A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity along with my friends to check out Ethos, a new restaurant in the East Village. We arrived to find the front sidewalk carpeted in pastel rose petals, balloons, and a smiling hostess greeting us at the door. I quickly realized as we walked into the space that I had been there before to dine at the prior establishment. The space had been brightened, from the open and exposed kitchen to the fabulous enclosed patio space and garden at the rear of the restaurant.

Ethos, East Village

Currently the space in the back features a garden which supplies the produce for the restaurant. The very warm owner was on hand to take us on a tour through the space, including a downstairs spot perfect for accommodating large groups. There’s even a separate bar on hand to complete the event. Having been in a few other East Village locations with basements, I was impressed how warm the space felt. This will be a great addition to restaurant.

Ethos, East Village

While the menu has some heavier options mixed in, it’s very much a place focused on small plates, perfect for sharing with a group of your closest friends (though works equally well for a first date!). You can choose your preference amongst the open bar area you walk through when you first enter the restaurant, the main dining room, or the enclosed patio.

Ethos, East Village

We started the meal with an assortment of appetizers, including the mandatory spreads ranging from tsatziki to hummus, to baba ghanoush. Not typically all that fond of tsatziki, I was surprised to find just how fabulous their rendition is. You could taste all of the layers of it, making it a cool contrast of an addition to their fresh warm pita. Their hummus was nice and smokey and the baba ghanoush was the best I have ever tried. Definitely recommend this assortment for sharing among friends.

Ethos, East Village

Another starter we tried was the baby octopus with mixed organic greens, vine ripened tomatoes and grilled peppers, which was served with a lemon and olive dressing. This clean fresh meal tasted like summer on a plate, complete with tomatoes from their on-premises garden. Their grilled octopus had that nice touch of char stopping just shy of overly crunchy. Perfect. For something with great flavor and a bit of flourish (hello, table-side ouzo-soaked flambé), don’t miss their Saganaki Kefalotiri. Imported greek kefalotyri cheese pan seared in olive oil. Nothing wrong about that.

Ethos, East Village

Of course, we had to try one of their lamb dishes. This here is off the mezes, but there are also other larger portions which come accompanied by side dishes (if that’s more your style).

Ethos, East Village

To finish, we tried a pastry creme tart with berries and their crème brûlée. I was a bit disappointed to not get to give their baklava a taste seeing as it’s such a signature Greek dish, but I figure that’s just yet another reason for a return visit. Great addition to a great neighborhood!

Ethos – 167 Avenue A (b/w E10 & E11) – 646.596.9051
Reservations Suggested

Photos courtesy of Joey Pasion.

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

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

When it’s your friend’s birthday and all he wants is a group outing to a Korean restaurant in Queens for some live octopus, you do it. Especially when he’s taunting you saying “C’mon, Tony did it!” – referring to a visit Anthony Bourdain paid to the restaurant as a part of a No Reservations episode back from 2009. Ok, fine. I decided if my friend was on it enough to coordinate “reserving” one of the only twenty-something octopuses being flown in from Korea that I would give it a try. When else would I have this opportunity?

I would list out exact menu items ordered, but I’ll be honest. I don’t know names for most of the dishes we had. The menu was mostly in Korean, and if you visit Sik Gaek’s website, it’ll appear all in Korean, even when you click for English. We started out with some beef fried dumplings, thick pork belly, and a soju watermelon.

When it came to the main course, we let the birthday boy order. We ended up with the seafood hot-pot, preceded by sashimi. There were others who ordered a variety of more standard Korean fare – beef and noodles and a massive shrimp dish of sorts (their shrimp was amazing). When it comes to the sashimi and the hot pot, perhaps it’s best I save my words and just share some videos of what our experience really was like.

 

The birthday boy makes this look easy.

 

The video here where I finally tried it? Decidedly less refined. I only had a small bite – which was all I ever intended to try. I’ll confess, it wasn’t my favorite. I far prefer charred octopus to the chewier variety, and this definitely didn’t have that char layer. And I was so paranoid about not chewing it enough for the wiggling business not to be an issue that I couldn’t really think too too much on the taste. It was definitely an adventure and I’m glad I joined in on the experience.

Following the sashimi, the giant hot pot with all sorts of seafood came out. There was lobster, more octopus, abalone, conch, shrimp … so many things. They claimed it served 3-4 people – a statement we’re still confused by. The pot was massive, and there were at least 6 of us picking away at it, with it seeming to go nowhere.

As if that wasn’t enough, once we decided we were mostly done with it, the workers pulled it off the flame and turned it into a big pot of fried rice. No additional charge. We weren’t too hungry, so we told them just 2 servings worth of rice. The result was way more than we were prepared to handle, all topped with cheese. It was definitely a unique dish. This was just overall a restaurant full of surprises. It was a fun change of pace to do for a birthday, for sure. Great outing for a group!

To finish of the celebrations, the birthday boy’s girlfriend had brought his favorite cake from Veniero’s – cannoli cake! Which we all ate with, what else – chopsticks!

Fun night in Woodside! Anyone else out there tried “live” octopus before? Thoughts?

Sik Gaek – 49-11 Roosevelt Avenue – Woodside, Queens – 718.205.4555
Reservations Recommended

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

This year, Restaurant Week snuck up on me. I’m usually poring over the list, trying to identify spots to visit. This year, I wasn’t quite my normal self. Thankfully my friend M did her usual – selecting a good 4-5 restaurants, booking each for 4 people, and asking us all if we are interested in joining her. Spice Market had been on my “to try” list for a long time – a spot I usually forget since I’d say the Meatpacking District is one of the areas of town you’re least likely to find me.

When I walked in, I was intantly intrugued by the set-up. The upstairs bar area truly does look like a spice market and all of the workers are wearing uniforms in keeping with the theme. I can’t say I’ve been to another space with such a pronounced theme that didn’t feel awkwardly overdone or gimmicky. Nicely done. I suggest grabbing a drink at the bar before sitting down for dinner since it’s such a fun space. From their cocktail menu, I suggest their Whiskey Passion Fizz – which is George Dickel No.12, passion fruit, chili, and ginger ale. It has just a bit of heat to it and the passion fruit was such an unexpected yet amazing addition. And to boot, it’s only $10!

To start, I had to try their Soy Cured Salmon, which was served with a cilantro crème fraîche paired with Asian pear. The soy gave the salmon an almost smokey flavor to it. I can’t say I have ever had fruit mixed with salmon, but it worked well here. The pear added a crisp light layer to the dish.

When the server noted my choice for a main, the pork vindaloo, was spicy, I knew I was going to be pleased. It was prepared with crispy herbs and leeks. The dish in which it was served was deceptively small. At first, I was worried they hadn’t given us enough but I quickly realized just how much pork it really was. The flavor was great – nicely spicy but stopping well short of the threshold of losing true flavor in favor of heat. I could eat this dish every day. So good.

One friend ordered the wok fried rice noodles, which were quite good and served with mixed vegetables and a soy yuzu broth. The dish was great but it’s this unique broth that still stands out in my mind.

The degree of preference our server showed towards the Thai tea sundae over the other Restaurant Week dessert options made this choice super easy. The sundae was served with an Orange Blossom Whipped Cream, which added a slightly creamy layer that wasn’t too heavy and had the subtle orange blossom flavor. I understood instantly why this was the servers favorite. A must have!

Spice Market – 403 West 13th Street – 212.675.2322
Reservations Required / Bar Seating Available

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