Category Archives: Greenwich Village

Gran Electrica, El Toro Blanco & ABC Cocina: a sampling of modern Latin American fare

Beans, cheese, guacamole
I miss San Fran Mexican
Still can’t get enough.

I’ve been on a Mexican whirlwind lately because, well, I am actually always on a Mexican whirlwind. These past few weeks I’ve sampled some of the most popular Latin American restaurants to date, and while I was overall underwhelmed by my experiences, there were definitely some standout dishes that may entice me to return…should the opportunity present itself.

Of the three, ABC Cocina was definitely the standout. My visit here was very happenstance. I had a satisfying dinner of a juicy kobe beef cheese burger  at ABC Kitchen with my boyfriend, and then we both realized that Jean George’s new restaurant was just across the way. We asked to see the menu, and boom, the next thing we know we were eating our dessert in the form of Latin American appetizers (though note that Chef JG describes this food as “a fusion of tradition and innovation combining yesterday and tomorrow”…). The disappointment was the flavorless, gummy fried peekey-toe crab and corn fritters with chipotle mayo, which I pretended to enjoy as JG nervously walked by (investors must have been in the house). What made up for it were bright and impeccably flakey sweet pea empanadas with yogurt and the delicate sauteed mushroom tacos. The cocktails were absolutely amazing and, as promised, inventive. I had the gin and coconut water, which was served up with ginger in an ice cold martini glass. The energy in the restaurant is vibrant and sexy, and the rest of the menu looks divine so I hope to return for a more honest experience (as opposed to a post-cheese-burger evaluation).

Inside

Inside

peeky toe crab fritters

peeky toe crab fritters

green pea empanadas - delicious!

green pea empanadas – delicious!

I’d say the second best was Gran Electrica in adorable Dumbo, where I literally was able to try almost everything given I was going with a chef and restaurateur for “research” (thank God). Unfortunately the garden was wet and unattainable the evening we went, so I didn’t even get to experience their most attractive asset. On top of that, the double-sided chips were stale, the guacamole was over-smashed and monotonous with minimal “mix-ins”, and the flautas de pollo with salsa verde, though actually quite taste and bright, were served cold. That said, there were things that I loved, like the verduras en escabeche (pickled vegetables), the light romaine salad, the creamy, havarti filled and steamed chile rilleno, the deeply flavorful Frijoles de la Olla (black beans with oregano and queso fresco) and the quesadilla setas stuffed with oyster mushroom, queso fresco and jalapeno. The refreshing Tostada Jaiba, with peekytoe crab, lime, citrus and avocado, was inventive, crispy, and well-balanced, but the tacos overall were low on the flavor scale and just underwhelming. The tres leches cake, hiding a ring of pineapple and served with excruciatingly sweet caramel, was no where near as good as that of La Esquina’s. If you go to Dumbo for your Mexican food, I’d say save it for a day where you can sip margaritas on Gran Electrica’s back porch and focus on the more interesting dishes as opposed to what might be your go-to taco.

outside

outside

my favorite, crab tostada

my favorite, crab tostada. the perfect light meal

carnitas

carnitas

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

yes, we ordered this. flavorless and insanely overwhelming

awesome salad

awesome salad

fish tacos

fish tacos

Of the three, El Toro Blanco was the most underwhelming food and scene-wise. At 9:30pm on a Saturday, the place was almost empty, and despite their attempt at setting the scene with darkness and music, it just feels a little stale. The chips are served in white bowls, the energy dipped early – it strikes me as the Mexican restaurant for an older crowd. The menu has some interesting options. The tostada chopped salad was actually pretty delicious, filled with romaine, tomato, black beans, corn, avocado, cilantro, chips and lime vinaigrette, and the grilled swordfish tacos and shortrib empanadas were tasty (albeit sweet), but I didn’t finish the meal super excited about my experience. The Sonoran cheese crisp, which was an open faced quesadilla with tomato, tasted like the homemade pizzas I make at home with grocery-store tortillas. The chocolate cake with mini churros and ice cream I do remember being pretty addictive though. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my meal here, I just wouldn’t come racing back when I know I can get an even more exciting Mexican experience at the $5 per taco Dos Toros.

inside

inside

quesadilla - crispy but nothing genius

quesadilla – crispy but nothing genius

My conclusion? Nothing has changed, I still love Mexican food and on most nights would prefer any of these restaurants over that serving any other food group. But against all Mexican / Latin American restaurants I’ve tried in this city (and around the states), I wouldn’t say these ones jump out at me. I’d love to give ABC Cocina another go-round when their “booked for 31 days straight” status simmers down.

ABC Cocina Grade: A-
Gran Electrica Grade: B+
El Toro Blanco Grade: B-

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Filed under Brooklyn, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Flatiron, Fun Group Dinner, Greenwich Village, Mexican, Noteworthy Noshes, West Village

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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Lupa

inside*

I love Lupa not because it’s a baby of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, but because it meets many of my quick-hit top priorities for a last minute restaurant choice: walk-in friendly, central down-town location (Greenwich Village), cozy, plentiful bar seating, a full bar, and a wide variety of traditional, simple Roman trattoria food. Last week, after a long flight home and a quick stop at my friend Sara’s house-warming / birthday (also serving Italian food, but from Gigino, the epitome of traditional (think Mafia) New York Italian food), I sat at the bar for a lovely date with New York City. In perfect viewing perspective of  the diverse cluster of pasta-eaters – either alone at the bar, across their lover, or in a big group at the communal table,  I realized Lupa is the perfect place to sit and dwell on three things I love about this city – food, people watching and anonymity.

After a glass of wine my stomach turns into a vacuum and I can consume pretty much anything in sight. The painfully-full feeling was worth it though – the tangy farro and wild mushroom salad, the charred mackeral with grapefruit, the bucatini all’Amatriciana, and the spaghetti alla carbonara all brought me back to the rustic plates of food I devoured for a month in Italy so long ago. But the biggest standout for me, as it usually is, was dessert. The Lupa Tartufo isn’t just any old Italian tartufo. It’s a huge heap of ice cream contained in a thick, hard, bittersweet chocolate shell on a bed of warm melted chocolate, which makes a traditionally boring dessert incredibly beautiful and decadent. The salted caramel ice cream was to die for as well.

carbonara*

Amatriciana*

Tartufo

Lupa. Total classic. Casual, unpretentious, tres New York Italian (launched circa 1999). Love it!

Grade: A
Location: 170 Thompson Street off of East Houston
Website
*
photos from NYTimes

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Greenwich Village, Italian, Parents in Town, West Village

Whitehall

Bar view from my seat

After my meal at the new gastro-pub called Whitehall last week, I can’t figure out why this place hasn’t blown up in my niche of food media. Google Whitehall, NY, and the first thing that comes up is a link to the “birthplace of the U.S. Navy,” followed by links to maps, Police Department, and Amtrak routes. I google Meatball and the first thing that comes up is “The Meatball Shop” (though search is now more personalized, what’s up with that?).  The place has the quintessential West Village restaurant feel – sophisticated, warm and stylish, with splashes of playfulness like chalkboard menus and black park benches. The menu is packed with easily sharable sides, appetizers, and main courses inspired by British fare. I dined there with two of my work friends, both whom I like to believe enjoy food as much as I do. It’s always more fun to eat dinner with those who truly  appreciate food – there’s really no arguing that – because we don’t just order what we need, we order anything that looks remotely enticing (and end up finishing it).

Before I launch into the laundry list of food items we tried, the cocktails deserve describing. These “House Concoctions” are mostly labeled by number, which actually forced me to read the ingredients to make an educated, thoughtful drink choice as opposed to just jumping to my usual favorites. I started with the No. 4,  which combined gin, lemon, orange bitters, and ginger, and graduated to a delicious No. 8with mezcal, ginger, grapefruit, lime, and soda. I normally can’t stomach sweet cocktails, but since they accommodated my pleas for less-sugar, I guzzled four of them.

No. 4

To start, after a small warm roll with creamy butter, we shared two wonderful salads – the Whitehall Salad – which was somewhat of a breakfast with lettuce, crispy bacon, poached egg, cheese, and hazelnuts, and the Spiced Butternut Squash Salad with lemon feta and watercress.

squash salad

We couldn’t resist the description of Pan Roasted Squid, which came with chorizo, fingerling potatoes, and what Whitehall freakishly calls “gentleman’s relish.” Although it was flavorful, and the squid pieces were cut in pieces manageable enough to chew gracefully, the sausage grease was hard to ignore and a bit unsightly.

squid and bread with...gentleman's relish

For our main course, we dove into a Whitehall Burger with cheddar, pickled onions, lettuce, and of course, an egg. Yes yes, you all know that I’m not a burger savant, but I know what tastes good and this was undeniably delicious. I am extra pleased when a chef actually prepares the meat the way you ask for it, and this was perfectly medium rare as we had hoped. With the egg, the brioche bun, and the garlicky fries, I was smiling in a haven of gluttony. To balance out our meat, we also shared the root vegetable and lentil curried stew, which was exactly as it sounds – hot lentils with some roasted vegetables. Nothing special, but a decent break from the burger.

whitehall burger

lentils and veggies

delicious fried brussel sprouts

Mushy pea fritters

Aside from the delicious mushy pea fritters above, my favorite, as always, was dessert. Despite being stuffed to the brim we had no hesitation ordering three  – the honey crisp apple charlotte, the butterscotch pot de creme, and the chocolate fondant cake with earl grey ice cream. The salted caramel ice cream served with the crisp was insanely good, and the butterscotch pudding was warm, perfectly salty, and subtly sweet.

horrible lighting but yum

I can’t wait to go back to Whitehall – perfect for both a quick meet up and a long drawn out dinner, it has definitely been added to my list of “go-to’s” in the area.

Grade: A
Location: 19 Greenwich Ave @ 8th Street
Website: (a great one) http://www.whitehall-nyc.com


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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Greenwich Village, West Village

Grey Dog’s Coffee

Don’t be fooled by the name. Grey Dog’s Coffee offers oodles more than mochas and lattes. In fact, it’s one of my favorite neighborhood cafes for classic American breakfast or lunch. New York would be a better place with more casual stand-up-and-order establishments like this one – more often than not, I have no food in my house, but I want a good meal and a place to eat it without enduring the waiter-patron interaction. Ordering in is more commonly the solution, but Grey Dog Coffee always fits the bill when a change of scenery is essential.

bakery snapshot

Today I brought my sisters, mom and nephew along for the ride of the Grey Dog brunch. Despite arriving at prime time around 12pm, an attendant saved us a table for five while we waited in line to place our order. Though the colorful chalkboard menu is packed with a variety of smoothies, soups, salads, and typical egg dishes, I was in the mood for something simple and decided on the yogurt and homemade granola with extra fruit, along with a homemade zucchini muffin. I am a sucker for breakfast pastries and baked goods, and Grey Dog’s glass display of massive muffins ranging from strawberry with chocolate to apple cinnamon get me every time. My sisters ordered what I most often get on the weekends: the Grey Dog breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon, and french toast, and my mom ordered the breakfast quesadilla – well, she meant to. When she realized that she had accidentally ordered the cheese quesadilla, our server gladly brought over an extra side of scrambled eggs to help her turn the dish into the concoction she had imagined.

breakfast quesadilla

grey dog breakfast

The food at Grey Dog is hearty, filling, and straight-forward. They serve a stick-to-your-bones kind of breakfast that will last you until dinner time at insanely affordable prices compared to the restaurants in the area. There are fortunately multiple locations, so regardless of where you live downtown, you should be excited to fit this in your weekend routine.

Grade: A

Location: Multiple; 242 West 16th between 7th and 8th Avenue

Website: http://www.thegreydog.com

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Filed under American, Brunch, Chelsea, Erin's Favorites, Greenwich Village, West Village

8th Street Wine Cellar

Hidden wine cellar

Tonight I met up with a friend for a casual drink at 8th Street Wine Cellar in West Village. Had I not had my brand spankin’ new iPhone in hand, I probably would have given up on my search to find it – the sign outside is miniscule and you actually have to descend stairs to enter the place. After 2 years of walking along 8th street, I never knew that this quaint wine bar existed amidst the NYU-friendly eateries that line the block.

inside wine cellear

I took a fresh breathe of air when I walked into the restaurant because to my surprise, there were actually seats at the bar available, and I didn’t have to bring out my New York attitude to push past people to put my name on a list. What a great feeling! The description of the place fits the name perfectly – underground, ambient lighting, cool, and plenty of wine in storage. The menu has a great mix of sharable small plates ranging from ahi tuna tartar burgers to a mushroom quesadilla. We decided to share the three bruschette listed: butternut squash with goat cheese, mushroom, and white bean. I wouldn’t say they were the best crostini I’ve had, but they were conveniently sliced and quite a large portion for a measly $10. The butternut squash, with a combo of goat cheese and sweat pear, was definitely the most complex, while the mushroom tasted as if it had sat out on the counter for a few hours too long. The major issue was the bread itself – after spoiling myself on the luxury of Locanda Verde’s thick and hearty charred bread last week, this toast looked and felt like 10 day old croutons.

Bruschette

Our next helping of food definitely lifted the judgement bar a few notches. Our three cheeses came with olive tapenade, roasted pear, and dark and light raisin bread. The pecorino tartufo satisfied my craving for pungent flavor, and the triple creme brie was exactly what I had hoped for when I ordered it. I love eating cheese with raisin and nut bread, so I was thrilled by the combination offered. And get this – we ordered a helping of chopped liver, a suggestion of my fellow Jewish friend. Yep, you heard it, I ordered chopped liver. It was smooth, creamy, and rich, and with a mix of plump raisins, texturally and tastefully unique.

chicken liver pate

8th Street Wine Cellar is a simple neighborhood spot for a casual drink. The menu is diverse and affordable, and the space best accommodates small groups and one on ones. If you arrive without expectations of being wowed by world class cuisine, you’re bound to leave content to have tried a new place without the so often overplayed New York prestige.

Grade: B

Location: 28 W 8th St between MacDougal St and 5th Ave

Website: www.8thstwinecellar.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Drinks & Apps, Greenwich Village

Babbo

My favorite Christmas gift this year was a gift from my dear friend Carolyn: a gift certificate to Mario Batali’s famous Italian restaurant, Babbo. I couldn’t wait to use it…but considering tables are next to impossible to reserve there, I had to wait four months to do so. Thankfully, my kind boss knows Mr. Batali, so I was hooked up with a Thursday night reservation at 6.15pm – ideal compared to the other (if even available) choices of 5pm or 10.45pm.

I decided to take my fellow food lover Sonia, and we counted down the seconds leading up to the event. Sonia is not just a regular Babbo customer, though; considering Mario Batali religiously and exclusively uses her father’s olive oil, Da Vero, she is basically a celeb at the establishment. I had to embarrass her upon entering by revealing the fact that Da Vero’s daughter was in the house, and very glad I did – they basically bowed at our feet and even sent out a delicious freebie. Oh, the life of excess and hangin’ celebs…doesn’t get much better than this.

Bottom line is that Babbo’s ambiance is cozy and wonderful, its service is attentive and friendly, and its food is delicious. I have to say that though Babbo’s menu is more varied and extensive than that of Lupa, Mario’s other Italian restaurant, the quality of food is on par. That said, I think Babbo is a better and more popular establishment because of its gorgeous, upscale interior…you really do feel special when sitting amidst the warm, living room-esque surroundings.

Now, the food. I love surprises, and fortunately, the waiter brought out a small serving of chick pea bruschetta to start off our meal. It was much appreciated and definitely tasty, but nothing to rave about.
After a few sips of an incredibly stiff French 75 cocktail and the best glass of buttery, golden Italian chardonnay I’ve ever had, we started with fettuccine with housemade pancetta and asparagus. With the overwhelming list of incredible pastas, deciding was not a simple task, but our waiter recommended choosing one with seasonal ingredients. The pasta was, of course, amazing. Though it was served on a butter sauce, it was surprisingly delicate and light in flavor – the asparagus was very subtle, and the pancetta, much more like thin crisp pieces of bacon than thick cut fatty chunks of meat, added the perfect textural variety that the soft noodles and asparagus needed. A classic spring dish.
One of my favorite dishes of the night was not featured on the menu, and came out on the house: fresh mozzarella di bufala served with sauteed ramps and charred italian bread. The dish sounds simple, and it was, but its simplicity served a purpose by allowing the quality of each individual ingredient to shine. The mozzarella was milky and soft, perfect to smash on top of the grilled bread and layer under the salty ramps. Loved it!
For my main, I ordered a seasonal special: sauteed swordfish with sweet peas, morel mushrooms, and an incredibly delicate broth poured tableside. The fish was perfectly cooked – skinless, yet seared to a crisp on both sides. No salt needed – wonderfully seasoned, and some of the softest, most delicate sword fish I’ve tasted.
Sonia ordered very well, also – a beautiful duck with radicchio and house made pancetta. Both the breast and the leg of the duck were served, and I was stunned at the light, crispy-crackle-ness of the skin. I am not an avid duck fan, but I can accurately profess that this duck dish was out of this world.
To finish off our wonderful meal, Sonia and I shared a cheese plate of tallegio, triple cream cheese, and pecorino (I think). Though a light serving, it was just enough to top off a night of buttery chardonnay, buttery pasta, and buttery fish…or should I say Olive-oiley? Either way, the food was glorious, and I’ll be back as soon as I feel so inspired to bug my boss for hook-up or dine out at 5pm on a Monday.
Grade: A
Address: 110 Waverly Place between 5th and 6th avenues

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Filed under Greenwich Village, Italian, Parents in Town, Romantic Date, Special Occasion, West Village