Category Archives: Upper West Side

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

Gari: High quality raw fish on Columbus Ave

My first meal at Blue Ribbon Sushi was an eye opening experience for me. First, it made me realize that for 25 years I had been eating bad sushi. Second, along with the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it helped me understand that bad sushi is practically an entirely different food group than fresh, artfully-prepared sushi. Sushi prepared by a skilled chef is a beautiful, delicious thing. It takes more than slicing a raw fish – sushi-making is a craft that that must be continuously perfected. Realizing this, along with getting sick from an inedible tray of take-out sashimi last month, I recently pledged to never eat bad sushi again.

Thus began my quest to try the city’s greatest Sushi restaurants, and there are many. I’d be content eating at Blue Ribbon every night, but interesting blog that does not make! So, in an effort to be grease-free before Thanksgiving and diversify my posts, this past Wednesday I tried Gari on Columbus, one of the five restaurants of the Sushi of Gari family. It’s everything people hype it up to be, and unlike some of its competitors, it takes reservations. The restaurant is brightly lit and no more interestingly-decorated than the next sushi joint, but you can really feel the sushi love and Japanese tradition emanating from each waiter.

The menu is standard aside from Gari’s signature dish: the Omakase,  which is the chef’s innovative preparations of  sushi, and what Zagat calls “a religious experience.” If I were P Diddy, I would have ordered the $100+ option, but given that I’m a struggling non-rapper I went for the Omakase appetizer: four pieces of tuna, four pieces of salmon, and an impeccably crispy salmon skin roll (my favorite). I wish I could list off the different variations of each of the uniquely prepared pieces, but I was too enamored by the plate’s beauty to really absorb the waiter’s descriptions. I do recall a salmon with roasted tomato, a tuna with scallions, and a tuna with blended tofu. Trust me when I say it was awesome, and along with a great green salad and the perfect gingery dressing, a fresh and bursting salmon roe nigiri, a piece of hamachi, and a delicious fried oyster roll, I felt like I was in Jiro’s Tokyo subway shop. The sushi performance warranted celebratory dessert, so we picked the fried bean cake special served with green tea ice cream after learning the bad news that they were out of the Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes cake. While the dessert didn’t compare to Blue Ribbon’s green tea ice cream with red bean sauce, it was definitely interesting and tasty.


tuna with jalapeno

Lady M Green Tea Mille Crepes Cake – we didn’t eat this, but they serve it and it’s amazing.

So much for eating light the night before Thanksgiving! And here’s to always intending to eat healthy at a sushi restaurant, but more often than not leaving incredibly full. I just love it too much to care.

Grade: A+
LocationMultiple; this was 370 Columbus Ave between 77th and 78th Streets

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Filed under Asian, Japanese, Upper West Side

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


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


Filed under American, Business Meal, Mediterranean, Parents in Town, Upper West Side

Levain Bakery Cinnamon Brioche

Crispy on the outside, but soft, pillowly, buttery on the inside, this subtly sweet brioche is my ideal breakfast fare with a cup of English breakfast tea.


Why does everything at Levain taste amazing?

Grade: A
Location: 167 West 74th St. at Amsterdam

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Filed under Erin's Favorites, Upper West 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

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

Milos Estiatorio

Inside Milos

After rushing down the scaffolding-covered, crowd-ridden street, walking through the glass doors into the expansive white walled space of Milos felt like passing through the gates of Heaven (see for yourself – there’s a virtual tour on the site). That is, until took a look at the crowd. I’ve never seen more men in suits in my life – but turns out these businessmen got the 411 on where to lunch, because Milos happened to just the spot we had in mind.

Going with the option to order off the 3-course pre-fixe menu ($24), I started with the tomato and feta salad, which was essentially an American’s interpretation of  “Greek salad” – tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and peppers drizzled with brightly colored olive oil and red wine vingar. Simple and refreshing.

greek salad

For round 2, I went for the chicken brochettes, a definite staple at any Mediterranean restaurant. Served with pita, french fries and bright white tsatziki, it brought me back to France where shoveling doner-kebab and french fry pita wraps were a common pastime. As a much more glorified, beautified version of street food, the construction before me was exactly what I had in mind for a healthy lunch.

chicken brochette

The bread basket was simple, the restaurant was beautiful, the service was quick an accommodating, and the food was simple and solid – all ingredients that make for a restaurant I would recommend. However, it serves a very specific purpose: business lunches in a time crunch on expense accounts. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trekking to the area for the experience, but it’s worth the effort if you’re looking for quality and efficiency.

Grade: B+

Location: 125 West 55th Street between 6th and 7th avenues


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Despite the fact that I’m so painfully full, I can’t resist professing how completely blown away I am by my meal at Marea tonight. It has been almost a year to the day since my inaugural visit with my friends Sophia and Sara, but Chef Michael White’s inventiveness, sheer skill, and ability to successfully yet respectfully break the boundaries of italian cuisine has only gotten better. And the space, service, and sophisticated clientele couldn’t be better matched with the caliber of food – don’t expect to kick back and relax at this place. From scoring a 6pm reservation, to being seated at the table, to ordering, to figuring out every possible fleck of $100 per ounce ingredient on your plate, the experience at Marea is serious business.

With such a long list of descriptive menu options, the four-course pre-fixe menu is the best way to go at a $40 per entree restaurant like Marea. For $90, you have a choice of antipasti, pasta, pesce or carne, and dessert, which not only makes the most economical sense, but also helps to narrow things down for the indecisive like me. I for once went with my instinct and picked the first things that caught my eye: tuna crudo (supplemental), white asparagus soup with smoked trout and chervil, tagliatelle with nova scotia lobster and coral (who know coral was edible?), and hudson valley baby chicken with a number of things that took a backseat to the copious shavings of fresh black truffle.


Every single bite was noteworthy, but the most ridiculous and shockingly delicious dish was the one that completely distracted me from all conversation: the luxurious, velvety, decadent lobster tagliatelle. With long, silky, golden noodles coated in a shiny and subtly-buttery seafood-saffron sauce, these flakey chunks of fresh lobster could not have been more beautifully paired. With dishes such as the famous lobster and burrata antipasti and the bone marrow octopus fusili, Chef Michael White balances very carefully, yet close to perfectly, on the very fine line between luscious and over-the-top rich.

gorgeous golden pasta

hudson valley chicken

While I’m not one prone to ordering chicken, the description of the crispy chicken served with my favorite thing in the world (truffles) was not an option to miss. And I made no mistake, either; the meat was tender, perfectly seasoned, and uniquely paired with soshito peppers and cippolini onions.

For dessert, we ordered a selection of ice creams and sorbets for the table, which were generously portioned for such a high end restaurant but nothing noteworthy. The chocolate crostata however was beautifully presented and the perfect option for a die hard chocolate and coffee combo fan.

chocolate coffee crostata

And, as if we had room for more, we were served tiny yet personally un-enticing mignardises.

too full to taste

With so many courses, you run the risk of getting full very quickly. In order to prevent this, the time between meals needs to be long enough not to rush the process but short enough that your hunger lingers and fullness isn’t realized. My one complaint about Marea is that it missed on this precision – by the time our pastas appeared, we were already on the way to max-capacity, and after 15 minutes of waiting for our final course, we were close to turning it away.

Regardless, the food at Marea is undeniably off the chain. At one point in the night my co-worker Morgan posed the question, “what is the best food you’ve had in the past few years?” I struggled to answer this at the time, but after a cab ride of reflection I can honestly say that Marea goes home with the gold. And I say that with confidence even with the deprecation of their homemade muffin-for-morning-after end of the night give-aways.

Grade: A

Location: 240 Central Park S



Filed under Business Meal, Italian, Romantic Date, Seafood, Special Occasion, Upper West Side


Marea Marea Marea. Everyone talks about Marea. Now I understand why! I rarely venture up to the Upper West Side but upon reading another review of the place, I felt compelled to give it a shot. Most importantly, one of my best friends was in town, and after a weekend of eating solely bagels, chips, bean dip and sangria, we were looking for a delicious and hearty meal.
Marea is a sophisticated spot, but it’s versatile. You could dress up to go here, but you could also, like I did, wear Jeans and a nice top and feel comfortable. You can tell that every detail in the surroundings was very carefully chosen, down to the utensils and place settings. It’s really a beautiful place, and the food is amazing. Below is a picture of Sophia, me and Sara, obviously really excited about our meal.
The servers wowed me from the start. Not only did they come around immediately after we placed our order with a wide selection of breads in a basket, but they brought an amuse bouche of delicious cubes of raw salmon to the table. I love freebies, especially when they involve seafood and are delicious. GOOD ONE MAREA!

I could have ordered everything on the menu, and being the indecisive person I am, it took me about 10 minutes of interrogating the waiter to finally decide. Thankfully I loved every bite and left without regrets. We started with the Chickpea and Seaweed Fritters, which were fried doughy goodness, and sardines, which I didn’t touch. They have a great selection of little sharable bites, so I definitely plan to try something new next time around.

I am rarely wowed by pasta. To me, hot carbs with tomatoes and oil and a few other random ingredients is hard to mess up. Bur Marea’s lobster ravioli with salmon roe was incredible. Ravioli especially tends to be dry, over or undercooked, but this ravioli was not, and the ratio of filling to pasta was perfect – rather than skimping on the filling, as most restaurants do, Marea literally stuffed these little dumplings to the brim with lobster goodness. The best part of the pasta, though, was the light buttery cream sauce. I could have made a meal out of this and the bread, along with the salmon roe that bursted with flavor with every bite. This ravioli may have been some of the best I’ve ever had.
I expected to be disappointed by the next pasta dish I tried, but fortunately I was wrong. The spaghettini with bone marrow and squid, which Sophia ordered, was up there with the ravioli. Such a rich, intense meaty flavor really deepened the flavor of what could have been a bland tomato sauce, and surprisingly coated the squid perfectly. I was in pasta heaven.
For my actual main course, I ordered the swordfish, which was delicious as well. Simple and delicate, it was the perfect main dish to follow the rich marrow pasta.
And of course, for dessert, we ordered the Gianduja with cocoa nib crem, hazelnut chocolate, and fior di latte gelato. Eating this after having consumed two bottles of wine, I have to say I wasn’t in the best state to fairly judge, but, it was awesome. And as if I wasn’t filled to the brim already, the waiter topped us off with a selection of hand crafted chocolates that I devoured. AND THEN, as we were leaving, they handed us a lemon poppy seed muffin for the morning. I told myself that I wouldn’t be able to eat again until the next evening. Of course that was a lie, and the lemon poppy seed muffin turned out to be the perfect breakfast meal.

Thanks Marea – you get an A in my book (but please move further downtown if you can).

Grade: A
Address: 240 Central Park S


Filed under Business Meal, Erin's Favorites, Italian, Parents in Town, Romantic Date, Seafood, Sex & The City Swank, Special Occasion, Upper West Side


It’s 10.28pm and I just returned from a truly memorable dining experience at Daniel. My fellow foodie friend, Erin (a.k.a Ketel 2), and I sat down to our table at 6.15pm. Yes, we sat for four hours – but dining at Daniel revolves around so much more than just food. It’s about service, experimentation, conversation, gluttony, luxury…just about everything I love in life! Truly indescribable, and on a entirely different level than most restaurants I’ve tried.

The setting is absolutely stunning: ornate, yet subtly so. Gorgeous, bright red fresh flowers adorn the space, surrounded by smooth oak vaults of aged wine, and long glossy columns supporting the adorned vault ceilings. Round tables evenly disperse the dining room, each with exceptional views spanning the entire restaurant – not one bad seat in the house. In fact, the host positioned Erin and me in a somewhat remote corner of the restaurant, but we could still view the mastery of the servers collectively tending to each table.

Before even attempting to decide on my main course, I was forced to choose a cocktail. With a long list of intriguing and never-before seen ($20+) cocktails, I decided to follow the advice of our (one of five) servers and have a famous white cosmopolitan made with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor, Lime Juice, and White Cranberry Juice. The long stem glass came holding a tennis-ball shaped ice cube enclosing a vibrant purple flower. The cocktail itself went down a little too easily, and reminded me of a subtler, more natural version of a starburst fruit candy. I loved it.

The waiter was amazingly accommodating, and upon inquiring about the wine, he brought out three tastings of three whites. We played a guessing game, and he asked me to pick my favorite without revealing the names of each. Considering the seemingly stuffy surroundings, I appreciated his light heartedness. His warm humor, along with the friendliness of the other waiters, proved to me that Daniel is a step above the rest of the fine dining establishments in New York – though the food and service is refined to a T, the staff and surroundings are warm, comforting, and playful. “Daniel is very much about experimentation, and trying something new..if you don’t like it, send it back, or throw it in my fave” one of our waiters joked.

As you can see already, there are many steps to the dining experience at Daniel. After ordering our drinks, we were given a beautiful amuse bouche a la lemon grass. Three tiny tastings of unexplainable lemon grass dishes gave Erin and I an idea of the remarkable journey to foodie land we were about to take.

And as if that weren’t enough, Mr. Bread-melier came out with a basket of 7 selections of bread – french baguette, sourdough baguette, rustic sourdough slices, butter rolls, olive rolls, parmesan garlic rolls, and seven seaded loaf. Between Erin and me, we were able to try almost every type of bread. The bread, along with cold french butter, made my entire experience at Daniel worth my while.

After bread service, and about 45 minutes through the meal, we were ready to order. The servers were receptive to our requests for suggestions, and their decisiveness was refreshing. Per their recommendations, I ordered the Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad, split an extra course of the Artichoke Raviolini in Saffron sauce with clams, squid, and cuttlefish, and decided on the Black Sea Bass with Syrah Sauce for my main. The crab salad was served in rolls of thinly sliced apple, and a lightly sweet granny smith apple dressing. The gorgeously plated dish was light and refreshing, with bursts of different flavors and textures.

The raviolini was a seafood lovers heaven – tiny green ravioli with generous portions of mussels and squid lay amidst a velvety saffron seafood broth, with stunning organic flavors.

I even snuck a taste of Erin’s foie gras…velvet in my mouth!

Picking one fish dish among the four listed was definitely a feat, but I was very happy I decided on the bass. The mysterious syrah sauce tasted more like a salty, rich caramel sauce, and while it sounds uncomplimentary, it accompanied the simple, delicate white fish just perfectly. The crispy potato parmentiers adorning the plate were also delicious.

Erin’s Duo of Wagyu beef was also delicious – the short ribs were like butter and the filet was perfectly cooked.
The dessert course could have been a meal (or two) in itself. Of course I skipped the entire 5-item long “Fruit” section and went straight to the “Chocolate” section. Erin ordered the Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache with caramel ice cream, while I had my “go-to” dessert: warm chocolate cake (aka Warm Guanaja Chocolate Coulant) with milk sorbet. Both were exceptional, and as expected, beautifully plated. The chocolate cake came out as a mini bundt, and upon being punctured, oozed out with hot chocolate liquid – just as a molten chocolate cake should!

Erin’s dessert was my favorite – with a thin, crunchy, somewhat salty peanut butter layer and a mound of dense chocolate mousse, it tasted similar to what I would imagine a sophisticated candy bar to taste like.

In addition to these two desserts, the staff brought out a dessert on the house for my birthday (thanks to Erin!): the Coconut Lemongrass Soup with poached Pineapple and Coconut Rum sorbet. Not necessarily my dessert of choice, but I could still appreciate it for its beauty, creativity, and summery flavors.

And then…as our buttons bursted, we were given a dish of petit fours. And then, warm Madeleines. And then…a chocolate truffle course. Of course I had to taste a little bit of everything, but at that point I was so full it was hard for me to truly appreciate the flavors of each.

Once I thought the night couldn’t improve any more, Erin 2 decided to ask about the private dining space, called the sky room. The sky room sits adjacent to Daniel Boulud’s office, and directly above Daniel’s kitchen. The room has glass windows, so the special party of four reserving the space can watch every move of the kitchen staff as they glide through an 8 course meal. Fortunately, Erin’s interest led to one of the servers encouraging us to take a look, so upon finishing our meal and signing the bill, we were escorted a la VIP to the kitchen. While the private space, with a big window overlooking the kitchen, was awesome, it was the kitchen itself and the art and dance occurring inside of it that truly amazed me. The focus and determination in the eyes of each chef was breathtaking – to see a team of people, so driven and so dedicated to their work and the flavors and beauty of the plate after plate was truly inspiring. I could have stayed and watched for hours. The fact that each chef was a good looking french man may have played a part as well 🙂

Dining out for me, regardless of where I go, is an experience in and of itself. It’s like going to see a show, or going to see a baseball game, or taking a hike with your family. It’s an experience that allows you to interact, engage company, activate your senses, bond with your loved ones, bond with new friends, and release whatever tension you have built up inside. But dining at Daniel…not only is that an experience, but it is truly an EXPERIENCE. An Experience with its own definition; an Experience in its own right. And you must experience this Experience to know what I mean…and believe me, it’s worth it.

Grade: A+
Address: 60 East 65th Street between Park and Madison


Filed under Business Meal, New American, Parents in Town, Private Party, Romantic Date, Special Occasion, Upper West Side