Category Archives: Upper East 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

Flex Mussels

Flex pre light-dimming

Last night, I had every expectation to have a mediocre meal at Flex Mussels. I’ve never heard anything negative about it, but having had it in my neighborhood for the last four years and never recalling any overtly positive reviews made me skeptical. As a restaurant, you’re either a momentous hot spot that eventually becomes accessible to the main stream diner (Centro Vinoteca), an unremarkable place with high aspirations that unfortunately never gets buzz and eventually shuts down (Scuderia), or a solid staple that continues to keep its neighbors happy and develops a following of repeat customers (Piccolo Angolo). Flex Mussels definitely falls into the latter category, and after my incredible meal there last night I can totally see why.

After perusing the Bentley Meeker light show at the Whitney with my good family friend Susan Holland of Susan Holland Events, we headed a few blocks north and east to the Flex uptown. For the upper east side, this place has a surprisingly cozy, sophisticated downtown feel – similar to Luke’s Lobster in Soho. The aesthetic is Nantucket meets romantic, with a candle-lit bar across a long table for side-by-side seating leading to two large, dimly lit rooms for table diners in the back.

When we were served a poilane-like sourdough bread and complimentary sparkling water immediately upon seating I instantly perked up. The menu is full of not only mussels, but an array of seafood and one or two options for those opting for meat or chicken. Both committed to tasting a variety, Susan and I started with the fish and chips and the kale salad. The fish and chips, we both agreed, were some of the best we had ever had. Served piping hot, the fish was hearty and encased in a thin, perfectly crisp batter with a delicious mustard-tartar sauce for dipping. The truffle fries with parmesan were ridiculous – it was hard for me to keep my hands off of them. The kale, very thinly shredded with pine nuts and feta, balanced this decadent English dish perfectly.

Susan with fish and chips

We then graduated to the two specials – a pot of thai mussels and the ahi carpaccio. The ahi, prepared with greens and oil, had a hard time winning my attention next to the immensely flavorful thai mussels marinated with coconut milk, lime, lemongrass, thai basil, tomatoes, garlic and onion. I was tempted to pick up the pot and eat the broth like soup; it was so rich, creamy and deeply complex. Perfect for the more civil act of bread and french fry dipping.

pot of mussels

After we thought we could eat no more, the dessert menu arrived. I had remembered my friend Princess raving about the doughnuts here, and with 15 fillings to choose from, we really had no choice but to order them. We selected a variety of four – peanut butter and jelly, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar, and salted caramel, all served with a vanilla bean dipping sauce.

fluffy, doughy, crispy doughnuts

I demolished these. This is after claiming that I actually don’t like doughnuts, I’m really just that dainty. Well, these were the best doughnuts I’ve ever had – they reminded me of the doughy pockets called malasadas that I grew up eating in Hawaii, but they were served hot and with a subtly sweet inside. The salted caramel was just a touch too salty, but the chocolate was divine. Doesn’t get much better than all of this dipped in vanilla sauce.

I’ll 100% be back to Flex Mussels, most likely the West Village location. A great price for homey, filling, quality food with flavor and craft, and a perfect spot for any occasion.

Grade: A-
Location: 174 East 82nd between 3rd and Lex Ave; also a location on West 13th
Website: http://www.flexmusselsny.com/82nd

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Filed under Affordable Date, American, Erin's Favorites, French, Upper East Side, West Village

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

Pio Pio

peruvian chicken

It’s so refreshing to come across a deal for good quality food in New York. My fellow Semester at Sea-ers have been raving about Pio Pio for years now, but it took my friend breaking up with her boyfriend to get me to the uptown location near her house to console her over peruvian chicken and avocado. Our conversation ended up migrating from the philosophical topic of young relationships to the ridiculous amounts of chicken, rice, beans, fresh salad, tostones, and sausage that lay before us – the Matador combo for under $30. The only thing we needed double portions of was the addictive green avocado sauce – magic with the fries.

spicy green sauce

the spread

The chicken here is incredibly flavorful, and the amount and variety of food for the dollar is unbeatable. And for such a value, the space has atmosphere. It’s surprisingly clean, perfectly civil, and a great backdrop for a dinner date with a glass of wine. The only downfall is the lack of cocktails, but that’s an afterthought when you’re eating marinated chicken and fried plantains. Fortunately, there are multiple locations to get your fix!

Grade: A-
Location: multiple in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx
Website:
  www.piopio.com

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Filed under Fun Group Dinner, Upper East Side, Upper West Side

Capital Grille

Capital Grille

I rarely venture uptown, but today I had the opportunity to do so for a client lunch at Capital grille. The crowds are never as bad as I would expect, it’s just a totally different vibe than what I’ve grown accustomed to in the West Village – less about the fun and glamorous New York – more about the Let’s Get Down to Business New York. It’s so straight forward there are even calorie counts aside each menu item. Nonetheless, I can’t complain too much about the lunch I had there today.

Service was quick throughout, as I would assume the lunch crowd generally needs to get in and get out. As a party of 7, we sat at a large, round table, which was refreshing considering my fear of the long, segregating rectangular tables we’re often given for large groups. We started with a medley of appetizers, enthusiastically recommended by our waitress: crab cakes, beef carpaccio, and calamari. The crab cakes were large and crispy with huge chunks of crab. Fortunately, for a mayonnaise-phobe like myself, the crab stood out as the main ingredient as opposed to the filler. The calamari was good as well; but after seeing it was 1500+ calories on the horrifically calorie-labeled menu, it was tough to take down without a pound of regret.

calamari appetizer

beef carpaccio

For my entree, I kept it simple with a mediterranean chicken salad. The waitress’s description made it sound delicious and hearty, but the lettuce dominated the bowl, and the chicken was more like sliced thin cold cuts than the chunks of grilled chicken I had expected. The portion of feta cheese and roasted vegetables were a joke, but overall, the salad made good on its promise to be light and refreshing.

Salad

Capital Grille is obviously not a foodie destination, but it still serves a purpose: solid food and a varied menu for a diverse business crowd. I wouldn’t necessarily take my family or out of towners here, but I’ll definitely be back if I’m in the neighborhood and in a bind for a middle ground spot.

Grade: B+

Location: 120 W 51st Street between 6th and 7th Ave

Website: http://www.thecapitalgrille.com

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Filed under American, Business Meal, Upper East Side