Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Miss Menu Has Been Poke-d

My first apartment in NYC was on the Upper East Side. I lived with two girls I found on Craigslist, and while I was beyond grateful that they weren't psycho, we didn't quite become best friends. One of the girls frequently invited me to go with her and friends to a sushi restaurant called Poke. I never ended up going, but to this day, I remember her raving about it being a really fun BYO place.

As you can tell by the "Upper East Side" label on the left hand side of this page, it's not my most frequented neighborhood. So, I was excited when GW asked if I wanted to go there for dinner one night. Poke doesn't take reservations, but luckily there was a table available right away. When my old roommate went, she always described it as a tiny hole-in-the-wall, but in recent years, they took over the space next door and expanded. It's not the best-decorated restaurant I've ever seen, but it's a few notches above the typical, plain sushi spot.

One of the major draws of Poke is it being BYO, which is a trend that many appreciate. We had picked up a bottle of wine nearby, and while we were looking over the menu, they put it in the fridge to keep it cold...thought that was a nice touch. The BYO factor makes Poke a popular place for bigger groups, but there plenty of small tables too.

The menu is definitely heavier on the sushi than on other Japanese dishes. There were some pretty creative rolls, with even more creative names. We started with an order of edamame and vegetable gyoza...can't go too wrong there. We ordered three big rolls and one more simple roll (and for the sake of clarity, I'm just going to list them as they are on Menu Pages!):
  • Spicy Tuna
  • Good Time - Outside: Salmon & Spicy Sauce -- Inside: Asparagus & Avocado
  • Suzuki - Outside: Masago -- Inside: Cooked Striped Bass, Tempura Flakes, & Spicy Sauce
  • Red Dragon - Outside: Tuna & Spicy Sauce -- Inside: Salmon & Tempura Flakes

My favorite was the Suzuki. I'm sure true sushi fans would make fun of me for eating a roll with cooked fish in it, but I can't deny that it was absolutely delicious. Their spicy sauce was great...not too heavy on the mayo, and a good amount of heat. All of the fish was very fresh and high-quality.

The service wasn't the friendliest, but they got the job done. We did feel a little rushed towards the end of the meal. We had wine left, so we weren't ready to get up from the table yet. But, they dealt with it! The crowd is definitely on the younger side, so with the BYOWine flowing, it makes for a really fun night.

Poke Restaurant
343 East 85th Street
b/t 1st & 2nd Avenues
Menu Pages listing

Monday, January 26, 2009

This Ain't No Georgia Peach

I had just come across a review for Georgia's Eastside BBQ, and it caught my eye since a) I'm from Georgia, and b) I love BBQ. A few days later, SN and I coincidentally stumbled upon it when looking for a place for dinner in the Lower East Side. It seemed great...a small hole-in-the-wall with 6 or 7 tables, kitchy Southern decorations and blue-checkered tablecloths, and a friendly Southern waitress. Home sweet home!

Unfortunately, that all came to a screeching hault as soon as the food was served. Knock on wood, it's been very rare that I've had an absolutely horrific meal in NYC. I think I can count the number of times in nearly 6 years on one hand. So, when it does happen, I'm always so upset. I thought to myself, "Can I get a do-over?!"

As I was eating the food, and now as I'm writing this post, I wondered how is a possible for a restaurant to get what could be such straightforward food SO wrong. I ordered the BBQ chicken sandwich, and upgraded to the deluxe with fries and coleslaw instead of chips for $3. The chicken was a mixture of dried out white meat with slimy, questionable dark meat. The fries were good, but that was just about the only redeeming thing of the entire meal. The coleslaw was even off...overly peppered and way too much vinegar.

SN ordered the pulled pork dinner that was described on the menu as "seasoned and slow cooked, our pulled pork shoulder recipe is a Southern classic! Always complemented with cool coleslaw and extra BBQ sauce." Now, I don't eat pork, but I took his word for was dry and flavorless, and dousing it in sauce didn't do any good. The dinners come with the choice of two sides, and he picked two of the specials of the day...the green beans and the potato skins. The green beans were mixed with blue cheese, bacon, and almonds. Not my cup of tea, but could be for some. But, they weren't even cooked thoroughly. All of this was bad enough in my book, but the potato skins raised it to a whole new level. The skins were overcooked, then covered in cheese and a few flecks of bacon. To top it off, they were then microwaved to melt the cheese...leaving them chewy and completely inedible.

We ended up complaining about the skins (which she took off the bill), but didn't have it in us to complain about every other aspect about our dishes except the fries. After such a terrible dining experience, I went back online to read some more reviews to see if I was missing something, and could not comprehend what so many people could possibly be raving about. We may not be in the South here, but there are plenty of great BBQ spots in the city that really get it right. Yes, Georgia's Eastside BBQ may be easy on the wallet, but honestly, you couldn't pay me to go back there. As much as I love the NYC restaurant scene, I guess not every dining experience can peachy.

Georgia's Eastside BBQ
192 Orchard Street
b/t Houston & Stanton Streets

Menu Pages listing

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This Landmarc Is No Landmark

When I first heard about restaurants opening in the Time Warner Center, my first thought was "ooh...I love a good food court!" That thought didn't last long once I heard which restaurants would be coming into the "mall," with names like Per Se and Masa. Landmarc was the last to open of a pretty impressive line-up. This is the second location under the same name by the Anvil Restaurant Group, with the other location in Tribeca.

Walking into Landmarc, I could definitely sense the look they were trying to go for, as it was described on the restaurant's website: "seemlessly blending industrial and natural materials to create a warm, accessible and inviting restaurant." The large loft-type space was very dimly lit, and had amazing floor to ceiling windows with views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. It was definitely nice to watch the snow coming down from a warm, cozy restaurant rather than from outside!

AK and I were seated next to one of the windows, which I was really happy about, but that all quickly changed when we saw the large party with 5 screaming kids at the table behind us. This didn't seem like a kid-friendly restaurant, especially at 8:30 on a Saturday night. But once I saw that there was a kids menu, I realized that maybe this "accessible" thing they were going for was taken a little too literally. Luckily, the party was finishing up and on their way out before our appetizers arrived.

One of the nice aspects of Landmarc is that all of their wines are sold to the diners at wholesale price. Not sure how or why they do it, but I'll take it! We started with a bottle of Shiraz and two appetizers. And, although we ended up with two involving cheese, you didn't see me complaining. First up were the Warm Goat Cheese Profiteroles served over an herb and roasted red pepper salad, which were delicious. The salad was bland and didn't add anything to the dish. We also had Smoked Mozzarella & Ricotta Fritters with fried zucchini & spicy tomato sauce. The zucchini was definitely the star of this one, with a light, cripsy batter. The mozzarella fritters were a little too similar to typical mozzarella sticks for my liking. But again...hard for me to talk too poorly about cheese, especially when it comes fried!

For my entree, I decided to order something sans cheese and went with the Roast Chicken, served with crushed potatoes, haricots verts & dijonnaise. It was a solid dish, but nothing above average. The chicken was moist and flavorful, and the green beans were cooked well, and nice and garlicky. Apparently not having had his cheese fix yet, AK ordered the Vegetable Risotto, which came with mushrooms, peas, tomatoes & parmesan. I had recently seen an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" in which he dined on what he calls one of the best risotto in the world (Forward to 1:16...risotto acrobatics!).
I tasted a bite (only to do my Miss Menu due diligence!), and while it may not have been as good as that of Venice, it was a really well-made risotto.

I have a hard time resisting anything related to Nutella, so for dessert, I decided to go with the Nutella eclaire. It was a little too light on the Nutella flavor, but the eclaire was fluffy and delicious. AK ordered the mint chocolate chip cone, which was a scoop of ice cream with a sugar cone served on top upside down. Creative presentation, but nothing too special taste-wise.

I've since read a handful of reviews of Landmarc, and everyone has come to pretty much the same concensus. The food at the Time Warner Center location is fine, but the one in Tribeca is much better all around. It's quite possible this is why there was no wait for a table on a Saturday night. I definitely am eager to check out the other location to see if it lives up to the landmark expectations.

Time Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle - 3rd Floor
Menu Pages listing

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Not Too Bad to the 'Bone'

There is no shortage of bar food in NYC. Menu Pages has 344 restaurants listed under that category. So, when you're in the mood for a good burger and beer, a bar has to have something to entice you to choose it over the other 343 options. Some have good happy hours, some show sporting events, and some have great daily specials like Rathbone's.

I went to Rathbone's on 2 for Tuesday...and have since been back twice more! On Tuesdays, burgers and sandwiches, beer, and well drinks are all buy one, get one free. A lot of bars have burger and beer specials, sometimes for $10, but it's usually limited to just beef burgers. I was excited to learn that Rathbone's special applied to almost all sandwiches, not just burgers! My friends ME and ER go almost weekly, so I had to see for myself what the big fuss was all about. The bar was pretty packed for a cold Tuesday night. No football games to watch, happy hour was over, so it was clear that Rathbone's special was definitely working!

For this first visit to Rathbone's, we started out with a few rounds of beer and the Chicken Nachos Grande. The nachos were really good, topped with melted cheddar, tasty guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. All sounds good, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, the chicken was pretty bad. I was a little nervous since my dinner had chicken in it.

I ordered the buffalo grilled chicken wrap, and my concern was right on. The chicken was dry and rubbery. There was a watery buffalo sauce and soggy lettuce, and that was it. Blech. Luckily, the french fries were good, but didn't quite redeem the wrap. What did help a little was knowing that it was essentially half off because of the 2 for Tuesday special. A bad $5 wrap is a lot easier to digest than a $10 one.

On my second visit to Rathbone's, I decided to go with the turkey burger...a much better choice. The burger had a good flavor and wasn't overcooked, the way turkey burgers often can be. ME had a burger that he really enjoyed as always, just as many others have too apparently!

I'm definitely looking forward to more 2 for Tuesdays, but now know to stick to the basics...burgers and beer.

1702 Second Avenue
b/t 88th & 89th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Enchiladas Suiz-yes

I usually try to follow the Miss Menu rule of not going back to the same restaurant twice. It's pretty hard to avoid in NYC though, especially when it's insanely hot or cold outside and you don't want to travel too far for a good meal. For days like those, my friend AS and I have picked a great restaurant to have as our go-to...Baby Bo's Cantina.

Baby Bo's is the ultimate hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint. I somehow went 4 years of living in this neighborhood before actually giving it a try. That has all changed now! The best way I can describe the interior of Baby Bo's as a Mexican Fiesta on crack. Christmas lights line the ceiling, and funky murals, wooden crosses, and mirrors line the walls.
I've been there on different nights of the week, and each time it's been packed. Luckily the service is prompt, so the tables turn over pretty quickly. But if you do have to wait, definitely start off with a margarita at the bar.
The atmosphere may be a little chaotic, but the food is far from it.

They brought out chips and salsa right away. The chips are great, not too greasy, but the salsa isn't my favorite. Too much like a pico de gallo, and not enough "sauce." I decided to order the Vegetable Enchiladas Suizas, one of my favorite Mexican dishes. Two fresh corn tortillas were filled with grilled vegetables (broccoli, onions, mushrooms, and zucchini), and topped with salsa verde, crema, and monterey jack. The enchiladas and all the other entrees are served with red rice and refried beans. The flavors of this dish are fantastic. The vegetables were grilled really nicely. And, the salsa verde and the crema really complimented each other. AS ordered the Classic Vegetarian Burrito, and really enjoyed hers as well.

There are a handful of Mexican restaurants within blocks of Baby Bo's, but this one definitely stands out from the crowd. The food is great, the atmosphere is lively, without being crazy, and it's reasonably priced. There is a large list of specials that change daily, ranging from appetizers to quesadillas to surf 'n turf. They have a lunch special for $7.95, and a weekend brunch for $8.95.

Baby Bo's
627 2nd Avenue
b/t 34th & 35th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Friday, January 9, 2009

China 1 Wows

I have been fortunate enough to have some pretty incredible dining experiences, especially since starting Miss Menu. Some have been great because of the food. Some have been great because of the atmosphere. Some have been great because of the company. But, when all of those are present at the same time, it's almost like the stars aligning! And, I am thrilled to have had one of those experiences a few nights ago.

I went with some friends to China 1, an antique restaurant and lounge in the East Village. It has been around for a number of years, but recently revamped its decor and its menu, with the welcomed edition of Executive Chef Chris Cheung. We had the chance to dine with owner Andrew Krauss and a few others...and this is only the start of the fantastic dining experience. During a visit to China, Krauss brought back dozens of antiques that now decorate the restaurant, giving it an ambiance that is equal parts authentic and trendy. The main floor has a dozen or so tables for dining, and downstairs is a maze of lounge areas with couches, areas for dancing, and even beds!

Chef Cheung came out to introduce himself, and asked if we'd prefer to order our own entrees, or if we would like to order family-style, in which he'd send out a sampling of the menu. Which do you think I preferred?! Along with each round of food, we were also served a variety of wines imported by Frederick Wildman...each one pairing really well with the food.

Before I go into the food, I should give a quick disclaimer. In the past I have mentioned some of my quirky eating habits (no red meat, no pork, little shellfish), but for the sake of making this the most well-rounded dining experience, I took one for the team and tried some things I'd normally pass on. Not everything, but some :)

Up first were the dim sum/appetizers and Pol Roger Champagne, and we were able to try every one on the menu. Standouts for me were the Shanghai Style Scallion Pancake (served with a deliciously-rich five-spice truffle butter), the Shenjiamen Chicken Dumplings, and the Shanghai Crispy Shrimp and Chicken Spring Rolls. Each were packed with flavor, and impressively made by hand from scratch. We also had Foie Gras-filled Soft Bao Buns, Dragon Soup Dumplings, and Slow Braised Short Rib-filled Crispy Gold Coin.

Already beyond impressed, I was really excited to see what the large plates would be like. And, they certainly did not disappoint. I am always a huge fan of chow fun noodles, and this Wok Seared Chicken and Vegetable Chow Fun was great. The dish was simple and clean with a really light flavor.

My friends said they had heard great things about the Black Cod, and it turned out to be my favorite dish of the evening. It was served char sui-style with jade green bok choy. The cod was cooked perfectly, very light and delicate, and the miso sauce had a really nice sweetness to it. Usually bok choy takes a back seat in a dish, but here it was served front and center, and it was brought a great flavor and crunch to the dish.

You may think I'm crazy, but I skipped the next two dishes. After seeing how much my friends enjoyed them, I asked them to send me their thoughts on the two so I could share them with you. "The filet mignon [with a house-made oyster abalone sauce] was cooked well, and I liked the presentation on the top of pan-fried noodles and asparagus bundles."

"One of the standout dishes for me was the pork ribs," which were smothered in a sweet chili glaze.
We ordered two side dishes as if we really needed more food! The Shanghai Belly Signature Fried Rice featured carmelized pork belly and a fried quail egg. The Fresh Asian Vegetables, which consisted of veggies entirely from the green market and Chinatown, were one of the favorites among the group. They had a great crunch to them and some (but not too much) unexpected heat. All of these dishes were paired perfectly with a Trapiche Varietal Pinot Noir.

Just when we thought it was time to try the desserts, the server came out to tell us that Chef Cheung would like to bring out one of his house specialties...the cooked-to-order duck dish. How could we turn that down?! The Cantonese BBQ Crispy Duck was served on a bao pancake platter along with cucumber slices. It was cooked perfectly, "tender and tasty." The duck dish was paired with a Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon, which really complimented the rich flavor of the meat.

As if that wasn't enough to put anyone over edge, we were still in store for the amazing desserts. Chef Cheung sent out one of each of the desserts on the menu. Such a pun intended! Each one was better than the next.
Fortune Cookie Sundae with homemade giant Pocky sticks and gold flecks
Cheesecake with Asian Pear Compote

Lychee Custard Cupcake with cannoli and fresh cream

Chocolate Bao Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream

Canton Doughnuts with coffee caramel dipping sauce and a sabayone
Chinese restaurants are not usually known for their desserts. But, these were a fantastic combination of Western techniques and Asian flavors.

My dining experience at China 1 was without a doubt one of my favorites in NYC. The atmosphere had a great vibe, the company was so fun, and the food blew me away. China 1 is perfect for a number of occasions: for creative, upscale Chinese food, for group dinners, for drinks and appetizers, or for a fun night out with friends. China 1 wowed me, and I will absolutely be going back again!

China 1
50 Avenue B
b/t 3rd & 4th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Seen at The Smith

When I first moved to NYC close to 6 (eek!) years ago, I lived in the East Village for that summer. I always walked by the Pizzeria Uno on 3rd Ave., and thought to myself how strange it was to me to see a national chain restaurant in the city, especially in that neighborhood. I never heard of anyone I knew going there...maybe part of why it eventually closed a few years later. The Smith took over that space in November 2007, and has become a welcomed addition to the area.

The Smith is owned by the same company as the restaurant Jane, Corner Table Restaurants, with similar American brasserie cuisine, but a very different and very cool atmosphere. Black and white tiles line the floors, chalkboard menus are scattered around the subway-tiled walls, and industrial, iron lighting fixtures hang from the ceiling.

I was there with a big group, so we decided to order a bunch of appetizers for the table, and then depending on how hungry we were, some ordered entrees, some shared. We started with the mac & cheese, the hot potato chips, and beer battered string beans. The mac & cheese came baked in a skillet, which gave it that ideal, almost-burnt crust. It's made with cheddar, swiss, fontina, and parmesan cheeses, which gave it a great flavor.
The portion was small for 7 people to share, but was so rich that it turned out to be plenty for all of us to have a few fabulous bites.

Everyone in my group who had been to The Smith before was raving about the hot potato chips before they arrived, so I was eager to try these things out. The menu said they were served with a bleu cheese fondue, so I was imagining that coming on the side. Oh no. Picture a big bowl of thick-cut potato chips (some were thick enough to be considered fries I think!) with cups and cups of melted bleu cheese poured all over them. I never thought I'd ever say there was too much cheese in anything, but this was a first for me. The bleu cheese was VERY strong, and with so much of it, the chips/fries essentially turned into a big bowl of glop. This dish had great potential, but I think needs a little tinkering in the kitchen. I'm going to go with crispier chips and less melted cheese. Just a thought.

Along with the mac & cheese, the beer battered string beans were another highlight of the meal. The batter was a little sweet, but still plenty salty. And, the string beans inside still had a little crunch to them, not turning soggy after a quick dip in the fryer. It was served with a tasty dipping sauce that was somewhere between ranch dressing and a creamy aioli.

A few of my friends ordered and really enjoyed the Sunday special of a burger and a beer for $14, but since I don't eat burgers, I perused the menu. Pretty full at this point from going to town on the appetizers, I decided to share a salad with DC. We went with the roasted chicken salad, served with arugula, apples, walnuts, brie, and grilled onions. Good in theory, especially because I love brie and like apples in salads, but it just fell short. The flavors were fine, but there were so few toppings that it essentially was a boring arugula salad. Definitely pass on this dish.

I definitely want to go back to The Smith because so many other dishes caught my eye. And, after doing a little homework, I saw many of them have received great reviews, including the vegetable "bibimbap," the roasted cod, and the chicken pot pie.

The restaurant has a bit of a "sceney" feel to it, but none of the attitude or stotty service. Our waiter was very helpful and patient when we took a while to place our orders. The crowd is pretty young given the restaurant's proximity to many of the NYU dorms. Now that The Smith was featured on last night's episode of MTV's "The City," I have a feeling that is not going to change any time soon!

The Smith
55 Third Avenue
b/t 10th & 11th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Friday, January 2, 2009

Pizza Perfection

Happy New Year! As I walked to work this morning (yes...I have work today), it occurred to me what my New Year's resolution should be -- to update Miss Menu more often than every 6 weeks. I always say how I want to grow my site, but that's only happening if I keep posting. So, without further ado...the first post of 2009!

My brother came to visit a few weeks ago, and he is even more of foodie than I am. So, in his short time here, we had to be sure to make sure each restaurant choice was the best possible. He said he wanted to have really good pizza, and I thought of Lombardi's that I had just walked by recently. Can't believe that in the 5+ years I've been in NYC, I've never eaten there!

We went for lunch in hopes of avoiding a long wait, and lucky for us, we were seated right away. We were lead through the main restaurant, past the coal-burning ovens, into the new room that was recently added on. It still had the exposed brick walls, tiled floors and vintage posters, but it was missing that old school feeling that the main room had.

In some of the online reviews that my brother had read, a lot of people raved about the Caesar salad. I love a good Caesar, but do think they can be pretty boring. You know it's really plain when the menu lists the croutons as one of the ingredients! We ended up getting it, and even though it was essentially a big bowl of lettuce, it was pretty good. The dressing had a great flavor and wasn't too fishy the way some are from the anchovies.

Now onto the main event...the pizza! There's a long list of interesting toppings that can be added onto the pizzas, different than the standards at any ol' pizzeria...garlic sauteed spinach, homemade meatballs, and coal over roasted red peppers to name a few. We went with the standard pizza because sometimes it's just not worth messing with perfection. The pizza arrived, and looked and smelled heavenly.

Everything was in the right proportions...perfect cheese to sauce to crust ratio. They use a San Marzano sauce that is a little sweet. In addition to the fresh mozzarella, they also added on a little Romano cheese and fresh basil. The crust was nice and crispy, but without being too crunchy. The pizza was pretty simple, but there so many distinct flavors that all came together fantastically.
I'm not usually to say that something is the best I've ever had...but my brother had no problem saying this was the best pizza he had ever had. I found it hard to disagree!!

A few tips - 1) They serve RC Cola products and
don't have free refills. As much as I love a good soda with my pizza, I stuck with water. RC Cola?! Didn't know any restaurants had that! 2) Lombardi's takes reservations for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday, and that's when I'd recommend going. Big crowds of tourists standing in a cramped waiting area is not my idea of a good time!

32 Spring Street
@ Mott Street
Menu Pages listing