Category Archives: American

Locanda: insanely delicious and varied menu – with cocktails!

locanda

Picking a restaurant that appeals to my dad is difficult for mostly because of our difference in taste, but also because of his “full bar or this restaurant is dead to me” dining perspective. A lot of San Fran’s latest restaurants only offer beer and wine, which is fine by me, but not by a man who was drinking martinis before it was cool or commonplace to do so. Fortunately, because Locanda’s cocktail menu is boasting with great concoctions, and the restaurant was next on my “to-try” list, it presented itself as the perfect option for a father-daughter dinner with my mom out of town.

delicious crusty bread

delicious crusty bread

Jewish style artichoke - fried and crisp with lemon

Jewish style artichoke – fried and crisp with lemon

chicken under a brick

flavorful chicken under a brick

Despite the fact that I’d say my dad and I rarely eat similar foods, we both left totally wowed by all aspects of the meal, from the attentive but not so clingy service, to the complimentary olive-oily flat bread, to the crispy fried jewish style artichoke, to the luscious linguine with crab and lettuce, to my awesome chicken under the brick with quinoa. A sign of a good menu is one that makes the ordering decision process a tough one, and honestly, I almost had a panic attack considering the possibility of eating one of five dishes I felt I couldn’t live without. While I may not choose the ricotta bread pudding with orange blossom honey (a little too dry for me) again, I’ll absolutely return to experiment the other solid Italian style food Locanda has to offer. Check out my video for more footage of our meal and my dad’s profession of love for Locanda.

Grade: A
Location: 557 Valencia Street btwn 16th and 17th
Website

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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, San Francisco

Shake Shack: do I really need to explain?

shake shack

I’m not a burger connoisseur. And I can confidently say that unless I’m hungover, it rarely ever occurs to me to open up a menu and order a juicy, meaty hamburger. But ever since I waited in line at Shake Shack for an hour and got so hungry and light-headed that I had to give up to search for something I could eat IMMEDIATELY, I’ve been craving the juicy burger I was so close to having like no other.

Fortunately this week, my college friend and burger-lover Ashley was in town with quite the eating list to tackle. Shake Shack naturally made the top of the list, so we decided to wait in the infamous (yet MUCH shorter than it used to be) line for the whole burger sha-bang. Since I’m such a burger novice, I still hadn’t figured out if I like my burger with or without cheese. This time, I tried the Shack burger without, and piled it high with tomato, lettuce, onions and ketchup. This combination is my new go-to, because the patty on its own is decadent enough – the cheese would have masked its crispy, seared outside and intense flavor. Whereas at In-N-Out, the real standout of the burger is the thick cut tomato, onion and soft toasted bun, at Shake Shack, it’s all about the meat and soft potato bun, which are the ingredients that in my opinion really matter. I’m craving another one as we speak.

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Ash Bash super excited for what’s about to go down

The fries were nothing sort of awesome. The jagged shape creates lots of crispy edges surrounding a fluffy potato center. They’re clean-cut and not too greasy, and actually quite good inside the burger itself.

Since the custard flavor of the day was chocolate chip cookie, I obviously couldn’t resist, but I was disappointed by the soupey texture. It should have been dense and cold, yet instead it turned out to be melted with lumps of chocolate. The flavors were there, but they need to repair their machine at this location.

Overall, I am oh-so happy I finally can check this burger off my list of must-dos before the dreaded NYC move.

Grade: B+ overall due to melted frozen custard, but the burger was amazing
Location: Multiple
Website

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Filed under American, Cheap Eat, Chelsea, Erin's Favorites, Flatiron, Union Square

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

Montmartre: kicking off Chelsea’s fine food expansion

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When I pulled up to the busy thoroughfare of 8th Ave and 18th in Chelsea, I have to admit I was not excited to be there. To me, the few blocks north of my workplace represent quick service chain restaurants, pizza shops, and my cheap manicure salon -– not stand out cuisine. And while the Montmartre space itself is narrow, the bar is not very spacious (like all Joseph Leonard team restaurants), and it’s not a spot for those hard of hearing (I was yelling for most of the dinner), the food was some of the best I’ve had in a while at a new NYC restaurant.

We started with the chicken liver, which came generously spread atop a thick piece of country bread. The liver mousse was just the right texture – not too smooth, just enough roughness to make it interesting. The white asparagus salad totally reminded me of something that would come out of SPQR in SF, and came as one thick poached asparagus on top of a delicious puree topped with salty crispy ham. I’m usually skeptical to order raw fish when I’m trying to branch out, but the Hamachi here is unique in preparation and flavor – thick slices wrapped around a tartar topped with diced apple and a delicate vinaigrette.

hamachi (photo from SeriousEats.com)

hamachi (photo from SeriousEats.com)

There was a ton on the menu I would have loved to try for my main course, but I chose the smoked and roasted chicken because it sounded so intriguing with such a bare bones description. It may have been one of the most interesting chicken dishes I’ve had. And, the kitchen was even nice enough to plate a half order of the ricotta gnocchi with morels and hazelnuts that I just couldn’t resist, which ended up tasting like little clouds of heaven.

amazing ricotta gnocchi

amazing ricotta gnocchi

smoked and roasted chicken

smoked and roasted chicken

This place is very reminiscent of some of the inventive ingredient-focused restaurants that cover San Francisco (SPQR, Heirloom, Rich Table), and I absolutely love it. It could actually be one of my favorites for unique food in a familiar setting. So maybe middle of Chelsea isn’t so bad afterall. And maybe, since it’s not in the haven of wonder that is the West Village, it will be more amenable to walk-ins.

Grade: A
Location: 158 Eighth Ave., nr. W. 18th St
Website: (which I love)

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Filed under American, Asian, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites

Catch: global seafood in trendy meatpacking

catch

I spent my first years as a restaurant-goer in NYC dining where I could most easily imagine myself as a cast member of Sex in the City. Straight out of college, I wasn’t looking for cute hole-in-the-walls — I got the biggest thrill wearing heels and strutting into exclusive spaces pumping dance music, offering $15 specialty cocktails, and turning tables like clockwork. Buddakan and Stanton Social were my locations of choice. Fortunately I’ve now moved on to less trendy pastures as a more seasoned New Yorker, but every now and then I’m dragged into the high concept restaurant chains of my past.

Catch last week was one such occurrence, but it helped me remember why I like menus intended for broad audiences. I admittedly went into it with low expectations, but I left impressed with the service, the food, the drinks and the experience overall. As a seafood lover with menu anxiety (it’s difficult to narrow down to one item after eating a Google buffet for the last five years), Catch’s food selection is perfect for me. They offer a small delectable sushi rolls, a raw bar, a ton of hot specials, family style platters, or a variety of fish simply prepared for those not as adventurous. Think of this place as the steakhouse for fish. It keeps that well-known, roomy corporate feel, but maintains a relaxed, light-hearted vibe with light colored furniture, good lighting, dance music, and fun cocktails. Waiters aren’t as formal, but the service is spot on.

The highlights of the many dishes we tried were the MrC roll with tuna, tempura shrimp and ponzu butter, the soft shell crab roll, the crispiest crispy rock shrimp I’ve ever had, and the tuna tartare crispy rice cakes. These dishes aren’t necessarily unique to Catch (find similar variations at Koi, Bond Street, Nobu, etc), but they’re done exceptionally well. The showstopper visually was the crispy whole snapper that comes out deep fried with an asian style saute, positioned as if it’s about to swim away. The sauce was definitely needed to add flavor. Chinese food lovers would die over the salty cantonese lobster tails; I’m just not a fan for thick brown sauces. The overly buttered mushroom pasta was the only disappointment, but that came as no surprise given it was one of the only pasta dishes on the menu.

warm pretzel rolls with mustard butter

warm pretzel rolls with mustard butter

crispy shrimp

hot, buttery crispy shrimp

hamachi tartare

hamachi tartare

salmon belly carpaccio - yes we did get all of this.

salmon belly carpaccio – yes we did get all of this.

scallop dumplings

scallop dumplings

fried whole snapper

fried whole snapper

cantonese lobster - photo from Zagat.com

cantonese lobster – photo from Zagat.com

banana brulee spli

banana brulee split

Dessert at Catch and its sister restaurants are remarkable, and that goes a long way for someone like me. The strawberry shortcake with a large buttery biscuit brought me straight back to my childhood. The banana brulee split was beautifully prepared, but given the tiny scoops of ice cream and difficulty of scooping up all the ingredients off the flat dish for an ideal bite, I would have preferred a less stylized version.

Despite the hiccups in food, I left hoping to plan my next work event or dad’s visit to town at Catch. It’s a crowd-pleasing special occasion restaurant that sets you up well for a night out – there’s not surprisingly a club upstairs, and it’s situated smack dab in the center of the Meatpacking.

Grade: A-
Location: 21 9th Ave above Sephora, entrance on 13th street. Also one in Miami.
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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Meatpacking, Parents in Town, Seafood, Sex & The City Swank, West Village

Chelsea Market Adventures: Amy’s Bread ham & cheddar biscuit

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Yes, I just went grocery shopping, and yes, I work across the street from Chelsea Market, but I trekked there today anyway for a little get-out-of-bed Sunday adventure. I awoke this morning with my stomach grumbling for a savory breakfast, so I headed straight to the Market’s Amy’s Bread where the sandwich selection is right up my alley – pre-mades with a variety of breads, cheeses, and meats in all shapes (from rolls to skinny baguettes) and sizes (from mini to massive). I generally go for the hummus veggie on wheat or the mozzarella and tomato on olive bread, but today I pointed right to the ham and cheese biscuit enticingly glistening in the display case. The second the server relinquished control, I took it out of the bag and chomped right into it. The verdict? Thick-cut ham sandwiched between two slices of sharp cheddar and a cheddar-speckled biscuit feels like a brick in my stomach, but is pretty hard to beat on a day that launches in hunger. The biscuit is perfectly doughy, warm and crisp on the outside, and the little nugget of a sandwich is thankfully easy to eat. It may just be my new favorite.

grilled biscuit

grilled biscuit

Grade: A+
Location: Multiple
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Featured City Post: San Francisco’s Rich Table, elevated comfort food in farm-like rusticity

sfgate

Whenever I visit San Francisco for work, I try to maximize the productivity of my trip by squeezing in a visit to a new and noteworthy restaurant. Last week, it was Rich Table, a bustling Hayes Valley hot-spot that the man at the bar called “the hottest table in town.” Though we scored a last minute reservation for 7:15pm, my friend and I decided to give up our spot at the communal table (separated by planters, the reservationist assured us) to sit at the bar for a better view of the open kitchen and admittedly, the very attractive chefs.

Sitting at the bar always warrants a stiff drink to start the night, and since San Francisco is really one-upping New York in the specialty cocktail department, I knew I had to try one. The bartender’s gin and ginger concoction of course came in an old fashioned champagne coupe and went down like a refreshing glass of water. They also have a great selection of wines by the carafe that are conveniently grouped by price; the gruner veltliner I’ve decided is now my favorite.

One important thing to note as a bread-lover – it’s delicious, but it’s a $4 sacrifice. Come prepared to spend it, because it’s definitely a must- these 1-inch thick slices of fennel sourdough are toasted to order and served with house-churned butter. The rest of the meal, however, did not match up to the bright energy of the place. The crab cioppino was a mess of over-oiled, over-salted crab meat with a pathetic sprinkling of dried artichoke chips, and the chicken lasagna evoked memories of chow mein with it’s large pieces of chicken and long green onions. The small popped corn sprinkled on top was random and seem disconnected from the rest of the dish. We hoped to be saved by the vegetarian entree, roasted potatoes with arugula salsa verde, but for $19, I would have rather eaten 10 bags of McDonald’s french fries. Small potatoes sprinkled with salsa was probably a poor order choice in the first place, but the flavors didn’t match up to the saltiness to the rest of the meal.

fennel bread

fennel bread

chicken lasagna

chicken lasagna

Unfortunately, the performance was not enough to encourage us to stay for dessert; we walked a block up for a pot de creme and wine at Absinthe to ensure a satisfying end to the meal. But Rich Table is an interesting place that combines thoughtfully plated, interesting food in casual comfort. The chefs obviously care about what they’re doing here, and they’re taking a risk to do something different. So, I’d definitely like to go back and try a few other dishes – I’m not writing this off as a goodbye just yet.

Grade: B
Location: corner of Oak and Gough

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Filed under American, Featured U.S. City Posts, Fun Group Dinner

Lure Fishbar: solid seafood in adult fashion

Given my freakish seafood-obsession, I can’t comprehend why it’s taken me four years to try Soho’s well-known Lure Fish Bar – essentially my favorite type of food in my favorite New York City neighborhood. Yes, the restaurant is a little scene-y & corporate, its nautical theme is a little tired and its clientele is a tad too New York housewives, but the menu has a plethora of creative seafood options and sushi that is nothing short of tasty. The place resembles the old-timers Atlantic Grill and Blue Water Grill further uptown in that it’s fish and sushi focused in a family friendly environment, but given the address it’s a little more amenable to a weekend GNO (Girls’ Night Out).

My two girlfriends and I shared the Crispy Calamari and Tempura Shrimp to start. The calamari, served as large pieces of crisp but lightly fried mini squid with lime glaze, made me realize the impurity of the heavily breaded piles I normally down at bars. I’ve had better breaded shrimp (Koi‘s is to die for), but this rendition was still good enough to keep my fork launching across the table for more. I decided on a special for my main, mainly because of the sides: Roasted Sea Bass with gnocchi, beets, and asparagus, but unfortunately the charred gnocchi was the best part of the dish. Dessert is really the standout – it’s rare that I struggle with choosing what to order, but with almost every item incorporating ice cream in some way, I had a mini panic attack. I narrowed it down to the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie. Given it came with a fat chocolate dipped pretzel and peanut brittle ice cream, I was pretty much in salty sweet heaven.

crispy calamari

rock shrimp with a little too much sauce

chocolate peanut butter pie

Lure Fishbar has got it going on for its wide range of seafood, good cocktails and last but NEVER least, dessert. Think ice cream galore. Try it for your next business dinner or night out with parents.

Grade: A-
Location142 Mercer Street @ Prince Street

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Filed under American, Seafood, Soho

Isabella’s: hotel fare in an uptown setting

So after a few weeks of being absent due to hurricane-induced homelessness, I’m back in the game and feeling anxious about the dozens of restaurant experiences I have to report. The only remote “light” in the storm of Sandy was the fact that hiding out uptown for two weeks left me no choice but to try restaurants outside of my downtown-comfort zone, so here begins my attempt to cover my most memorable and atypical meals out in the last few weeks (in separate entries for search optimization, of course).

After two long, wine and snack food-heavy nights cooped up in my boyfriend’s apartment, I took the much needed walk to Isabella’s in the seventies, one of the few places open for dinner service. Like the other few restaurants operating, it was completely packed with people, who like me, were desperate to escape the house for human interaction and normalcy. Given my lengthy and ever-changing list of must-try spots, it pains me to stumble upon a corporate , evidently BR Guest restaurant that I never intended to try, but given the circumstances I had little chance of finding a better option.

Isabella’s is just what I’d imagine a classic upper west side restaurant to be – comforting and frills-free. A green fabric awning with the restaurant’s name in cursive covers an entryway that leads to a spacious, well-lit, two-story restaurant with white families eating bread rolls while perusing leather menus. With the straight-forward, pasta and chicken-covered menu, Isabella’s feels like a cross between a country club, a hotel, and the typical family-friendly Manhattan establishment.

Surprisingly, good old New York was just what I craved after a few days in disarray, so in going against my normal grain, I ordered Isabella’s Chopped Salad, Maryland Crab Cakes, Hay & Straw Linguine with chicken, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs, and of course, a Warm Brownie Sundae with salted caramel ice cream that I obviously couldn’t resist. An overdressed salad and buttery pasta were fortunately redeemed by the rest of the meal. While in my normal state of mind I would have never ordered such a boring sequence of food, something about a good old crispy crab cake and a creamy pasta made me feel like I was young again with my grandparents at their Jewish Country Club, where all I had to worry about was looking pretty and keeping my elbows off the table. Oh how times have changed, but that’s a story for an entirely different blog.

chopped salad

linguine

Is Isabella’s memorable? Aside from having comfy boothes, warm bread rolls, large scoops of ice cream and overly friendly service, Isabella’s doesn’t at all stand out in my mind. That said, there’s always a purpose for reliable, uninventive, family-friendly fare, and when that need arises this place is a solid option for those in the area.

Grade: B
Location359 Columbus Ave at 77th St

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Mediterranean, Parents in Town, Upper West Side

Mary’s Fish Camp: unadulterated seafood and a barely-legal ice cream sundae

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve lived in the West Village for four years and have never been to Mary’s Fish Camp. What is wrong with me? I love seafood, love my hood, love casual restaurants, love bar seating – I can’t believe I never considered it. Fortunately, it’s my man’s ultimate destination for fried clams and wine in water glasses, so we decided to swing by last night for an impromptu seafood fest.

Our hour-long wait for a seat brought to life the many reports of unbearable wait times for one of the restaurant’s few seats. Still, given our prime waiting spot that allowed us to witness each disappointed, shock and awed, or frustrated facial expression of those who entered hoping for immediate seating, the time flew by. Tables moved quickly and we finally got 2 great seats at the bar with the tiny kitchen and our waitress front and center. As a fish lover, I found it heart wrenching to narrow my options. There are a ton of whole fish options (fried or grilled), a lobster roll, fried fish sandwich, tacos, bouillabaisse, scallops – all my favorites, but we decided on exactly what we were in the mood for: fried oysters and clams, steamed clams, raw brussel sprout salad, raw oysters, and the special entree of pan sauteed tile fish with farrotto, raisins, and pine nuts. Everything was delicious. The fried clams and oysters came out hot and crispy with an incredible pink-colored, pickle-heavy tartare sauce. The oysters were briney, plump, and creamy. Even the tile fish was a standout in its simplicity. I was happy as a clam (ha!) sitting at the bar with my glass of prosecco and the most ideal seafood feast I could ask for. I looked left, I looked right – every patron couldn’t have been more excited with the food before them. It’s the type of place that reminds you of the beauty and value of simple, fuss-free food.

kitchen view

fried clams and oysters

Who knew I could be even more happiness-inflated after I was pressured into ordering the hot fudge sundae off the chalkboard menu. As I watched a chef scoop not one, not two, but three scoops of vanilla Laboratorio Del Gelato ice cream, add two-ladles full of hot fudge off the stove and a huge spoon full of fresh whipped cream, I knew doomsday approached. All feelings of fullness were forgotten and I immediately dug my long spoon right at the core of the beautiful creation. Now THAT’s what a hot fudge sundae should taste like. After so many disappointments by ice cream sundae claims on New York menus, downing this puppy felt like a breath of fresh air, until I had to limp home due to over indulgence.

this could be my life partner if all else fails

Mary’s Fish Camp, as cliche as it sounds, you are my new favorite place. If anyone asks me where to go in NYC, you are top of the list. People, it’s worth the hour wait and they’ll call you get a drink nearby.

Grade: A+
Location: 64 Charles Street off of West 4th
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Filed under American, Fun Group Dinner, Seafood, Sugar Surge, West Village