Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It's pretty fascinating to ponder what drives "a scene" in New York. When a well-known, favorite chef decides to open a new outpost with a slightly different concept, there is most certainly a buzz in the air. As soon as a chef or owner breaks away from a thriving restaurant to start his or her own venture, New Yorkers are ready to pounce. Or even when a favorite restaurant closes down, diners eagerly anticipate what will open up in the coveted space. But, what I find most fascinating is the power of the unmarked door. Whether or not a restaurant falls into any of the previously mentioned categories, an unmarked door will automatically attract a crowd. Throw a prime West Village location in there and you've got yourself a scene.

In all honesty, I'm usually turned off by places that go out of their way to actually create a scene - typically the reason doors go unmarked. And when I read that Betel, the new upscale Thai restaurant in the West Village, had fallen prey to the unmarked door, I was a little disappointed. Nevertheless, scenes will always spark my curiosity - especially when they are so close to home - and I at least wanted to be the one to judge. Now, the big question is - is an unmarked door still an unmarked door when you walk by it and the man in front of it asks if you are looking for Betel? This inviting gesture immediately set Betel in an unmarked door category of it's own. It's amazing how far manners will take you. I like to think that Betel, instead of trying to be exclusive, is actually trying to be more personal - have a human welcome you, rather than a heartless sign.

There is still no denying that Betel is a scene right now so just be prepared for it. But, I just want to remind you that is not always a bad thing. I will take a welcoming scene any day over places that deny you even when calling exactly one month in advance at 9:01 am (Minetta Tavern...ahem). There is no secret code or phone line to make it through these unmarked doors. If you get there before or even during the rush as we were lucky enough to, you may even be seated right away. If not, you may have to wait a bit, but only while enjoying a fancy cocktail at their very comfortable, large bar. The communal table that takes up the middle of the restaurant is yet another gesture that encourages mixing and mingling so don't be shy if you end up dining with a few strangers. Even though this place is all about the sharing, the space is all that you will have to share with them.

With such a buzz in the air, there was certainly pressure for the food to meet my immediately raised expectations. The chef's use of exotic Southeast Asian ingredients kept the bar high. I recommend starting with the betel leaves, their signature appetizer. These are fresh, light, and crisp - and served one to an order. The smoked sea trout option prepared with trout, roe, shrimp, galangal and chili was a great combination of flavors and had a nice kick to it. I also recommend the pork and scallop cilantro dumplings with chili-garlic dipping oil as well as the salt and pepper cuttlefish with Vietnamese dipping sauce which can be served as a starter or a main. Order up a side of the broccolini with oyster sauce and ginger and you will be amazed by how something so green can be so full of flavor. While the stir fried tuna with chili jam, snake bean, cashew nut, Chinese broccoli, and Thai basil was underwhelming compared to the rest of the dishes we ordered, this was still a cut above any seafood order in a standard Thai restaurant. Both the Wagyu beef brisket and farmed chicken were delicious examples of the chef's ability to excel in both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. The Vietnamese brisket is braised and prepared with long leaf cilantro, Vietnamese mint, and chili lime dressing. And the chicken is a southern curry with butternut squash, fried shallots, and Thai basil. Both dishes pop with the right amount of flavor and spice - and a nice balance of meat and vegetables.

While the crowds are not dying down any time soon at Betel, a meal here is still very probable. This really is the best kind of scene - one where you can enjoy exotic cocktails, where you can feast on delicious cuisine, and where you can get the door pointed out, opened, and even held for you. And when the crowds do start to die down, the excellent setting and food will still be right there with you.

51 Grove St.
New York, NY 10014
(212) 352-0460
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Linguine with Tomatoes & Brie

There are definitely some crazy names out there. But, not to worry, there has been no recent addition to the NYC restaurant scene sporting a name with linguine in it. I know I am always telling you to eat out, but today I am telling you to eat in. Despite my love for discovering new restaurants and frequenting old favorites, I do love to cook. In New York City, it is often too easy, and, believe it or not, even more affordable, to just head out to dinner. Not to mention, it is a great, no-fuss way of catching up with friends for a few hours. Well, today I want to share with you an easy, inexpensive night in. Whether you are alone or entertaining, this simple dish will impress with its unsuspecting use of Brie. And, as the chef, you will probably be most impressed after spending minimal time in the kitchen and just a few bills at the store.

I was recently asked by Frigidaire.com to share one of my favorite dinner recipes with them. Their website is a great resource for affordable home appliances and other product accessories. In helping customers to learn more about the application of the products they offer, they provide a recipe section. And what better way to use a stove-top than cooking a crowd-pleasing pasta dish? Check out my linguine with tomatoes and Brie recipe featured on their website here (third row down). This is an excellent spring and summer entree that can be served warm or even at room temperature - and it can certainly be made in advance. I recommend accompanying it with a simple salad in the springtime or a corn salad in the summer. So, the next time you are feeling a little strapped for cash, but still itching to see your friends, turn on that stove-top and get the water boiling. You can always head out to dinner the next night - although your leftovers just might keep you in again!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Packie's Food and Wine

Happy St. Patty's Day! I know, I know, I'm a day late. But, admit it - you had so much fun celebrating yesterday that you were actually wishing you could prolong the day. Hopefully, this will help. And after finally making my first trip to the Emerald Isle this winter, I feel even more compelled to celebrate and praise the Irish for as many days as possible. If I could find a reason to talk about Ireland every day, I really would. I just can't believe it took me 29 years to discover the place! I had always been eager to wander the lush, green landscape and enjoy a few pints with the locals. But, in all honesty, I had never imagined the food would be anything to write home about. When was the last time I raved about a meal at an Irish restaurant?

I really I had no right asking that question having never visited Ireland. And, had I been there before, my answer most certainly would have been: "In Ireland!" I am not only writing home about their food, but I am praising them for it. I think the Irish have it figured out - they have kept the best of their cuisine confined to their own little island - fooling us all into thinking they couldn't see past meat and potatoes. Of course you will find both meat and potatoes on nearly every menu; but, they certainly know how to turn them into so much more - making me think twice whenever I now walk by an Irish pub in New York. Although, I know better than to stop and see if it can compare. To truly taste Ireland, you've got to get to Ireland.

My preconceived images of gorgeous landscapes and friendly Irishmen do not even begin to do them justice. Everything is just that much greener and that much jollier in person. And that is exactly how I feel about their cuisine, especially after dining at Packie's Food and Wine in Kenmare. Located in the southwest of the country, this picturesque town is situated on the Kenmare Bay, in County Kerry linking the Iveragh and the Beara Peninsulas. For nearly two decades, this tiny restaurant has taken all the concepts that Americans love and produced some of the freshest, gourmet dishes ready to take on any fine dining scene. With a focus on organic produce and fresh seafood, Packie's offers a menu that still has an Irish stamp on it. A basket of their brown bread, one of my favorite culinary discoveries during the trip, greeted us at the start of the meal. Wherever I went, I could not get enough of this national delicacy. At Packie's, I was careful to save room for our meal since the romantic, cozy setting alone had convinced me that I was in for a real treat.

We started the meal with potato pancakes and mussels in a garlic, white wine sauce. The potato pancakes were out of this world - a dish that is usually just so simple and mediocre, actually blew me away as they were full of flavor (most likely butter), while perfectly crisp. It takes a great deal for potatoes (besides French fries) to get me this excited. The mussels were, in their own way, equally as exciting. They were extremely fresh and infused with garlic. I soon realized that the Irish are not afraid of garlic - another sign that I was destined to discover and love Irish cuisine. For main courses, I highly recommend the roast rack of lamb with rosemary, red currant sauce and lentils. This is a simple, yet elegant preparation. The monkfish has been on the menu for years - and for good reason. It is roasted with a garlic and ginger crust and served with a thai dipping sauce. All dishes are offered with sides. The colcannon, an Irish specialty of mashed potatoes with cabbage and bacon, gave me reason number two to love the Irish handiwork with potatoes that night. And really, isn't everything better with bacon? For a lighter option, go with the simple green salad tossed with a light vinaigrette. It reminded me of being in a French bistro where the side salads are served with little dressing, yet just enough to fully appreciate such a simple vegetable.

While Packie's was certainly a night of fine dining in Ireland, I can easily declare that the food throughout the rest of my journey continued to impress me. Whether I was enjoying a "toasted special" - ham, tomato, and cheese toasted sandwich- or a seafood stew at a casual pub, the culinary talent was right up my alley. I'll take both shabby and chic, as long as the flavors are right on. And, I really do think the Irish are wise. Some may view it as keeping the best to themselves, while I like to think they are just perfecting their ability to host. The Irish are truly some of the most hospitable people I have encountered - so long as you head to their little gem of an island!

Packie's Food and Wine
Henry Street
Kenmare, County Kerry
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Group dinners. At times, they are one of the joys of living in New York. And other times, they are the bane of your existence. If you are in charge of the planning, locating a venue that actually seats 8 or more people is never an easy task. And, if you are simply a guest, it's nearly impossible to escape the evening without forking over an arm and a leg. Never mind, you usually never even get a chance to speak to more than your corner of the table. Oh the joys of group dinners!

Well, the group dinner tale does not always have to end like that. One night in the back room of BarBossa will certainly convince you of this. At first glance, this Brazilian spot appears to be another one of Nolita's cozy ethnic restaurants that doubles as a bar to the neighborhood. Don't get me wrong - the main room is a great area for both drinking and eating. But, it is the private option in the back where they have converted a wine and liquor cellar into public dining that really sets BarBossa apart. The long wooden table can seat 8-12 people comfortably - and since it is your own space in the restaurant, you are free to cause a little commotion or move about as much as you want. While you feel like you could actually own the space, you are still treated with the utmost care by a warm and proud waitstaff. And whether you are seated in the group throne or up front at the bar, their Brazilian cocktails are the way to start off the night. I also highly recommend sharing a few of their starters. The provoleta - grilled provolone with pico de gallo - as well as the baked fresh crab are served with toasted bread. If you haven't had enough bread or cheese (two items I can never get enough of), their mini rolls stuffed with cheese are addictive. The overall menu has more of a Latin American appeal than purely Brazilian - offering Portuguese, Chilean, and even Central American delicacies. No matter what part of the region you order from, you will enjoy a flavorful, hearty dish - and all at a low cost. The menu options range from curries to salads to sandwiches to regional specialties. While there are some very solid vegetarian options such as the eggplant lasagna, this region is truly known for their meats - and when in Rome... I highly recommend the feijoada - a typical Portuguese stew made of beans, beef, and pork and served with rice and kale. Another great meat choice is their grilled steak served with baked polenta and roasted tomatoes.

Your meal at BarBossa will be a festive one - and this is true whether you have a real reason to celebrate or not. It will be a joyous one - and this is certainly true as you enjoy the company of each and every person you started the night with. It will be an affordable AND tasty one as you will enjoy eclectic cuisine, drinks. and a bill at the end of the night that will actually make you question if you ordered any drinks (even if your head the next day speaks otherwise). Yes - these are the joys of group dining!

232 Elizabeth St.
New York, NY 10012
(212) 625-2340
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mexico Lindo

I was once told by a veteran NYC restaurant owner that it takes 7 years from opening day to declare a restaurant a success. Based on the constant fluctuations in the New York restaurant scene, that feels like the equivalent of at least 25 human years! And so, in discovering a single Mexican restaurant that has been around since 1972, I knew I had happened upon something special. Mexico Lindo is one of the most unassuming spots in the city - a unique quality for a Mexican restaurant. But, it's the warm mentality generated by this family run business that has kept this restaurant on solid grounds. Well, that, its authentic cuisine, and its amazingly fresh Margaritas.

Located in an area that some would call Gramercy and others would call Murray Hill, Mexico Lindo isn't concerned with its location. And they shouldn't be as it is approaching landmark status with its 40th birthday just around the corner! This spot is truly old school - both in the neighborhood and cultural sense. Mexican restaurants in New York have become quite a scene, with restaurants too often and easily abandoning their sense of authenticity in an attempt to attract flashier crowds. For a night on the town, this can be appealing. But most of the time, it's the laid back places like Mexico Lindo that you need and should crave - the places that will truly invite you in and take care of you.

The menu follows a traditional Mexican format - offering everything from appetizers, soups, and salads to meat, fish, and chicken to fajitas, burritos, and tacos. But, before you place your meal order, I encourage you to settle in with a Margarita or two. With such an impressive tenure, it's not too surprising that they serve some of the freshest Margaritas in town. It is just surprising that more people have not discovered them. Mexico Lindo makes them with just the right balance of top shelf Mexican tequila, cointreau, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar - and done so at a reasonable price. These certainly do not suffer from the artificial sweeteners that most of the top Mexican restaurants so regularly and comfortably dish out.

Once you have settled in with a few drinks, fresh salsa and chips, I recommend starting with one of their salads - a lighter option since Mexican food tends to fill me up pretty fast. The ingredients are as fresh as the drinks and it's another great excuse to indulge in a whole avocado, simply without the chips. The Especial salad is made up of iceburg, mesclun, tomato, avocado, cucumber, onion, and peppers. For the main courses, I find it hard not to indulge in one of their tacos - these are delicious and, surprisingly, not too heavy. Depending on your mood, I recommend choosing between the pan seared market fish or the grilled steak tacos. Both are served with pan-seared market fish, jalapeno pico de gallo, avocado-tomatillo salsa and fresh limes. I know I've said it several times, but I'll say it again - everything is just fresh, fresh, fresh! If you are not in the mood for a dish with tortillas, there are many excellent meat and fish selections. The Chuletas a la Parilla, grilled marinated pork chops with morro rice and sweet plantains, is full of flavor. And, if you don't get a chance to try this dish, ordering up a side of plantains is a must - the sweet ones are particularly tasty.

While Mexico Lindo will probably not be making the major headlines any time soon, it's doing more than fine. And this is certainly not due to lack of excellence in the kitchen, bar or setting. Some places just prefer to remain as unassuming as possible. And, if you can pull that off while outlasting most restaurants in such a grueling culinary city, why not? At 38 years old, there is certainly nothing left to prove.

Mexico Lindo
459 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(212) 679-3665
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):