Category Archives: Parents in Town

Catch: global seafood in trendy meatpacking

catch

I spent my first years as a restaurant-goer in NYC dining where I could most easily imagine myself as a cast member of Sex in the City. Straight out of college, I wasn’t looking for cute hole-in-the-walls — I got the biggest thrill wearing heels and strutting into exclusive spaces pumping dance music, offering $15 specialty cocktails, and turning tables like clockwork. Buddakan and Stanton Social were my locations of choice. Fortunately I’ve now moved on to less trendy pastures as a more seasoned New Yorker, but every now and then I’m dragged into the high concept restaurant chains of my past.

Catch last week was one such occurrence, but it helped me remember why I like menus intended for broad audiences. I admittedly went into it with low expectations, but I left impressed with the service, the food, the drinks and the experience overall. As a seafood lover with menu anxiety (it’s difficult to narrow down to one item after eating a Google buffet for the last five years), Catch’s food selection is perfect for me. They offer a small delectable sushi rolls, a raw bar, a ton of hot specials, family style platters, or a variety of fish simply prepared for those not as adventurous. Think of this place as the steakhouse for fish. It keeps that well-known, roomy corporate feel, but maintains a relaxed, light-hearted vibe with light colored furniture, good lighting, dance music, and fun cocktails. Waiters aren’t as formal, but the service is spot on.

The highlights of the many dishes we tried were the MrC roll with tuna, tempura shrimp and ponzu butter, the soft shell crab roll, the crispiest crispy rock shrimp I’ve ever had, and the tuna tartare crispy rice cakes. These dishes aren’t necessarily unique to Catch (find similar variations at Koi, Bond Street, Nobu, etc), but they’re done exceptionally well. The showstopper visually was the crispy whole snapper that comes out deep fried with an asian style saute, positioned as if it’s about to swim away. The sauce was definitely needed to add flavor. Chinese food lovers would die over the salty cantonese lobster tails; I’m just not a fan for thick brown sauces. The overly buttered mushroom pasta was the only disappointment, but that came as no surprise given it was one of the only pasta dishes on the menu.

warm pretzel rolls with mustard butter

warm pretzel rolls with mustard butter

crispy shrimp

hot, buttery crispy shrimp

hamachi tartare

hamachi tartare

salmon belly carpaccio - yes we did get all of this.

salmon belly carpaccio – yes we did get all of this.

scallop dumplings

scallop dumplings

fried whole snapper

fried whole snapper

cantonese lobster - photo from Zagat.com

cantonese lobster – photo from Zagat.com

banana brulee spli

banana brulee split

Dessert at Catch and its sister restaurants are remarkable, and that goes a long way for someone like me. The strawberry shortcake with a large buttery biscuit brought me straight back to my childhood. The banana brulee split was beautifully prepared, but given the tiny scoops of ice cream and difficulty of scooping up all the ingredients off the flat dish for an ideal bite, I would have preferred a less stylized version.

Despite the hiccups in food, I left hoping to plan my next work event or dad’s visit to town at Catch. It’s a crowd-pleasing special occasion restaurant that sets you up well for a night out – there’s not surprisingly a club upstairs, and it’s situated smack dab in the center of the Meatpacking.

Grade: A-
Location: 21 9th Ave above Sephora, entrance on 13th street. Also one in Miami.
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Filed under American, Bread Basket Breakdown, Meatpacking, Parents in Town, Seafood, Sex & The City Swank, West Village

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

Park Avenue Autumn

Last night I ventured up to Park Avenue Autumn in the upper east side, a neighborhood more foreign to me than any other in New York City. I lived on 60th and 1st Ave the summer of 2007 with my good friend Sarah, but we never really exposed ourselves to the genre of people that I saw last night: an older crowd sprinkled with blazers, pearls, and touches of plastic surgery – a crossbreed of my grandma’s country club and New York Housewives. A very well-dressed group helped adorn the restaurant to say the least. White table cloths, waiters in suits, and a gorgeous, wedding-style room set up is just the setting I would imagine in this situation.

My (playful) snobbiness aside, the restaurant truly evokes the warm and cozy feeling of fall, and the concept of switching menu, decor, and front entrance every season is a clever one. The bread basket, filled with fresh pumpkin loaves, onion rolls, and hearty cheddar crackers even made me feel one with the season. Our autumn cabbage salad with crispy shrimp tasted a little bit like the tangy sweet and sour salad I used to get at Wolfgang Puck in Macy’s, but was crunchy, cold, and delicious nonetheless. My halibut, which was seared to a crisp and served with black truffles and a breaded poached egg, was simple and well cooked. But never once have I ordered halibut and not regretted it. It’s often bland, dry, and uninteresting.

autumn vegetable stack with crispy shrimp

halibut with black truffles

Dessert was the real shocker because after the somewhat approachable appetizers and main courses, out came what they called a carrot cake but really looked like cubes of cheese exploding with dollops of unknown purees. I should have suspected that a carrot cake described as accompanying a “brie fritter” would taste a little off, too. One bite and I couldn’t decide if I was eating a cheese plate or a dessert. Do what you want with savory food, but dessert is never better when fussed with. Give me a brownie and a scoop of ice cream and I’m a happy camper.

“carrot cake” ….

Park Avenue Autumn fills the frequent need of providing an older, sophisticated crowd with interesting but familiar food – broccoli with cheetos is really on the menu – in an impressive space. When my grandma comes back in town, I won’t hesitate to bring her back here for visit number 2, but I’ll no doubt wait until then to return. It just ain’t my scene!

Grade: B+ (extra points for bread basket)
Location: 100 East 63rd between Park and Lex
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Filed under New American, Parents in Town, Sex & The City Swank, Special Occasion, Upper East Side

ABC Kitchen

I’ve been to the holy ABC Kitchen a few times but every New Yorker knows that it’s next to impossible to get a reservation at a decent hour, or essentially anything after 5:30pm. I don’t generally mind an early bird special but given my work schedule, like most people I simply can’t make this happen. Well, last Monday, I was ecstatic when I found out that my date scored an 8pm reservation. After a year since my last visit with my friend Sonia, I couldn’t wait to try all of the new fresh things on this brilliant, gorgeously designed menu.

Half of ABC Kitchen’s appeal is the feeling I get when I enter, which is the aggregate effect of the restaurant’s every intricate detail. The delicate white china, the white lacquered tables, the graceful font on the menus, the dim lighting and votive candles, the background music, the wide open dining room, and the efficient but unobtrusive service collectively create an atmosphere that you don’t want to leave. It’s the perfect mix of casual California and sceney New York. But the scene is replicated no where else…just a little more refined than Barbuto, a little more casual than Mas Farmhouse…and it hits just the right note for me when I want to have a memorable meal out any day of the week.

The other half of the draw is of course, the insane offering of local, organic food (and drink -. No need for lengthy descriptions – you’re served exactly what the few words on the menu say you’ll be served. Who knew that something so straight forward as heirloom tomato toast could be as sensuous and flavorful as it is here? Thinly sliced bright red tomato, salt, pepper, and olive oil on a perfectly toasted rustic bread happened to be my heaven that night. Just as delicious but a step up on uniqueness was the delicata squash with maple syrup and grated goat cheese, which was shaped and lusciously fried like a crispy creme donut. Like the fried bananas my mom loves at Filipino restaurants, it was crispy on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside, and made complete by the dusted salty parmesan. The ricotta cavatelli came with an overload of pan seared shrimp that was absolutely perfect, soft, delicate, and easy to chew (sorry but just admit that shrimp is painful to chew sometimes), and the pork sausage on the fennel sausage pizza made every bite taste sinfully fatty and earthy. Every single dish did the job it set out to do – highlight each of its awesome, local components. The only disappointment was the boring shredded kale salad that I simply couldn’t bother eating because of all of the better options distracting me. 

heirloom tomato toast (photo from NY Post)

crispy squash

kale salad

scallop ceviche

I love dessert here. It took me everything to bypass the caramel ice cream sundae with popcorn and go for the cookie plate with chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, but a side of caramel ice cream did the trick. Hard to be impressed with a plate of tiny cookies. The concord grape tart is something I never would have ordered myself but was actually interesting and delicious.

After four years of blogging, I’m starting to crack the recipe for my all time favorite restaurants. It must be casual but tasteful in setting. It must create the feeling of coziness even if it’s not cozy in space terms. It has to feel intimate. The menu is heavy on vegetables, seafood and sharable plates. It generally has a flatbread or a pizza. The cocktails are awesome. ABC Kitchen fulfills all of these requirements – I just wish I could go without fear of an hour long wait!

Grade: A
Location: 35 east 18th street (between broadway & park avenue)
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Filed under American, Brunch, Californian Cuisine, Erin's Favorites, Fun Group Dinner, Parents in Town, Romantic Date, Union Square

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

Tertulia

Tertulia’s PR reps knows what they’re doing because since it first opened, I can’t avoid reading or hearing about this place, touted as New York’s most popular Tapas restaurant of late. I avoided it for weeks for fear of having to wait for a table (and a fear of 6th Avenue in general), but after returning from Barcelona and reminiscing about tapas, I got a second wind to try it out. Last week was the perfect opportunity after abandoning my home for a straight week – I needed a real New York restaurant experience.

We ate a ton of food, and everything was mouth-watering from the sugar snap pea salad and heirloom tomatoes to the tiny bites of pig cheek with quail egg or crab salad on toast. And I can never get enough of pan con tomate, grilled bread rubbed with tomato. We also had a smoked trout with the skin fried separately – this along with the grilled calamari were two seafood dishes tomorrow. Finishing off with a dense chocolate tart, I was in serious heaven.

heirloom tomato salad

sugar snap pea salad

pig cheek and quali egg

pan con tomate

chocolate cake

Tapas are risky. You can often leave the restaurant still hungry, or feeling nauseated by the hoards of aioli on top of the fried foods. This was clean, beautifully executed, and hearty, and I will definitely be back again!

Grade: A
Location: 359 6th Avenue
Website
*photos from Yelp and Flickr

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Filed under Parents in Town, Spanish, Tapas

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

Veselka Bowery

Tonight was a bittersweet celebration of my dear friend Kiloran, who’s moving to San Francisco to pursue her dream of getting as far out of New York as humanly possible. Not everyone is as obsessed with this place as I am, I’m learning. For the occasion, our coworker Ryan decided to choose the Ukrainian restaurant Veselka – a place one would naturally choose for a diverse, picky crowd…right?

After eyeing the menu that consisted of borscht and smoked fish, I didn’t get that surge of excitement I usually get in anticipation of trying a new place. I wasn’t the only one silently freaking out about the food either – I witnessed an email battle initiated by a few people voting for a location change – some even dropped out of the party as a result. It’s not an understatement to say that all Hell broke loose over the matter. Let’s just be honest, people don’t generally rave about Ukrainian food (I know I’ll get flack for saying that when I become famous). But in the end, it actually ended up exceeding all of our expectations (the ones who stuck through the challenge).

Firstly, the Bowery location is 10 steps above Veselka’s sister diner just blocks away. The space is huge, completely framed by glass with high ceilings and plenty of space for a crowd.  The familiarity of the modern aesthetic relaxed me, and soon enough I was on my way to having a thorough love affair with Ukrainian cuisine.

cheese blintz

my usual victim: the cheese plate.

Between the array that I had ordered for the table, the cheese blintz and the cheese plate were the stand outs. I would have been perfectly happy with these dairy laden plates on their own, but I had to try the equally healthy fried cheese and potato pierogis with apple sauce and sour cream, the boiled beet and goat cheese pierogis, the smoked trout salad with radish and apple, and a little bit of the Ukrainian feta on brioche that came atop the beautifully arranged veggie board. 

pierogi

smoked trout salad

garbage in a blender…with an untouched hard boiled egg

Had I known I would become stuffed after the first round, I wouldn’t have ordered a cheese burger. A combo of an intense meat craving and a fear of ordering something totally foul (after seeing Kiloran’s garbage bowl of magenta borscht) guided my decision, but with no real regrets. Thick patty, medium rare with cheddar cheese on a sesame brioche bun. Aside from the various Ukrainian chutney-like condiments that I threw on the bun, this was as solidly Americanly delicious as it gets, despite severely missing the red onion. Ryan chose to order the more “authentic” version – a kielbasa burger with thin layers of kielbasa, and a kielbasa and ground chuck patty combo. One bite was just enough for me to confirm that I’d get thoroughly ill after finishing the whole sandwich.

Ukrainian Cheeseburger

Given the celebration, we decided to go all the way and sample a few desserts. Kiloran and I were both blown away by the baked chocolate custard, which in essence was the densest, richest chocolate pudding we’ve ever tasted. The baked kiev was an interesting combo of beet ice cream, vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, and burnt meringue.  Sadly, I’m just now realizing the origin of its name. I can’t say that I’d dream about beet ice cream at night, but it actually tasted and looked just like strawberry.

chocola

chocolate custard

Baked Kiev

Would I choose to go back there? Probably not. Not because the quality of food or service didn’t impress me, or because I didn’t like the feel of the space. It’s simply due to realism. In a city when I can choose from a thousand other restaurants serving the type of cuisine that I seek (namely italian and Japanese), why would I opt for Ukrainian if I’m not a die hard pierogi or borscht fan? Please tell me.

Grade: A-
Location: 9 East 1st Street off Bowery
Website: http://www.veselka.com/bowery

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Filed under Business Meal, Drinks & Apps, East Village, Fun Group Dinner, Parents in Town

Cafe Sabarsky

I may forget a plot line or a character name 9 times out of 10, but I’ll never forget a scene from a movie that involves food. A standout instance is in the film Inglorious Basterds, when the protagonist, Shoshanna Dreyfus, is being eerily interrogated by her father’s murderer, Cristoph Waltz. To subtly indicate that he’s aware of her true identity as the only one who escaped death on her family’s dairy farm, he proceeds to order her an apple strudel with extra cream and a glass of milk, forcing her to taste as she quivers in fear. As uncomfortable as it is to watch, it has instilled in me a permanent craving for apple strudel. It looked so delicious – fresh, warm, perfectly flakey – never before did I really like it, but now, it’s one of my favorites.

Col. Hans Landa

This memory came to mind when my friends Lauren and Austin and I whisked uptown to Austrian cafe Cafe Sabarsky to end our day at the Whitney. After waiting in a short line, we entered the old school, cafeteria-like space and sat a table with a view of the delicious Austrian pastry-filled counter. The place is inspired by the traditional Viennese cafes that birthed so much beautiful art and literature in the early 1900s, and it truly brings you to another era and continent as a result. The authenticity of the food is unquestionable too.

strudel with cream

Dessert array

After a rich cappuccino with fresh whipped cream and a few bites of Lauren’s crispy veal schnitzel, I couldn’t resist the apple strudel. It came right to our table on a little white dish, just as presented in Inglorious Basterds, and I felt like I was in Hollywood action. The strudel was perfect – crispy crust easy to cut, soft, warm apples and subtle flavors of cinnamon and raisin. With the thick, hardly sweetened whipped cream, it was heaven on earth.

Though I really only focused on dessert, this cafe is one of Lauren and Austin’s favorites, and now one of my own. It’s relaxed, beautiful, and a world away from my own in New York city. Next time I’ll be back for the sausage and the Viennese hot chocolate.

Grade: A+
Location: 1048 5th Ave @ 86th Street
Website:
http://www.cafesabarsky.com

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Filed under Parents in Town, Romantic Date, Upper East Side

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