Category Archives: Lower East Side

Prune: simple, stand-out French fare in quaint quarters

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Prune is another one of those special places, like Buvette, who’s got their brand essence down to a T; the feeling of elegant comfort is oozing throughout every minor detail of the restaurant. The bright pink awning, the matching pink menus and pink-uniformed wait staff, the tiny wooden tables, the adorable open kitchen exposing big copper pots, the white bowls of citrus, the hand-written menus, and the rustic wainscoting create the perfect aura of an adorable French cafe. No trendy stilettos and 3 hour wait lists here – Prune draws a neighborhood crowd looking for comfort in a sea of Lower East Side Manhattan scenesters. The setting, in addition to the delicious food, is why I entered and left the place smiling.

Prune is a legend. I’ve been reading about it since I moved to New York 4+ years ago, but it takes a lot to get me to venture to the Lower East Side. Fortunately, I was out of work early so I couldn’t pass up the invitation to have dinner there with my boyfriend, a long time fan of the place. I started my meal off with an italian greyhound- my ideal cocktail of vodka, fresh squeezed grapefruit, campari and rosemary served over massive ice cubes in a dainty glass tumbler and the perfect side-kick to the tin of seriously addictive chick-pea flatbread. I arrived pretty hungry, so that in addition to the fairly meat-heavy menu led me to order more heartily than usual. We started with the parmesan omelette and a side of swiss chard with olives, both light and beautifully simple. The omelette, slightly browned, was a savory combo of just a few ingredients: eggs, generous shavings of parmesan and beautiful flakes of salt. With the lightly sautéed greens, it would have been a beautiful meal on its own, but I couldn’t resist trying the filet mignon and homemade pork sausage that the couple was devouring next to us.

pretty in pink

pretty in pink

sidecar + flatbread

sidecar + roti

omelette = perfection

omelette, lightly browned but moist and soft

swiss chard

swiss chard

pork sausage

pork sausage

steak

steak

I’m not a huge pork fan, but this sausage was awesome, not only because it’s seared to a crisp, but because it wasn’t bursting with oily moisture like some sausages I’ve tried. The flavor is deep and earthy, perfect with the bed of lettuce served beneath it. The compact filet of steak, surrounded by a beautiful fried fan of potatoes, was simple and delicious as well.

Nothing on the dessert menu stuck out to me, but the meal ended with complimentary chunks of dark chocolate (70% as we confirmed) served with the bill. See! Every little detail is well thought out. This is the type of place I want to be and if I were to ever become a restaurateur, would want to open one day. It’s not cheap for the portion sizes, but I’ll definitely be back.

Grade: A
Location: 54 East 1st Street btwn 1st and 2nd Ave
Website

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Filed under East Village, Erin's Favorites, French, Fun Group Dinner, Lower East Side

Barrio Chino

On rare occasions I wake up craving a hearty breakfast, and when I do, that hearty breakfast has got to be laden with beans, cheese, and salsa. Yesterday morning, after a routine late night at the Rusty Knot, I couldn’t focus on anything else but getting some rendition of huevos rancheros in my belly. After passing Dos Toros, which had no egg option, the perfect spot suddenly occurred to me – Barrio Chino in the Lower East Side. This place is constantly packed. I’ve never walked by without seeing a group of people waiting for a table. But after I called to confirm that there was (shock!) no wait at 12pm on a Saturday, I trotted a little more quickly with THE number one breakfast of champions guaranteed in my future.

I LOVE Barrio Chino’s brunch menu (I had to check it on the iPhone before getting there), which includes 5+ egg options, homemade corn tortillas,  their regular tacos and entrees, and any side you could dream of. I got the Huevos a la Mexicana, which came scrambled with chiles, onions, and tomatoes, a side salad, earthy black beans with queso fresco and a hot corn tortillas. I added (of course) guacamole, more queso, and chorizo. I needed grease people. When the plate arrived, I died, significantly more excited than what the community has been labeling as their reaction to a hot plate of food, and I did not hesitate to launch into my mini-burrito-makin’ party. Corn tortilla, dollap of beans, egg, cheese, guac, salsa, and chorizo, wrap that puppy up and shove it in my mouth.

My mission to feed the beast was a success, in fact, I felt full until around 9pm that night. Next time I have another NEED MEXICAN NOW episode during the day, Barrio Chino will for sure be my place of choice.

Grade: A
Location: 253 Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow
Website

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Filed under Affordable Date, Beans and Rice, Brunch, Erin's Favorites, Lower East Side, Mexican

An Choi

In an attempt to find a quick meal in the middle of a drinks-only birthday party, I stumbled upon this eclectic Vietnamese restaurant, reminiscent of the dark, Christmas-light decorated garages that I’d stumble through at college parties. I’m not even sure if there were lights on string hanging, but it felt like they should be there. The place is cramped but has an inviting, eighties-style feel with waitstaff in cut off denim shorties and belly shirts. The vibe is nothing short of cool, and the menu is covered with affordable Vietnamese options.

Along with a Tiger beer (hello semester abroad in Asia), I sampled the classic pork and shrimp summer rolls, the chicken bun (rice noodles with veggies and vinegar sauce), and the beef pho. The pho arrived sans a bounty of herbs and raw veggies (which is what I look forward to), but the broth itself was so earthy and flavorful that it almost didn’t need it. Still, after having real deal, hole in the wall Vietnamese in San Francisco recently, the chicken bun was a little disappointing. The meat was moist and grilled, but the vegetables were paltry and the sauce a little flavorless. And in my opinion, summer rolls are summer rolls…they all pretty much taste the same to me – refreshing and healthy.

one of An Choi’s Goi Cuon

bun!

beef noodle soup

Still, I’m a sucker for quaint little joints where you can be seated with food and drink in no time. This place serves a purpose. It’s not high class food, but when you’re out in the Lower East Side, Barrio Chino is insane, and you want something other than fried grease to snack on between drinks, An Choi can help you out.

Grade: B+
Location: 85 Orchard Street off of Broome
Website
*photos from Flickr and this blog

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Lower East Side, Vietnamese

The Co-Op at Rivington Hotel

I have many-a-post to catch up on, but I couldn’t wait to to give a scathing review of the restaurant my friends and I dined at last night, Co-op Food and Drink. The menu was so promising – all my favorites glamorized: truffled mac & cheese, pork tacos, scallop nachos, sushi with rock shrimp..I really couldn’t wait to devour each and every one of these over-priced ($20) dishes. But the second I walked in, I smelled the disaster ensuing. Blasting obnoxious techno played as elderly men with gelled hair fondled their New York / New Jersey-Housewives at the bar. I tried to ignore the desperate scene, but after being seated smack center of the commotion, I knew it was going to be challenging.

Scene aside, the night got progressively worse as the noise increased and our drinks took longer and longer to arrive. Big mistake to request to turn down the music to accommodate my partially deaf friend (thanks Sonia) – the volume only got louder after that. When we put our food order in, the dishes came out simultaneously, within seconds. Though I normally would have complained about this horrible timing, I didn’t mind so much because I couldn’t get out of the place sooner. We were anxious to get the meal over with.

In an effort to be thorough, however, I will touch on a few of the dishes that were at least edible. Soshito peppers – fine, they were good, nothing special.

kale caesar and peppers

The sushi was actually decent, but again, not worth going to this place to try. The chicken lollipops were tasty, but probably came out to $20 per bite of meat given the ratio of edible food to bone on the plate. The biggest joke was the $20 black cod butter lettuce wraps, which not only tasted odd, but had literally a tiny cube of fish on three measly pieces of lettuce. And, the steamed duck buns tasted like dog.

chicken lollipops

duck buns

Before I go deeper and deeper into my negativity, I’ll just close with some advice. Only go to this Stanton Social wannabe if you’re looking for a Meatpacking scene with overpriced, despicable food in the lower east side.

Grade: D

Location: Hotel Rivington: 107 Rivington Street

Website: http://www.co-oprestaurant.com

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Pulinos

It’s pretty obvious that I love trying new restaurants, but this week I devoted time to visiting old favorites with my friend Sarah, who was visiting from San Francisco. Considering she’s a fellow foodie, I didn’t want to take any risks. Yesterday we had an awesome brunch at Pulino’s. Pulino’s is my go-to place for quick seating, a large menu, and a fun, bustling atmosphere without the typical New York scene-y swanky vibe, but yesterday was my first time visiting for brunch. The most impressive part about the experience is the menu, which can be overwhelming if you’re starving but amazing if you’re feeling adventurous. You can choose from regular wood-fired pizzas, breakfast pizzas (small or large) with a sunny side up egg, enchiladas, simple egg dishes, a burger, or standard italian dishes like baked ziti. There really is something for everyone here, which is why Pulino’s has just won a place on my list of best “visitors-in-town” brunch spots (along with The Standard Grill and Grey Dog).

Keith McNally, Pulino’s restaurant owner, is well known for his delicious pastries at Pastis and Balthazar, so we couldn’t resist ordering a medley for the table. The basket arrived filled with insanely flakey croissants, a prosciutto and currant scone, and a strawberry danish that remained untouched. Within minutes the carbo-loaded treats were consumed. We also shared the salsiccia pizza which arrived piping hot with cracked eggs, sausage, pancetta, mozzarella, and caramelized onions. Though we agreed to share it, of course  I practically ate the entire thing.

breakfast pizza

Then, though I want to say I am adventurous, I buckled under pressure and went with my go-to breakfast choice, two poached eggs with toast, potatoes, and bacon. Simple, classic, and hearty.

American breakfast

A brunch accompanied by mimosa drinking can easily win me over, but Pulino’s executed quite well on all fronts – food, service, and ambience. I’ll definitely be back to try the smoked salmon and eggs in the near future.

Grade: A

Location: 282 Bowery Street at East Houston

Website: http://www.pulinosny.com

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Filed under American, Italian, Lower East Side

Pulinos, again

This week has been the week of repeats and last night I had the pleasure of dining at Pulinos, one of my go-to spots for good food, vibrant atmosphere, and readily available outdoor seating. The menu has changed since my last visit, so I decided to go for the newbies: shredded zucchini salad with ricotta salata and black olives, assorted crostini, baked ziti with meatballs, and insalata verde with beans and tomatoes. Save for the mayonnaise-excessive egg salad crostini, everything was absolutely delicious. The zucchini salad was surprisingly unique, and blue crab crostini was delicate and addictive. It takes restraint not order pizza at Pulinos, but it’s actually worth the sacrifice if you get to sample solid plates like these.

zucchini salad

crostini

baked ziti with salad

Grade: A-

Location: corner of Bowery and East Houston

Website: http://www.pulinosny.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Italian, Lower East Side

Week of Gluttony

I would never want to be quoted that I’m tired of eating in restaurants, but after dining out every night this week, I came pretty close to saying it out loud. I think some of the fatigue resulted from the caliber of restaurants I visited – seemingly every high end, scene-y Nouveau American spot in the city; essentially an express train to acute gout. Monday started with The Lion followed by a main course at Blaue Gans. Tuesday was Abe and Arthurs with Dad. Wednesday was Minetta Tavern. Last night was Beauty and Essex. All restaurants I’ve been too before, but that didn’t really stop be from going overboard, and more importantly, finding new and delicious things on each menu. Here are some highlights…

The Lion

A 6pm table on a Monday night came as an last minute request to The Lion, which is notoriously impossible to reserve. Unfortunately, as the only table in the restaurant at that time, we received overbearingly attentive service (aka check-ins every 10 minutes and stare-downs from every angle of the restaurant). That said, the appetizers were across the board delicious: tuna sashimi with chili lime vinagrette, foie gras terrine with brioche toast, marinated artichokes, and truffled gnocchi. My Lion’s Paw cocktail was also amazing – with cucumber, yuzu limes, and rosewater, it was subtly sweet and went down a little too easily.

Oh so familiar Minetta Burger

Being a long time West-Villager, I’ve been to Minetta Tavern enough to know what I’d like to order in advance. This time, I committed to getting the Black Label Burger the minute I made the reservation, but also ended up splitting the roast chicken with my sister. The chicken was crispy and flavorful, but I think the most stand out item was our appetizers: the avocado crab salad and the special: white asparagus with anchovies. The anchovies added a bright and zesty flavor and the asparagus was delicate and perfectly cooked. With all these other distractions (one of which was our waitress’s unavoidable B.O.), my focus shifted away from the burger, which didn’t do a good job impressing me this time around.

classic Minetta chicken

Last night was my second visit to Beauty and Essex, and though its reputation has declined since it opened, I left with a new found love for this place. Aside from the snobby host and bartender (being difficult is apparently a job requirement), there were a few new things that stunned me. The short rib tamales were ridiculous – packaged in miniature banana leaves and served with a light mole sauce, were smokey, moist, and surprisingly authentic.

mini tamales at Beauty and Essex

The pan con tomate with burrata and mixed meat spring rolls were crowd pleasers too, and I once again tried the lobster tacos, ravioli, and grilled apple pizzette, which I loved. I attempted to be daring and tasted a microscopic piece of the bone marrow and steak tartare…I still claim to be a foodie but I just couldn’t enjoy that spectrum of food. We had a guest who mentioned she last left this place hungry, so we obviously did everything we could to prevent repeating that disaster. Quite the opposite, actually – I felt like being wheel barreled home, especially after a few bites of the chocolate cake and their insane butterscotch-dark chocolate pudding. Though I was impressed by the food across the board, I have to remember to limit the scope of the options next time – it can get really overwhelming with such a variety.

pan con tomate

for the cavemen

a MUST try (even to break lent)

Dining out like this is not for the faint of heart, but I’ve practiced enough to know how to go into it well prepared, knowing that a day of simple and healthy living is not too far off. At the end of the week my dad asked me “Don’t you just ever feel like staying home and eating a tuna sandwich?” I answered, no, I hate tuna, but yes, I do like to be simple every now and then, which is why I’m staying home on a Friday night. Though I was daunted on the days leading up to this, I feel privileged to eat like a Queen (thanks for the visit DAD), and I’m already looking forward to my Filipino brunch on Sunday. It’s a gluttonous hobby, I do admit. Review to come…

The Lion Grade: A-

Minetta Tavern Grade: A-

Beauty and Essex Grade: A

They all happened to be great places – don’t judge me for liking my food.

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Lower East Side, West Village

The Meatball Shop

For about 6 months straight last year, I couldn’t escape the buzz around Daniel Holzman & Michael Chernow’s new Meatball Shop in the Lower East Side. Every food publication across the country made some sort of mention of it, but surprisingly, I wasn’t inclined to put it on my “to-eat” list. My mom’s meatballs are perfection, so I knew that if they weren’t identical to hers, they would undoubtedly disappoint.

New Yorkers at 2am

inside behind bar

Then finally, the perfect opportunity presented itself. At 2am last night, after far too many vodka cocktails and hours standing in heels, I left the bar in search of food. And of course, right in front of my eyes grew a crowd of drunk young adults vying for space at the Meatball Shop. With liquid courage, I busted through the door, found a seat at the bar, and called the only person whom I knew would join me at this moment: my fellow foodie Sonia.

As I anxiously awaited her arrival, I scanned the menu, which with images and checkboxes attempts to be simple, but is actually complex. Meatballs on sliders, meatballs in a bowl, and meatball sandwiches scattered across the menu made my eyes dart far too many directions in a short period of time. So rather than pick my option by checking I box, I told the bartender exactly what I wanted: a normal bowl of meatballs with tomato sauce, some risotto (if they even had it), and one chicken meatball with mushroom sauce. Fortunately, they had all of the above.

The chicken meatball slider came on a lightly toasted bun, and for $3, was a great little snack to tide me over while politely waiting for Sonia. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t that good. Maybe the fact that it was late had something to do with it, but the meatball was room temperature, and the mushroom sauce reminded me of Campbell’s soup cream of mushroom. When Sonia arrived, we dug into the bowl of regular meatballs with fresh tomato sauce. These were definitely better, but the balls lacked the salty, subtly crispier edge that I so love about my mom’s meatballs. These were more traditional, fluffy and made with more filler than what I’m accustomed to. Regardless, these were definitely tasty, and for around $9, a great buy.

meatballs

slida!

The risotto was just not good. It desperately needed cheese, it was cold, and the starchiness of the arborio rice was overwhelming.

cold risotto

I’d like to assume that in the middle of the night, the chefs were a little off their A-game, and the food here is normally as delicious as most critics claim it to be. After viewing pictures on Yelp, I regret not trying the meatball sub – with hot bread and cheese, I can’t imagine being disappointed. Though my high expectations of the Meatball Shop weren’t met last night, I’d like to give it another try to fairly judge (meaning 100% sober, and at a reasonable hour) before writing it off as overrated. That said, his place gets major brownie points for having mix and match ice cream sandwiches (which I’ll definitely try post Lent) and serving food until 4am on Saturdays.

Grade: C+

Location: 84 Stanton Street @ Allen

Website: http://www.themeatballshop.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Brunch, Cheap Eat, Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Lower East Side

Bacaro

private room

I constantly hear great things about Bacaro, the cavernous italian restaurant on the east tip of Chinatown, but it’s taken 3 years to finally haul myself downtown to try it out. Tonight, I planned a family-style dinner in one of their many private wine-cellar rooms for a team reunion. At just $60 per person, we were seated in a private room with a generous four course set-menu meal. But despite the speedy service and the modest, seductive, group-friendly vibe, the food ultimately didn’t impress. I left tonight confirming that Bacaro’s high marks are purely a result of its uniquely comfortable ambience in a city of warehouse style restaurants and $10K private room rental fees.

Upon arrival, our group was led downstairs and arrived at a dark, stone-walled, windowless room with a gothic chandelier, candles burning and a table set with our pre-chosen appetizers: artichokes with bresaola, mixed green salad with blue cheese and pear, and a meat and cheese platter. Despite the wide variety of cheeses and bright colors on our plates, nothing I ate stood out as remarkable, and most of the vegetables (especially the artichokes) tasted like they came straight from the jar.

pear and blue cheese salad

meat and cheese platter

The second course was definitely my favorite, and we dove into the gnocchi con funghi and the risotto di mare as soon as it arrived to our table. Both were fabulous – the gnocchi was buttery, earthy, and served with a medley of wild mushrooms, and the risotto had a subtle seafood flavor with evenly dispersed pieces of shrimp and squid. I’m generally not a risotto fan, but nothing could separate my fork from this dish.

gnocchi with mushrooms

risotto with seafood

I must have foreseen the future, because I was thanking the heavens that I filled up on carbs when the main courses arrived. I like rare meat, but the grilled steak’s bloody appearance and soft texture made it barely edible. The sole, while properly cooked, was overwhelmingly salty. There wasn’t much else to turn to but the left over risotto and bread.

looks can be deceiving

sole in butter

Thankfully, the main courses were promptly exchanged for an array of desserts including panna cotta, tiramisu, chocolate torte, and rice pudding. I gave up dessert for lent but apparently forgot during my destructive relapse tonight when I pretty much tackled this course on my own. I don’t regret the indulgence, however – the desserts far outshone the rest of the meal, and the panna cotta was as creamy, delicate, and subtly sweet as a perfect custard should be. With thick layers of cream and lady fingers, the tiramisu was a crowd pleaser as well. In the process of shoveling down these masterpieces, I wondered with paranoia if the chef mischievously  devoted his energy to preparing just what he knew could halt my 40 day dessert abstinence. Purposeful or not, I’m damn glad he found me at my moment of weakness.

panna cotta

chocolate cake

tiramisu

Though overall Bacaro’s food left room for improvement, I can’t discredit this place entirely. It’s a great venue for small, laid back dinner parties with good friends and straight forward service. With just a sign of a contract, they make planning and executing a breeze, and I could see myself hosting a dinner here for a group not as focused on the quality of food as I usually am.

half of the told team

Grade: C+ for food

Location: 136 Division Street between Allen and Essex

Website: http://www.bacaronyc.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Lower East Side, Private Party

Brunch at Schiller’s Liquor Bar

Rivington and Norfolk

Sunday morning rolled around, and with the sound of rain crashing down on the pavement outside, Sonia and I needed serious motivation to leave her apartment. What better incentive than food? I was excited, because having woken up in the Lower East Side, I had a whole new array of restaurants to choose from for Sunday brunch. After assessing various menus, reviews, and walking distances, we decided on Schiller’s Liquor Bar, especially because they take brunch reservations. As I like to say, when in doubt, go for a Keith McNally…

Schiller’s definitely shares the casual, French brasserie qualities that Balthazar and Pastis possess, but with less intensity. The waiters are definitely bustling to get around, but are more at ease with more space to squeeze between tables and converse on the side.

view from our table

When we were seated, we immediately ordered our brunch drinks – Sonia a Bloody Mary, and me, a Blood Orange Mimosa – and a bread basket with hopes of receiving that beautifully rich sour dough bread from Balthazar. Unfortunately, we were given lifeless white bread in its place served with foil wrapped butter. We should have known, as the restaurant website sets expectations quite well: “Schiller’s has a casual atmosphere…The wine list consists of 3 wines: CHEAP, DECENT and GOOD. CHEAP is the best.”

Blood Orange Mimosa

Selecting from the chicken-scratch written laminated menu became overwhelming in my restless state, but in an effort to be bold I chose the Eggs Hussard with mushrooms, ham, tomato poached eggs, bordelaise, and hollandaise sauce. I asked for the sauces on the side because it sounded far too heavy in full composition, and in retrospect I did the right thing – the thought of a thick steak sauce and an even thicker cream sauce in combination with eggs sounds impossible to stomach. Though each component tasted fine separately, the dish overall felt disconnected, especially with the impenetrable fried sour dough toast.

Eggs Hussard (pictured with sauce ensemble)

Sonia, however, ordered just right and got a hearty croque madame, a French ham sandwich topped with melted gruyere and a fried egg. This was one of my favorites while living in Paris, and one bite flew me back to my year abroad (I’m starting to sound old). The cheese was broiled to perfection with browned edges, and paired well with the thick slices of country ham resting on the bread.

Croque Madame with earthy gruyere

Schiller’s has a pretty basic, well rounded menu for a diverse brunch crew, but I wouldn’t say that there are various items on the menu that win the gold award for originality. I find value in Schiller’s ability to accept reservations last minute, provide quick service, and offer a thorough variety of crowd pleasing food. That said, I’m looking forward to trying some of the other stand outs for brunch next time I’m in the area…I’ve got Clinton Street, Poco, Peels, and 88 Orchard on the list.

Grade: B

Address: 131 Rivington Street @ Norfolk

Website: http://www.schillersny.com

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Filed under American, Brunch, Business Meal, French, Lower East Side