Thursday, May 27, 2010

A quick stop at LPQ

Last weekend, SW and I got together for a catch-up bite. We were aiming for Cafe Zaiya near Bryant Park, but the seating situation wasn't quite what we were hoping for, so we ended up around the corner at Le Pain Quotidien.

Nothing much new here-- it's still the charming rustic chain restaurant that's disproportionately good for what it has to be. SW ordered a ricotta, fig, and honey tartine. It looked pretty darn delicious, except for the incongruous bits of chopped tomato in the mix. Tomato? Really? In this already classically delicious sweet-and-savory combination? I'd consider ordering this tartine, but I think sans tomato is definitely the way to go.

White canvas, with honey. And tomato.

She also got a mint lemonade. Thumbs up, and extra thumbs up for reminding us of a mojito.

So tropical!

I got a sparkling water. It wasn't worth photographing.

And that's that. Till next time, LPQ, till next time.

Le Pain Quotidien
70 W. 40th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fish and salad extravaganza at Blue Fin

The other day, my mom was in town for work. She was staying at a hotel on the outskirts of Times Square, and due to the monsoonal downpours, neither of us was really keen on walking too far for dinner. So we met in the middle at Blue Fin, a BR Guest fish restaurant I'd been to a couple of times for work at my former job. Mom's a seafood lover, so I figured it would be right up her alley.

I was right. We were led up the stairs through a warren of dining rooms (the place is deceptively huge) to a spacious four-person table in the back. As we contemplated the drinks (a glass of prosecco for me, thanks!) and the menus, some bread arrived. We both chose a multigrain roll, and while it wasn't the best I've ever had, it was suitably chewy and tasty with the bubbly. Extra points for having whipped butter, although extra demerits for not having it room temperature. Blue Fin, you come out even on this course.

Lots of bread for two people

For an appetizer, Mom went with the Caesar salad, dressing on the side. She shoveled away at the ample portion of greens, draped gracefully with a blanket of shaved parmesan. Despite not finishing it (a good move, based on the amount of food coming her way), she definitely approved.

Some creative croutons in there

The entrees emerged next. Mom had gone with the sesame-crusted big eye tuna, with shiitake mushrooms, jasmine rice, carrots, snow peas, and ginger soy vinaigrette. Perhaps needless to say, my mom was in seventh heaven. She oohed and aahed over the veggies, particularly the mushrooms, as she took bites of the ruby-colored fish. Though Blue Fin isn't cheap, this portion was once again impressively large.


My choice was the warm goat cheese salad. Two discs of lightly fried goat cheese nestled against a pile of baby arugula hiding a bed of baby beets. The beets were cut in bite-size pieces and were perfectly sweet and tender. While I prefer my cheese un-fried, this fried crust wasn't overwhelming and separated easily from the creamy interiors of the cheese dollops. The surprise macadamia nuts on the side of the plate provided some extra flavor and crunch. Overall, delightful.

Beets are hidden, but they're there

After all that food, was there room for dessert? Of course there was. Mom went straight for the chocolate souffle cake, sans berry swirl ice cream. This was a decadent molten chocolate cake paired with a pile of stewed berries and a smear of berry sauce. A pretty fabulous pick for a chocolate lover.


I went for the ice cream/sorbet sampler, selecting coconut sorbet and creme fraiche and malt crunch ice cream. The two ice creams were superlative-- the creme fraiche creamy and lightly tangy, the malt crunch tasting like a Whopper in ice cream form-- but the sorbet disappointed. Rather than being creamy and strongly flavored, this coconut sorbet was icy and weak, which was too bad, since coconut can make absolutely heavenly sorbet when done right. No matter-- the two ice cream scoops saved the day, and the dessert was a winner.

Extra crunchy topping

We left full and happy, if a little lighter in the pocketbook. Our server let us linger after the check was paid, and by the time we emerged, the rain had stopped. A good omen? Perhaps; in any event, certainly a fitting capstone to a four Offset Spatula meal.

Blue Fin
1567 Broadway (at 47th Street)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Neighborhood plywood

Two exciting bits of neighborhood plywood to report. First, on the ever-changing and exciting Ninth Avenue, we have Zigolini's Pizza Bar coming in between 46th and 47th. It looks relatively close to opening, so we'll see what they have to offer very soon:


And an update on the exciting new Grand Sichuan on Restaurant Row, 46th between 8th and 9th Avenues. I got a sneak peek of the interior in progress, which looks pretty nice. Like Zigolini's, it looks almost ready for its debut:


Excited to check them both out when they open!

Monday, May 24, 2010

NYC Icy: Freakin' far away, but still good!

This past weekend, I decided to go on a field trip. I'd been working all day and still had more work to do, so what better way to break up the early evening than a wee little jaunt down to the East Village for some ice cream? What, that's not normal? Bah. I was on a mission.

Remember last week I reported the NYC Icy was back? Well, how could NYC Icy possibly exist on Manhattan without me patronizing it? I hopped on the NRW and made my way down East, walking down St. Marks, and then walking more, and then walking a bit more before I got to Avenue A. I saw the sainted sign. And I approached.

This is what I saw

The owners were there, and good lord, they actually recognized me from my tireless patronage of the 10th Avenue location way back when. We chatted, and then it was my turn to order. First up, a few tastes: The ginger cream icy, which tasted bitingly and in-your-face like fresh ginger. The Vanilla Heath Bar cream icy, which was slightly disappointing-- while there was real Heath Bar in there, the mild vanilla cream wasn't fatty enough to stand up to the candy.

The flavor board

I went with a medium filled with two scoops of Ricotta Cassata Chip and one scoop of Hazelnut. The Ricotta Cassata was another one of my tastes, and it was intriguing, unusual, and delicious-- a ricotta-based cream icy that tasted like the filling of a cannoli, packed with big chunks of dark chocolate and the occasional piece of candied fruit. Hazelnut was pure and almost peanut-buttery, ringing loud and true with the straight-up taste of hazelnut and the texture of crushed hazelnuts. As I walked around the corner and sat on a bench near Butter Lane Cupcakes to scarf down my icy, I couldn't have been a happier camper.

I thought I'd never taste this treat again!

I'll reiterate, NYC Icy is one of a kind. Their cream icies are much, much lighter than traditional heavy ice creams and gelatos, which makes the flavors of their top-notch ingredients shine. Their icies (sorbets) are strong and sweet. And the prices are right. If you are anywhere-- I repeat, anywhere-- near the East Village, please make NYC Icy a regular stop in your rotation. As for me... well, let's just say that round-trip my Icy field trip took about 2 hours. Probably a bit too much for an everyday occurrence, but I'll keep it in mind for an occasional treat.

Pop-up shop at 100 Avenue A, between 6th and 7th Streets

Friday, May 21, 2010

A brief non-NYC interlude

Last weekend I was home in Massachusetts to meet the newest member of our family, a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy named Lily. As you might expect, she's pretty darn cute:

Puppy-dog face

But despite the persistent cuteness of this puppy, we had to eat. So one evening we went to check out the newest local Thai restaurant, which replaced a different Thai restaurant. This one was called Chili Basil, and it turned out to be pretty good.

There was an order of fresh basil rolls and a "Dumpling Delight" (pork dumplings) for Dad and a seafood red curry for Mom. All met with approval.

Fresh rolls



Additionally, Mom and I split a papaya salad and a mango salad. The papaya salad was standard, nothing to write home about. But the mango salad was delicious. The ripe mango was coated with an addictive sauce that made it pretty much impossible to stop eating. Plus, on top of the whole concoction, there was a handful of the hugest roasted cashews I've ever seen. Though the spice seared my mouth, I was contented and would definitely order the mango salad again.

Served the purpose

The winner!

Welp, that's all from home. It feels weird to travel four and a half hours to eat Thai food when I pretty much live in Little Thailand here in NYC. But weird is sometimes delicious.

Chili Basil
385 Boston Post Road, Sudbury, MA

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This just in: NYC Icy is back! Now, if you're a longtime reader of this blog, you may recall that when NYC Icy opened its Hell's Kitchen outpost just down the street from me, I became its biggest fan. I singlehandedly tried to keep the store open, but alas, it closed in 2008, leaving me broken and begging for some of that sweet, icy goodness. Well, for six months only, the Ice is back-- this time in the form of a pop-up shop at 100 Avenue A, between 6th and 7th Streets, for only six months. Oh good lord. IcyHounds, engage.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A brunch to celebrate Mom

Last week, my mom was in town for the weekend, so naturally we went out for a celebratory Mothers' Day brunch. And, of course, so did everyone else in the world. Since we didn't have a reservation (and all those other people did, it seemed), we were stuck with our less-than-first choice eatery: Nizza. I'd been to Nizza when it first opened and absolutely hated it, so I didn't exactly have high hopes.

But fortunately, those hopes were far exceeded. Service this time was friendly, courteous, and prompt. Bread arrived quickly, and lots of it-- a curious hybrid of cake, cornbread, and focaccia that my mom loved.

Almost a whole loaf here

And our entrees arrived quickly after that. Mom had gone for the grilled shrimp salad, which had chopped romaine, anchovies, pickled onions, croutons, pecorino, and garlic vinaigrette. The shrimp were warm and freshly cooked, their fragrance wafting across the table. The portion was large, and Mom was highly satisfied.

Big bowl o' stuff

My choice was the bowl of seasonal fruits, sans the accompanying Greek yogurt. I was suitably impressed by the small bowl-- the fresh was uniformly fresh and sweet, and the chefs didn't cop out with a lot of rock-hard cantaloupe and sawdust honeydew; rather, this was a melange of pineapple, mango, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. It hit the spot.

Little gems

You all know I'm not a brunch person, but when it has to happen, turns out Nizza isn't such a bad choice. As a result of its solid brunch performance, Nizza earns a huge upgrade to Three Offset Spatulas.

630 Ninth Avenue, between 44th and 45th Streets

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sweet somethings at St. Andrews

Last night I met up with LF and JW, the former dream team at work, for our every-few-months catch-up drinks. We always meet in Times Square as the triangulated location closest to all of our offices. This time I chose St. Andrews, a charming Scottish pub where I'd been before briefly for drinks, as our destination.

I arrived first and was able to snag a booth, no problem. While my two companions made their way there, I got down to business. I'd heard good things about the sticky toffee pudding at this place, and since I'd been to London the week before without having had even the tiniest bite of sticky toffee pudding, I decided I needed to remedy that (for research purposes, of course, for my other other job).

The dessert emerged moments later. It was a sizeable miniature cake, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and swimming in a sea of caramel sauce. I took one bite: the cake was warm and very moist (this was date cake, after all) and super, super sweet. For those without a high tolerance for sugar, avoid this dessert at all costs—the cake, combined with the saccharine caramel sauce, provided a straight-up hit of sweetness that shocked the senses. It was so powerful that the slowly-melting sweetened whipped cream actually cut the sugary sensation, as though it were sour cream or crème fraiche. Now, given that my sweet tooth is pretty much a force of nature, I loved it. It was warm and comforting and filling in the manner of the best kinds of desserts. I wished there had been more whipped cream, but as it was, it was pretty darn delicious.

Don't be fooled... this puppy is SWEET!

I was happy. And LF and JW were happy with their Yuenglings. And there was a woman who was off-her-face drunk at the table next to us at 7:30PM. What's not to love?

St. Andrews
140 W. 46th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A gelato break at Tarallucci e Vino

Tarallucci e Vino in Union Square is one of those places I think I've been to before. It seems familiar... but I'm not sure. Perhaps it was a while ago? Regardless, last night I met SL there for dessert and coffee, escaping the madness of Union Square on a chilly but rain-free night.

The servers at TeV are very friendly, and the dining room is buzzy without being pretentious. We settled in and placed an order: tea for SL, gelato for me. The tea came in a large pot, and for only a few dollars for several full teacups, it was a good value. My gelato came in a clear bowl, three scoops to an order, my choice of flavors (which rotate often). I chose vanilla, coconut, and Bailey's, which made for a motley trio. The coconut and Bailey's were the standouts here-- true to flavor, strong and smooth and tasty. The vanilla was completely eclipsed by the more assertive flavors, but it too was creamy and sweet. There was a dollop of something I supposed was whipped cream on top, but it had a curious texture-- more like Cool Whip or marshmallow fluff than traditional whipped cream. The classic wrapped Italian cigarette wafer was crackly and crumbly and provided good textural contrast to the gelato. All in all, a solid dessert, although a bit pricey at $10.

Shades of beige

I'd return to TeV for real food and to try the more elaborate Italian desserts. For ice cream, however, next time I might just stop at the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck parked around the corner and save a few dollars.

Tarallucci e Vino
15 East 18th Street, between 5th Avenue and Broadway

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Balkanika brings... something to Ninth Avenue

Spotted on Ninth Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets: Balkanika, a new almost-ready-to-open storefront. It's hard to tell exactly what this will be; there's a prepared-foods counter in the front, racks of shelves on the walls, and a wine-bar-type-thing and some tables in the back. It looks very nearly ready to go, so we'll likely find out its true identity as it makes its debut any day now...


Monday, May 10, 2010

Tweaks, beets, and burgers at 44 & X

On a quiet Sunday night, the bro and I braved the hurricane-force winds for a local dinner at 44&X. It wasn't too crowded, so we got a table right away, abutting the windows looking out onto the scenic gas station across the street.

Our effusive waiter treated us to a recitation of the specials that was a pretty incredible performance, full of gestures and vigor and enthusiasm. It convinced the bro to order one of said specials, which, as we all know, can pretty much only lead to regret.

And thus the Bisque of Regret arrived. It was pea soup bisque, a huge vat of it, starkly green and swirled with different colors and blobs of stuff. The bro was starving and tucked right in, soon reaching for the salt shaker to add flavor, since it was flavorless. About halfway through the bowl, he began lamenting his lack of ordering skill. "Why do I suck at ordering?" he asked. It was a rhetorical question.

Green, the color of regret

Nonetheless, we were redeemed by the entrees. The bro went for the traditional burger, on an English muffin bun and accompanied by a big ol' mound of fries. The fries were hot and crisp and plentiful; the burger was covered in well-melted cheddar. Definitely a good burger.

There's an English muffin in there somewhere

I chose the terrine of roasted beets and goat cheese, wild watercress, blood oranges, candied walnuts, and blood orange vinaigrette. This was a curious concoction, not actually a terrine at all but more of a stack of crinkle-cut multicolor sliced beets. There was a dollop of whipped goat cheese that was so mild, it lacked the requisite saltiness or sharpness to bring the rest of the flavors into profile. There were also some incredibly sweet stewed figs, which are great by themselves but where a weird addition to the already-sweet beets. Overall, everything on the plate was good, but the ingredients didn't really come together cohesively.

Ceci n'est pas un terrine

And that was it-- quite enough for a Sunday night, if you ask me. 44 & X is a good neighborhood restaurant, a bit expensive for what it is, but definitely worth its three Offset Spatulas. Not a bad option if you're looking for some solid American food.

44 & X
622 Tenth Avenue, at 44th Street

Monday, May 3, 2010

Some new wine and cheese at Uva

Last week, AV and I ventured a bit south of our normal haunts to try out Uva, a wine bar at 77th and 2nd Avenue. We've wanted to try it for a while, but Cavatappo is so good and so close, it took a certain discount coupon to rouse us out of our neighborhood rut.

We arrived at Uva around 8PM on a Tuesday to a packed house, but we were seated within five minutes or so. I immediately locked eyes on the wine flights at the back of the drinks menu, and though they're supposed to be offered only until 7PM, a little sweet talking ensued and soon a bubbly flight was in front of me. One glass of Prosecco Zardetto, one of Ortrugo, Cantine Bonelli, and one of Bonarda Dolce, Massari, all for only $13 (given that this was nearly three full glasses of wine, this was a great deal). I really liked the prosecco, which was light and crisp, and the bonarda dolce, which was sweet and fizzy, almost like carbonated Manischewitz (in a good way). The ortrugo was a little thick and earthy for my tastes, but it was still definitely drinkable.

Lots 'o' bubbly wine

AV got an Ayinger hefeweizen, which he enjoyed sipping from a large glass.

Intriguing German beer

We also wanted some nibbles with our drinks, so we ordered some cheese. While we waited, some bread arrived, with a small carafe of good olive oil. The bread was very soft and light and compulsively eatable, and it went incredibly well with the cheese.

A good quantity of bread

We had chosen a pecorino toscano, a highly underrated cheese. The wooden board sported four reasonably-sized wedges of the delicious, milky cheese, along with a small handful of large grapes. The cheese and grapes were both top-quality, although I wished for a bit more in the way of creative accompaniments like dried fruit or nuts or a compote of some kind. So far, nothing can really top the cheese plates at Riposo 46.

Simple and satisfying

There was a lot more food floating around the buzzing, rustic dining room, from appetizers like bruschetta to full pastas. So far, we were very impressed--we vowed to come back soon and have a wider selection of food and drinks. Consider this just a mere Uva amuse-bouche-- we'll be back for the main course in no time.

1486 Second Avenue, at 77th Street