an unforgettable night at la vara and clover club

I first went to La Vara not too long after it opened, and enjoyed it so much what we vowed to come back before too long. At the time, T lived close by, so in my mind, it was a no-brainer. As is often the case though, time continued to pass by and we didn’t return – not until January 14th, a day I’ll never forget.

Small plates are the focus at La Vara, which we enjoy since it means we really get the chance to try as many different menu options as we’re prepared to eat. They change them up often, which can be good (yay, more things to try!) or bad (wait, where’d my favorite go?), depending on your POV. We’d recently started to do one “fancy date night” a month, and January, our destination was La Vara.

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Even though we had it last time, we had to start with the Berenjena Con Miel, which is crispy eggplant with honey, melted cheese, and nigella seed. I love this dish. It’s just fried ever so slightly, and it’s the only time I’ve ever seen eggplant and honey paired up. It’s a winner.

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Since we so enjoyed duck hearts on our San Francisco trip, we decided to try their Pincho de Ceuta – which is Gibraltar style grilled chicken hearts served with a fresh herb salad and a lime-date vinaigrette. This was pretty good, though our duck heart king is still Alembic.

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One of the specials of the day was cauliflower fritters. These were super flavorful and much more substantial than we’d expected.

Gurullos

For one of the heavier plates, we had to order the Gurullos, which is a handmade Murcian pasta with goat butter and ground goat. The ground goat is optional, but oh my, it’s delicious. This was one of our favorites from our first visit and it didn’t disappoint. The noodles and the butter just melt in your mouth and the flavor of the goat is always on point. So so good.

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To end the meal, we ordered the Torta Santiago, which was a Galician almond cake topped with fruit. T seemed a bit iffy on the dessert, but I didn’t think anything of it (he’s never big into sweets, so I wasn’t entirely surprised by his lack of enthusiasm). This was essentially a thicker short bread. Next time, I think I’ll instead try their homemade olive oil ice cream.

After leaving La Vara, T thought we should make our way over to another fave of ours, Clover Club, for a quick night cap. I didn’t think anything of it, seeing as we’ve been there a number of times. When we walked in, I was excited to see that Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra were playing. We’re huge fans of theirs, and we always seem to forget that they play Wednesday night every week over at Clover Club.

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When we walked in, we instantly saw Clay up by the bar. Again, I didn’t think anything of it, seeing as we often run into Clay out and about in Brooklyn. T had to run out for a minute, so I sat for a bit chatting with Clay. I was talking so much with my back to the band that Clay finally interrupted me to ask something along the lines of, “You guys are fans of the band, right? It looks like they have a new lead singer.”

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Puzzled, I stopped and turned around to find Michael had let Topher take the mic as he sang Adele’s jazzy rendition of “Love Song”. I’m pretty sure I instantly froze, slowly processing what was happening and what this might could mean. The band continued to play in the background as he made his way over and got down on one knee. My mind was a blur as he reached into a box and pulled out the ring. In the moment, I was so excited that I seemingly grabbed the ring and put it onto my finger. (Ooops.) I gave him a huge hug, then a kiss. Later, he would tease me I never actually said “yes,” but I think he got the idea. It also turns out that running into Clay was not such a coincidence, as he was there to catch the entire thing on camera.

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The surprise continued when we walked to the back room, where I found so many of our closest friends waiting for us to join in the celebration.

Post Engagement

Some had taken planes, trains, or automobiles just to be there to celebrate along with us, which really did mean the world. Love really was all around. It was absolutely perfect.

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That night, we stayed until Clover Club closed. We were the last two sitting at the bar, chatting and grinning. We managed to grab a quick photo with the band, too, before they made their way out.

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So, that explains the hiatus here. It’s been a busy six months or so, but now that our wonderful wedding is done and we’ve returned from the honeymoon, I’m back behind the laptop, contemplating my last great meal. Good to be back, and to share the fun story of the reason for my brief “hiatus” with you all. Xo.

La Vara – 268 Clinton Street (at Verandah Pl), Brooklyn – 718.422.0065
Reservations Suggested

Clover Club – 210 Smith Street (between Baltic and Butler), Brooklyn – 718.855.7939

restaurant week dinner at spice market

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

hiding out from the rain at fatty cue

What’s the best thing to do when the rain is coming down like crazy outside? Picking a good restaurant and tasting your way through the menu is up there in the list of options for me. Last Tuesday was so gross that Fatty Cue in the West Village wasn’t crazy busy. Perfect.

Cockatils - Fatty 'Cue, West Village

To start, we had to get the Ham, Jam, Butter & Bread (I’m a bit of a pretzel bread fanatic and it’s not something you often find on a restaurant menu). This was Edward’s ham, pretzel bread, and aged butter. The ham was on the stronger side and was even more so with the addition of the butter which seemed to have a smokey finish, with a light char along the top.

Ham, Jam, Butter, & Bread - Fatty 'Cue, West Village

Based on the servers recommendation, we went with the kale salad for our veggie selection. The kale was offset by a creamy green peppercorn & cincalok dressing. We learned cincalok is a Malysian condiment – a shrimp paste of sorts. The kale hadn’t been cooked down but the dressing cut through it fairly effectively. Though note, if you don’t really like shrimp, this dish is not for you as the flavor of the dressing is fairly prominent.

Kale Salad - Fatty 'Cue, West Village

An order of their bacon was a must. It’s a 1/2 pound of their bacon, deep-fried and thick cut. It’s prepared with coriander and served with a sweet & spicy salsa verde (very similar to a chimmichuri). I’d never seen something like this paired with bacon, but it was quite good. Plenty in this order to split between two.

Bacon - Fatty 'Cue, West Village

For our main, we went with the dayboat scallops, which were served with pork consomme and husky cherries. Though the dish only had two jumbo scallops, I’d have a hard time not ordering it on a subsequent visit. There was just a bit of crispness on the exterior of the scallops and the pork consumme and cherries added nice additional flavor layers.

Dayboat Scallops - Fatty 'Cue, West Village

Sadly, there wasn’t the option of dessert this evening. The unfortunate downside of rainy day dining at Fatty ‘Cue ended up being a flooded pastry kitchen. Sadness. Oh well – next time!

Fatty ‘Cue – 50 Carmine St (btw Bleecker & Bedford) – 212.929.5050
Reservations Suggested

post broadway dinner at peels

Peels has been on my list for quite some time. I remember when it first opened that it was too crazy to think of trying it, so I kept waiting and eventually, forgot I could try to go again. My friend A was in town this particular weekend. We’d had an eventful day – sitting front row for Porgy and Bess and then getting to go backstage after the show to meet Audra McDonald herself! She was so warm and friendly. We even wandered through Broadway Barks for a bit before heading for dinner. I made us a reservation, though it wasn’t super necessary since we were going at 6 – on the early side for NYC. I loved the interior of the restaurant. It had an unexpected upstairs area and far more seating than I’d ever anticipated from walking by the building countless times. It felt appropriately Southern.

Hushpuppes - Peels

Hushpuppies

While we waited for another friend of ours to join, we tried out an order of their hushpuppies. I had to try them for comparison purposes. I feel compelled to try them any time they are on a menu, although I’m almost always disappointed (looking at you Bubba Gump – crawfish hushpuppies? Never again). I have to say, the ones at Peels are some of the best I’ve had since leaving the South. Slightly sweet and crumbly. They also have a nice cocktail menu. Some highlights include the watermelon gimlet (tequila, watermelon, opal basil, and lime) and the Kentucky Corpse Reviver (bourbon, curacao, Lillet, lemon, and mint).

Tuna Tartare - Peels

Tuna Tartare

For entrees, we decided to share a couple of dishes. We ordered the fried chicken (cause you just have to) and the tuna tartare. The tuna wasn’t anything extraordinary but was nicely done, especially on a warm summer evening.

Fried Chicken - Peels

Fried Chicken

The fried chicken itself was good. The breading wasn’t too thick and it wasn’t remotely greasy, which is a pretty amazing feat. It was served with one of their biscuits – which was large, fluffy, and something I’d definitely do again if I return for brunch. Where they lost me though was the salad that accompanied the dish. I thought it was a nice touch. Fried chicken and a bit of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese … wait. Blue cheese? Uh uh. Proper dressing would absolutely be ranch. Such a bummer.

Cheeseburger - Peels

Cheeseburger

Another friend opted for their burger, which looked quite good as well.

Blackberry Eton Mess Fool - Peels

Blackberry Eton Mess Fool

For dessert, I had to try the Blackberry Eton Mess Fool. I still don’t know what the heck the name means. All I know is that the dessert was so good. Listen to the mix – blackberries, crunchy meringue, yogurt mousse, and mint ice cream. I’m assuming the “mess” comes from the presentation – everything all crammed into a tall container. Everything was perfectly mixed though that in almost every bite you could try all of the elements together. I wasn’t sure about mixing the mint in, but it worked. And being much more accustomed to the soft nature of meringue I just loved the crunchy meringue.

Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Peels. I will definitely have to make a return visit for brunch!

Peels – 325 Bowery (at E 2nd Street) – 646.602.7015
Reservations Suggested

grand finale at alembic

I don’t mean to skip ahead (I will fill in the blanks) but I so enjoyed my meal at The Alembic that I just had to write this one next. Out of all of the meals, this one was a whim. I’d noted it as a great spot in the Haight for cocktails. I hadn’t made much of a note of anything to highlight as far as their food is concerned. Almost a big, big miss. We’d ridden along the periphery of the Haight in our bike ride through San Francisco and over across the Golden Gate Bridge and into Saulsalito, but we hadn’t really gone through the heart of the neighborhood. After doing brunch our final day in North Beach, we decided to wander through this area.

Alembic - The Haight

Alembic – The Haight

I really enjoyed checking out Ambiance as well as several of the vintage stores along Haight Street. In the process, we saw Cha Cha Cha in the distance and walked by the signage for The Alembic. We were intrigued by what we saw and liked the idea of the menu, so we decided to come back and hope to get in. When we arrived, there was a group of people assembled in the front – making it look crowded.

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

Perusing the menu with a side of seasoned popcorn

We were happy to find we could be seated right away. We were amused to look over and realize we recognized the bartender, Daniel Hyatt, from his wonderful whiskey drinks we had enjoyed at Cochon 555. When we saw his hands, we realized that was why he looked  familiar!

Duck Hearts - Alembic

Duck Hearts – Alembic

We decided to start with an order of their appetizer of duck hearts. Actually, it wasn’t an appetizer. It was in their even lighter menu section titled “snacks”. They were jerk spiced and prepared with pickled pineapple and thyme salt. I filed this under the category of adventurous eating while in San Fran and gave it a go. It was only $5 for 5 hearts. The flavor on it was great and I was surprised it had more of a charred than chewy consistency to it. The pineapple was an oddly perfect choice of accompaniment.

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

Carrot Soup: Dungeness Crab, Cauliflower Mousse, Coriander

For the rest of the meal, we were drawn towards their prix fixe option – $35 for three courses. Great deal. Jaded by too many difficult restaurants in NYC, we figured sharing would be a no go. We figured there’s be some sort of surcharge, “extra plate” fees, or just an outright no. We were surprised when our server said “of course!”.

The soup was only slightly warm, perfect for summer (albeit a California one with temps in the 60s/maybe 70s). I really liked the addition of the cauliflower mousse rather than just some sort of cream. I liked the additional vegetal layer. The dungeness crab was sprinkled throughout and besides tasting nice and fresh, was a welcomed change in consistency from the liquid soup base.

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

Grilled Hanger Steak: Freekeh, Smoked Carrot, Date Puree, Grilled Chickpeas, Yogurt

There were so many layers to this dish that if you weren’t careful, you might miss some of the possible combinations. The cubes of steak were a tender medium bordering on medium rare. Depending on where you picked up a slice, it might come with a bit of the chickpeas or a bit of the yogurt, but you almost had to hunt down the date purée, which was a sharp sweet contrast to the meat. Each of the combinations would have made for a fantastic dish on their own, but I really liked being able to try a little of it all in one.

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

Root Beer: Vanilla Sponge, Wintergreen Cream, Ginger Gelee, Sassafras Ice Cream

After reading the description of dessert, I think I assumed it would be some sort of float. Isn’t that what’s almost always done with root beer? The beautiful plate which came out was entirely unexpected. You could eat each element on its own, but when combined together the ending flavor was root beer! It was one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had. Nothing gimmicky. Just brilliant.

This was hands down my favorite meal out of our time in San Francisco and it was one of the few that wasn’t previously planned! One of the best meals – both in flavor and creativity – that I’ve had in a long time.

Alembic – 725 Haight Street (b/w Cole and Shrader), San Francisco – 415.666-0822
No Reservations

burgers at the bar at minetta tavern

After trapeze, we’ve started exploring the nearby neighborhoods – West Village, Greenwich Village, all of the villages. Last night, caked in chalk, we decided to see if we could get into Minetta Tavern. I’ve wanted to go there ever since I almost slammed into Julia Roberts when I walked in front of the restaurant some two years ago. After a frustrating night at trapeze, it seemed like a perfect way to turn the night around.

We arrived, sans reservation, to find it understandably hopping on this Thursday evening. The wait for a table in the dining room was two hours (!!) but we could get a spot at the bar in only 20 minutes. Sold.

Rosemary's Baby - Minetta Tavern

Rosemary’s Baby – Minetta Tavern

From our seats, you could easily take in just about every aspect of the restaurant, from the business men in their gray suits sprinkled through the dining room to the stencils, original to the restaurant, defining the top border of the room. The bartenders run a tight ship. Don’t try to hop into a seat – there’s a sign up process for that. And when your spot is ready, you’ll not just be notified. Oh no – you’ll be told exactly where you’ll be seated. They’re fun though, not excessively gruff, and just complete the experience somehow. They have a nice and varied drink menu, from cocktails to wines to beers. I especially enjoyed the Rosemary’s Baby – gin, St. Germain, and rosemary. Perfect for a warm(ish) evening.

For my meal, I had to go with the standard Minetta Burger. They have a pricier version (The “Black Label Burger”), but I was advised the less expensive option here is actually the best. I’ll be the first to say, I’m not a big burger person. I don’t love ’em crazy thick like some places in NYC like to serve them. And when I order mine medium and it comes out oozing in every direction, I continue to eat even though I sort of panic and my inner child wants to scream “Just kidding! Well done, please!”

Minetta Burger - Minetta Tavern

Minetta Burger – Minetta Tavern

But in my eyes, this burger was just perfect! Their medium was a glorious pinky center though they’d allowed the meat to rest so it wasn’t oozing out on all sides. And it’s definitely a thicker burger for me, but it totally works. The cheese and caramelized onions were nice noticeable additions that managed to not detract from the fabulous flavor of the burger itself.

If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend it. It’s the morning after and I’m still thinking about it. I’d venture to even say skip the tables and reservations and stick with the bar.

Where’s your favorite NYC spot for burgers?

 

Minetta Tavern – 113 MacDougal St. (b/w  Bleecker & W. 3rd Street) – 212.475.3850

french toast tasting at duo

When a French Toast tasting brunch at Duo Restaurant and Lounge popped up on Urban Daddy, the question wasn’t if I’d go … it was when I’d go. The special included unlimited mimosas alongside a sampler plate of three kinds of French Toast. All good. But wait. It was the three kinds of French Toast that won me over. Ready for it?

French Toast Tasting

First, we have the Cookies ‘n Creme French Toast – with vanilla bean creme and crushed cookies. Tasty and borderline more aptly classified as a dessert (not that I’m complaining).

Cookies and Creme French Toast - Duo

Next, their Peanut Butter and Jelly Stuffed French Toast. Oh yes. Taking that childhood favorite to a whole new level.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Stuffed French Toast - Duo

Finally, there was a more staple variation of “out there” French Toasts – the Nutella and banana option, with the bananas caramelized.

Nutella and Caramelized Banana French Toast - Duo

We were still a bit hungry though and ordered their crab cake appetizer and French fries (shoestring style) to round out the meal. Both were the perfect addition.

Crab Cakes

The restaurant was surprisingly fancy. The below light fixture in the center of the dining room sums it up nicely.

Ceiling at Duo

The crowd was light for brunch and the special lead me to believe the bulk of their customers comes from other meals. Service though was attentive. The management was even super accommodating in honoring our special even though (gasp) someone else apparently had already redeemed it due to a system snafu of sorts.

I’d be curious to check out this spot for drinks. Looks like it would draw a swanky crowd.

Duo – 72 Madison Avenue (b/w 27th/28th ) – 212.686.7272
Reservation Suggested