Category Archives: Chelsea

Izakaya Ten: a quaint Japanese gem in no-man’s land

izakaya ten

When most people think of 10th avenue, I’m guessing that the thought of great restaurants doesn’t come to mind. But if you creep up north of 20th street, there are quite a few dark horses that I wish I had discovered sooner, one of which is a called Izakaya Ten. Izakayas are Japanese drinking establishments that also serve food. Here, despite the late hours (they close at 3am!) I would never have considered food as an afterthought. The menu is chalk full of goodies. And the energy that a boozey-focus brings solves the problem of the dreary, awkwardly quiet atmosphere of typical sushi bars. Izakaya Ten teleports you from a wide, uncharacteristic avenue to a restaurant you’d expect to find on a side street in Tokyo (or Korea? there’s kim chi). It’s got energy. It’s got hard alcohol. It has massive hand written, animé style menus. There’s music playing. And because it’s so tiny, you really feel like you’re enjoying the experience together along with the patrons around you.

I came here expecting a long list of sushi, but no, the goods go beyond sliced seafood. Yes, there’s a few selections of raw fish (we ordered most of them (the spicy tuna donburi, the sashimi plate, and the toro tuna belly seared over rice), but it’s the small plates of cooked food that really got me going. And as the sake kept pouring, we lost all shame in incessantly ordering more food: shishito peppers, a crispy cod roe rice ball wrapped in seaweed, another crispy rice ball with salmon, the chilled Japanese eggplant in broth, the savory, decadent jumbo shumai, the kara age (ginger deep-fried chicken), and of course, the special fried soft shell crab. In addition to the uniqueness of the menu, the icing on the cake was the attentive Australian server who feigned to be happy to answer our constant requests for more sake and more food.

 

kara age

softshell crab

softshell crab

rice ball!

rice ball!

 

 

We were lucky to walk in on a Friday night at 8pm and get a table right away, but it would have been worth the wait. Izakaya Ten is the perfect place for a fun dinner for a group of up to 4 people, or even for a more eventful, share-plate style date. It can get expensive if you don’t reign in the ordering, but it’s a place you want to arrive hungry and uninhibited. I can’t wait to take advantage of the fact that I’m walking distance to this spot!

Grade: A+
Location: 207 10th Ave btwn 22nd and 23rd Streets 
Website

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Filed under Asian, Barbecue, Chelsea, Drinks & Apps, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Japanese

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

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

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
Website

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

Momoya: a re-discovered sushi sleeper in Chelsea

photo 1

Whenever I trek along 7th or 8th Avenue to make my way uptown, I gaze straight ahead, more focused on dodging pedestrians than exploring the side by side box-shaped restaurants. But while this may not be the area for restaurants oozing with character, there are a few reliable ones that serve the purpose of providing solid food without pretention. My favorite? Momoya, the modern, often bustling sushi restaurant that has Morimoto-style Japanese at competitive prices.

Tonight my order was easy given I arrived hungry, which is just as dangerous as grocery shopping while starving. I wanted everything. I saw the man to my right having the crispy rice with tuna and shiitake, so I ordered that. I saw a yellow tail  roll further down the bar, so I added that as well. I was also able to try the white stone roll, a non-traditional tofu-skin roll with fried tempura, crab, tuna and a sweet chili sauce. Along with a few pieces of sashimi and a seaweed salad, I had ordered the perfect amount of food for two that came out to $40 each – a steal given my typical $100 tabs at Blue Ribbon Sushi. Everything hit the spot, but the crispy rice with tuna was a standout.

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

crispy rice with tuna and seaweed salad

the works

the works

The food at Momoya is fresh, the service efficient, and the space open, airy, sleek and clean. Sit at the sushi bar if you want to be inches away from the sushi chef action, or if pointing to the most appealing items is your preferred method of ordering.

Grade: A
Location: 185 7th Ave @ 21st Street
Website

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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

Omai: authentic Vietnamese in an upscale setting

Omai

After reading Gabe Thompson’s Chelsea Neighborhood Guide on SeriousEats, I became inspired to branch out of my typical West Village confines to explore the bordering neighborhood that he so loyally promoted. Omai was the restaurant that stood out most on his list, and as a recent fan of Baoguette for delivery, I was curious to see if there really was a better nearby Vietnamese restaurant that I had been missing out on. I’m not one for settling when there’s potential for improvement. My conclusion? Omai has knocked Baoguette off my delivery list – bittersweet given my recent love affair with Baoguette’s grilled chicken pho.

Everything at Omai is done with a little more care and attention to detail than usual. The typical tom cuon shrimp rolls, for example, are made with plump grilled prawns as opposed to cold sliced shrimp. The eggplant hasn’t absorbed loads of grease because they’ve flash sautéed it in a gingery, vinegar-fish sauce. And the bun ga nuong, rice noodles with grilled chicken, lettuce and herbs, is utterly addictive tossed in their tangy vinaigrette.

rice noodle salad with chicken

rice noodle salad with chicken

beef pho

beef pho

Most remarkable, however, is the Pho. It took my tasting awe-inspiring pho to realize that what I had been eating for so long was actually not that great. The cinnamon-scented broth that was so simple, yet so rich in flavor, and it tasted like it had been brewing for hours. The noodles are wonderful too; long and thin, they perfectly capture the broth between each strand to make each bite a soupy one. I only wish there had been more bean sprouts. Either way, this is the type of food I love because it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy and gross.

In terms of service, the rhythm of our meal was a little spotty: everything came out one at a time with odd spacing in between. Given that, it’ll likely (as planned) be my go-to for delivery as opposed to a night out, though it got pretty lively with the techno music they were pumping.

Grade: A-
Location: 158 9th Ave btwn 19th and 16th Streets
Website

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Filed under Asian, Cheap Eat, Chelsea, Vietnamese

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

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 1.22.35 PM

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
Website

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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Chelsea

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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Filed under Affordable Date, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, West Village

Chelsea Market Adventures: Carla Hall Petite Cookies

timthumbGiven that one of my favorite pastimes is perusing Chelsea Market for a treat on my way home from work, I’ve decided to launch a recurring “Chelsea Market Adventures” post to feature a new tasty food item from one of the market’s many amazing purveyors. In honor of my Zagat Cookie post this week, today we’re talking about Carla Hall Petite Cookies, smaller-than-bite-size cookies in a dainty cylindrical container. I found these amidst the boat-loads of cookie varietals in my beloved Chelsea Market Baskets, a store that has every specialty food item you could ever imagine. The cookies come in unique sweet and savory flavors – oatmeal with white chocolate and cherries, cheddar pecan, Hawaiian wedding to name a few – and they’re the genius solution to my usual craving for “just a taste” of something sweet throughout the day. After popping more than a few of these almond-ginger nuggets in my mouth, I have no doubt this new venture will be successful. They’re dense, buttery, crunchy, subtly sweet and a perfect topping on ice cream – just the kind of cookie I like.

photo (2)

tiny little buggers!

Website
Where to Buy

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Filed under Chelsea, Sugar Surge