Category Archives: Mediterranean

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

Featured City Post: Bar Agricole in San Francisco

With my travel sked. in the next few weeks, my featured city posts will soon have a different meaning – New York city will need to be my “tourist destination.” Tears. But for now, I shall talk about SF as if I am a foreigner until my bouncing around lifestyle really sinks in.

My local (and childhood) girlfriend Gillian would never classify herself as a “foodie.” Despite crossing town for Gordo’s burritos, she seems repulsed by the foodie label. But every now and then she’ll get hooked on a place – so hooked that she visits week after week until the bartenders wink at her as she walks in and the host waves like Gillian’s the mayor of SF. She’ll eat every dish on the menu and email me with passionate encouragement to try it out. Finally, we decided to try her current obsession together – Bar Agricole – and I was totally impressed with our  fantabulous meal.

Gillie in front

bartender

happy with my medicine

I died the second I got out of the car (valet thankfully). The place is gorgeous. It’s a gem in a horrible neighborhood containing Slim’s and Costco. Among the sea of drab buildings, Bar Agricole shines with a beautiful charcoal gray exterior, sleek wood, high ceilings, clean lines, and modern elegant light fixtures. You feel the dedication to consistent design when you walk in here, and the essence remains in every sip of a drink and bite of food you take. The menu is a sturdy white booklet that details in succinct lines just the most important elements of each dish, which are made up of 3-4 key local ingredients. Feeling compelled to celebrate the end of the week and a relative reunion, we went to town on the ordering. I chugged an amazing fruit cup cocktail with gin and ginger, and recited the list to our waiter: speckled romaine salad with breakfast radishes and soft boiled egg, raw albacore tuna with cucumber, avocado, and beets, chopped liver on toast, spaghetti with tuna confit, capers, tomato, black olives, and parsley, and roasted duck breast and leg (Sonia next time) with squash blossoms and white corn.

delish Fruit Cup

romaine salad

tuna salad

Gillie with liver

duck breast and leg

tuna pasta

Every dish that came out was better than the last. The liver on toast, which we ordered only to taste, was devoured in seconds. The romaine salad had just the right cheese and acid to make the salad feel light and interesting at the same time. The spaghetti was my favorite – salty, earthy, and hearty with a thick slab of delicately cooked tuna. We were seriously in heaven as we trekked through each dish, and just when I thought I couldn’t handle anymore, we dove right into a lemon ricotta tart with lavender meringue and a tiny white chocolate cremeux with almond crumble and grilled peaches. We told the waiter it was his responsibility to take it away after we had a few bites, but of course we guarded those plates like they were our own children until we pretty much ate every last drop.

last of the Gillie photoshoot

Bar Agricole reminds me of the value prop of SF restaurants. Yes New York has a plethora of wonderful restaurants, but no where can you find such high quality fresh food in a beautiful setting at these prices. I would say the food and setting of Bar Agricole is along the same lines as ABC Kitchen, but no layman in New York city could dream of getting a reservation at a decent time at Jean George’s hot spot. San Francisco is a city of the people for the people – no need to call 30 days in advance for this place, which is just as awesome.

Next on my list – State Bird Provisions – a restaurant where you can hand pick your dishes as they stroll by in dim sum style carts – and this year’s best new restaurant according to Bon Appetit. Until next time!

Grade: A+
Location: 355 11th Street
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Filed under American, Business Meal, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Featured U.S. City Posts, Mediterranean

Balaboosta

After having a great meal at Meme Mediterranean for lunch yesterday, I had no issue eating another round of hummus and pita at Balaboosta in Soho. This place has long been on my list but when it first opened, it was nearly impossible to find an available table at a decent hour. Inside is beautifully comfortable and sophisticated with a wood paneled ceiling, white walls, and soft lighting. And despite offering only beer and wine, the owners have invested in a beautiful bar with exposed shelving and modern, low hanging light fixtures.

beautiful bar

pizza

mezze platter

The brunch menu is very affordable – our Mediterranean platter and breakfast pizza totaled to just over $20. The mezze came with a thick, hearty hummus, roasted red peppers, and a tangy yogurt cucumber dip all to pair with the piping hot rounds of Za’atar pita, a million times more doughy and flavorful than store-bought. For about a minute I was disappointed to see the pizza made with pita – I really wanted a crispy wood fire oven crust, but after taking a bite of the zucchini, egg, feta and pita combo, I got over it. I won’t deny that it didn’t satisfy my pizza craving, but it was  still deliciously salty, fresh, simple and flavorful, just like all food native to Israel.

The service was great, the food came out fast, and I loved the warmth of the place. It’ll be a tough call between Antique Garage and Balaboosta when I’m in the neighborhood and craving fresh Mediterranean food.

Grade: A-
Location: 

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Filed under Mediterranean, Nolita, Parents in Town, Soho

Ilili

I tend to avoid midtown-east restaurant establishments because I find them impersonal and fussy compared to my cozy West Village favorites. Ilili’s ambience didn’t necessarily prove me wrong, but the food was stellar. It’s pretty easy to win me over with complimentary freshly baked pita and crackers with herb marinated cheese, and the hummus, chicken skewers with crispy skin, pan seared tuna belly, fattoush salad and warm eggplant that followed were incredible.

Ilili is a great place for a corporate event – they have a few rooms on the second level that can accommodate large groups, or a post-work meal. It’s also a great place to bring parents or adult out of town visitors. Though the food is great, I wouldn’t head to this area on the weekends unless you’re looking to be with an older, more mature crowd.

Grade: A-
Location: 236 5th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets
Website: http://www.ililinyc.com

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Filed under Business Meal, Drinks & Apps, Family Style, Gramercy, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Parents in Town

Alta

People assume that because I write a “food blog,” selecting restaurants comes easily to me. In actuality, it’s that much more difficult because my brain becomes overwhelmed by the possibilities and it’s so crucial to me that my visitors have a memorable time. After agonizing for weeks about where to bring my two friends from DC and making literally 7 reservations, I finally settled on Alta. I’ve been to Alta before, and though the food didn’t wow me, the idea of shared plates and great sangria motivated me to try it once more. I’m so glad I did, because after last night I have a totally renewed love for this place.

Where do I begin? The menu consists of what seems like hundreds of different options, all of which sound delicious – and “the whole shebang” can be purchased for a decent $480. Sadly, our group of four couldn’t handle the idea, but that didn’t stop us from ordering our hearts out.

Everything was delicious – the spinach and mascarpone bruschetta topped with turkish figs and balsamic was the first and my favorite thing to come out. After that, it was an outpour of mouth watering food: grilled shrimp and chorizo, eggplant dip and hummus, seared sea scallops with black truffles, pulled pork empanadas, striped bass, skirt steak with chimichurri, pizza with porcini cream and fontina cheese, fried goat cheese with lavendar honey, wild mushroom risotto, crispy brussels sprouts with fuji apple, and finally peanut baklava with caramel ice cream. The plates are sized for a table of four to have a good bite or two of each – any more than 5 people and I’d suggest doubling orders. After a few photos I had to put the camera down to keep up with the pace of the meal.

best bruschetta combo ever

risotto

deliciously creamy risotto

skirt steak

amazing brussels

empanadas

mushroom pizza

The food is not the only great thing about Alta – their drinks are strong, their sangria is not too sweet, and they allow you to order progressively,  as opposed to requiring that the full order be placed at once to rush you out as quickly as possible. I’m ecstatic that I have a new go-to place for a girls’ night out – but I recommend Alta for all occasions.

Grade: A+
Location: 64 West 10th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue
Website:
 www.altarestaurant.com

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Mediterranean, Spanish

Antique Garage

Despite being a shopping mecca, New York’s Soho area surprisingly lacks the variety of brunch spots I would expect for such a weekend destination. As a result, I tend to resort to my trusty favorite: Antique Garage. This mediterranean restaurant, housed in a converted garage filled with antique furniture, ornate art and mirrors and a beautiful bar, is one of my favorite spots to drink a bellini and munch on mezes after a long day of shopping. To complement the old fashioned aesthetic, there is often live jazz musicians dressed in ’20s garb who lure you right back into the era of Great Gatsby. In the summer, when the garage door is pulled back, it becomes the ideal place for breathing the fresh city air, daydreaming, and people watching.

inside

Though I would love to eat everything on the menu, I tend to always stick to my favorites. Today, my friend Mer and I decided to split the mesclun salad with chicken kebab and the meze platter after a relaxed stroll in the area. With a sampling of hummus, tzatsiki, greek salad, babaganoush, borek, chicken salad, and fresh cucumber and tomato slices, the meze platter is my heaven on a plate. The best item on the plate is the borek, which are crispy, melt-in-your-mouth phyllo wrapped feta rolls. And with the hot, fresh slices of pita bread, all of the dips can become quite the meal.

Salad with chicken

mixed meze platter

As always, my meal at Antique Garage was a crowd pleaser.

Grade: A+

Location: 41 Mercer Street near Grand Street

Website: http://www.antiquegaragesoho.com

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Soho

Barbuto, again

I won’t write much here because by now you should know how I feel about Barbuto. It’s my favorite. Last night, I sat outside and had the deliciously juicy marinated tomatoes with ricotta salata, addictive crispy fried potatoes (of course), and pan-seared cod with zucchini salad and tomatoes. Everything is simple and amazing. Go here if you haven’t already!

marinated tomatoes

cod

Potatoes

Grade: A+

Location: 775 Washington Street @ W12th

Website: http://www.barbutonyc.com

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

Fig and Olive

When I lived in New York the summer of 2007, I shared a one bedroom the size of a closet with my friend Sarah, no air conditioning, miles and miles uptown on first avenue. Despite the close quarters and arbitrary location, I found solace in my close proximity to a well stocked Food Emporium and restaurants in an area I wouldn’t otherwise explore. One place we discovered was Fig and Olive, a much smaller and quainter version of the bustling one in the Meatpacking I visited last night. I remembered loving the menu and my meal – light, mediterranean dishes, various crostinis, crudo, and carpaccios, and an array of simple fish dishes. Time has swept away since then, but I finally had a chance to test out the downtown location last night to celebrate the arrival of my Brazilians amigas.

communal table

I was alarmed by bumping techno music and overbearing background noise – a stark contrast with the elegantly modern space, pristinely white splashed with marble, small potted plants and eclectic bottles of olive oil. This place is incredibly vast compared to the local West Village cafes, but fits well with the go-big-or-go-home club scene of the immediate area. As a group of 8 we were seated at a long communal table pointed toward the kitchen. One plus was that we could sit as an incomplete party as the rest of the group trickled in; one major minus was that it took us about twenty minutes to get our waiter’s attention, who seemed to be running away from a fire the entire night.

pristine decor

After practicing the virtue of patience we finally ordered and were served in a timely manner. First arrived my avocado soup, which was described as a crab and avocado soup but was actually a cup of chilled, beautifully green avocado puree with a side crab-piled crostini. I loved the crab salad on the side and the deep flavors of avocado and coconut in the soup. It was refreshing, but I was hoping the soup had incorporated more texture.

chilled avocado soup

I thought that for sure my main course of filet of sole en papillote would be an easy win, but the thyme seasoning completely overwhelmed the delicate subtlety of the fish, and tasting the rubbery squash and zucchini with my eyes closed brought me straight to in-flight dining. Fortunately, a few bites of the delicious (yet excessively oiled) penne pasta tartufo helped fill my void of hot food, as well as the orecchiette with broccoli rabe and halibut – definitely what I’ll order if I’m ever convinced to come back.

fish en papillote

penne with truffle oil

halibut orecchiette

The fruit crostini, shortbread cookies topped with marscarpone, strawberries, and basil, was most definitely the best part of the meal. Not my typical dessert (no chocolate), but it was buttery, creamy and beautifully plated.

fruit crostini

To make a long story short: love the variety of the menu, the food is not thrilling, the volume level is excessive, service is inefficient and inattentive. I could see Fig and Olive being a great option for lunch when the techno vibe isn’t bumping through its veins and a lighter meal is expected. But for dinner in the area, pass it up and look no further than a few blocks down where you’ll find my restaurant soulmate, Barbuto.

Grade: B-

Location: 416 W 13th St between 9th and 10th Avenues

Website: http://www.figandolive.com

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Filed under Meatpacking, Mediterranean

5 Ninth

Exterior

After three years of passing and peaking into 5 Ninth on my walk home from work and even planning a few events there for my old managers, I finally made a reservation for myself, which was incentivized by a Google-provided 20% discount. Looking like a quaint cottage in an area with modern storefronts and rooftop bars, with three narrow stories and plenty of outdoor space on both ends of the restaurant, this place definitely stands out as breath of fresh air in terms of aesthetics. I can’t say that the restaurant shares the youthful, upbeat energy of the Meatpacking in which it resides, but some may consider this a God-send when it feels like eating elsewhere requires aggressive advanced planning or elbow poking crowds.

back patio

The menu is American and somewhat unadventurous with its variety – it has the classic roast chicken, one or two fish dishes, a couple of pastas and a small selection of salads and appetizers. Mike, Sonia and I split the greek salad, which we were convinced could not go wrong. And while it didn’t fail, the tomatoes and cucumbers were sort of…depressing. Served look warm and over-dressed, the vegetables lacked crunch and the feta had more of the texture of a creamy blue cheese than a crumbly white one.

limp greek salad

My next dish was fairly simple – a grilled striped bass served with swiss chard and white beans. I was pleasantly surprised that it arrived hot out of the oven and traditionally prepared, but the swiss chard was so tough and stringy it was nearly impossible to chew. Mike’s roast chicken had crispy skin but excessive fat, and was served surrounding an overwhelming abundance of “mojo” sauce, a sweet and sour salsa that made the spinach and lentils look like an afterthought.

black bass

roast chicken with unidentifiable sauce

Despite the stale bread that we had only received after asking, I was close to leaving 5 Ninth satisfied, though not impressed, by my experience. The manager gave us a special thanks for coming and the scene outside was quite serene. But just as we were exiting, I couldn’t help but suddenly notice vigorous rustling in the black dumpster situated to my left. And once we realized that the sound wasn’t coming from a person, but from some kind of live animal, all positive memories vanished.

Yes, I know I’m living in denial to think that most restaurants in New York aren’t plagued with infestations, but the last thing I could ask for is to discover them mid-meal. It’s too bad that I left disappointed because the restaurant definitely has potential – it just needs to clean up its act, starting with the obvious – no seating customers next to garbage cans. That said, apparently they have a great deal for Happy Hour, so for such a beautiful setting, and I think it’s safe to assume that the rats aren’t focused on the booze.

Grade: C

Location: 5 Ninth Avenue at Gansevoort Street

Website: http://www.5ninth.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, American, Meatpacking, Mediterranean, Romantic Date

Mémé

from front window

Though my mom flew across the country for a weekend of wedding dress shopping (for my sister), she came with every intention of eating good meals for the entire duration of her stay. Knowing this, my sister and I decided to take her to one of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants in the city, Meme. Meme opened only a few months ago, but has since garnered a hefty following for its diverse menu and intimate window-seat tables.

After a casual amuse bouche of feta-tomato bruschetta, olives, and olive bread, we started with the appetizer special of prosciutto wrapped figs with warm mozzarella and balsamic glaze. The five small dumplings combined an awesome mix of the delicate sweetness of the fruit and sharp saltiness of the crispy seared ham.

special appetizer

For my entree, it was a tough choice between the chicken tagine and the striped bass with chick peas, cumin, coriandor and roasted peppers served with a side of rice. I decided on the bass, which was beautifully prepared in a flavorful red broth perfect for olive-bread dipping. Though the dish would have benefitted from some citrus and salt, it was easily fixed with my mom’s extra tzatsiki.

roasted bass

Considering the food sharers my family members are proud to be, I shamelessly stole a few bites of my mom’s baked meatballs with yogurt and mint, served in piping hot in a clay pot. My sister loved these, but they were a little too rich for my taste – definitely a better dish to share.

meatballs

My mom’s chicken kebab, however, was definitely something I’ll order next time – served with roasted vegetables, rice pilaf, and on a generous portion of my favorite – tzatsiki, they would be the perfect thing to pair with a salad.

chicken kebab

The food at Meme is hearty and refreshing, and the restaurant, like Cafe Gitane and Bill’s, is a cozy haven in a neighborhood of overwhelmingly packed and scene-y hot spots. The service is spectacular – actually, so attentive that at one point in the night my mom and I were convinced that our waitress had the hots for my sister. Meme is definitely a must if you are in the village and looking for something easy with a variety of options, unpretentious waitstaff and a solid full bar.

Grade: A

Location: 581 Hudson St between 11th St & Bank St

Website: http://www.memeonhudson.com

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Filed under Affordable Date, Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Mediterranean, Parents in Town, Seafood, West Village