manhattan


There are so many places I mean to try but never do. Call it home base syndrome. You know it’s here, it’s popular, there’s likely to be a wait, but you’ll go – sometime. The Burger Joint has been on said list for a long time. I’ve listened to Anthony Bourdain wax poetic about their beef patties, confirming they should indeed live up to the hype – but yet I’ve never been.

But thank you, Lady Gaga! I finally was going to be over in the area to work a VIP experience we had connected to her next to last show at Roseland Ballroom. Not sure what the food situation was going to be and knowing I’d be at the venue from 4:30 until likely 11, I thought it was a perfect time for a burger.

When I arrived, it was every bit the out of place venue I’d always heard it was. Plopped right into the glorious lobby of the Parker Meridien over in the back left was a snaking line, corralled by a series of ropes. There was no sign directly in the lobby and it was a kind bellhop who let me that was indeed where I needed to go.

Knowing their policy of making you order immediately, I started scrambling to find the menu on the wall along the long dark hallway that leads to the entrance – the main thing confirming you are indeed in the right place being a large glowing neon burger on the wall.

The family in front of me was from Australia. They were staying in the hotel, so you could say they had the “home court” advantage when it came to the line. And they’d definitely put this advantage to use, having visited the spot three times during their visit. I was looking through the various menu boxes with languages from French to Japanese when they stopped me. “The English menu is inside behind the register. You’ll have time.” Ominous.

When I entered the restaurant, I was surprise by the overwhelming amount of graffiti on the wall. The sign prohibiting graffiti seemed to be a pointless decoration as clearly, no one was reading it.

I went simple on my order. No shake this time, but I went with the cheeseburger, fries, and a Diet Coke. My bill came to around $10.

The room was filled with patrons, but respectfully they all are their burgers quickly, cleaned up, and allowed the next customers to cycle in. No stragglers playing on their phones holding up the process. This is a large part of what helped make my wait a mere 15-20 minutes. Not bad.

And the burger? So good. I was concerned that it would be massive and that I’d end up ruining my outfit for the evening. The patty wasn’t Shake Shack thin, but it wasn’t one of those super thick ones either. Just right. Nice and juicy with great flavor. The fries were on the thinner side and just the right amount of salt (which is key). If you haven’t tried their burger, I highly recommend. And now that it’s almost warm, it’s in the perfect spot too to grab and head into the park!

How was Gaga, you ask? So good. I followed my stop at Burger Joint with a lovely treat yourself session at Drybar (loved it!) before heading to the show.

The soundcheck was awesome. There’s something magical about getting to see a major performer without the stage costumes, just taking the stage for those few songs to get their bearings.

The show itself was a nonstop energetic hour ride, complete with a serenade to the legendary Tony Bennett.

I heard this show was not as choreographed as her typical tours. I’d love to see what the full tour would be!

 

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien – 119 W 56 Street (b/w 6th & 7th Ave) – 212.708.7414
No Reservations

Locanda Verde had been on my “must try” list for over a year before I finally made it there. Now that I’ve been (twice) I’m fairly certain it was my subconscious keeping me away, knowing that once I went, I’d want to keep coming back over and over (and over).

We’ll start with brunch. It was a cold wintry Sunday, one so windy I remember being thankful I made it there since I couldn’t see most of the walk there. I’d managed to secure our reservation thanks to calling directly. The restaurant limits the advance window and overall number of reservations available via OpenTable. For better availability, I suggest calling Locanda.

Since it was so cold, I ended up ordering not one, but eventually two cappuccinos. They weren’t cheap, but fellow cappuccino aficionados would approve of the strength of their espresso and proper foam. Perfection.

To start, we had to order the ricotta toast with honey. I’d had this for dinner on my first visit, the only difference being that the brunch version pairs it with a burnt orange toast instead of plain. Both times I was so blown away by the creamy fresh flavor of their ricotta. I don’t think I will ever be able to come for a meal at Locanda and not order this dish. I’m obsessed.

For my main dish, I couldn’t resist making it a full ricotta brunch, so I went with the lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberries and meyer lemon curd. While the pancakes were not cheap ($17), I have to say they are some of the best I have had in a long time. The ricotta made the interior almost creamy and the meyer lemon curd was the best I’ve ever had. I think I have found my new go-to brunch spot. I could happily spend hours upon hours here. We actually did this specific Sunday! Highly recommend.

Locanda Verde – 377 Greenwich Street (@ N Moore Street) – 212.925.3797
Reservations Recommended

It had been a long day this particular Tuesday during Social Media Week, but I quickly found my second wind. This night T had made plans for our big three year anniversary celebration. I did not know where we were headed other than somewhere nice. I was caught off guard when it appeared we were making our way over from Chelsea instead on foot. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I looked across to see the entry way for Aldea – a restaurant I knew of somewhat, but admittedly not in great detail. I hadn’t done my usual pre-visit scan of the menu. It was fun to go in with no expectations – ready to be wowed by a fun new spot.

We checked in at the front and made our way to the back, where the Chef’s Table is located. Unlike some other restaurants I’ve been to, this one was nice and open, still managing to give you an amazing view of the detail with which the kitchen prepares every single dish. There were small utensils, tweezers and the like, used to ensure that every intricate detail was just perfect.

We went with the tasting menu, which was a selection of 9 courses prepared at the discretion of the chef. They were great about accommodating our few requests – no mushrooms, no red wine, and no strong cheeses. We were first greeted by the chef’s take on a frozen caipirinha – a refreshing and flavorful palate cleanser to start the meal.

The first dish which came out was a mussel soup with chorizo, fennel, and a coconut-curry. I can’t say I’ve ever had a soup with mussels, and this was a simple, slightly salty way to start off the tasting (providing a nice contrast to the amuse-bouche.

Next was a small dish of two small croquettes de bacalao, which were served with garlic aioli. Bacalao is not something that I have had often, so it really made me begin to feel the Portuguese connection in our food. Another thing which added a strong tie was the paired tasting portion, which was unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Usually it’s an assortment of wonderful wines, which I have never found anything but excellent. The unique thing about the Aldea sommelier’s take was that it was not limited to wine. We had madeira, sherry, and even a porter. Each really lined up quite well with the course, but I will admit I did notice in particular just how much it added to our meal at Aldea.

Next, we were each served one of their market oysters, accompanied by a pickled shallot mignonette. I decided going in that I was going to try absolutely everything, even if it was something I do not typically order, meaning when it came to these oysters? I would be trying. While still not my favorite out of all of the courses, I did not mind these. The flavor was good, and I really liked the sauce they used.

This dish next dish of beet pickled quail eggs was so pretty! With the Easter season approaching, it seemed like a nice seasonal nod in the line-up. Also not usually a fan of eggs, I liked this dish. The pickling process almost made the egg taste fade a bit, with the beet flavor being more noticeable. I liked that this was just a bite too, smaller than some of the dishes surrounding it.

The next dish, a sea urchin toast with a cauliflower crèma, was one of the highlights for me out of the line-up. I think sea urchin is one of the most decadent, indulgent options out of seafood – dare I say out of savory options in general. I also absolutely loved the unique cauliflower crèma.

We were then served tuna crudo, featuring cucumber and radish. This dish was a nice fresh and light balance to the richness of the sea urchin. I really love tuna tartare and this was a nice play on this – no heat, but just good all-around flavor.

Next, we were served a calamari dish featuring calamari roe and squid ink and languisa sausage. This was a fun dish. The sausage had a bit of a spice to it, which was a perfect contrast to the calamari.

We then were served tortilla with bacalao and black truffle. I think bacalao was the only thing we had which made a repeat appearance. This was a Portuguese take on the Spanish staple Tortilla Española. The layers were nicely done and the stronger flavor of the bacalao stood up nicely to the prominent potato flavor. I was not sure what I would think on this one but I was surprised how much I liked it.

The main entree dish of pork cruda vera was another one of my favorites. The pork was served with rutabaga, radishes, and orange. The orange added a slightly unexpected layer to this dish. The added upside I find to tasting menus is that even the entree is not an overwhelmingly large portion. This was just perfect in every way.

Our first of the dessert dishes was a cheese plate, served with quince marmalade. Not usually one to embrace cheese as a dessert option, I was caught off guard as to how much I liked this! The cheese was creamy and flavorful and the only thing I disliked about the cube of marmalade was that there was not more of it.

Next for dessert was a combination plate featuring a panna cotta, coconut foam, and granita. I think this was my favorite out of the dessert dishes. I liked the playful nature of this one and the way each element was a contrast to its neighbor – with the panna cotta being creamy, the granita being super icey, and the coconut foam falling somewheer int he middle.

Our final dessert was a chocolate plow pudding with almond sorbet and poached pear. The chocolate pudding was almost more of a super soft cake. The almond sorbet and poached pear managed to nicely balanced out the more heavy, rich flavor to the chocolate. I don’t think I have ever had this combination of flavors – chocolate, almond, pear – but it was so nice, with the pear being the surprise addition.

When our server brought out the bill, it came accompanied by yet more sweets! This time, it was a gummie for each of us and custard tarts. If only the bill always came with such an indulgent option.

What a wonderfully indulgent way to celebrate such a milestone. Three years! Kudos to T for an excellent pick and to the fabulous staff at Aldea for providing us both with an experience to remember. Highly recommend.

Aldea – 31 West 17th Street (b/w 5th and 6th Aves) – 212.675.7223
Reservations Required

I’ve been to 7A twice the last couple of weeks with my sister. We wanted to squeeze in at least a couple of visits before it closes its doors for the last time on January 31st. I’ve already posted over on Medium just how sad their closing makes me. They’re on the short list of restaurants I automatically link to neighborhoods, almost as if one couldn’t exist without the other.

Friday night though, I think it all set in. Deciding we were going to go all-out with our final visit, my sister kicked off our order, “We’d like to start with the mozzarella cheese sticks.”

Our server paused, seemingly running through a mental list. She shook her head, “We are actually out of those.”

Caught off guard, my sister continued, “Okay, well I’ll have the Austrian … the fried chicken cutlet with sweet potato fries.”

The server looked back up. “I think we still have those. I’ll check. If not, are regular fries okay?” My sister nodded yes.

As our meal continued, I heard similar conversations between patrons and the servers. No, we don’t have that beer. We are out. No, sorry we are out of that menu item. With 7 days to go, it seems as if they’re done. No new supplies. Just there to sell out of their existing kitchen inventory.

The last weekend has come and gone, so no more chance at brunch, but there still are several nights to squeeze in a dinner or lunch. A last hurrah. Might I suggest the Austrian sandwich – of course, assuming it’s in stock.

The intersection of East 7th and Avenue A will never be the same.

Side note, this is this blog’s 1,000th post! I can’t think of anything better to be the focus of this post.

7A Cafe – 109 Avenue A (at East 7th Street) – 212.475.9001
Reservations Not Required

It’s been a busy several weeks going into Christmas. Aside from the Christmas parties, there were concerts (Pink & meeting John Mayer) and even Sleep No More hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. This blog has been a bit neglected, with November focused on NaNoWriMo and December being a holiday whirlwind. That doesn’t mean, however, there haven’t been some fabulous meals, so it’s time for some overdue catching up.

A week ago, our team at Facebook took some of my work team out for a holiday lunch at Craft. It was a beautiful lunch, taking place in their private dining room. It was a really nice space, with an area in the back corner that opened into the kitchen where you can watch them preparing the food.

We started with a fabulous pasta dish – ricotta cavatelli with butternut squash and parmesean finished off with a dusting of roasted pumpkin seeds. The pasta was so light that it melted in your mouth, almost as if it was instead butter. So good. The flavors were simple and light, so it was not a heavier pasta. The pumpkin seeds were a fun addition – a nice contrast in texture. It looked so simple, but I was quite impressed.

For my main dish, I went with the Black Bass, which was served with a potato puree and niçoise olives. The outside was lightly charred, rich with flavor. I’m usually not a fan of olives, but the flavor here worked perfectly – a bit tart and salty. The flatiron steak also looked excellent, served with cipollini onions, hen of the woods mushrooms, and bordelaise.

For dessert, we were all treated to some gingerbread served with quince, muscato, and crème fraîche‎. The entire dining space was filled with the rich spicy smell of gingerbread. I did not even have to have a bite to know this was going to be quite good. It was moist and molasses-y, which was balanced out nicely with the ice cream and the fresh slices of quince. It was truly the holidays on a plate!

Craft – 43 E 19th St, New York, NY 10003 – 212.780.0880
Reservations Required

Earlier this week, I sat down and went through Zagat’s listing of NYC’s 100 Best Restaurants. It turned out I’d been to 19 of the 100, and I was excited to realize that our team’s dinner with our team at Federated Media would not only mean an evening of great conversation, but also bring me up to 20! I’d always been curious about Ai Fiori. I’m sure I’ve walked by countless times never realizing that’s where it was.

We were in the back room, with a very official door sealing our group off from the rest of the restaurant. We had a special menu from which to choose one of two selections for each of our four courses. To start, I had the Insalata di Astice – which was Nova Scotia lobster, charred corn salad, and ricotta salata. This was a nice thing to see as I feel like we’re bidding adieu to lobster until warmer weather returns. It’s like Ai Fiori knew I am not quite ready to see it go.

For the pasta course, I had the Pansotti di Anatra, which was duck confit parcels, romanesco, parmesan, and lemon. It was nice to have duck in pasta form. Sometimes a full entree of just duck can become overwhelming. Having it not only in smaller bites but also if being confit made it a lighter take on duck, and the parmesean was a nice touch.

When it came to choosing an entree, I was intrigurd by a halibut option but ultimately just had to go with the Tagliata, whcih was a prime dry aged strip loin, endive, potato terrine, “cacio e pepe,” balsamico, and bordelaise. The meet was super tender, and the endive ended up being a perfect paring. If it was possible to choose to get a portion size along these lines off of the main menu, I think I’d order much more red meat. Just perfect.

For dessert, I elected to skip the chocolate and instead try the Panna Cotta, which was served with blackberries, grapes, and a very light sorbet. It ended up being a perfect finale and was a nice balance to the meat dish preceding it. I’ve been underwhelmed by panna cottas as of late, but this one was spot on.

Overall it was a wonderful evening, much worth of their spot on Zagat’s listing. Ai Fiori is a fabulous spot for a special occasion dinner (or just a special treat, as well).

Ai Fiori – 400 5th Avenue, 2nd Level – 212.613.8660
Reservations Required

When I received an invite to McDonald’s Chef Event, I was so intrigued I instantly blocked off my calendar for last Thursday. The invite was simple yet detailed. Four chefs would be preparing a gourmet experience for attendees, comprised of McDonald’s ingredients.

I arrived to Three Sixty° where attendees were greeted in the lobby by platters of two cocktails – one a mojito, the other, a bacon old fashioned. (I later learned both did also incorporate McD’s ingredients – like their mango pineapple smoothie and their applewood bacon.) On the main floor of the event space, there were a couple of bars and servers carrying around small boxes of, what else, McDonald’s french fries.

We were seated at tables once the meal portion began, where we were greeted by senior execs from McDonald’s. Before the chefs were introduced, McD’s made its big announcement – more fruits and veggies are coming. Soon, you’ll be able to get a salad with combo meals, and there will soon be more fruits and veggies on the menu overall.


The tables themselves were decorated by the perfect take home souvenir – a Big Mac-aroon – almost too pretty to eat. Though the invite had mentioned small plates, the courses which arrived were much larger than what you would see as a part of a tasting menu. It was hard to believe that what we enjoyed through the rest of the evening was made from items from the McD’s pantry!


First up was the appetizer, prepared by Chef Dale Talde. This was a fun course for me, being such a fan of and regular at his Park Slope roadside bar, Pork Slope. He prepared Kung Pao Chicken, which featured McDonald’s chicken nuggets, sweet and sour sauce, red wine vinegar, peanuts, and iceberg lettuce. I’ll be honest – I have never been a huge fan of McD’s chicken nuggets, not now, and not even when I was six years old. This dish though? Was amazing. It was flavorful. It was something you’d expect to see in a fancy restaurant. I think it was once this came out that I really realized the meal that was going to follow was going to be unique.

Next was the first of two entrees, and this course was prepared by Chef James Tahhan. He served a Tortilla Espanola with Garlic & Saffron Aioli, which featured McDonald’s hash browns, eggs, onions. It was served with an apple & cucumber Salad, which featured McDonald’s apple slices, cucumbers, red onions, chili lime tortilla chips, fresh limes, spring mix, chipotle BBQ, and honey mustard sauces.

Third was the second of the entrees, this one prepared by Chef Aaron McCargo, Jr. He prepared a BOLD BBQ Chicken, which featured McDonald’s crispy chicken, hash browns, chipotle BBQ sauce, espresso, cheddar jack cheese, onions, eggs, and applewood smoked bacon. I really enjoyed the mix of hash browns, espresso and bacon in this dish. Not only was it a fabulous mix of flavors, but it incorporated ingredients from every meal of the day on McD’s menu. Genius.

Next was the third of the entrees prepared by Chef Jessica Foust, a registered dietician on staff at McDonald’s. This entree was Slow-cooked Beef with Blueberry Pomegranate Sauce and Mac Fry Gnocchi. I had to read the menu to see that yes, the meat in this dish was in fact the 100% beef used in ground form for their hamburger patties! The fish also featured McDonald’s French fries, eggs, and blueberry pomegranate smoothie base.

For the grand finale dessert, also prepared by Chef Jessica Foust, was a Pumpkin Spice Biznut (Biscuit-Donut). This course featured McDonald’s biscuit mix, pumpkin spice latte syrup, praline topping, cream cheese, and whipped cream. I think out of everything, it was this dish I was most sad I wouldn’t be able go out and purchase at another point in the future. It was so flavorful, and a fun take on the current pastry hybrid craze that’s sweeping NYC as of late.

Thanks again to McDonald’s to having me for such a wonderful event. I’m curious to see what’s in store for those menu changes in the future. I’ll have to make it over soon to give that McCafe Pumpkin Spice Latte I was reading more about today a try!

Back in July, I took T to Hearth to celebrate his birthday. I liked the low key feel of the restaurant, which was cozy but not the least bit pretentious. They were celebrating their summer of riesling, and all of the wait staff was wearing t-shirts supporting that fact.

We chose to go with the 7 course tasting menu. They started with a simple lentil salad with fresh pressed extra virgin olive oil. It might have been simple, but the flavors were quite expressive – and the olive oil was noticeably flavorful. This course was followed by a warm summer salad, with purple basil and pickled veggies. I’m not accustomed to warm salads, but this one was a nice contrast to the cool lentil salad that had preceded it,

The next course was Wild Florida Snapper with a bacon consume. There was something almost irreverent about fish and bacon. Is that legal? It was so good! The broth and sprinkling of bacon across the top was such a fun mix of flavors with the snapper. So fish and bacon? I say I’m a believer.

The next dish was basic comfort food done right. Hearth’s homemade macaroni with housemade ricotta was just solid goodness. The thick tubed pasta noodles were a fun variation, and the ricotta versus thick cheese layers made for a lighter, more summery spin on the classic. This was ricotta done right.

Our next course was the heartiest – lamb with a chickpea and feta salad and a chickpea purée. The lamb portion only looked small. It ended up being more than enough. The lamb was perfectly cooked. The sauce was not overwhelmingly heavy, but just enough to make a statement. The chickpea purée might not have photographed wonderfully here, but it was quite tasty in person (I promise).

When I saw dessert come out for course six, I had to smile, since that meant not one but two dessert courses! First up was a marscapone cheesecake with candied sunflower seed and golden raisins. I really liked this one. The marscapone made for a lighter cheesecake and the candied sunflower seed, something I’d never had, was a nice salty contrast to the dish.

I don’t know if it is because I have not been eating much chocolate these days, or if it was the six preceding courses, but I was a bit done by the time the final dish appeared in front of me at the table. It was quite good, though on the heavier side for a dessert. It was a dense Valherona chocolate accompanied by coconut gelato, hazelnuts, and a chocolate mousse. The mousse along with the gelato was my favorite part.

And for T’s finale, there was strawberry shortcake, complete with a happy birthday note.

Overall, the meal made for a wonderful way to celebrate the occasion. I’d wanted to visit for quite some time and was glad to see it lived up to the hype!

Hearth – 403 E 12th St (at 1st Ave) – 646.602.1300
Reservations Required

I did not know where I was going for dinner to celebrate our 2 year anniversary. I did know I was meeting T at Columbus Circle. And I was to be dressed up. So I pulled out my to-be-worn Roberto Rodriguez dress, heels, and made my way there from work, curious to see where we were headed. While Marea had been a long lingerer on our “to try” list, it hadn’t really crossed my mind Marea could be the spot. Especially since I thought (incorrectly, as it turns out) that Marea was in the Upper West Side.

As we perused the menu and Bible-like wine list, we were greeted by this light refreshing amuse-bouche. I was very impressed by the sommelier, who was able to quickly go off of a couple I found interesting paired with my description (what wine works well for this guy over here who doesn’t like white wines but can no longer drink red) to guide me to a selection buried in the pages. Verdict? Quite good and at a reasonable price point to boot.

We both went with the four course prix fixe. Priced at $97, it included a selection from Crudo, Ostriche or Antipasto, a  Pasta, a choice of fish or meat, and dessert. There were so many intriguing options on the list that narrowing it down, especially for the first course, was quite hard. I made it down to two options, and asked the server for his opinion. I went with his suggestion, which was the Dentice from the “Crudo” section of the menu. It was sliced raw Pacific snapper, mandarin orange, pistachio, and a carrot vinaigrette.

For the pasta course, my choice was a no-brainer. I clicked around online and everyone was raving about their fusilli, incorporated a red-wine braised octopus with bone marrow. The flavors were quite good. Just a tad spicy and I liked that the pasta was subtle and in thin corkscrew ribbons. The portion size was absolutely perfect. Highly recommend.

For my main course, I had to go with the Spigola Nera, which was local black sea bass, fregola sarda, cipollini, broccoli rabe, roasted carrots, and a balsamic glaze. The fish was amazing – light, flaky, and flavorful. The fregola was a wonderful addition, something I haven’t come across in probably years in NYC. The perfect caramelization on the cipollini made it impossible for me not to eat every last bit.

For dessert, I went with the Crostata di Mirtilli, which was huckleberries, ricotta crema, candied squash, sicilian pistachio, and a lemon sorbet. It felt very guilt-free for a dessert. There were lots of things going on with the listed ingredients here so I was not sure if it would all work … but oh, it did. I can’t say I’ve ever had candied squash in a dessert, but it worked. This is one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while. T had the Budino di Mandorla, which was also quite good. It was white chocolate almond crema with orange blossom, lemon curd, and blood orange sorbetto. The white chocolate almond crema was quite sweet and the blood orange sorbetto tart. The rest helped it to even out a bit, with the overall flavor on the sweet side. Both wonderful ways to end a great meal to celebrate such a wonderful occasion!

Marea – 240 Central Park South – 212.582.5100
Reservations Required

Last week, I went to an event with Google Local at David’s Tea. The event was with Laurie Davis of EflirtExpert.com, and author of the recently released Love at First Click: The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating. The evening was simple – cocktails using David’s Tea, the location of which was where Laurie wrote the majority of her book. The sips were paired with a lovely spread from Murray’s Cheese.

I’d yet to try David’s Tea, and was completely overwhelmed by the options (in a good way). I fell in love with rooibos when I was in South Africa, and this spot? Has some 21 varieties of rooibos! Their tea of the month was red velvet cake, which tasted like it’s namesake. Red velvet cake has never been so ultimately and totally guilt-free. I walked out with 3 kinds of tea and these fabulous disposable tea filters (for someone like yours truly who wasn’t ready to commit to the fancy mug for loose tea).

They had one of their most popular flavors brewed up for sampling – forever nuts. Look at this. It looks more like granola, right? Turns out it’s amazing tea too! It’s a combo of almonds, apple bits, cinnamon, and beetroot. Not only was it really good, but you can also take the post-steep loose tea and put it to use. They said lots of people put it in their oatmeal, and I totally see why.

Of course, I got busy talking and forgot to snag a photo with Laurie, but so happy for her on the publication of her book. Check it out – I know it’s been on the shelves at Barnes & Noble here in NYC!

David’s Tea – Multiple locations throughout the city

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