Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Northern Spy Food Co.

As you may have noticed, we are big brunch people. So, it's weird that it took us as long as it did to try Northern Spy Food Co - it's right by Eric's apartment and we're always looking for good places around there to grub. We finally made our way there last Sunday, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, hoping to be wowed. And we were.

It's a hipster hotspot - a mix between the woodsy, lumberjack-ness of Freemans and the comfort food vibe at Westville. The brunch menu is eclectic, with a bunch of hearty options: a chicken & egg sandwich with crispy thigh, poached egg and chimichurri...and a kale salad with Clothbound cheddar, summer squash, almonds and two baked eggs.

We went with the polenta and eggs: two baked eggs with polenta and braised mustard greens along with one of the specials - a mushroom sandwich on baguette with arugula, cheddar and potato. We went splitskys with both!

The polenta and egg dish was by far the better option - chunky yet creamy (oxymoron?) polenta infused with the greens made for a heavenly base to two perfectly-baked eggs. The perfect bite had some egg yolk, a piece of the egg white and a scoop of the polenta and kale, all together for a savory, satisfying combination. It was a large portion as well, and it left us feeling full and raring to go.

The mushroom sandwich had a bunch of great ingredients thrown together, but they just didn't mesh well. We wouldn't order this again...and with so many other great options that we wanted to try, there's no reason to. The french toast floating by to other tables looked scrumptious....as did the home-made biscuits and jam.

I'd also like to come back for dinner and to try their cocktails - they had so many interesting concoctions on the menu.

Check it out and become a fan....http://www.northernspyfoodco.com/

Monday, June 28, 2010

Agua Dulce

Hells Kitchen…known for restaurants, but not many that we frequent. Sure, we love 5 Napkin, Eatery and Hells Kitchen (that’s the name), but haven’t really found anything groundbreaking there…until last weekend. We hit up Agua Dulce for some Pan-Latin cuisine and were very impressed by the food. It’s also a great place to have a drink - there is a lounge area in the back of the restaurant.

For starters, we got the Guac trio: Guac Tropical, Guac Ahumado and Guac Tipico with a heap of crispy, fresh tortilla chips – the good, thick kind. This app was more than enough for four people and I think everyone had his or her favorite. Eric & I were huge fans of the Guac Tropical with pineapple, mango and habanero, while the others dipped frequently in the Guac Ahumado with chipotle, house cured bacon and tomato.

It was a battle of the sexes for the main courses: the men went with the macho Churrasco – grilled skirt steak, chimichurri (yummmmmm), hand harvested sea salt and roasted new potato. The portion was so large that both men had leftovers on their plates.

The females both ordered the crispy organic salmon with seared cauliflower, red pepper and mustard green olive caramel sauce, how typical. Everything was great. The skin gave a crispy and salty flavor to the fresh salmon and the red pepper sauce was a great dipper.

For Acompanamientos, we got the cauliflower with brown butter and fresh lime and an order of the crispy fluffy yuca fries with garlic and vanilla aioli. Both were huge hit. The cauliflower was delicious and had great flavor – there were crunchy garlic-y bits throughout. And the yuca fries with a little dip of the vanilla aioli is a party in your mouth. Both plates were empty by the end of the meal.

Suffice to say, we had no room for dessert because everything ordered was consumed. We’ll definitely be back to Agua Dulce – dreams of the yuca fries all through my head.

More info:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jing Fong - A Dim Sum Experience

I strayed from my usual weekend omelet brunch and ventured down to Chinatown a few Sundays ago for dim sum at Jing Fong.  I had never been to dim sum before, so I had no idea what to expect (except for some dumplings). 
banquet room

There was a huge crowd waiting, so we knew it was going to be good.  They give you a number and then call them out in no particular order (we think there was some favoritism going on).  When we finally got called, we rode the elevator up to the big banquet room, where there were hundreds of people seated at big round tables.  Yes, hundreds - the place is huge!

The waiters bring around carts of food and you select what you'd like, pretty much just based upon how things look, since the waiters don't speak any English.  We wound up getting a LOT of dumplings: pork, shrimp with peas, soup, etc.  I guess that was the "safe" move - there were many options more unfamiliar that we passed on.  We also indulged in some soft shell crab, shrimp in rice noodle and a broccoli rabe-type green vegetable, which I would HIGHLY recommend.  It was like pulling teeth to get some water at first - the place is very hectic, but it was pretty reasonably-priced - for 5 people it wound up being around $15-$20/person for a ton of food. 

shrimp in rice noodle
I would recommend Jing Fong if you're looking for a gateway dim sum experience.  I imagine there are delicious, authentic dishes there that we didn't get because we didn't know what they were - so I would do some research before going back.

shrimp tempura

Check it out: http://www.jingfongny.com/ 20 Elizabeth St (between Bayard St & Canal St)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Big Apple BBQ Block Party

This past weekend was the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in Madison Square Park, bringing the best BBQ from cities around the country to NYC. Boy were we excited!  We headed over with some friends on Sunday to sample all the pig we could get our hands on. 

Yes, that's a full pig in between those smokers. No, this is not uncommon at the BBQ Block Party.  Yes, your clothes stink of BBQ after you leave.

After taking a lap around the perimeter & taking in all of the free sights & smells, we found our first little piggy... a pulled pork shoulder sandwich with a side of coleslaw from Ubon's (out of Yazoo City, MS).  I thought it was delicous but not nearly as delicious as Eric thought.  I must say that the pork did have great flavor and their bbq sauce really added to the sandwich...throw some coleslaw into the mix & you got yourself a damn good sandwich.

Looking back, we probably could have shared one sandwich, but who knew what was going to come next?

Next up was homemade smoked sausage with pimento cheese & saltines from Jim 'N Nicks BBQ (Birmingham, AL). All 4 of us agreed that this was up there with the best sausage we've ever sampled. It had the perfect amount of heat & an abundance of flavor in every bite! We also came to a consensus on the sides... meh!

Lastly, we finished off the day with baby back ribs & beans from Pappy's Smokehouse (St. Louis, MO). While waiting in the 30 minute line, we didn't know that we had saved the best for last.  These were finger-licking good and if we ever make our way down to St. Louis, we will be visiting Pappy's once again!

If you dine on swine, and live in or around the city, then this is a festival that's not to be missed. We're already looking forward to next year!

More info can be found at http://www.bigapplebbq.org/


Pampano was a go-to “special occasion” restaurant for the Hoppers a few years back – great upscale Mexican cuisine that blew us away the first time we went there. However, it’s a little overpriced. Although I would have dreams about their tuna, I just couldn’t justify the $31 price tag. Plus, it’s not in an area that we frequent all that often – 49th between 2nd & 3rd. It wasn’t until we saw a Blackboard Eats (http://www.blackboardeats.com/) deal for 30% off dinner at Pampano that the memories came flooding back and we decided to go for it.

The décor in Pampano makes it feel like you’re in a Latin dream – white swirly ceilings with fans giving off a cool breeze. They have a great outdoor patio upstairs that’s open for dining when it’s nice out. Unfortunately, the deal we had only permitted us to eat in the dining room.

We started out with sangria and a margarita to kick things off appropriately on this lovely Saturday night. For an appetizer, we shared the Tacos de Filete – Filet Mignon, soft corn tortilla, cilantro, onion and tomatillo salsa.

It was nice and flavorful but I don’t know if I would get this dish again. The tacos were mini and could be consumed in one bite if you have a big mouth…and the dish only came with three. Not a good bang for your buck at $14. You might be better served getting the guac & chips for the table at the same price.

For the main course, there was no question about it – we were both getting the Atún – pistachio-chile ancho crusted tuna, sweet potato, green apple salad, mole verde.
This dish is the reason we used to come here – its savor-every-bite good. The tuna is just slightly seared, cut up into big pieces and spread out over their delicious mole sauce. It goes too quickly but is absolutely delicious.

Our beef with this place: main dishes don’t come with side dishes, they come with garnishes, leaving you not as full as you’d like to be. And at $31, they should at least throw you some rice & beans.

Pampano would be a great place for someone with an expense account. The food is definitely high quality, but it’s not inventive enough to be that expensive. We’ll be back here, but on someone else’s dime for sure.


Epilogue: Pampano led us to another one of our favorite upscale Mexican places – Maya. They’re both owned by the same group and they both have amazing tuna dishes! Check out Maya on the Upper East Side – it’s more moderately-priced.

Westville Chelsea

Yes, that's right. Westville just opened its 3rd location in the city. Their Chelsea spot is conveniently located a few blocks north of my apartment on 18th between 7th & 8th. This is great because Westville is one of those places that's perfect for brunch, dinner and delivery - what else does a New Yorker need? It just opened up last week, so there hasn’t been much of a wait and they only accept cash. A plus is that the Chelsea Westville is bigger than the other two, with booths seating 4-6 people in the back plus a long bar with stools in the front.

They have a solid brunch menu and do one of my favorite make-your-own eggs dishes in the city. Instead of making omelets, they make "mashes," so that all of the ingredients you choose are mixed up together with the eggs and then scrambled. This makes for even distribution and makes it easier to eat! Their accompanying Portuguese muffins are yummy – they are like English muffins, only fluffier and bigger.

Eric went for the fried eggs over turkey hash. Two eggs any way you want it (in this case, sunny side up) are placed over a nice portion of turkey hash. The hash is very similar to mashed potatoes, only it has chunks of turkey & veggies mixed in. When the yolk runs into the hash it makes for a scrumptious bite! Throw in some toast & a side salad, and you have a pretty good start to your day for $9.

I also went a few days later for dinner with my roommates and got to take advantage of what Westville is known for - their market vegetables. They have a daily market vegetable list that is extensive, but more or less stays the same. For $13 you can get four veggies on a plate or you can order bigger single portions. We went with the Dijon cauliflower, bok choy with ginger and garlic, kale with scallions and the roasted butternut squash. Some other veggies of note are the Brussels sprouts and the zucchini with roasted tomatoes and mozzarella – every vegetable I’ve ever had there has been delicious.

The vegetables are a great starter to whet your appetite for………..wait for it……..the best veggie burger you’ll ever have. You don’t need to be a vegetarian or even a veggie lover to love this burger. It’s super flavorful and crispy on the outside, with a Portuguese muffin as the bun (see above, it’s delicious). The burger is topped with sautéed mushrooms and tartar sauce, which take it up a notch. This veggie burger always does the trick.

If you’re in the East Village, West Village or Chelsea and haven’t been to Westville yet, get involved!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Monte's Trattoria

My parent's best friends were in from the west coast, so we were going to do a family dinner with them on Friday night. While trying to brainstorm a great place to take them that would represent New York properly, I quickly suggested that we head to one of my family's favorite Italian restaurants... Monte's Trattoria in the heart of Greenwich Village. Monte's has an old school Italian restaurant feel with a wait staff that has been there since my parents started going there many, many years ago.

For the table, we shared their baked artichoke dish as well as their mussels in white wine sauce. There were also a couple of salads going around but Jess & I didn't partake. The baked artichoke was stuffed with a tasty breadcrumb-based mixture, some olive oil, garlic and cheese - delicious but a little oily.

The mussels were very good and the white wine sauce they were soaked in had chunks of garlic and was good enough that my dad & I did a little bread-soaking. There was also some bread-soaking in the remaining juices of the baked artichoke app. We do a lot of bread-soaking in this family.

For our main course, I got the Shrimps Monte's. My dad turned me on to this dish a few years back and every time we go there, we always get the same thing... it's that good! You get 5-7 large shrimp that are breaded with garlic, parsley, olive oil, & goodness. Served with a side of linguine in garlic & oil sauce (you can also get veggies), the perfect bite consists of a fork-full of linguine, a half of a shrimp, and a splash of parmesan cheese. Close your eyes, chew, and enjoy! Love this dish!

Jess got the Chicken Cacciatore, which was also a big hit. The chicken is in pieces (both white and dark meat) in a thick, savory, brown sauce with mushrooms and red peppers. The sauce is definitely bread-dunk-worthy and the chicken was delicious and tender.

It's worth noting that my mother's dish, the Veal Chop Milanese, was melt-in-your-mouth good! If I were to ever veer away from the Shrimps Monte's, it would be for this dish.

For dessert, the table split a canoli, tiramisu, & zabaglione. Depending on what tickles your fancy, everything was good, but nothing was you-have-to-get-this great. Nonetheless, a nice way to satisfy ones sweet tooth.

Looking for a great Italian restaurant with a New York feel in the village? Check out Monte's on MacDougal... hopefully you enjoy it as much as my family does.

For more information: http://www.montestrattorianyc.com/

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


We had a month to look forward to Babbo, since you need to call exactly a month in advance (by calendar day) to get reservations there. Now, Babbo is spoken of as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city and is known to be Mario Batali's best and favorite spot...and it shows. From the moment you walk into Babbo, you get the sense that everyone there feels lucky to be there. It's elegant & upscale, without being stuffy. We happened to eat there on a night that Mario himself was in the kitchen, albeit earlier that evening, before we got there.

They start you off with a small bite - we got chickpea and olive bruschetta. From there, there are several ways you can go:

-Tasting Menu: there are two - one is all pasta and one isn't. You can add along wine pairings for an extra $50/person. While we heard this was a great way to go and our waiter suggested it, he also mentioned that it's A LOT of food and Babbo doesn't skimp on their portion sizes, so we decided to not leave feeling like pigs.

-Share antipasta/pasta/main courses: You can split any combination of the three courses, since all the plates are huge and share-able.

-Share pasta/separate main courses: This is the way we went, detailed below...

We went with a bottle of white wine ($35) and ordered the Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles. Oh boy! Every bite was perfection - the chiles added just enough kick but didn't make it too spicy. There could have been more shrimp, but that didn't even matter because the pasta was that good.

For my entree, I got the Soft Shell Crab special with Polenta and Favas and I was slightly underwhelmed. The crab meat under the fried exterior didn't taste up to par with the rest of the meal. Also, the polenta lacked flavor and overall, I was expecting more.

Eric got the Grilled Pork Chop with Cherry Peppers, Cipolline and Aceto Manodori. It's a large portion of 2 chops, and can easily be split. After serving, they pour an aged balsamic vinegar on top. This "topping" really adds an extra dimension & in my opinion, it brings the whole dish to life. The chop is now oozing with flavor. It was cooked in such a way that the closer you got to the bone, the more rare it became (but never too rare) and the more & more flavorful it tasted. Of course, combining a bite of the crispy exterior & the rare interior is what it's all about.

For dessert, we shared the Banana Walnut Olive Oil Cake with Banana Yogurt Gelato and Creamy Caramel which was a delicious way to end the meal. Since having Mario's Olive Oil Gelato at Otto, we knew that he knew exactly what to do with Olive Oil in a dessert. We washed that down with a glass of Moscato which was a perfect accompanying drink!

We will definitely be back to Babbo - if not only for Jess to order an entree that she will love just as much as the dining experience and other bites she had. It's truly a special experience and is great for special occasions... like the 4 year anniversary we celebrated!!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Primehouse (Brunch)

One of the many reasons why I love living in New York City is that you can discover that a steakhouse in Murray Hill owned by BR Guest Restaurants is secretly home to one of the best brunch deals in all of the 5 boroughs. Who knew?!?

For the price of your brunch entree ($9-$17), you get the following complimentary: Bloody Mary, Screwdriver, Bellini, Mimosa, Campari, Champagne, Orange Juice or Grapefruit Juice AND Coffee or Tea. Plus, a bread basket served when you sit down that is unbelievable! With soft, whipped butter this is one of the best baskets I've had in the city. Raisin bread + what tasted like a bannana-cranberry bread that was more like a dessert.

We each got the farmer's market omelet ($12) with egg whites, market vegetatbles, low fat muenster cheese, and two slices of turkey bacon. The last time we came it was served with a healthy portion of delicious "old school" home fries. This time, it was served with two skewers of fresh fruit. I guess it depends on the season... genius!

The omelet is stuffed with loads of vegetables (tomato, zucchini, asparagus, spinach, & more) and is a very good healthy & hearty way to start off your day. Primehouse also offers a dozen other brunch options that look great if this omelet doesn't tickle your fancy.

What also makes Primehouse such a great brunch option is that the service is impeccable. The entire wait staff was attentive & on top of their game, without being pushy at all. We loved it, and we think you will too!

Check 'em out at http://www.brguestrestaurants.com/restaurants/primehouse_new_york/index.php


We have been meaning to try Luzzo's in the East Village for quite some time now as one of our close friends recommended their truffle oil pizza. The combo sounds amazing, and with a reco taboot, we'd be foolish not to see what it was all about.

On a Friday night at around 8:30 we got seated immediately, and were quickly asked what we wanted to drink. This would become a theme of the evening. White wine sangria for me, and white wine for Jess. A few moments later, we were asked to place our order.

Less than one minute later, they served our appetizer... We split their arugula salad with walnuts, tomatoes, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. It was good, and if you like that type of salad, you'll like this one. 

We were just finishing up our salads when they brought our main course, a large "Tartufata" pie (tomato sauce, mozzarella, truffle pate, & basil - $23).

It was phenomenal & we finished every last bite! We fully understand why our friend was pushing us so hard to try it. It's thin crust, has great flavor with the tomato sauce, cheese, & truffle oil. Plus, the truffle oil gives off a pungent aroma that you wish you could put into a bottle & whip out anytime. Their showing on the pizza front was quite strong! Delicious!

Our only complaints from this meal would be that the service is wayyyyy tooooo pushy. At no point do they ever let you breathe. There was nobody waiting for a table & they were trying to get us out of there as soon as we sat down. They need to chill out a bit and let people enjoy their time at the restaurant. We also would have loved to see a few more basil leaves on the pie. Alas, no place is perfect, and their pizza is good enough that it's worth dealing with these hiccups.

Luzzo's doesn't have a website that we can link to, but it's on 1st Ave between 12th & 13th, and their number is 212-473-7447. We suggest you get involved!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Back Forty

We were going to head to Dumont Burger in BK to meet our friend & start our night out with some burgers & beer. However, he bailed, and since I had my heart set on a burger and had wanted to try Back Forty in the East Village (12th & B) for quite some time, we headed there.

Despite having wanted to check out the cute little garden area in the back, the hostess was expecting rain, so we got seated at the bar. There, we each had a drink (full bar w/ solid beer options), and started off with the mushroom croquettes. Five croquette balls served over a bed of well-dressed spinach and ramp pesto with a slab of crispy bacon. Crunchy on the outside, and soft, creamy, & flavorful on the inside... delicioso! It was the perfect bar snack to get things started.

The dining room in the back has a handful of wooden tables, and is quite cozy. I consumed their grass-fed burger with cheddar and the rosemary fries, accompanied by delicious spicy, house-made ketchup. The burger was cooked perfectly and was super juicy & flavorful with a nicely-toasted sesame seed bun. Overall, I would grade this a solid B+/A- burger ($16). The only thing missing was any sort of "wow" factor.

Jess got the stuffed Japanese eggplant with quinoa, goat cheese, black olives and a swiss chard puree. The dish was delicious but not so hearty. The goat cheese melted into the soft baby eggplant and the quinoa added some texture, but overall I was expecting more.

We hope this review doesn't sound too sour, because it really was a lovely dining experience! If you're ever in the East Village, and are looking for a quality meal at a cool spot that's not too expensive ($92 for 4 drinks, 1 app, & 2 entrees + tip/tax), head over to Back Forty.

Rose Water (Brunch in Brooklyn)

While eavesdropping at work last Friday, Eric heard rave reviews of Rose Water in Park Slope. We checked out the menu and our mouths watered. It's a seasonal restaurant that uses local and organic food to create a unique and everchanging menu....very "Brooklyn."

We arrived at Rose Water on Sunday around 11:30, which wound up being the best time possible - there was no wait but by the time we ordered, all of the tables were filled (mostly with young parents and babies - Park Slope is so gosh darn cute).

In a rare occurence, both of the RH bloggers ordered the same dish, since it sounded too good to resist: the frittata with carmelized onions, asparagus, parmesan cheese and a golden beet salad. The dish also came with a spicy tomato sauce on the side along with a piece of zucchini bread.

We savored each and every bite of this delicious dish! The sweet carmelized onions were balanced out perfectly by the salty parmesan and the tomato sauce added great flavor as well. The salad was simple but the beets were so fresh and really went along nicely with the meal. The service was good and our coffees were refilled about five times!

We loved this place because not only was it delicious and healthy, it was a welcome change from our usual brunch spots in Manhattan. We will definitely make our way back here to sample future menus.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Battle Cookie: Insomnia Cookies vs Levain Bakery

I'm going to cut right to it... Levain Bakery has the BEST COOKIES IN THE WORLD. They are easily the winner in this battle, but Insomnia is no slouch at all!

At Levain, you get a big, thick cookie that has a crunch on the outside but is warm, soft, chewy, & moist on the inside. It almost tastes as though a tiny portion of the inside is still slightly raw but it's not... it's just THAT good! I've sampled the Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie & the Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. The Chocolate Chip Walnut is where it's at. If you're not a walnut fan, don't be scared off by it... They are not overwhelming at all, and fit in just right with the warm chocolate chips spread throughout the cookie dough batter. Levain has found a way to put a large slice of heaven in cookie form. I'm happy that this cookie has come into my life. I love you.

Weirded out at all? Have their cookie & you'll understand. I promise.

At Insomnia, you get a big, thin cookie that is warm, soft, & chewy. It's thin enough where you feel it could fall apart at any point, but it doesnt. I had the $1 chocolate chip cookie as well as the $2.25 peanut butter chocolate cookie. Both are amazing and will leave you with a giant smile on your face. The peanut butter cookie was super peanut butter-y, which was right up my alley! They also had plenty of other flavors to choose from that I'll be sampling in the near future.

The great thing about both Levain & Insomnia is that they serve you their cookies right out of the oven so they are always warm :-D It's clear that these two places are pros.

Levain can be found on the UWS at 74th & Amsterdam (http://www.levainbakery.com/).

Insomnia is located by NYU on W 8th St between 6th Ave & MacDougal (http://www.insomniacookies.com/).

Levain's Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie:

The variety of cookies at Levain (I'll be back for their Chocolate Peanut Butter):

The 2 cookies I enjoyed from Insomnia:

Clinton Street Baking Company

11 AM... Saturday Morning... Memorial Day Weekend... Party of 5... Wait time = 90-120 minutes! And, I can't say that I was all that surprised. Wait times were comparable the previous 2 times I was here and those were for parties of 2. After this wait time was announced, our party of 5 dropped to a party of 3 (me, Jess, and my pancake-loving mother), and our wait time dropped to 60 minutes.

The scene outside Clinton Street:

We quickly started things off by sharing a biscuit with butter and jam. People (myself included) are so excited for the pancakes that you forget that this is a full-fledged bakery and everything put in that oven looks amazing. The biscuit and jam is a great way to whet your appetite for the main course.

Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes! After having gone blueberry the previous 2 times I was here, I decided to switch it up a bit and ordered the banana-walnut pancakes. They were just as good as the blueberry pancakes (which lost to Food Network's Bobby Flay in "Throwdown: Pancakes" and are famously delicious). The banana-walnut rendition may be even better for me since I'm more of a banana-walnut guy (I like "the crunch"). The pancakes are large, thick and fluffy, filled with a ton of bananas and chopped walnuts, and topped with even more! Plus, the pancakes are dusted with some cinnamon and sugar. To make matters even sweeter, the flapjacks are served with a warm maple butter syrup. It all adds up to some of the best pancakes you've ever had. Also in contention are Cookshop and The Smith (imho). If you are into pancakes, you need to try these!! They WILL rock your world.



Jess, who got the pancakes the last time I dragged her here :-) ordered a tasty omelet this time around.

This dish was much more up her alley and she enjoyed it very much! Is it the kinda omelet that you wait 60 minutes for? No! But it is if you're a great girlfriend and your boyfriend is a pancake-lover, like me!

I think I've said enough about these pancakes, but just in case I haven't, GO!!!!!!