Monday, August 31, 2009


And just like that. I've headed to the upper east side and I've already splurged on a meal. In all honesty, I went to Elio's prior to my confessions of my recent attempts at being on a budget. And, while I'm being completely honest, I would head straight there again tomorrow. Elio's is a New York City institution - and one that I will never hesitate to splurge on to be a part of. I have been going here since my days as a loyal Virginian and when looking around the room, I'm pretty certain that actual newcomers are few and far between. While clientele is typically older, this is still a scene. There is a buzz in the air as both diners and staff seem to be enjoying life to the fullest. And, how can you not when you've happened upon such authentic Italian cuisine that's never changing and not going anywhere?

I am waiting for the day when I make a reservation at Elio's and they actually seat me within five minutes of the actual time I've reserved. But, I have a feeling that day is nowhere in sight - as mentioned earlier, nothing is changing about this place. A glass of wine at the glamorous wooden bar will allow for some stargazing (I can't remember the last time I went without seeing someone famous) and the friendly staff will make up for it at your table- it's just a matter of getting seated. There's a reason this place is so popular and full of energy despite a packed house and long waits. Elio's is old school Italian in New York City at it's best.

It would be a sin to visit Elio's without starting off with their fried zucchini. These are thin, crispy, and not overly fried. Once that order is in, the next decisions are never quite as easy. While the menu is always the same, everything is guaranteed to be delicious. Each dish is always perfectly prepared - always so simply and with no frills. Other starters that I recommend sharing are the raw mushroom salad with fennel andParmesan, the roasted red peppers and anchovies, and the shrimp and white bean salad. One of the great secrets of Elio's is knowing that even if something isn't on the menu, it's still a possibility. On one occasion, when my waiter discovered my love for mushrooms, he brought out a delicious starter of mixed, marinated mushrooms. Whenever I have asked about this dish, it magically appears in front of me within a few minutes.

The main courses are just as enticing - and follow the same rules. If you ask a waiter which dish is best, he will respond by then asking you what it is that you really want to eat. Tell him exactly what you are in the mood for and that too will appear in front of you. On my last visit, it was penne pasta with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil prepared with a medium level of spice. While this may sound rather basic, no matter how closely you look, this is not listed anywhere on the menu. And, each and every ingredient is as fresh as it gets. If you aren't craving pasta, go for the chicken or veal scaloppine - an excellent preparation of this classic Italian dish. Another trustworthy option is always the fresh fish of the day, usually cooked simply with olive oil and lemon.

So while Elio's does not fit into my new fiscal plan, it's not that far off from having your own personal, Italian chef. And in the world of personal chefs, this is more than a bargain. So, you see, it's all relative in the end. Without question, an occasional trip to Elio's will always have a place in my life. While I will never be able to claim being a regular, I will certainly never be a newcomer.

1621 Second Avenue (@ 84th)
New York, NY 10028
(212) 772-2242
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Year Old

Well, it's hard to believe, but tomorrow marks the official one year anniversary of the Hungry Roach! It's been quite a year of eating. But, to be completely fair to myself and my habits, the only difference in this past year and previous years is that I finally kept track of it. And, unlike most years, I actually don't have to work hard to think back on the year. My 2008-2009 journey (through restaurants) is right here before my eyes. And, instead of making you go back through the entire year, I thought I'd hand it you on a silver platter with my very first Top Ten in NYC. As ratings are usually my least favorite part of every post, I am feeling a little more generous on the big birthday and offering this gift of the ultimate ratings to my readers. And, here they are...

1) 10 Downing
2) The John Dory
3) Txikito
4) Socarrat Paella Bar
6) Convivio
7) Boqueria
8) The Smith
9) L'Artusi
10) The Redhead

Now, it's up to you to go back and remember just why they made the cut!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I've always thought of myself as an optimist. While this may be my attempt to balance out my father's notorious pessimism, I like to think that my views really just come down to a reaction to the great "glass is half full" expression. I never want my drink or food to disappear, so I may as well convince myself there is more from the start. Most recently, I have been constantly surrounded by frustrations with the economy, excessive spending on weddings, and the hard-to-resist "summer fun" outings. Well, Taim gives me every reason to see the silver lining of being on a budget. As spending should be tighter than usual, I take comfort in knowing that sticking to a budget does not necessarily mean I have to sacrifice eating well.

This Middle-Eastern west village take-out joint has been making misers happy since 2005. While this is definitely not a new find, this is a spot that continues to attract crowds. In fact, it is more crowded than ever - a sign of the times, but mainly its excellent, consistent cuisine. And, unlike most hot spots, the crowds should not send you running. You will never wait for more than 10 minutes for your order, but don't expect to secure one of the tiny counters inside or one of the few benches outside. I actually recommend embracing the true take-out feature of Taim and heading to a nearby park, your apartment, or even to the Hudson River piers (a quick stroll west).

This is an upscale, but still very affordable falafel joint. The menu is centered around three gourmet mini falafels - green (traditional with parsley, cilantro, and mint), red (roasted red pepper), or harissa (Tunisian spices) - to be ordered as a sandwich or a platter. For both dinner and lunch, I am more than satisfied with the sandwich which is served with your choice of falafel, hummus, Israeli salad, and tahini in a whole wheat pita. Every now and then, I mix it up by substituting the hummus for baba ganoush and adding hot sauce to it. All three flavors are delicious and should be tried at some point. While the platter does cost more, it allows you to sample several of their delicious side salads - my favorites being the green cabbage and tabouli. Another great option is the Sabich sandwich - slices of fried eggplant layered with an organic hard boiled egg served with hummus, Israeli salad, tahini, and amba (mango) sauce.

So I know the pessimist is sitting here, looking at the date and thinking that summer is quickly coming to an end. What will happen as the weather cools off and take-out from Taim and an evening picnic are no longer appealing options? First of all, there is always delivery. While this is not the speediest option, the food is the very same. And, second of all, this just means that we are one step closer to fall - my favorite season. And, when you start to get stressed out when the end of fall is near, I am sure I can help you find reasons to embrace winter - and then it will soon be spring again!

222 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-1287
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, August 10, 2009


New York Magazine is one of the highlights of my week. Whether it's the crossword, the culture pages, the cover story, or even the approval matrix, this rather basic little magazine often occupies my mind for a decent amount of time. After a long day of work, I so often turn to my trustworthy NYMag well before turning on the tv, playing online, or cracking open a book. And, one of the highlights of each year is their Cheap Eats edition - featuring various restaurants as well as types of cuisine that are both top-rated and affordable (basically made for the Hungry Roach).

Well, there is no question - 2009 has been the year of the pizza - and Cheap Eats 2009 ate that right up with an entire feature devoted to the signature New York cuisine. When I saw that Keste had been listed as the #1 pizza of the year, I was first excited since I quickly recognized the name as a spot not far from home that I have walked by several times in the past few months. But, I was just as quickly disappointed as I realized that in my passings I had barely blinked at this tiny new pizza joint on Bleecker. Something about the oddly, brightly-lit interior had kept me walking and now I knew that it's new found publicity would make any stopover far from easy. Before I had even closed up my Cheap Eats edition, the lines had already formed outside of Keste.

After weeks of strolling past a packed sidewalk, and one failed attempt (my growling stomach could not endure the wait one night), I actually made it inside for a meal. And, in all honesty, they told us the wait would be 20 minutes and we were seated within 5 - we were in luck. It was a great start to the evening followed by a delicious fresca salad consisting of baby arugula, grape tomatoes, fresh parmigiano reggiano, and balsamic dressing. I had even forgotten about the bright lights above. However, the pizza had definitely been built up in my mind - and that is where my experience veers from my trustworthy NYMag. Had I allowed my curiosity to lead me into Keste a few months earlier, I have no doubt that I would have been nicely surprised by the extremely authentic Neapolitan pizzas streaming out of the oven - both in smell and taste. But, by the time I made it there, these pizzas were already larger than life - rated #1 in New York Magazine and the lines outside had more than fed the hype. In the end, it was just too late for me - too late to be blown away, except by true perfection.

Once I realized that Keste would not be perfection, I decided it really wasn't too late to enjoy another new pizza joint that serves very good little pies. We had the mini pizza appetizer which consisted of a blend of Italian cheeses and truffle spread - this changes each night and is actually a very nice small size. It was a great option instead of ordering two full pizzas. To try out a traditional pie, we ordered the pizza regina margherita - grape tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Both pies were really very good and I will definitely head back either for take out or as crowds start to die down (although it doesn't appear that will be happening any time soon). I'm just not convinced that This Is It (the literal translation of Keste). But, go see for yourself - it is definitely worth the trip and the faux 20 minute wait. Now that I've taken Keste down more than a notch or two, you will probably love it - lucky you!

271 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 243-1500
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Oh the empty promise of Restaurant Week. That special "week" that comes and goes twice a year in New York City and without fail, always seems to be extended for nearly a month. I guess Restaurant Month doesn't sound nearly as exotic or enticing. Nevertheless, it's still quite easy to fall prey to this biannual event, especially if you are a newcomer. Don't get me wrong, I love a good deal (3 courses for $35 sounds pretty appealing). But, over the years, I have ended up spending much more money than a usual outing while settling for just mediocre options - all in the name of Restaurant Week. The obvious perk - checking out a new restaurant and having an excuse to order all three courses - all too easily outweighed by several drawbacks. Time and time again I find myself disappointed in the 2-3 options per course of the specially crafted Restaurant Week menu. Shouldn't I be struggling (as I do with any of my favorite restaurants) to make my choices from those dishes I have been dying to try? There is no excuse for a mediocre meal in NYC - even if you are somehow saving a few pennies. And, let's be honest - when do you usually order all 3 courses - so are you really saving in the end?

Well, I finally met my Restaurant Week match during a night out at Apiary last month. My positive Restaurant Week experience this year says it all about this east village find. For every course on the prix-fixe menu, the choice was not necessarily obvious - allowing a variety of plates to land on our table. And, when the dishes came out, I was still pleased with them. I will admit that there were many more options on the regular menu that I am now eager to return and try (hamachi crudo, thai beef salad, peking duck breast, and grilled hanger steak to name just a few!). But, based on the great preparation of each dish that we did order, I know that I will be heading back to Apiary to check them out. I guess that is the ultimate goal of each and every restaurant participating in the event - tease the guests in hopes of guaranteeing return customers. It is just hard for me to believe that it has taken me six years of Restaurant Weeks to feel this way.

I started the evening with the artichoke and baby arugula salad with sweet gold cherry tomatoes and lemon. It is hard to top this combination when putting together a salad. On the other hand, I don't normally crave roast chicken in the summer, and rarely even order chicken when I eat out. However, we all know that this summer has had some of the oddest weather in history. And, it just so happened that the night I was at Apiary was that cold, rainy day in July (every New Yorker is probably nodding their head and grimacing right now). It was definitely an unforgettable, odd evening and seeing roast organic chicken with mascarpone polenta, spring peas, carrots and tarragon jus on the menu just about made my night. Although it could feed an army, this dish was every bit as delicious as you might imagine. Just thinking back on the perfect preparation of the chicken, I can easily say that I would even return on a truly warm summer's evening to order this dish. I did manage to take it right back to summer by ordering the trio of ice cream and sorbets for dessert. With another tough option in front of me, I settled on passion fruit and strawberry sorbet with caramel ice cream. For a moment, I was worried that these three flavors would not go well together - but the presentation of three separate, small bowls made my strange combination completely acceptable. And, in the end, the strawberry sorbet was the winner.

So, the big question - am I back on the Restaurant Week train? We did end up at Apiary during this week by coincidence. But, perhaps the week had already been extended and we were lucky enough to reap the benefits. Either way, I went into the night thinking I might have 1-2 nice courses, and ended the night having 3 great ones. Apiary is just completely reliable - solid food, attractive setting, and central to downtown. If Restaurant Week will introduce me to an Apiary every 6 months, then, yes - count me in.

60 Third Avenue (at 11th)
New York, NY 10014
(212) 254-0888
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):