Monday, September 28, 2009


Don't let the name fool you on this one. While I love the concept of being able to share small plates, I usually leave a tapas restaurant feeling completely unsatisfied or satisfied, but having spent way too much money. At Poco, where the philosophy is still all about sharing, there is actually nothing little about these Latin American dishes. This new restaurant fits right into Alphabet City with its laid back atmosphere and affordable prices. You can actually average a plate and a half per person and walk away with both a full wallet and belly. And, don't let the traditional tapas items on this menu shape your expectations. Each of my favorite dishes was based off of classic plates, but presented and prepared with a twist.

Halfway through my meal, I realized that Poco is the reincarnation of one of my old favorite east side dives. Upon sneaking downstairs, I was pleased to find that the second bar in the basement is still available for private parties. Whether you are there for a party or dinner, I highly recommend exploring their cocktail menu. The Poco Splash- gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and a splash of cava- was one of the most refreshing mixed drinks I have stumbled upon in awhile. And while that was not a special of the evening, be sure to tune into their weekly offerings as they range from trivia night to cocktails du jour.

Poco is all about having a good time - and the food falls right into this theme. I highly recommend the lobster mac-n-cheese prepared with manchego, parmesan, asiago cheese, topped with crunchy panko. Believe me, for every bite of lobster you score, you will know why it's a must. Another new take on a traditional dish is their calamari- tossed in a honey chipotle aioli and served with roasted piquillo peppers and fresh cilantro. I have never tasted calamari prepared in this way and am now wondering why this isn't the suggested preparation - it was delicious. The other dish you should not miss out on is the skirt steak and manchego cheese lollipops. The accompaniments of sweet onion jam and cilantro pesto take this tapa from one level to the next. And, for a lighter option, I recommend the mango tuna ceviche served with jicama, cucumber and jalapeno.

Perhaps its name is referring to the little amount of money you will spend, or the cozy little bar in the basement, or even the adorable little glass jars used to serve iced water. But Poco's food is certainly not the root of its namesake. If only more tapas restaurant shared this little philosophy - my wallet would be in much better shape!

33 Avenue B (at 3rd st.)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 228-4461
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Locanda Verde

We live in a green era. It's hard to remember that less than a decade ago, New York City was still a town dominated by black and white. While wardrobes are still city chic, these days green technology and trends are on every one's mind. Well, I've discovered a new kind of green - Locanda Verde - Tribeca's very own Green Inn. And even if this green establishment isn't necessarily focused on saving the environment, I can promise that in the food world it's mission is worth your time. After winning a Michelin star at one of my favorite Italian spots A Voce, chef Andrew Carmellini has decided to head south and share his talents in an even more enjoyable way. This spot is actually affordable without compromising the high culinary standards of its predecessor.

Locanda Verde is located below the Greenwich Hotel and marks Robert DeNiro's second restaurant attempt in this space. As most actors recognize, a second take is often just what they need. This reincarnation is here to stay - appealing in both atmosphere and setting. It's hard to believe that it's so hard to get a reservation in such a massive space. But, as soon as you taste the homemade foccacio soaked with fresh tomatoes and olive oil served in place of a traditional bread basket, you may actually wonder how you managed to score your seat. If you really are struggling with a reservation, I recommend dining at the bar or at least enjoying a drink in this trendy tavern.

This place is meant for groups. There are so many excellent options on the menu and all are suitable for sharing. Even the crostinis are nicely portioned and great for splitting. I recommend the blue crab crostini with jalapeno and tomato. While both the arugula and local tomato salads are excellent, there were two starters that I cannot get out of my mind. The lamb meatball sliders with caprino (a goat's cheese) and cucumber as well as the crispy artichokes with yogurt and mint are musts. I've had many fried artichokes in my day and these are the best I have ever had. They are perfectly crisp and served with pickled red peppers as well as an excellent sauce, perfect for foccacia dipping. The sliders are also different from any that I have tried as both the flavorful meat and the mini brioche bun stood out in my mind.

It was hard to decide on a pasta dish as a variety of all of my favorite traditional dishes are offered on the menu. We went with the homemade pappardelle with lamb bolognese, mint and ricotta and were not disappointed by these large, homemade flat noodles. Lamb is certainly a strength in this kitchen. But, the surprising winner of the entire night was the fire roasted garlic chicken for two, which (this is really no secret) can actually be ordered for one and it's still more than enough food! The flavors in this dish are out of this world. I know I'm not alone in feeling that chicken is probably the least exciting option when eating out. However, this dish proves that Andrew Carmellini has made it his very own mission to serve chicken worth leaving home and running for - and, mission accomplished! While the pistachio brown butter cake is their signature dessert, we opted for the lemon tart with buttermilk gelato and limoncello granita. For lemon chess fans, the gelato is an excellent twist to this traditional dish.

Whether it's your mission to save the planet or serve the perfect chicken, my hat's off to you - you are helping my world either way! Green is definitely on the mind. Just make sure you consider all shades and uses of the color - and venture to Tribeca where the latest cause has certainly left a mark.

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich St. (@ N. Moore)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-3797
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, September 7, 2009

Joseph Leonard

As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was about to start it off with the exact same words that captured my excitement after dining at L'Artusi this past winter. Another one of my favorite restaurateurs has done it again. It was just nine months ago that I thought opening a nearby sister restaurant was an extremely rare, yet lucky phenomenon. And now, with the opening of Joseph Leonard, Gabriel Stulman of the Little Owl and Market Table has taken this concept to a new level. He has achieved the restaurant trifecta - and to my delight (and his success), it has all gone down in the west village.

As if I wasn't already drawn to any relative of the Little Owl, the name of this new spot immediately won me over. Named after both of Stulman's grandfathers, Joseph Leonard would make any grandparent glow with pride - you just may not want to take them there as the tough acoustics were my only complaint during the night. By most standards, this is an extremely cozy, intimate restaurant. But, in the world of Stulman, this is actually a size medium. What really sets Joseph Leonard apart is its central bar that takes up a large amount of the restaurant's space. Don't let this main attraction fool you as the food will win your attention in the end.

The menu is made up of the ever-popular, seasonal new American food. But, to separate itself from its siblings, Joseph Leonard is a true testament to the times - providing a large selection of reasonably priced options. As you sort through soups, salads, shellfish, meats, charcuterie, poultry, vegetables, grains, and potatoes, you can grab from the jar of cornichons decorating each wooden table. While it is hard to go wrong, it really is hard to decide. As summer is coming to an end, I decided to take advantage of many of the seafood options while they are still available. The raw oysters and the sardines with toasted country bread, fennel, and celery were great starters. But, it was the salt cod brandade and the tomato tart that were the winners. The creamy brandade was served on a baguette with curry oil and a piquillo pepper marmalade - truly setting this dish apart. The tomato phyllo tart was stuffed with tomatoes, tomato jam, fennel compote and comte cheese. It was amazing how they made this combination seem so delicate as it was packed with ingredients and flavor.

While it is usually the appetizers that are my favorite part of the meal, the main courses managed to wow me even more. The Old Bay soft shell crab was served with sweet corn, red onion, avocado, frisee and heirloom tomatoes - the perfect summer seafood grand finale. As a side, we ordered their delicious summer stuffing made up of corn, leeks and tarragon as its expiration date is just around the corner. But, my very favorite dish of the night was the roasted lamb T-bones with pesto, cauliflower gratin, and crispy onions. I think we transitioned right into autumn over the course of our dinner. The meat was perfectly prepared and the accompaniments brought out its unique flavors. I'm really hoping this dish ends up being cross-seasonal. And, while I'm making requests for the next season's menu, I'd like to ask that they keep around the caramel pudding with cookie crumbs and whipped cream as well as the carrot cake. We only had room for the delicious pudding, but I have a serious weakness for carrot cake and I have no doubt that they have already mastered it here.

On second thought, I probably would take my grandmother to this new spot knowing her devout sweet tooth. Even if we couldn't hear each other, I know she would appreciate its quaint setting and excellent cuisine. Joseph Leonard represents family pride and appreciation. So, in New York City, and especially in the west village, I have quickly realized that I'm no longer surprised when I learn of another opening of related restaurants. In the end, it actually makes total sense to me. If I had it my way, I'd live right around the corner from my sister too.

Joseph Leonard
170 Waverly Place (@ Grove St.)
New York, NY 10014
(646) 429-8383
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):