Category Archives: Midtown East

The Palm Court at the Plaza: tea time, anyone?

Justyn @ Plaza

Justyn @ Plaza

Scones, clotted cream, tea
Fancy forks and velvet chairs
Hellof expensive

I never thought I’d add high tea at the Plaza to my New York bucket list, but when my sister invited me to join her with her friend Nicole, it suddenly became a pre-move-to-SF priority. Plus, I grew up fantasizing about the Plaza as an avid Elouise fan. Before I could read, my sister would pretend that this said book was oddly written all about me, so imagining myself jumping around the hotel was often how I’d fall asleep. To be here today as an adult, sipping tea as a civilized New Yorker, happy and independent…well it just brought a warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia.

Until I was told we would be charged $20 per person to share any of the four assorted finger food selections. At $60 for an individual order, I should’ve assumed as much. Fortunately, my annoyance only slightly disrupted the beauty of the grand and uniquely ornate surroundings.  

We selected the afternoon tea and shared the New Yorker, which came with a selection of mini sandwiches, lemon scones with clotted cream, lemon and jam, and sweet treats, all a notch less fancy than the “Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages.” And while “they” call it “tea”, it soon became much more of a food test than a sipping tea fest. I sampled every sandwich (microscopic bites since we were sharing between 3), and the smoked salmon with endive was by far the best. The other two were delicious – roquefort with grapes, and a crispy prosciutto with mozzarella and pesto. The cucumber was not cold and crispy enough, and far too heavy on the whipped cream cheese.

Me & platter

Me & tower

Nicole & Justyn & platter

Nicole & Justyn & tower

The scone, a very important part of tea, was crumbly, buttery, lemony, and perfect with the clotted cream and sweet additions. It was enough dessert on its own, but that didn’t stop me from sampling each of the bite-sized desserts on plate 3 – the cream-filled profiterole was the best.

The best deal here, however, is the $30 Elouise tray for children. Nicole’s daughter lucked out with her own, 3-tiered tower filled with a PB&J, cucumber sandwich, strawberry sandwich, and a few others, a scone, and a ton of desserts that looked better than our adult ones (like a white chocolate dipped strawberry and a pink oreo…so unfair). I took a few bites here and there, and while the PB&J was a little on the stale side, I’ll say this much – if you can pass for an 11 year old, I would come here to order this and call it a day.

heaven for a child.

heaven for a child.

Will I be back? Not on my paycheck. Did I feel super sophisticated and rich eating there? Yes. Quintessentially New York? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Totally.

So America, here you have it. Tea at the Plaza Hotel.

a horrible photo of all of us.

a horrible photo of all of us.

Grade: B+ (food only)
Location: The Plaza. Do I even need to explain?
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Filed under Brunch, Business Meal, Midtown East, Midtown West, Upper West Side

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

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

spinach artichoke dip

crostini

mac & cheese

pizza pizza – amazing here!

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

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

Sugar Surge: Shake Shack Frozen Custard

I was in denial for weeks, but I now can sadly admit that my only friend from college in New York City is moving back to San Francisco. The only silver lining of this depressing news is that said friend Ashley is hugely food obsessed and has invited me to take the New York restaurant scene by the horns to aggressively tackle her must-eats list before leaving. This weekend, we had a chance to check a few off with a Market Table dinner, a Jane brunch, a Calexico Taco, and most importantly, a Shake Shack Frozen Custard. The flavor of the day was Pumpkin Pie, but we also couldn’t resist our own creation of chocolate cookie dough and peanut butter. Sadly, they forgot the cookie dough and mistakingly added a swirl of fudge making it overly mono-consistent. Same story with the Pumpkin Pie. I was hoping for chunks of pie crust, but instead got a smooth mix of Thanksgiving flavor. The treat was not bad by any means, it just wasn’t what the long line implied it to be. In fact, I think I’d prefer 16 handles…

Conclusion: go to Shake Shack for the burgers, despite the namesake. Ice cream aside, the walk through Madison Square Park with my long time friend Ash made it worth it. Our next stop? Hearth this Friday. Stay tuned…

Grade: B+
Location: Multiple
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Filed under Gramercy, Midtown East, Sugar Surge

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 pita chips with herb marinated cheese, and the hummus, chicken skewers with crispy chicken skin, pan seared tuna belling, fattoush salad and warm eggplant that followed were incredible.

pita

delicious hummus dip

crackers with goat cheese

warm eggplant

tuna belly

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 sharable-plate 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, Fun Group Dinner, Gramercy, Middle Eastern, Midtown East, Midtown West, Parents in Town, Sex & The City Swank

Brasserie Les Halles

Funnily enough, the week after Anthony Bourdain made an appearance at Google with his No Reservations’ production crew, my aunt booked us a table at his longstanding Manhattan French bistro, Brasserie Les Halles. For all of the tongue and animal guts he enjoys on his well-known travel series, I was totally surprised by the simple French offerings at his “home base” (as the website states). Considering the restaurant is described as an extension of the bustling Les Halles district in Paris, though, the menu is typically simple and Parisian, just as it should be.

Inside

The restaurant is large, with dark oak detail and wooden chairs and tables. There’s nothing modern or fancy about the vibe, so it’s a perfect spot for a good meal without pretention. I was impressed immediately when a basket of both french and multigrain bread was served upon being seated. Not only did it arrive quickly, but it came alongside a thick circular pat of ice cold, creamy french butter. I could have made a meal out of this simple pairing, and we consumed two servings before our meals even arrived.

simple yet addicting

Service was definitely on the slower side, but by the time we placed our order we didn’t wait too long before our entrees arrived. Deciding what to eat was difficult, but I went with the simple grilled tuna and vegetables. The tuna was served as one large oddly shaped hunk of seared fish that was awkward to maneuver with a fork and knife. The huge pile of crispy shoe string fries, however, paired perfectly with the soft fish and vegetables. The overall flavors were there, and it was cooked just as I had requested.

Pavé de Thon Grillé

The chocolate fondant cake was the standout, as it usually is for me at French restaurants, but the serving of ice cream was a joke. Note to self: order two next time around.

tiny ice cream but mighty cake

Based off of my sister’s delicious crab cake and my aunt’s good looking cauliflower soup and mushroom ravioli, I left this restaurant pleasantly satisfied with the well rounded, simple French meal, incredibly delicious free bread, and the luscious chocolate dessert. I’ll definitely return if I’m in need of an adult-friendly place close to the 6 train, but probably won’t go out of my way for it.

Grade: A-

Location: 411 Park Avenue South (at 29th Street)

Website: http://www.leshalles.net

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Filed under French, Gramercy, Midtown East, Parents in Town

Al Bustan Lebanese

It’s two for two for bad dinners in the past two days, and I’m starting to think I’ve lost my touch in selecting. Uptown to visit my sister at work, I decided to stop by this well known upscale Lebanese restaurant for some take-away. At around 4pm the place was empty – in fact, I think it was closed, but the owner was nice enough to take my disorganized order, which consisted of a hodge-podge of unfamiliar small plates and interesting sides. I then asked him to pick a few specialty dishes without meat.

the disappointing spread

I waited patiently to the tune of loud Middle Eastern music, and after about 20 minutes the man came to me with a large bag of Lebanese goodies. I couldn’t wait to try them all, and when my sister and I got back to her apartment we unleashed the spread. Unfortunately, the salad, pre-dressed, was incredibly soggy to the point that the pita chip croutons had transformed into white, slimy mush. The fatayer, pastry stuffed with spinach and walnut, was far too sweet. When I read “pastry,” I didn’t actually think it would be a sweet treat with spinach inside. The Arayess bil Jibneh, haloumi-cheese filled dumplings, were actually quite good but definitely not the type of thing that stays crispy and hot in a 30 minute subway ride home. And, despite my request for vegetarian items, somehow a lamb pie made it into the mix.

I don’t think I can fairly judge Al Bustan’s as a restaurant, but I can confidently say that you shouldn’t order takeout expecting to get the real Lebanese experience.

Grade: C

Location: 319 East 53rd between 1st and 2nd Ave

Website: http://www.albustanny.com

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Filed under Middle Eastern, Midtown East