Monday, June 2, 2008

Breath of Cool, Fresh Air

So, it’s a given that there are a thousand and one bars serving bar food in Murray Hill. Some is good, some is just average. But, I am not a huge fan of the typical happy hour crowd at these places. That’s why Arctica feels like a breath of fresh air. Sure, it’s packed on the weekends, but after work during the week, there are just a handful of people in the bar, and even fewer in the back dining section. I’ve been here a few times for dinner and once for brunch, but all before Miss Menu came to be. Luckily my most recent visit was a good one as well.

It was a really nice day, and my friend and I were pleased to find out they had the back doors open. There’s a decent-sized deck that overlooks a small garden/courtyard area. It always makes me happy when I discover these little pockets of green in the midst of NYC concrete everything. The bar only opened a year or two ago, but very recently, they redid the interior…adding another bar in the back. With a ton of TVs, Arctica definitely has a sports bar vibe, but is a lot more upscale than some of the other spots along 3rd Ave. I think my favorite parts are the fireplace and the massive arm chairs that we were sat in. They are so comfortable, and on such a nice night, it was great to just sit back and have a relaxing and leisurely dinner.

The menu features some expected fare such as wings and nachos, but also features more atypical items such as fajitas and steak frites. My friend and I both ordered the veggie burger, which I had before and really loved. I added cheddar as my freebie topping. Other options were peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. The veggie burger itself was really good, with visible vegetables inside, not just a patty of brown mush. The fries weren’t my favorite kind (small steak fries), but they were cooked well and came out nice and crispy.

The waiter was very friendly and attentive, which is always welcomed in my book. He was there when we needed something, but didn’t rush us to order or pay at all. Despite the bar's frozen arctic theme, there is nothing chilly about this place. It’s very warm and cozy, especially when the fireplace is going and good food is served in a comfy setting.

Arctica Bar & Grill
384 3rd Avenue
b/t 27th & 28th Street
Menu Pages listing

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Almost A Great Catch

Lately, I’ve been curious about what the names of restaurants mean when they are in a foreign language. After a little research, I learned that “barbounia” is a red mullet fish found in the Mediterranean waters near Greece, and is thus very common in the Greek cuisine. Seems fitting for a Greek restaurant then! They do have it on the menu, but I was going to Barbounia for brunch, and didn’t think little, fried, whole fish sounded so appealing at noon!

If you have ever walked down Park Avenue South, then you know just how many lofty, upper-end restaurants there are. Barbounia is a newer (opened in 2006) addition that sits on the corner of 20th & Park. From the second you step food in the restaurant, it quickly becomes apparent that you are in a Greek/Mediterranean restaurant. White tiles cover the floors, large columns and archways are scattered throughout the place with very high ceilings to match. One of my friends commented that she felt like we weren’t in NYC when in this restaurant, between the sheer size and the décor of the restaurant. It’s a beautiful space, if not a little bit over-decorated with fake plants and fruit baskets everywhere you look. The bar area is very nice too, and becomes pretty lively and crowded after work and in the evenings.

We were seated at a nice table in the center of the restaurant and began perusing the menu. A basket of bread was brought out, and was filled with the most delicious, fresh breads. Some were similar to a pita, and some were very sweet with cinnamon and raisins.

There were the usual brunch items, but I felt like I needed to get something more authentic. I ended up ordering the Spanikopita that came with a side salad. The menu describes the dish as crispy phyllo triangles filled with spinach and feta, but there were no triangles to be found. What came out looked almost like a pastry - it was round and coiled like a cinnamon roll. Regardless, it was absolutely delicious…super crispy and flaky, very flavorful, and a perfect proportion of feta to spinach. The mixed greens had a very good vinaigrette and was a nice compliment to the spanikopita. My friends both ordered egg dishes that were served with potatoes. One got the Athenian omelette with spinach and caramelized onions, and the other got the eggs benedict. They both enjoyed their dishes a lot too.

I had read a lot of reviews before finally making it to Barbounia about how terrible the service was, and I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. Our waiter barely spoke English, which made it very difficult to ask questions about items on the menu. If he had been Greek, I would’ve let it slide because of the authenticity! But, to work in a restaurant and not be able to communicate the dishes you are serving to your customers is pretty ridiculous. He was MIA when we did need him, but hovered while waiting for us to finish up and pay our check. After all of the dining out I’ve done lately, I think that has quickly become one of my biggest pet peeves.

Despite this, though, I try not to let poor service ruin an otherwise good dining experience between the atmosphere, food, and company. If you are in the mood for some really good Greek food, definitely check out Barbounia. But just walk in with a boatload of patience.

250 Park Avenue South
@ 20th Street
Menu Pages listing

Holy Rice-A-Roni!

Rice is a restaurant that I think is suffering from multiple personality disorder. Located in the heart of Curry Hill, I always presumed it was an Indian restaurant. Then, one time when I actually stopped to glance at the menu, I also saw a few Thai dishes. So, I thought to myself, ok, maybe Rice is one of those Pan-Asian restaurants. When I finally went there for diner one night, my friend and I quickly discovered that even that broad category wouldn’t cover all of the types of dishes that Rice has on its menu. This was going to be hard for me to classify for this post! There were Mexican, French, and Lebanese items too! Now I get it…this restaurant includes cuisines in which rice places a big part.

It took us about 20 minutes to figure out what to order. So many dishes sounded really good. We started with the steamed vegetable dumplings and they were delicious. I absolutely love dumplings, but a lot of the times, they are just mediocre with indiscernible vegetables inside and a generic dipping sauce. Rice’s dumplings were freshly made with visible vegetables and were great on their own. Dipped in the sauce, they were even better! The soy-based sauce was so flavorful…a little bit sweet, a little bit tangy.

Next up, we got the Asian slaw, which consisted of shredded cabbage and carrots, sautéed arame seaweed, edamame, toasted sesame seeds, lotus roots, and Asian carrot ginger dressing. We only got a small, but next time I would order that just for myself because it was so good. Really crunchy, fresh veggies and a fantastic dressing.

Now onto our own dishes. I ordered the Mexican chicken soup with avocado, tomato, corn, rice and cilantro. When they served it, I got nervous I made a bad choice because it looked so simple and bordered on boring. But, I was really surprised how hearty this soup was, even though it was just a chicken stock. The corn was really fresh, and it was an interesting twist having avocado actually in the soup. The broth was very flavorful and had a pretty good kick to it. Luckily, I ended up pretty happy with the dish.

My friend ordered the ratatouille, a traditional French stew with zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, and onions. It came with a choice of rice: Japanese, Basmati, brown, and sticky. I tried her ratatouille with brown rice. Having had the dish in France, I can say it wasn’t quite the traditional recipe, but it was really good.

The restaurant itself is sleek and modern and is great for people watching on the main Curry Hill intersection. The lighting fixtures have burlap bags of (what else!) rice as the lampshades…a really creative touch! The service was friendly and fast. Our waitress was really helpful in navigating us through the different cuisines and types of rice on the menu. I am eager to go back to Rice so I can try out more of the dishes, more of the varieties of rice, and more of the ethnic cuisines featured on the menu. Multiple personalities or not, Rice is like a little trip around the world all from convenient Curry Hill/Gramercy location!

115 Lexington Avenue
@ 28th Street
Menu Pages listing