Category Archives: Affordable Date

Saravana Bhavan: dosas in comfort and cleanliness

saravanna

I had my first Indian meal when I visited the Indian port city of Chennai during my semester at sea in 2007. I was 20. While I know Indian cuisine has so much history and possesses the qualities I look for in food – flavor, aroma, variation, and a focus on bread – I just never had the opportunity to really get into it growing up. My family would dine on Filipino food or burritos when we were feeling really adventurous. Now that I have an Indian man in my life (Chef Akhtar), I have no choice but to incorporate this very unique cuisine in my life.

During our visit to the Indian market today in “Curry Hill”, there really was no way to avoid eating Indian for lunch. And with a lingering hangover at lunch time, I welcomed it with open arms. Thanks to the advice of a customer at the market, we were told to walk two blocks down to a place called “Saravana Bhavan” – thankfully she detailed the location, because I forgot the name instantly. When Chef Akhtar and I walked in, it was bustling with Indian families eating Sunday lunch – which I take as a key indicator of an Indian restaurant’s authenticity. The plates flying by all got my stomach rumbling, and I somehow soon ordered the most expensive item on the menu – the $17.99 South Indian Thali, which came as a platter with hot bread, rice, and mini bowls of Indian curries and stews for dipping. Using bread to shovel an array of delicious things in my mouth, which is often how I eat Mediterranean food, is my favorite way of eating – I only wish the bread was a little greasier and crispier like Naan, which the restaurant doesn’t serve. We also ordered the Masala Dosa, which arrived as a massive cone engulfing a concentrated scoop of potato and peas. The bread was crispy, moist, and a sturdy utensil for the three accompanying sauces. And on a whim, we requested a fluffy Poori, a fried fluffy whole wheat bread that was just another perfect vehicle for dipping into my tray of delights.

dosa

dosa

a platter for a Queen

a platter for a Queen

inflated poori

inflated poori

I can’t say I loved every little bowl on the platter; the sweet mango and rice pudding I could have done without, but the koottu (lentil puree) and the rasam (a South Indian Tamarind soup) were especially soothing to my hung over soul. Washed down with a diet coke, this hearty, vegetarian, finger-fed meal became a new found cure to an upset stomach. I’ll definitely be back when the mood to head north and east in Manhattan strikes me.

Grade: A-
Location: 81 Lexington Ave @ 26th Street
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Family Style, Fun Group Dinner, Indian, Murray Hill

Co.: blistered 900 degree oven pizza in peace and air conditioning

co-pane

Pizza is my favorite food, and in a city like New York I get overwhelmed deciding where to satisfy my frequent cravings for it. Co. has been on my list since I learned that this civilized Neapolitan pizza restaurant was the creation of Jim Lahey, the well-known Founder of Sullivan Street Bakery. But avoiding the crazy thoroughfare beyond 23rd street always got the best of me just when I was close to testing it out. Now that I’m moving in September (to San Francisco before going to school abroad for a year – happy yet sad for many reasons, so let’s move on), I had no excuse to deny my urge to sample Jim’s pizzas when my hankering for crispy crust came on.

Fortunately, the wait-times have really died down over the past three years, and our party of 3 was seated right away. We started with a simple, tiny radicchio shiitake mushroom salad served with taleggio cheese, which was nothing more than a hunger teaser. The vinegar was bright, and the taleggio cheese was creamy and strong. We then tasted two pies, both unique in their own right: the meatball pizza with tomato, mozzarella, meatball, and caramelized onion, and the Popeye pizza with pecorino, gruyere, mozzarella, black pepper, garlic and loads of leafy spinach. I loved them both. The spinach pizza was bright, summery and healthily prepared with greens piled on top of a lightly-cheese covered pizza dough, and I didn’t miss the tomato sauce at all. The veal meatballs on the meatball pizza were the perfect addition to an otherwise plain tomato and mozzarella pizza, and the caramelized onion rounded out their saltiness perfectly. Though this pizza did come with sauce, I would have liked a little more of it.

radicchio salad with taleggio and mushrooms

radicchio salad with taleggio and mushrooms

Co.-Meatball-Pizza

Meatball pizza with olives and caramelized onions

Popeye pizza with spinach, gruyere, pecorino and mozzarella

Popeye pizza with spinach, gruyere, pecorino and mozzarella

Dough is obviously a key element to the quality of the pizza, and I have to say that the crispy, blistering pizza dough at Co. was one of my favorites. Its chew, texture, and weight and stood up to the bounty of toppings like a champ.

Co. is a great spot for those who want high quality traditional Italian pizza in a zen, pristine setting, almost identical to the aesthetic of San Francisco’s casual Out The Door. As a person who takes restaurant ambience preferences seriously, this is my kind of pizza joint, and I’ll definitely be coming back. Just keep in mind they don’t serve hard liquor.

Grade: A- (I’ll take the minus sign off when I get a plate of free bread)
Location: 230 9th Avenue @ 23rd Street
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, American, Chelsea, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Pizza

Jeepney: one beer cocktail and a memorable halo halo

Jeepney

photo cred: tomas delos reyes

I can rarely end a meal without a formal dessert, so I was thrilled to come up with the genius idea of stopping at Jeepney in the East Village after my sweet-treat-less meal at Prune. I was stuffed to the brim, but all things considered (finally being in the area, having wanted to eat there for ages), I couldn’t resist ordering the dessert that brought me back to my childhood: the halo halo. Halo halo is a traditional Filipino sweet that’s pretty much their version of “everything but the kitchen sink.” It’s usually served as a mixture of ice, evaporated milk, and a random assortment of fruits and sweets. Jeepney creates the best version I’ve ever had – shaved ice, evaporated milk, chunks of coconut flan, red bean, sweet candied fruits, and the icing on the cake: one large scoop of purple yam (ube) ice cream and rice crispies. I devoured this thing in seconds, and sipping my orange-flavored beer, I was in fruit-filled heaven.

IMG_0011

blurry halo halo

This week’s NY Times review and this dessert is proof I need to come back for a full meal, though my heart will always be with Maharlika, the gastropub’s sister restaurant.

Grade: A+ for dessert
Location: 201 First Ave between 12th and 13th Streets
Website 

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Filed under Affordable Date, Asian, East Village, Filipino

Juice Press: my generation’s McDonald’s (in a good way)

juice press

Smack dab in the middle of Juice Generation at Equinox and Organic Avenue on 8th resides the few-month old Juice Press, which has successfully out-shined its competitors in the notoriously juice-saturated zone. As I walk by each morning, I notice that both the lines and the product list are getting longer and longer, and even I, an Organic Ave fan, am totally drawn to the place. But it’s not necessarily the juice that keeps me coming back here; it’s the pristine glass walls, the spaciousness (try doing a cartwheel in Organic Avenue and you may kill someone), its comical approach to healthful eating (read the website) and of course, the  smoothies and the sweet treats.

There are a few things I love that I assure you are delicious to raw-foodists and burrito lovers alike: the raw oats and the Heaven on Earth smoothie. The raw oats are bathed in a silky smooth cashew milk and coconut mixture that make it taste more like dessert than breakfast. It’s incredibly rich and thankfully so, given the 600 calories per serving.  The Heaven on Earth smoothie is also a treat – cocoa, almond butter, cinnamon, dates, and banana turn health-food into pure chocolatey decadence.

raw oats with berry jam

raw oats with berry jam*

kale caesar

kale caesar

quinoa

quinoa

The fridge is packed with nutrient-rich foods, but make no mistake in thinking they’re all calorie-free – coconut oils and nut milks, which help to keep you full for longer, tend to pack in the fat. One major promise? The new additions coming our way from Chef Akhtar (yes, my bf) are unbiasedly delicious. The SPG (sweet potato ginger) soup I tried yesterday was silky smooth and unbelievably vegan, made rich an flavorful with cashew milk, garlic and shallots. I’ve yet to try the guacamole but will be back next week for a pint!

photo (75)

sweet potato soup

Juice Press serves the need of quick service fresh food, something that’s hard to come by in this city. And unlike my usual eggs and toast brunch, the food actually makes you FEEL good!

Grade: A
Location: Multiple; I visit the one on 8th Ave and Greenwich Ave
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, West Village

Rockmeisha Izakaya: trusty hole in the wall Japanese

rockmeisha

I’ve been bed ridden with what I’ve self-diagnosed as bronchitis for the last 5 days, so my cravings have narrowed to hot liquids and ice cream. That’s not to say that I want to eat every meal in my cave-like apartment, though – after three days of being cooped up in a blanket, I’ve been desperate for New York civilization, and I refused to stay in on a Saturday night for my throat-soothing meal. I needed to feel the sense of adventure. I wanted to go somewhere new. I scoured the internet for nearby ramen places, and knowing that most would be crowded at 8pm, I took a risk  and selected one with a few reviews and one promising write-up: Rockmeisha in the West Village. It was time for a crazy Saturday!

This place is a hole in the wall. Look up at the ceiling and you may start worrying that an exposed pipe will come crashing down on you. There’s minimal decor, music from a juke box playing below audible volume level, a horribly jenky type-written menu and far too many waitstaff for the few tables squeezed together. But amidst the oddities, there is a promising list of unique Japanese food that looked good enough to shift my desire for just soup to a desire for soup and much more. I ordered the house grilled chicken wings, the mushroom tofu slab, and a big, hot bowl of pork ramen to get what I came here for. I loved everything. The chicken wings were served charred with generous pieces of tender, miso-marinated meat on the bone. The thick, breaded slap of silky tofu that lay on a bed of luscious sake gravy, hearty wild mushrooms and garlicky green onions was absolutely divine on top of purple rice. The ramen broth was rich, earthy, and steaming with pork essence – the perfect base for the thin, long noodles, which while over-cooked. were slurp-worthy and delicious.

chicken wings

chicken wings

tofu

tofu steak

ramen

ramen

Rockmeisha is living proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover. The waitstaff may be awkward, the place itself may need a serious makeover, but the food is 100% solid. A dark mysterious sushi bar is the perfect setting for a meal out with illness. There’s much more on the menu I want to try (fried chicken, miso brussel sprouts, fried squid), so I’ll be back in a heartbeat. And, if you’re up for it, you can walk just a block for a Big Gay Ice Cream Truck cone – if a sick person can muster up the energy post-meal, you can too! 

Salty Pimp Cone

Salty Pimp Cone – my happy place

Grade: A-
Location: 11 Barrow Street btwn West 4th and 7th Ave
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Japanese, West Village

Buvette: tiny plates in a tiny space; grand experience

buvette

It make sense that the website URL of this French “gastrotheque” is “ilovebuvette.com,” because I’ve probably said that aloud a dozen times since it opened. In the last week, I was lucky to have two engagements that required no more than small plates and delicious wine, and I was reminded why Buvette is always the perfect place for this type of occasion. It’s not that the food is life-changing – there are definitely stand-outs, like the hot cast iron pot of Coq au Vin, or the thick country bread covered in heaps of stracchino cheese and plump sun-dried tomatoes – but its attentive, unparalleled design is all-consuming. Every detail works together to create a world of rustic French elegance, like the mini card-stock menus engraved like gorgeous wedding invitations, the limited cocktail list, the miniature forks, the delicate round water glasses, the silver trays adorning the ceiling, the wooden bar stools, the tin cans of oil, the tart tatin covered with aggressive scoops of whipped cream sliding down the side and the French servers bustling behind the bar. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, except I’ve been teleported to Paris in another era.

buvette

buvette

photo from ilovebuvette.com

photo from ilovebuvette.com

cassoulet

coq au vin

Things get hectic here,  but it’s worth the experience and the servers have their routine down. If you can manage tight quarters and miniaturized utensils (in other words, you’re not claustrophobic or particularly big and tall), then I highly recommend you visit Buvette for your next “sit-at-the-bar” meal.

Grade: A-
Location: 42 Grove Street btwn Bleecker and Bedford 
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, French, Romantic Date, West Village

Landbrot: the God of gooey gouda pretzel pockets

landbrot

Have you ever heard of a pretzel pocket? I hadn’t, but the concept of melting cheese inside a pretzel is sheer genius, and I’m ashamed that I was remis to think of it before trying it last week. It was the hectic night of Super Bowl – the 49ers were losing, the Mercedes Superdome power was out, and there were ten trays of delicious food (including an assortment of Parm sandwiches) around calling out my name. Amidst the chaos and distractions, I needed something simple and comforting to munch, and that’s when I reached for the glistening, golden brown Landbrot pretzel pocket. And then I couldn’t stop – as the game progressed I pulled apart piece after piece of the pillowy, buttery pretzel dough until my stomach felt like I had consumed a brick.

undeniably cheesy

undeniably cheesy*

Over-consumption aside, this is an urgent must-try for any bread and cheese lover. I often say that my favorite foods involve these two staples (quesadillas, pizza, brie on baguette…), and I’ve just added another to the list – I’m lucky this place is close enough for unbeatable cravings, but just the right distance away to help me to resist when I don’t feel like walking.

Landbrot’s serves a wide variety German salads, sandwiches, cakes, and desserts, and the space itself is modern, bright with natural light, and decked out with displays of copious amounts of German bread and pretzels for sale.

Grade: A+
Location: 137 7th Ave btwn Charles and West 10th
Website
Photo from Girl Eats City

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Filed under Affordable Date, Bread Basket Breakdown, Fun Group Dinner, German, West Village

Baoguette / Phosure: my takeout choice of late

When it’s close to 20 degrees outside, there’s not much else I crave but a steaming bowl of noodle soup, which is why I’m now ordering Baoguette’s chicken pho on a weekly basis. Sunday night rolls around and sure enough my tasters for earthy beef broth with rice noodles and flavorful dark meat chicken kick in before I’ve even had the chance to browse for something new on Seamless web. Baoguette delivers in record time even on the coldest nights and they even take the time to separate all the fixings in individual containers – awesome so I can microwave the broth without destroying the noodles and bean sprouts. It’s the little things that count when there are over 100 places to choose from for delivery each night. In the age of inundation, being sure about one thing like your noodle choice is all that you need.

pho with beef

pho with beef

There are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants offering soup downtown, but I’ve never had a bowl with as generous a serving of tender chicken as Baoguette. I wouldn’t recommend eating onsite – the spot is tiny and sandwiched between no-name restaurants (and my old apartment) on sketchy Christopher street – but a large, deep soup bowl is a must for serving at home. Ask for extra hot sauce if you’re a true fan of spice.

Grade: A
Location: multiple; I order from 102 Christopher Street btwn Bleecker and Bedford
Website
*photo from Flickr

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Filed under Affordable Date, Asian, Vietnamese, West Village

Sofia’s Wine Bar: hidden gem in east 50’s

The last restaurant I expected to find in the East 50’s was a cozy, authentic italian wine bar, so when my friend Ashley requested an unheard of Sofia’s WIne Bar for her last hurrah before moving to SF, I arrived prepared for a mediocre meal. That all changed the second I stepped up the brick staircase to find the native Italian waitstaff calming crowds of people anxiously awaiting tables with free prosecco. What a diamond in the midtown-east rough. It’s worth the hour plus wait for a table on a Saturday night (no reservations here), and  in the midst of an awesome blasting hipster playlist, you can chow down an array of piping hot, sharable, affordable, rustic, and delicious Italian-American eats. Our table of five devoured two orders of the addictive creamy artichoke spinach dip, burrata, arugula pizza, stuffed mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, a cheese plate, and of course, a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. Bottles of prosecco flooded our table throughout. While I could have made more of an effort to lay off of the cheese laden dishes, I left tipsy, stuffed, and ready to come back for great energy, even better food, and even more impressive service. The space is cramped, so smaller groups are better. Regardless, this East Village transplant is definitely worth a special trip.

spinach artichoke dip

crostini

mac & cheese

pizza pizza – amazing here!

Grade: A+
Location: 242 east 50th street between 2nd & 3rd ave

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Midtown East, Romantic Date

Thai Market: noodles and atmosphere in Harlem

Go to seamlessweb.com for upper west side delivery and you’ll find about 100 Thai restaurants populating the search results. What is one to do with all the options and absolutely nothing in her uptown repertoire? Well, after perusing chowhound, yelp and multiple menus, I zoomed in on Thai Market, the only one in the bunch with a splash of style, good cocktails, and a supposedly hipster vibe. But instead of ordering, I decided to check the place out to get my daily dose of fresh air and conversation during a week of hurricane isolation.

Crowds at the entryway were the first sign of the good food at this place, and I overheard multiple people claiming that it was the best thai in the area while sitting at the bar. Too bad for Wonde Siam just across the street. After ordering a pineapple-tequila cocktail, I went overboard and ordered Tom Yum Goong, Salmon WrapsChicken Pad See Ew, and Vegetable Curry to share from the vintage-style menu. The soup, which was salty, sweet, and sour, came with big pieces of mushroom and plump shrimp and could have easily been an affordable light meal on its own. That didn’t stop me from digging into the salmon wrap, a stack of lettuce cups aside a pile of crumbled salmon, which unfortunately tasted more like cold, dried, crunchy cat food than Thai fish. I blame the order and not the restaurant,  because this could very well be authentic and purely not my favorite. The thick, buttery noodles of the Pad See Ew and the earthy curry with crispy fried tofu made up for any disappointment – both dishes were piping hot and delicious. Totally impressed by the main courses and the atmosphere of this place, I didn’t hesitate a minute when selecting the ginger and green tea ice cream – ordering dessert is my way of closing out only meals I enjoy.

hot and sour soup

Pad See Ew – stir fry noodles with soy sauce

I struggle to find clean, aesthetically-pleasing, reliably good Thai restaurants in my neighborhood, so I might just have to stick it out until my next trip to Harlem to get some solid noodles and curry. I’d say it’s worth the wait – Thai Market is definitely a must if you’re anywhere north of 70th street.

Grade: A-
Location: 960 Amsterdam Ave btwn 107th & 108th St

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Filed under Affordable Date, Asian, Harlem, Thai