tracks section for bloggers, last week's issue would read: Spotted at Txiktio! The Wednesday Chef, The Blue Hour, and The Hungry Roach enjoy an evening out in Chelsea doing what they do best - discussing and eating their fair share of excellent food. Not that I really consider myself to be on the same level as the other two in the celebrity blogging world, but I was definitely in great company last week and still riding high from the success of the joint collaboration on Five Leaves. And, being the restaurant "specialist" in the crew, I was in charge of picking the spot - a welcome pressure for the amateur.

Minus a pretty significant wait for a Tuesday evening, Txikito ended up being a great location for our casual rendez-vous. Similar to its sister restaurants, Tia Pol and El Quinto Pino, the place is tiny! The cozy atmosphere completely contradicts its bland exterior and location on one of the least charming blocks in the neighborhood. A foot in the door and a glass of wine later, ninth avenue is quickly forgotten. The crowded room and kind hostess will actually make you even more eager to forge the wait and be a part of the overly content diners surrounding you.

Instead of serving all variations on Spanish tapas, Txikito sets itself apart by focusing on the Basque region - a more adventuresome area in Spain's culinary world. The menu is divided into canapes, cold plates, and hot plates in addition to a selection of daily specials. Most plates are small and are meant for sharing, however, there are a few that are substantially larger. No need to feel shy about asking - they will definitely steer you in the right direction. I recommend 2-2.5 dishes per person. From the canapes, we shared the tutera - gratin of artichoke, roncal, and jamon as well as the atuna - little sandwich of basque tuna with piquillo oil and sweet onion. I will be honest, I have no idea what "roncal" is (google has not been much of a help either), but whatever it is, it must be delicious. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

While most cold plates were actually salads, we ordered the octopus carpaccio with lemon oil, mayonnaise, and espelette peppers. This was extremely delicate, but full of flavor. I would definitely order this again. From the hot plates section, we shared the mussels and white beans in a white wine, garlic, and parsley broth as well as spicy cross-cut pork spare ribs. Thinking ahead, they serve all plates with thin slices of bread. The sauces with both of these dishes were more than worthy of sopping up several morsels by the end of the evening. My very favorite dish of the night was one of the specials - chickpeas stewed with salt cod and green market swiss chard. This was delicious. And, on top of soaking the bread in this broth, I was ready to pick up the bowl and just drink it. Our final dish, which was also a special of the night, was braised bacon with imported cuttlefish served with roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Pork lovers should not pass this up this dish if seen on the blackboard again!

I am fairly certain we would have been spotted by the end of the evening had we not been seated in the back corner of the restaurant. While there were no paparazzi flashes, I definitely managed to make up for it - taking out the trusty, old Canon Powershot before we devoured each dish. Gone are the day(s) of the Blue Hour's photographs on the Hungry Roach. But, I do sense some sort of triple collaboration in the works. I'm just not totally sure how, when, or where. I can only guarantee you will be reading about it - Txikito, while delicious, was just a tease.

240 Ninth Avenue (25th St.)
New York, NY 100o1
(212) 242-4730
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):