Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wo Hop...Good to the Last Drop

I'm always suspicious of New York restaurants that have photos of celebrities and other patrons posted all over the walls. My friend assured me that Wo Hop was legit, and not just a Chinatown spot that you'd find in every tourist book (despite all those photos). I hadn't eaten in Chinatown in months...maybe even a year, so I was excited to go there for dinner Saturday night.

Mott Street is in the heart of Chinatown, and is lined with dozens of restaurants. Some are probably fantastic, and some are probably worth passing by. Wo Hop is one that you may walk right past by accident...but shouldn't. Down a steep set of stairs, into a cramped basement space, Wo Hop is far from eye-pleasing. But that doesn't mean it's not stomach-pleasing. 12 tables are crammed into the bright, florescent-lit place, where the walls are either lined with photos or mirrors.

My friend informed me that Wo Hop is best known for its lo mein, so of course we couldn't pass up on ordering that. We also created our own dish, with string beans, broccoli, and eggplant in a spicy garlic sauce. Both were great...a little on the greasy side, but I wouldn't expect anything less from this spot. It wouldn't seem natural!

Of course, service is far from good...but clearly when dining here, it's not for the experience or ambiance...strictly for the food. Wo Hop is also open 24 hours, and apparently it is as crowded at 3am as it is at dinner time. So come hungry, and come with only a little money. Two entrees, a side of rice, and two sodas came out to be $16...what a deal!

Wo Hop
17 Mott Street
b/t Mosco Street & Chatham Square
Menu Pages listing

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Feel at Peace with Josie's

To me, there are two kinds of brunch experiences. One is a greasy spoon (usually a diner) serving massive portions of eggs, bacon, pancakes, and french fries. The other is a exact opposite, serving egg whites with low fat cheese, fruit, and whole wheat bread. On most weekend mornings (or should I say early afternoons), I head to the first option, the diner, especially after a late night out. But, sometimes it's nice to change it up and go the healthier route.

Yesterday I had a late lunch at Josie's with a friend and her mom. While Miss Menu didn't pick out the restaurant, it definitely was a good choice. Josie's is definitely a much more appropriate atmosphere for lunch with a mom than a diner filled with hungover 20-somethings!

For those of you who aren't familiar with Josie's, it's basically a health nut or vegetarian's dream. Almost everything on the menu is all-natural/organic, and many items have a "vegetarian" designation on it. Low fat is always an option, as is whole wheat and brown rice. The dishes is interesting (I've been for dinner as well), and allows you to leave not feeling the least bit guilty about cleaning your plate.

For lunch, I had an egg white omelette with feta cheese, roasted red peppers, vidalia onions, and baby arugula, served with a side of roasted regular and sweet potatoes. It was pretty good, even though it was a little heavy on the arugula. They also bring around bread that falls somewhere between a crumb cake and whole grain muffin...very tasty though.

Some guys joke that this is a total "chick" restaurant. And, admittedly, I have to agree completely. I can't really imagine guys deciding to dine there, unless being taken by their girlfriends/wives/mothers! It has a modern decor that I would be willing to guess is some how feng shui. Would only seem fitting for this healthy zen-like restaurant.

565 3rd Avenue
b/t 37th & 38th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Friday, February 22, 2008

When the Moon Hits Your Eyes...

If you've ever walked around near the Kips Bay movie theater, you may have seen Christina's. But, that is dependent on one thing: what season it is. During the summer, there are dozens of tables set up outside in the courtyard area out front. Tables are filled with people eating dinner or having a glass of wine. It almost feels like a European cafe. During the winter, however, these tables obviously aren't set up. I was slightly disappointed when I realized on Wednesday night that the ambiance is quite different when dining inside the restaurant.

Christina's feels like one of those neighborhood restaurants that's been around forever, and is frequented by a much older crowd. I wouldn't be surprised if these people dine there every week, and order the exact same thing at every visit. There was also a group of grey-haired men sitting at the bar...a very weird site for this neighborhood.

Fortunately, this is where my criticism ends. The menu is very extensive, ranging from pizzas and pastas, to veal and fish. Of course, this makes it really hard for me to figure out what to order. The prices were all pretty reasonable, and the portions were definitely big enough to bring home leftovers.

I decided on a pizza and ordered the Pizza Champion. After it was brought out, I felt like I would have made my mom proud...I was a true vegetable eating champion. For someone who used to be able to name the veggies I ate on one hand, this pizza was definitely evidence that my palate had finally matured!

It was delicious...with mozzarella, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, broccoli, and feta cheese. The flavor was great, and the crust was nice and crunchy. I brought half of it home, and it made for a fantastic lunch the next day at work.

So, if it's cold and rainy out, stick to ordering in from Christina's, or maybe go with another Italian restaurant all together. But, if you're looking for a great place to enjoy a meal when the weather is nice, Christina's is, well, that's amore!

606 2nd Avenue
b/t 33rd & 34th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

All Treat, No Trick

Mr. Softee may have met his match when it comes to serving sweets via a truck. Meet "Sugar," the Treats Truck. While not as numerous as Mr. Softee, Sugar sells delicious, homemade baked goods from a different location around the city each day.

Midtown Lunch had reported a few weeks ago that Sugar was sick (aka in the repair shop), but I am pleased to report that he was nursed back to health and is back on the streets. Lucky for me, he was at his 45th St & 6th Ave location today, and I was able to finally experience the magic.

I walked past the truck on the way to pick up lunch and noticed a huge line at the truck. When we got back to our desks, we saw that my boss had left a co-worker and me packages of mini caramel creme sandwich cookies as a thank you for work on a big project last week. This was great...I get to try goodies from the Treats Truck without having to wait in line in the cold. The mini cookies were delicious...very fresh and very homemade tasting.

I went to the Treats Truck website, and learned that they have a pretty extensive (mouth-watering) menu. Their location schedule is posted, as well as information for placing delivery orders. This is really handy since Sugar doesn't play the annoying music that Mr. Softee does! If the Treats Truck comes to your neighborhood, definitely stop by and pick up a treat!

The Treats Truck
various locations

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In an Uptown World

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that I hadn't been to a restaurant on the Upper East Side since I started Miss Menu. While I don't think the Upper East Side is the culinary hot spot of New York City, it does have its fair share of great restaurants.

I have to admit that it's rare for me to venture above 59th Street. The only time I find myself uptown is when I have a specific reason, which was the case Saturday night. I had a friend's birthday party at a bar on 89th & 2nd, and figured it was a perfect opportunity to try a restaurat on the UES too.

Before the party, I went to Uptown Restaurant & Lounge with a friend. Once upon a time, I lived on the UES. I walked past Uptown daily, but in the 11 months I lived there, I never went once...for drinks or dinner. I was looking forward to trying both.

Inside, it has the dimly-lit, loungy feel with the bar in the front and tables in the back. We were seated at a table in the bar area. It started getting more crowded as the night went on, and people were there more for drinking than eating.

The menu runs the gamut from appetizers to pastas to entrees...all of the dishes you'd expect at a bar/lounge. I had a turkey wrap with roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and a chipotle mayo, served was a house salad. The menu was nothing too adventurous, but was tasty and made for a nice dining experience.

My glass of wine was good, but what Uptown is really know for is its martini list. If you happen to be at Uptown Lounge on a Wednesday night, be sure to take advantage of the maritni night, where they are only $6. There are also two live jazz performances every Tuesday night.

Uptown Restaurant & Lounge
1576 3rd Avenue
b/t 88th & 89th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Get on the L'Express Train

Similar to Pigalle, L'Express is part of the Tour de France restaurant group, which owns eight French restaurants around the city. This group gets it right...simple, French cuisine in an authentic bistro atmosphere, and L'Express is no exception.

L'Express is open 24 hours a day, and seems to be busy at any given time. It's just as crowded for a weeknight dinner as it is for a weekend brunch, as it is for a latenight snack. This versatility makes it a reliable standby in my book. And the food itself doesn't hurt either.

I've been to L'Express for dinner and brunch, and have enjoyed my meals each time. They have a great wine list, with many selections by the glass, as well as by the bottle. The menu itself features some classic French bistro fare (steak frites, mussels, goat cheese salad), as well as some unexpected items (tripe, lamb burgers, and vegetable lasagna).

Not in the mood for a heavy meal, I went with my staple French selections. I ordered onion soup, and split a salad and French fries with my friend. The mesclun salad had a nice twist with warm pears and blue cheese. The onion soup at L'Express has a great, authentic flavor, with the right amount of cheese gratinee on the top. And the fries were really good too, brought out in a huge pile on a plate.

I'd definitely recommend L'Express to anyone looking for a lively dining experience that somehow seems equally New York as it does French.

249 Park Avenue South
@ 20th Street
Menu Pages listing

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Only A Little Windex Needed

The Murray Hill neighborhood isn't exactly known for its fine cuisine. Don't get me wrong, there are some great restaurants, but there are also a lot more not so great ones. These not so great ones are made up of the following: dozens of frat bars, chinese and sushi spots only worthy of take-out, and pizzerias. I feel it is my civic duty as a Murray Hill-er to spotlight the good ones!

Ethos is located on 3rd Avenue on a block with 5 other restaurants...and is definitely the best of the bunch. The atmosphere is really warm and comfortable that creates a Greek vibe without making you feel like you're on the set of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." The tables can get a little tight on a busy night, but they are always prompt at seating you. In the summer, the front windows open to make it feel like you're dining at a Mediterranean cafe...even if it just Murray Hill.

I've had a number of the appetizers in past trips to Ethos. All were excellent, especially the tzatziki and portobello mushroom saganaki. But, on this visit, I shared two dishes with my friend. We split the Greek salad and the (say it with me now!) Kotopoulo Giouvetsi, which is a chicken dish baked in a pot, along with orzo, feta, and tomato sauce. It's fantastic...the chicken is so tender because of how it's prepared, and the flavor of the sauce is great too. They also have a huge variety of fresh fish that are served whole. Not my cup of tea, but for those of you who like that, other diners really seemed to enjoy it.

Now, I am a big fan of this restaurant, but I have to point out that the service is just so-so. They rushed us to order twice, but then when it came time to ask for the check, we waited about 20 minutes to get our waiter's attention. I'll chalk it up to eating in the European style...nice and leisurely. I wouldn't cross Ethos off my list because of this, but I would make sure that I don't have anywhere to be after the meal.

Two things to note...they bring out a dessert on the house that I can only describe has delicious. It's a filo dough pastry with cinnamon and apple, covered in honey and powdered sugar. Great way to end a good meal! And also, my friend has ordered take-out from Ethos and said that every order includes fresh pitas and this dessert.

The father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" always said how Windex will cure anything. Ethos may need a little Windex on its service, but none is needed for its food. To that I'll say "Opa!"

495 3rd Avenue
b/t 33rd & 34th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Encore! (Pam Real Thai) Encore!

Thai restaurants in New York City are a dime a dozen. I probably walk past at least 3 on my walk to work, and have at least 5 Thai take-out menus in my menu box. So, it's exciting to find one that not only has great food, but also is one that you'd want to actually sit down in and not just have it delivered. It's even better when this restaurant is located near your office.

Pam Real Thai Encore proved to fit all these criteria, and is where I went for lunch yesterday. Encore is in the name not only because there are two locations, but is also exactly what I think after eating there...encore! I doubt that's what the owners had in mind, but maybe they're on to something.

Located just off of 9th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen, it would be very easy to walk right past Pam Real Thai. There are dozens of restaurants on this stretch of 9th Avenue, including 4 other Thai restaurants just on that block. Some of these spots can be hit-or-miss because of their proximity to the Theater District, thus catering more to tourists. But, with Pam Real Thai's location off the main drag, they manage to avoid the hordes.

Pam Real Thai's interior is far from traditional. It has a futuristic feel with purple walls and modern, white tables and chairs. Just based on the ambiance, one might think that the menu wouldn't be traditional either...but that isn't the case. The menu is very extensive...ranging from noodle dishes to crispy duck to Thai-style soups.

I am usually not very routine with what I order at restaurants, but ever since I discovered Pad See Yew, I order it at every Thai restaurant I go to. It's not that I want to play it safe, but I like the flavor so much of the dish that I want to see how it is different places. I have probably been to 10 different Thai restaurants in the last few years, and I can say, without a doubt, my favorite Pad See Yew is at Pam Real Thai.

Some of you might think that 9th Avenue is too far to walk for lunch while working in Midtown. But, I promise you a fantastic Thai meal that is definitely worth the 3-avenue walk (that is, if you work on 6th Avenue!). Something else worth mentioning...Pam Real Thai is really reasonably priced. The dish I got was $6.50...and most fall under $10. Makes it worthwhile to take a break from lunch at the corner deli when it's about the same price. Before it was closed down by the Department of Health, I use to pick up lunch from Yum Thai, around the corner from my office. Their version of Pad See Yew was far worse than Pam Real Thai, and was more expensive. Not to mention the whole shut down by the Dept of Health thing!

If you need a place to go pre-theather, just looking for a nice change of pace from the usual lunch grind, definitely check out Pam Real Thai. They got my vote for best casual Thai in Midtown, and maybe even Manahattan!

Pam Real Thai Encore
402 West 47th Street
@ 9th Avenue
Menu Pages listing

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Little Farmhouse in the Big City

Until this blog really takes off and the ad money starts pouring in (a girl can dream, right?!), my experience with high-end NYC restaurants is usually limited to reading about them on other food blogs (like Grub Street or Eater). But, my visit to Mas (farmhouse) on Friday night showed me that there's a way to experience these usually unattainable restaurants without the hefty price tag.

The answer? Go for dessert. Seems simple, I know. But, I realized that even without the appetizers and entrees, this is still a great way to experience a restaurant...its atmosphere, its service, its culinary style, etc.

There's a popoular adage that says, "Life is short. Eat dessert first." Well, if it's a dessert from Mas, then that's really all you'll need! I do, however, think there should be an exception to that expression that says dessert can come second if it's following a cheese plate. Along with a fantastic dessert wine, this was shaping up to be a little slice of heaven for me. I realized during my time in Paris that I could easily live on wine and cheese alone. Throw in an apple tart with homemade vanilla bean ice cream, and you could stick a fork in me...I'm done!

Mas's ambiance only adds to the fantastic experience. Just as the title of this post suggests, Mas creatively combines the feel of a Provencal farmhouse with a sleek New York space, creating contrasts everywhere you look. There are quaint, farm-themed pillows on the booths that sit on a concrete slab floor. Authentic farmhouse wood beams form a modern bar, a wine display case/cellar, and a communal table that runs the length of the restaurant. Maybe the most surprising thing was hearing indie music playing, when I was expecting typical French accordion music!

I'm not going to cross Mas (farmhouse) off my list of places to try quite yet. Next time, I'll just have to skip dessert and go straight to the entree!

Mas (farmhouse)
39 Downing Street
b/t Bedford & Varick Streets

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Long Live Death & Co.

Rules are meant to be broken, right?! Ok, good. So, I am going to break my rule of only writing about restaurants on Miss Menu...and tell you about my experience at the coolest bar in New York City. Hope you'll let slide just this once. I felt like this was especially fittinig for the type of lounge I went to last night.

I've walked past Death & Co.'s inconspicuous E. 6th St. door dozens of times, but, I never knew what was on the other side. Walking in, it immediately feels as if you've entered somewhere illicit. That is the exact experience that Death & Co. was hoping for. Named after a Prohibition era anti-drinking propaganda movement, the dark wood and white chandelier decor of this lounge is reminiscent of an old-fashioned speakeasy.

Standing room isn't allowed, and tables require a reservation, so luckily I was able to get a spot at the bar. This was definitely the best seat in the house. The mixologist Philip Ward is unlike any I've ever seen. He not only pours well-made mixed drinks and aged wines and liquors, he will also custom create cocktails based on your personal perferences. I told him I liked vodka. He asked if I liked citrus. And, off to work he went.

So, when he served me a girly, fruity cocktail made with gin, I definitely winced. But, I trusted his judgement (how could you not with such a great reputation!), and was blown away. The two people next to me thought my drink sounded so great that they ended up ordering it too. Top notch gin, muddled raspberries, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and sugar. Good to the last drop! I will definitely be back soon to see what other concoctions Philip comes up with. Hopefully, the Death & Co. era is far from over.

Death & Co
433 East 6th Street
b/t 1st Avenue & Avenue A
website's review

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Afternoon Delight

Super Bowl Sunday is good by itself. BBQ is good by itself. Put them together, and you have one fantastic afternoon/evening in store. A Super Bowl party usually comes with some staple food, chips, veggies & dip,etc. And as much as I enjoy all of those things, they're nothing out of the ordinary. So, it was very exciting to hear that my friends were going to have Virgil's delivered for the big game. Even though it's across the street from my office, I haven't been to Virgil's. But since we had so much food delivered, and I got to sample so many different items, I feel like it's totally acceptable to write about it on Miss Menu...right?!

Just to humor you, thought it'd be amusing to list all of the things that were delivered (in 2 giant shopping bags): 2 salads, 2 huge bottles of Virgil's Real BBQ sauce, brisket, chicken wings, a whole chicken, ribs, coleslaw, potato salad, mac & cheese, biscuits, corn muffins, and to round out this well-balanced meal...a chocolate pie. Now, the even more amusing part is that this was said to be the right amount of food for 10 people. Problem was a few people didn't make it, so we had 6 people eating. Let's just say that there were plenty of leftovers.

While I can't comment on the atmosphere of actually eating at Virgil's, I can say that their food is pretty good. The sauce definitely made the meal and was a welcomed topping. The mac & cheese was very cheesy and had that slightly burned top that makes it even better. The chocolate pie was served with homemade whipped cream, and if I wasn't already so full from all of that food, I would have loved to finish my piece!

I'll definitely have to write another post if I ever do dine at Virgil's, but for now, this will have to suffice. To some, it's the best BBQ in NYC. I'm not sure I'd go that far. But, I do feel required to mention that many people (including some commenters on Midtown Lunch) view the restaurant as a tourist trap, with its close proximity to Times Square. Maybe delivery is the way to go!

Virgil's Real Barbecue
152 West 44th Street
b/t 6th Ave & Broadway
Menu Pages listing

Duke of Earl

For those of you who haven't been, Duke's is an American restaurant with a twist, offering BBQ and other Southern comfort foods like mac & cheese, Chattanooga chili, and even collard greens. In a typical attempted-kitschy style, it's decorated with old license plates and other knick knacks that are often seen in BBQ restaurants. I've been to Duke's (fka Earl's) countless times...but only for dinner.

Yesterday was an unexpected chance to change it up a bit and try it for brunch. Right away, they bring out a basket of fresh mini biscuits, blueberry and corn muffins with a strawberry butter. Perfect for tiding you over til the food comes. The full lunch/dinner menu with all of its standbys is still available, but they also have a brunch menu. I was torn...I am very partial to Duke's french fries, but the brunch items were served with home fries. Lucky me, I was able to substitute them, and get the best of both worlds...fries AND brunch!

I got the All-American Breakfast Special, which was entirely too much food...but for someone who is extremely indecisive when it comes to ordering at a restaurant, it was perfect...a little bit of everything. The eggs were cooked perfectly, which is all too often a rarity at brunch spots in NYC. It also came with two small, but delicious, buttermilk pancakes, home fries (or in my case french fries), bacon, and toast. I forwent the bacon (since I don't eat pork) and the toast, and was still plenty satisfied.

If you're looking for a nice change of pace from the usual East Side brunch spots (like Josie's and Penelope), I'd highly recommend Duke's. With dozens of TVs, it's also a great place to watch early footbal or basketball games.

560 3rd Avenue
@ 37th Street
Menu Pages listing

Grazie for Stuzzichini

As I've mentioned time and time again, I love sharing small plates at dinner. And, on Friday night, there was no exception. I had been wanting to try Bar Stuzzichini since it opened last summer, and was excited to finally be going. Roughly translated, stuzzichini means "appetizers" in Italian. How could we go wrong dining at a restaurant that not only serves Italian small plates, but is also named after them?! The short answer: the restaurant certainly didn't go wrong with the stuzzichini, but where it did struggle was with the entrees. Then again, it is named Bar "Appetizers," and not "Bar Entrees."

You are given the option of ordering the stuzzichini a la carte, or as part of a stuzzichini mista, in which you select five from around 25 choices. They base the portion size based on how many people are in the party. There were five of us, so we ordered the stuzzichini mista for 4-6 people. Unless you are only ordering one or two small plates, it's much more economical to order the mix and not a la carte.

We ordered two crostinis, both of which were delicious. One was topped with a chickpea puree (not like hummus though) and the other with homemade ricotta, saffron, and honey. We ordered meatballs, which I don't eat, but everyone said they were very moist and tasty, and they smelled great. I would skip the eggplant stuffed with ricotta. It was served cold (on purpose), and lost a lot of the flavor that grilled eggplant normally has. By far, my favorite was the fried artichokes. Definitely cannot go wrong with anything fried and salted...but beyond that, these really had a great flavor.

So, the stuzzichini part of the meal was a success, but since everyone wasn't really filled by these small plates, we ordered entrees as well. The portion sizes were very small...and some of them were received with mixed reviews. The pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas and tomatoes in an almost broth-like sauce) was very flavorful, but seemed like something I could easily prepare at home. The other pasta dishes were hit or miss, but luckily for Miss Menu, everyone enjoyed the meal overall.

The atmosphere at Bar Stuzzichini is great. It has the feel of an authentic Italian cafe. Large, modern chandeliers hang across the entire length of the restaurant, giving the place a warm feel. The hostess was friendly...and we were seated at the time of our reservation. Our waiter was very friendly and helpful in recommending and explaining dishes. I'll definitely be back to Bar Stuzzichini, but will stick to ordering what its named for next time!

A few things worth mentioning...
- Definitely make a reservation. After being written up a handful of times since its opening, Bar Stuzzichini has attracted quite a crowd.
- This restaurant is perfect for large groups. They have a number of round booths that fit 5 or 6 people. There are also very large tables towards the back of the restaurant.
- It's also great for dining solo. There is a regular bar in the front of the restaurant, but midway back, there are also stools at a white marble-topped counter where diners can eat with a view of large hunk of prosciutto and cooks preparing the stuzzichini.
- From reviews I have read since eating there Friday night, others suggest ordering the gnocchi and short ribs. But don't just take my word for it: Grub Street, Bruni's New York Times review, and Ed Levine Eats.

Bar Stuzzichini
928 Broadway
b/t 21st & 22nd Streets
Menu Pages listing

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Great Wine, No Whine

My dining out drought finally came to an end this weekend, and I couldn't be more thrilled! I felt lost without a restaurant to select, a menu to peruse, or an atmosphere to make note of. I was meeting some friends for dinner on Friday night, and we decided it'd be fun to grab a drink beforehand. We debated if we should just go to the restaurant and sit at the bar, or if we should try another place instead. As I'm sure you could have guessed, I wanted to go to another place to start...can't turn down the opportunity to try another restaurant.

I suggested Wined Up, a wine bar above the restaurant Punch in the Flatiron neighborhood. I had been here before for dinner, but was excited to go back so I could share it with you on Miss Menu. Wined Up's draw is definitely two-fold. The atmosphere is equally as enticing as the wine list itself. A wood-carved wine rack that runs the length of the restaurant creatively displays the bottles of wine. Stark white brick walls create a strong contrast against the dark wood furniture, creating a very cool ambiance. With the addition of candles everywhere, this is the perfect date place. They also have a few large tables, the size of those in a office conference room, making it a great place for big groups as well.

My friends and I just got a glass of wine, but glancing over the menu reminded me of some of the great food I had here previously. While they don't have entrees, they do have a large list of small plates (my favorite!) to choose from, including fondue, cured meats, cheeses, pizzettas and more. Some of the highlights include bistro fries with garlic aioli, the Mediterranean tasting, and the fondue of Prima Donna & Leffe Blonde, served with bread, fruit, and fingerling potatoes.

The wait staff really know their stuff, so if there's a type of wine you love, but don't see on the wine list, mention it to them, and they'll suggest something very similar. All in all, Wined Up was a great start to the evening! Next up...dinner across the street.

Wined Up
913 Broadway
b/t 20th & 21st Streets
Menu Pages listing