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

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mediterranean (or so they say) fare at scarpina

This might be my first review of a location where I’ve visited in its past life (RIP Osso Bucco). To further compound, only in NYC could you almost go to the wrong restaurant due to your memory being slightly off – because we not only have Scarpina (where we were going) butt also a Scarpetta. Sheesh.

My friend had bought a special which was poorly phrased through a separate specials vendor, so we arrived to find that it had actually expire. Even though it wasn’t their fault, the restaurant was overly generous and offered to help us out a bit, taking a percentage off of the bill.

Guacamole - Scarpina

Guacamole - Scarpina

The restaurant is classified as Mediterranean, but mostly focused on Latin tapas. We started with the guacamole, which was served with fresh plantain chips. I’d never had the two paired, but it worked. Portion size was pretty decent and is enough for sharing.

Lobster Quesadilla - Scarpina

Lobster Quesadilla - Scarpina

I was most interested in the lobster quesadilla, self-admittedly having a quesadilla problem and yet never seen a lobster one on the menu. The quesadilla was interesting, comprised more of a crunchy flatbread bordering on tostada-style crunch rather than the usual tortilla. It was actually a combination of lobster and shrimp (along with cheese, of course).

Buffalo Shrimp - Scarpina

Buffalo Shrimp - Scarpina

My friend had their buffalo style shrimp for the same reason. Our server cautioned it was spicy. Good! Glad to see spicy meaning something on a menu. Even though it was an appetizer, the bowl contained a generous amount of large shrimp.

Tiramisu - Scarpina

Tiramisu - Scarpina

Since we’d done small plates, we though it was fitting to splurge on dessert. The ricotta cheesecake sounded intriguing, as did their chocolate mousse cake (until I watched it go by and saw it was on the small side). I could tell from the way she read the menu (nothing written – only orally recited) that our server had preferences among the choices. When I asked her, she emphatically recommended the tiramisu – interesting considering what we’d had for our prior orders. The desserts seemed more … Italian? Regardless, the tiramisu was great. The flavors were subtle – not overwhelmingly espresso-y and the cream was light and fluffy. Sometimes I enjoy the espresso to be more prominent. It’s a shame that those who don’t like coffee won’t know this tiramisu is safe.

Scarpina – 88 University Place (at E12th Street) – 212.645.4525
Reservations Suggested

brunch special-ing at caliu

I’d place Caliu in a lengthy list of restaurants tucked somewhere in the West Village that I’d likely never know of unless (1) I were still dating someone over there or (2) they jumped on the latest trend and popped up on one of the numerous deal sites/mailing lists. This time, it was the latter. Usually their brunch is $25 per person, and includes an entree and your choice of unlimited sangria, mimosas, or bloody marys. With the special though, it was $25 for two people. Deal.

Their website gave us the impression that they didn’t accept reservations for smaller parties, so we opted for plan B – getting there when the opened to land a table. Usually this works with even the craziest of restaurants. However, we were greeted by a hostess who didn’t agree.

Chorizo Sandwich - Caliu

Chorizo Sandwich - Caliu

She pursed her lips and looked back up. “Reservations?” We nodded no. She sighed, flipping through the list of the “haves” for emphasis. “Well, fine but you can only stay until 1. Then we’ll need the table back,” she said, emphasizing the word back as if it were an attempted slap. We meekly explained the website wasn’t clear reservations were an option. C’mon. We’re the reservation girls. I’m the Open Table Queen. Seriously! Anyhow, we were finally permitted to sit down in the dining area, where after all that struggle we found ourselves in the middle of a sea of empty tables. Oh irony. We were brought menus and mimosas appeared soon after, served in tiny glasses that made me think they were aiming to force cardio on their servers.

Chorizo Sandwich, Interior View

Chorizo Sandwich, Interior View

Their menu was pretty interesting. After reading a bit online and reviewing the choices, the no-brainer option for me was the chorizo sandwich, prepared with spicy chorizo, fried egg, and salsa verde, which was served with truffled hash browns and a salad. Once I’d de-runny’d my egg, I really liked the dish. The chorizo had been formed into a standard sausage patty shape, but with the distinct bold flavor of chorizo. I knew from the moment I first tried it in Spain I’d found a new lifelong friend. It was on the heavier side though, so if I had it all to do over, I’d make reservations and eat more slowly – that’d solve all problems.

My friend had their grilled cheese – which was prepared using thick slices of bread and equally thick slices of cheese. I’d have a hard time resisting the grilled cheese if I were to return back. It just looked so darn good.

In the end, the server nicely allowed us to stay as long as we wished, eventually moving us over to a high-top table in the bar. Which was fine. More than fine. Perhaps it was a disconnect in approach. The hostess just needs to get on board. If I go back, it would be to try their tapas which we did not get to experience. Always enjoy the chance to compare a restaurant’s jamon serrano (delish).

Caliu Tapas – 557 Hudson Street (b/w W. 11th. & Perry St) – 212.206.6444
Reservations (Obviously) Recommended

agua dulce – ¡a tapear!

Frozen Sangria - Agua Dulce

Frozen Sangria - Agua Dulce

Recently, a friend and I had a discount coupon at Agua Dulce for $40 worth of food and drink for only $20. Not bad. We arrived there from TaCocina, a restaurant located a few doors up, where we’d already indulged on quite a bit of guacamole (if you like spicy guac, I highly recommend theirs – far superior to entrees there in my opinion). We weren’t really hungry for full entrees, and were very pleased to find their extensive selection of tapas. The menu is broken into anticuchos (essentially grilled skewered meat), ceviches, and appetizers. For each category, you can choose a sampler platter to allow you to try three items from that category.

Laughing Bird Shrimp Tacos - Agua Dulce

Laughing Bird Shrimp Tacos - Agua Dulce

The anticuchos ranged from $5-9 per order and ranged from jumbo white prawns to Spanish octopus to chorizo. I’m not usually big on ceviche, but their options were very unique and intriguing and were $12-$14. Their Hamachi Tiradito was with yellowtail, watermelon, yuzu, and celery. My mouth is watering at the thought. My friend went with their Laughing Bird Shrimp Tacos, which were prepared with cucumber & scallion salsa. I was curious to try but knew after seeing the size of the dish that was not going to happen (the fork is there for a sense of scale).

Spicy Lobster Tamale - Agua Dulce

Spicy Lobster Tamale - Agua Dulce

Their standard appetizers were $8-$10 and included options ranging from salad to soup (creamy onion soup “Poblano Style”) to steamed pork belly buns (“Pan-chinos”). I ended up going with the Spicy Lobster Tamale which was served with a lobster ancho sauce. I was interested to see the end result, having only ever had lobster in standard, well non-spicy form. The dish was excellent. The tamale was nice and soft and the lobster was slightly spicy but still maintained the standard fresh lobster taste. Nice variation. I paired it with an order of their chorizo, which was nicely grilled and as chorizo comes, was very non-greasy. Nice change.

Crème Brulee - Agua Dulce

Crème Brulee - Agua Dulce

And even with the frozen sangria, we could not resist the temptation for dessert. They did have cinnamon sugar churros with chocolate sauce, which are my go-to if ever available, but I felt the urge to branch out. The chocolate cake with its spiced chocolate filling served with anilla ice cream sounded perfect for a cold evening. However, we ended up giving the crème brulee a try. I’ll admit, usually crème brulee is not my thing. The burned part of it sometimes to me makes me feel like I’m eating something savory and grilled. Just too far from the dessert realm for me. And when the consistency of the dessert itself is too stiff (solid as say Jell-o), I lose interest. However, this one was amazing. I don’t think I’d try anything different here. It added a couple of things to the mix – guava and white chocolate. I’d like to come back here and oh say actually try an entree!

Agua Dulce – 802 9th Avenue (between 53/54 Streets) – 212.262.1299
Reservations Recommended

romantic tapas at rayuela

Clearly in keeping with my trend to visit romantic restaurants on girl’s night outs, I recently went one Saturday to Rayuela in the Lower East Side. I found the decor refreshing yet simplistic from the moment we walked through the door. The bar area was small on the right-hand side before you enter the main dining area, which continues up a set of stairs to a second level. There are a few white curtains and candles were lit throughout. Nice and elegant.

As much as I am usually a proponent of solo dining, I’d recommend this be a place you go with at least another person with you. Many of the plates are intended to be served tapas style and even those which are main courses can be easily split between two or among more if you want to be able to try more of the menu. I had read much of Rayuela’s inventive cocktail menu, but in the end it was the sangria that caught our eye. The blanca contained mint, limes, sugarcane juice, and Brugal Anejo. I always love to try sangria. No matter how many times I try it out places, it’s always different. I prefer white to red, even though I oftentimes find it too sweet. This was just the right touch of sweet, without being too sweet. It almost tasted like sangria trying to masquerade as a mojito. Highly recommend that if you come here, you consider giving this a try ($10/glass or $36/pitcher). Continue reading

el quinto pino

Last Thursday, Meg and I tried to visit the Frying Pan over along the Hudson. It was gorgeous outside, and we wanted to eat outdoors as well. When we bumped into a sea of couldn’t-have-been-21-year-old frat boys in pale suit jackets, khakis, and loafers, we found ourselves scrambling to come up with a perfect Plan B. In the middle of desolate West Chelsea, a virtual sea of uninhabited warehouses and the occasional art gallery. We slowly made our way back east, resigning ourselves to having to hike at least to 9th Avenue and who knows where from there, when we literally found ourselves in the doorway to a dimly lit restaurant on West 24th Street. We peeked in and upon seeing this mystery spot was a tapas bar, decided to give it a shot.

Lomo Bocata - El Quinto Pino

Lomo Bocata - El Quinto Pino

I’ve been to other tapas bars throughout the city. While I’ve found many to be acceptable, I also usually find them to have the same quasi-pretentious air about them now with their recent surge in popularity. Having sudied one summer in Madrid, I know it’s possible to have good tapas without all the stuffiness – and El Quinto Pino nailed this on the head. I could almost see myself back in Spain 9 years ago, descending down the stairs to my first true tapas bar. Perfect. Note, there are no true tables here, period. There’s a long bar area and a long common ledge along the left-hand side of the restaurant. Maximum seating cannot be more than 16. Continue reading

dish buzz: salt bar

Saturday night’s plans included going to see a show at Mercury Lounge (Team Genius and Xylos) so, I decided we’d get reservations for Salt Bar since it’s close by, has a nice menu that looked good for sharing amongst a group, and it had a unique drink menu which I found intriguing.

When I first go there, they went ahead and seated me even though the other three in my party weren’t there. That was unexpected and appreciated. The server was super attentive and kept trying to take my drink order or bring me food while waiting. However once my friends joined me, it was all but impossible to get her attention. And while yes it was later, it still was not very crowded at the restaurant. It was like she was not social enough to be a server – walking around staring at her feet. It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever seen!

Prosciutto Flatbread - Salt Bar

Prosciutto Flatbread - Salt Bar

We were surprised to see so early in the evening they were out of many basic things. We ordered the haricot vert, and were told “we’re out of green beans”. Okay. We then asked to order the flatbread with Prosciutto, blue cheese, caramelized onion, fig – but inquired as to whether or not we could substitute another cheese for blue cheese. Restaurants in NYC can be quite particular at times about We couldn’t go with the other flatbread as it had mushrooms and half of our table was allergic. She didn’t mind the request since, as luck would have it, they were also out of blue cheese. Really? Anyhow, we ended up with ricotta instead and I liked it – subtle taste to the saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweeter taste of the fig and onion. It was one of my favorites from the meal. Continue reading