Tag Archives: cocktails

Featured City Post: San Francisco’s Rich Table, elevated comfort food in farm-like rusticity

sfgate

Whenever I visit San Francisco for work, I try to maximize the productivity of my trip by squeezing in a visit to a new and noteworthy restaurant. Last week, it was Rich Table, a bustling Hayes Valley hot-spot that the man at the bar called “the hottest table in town.” Though we scored a last minute reservation for 7:15pm, my friend and I decided to give up our spot at the communal table (separated by planters, the reservationist assured us) to sit at the bar for a better view of the open kitchen and admittedly, the very attractive chefs.

Sitting at the bar always warrants a stiff drink to start the night, and since San Francisco is really one-upping New York in the specialty cocktail department, I knew I had to try one. The bartender’s gin and ginger concoction of course came in an old fashioned champagne coupe and went down like a refreshing glass of water. They also have a great selection of wines by the carafe that are conveniently grouped by price; the gruner veltliner I’ve decided is now my favorite.

One important thing to note as a bread-lover – it’s delicious, but it’s a $4 sacrifice. Come prepared to spend it, because it’s definitely a must- these 1-inch thick slices of fennel sourdough are toasted to order and served with house-churned butter. The rest of the meal, however, did not match up to the bright energy of the place. The crab cioppino was a mess of over-oiled, over-salted crab meat with a pathetic sprinkling of dried artichoke chips, and the chicken lasagna evoked memories of chow mein with it’s large pieces of chicken and long green onions. The small popped corn sprinkled on top was random and seem disconnected from the rest of the dish. We hoped to be saved by the vegetarian entree, roasted potatoes with arugula salsa verde, but for $19, I would have rather eaten 10 bags of McDonald’s french fries. Small potatoes sprinkled with salsa was probably a poor order choice in the first place, but the flavors didn’t match up to the saltiness to the rest of the meal.

fennel bread

fennel bread

chicken lasagna

chicken lasagna

Unfortunately, the performance was not enough to encourage us to stay for dessert; we walked a block up for a pot de creme and wine at Absinthe to ensure a satisfying end to the meal. But Rich Table is an interesting place that combines thoughtfully plated, interesting food in casual comfort. The chefs obviously care about what they’re doing here, and they’re taking a risk to do something different. So, I’d definitely like to go back and try a few other dishes – I’m not writing this off as a goodbye just yet.

Grade: B
Location: corner of Oak and Gough

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Filed under American, Featured U.S. City Posts, Fun Group Dinner

Bathtub Gin

I looooooooooove a good cocktail, but not as much as I love a good speakeasy. While some people despise the trend of these dimly lit spots with over-priced, overly-complicated cocktails and often snooty waiters, I tend to gravitate to them purely for the lure of enjoying a well crafted drink behind secret doors. Yes, I admit it, as the nosy person I am, I fall for the marketing technique of emphasizing exclusivity and mysteriousness to tempt the curious passerby.

But for all the gimmicks, moustached bartenders, and ridiculous rules (no speaking at high volumes) you must suffer through to sit undisturbed at these places, I am continuously wowed by the ice cold, perfectly shaken drinks. The speakeasy treats its cocktails like an intricate art-form, and Bathtub Gin is no exception to the rule.

Bathtub Gin focuses most of its cocktails on its namesake, which the waiters will advocate is the most versatile alcohol there is. After drinking two Fernet Sides, a drink with gin, lime, and mint, I can’t disagree.   And even more impressive is the great list of appetizers to choose from – a breath of fresh air when most speakeasies either don’t serve food at all (San Fran’s Bourbon and Branch once reluctantly gave me an olive upon request during a bout of extreme hunger) or pay little attention to crafting a cocktail-complimentary menu. The food options here are hearty, too – I loved the crab stuffed mushrooms , and the camembert, while served with a measly portion of bread, was some of the richest, most addictive camembert I’ve had.

To fit the reputation of a speakeasy in the traditional New York sense, there are many essentials. To name a couple: 1) Rude hostess and 2) clever mode of entry. Bathtub Gin wins in both departments, and makes up for the hostess with incredibly friendly waitstaff. Entrance is at the side door of Stone Street Coffee on 9th Avenue, with no sign of the cocktail bar outside – they’re really relying on word of mouth and proactive scenesters for their customers.

Bathtub Gin is a great option for a variety of occasions: a date, drinks with friends, drinks with co-workers, light bites and drinks with girlfriends before a night on the town, or even a drink solo. Considering its convenient location just blocks from Chelsea Market and my apartment, I have added this to my list of go-to drink spots.

Grade: A
Location: 132 9th Avenue btwn 18th and 19th Streets
Website: http://www.bathtubginnyc.com

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Filed under Chelsea, Romantic Date, Sex & The City Swank

The Co-Op at Rivington Hotel

I have many-a-post to catch up on, but I couldn’t wait to to give a scathing review of the restaurant my friends and I dined at last night, Co-op Food and Drink. The menu was so promising – all my favorites glamorized: truffled mac & cheese, pork tacos, scallop nachos, sushi with rock shrimp..I really couldn’t wait to devour each and every one of these over-priced ($20) dishes. But the second I walked in, I smelled the disaster ensuing. Blasting obnoxious techno played as elderly men with gelled hair fondled their New York / New Jersey-Housewives at the bar. I tried to ignore the desperate scene, but after being seated smack center of the commotion, I knew it was going to be challenging.

Scene aside, the night got progressively worse as the noise increased and our drinks took longer and longer to arrive. Big mistake to request to turn down the music to accommodate my partially deaf friend (thanks Sonia) – the volume only got louder after that. When we put our food order in, the dishes came out simultaneously, within seconds. Though I normally would have complained about this horrible timing, I didn’t mind so much because I couldn’t get out of the place sooner. We were anxious to get the meal over with.

In an effort to be thorough, however, I will touch on a few of the dishes that were at least edible. Soshito peppers – fine, they were good, nothing special.

kale caesar and peppers

The sushi was actually decent, but again, not worth going to this place to try. The chicken lollipops were tasty, but probably came out to $20 per bite of meat given the ratio of edible food to bone on the plate. The biggest joke was the $20 black cod butter lettuce wraps, which not only tasted odd, but had literally a tiny cube of fish on three measly pieces of lettuce. And, the steamed duck buns tasted like dog.

chicken lollipops

duck buns

Before I go deeper and deeper into my negativity, I’ll just close with some advice. Only go to this Stanton Social wannabe if you’re looking for a Meatpacking scene with overpriced, despicable food in the lower east side.

Grade: D

Location: Hotel Rivington: 107 Rivington Street

Website: http://www.co-oprestaurant.com

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The Hurricane Club

from front entrance

The buzz continues to grow around the relatively new Hurricane Club, a Polynesian take on the Buddakans and Stanton Socials of New York City. Loud music, a massive square bar, sharable food, and a wild singles scene brings quite the after work crowd to this restaurant, and a few colleagues and I decided to indulge in the experience last night. No half-assing, either – we maximized our time at this Cheesecake Factory turned club (think Trader Vics), and I’m paying for it today with my throbbing head ache and interminable food hang over.

cocktail menu

Snagging a reservation for three was fairly easy, and we were promptly seated with a great view of the bar crowd that grew exponentially with every passing minute. Despite our proximity to the bar, we had full service with the overwhelming cocktail bible that included over 20 tropical variations of classics, mostly labeled by number. Be careful of the unmentioned sugar content of these drinks, however – I ordered the Waikiki, listed as just patron, lime, and salt, but eventually received an excruciatingly sweet margarita. The waiter attributed the sugar to the “natural sweetness of the tropical limes.” With his BS story in mind, I decided to switch to a #28– a martini with gin, grapefruit, and ginger, and requested less sugar content. A long 15 minutes later, I received the drink I was hoping for.

Number 28

The dinner menu is quite a trip to read as well. The “pupu platter” options range from tuna poke to peking duck buns, and there’s a never-ending option of sharable salads, rices, and mains. The waiter warned us that our food would come out as it was ready, and he wasn’t lying. Be prepared to have it all on the table within 10 minutes of ordering (a la Buddakan). Some find solace in this method; I, on the other hand, grow paranoid that I’m being rushed out of a table.

Our BBQ Chicken Cones, Flowering Shrimp Wraps, and Island Jungle Salad came out first. The salad, which prides itself on 12 ingredients, was roughly chopped, crunchy, and refreshing. I loved its airy shrimp chips, crispy lettuce, and subtly sweet dressing. The flowering shrimp wraps were delicious, too – just like the classic vietnamese shrimp summer rolls with a flair of sweet pecans and hearty tiger shrimp. The BBQ chicken cones were my only regret. The BBQ sauce reminded me of my chicken nugget days, so after one taste I focused my attention else where.

shrimp wraps

giant salad

Next came the Tri Tip Steak skewers, Curry Eggplant, and Hawaiian Fried Rice in a hot stone bowl. These were uniformly awesome. I fell in love with the fried rice – nestled beneath a large fried egg, it brought me right back to achildhood with mama’s home-cooked breakfasts of eggs, soy sauce, and rice. The Curry Eggplant complimented it well, and with a medley of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, I was in vegetable heaven. The steak skewers, while simple, came aside an interesting cigar box filled with 6 labeled sauces. The horseradish cream sauce was my favorite.

curry eggplant

delicious fried rice

For dessert, the general manager was nice enough to bring us his favorite (turns out he knows my sister) – the Chocolate Kill-Devil’s Food Cake. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate-sans-ice cream desserts, but this cake’s creaminess elevated it as a stand alone winner. The shiny, fudgy frosting was sinful, and the crunchy chocolate candies on top added unique texture to an impeccably soft dessert. Despite the fact that we were simultaneously sipping on a ridiculously sweet #410, a medley of vodka, mint, rhubarb, and a lot of juice, I couldn’t resist making a serious connection with this cake.

chocolate cake

Number 410

After copious amounts of alcohol and food, we managed to roam around the bar, dodging Real-Housewives-type casts and lurking older men. After a few pushes and blank stares, we called it a night with the next day’s work in mind. Despite its minor hiccups, if you’re in the mood for a good old New York time with generous portions, multi-tasked eating, and live people watching entertainment, Hurricane Club is just the place for you. I’ll keep it in mind as a great alternative to Stanton Social when I’m next responsible for hosting out-of-town friends.

Grade: A- (the rice really helped)

Location: 360 Park Ave between 25th and 26th Street

Website: http://www.thehurricaneclub.com

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Filed under Asian, Drinks & Apps, Family Style, Fun Group Dinner, Gramercy

Lovely Day

I couldn’t envision a restaurant described as “hipster” until tonight, when my sister and I met my cousins for dinner at Lovely Day in Nolita. Lovely Day is one of the many cozy, quaint, cash-only restaurants on or near Elizabeth street that specialize in a unique variety of ethnic food and specialty cocktails at fair prices. The place doesn’t take reservations and is very casual, so much that you may feel unwelcome dolled up in New York- chic attire. The service is super laid back, and the waiters more closely represent the majority of the urban Lower East Side than the more often seen aspiring actors doing their day jobs to pay the bills.


For such a chill, no-frills establishment, I was surprised to find such an interesting list of alcoholic beverages. I went for the gin and ginger cocktail, served in a dainty champagne coup, yet ridiculously strong. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it went down a little too smoothly and I was feeling quite fine after just two or three sips. Perfect appetite enhancer, which led us to get started ordering our food immediately.

To start, we shared two of the Ginger Fried Chicken appetizers, which were served hot and lightly pan fried accompanied by lime wedges and a garlicky chili aioli. Considering I despise mayonnaise, I was thrilled by the combination of
aioli and tangy fried chicken breast. I couldn’t necessarily taste the ginger in this dish, but overall the chicken with the sauce was a beautiful take on Asian fried chicken. No heavy batters needed to make this dish taste decadent.

For my main course, despite the long list of classic noodle and rice dishes, I chose the seared salmon with mashed sweet potatoes, market greens, and orange cream sauce, which really called my name. The salmon was cooked rare just as I had requested. The orange cream sauce rounded out the citrusy flavors in the salad and the heartiness of the chunky sweet potato mash. Everything on my plate was delicious, and as a salmon skin lover, I was really pleased with the crispiness of all angles of the fish.

My sister had the Chicken Pad Thai, which I happily shared, but I wouldn’t say was some of the best pad thai I’ve eaten. With muted spice and flavors, this resembled a mild chow mein with lime. I could go so far as saying it was bland, but it was far too good for that label – it just wasn’t as stand out in Pad Thai terms.

Despite the dinner overload, we decided on the warm chocolate cake to end the night. Though the menu promised homemade whipped cream, the cake came out seul and I had to remind the waiter that it was missing a key ingredient. He simply stated “we didn’t make any whipped cream tonight.” He’s lucky that the cake was good on its own because it’s rare that I eat a chocolate dessert without milk, ice cream, whipped cream, or some white side to balance out the richness.

All in all, Lovely Day is a fun spot for a younger crowd not intent on a michelen star, upscale meal. For those on a budget expecting atmosphere, cocktails, and a half-assAsian menu, Lovely Day fits the bill. Even better, it’s in a great location in a night life center for post dinner bar-hopping – that is, if you can stand after consuming two of their severely stiff cocktails.

Grade: B+
Location: 196 Elizabeth Street @ Prince Street




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Filed under Affordable Date, Cheap Eat, Soho, Thai

Pulinos

This week has been a Keith McNally celebration. Brunch at Pastis last Sunday, dinner there last Thursday, Minetta Tavern last Monday, and now Pulinos last night. Pulinos totally fits the build of all of his brasserie-esque restaurants: a big, in your face sign, checkered floor, massive bar with a show case of liquor, wooden tables and chairs, and an invigorating, inviting, hustle and bustle of waiters and crowds of customers waiting to be seated. I had low expectations for Pulinos – I’ve read disappointing reviews about the dinner, but mixed reviews about the brunch. Still, after watching a show on the Food Channel about the chefs step by step process of making a Pulinos pizza, I had nothing stopping me from giving it a try.
My friend Sonia and I went sans reservation at 7:30pm on a Saturday, and we had no problem getting seated. We sat at a small table outside on Bowery street, which had a great people-watching view for me, as I was seated with my back to the restaurant.
We were not given any bread to start, which of course put me off, but the delicious cocktail options calmed my stomach while waiting for our food. I was in an adventurous mood and tried the “Italian Summer” – a mix of gin, grapefruit juice, ginger, lime, and basil. It tasted more like a screw driver, and the basil was too subtle, but it was just sweet enough to chug. Mid dinner I opted for one of the many campari specialities – the “Macedonia,” which consisted of sour cherry, prosecco, campari, honey, and lemon. Definitely too sweet, contrary to the waitress’s opinion, but smooth, unique, and delicious nonetheless.
Our starter was a huge hit – we ordered the roasted broccoli with hen of wood mushrooms, parmesan, fennel, lemon, and garlic breadcrumbs. The flavor and textures were incredible – zesty, citrusy, crunchy, soft, crispy – and the mushrooms and broccoli were perfectly roasted, and fortunately not overly oily. I could have made a meal out of this appetizer.
Sonia and I then split our own twist on the Pizza Margharita, as we added funghi, prosciutto, and arugula. It came out piping hot with charred, thin and almost cracker like crust, and a generous portion of toppings. The pizza was cut in rectangular pizzas, which I actually think is optimal for sharing, and we didn’t have to struggle to pull them apart. I poured a little more olive oil on top to give it an extra richness, as it had very little tomato sauce, but we thoroughly enjoyed and finished every last bite. I’d say while the pizzas are slightly bigger than those at Otto, they aren’t exceptionally different in terms of quality…I hope I am not offending any pizza experts by writing that…(picture below was taken off of Yelp, as I forgot to photograph in the excitement of eating).
We took a look at the dessert menu, which had a ton of unique Italian options, but decided to continue on the savory train and order some fresh burrata, which came with apples and prosciutto. We asked for extra bread and devoured this as well. The cheese was soft, creamy, and covered in a fruity extra virgin olive oil. Tough to resist despite the fact we had just shared a cheesy pizza.
Overall, Pulinos was a solid choice. I love the vibe, as I do for all McNally restaurants, the service was friendly, efficient, and accommodating, and the food was delicious. I wouldn’t say that it lives up to all of its press and hype, but it’s definitely a good choice for a night you want to make an event out of dinner, with fun atmosphere, light, tasty, and sharable food, and a long list of cocktails fit for a king.
Grade: A-
Address: 282 Bowery Street at East Houston

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Italian, Lower East Side, Pizza

Stanton Social wahooo

Two of my closest friends from grade school were in town last night, so my fellow New Yorker friend Sonia and I decided to take them to a well known, quintessentially Manhattan-trendy hot spot: Stanton Social. They absolutely loved it. With the overload of tapas style food options on the menu, an outstanding cocktail list, a vibrant (though quite loud), upbeat vibe, and surprisingly friendly service, the restaurant turned out to impress my friends just as I had hoped.

We of course started the night out with a selection off of the extensive and creative cocktail list. Per Sonia’s suggestion, I had the pink grapefruit mint martini with a hint of lemon simple syrup. Delicious, and quite dangerous, as I consumed it within minutes. I also tried the cucumber-vanilla cosmopolitan made with white cranberry juice. Though this was a little too sweet for my taste, my friends Gillian and Carolyn love it. My favorite of the night, however, was the blood orange-jalapeno margarita – perfect for those who like a little kick in their cocktail.
We were then told to order at least 6 menu items for three of us and an additional 3 for my gluten allergic friend who was thrilled to learn they had an entire gluten free menu (which was filled with options that I wanted to order as well!). After ordering our options, our friendly waitress brought out an amuse bouche of lobster goat cheese crostini. Very light and tasty, but nothing too special.
We then started with the hand pulled chicken arepas with jalapeno salsa. These were beautifully presented and quite a hit among the group. Not your typical sandwich-style arepa, these were more of a twist on the Venezuelan classic, but delicious nonetheless.
For our next round we tasted their famous French Onion Soup dumplings, interestingly served in an escargot dish. I often associate my loved ones with particular dishes I know they would amaze their taste buds. The instant I tasted this burst of french onion soup, an image of my father popped into my head – as a french onion soup connoisseur, he would obsess over these (as did Sonia). You’re supposed to pop the gruyere-encased dumpling in its entirety in your mouth; accompanied by a small crouton, it tastes exactly like a burst of the classic cheese laden soup we know and love. Wonderfully creative and flavorful.Next, we had another big hit – the Potato and Goat Cheese Pierogies. I’ve never tried a pierogie, so I’m not the best critic of these Russian classics, but I can safely say that the ones at Stanton Social are delicious. The best part about the dish, though, was the truffle creme fraiche served on the side – I could have eaten this by the spoonful!
Next we had an item off of the gluten free menu – Red Snapper Tacos. This was a light dish, perfect for summer. A great mix of flavors and textures, and I would definitely order this again.
At this point, we were full, but there was no turning back as we had already placed our order. Out came the Cider and BBQ Baby Back Ribs, the Gluten Free Chicken, the Butter Poached Lobster Pizzetta with truffled marscopone and bacon bits, and the Steamed Sea Bass with Mushrooms and Ginger. I’m not a rib fan, but my friends raved about these as the meat literally fell off the bone. The Gluten free chicken was perfectly crisp and atop a healthy portion of delicious garlicky sauteed spinach – this was my personal favorite. The lobster pizzetta and the fish, on the other hand, were two misses of the night – I couldn’t taste one ounce of lobster on the pizza, and the fish was overwhelmed by a sweet cinnamon spice not indicated on the menu description. I would definitely not order these two options again.
The disappointing main dishes were however soon forgotten after our Chocolate Tasting – a tray of house-made chocolate items, from a triple layered chocolate mousse to a chocolate dulce de leche ice cream. The house made chocolate hazelnut truffles were decadent, and I couldn’t stop taking spoonfuls of the light chocolate flan-like dish (on the left).
With all things considered, Stanton Social is a great place, especially for out of towners who are looking for an epitomizing NYC hot spot and would like to make dinner the event of the night. Great for pre-party bites. The atmosphere is energizing yet intrusive, so don’t come here expecting a romantic evening. Instead, know that you’ll leave the restaurant ready to hit the town and dance the night away (if you’re not too full).

Website: http://www.stantonsocial.com
Address: 99 Stanton Street between Orchard and Ludlow.
Food grade: B+
Overall grade: A

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Lower East Side, New American, Sex & The City Swank, Tapas

Yerba Buena – definitely a new favorite

My meal and experience at Yerba Buena Perry last night was excellent. In a nutshell, I had exceptionally friendly and accommodating service, incredible and inventive Latin American food, and an awesome time amidst the loud and inebriated tables surrounding me. In fact, it’s worth just coming here for the cocktails themselves – very rarely do I have trouble deciding which drink to pair with my food. Their long list of light, not overly sweet varietals could appeal to any cocktail palette.

I’m thrilled that I was finally able to locate a West Village restaurant with both impeccable service and food. While I would suggest waiting to order your courses after receiving your drinks (ours appetizers came out too soon), I can say that their waitstaff is likely to honor absolutely any request you may have. They’re incredibly friendly, that even after I had switched an appetizer choice just seconds after ordering, they brought the original one on the house, and get this – with a huge smile! Hence the order of croquettes below.
These were melt-in-your-mouth incredible. The lightest, crispiest version of fried food, the manchego cheese croquettes were a show-stopper. I’m so glad the waiter proceeded to bring them out despite canceling our order. Just as delicious was the vegetarian empanadas filled with spinach, manchego cheese, beside huge pieces of peruvian corn and a fig vinagrette. While some in the past have described these as pita pockets, I found them unique, flavorful, and deliciously cheesy. I loved the oversized kernels of peruvian corn on the plate, too.
The Yerba Buena salad, served with jicama, tomatoes, avocado and a sherry vinaigrette was very light and tangy – perfect as a refreshing appetizer and a great excuse to order carbs and proteins for the rest of your meal.
The meal got better as it progressed, though the entree portions could have been larger. The grilled black cod was amazing and served beside a wonderfully smooth and rich Peruvian corn puree. The cod itself tasted just like the cod you can find in Asian restaurants – buttery, soft, and delicate. I would definitely return to Yerba Buena just to have this again. The arroz con pollo also had somewhat of an Asian touch as well – the rice beneath the chicken tasted similar to Benihana Japanese rice, but was buttery, light, and deliciously garlicky nonetheless. The chicken, served with a generous portion of avocado salad, was quite tasty, but paled in comparison to the cod.
Overall, though, the entrees were awesome and I would recommend both to those planning to visit Yerba Buena. Dessert was also a hit, but then again, how can one fail with a Dulce de Leche sundae. Despite the big scoops of caramel ice cream, sprinkling of candied pecans and bananas, and heap of whipped cream, this dessert was surprisingly only delicately sweet, and not overpowering in the slightest. A great end to a consistently tasty meal.
Needless to say, I loved Yerba Buena Perry and would return in a heartbeat. It’s tough to find reservations here Thursdays through Sundays, but (patient) walk-in parties generally get lucky. It’s a perfect spot for a fun group dinner, or a date before going out on the town, but be prepared to talk louder than normal, as the space is quite small and crowded. Can’t wait to go back, and thank you Mike for supplying the meal!!
Address: 1 Perry Street at Greenwich Ave

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Filed under Drinks & Apps, Fun Group Dinner, Latin American, Sex & The City Swank, Spanish, West Village

Freeman’s: gorgeous setting and consummate ambiance

I’ve only heard great things about Freeman’s, and after my meal there yesterday, I can finally see why. Ambiance is just second to food quality in my list of crucial restaurant features, and Freeman’s fits the build of my opinion of ambiance perfection. Tucked away at the end of a cobblestone alley, identifiable by only a string of soft white lights and a square-windowed storefront (San Franciscans, think Notte), the restaurant is a little gem in a somewhat no-man’s-land between Bowery and Christie.
Its interior is even more gorgeous. Walls are lined with unique antique-framed photos and a sporadic placement of taxidermy (odd but adds to the rustic feel) – and though there’s not much room between tables, there is ample hang out space for those waiting for a table or lingering for a drink: two bars in fact!
Note that while its somewhat hidden location adds to its mystique, it also requires you to come fully prepared with explicit directions – despite a Google Maps image on my phone screen, my taxi driver and I circled the block 3 times before succumbing to asking a fellow New Yorker for help. Fortunately, the food and the experience made it worth the trouble.
Freeman’s doesn’t generally take reservations for small parties, but my friend and Freeman’s employee Janet was kind enough to set aside a table for me and my friend Lauren, which was fortunate considering the growing crowd around 7pm. While deciding on our menu choices, I sipped on one of the great selections of white wines by the glass, and Lauren had one of their inventive cocktails – conveniently organized by type on the menu (dark and stormy, light and crisp, etc). We were told that the menu had recently changed, so most of the staff admitted they lacked honest recommendations, so Lauren and I just went for what sounded best. We started with their famous artichoke dip, which was sinfully cheesy and creamy in the center and perfectly crusty on top, and served warm with thick slices of toasted baguette. NOT for the lactose intolerant (too bad I am), but delicious nonetheless.

For our mains, we shared the half roasted chicken served with grilled romaine and homemade ranch,
and the pan seared fluke with air popped something and fried rapini.

Can’t remember what the fish was laying on, but it was something light and airy – like a denser popcorn. Both dishes were well priced, perfectly portioned, non-complex, and delicious. The food is not the type that makes you go home feeling heavy – which I loved.

For dessert, Lauren and I shared the chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (and were VERY tempted to get the sticky toffee pudding but resisted). Although the ice cream was almost entirely melted, the chocolate fudge sauce and old fashioned style of the dark chocolate cake won back our praise.
Overall, Freeman’s is a casual, cozy, and quaint find with tons of atmosphere, personality, inventive cocktails, and affordable, straight forward yet delicious food. Great for a fun group, a catch up with a friend, or a romantic, care-free date. Its versatility is makes it a standout – it really has the potential to please anyone from a high class snob to a lower east side hipster. Nice work Freeman’s, and thanks again for the reso Cuisson!!

Website: http://www.freemansrestaurant.com

Location: Freeman’s Alley in Lower East Side

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Filed under Affordable Date, Brunch, Californian Cuisine, New American, Private Party, Romantic Date

Scarpetta….wow… WOW (the food).

Scarpetta, in my mind, is one of the most well-known Italian dining establishments in New York City. Mention Scarpetta to a past visitor and chances are they’re a die-hard fan. With such a reputation, Scarpetta has been on my Must Try list for ages, but getting a reservation at a reasonable hour is a struggle (“only 5pm or 10pm available this Tuesday…”). Finally, I was given the opportunity to check out this mysterious gem / long-time fantasy for a team gathering, and left ample belly space the day of to make sure I arrived capable and eager to taste enough to give this supposedly incredible a fair assessment. Fortunately I wasn’t paying 🙂
Scarpetta is in the heart of the Meatpacking District, so I expected the same sceney-swanky vibe like that of Buddakan, or Abe and Arthur’s, or other over-hyped (despite decent) restaurants in the area. I was immediately proven wrong – the vibrancy and “cool” factor is still there, but the soft colors and warming lighting give it a sense of both elegance and comfort lacking at most restaurants. No pumping house music in the background, no snooty bartenders, no warehouse ceilings, and last but not least, space for 5 at the bar! I was instantly quite impressed.
My perspective on the service is mixed. Our waiter was young, natural, and personable, totally open to our questions and obviously eager about the restaurant’s food. When he was around, he was charming and accommodating. However, when he disappeared, there was no sign of him ever returning. Wait time between courses was far too long, and simple requests for more wine or salt and pepper required a belting of “excuse me sir!” Probably to be expected due to the crowd – and it wouldn’t stop me from coming back again.
Ok ok, on to the food. Firstly and most importantly, the bread basket…Scarpetta basically had me at hello. Before even ordering our food, we were handed a bountiful basket of meat and cheese filled spirals, soft foccacia, and crusty Italian rolls with an array of ricotta-whipped butter, eggplant caponata, and olive oil. Rule of Thumb: Exceeded bread expectations generally equals start to an excellent meal.
After attempting to restrain myself from bread, I tried virtually everything that touched the table. Do the same if you have the stamina. To start, we ordered the Creamy Polenta with Truffed Mushrooms, the Raw Yellowtail, and the Tagliatelle with Truffles and Parmesan.
Each dish was simply yet beautifully plated and utterly delectable in their own right, but the Tagliatelle received by far the most attention. The pasta, creamy, silky, and buttery, sat under the biggest mound of shaved truffles I have ever witnessed. At $42, this dish is quite the treat but worth every penny, and totally justified compared to the typical claiming-to-be-truffle-filled courses that arrive with three microscopic black specs.
By main course time my belly was feeling quite full, but once the Black Cod with caramelized fennel and sundried tomatoes reached the table I was back in the game. With melt in your mouth texture, perfectly crispy skin, and delicate yet bold seafood flavor, this cod was probably one of the best Italian fish dishes I have ever tasted.

For a more simple, yet equally solid dish, I would recommend Scarpetta’s famous “Spaghetti Tomato & Basil” – sounds boring but the uniquely dense homemade noodles and light, yet ample tomato sauce make this dish seem unique.
The Roasted Chicken with parsnip puree was also very tender and flavorful, and another great picky-eater option. For the adventurous the Black Tagliolini with mixed seafood and sea urchin broth is a gold medal. While the dishes were on the heavier side, their unique flavors and textures made it worth rolling out of the restaurant at the end of meal. After dessert, that is.
I went a bit crazy for dessert – purely as a result of that incentive you get to eat more food once you’ve eaten so much already – like there’s no turning back so you just keep going, consequences totally out of mind. So, instead of ordering 1 for the table, I ordered 3: the Chocolate Cake (HOLY MOLY BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT EVER), the Chestnut Cake with prune ice cream, and the Banana Budino (what is that?) with pecan gelato and oat tuile. My intention to try one bite of each absolutely failed after trying one bite of each. The chocolate cake had that intense, chocolate flavor that sadly is so rare in chocolate desserts, and the accompanying burnt orange caramel gelato really brought out its true flavors. Though the Chestnut Cake wasn’t my favorite, I’d definitely recommend it to those non-chocolate dessert fans (not sure who because I don’t associate with them).
Hopefully you’re convinced that Scarpetta’s label as a “must-try” is justified. If not, maybe the fact that I’m sitting here wishing for more truffled tagliatelle despite my stomach-pinching elastic pants gives you ample proof. If you visit Scarpetta, definitely reserve in advance and eat VERY lightly that day – it would be a shame if you didn’t have sufficient stomach space to taste the bounty of treats its menu has to offer!
Address: 355 West 14th Street near 9th avenue (near The Diner)

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Filed under Business Meal, Italian, Parents in Town, Romantic Date, Special Occasion