Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Late Night Food Vic-Tory

After leaving SN's birthday party, ME and I headed back to the east side in search of a spot to grab one more drink and late-night food. We stopped in a few bars, but they were too crowded to order food. We stumbled across a Japanese yakitori restaurant. There was no bar, but there was a beer and wine list. So, we figured that'd do the trick!

We sat at the bar that lined the grill area, which had its pros and cons. It was great to be able to see firsthand how the yakitori grilling was done, but even with a huge exhaust system, it got pretty smokey and drafty.

We ordered a starter to share to go along with our yakitori. The Imo Mochi & Mushrooms may have looked a little less than appealing, but the taste was out of this world. The sauteed sticky potato cakes were absolutely delicious. The mushrooms and the sauce they were in were great too. This was definitely unlike any dish I have ever a very good way!

I ordered one shitake (Japanese shitake mushroom) and one sasami ume shiso yaki (chicken breast with plum and shiso sauce). ME ordered one harama (skirt steak) and one teba (chicken wing). We both enjoyed our yakitori, but wish we had ordered more! But, we didn't want to get a second round because this batch took a really long time to come.
For a really different dining experience, definitely check out Yakitori Torys. I haven't been to Japan before, but it feels like a really authentic spot. I will definitely be heading back to try more of the different yakitori choices and some of the other appetizers and entrees. And next time I'm going to make sure I'm sat at one of the tables and away from the grill!

Yakitori Torys
248 East 52nd Street, 2nd Floor
b/t 2nd & 3rd Avenues

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Everything But The Kitchen Sink - Gelato & Crepe Cafe Opening

Walking down Second Avenue on Saturday night, this banner caught my eye.
Crepes? Gelato? Two of my favorite European exports in one location? I'm there!

Melt Gelato is a national franchise opening its first NYC location on April 5th. Featuring 30 flavors of gelato, savory and sweet crepes, panini, and a full coffee bar, Melt Gelato plans to open its doors just in time for the warming weather. If all goes as planned, franchise owner Joe Sparacello hopes to open 5 or 6 additional locations in the New York area in the next few years.

Melt Gelato
1053 2nd Avenue
b/t 55th & 56th Streets

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ah! Fajitas

For dinner tonight, I met my friend RG who recently moved back to NYC. We wanted to meet at a restaurant that was halfway between our apartments, and decided on the Turtle Bay area in Midtown East. Once we met up, we remembered a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant we use to go to a lot back in the day...Ah! Chihuahua's. That was easy!

Ah! Chihuahua's is not the most eye-catching from the outside, but take a deep breath, open the door, and your slight hesitation will quickly be forgotten once you are greeted by the very friendly staff. There are only about 10 tables in the whole restaurant, but on a cold Monday night, we certainly had no problem getting a seat. I've been during lunch, when they offer really affordable lunch specials, and that is another story!

Chips and homemade salsa were brought out immediately, and I have to say, this salsa was better than I remember. While we were looking over the menu, RG and I were thinking about each ordering different enchilada dishes. But, when the server brought out sizzling fajitas to table behind us, we quickly changed our minds! They smelled delicious, and looked like the perfect dish to share.

We decided to start with the panchos appetizer, which are nachos topped with beans, cheese, tomatoes, onions, and guacamole. Gotta be honest here, I'm not totally versed in the world of nachos. So, I'm not sure if there's a different term for a heap of tortilla chips piled high with all the fixings, versus 8 large chips laid out side by side and individually covered in different toppings. Panchos was the latter. Some of the chips had refried beans and melted cheese, others had fresh guacamole, and some had melted cheese with onions and jalapenos. All of them were delicious, and it was the perfect-sized starter.

We also ordered the fajitas pollo - marinated strips of grilled chicken breast with tomatos, onions, and red peppers. A side plate came with refried beans covered in cheese, sour cream, yellow rice, fresh guacamole, and shredded lettuce. The corn tortillas were fresh and piping hot. The chicken was spicy and flavorful, and the veggies were grilled nicely.

Aside from the various Mexican knick-knacks on the walls, Ah! Chihuahua's is pretty bare bones with cheapo plates and silverware, and plastic cups you'd find in a cafeteria. So, don't come expecting anything fancy. But, do come expecting food that is simple, tasty, and reasonably priced.

Ah! Chihuahua's
330 East 53rd Street
b/t 1st & 2nd Avenues
Menu Pages listing

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Metro's Massive Menu

For JP's 30th birthday celebration, his wife MSP came to me for some suggestions of restaurants that could accommodate around 15 people. It didn't have to be anywhere swanky, but she was hoping for something pretty reasonable. I threw around a few ideas, but we ended up coming back to Metro Cafe & Wine Bar.

Three years ago a group of us wanted to go out to dinner for New Year's Eve and I came across Metro Cafe's NYE prix-fixe special (2 years pre-Miss Menu!). We had a really nice experience that night. The service was really friendly and helpful, the food was simple and tasty, and the whole menu is reasonably priced. But, I hadn't been back since and was eager to try it again now that I've become a bit more of a foodie!

Because we were such a large party, MSP reserved the mezzanine level. It was perfect for this kind of event and for this sized group. There was one server who was waiting on only us. She was friendly, very organized, and very patient.

As we started looking over the huge menu, it seemed like it had a bit of an identity crisis.
There were the usual slew of appetizers that can be found on a lot of wine bar menus: hummus and pita, fried calamari, artichoke dip, etc. But then there was a whole dim sum section. I love dim sum as much as the next person, but it seemed out of place in a modern wine bar. Then, there was an entire section devoted to Kobe beef items. Guess they're able to tout the fact that they can appeal to all kinds of palates!

Everyone started with a few appetizers. I shared the hummus appetizer, which came with pita wedges, celery, and cucumbers. I also tried RS's sesame chicken bites that were served with a honey mustard sauce. The chicken was light and crispy, and both the batter and the sauce were full of flavor. Other people ordered the fried calamari, vegetable chili, and salmon tartare with avocado...and everyone seemed to really enjoy their starters.

With such a vast menu, I debated for entirely too long what to order. Their pizzas looked good, as did their various burgers, but I ended up going with the grilled chicken paillard entree. It was flash seared with olive oil, and served with mashed potatoes and broccoli. Despite how plain that sounds, it was actually really good. The chicken was cooked well and both the broccoli and the potatoes were well-seasoned. Everyone else seemed to enjoy their entrees, and a few raved about the sweet potato fries, the lamb burger, and the mac & cheese.

As I mentioned above,
the prices are very reasonable. For only $60, I was able to split 2 bottles of wine, share 2 appetizers, and have a big entree. And, that was including tax and tip!

Metro Cafe & Wine Bar has a lot of perks. It's a great option for a big group dinner, or for a great glass of wine with something to nibble on. The staff is helpful and accommodating. What it doesn't have, though, is a "wow" factor. This may be why the bar area was packed, while most of the tables were empty on a Saturday night.

Metro Cafe & Wine Bar
32 East 21st street
b/t Park Avenue South & Broadway
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Olympic In Every Way

My love for falafel is nothing new. I have definitely talked about falafel and all things pita a few different times on Miss Menu. But this love has grown exponentially in recent weeks. After reading about Olympic Pita on Midtown Lunch a few months ago, I can honestly say I am completely obsessed not only with this place, but with falafel in general. I'm not sure how I managed to work in this part of Midtown for almost three years, and never hear of it. I have since been 3 times in the past month, and there are no signs of stopping!

Olypmic Pita offers something a lot of pita and falafel/schwarma places do not: Laffa. What exactly is laffa? It's a freshly-made, over-sized pita baked in a tandoor oven (think nan bread in Indian cuisine). The laffa at Olympic Pita puts even the best-tasting store-bought pita bread to shame.
As soon as you open the door to the restaurant, you can smell the laffa baking.

I went for lunch with a few friends (ME, JS, MF, GL, and ER), and after perusing the menu, it was pretty obvious what I was going to order. We started with an order of hummus, which came with a fresh laffa for dipping. The best way I can describe this combo is "heavenly." The hummus is garlicky and creamy, and topped with a great tahina and olive oil. Although it doesn't say it anywhere on the menu, the laffa keeps coming out as long as there is hummus left - so be sure to ask!

Every lunch or dinner order comes with a trip to the salad bar included in the price. You are allowed to fill up one small plate with a delicious assortment of coleslaw (creamy and tangy varieties), Israeli salad, pickles, etc. Just be sure to grab the smallest size plate in the stack...I got yelled at by the waitress for taking the medium size by accident!!

For my main meal, I ordered a falafel laffa, which comes with hummus, harisa (very spicy red sauce), Israeli salad, and...wait for it...FRENCH FRIES! Yes, I have had fries in a pita before, but those fries were always bland and soggy and didn't add much to the pita. Olympic Pita's fries were actually really good on their own. And, even better smushed in with falafel and covered in hummus! The falafel is delicious...a little spicy and a ton of flavor. ME, JS, and MF ordered the schwarma laffa and said the meat had a really good flavor. I am curious to try the schnitzel laffa, but always have a hard time turning down the falafel!
If you couldn't tell by the pic above, these things are massive...Olympic-sized if you will! :) After the salad bar and the hummus/laffa appetizer, we all decided to eat half of the laffa and take the other half home.

So, obviously I think the food is out of this world...I've stuffed myself silly each time I've been. No matter how full I feel, I can't wait to go back! But, I also want to share a few Miss Menu pointers that may not be apparent, but will make your experience even better:
  • There is take-out and there is a sit down casual tables like a lot of lunch places. When it gets nice out, I definitely plan on picking this up and eating in Bryant Park!
  • The sit down prices are more expensive than take-out - it's a little pricey for lunch, but you'll definitely leave satisfied...and maybe with another whole meal out of it!
  • When you do take-out, they give you a plastic container for the salad bar, so you won't miss out on that
  • Do not expect service with a smile - the waitresses are a little rough around the edges, to put it nicely!
  • Tip is included in the bill (which probably explains the above statement!), so definitely no need to throw in extra $ for tip on top of the total
  • Olympic Pita closes early for Shabbat (it's a Glatt Kosher restaurant), so be prepared to be rushed if you are still lingering by about 2pm on a Friday
Sure it may sound like there are a few negatives about Olympic Pita, but I can 100% assure you that the laffa alone makes it worth a visit.

Olympic Pita
58 West 38th Street
b/t 5th & 6th Avenues
Menu Pages listing

Friday, February 13, 2009

This Tree Stands Tall

With Restaurant Week recently passing, I have had prix-fixe menus on my mind. I came across an incredible deal at a restaurant in the East Village called Tree. On Monday through Wednesday all night, and Thursday and Friday from 5-7pm, Tree offers a $25 prix-fixe menu that is small in scope, but large in flavor and value.

I had been to Tree before for brunch, and really enjoyed my experience. My friend DB was coming through NYC for a night and wanted to go out to dinner after a very long day of traveling. He had only a few requests: no Middle Eastern food, somewhere casual, and somewhere close by. Tree seemed like the perfect option.

Tree got its name from the large tree that grows in the beautiful outdoor patio at the back of the restaurant. But given this was a cold night in January, we opted for a table in the small, warmly-lit dining room. Candles line the exposed brick walls and tables, and have created some pretty interesting wax "sculptures!"

We glanced over the prix-fixe menu, and with only two or three options for each of the three courses, our decisions were made pretty quickly. As I've mentioned in a few different posts, French onion soup holds a very special place in my heart, and I have a very hard time not ordering it when I see it on a menu. The cheese could have been a little more melted on the top, but the flavor was spot-on. DB ordered the mesclun & herb salad, and said it was a pretty standard salad with a nice vinaigrette.

For the entree, I went with the roast chicken, which was served with wild mushrooms, plum tomatoes, and mashed potatoes in a white wine sauce. I am not a fan of dark meat, whether in a chicken dish or at Thanksgiving dinner, so I was glad to see that they offered two different pieces of chicken in this dish. The white wine sauce was delicious - big on flavor, but not too heavy, and all the other ingredients complimented each other well.

DB ordered the classic French meal of
steak frites with haricot verts. He said the meat was very flavorful and cooked well. I tried the hericots verts and the fries, and they were both so good, and pretty authentic French-style.

For dessert, there were two options, so we each ordered one and split them. They were both very large portions, but we had NO problem finishing them! The chocolate mousse was light and airy, and rich...but not too rich.

The crème brûlée was really delicious as well, but could have used a little more "brulee-ing." Just like
Amélie, the main character in my favorite French movie, the best part of ordering a crème brûlée is cracking the carmelized top with your spoon. Maybe next time!

The service was friendly, but a little spotty. And, it took entirely too long for the appetizers to come out. We think they may have forgotten to put in our order, because with only 4 other tables filled, the kitchen was certainly not backed up. Otherwise, I only have positive things to say about Tree. It's great for summer and winter, or any time in between. Sit in the cozy dining room with a warm bowl of soup in the winter, or sip a cold glass of white wine in the 1200-square-foot courtyard. Just be sure to make reservations if you can...Tree may stand tall, but doesn't hold many people!

190 First Avenue
b/t 11th & 12th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Friday, February 6, 2009

Everything but the Kitchen Sink - Psilakis Edition

As I mentioned in my recent write-up about Kefi, Psilakis and Arpaia relocated it from a location on West 79th Street. They just announced their plans for a new concept in the old Kefi space, Gus & Gabriel’s Gastropub. Psilakis "wrote a menu that revolved around the idea of the adult kid: the kid in you." It will feature upscale takes on comfort food, including a pulled-pork sloppy joe, fish & chips, and a French dip sandwich, to name a few.

Gus & Gabriel's is set to open in less than two months. After my great experience at Kefi, I am eager to check out another of their restaurant creations.

Arpaia and Psilakis Announce a Gastropub for the Kid in You *Diner's Journal/NYT*

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Take A Bao

Every time I've taken the bus down 2nd Avenue, I've noticed Bao Noodles right behind the 23rd St. stop. It always struck me as such an odd location for what looked like a somewhat trendy, always busy Vietnamese restaurant. This stretch of 2nd Ave (and 23rd for that matter) isn't exactly the culinary gem of NYC! I was planning to meet SS and JH for dinner one night, and wanted to try a new spot somewhere in the Gramercy/Kips Bay area. I threw around a few suggestions, and they decided to go with Bao Noodles. I was thrilled that they were willing to try it with me!

Even on a cold Tuesday night, every table was full. Luckily one table was paying its bill, so we were able to sit pretty quickly. I'm not exactly what you'd call proficient in Vietnamese cuisine, so I had a few questions about the menu. Unfortunately, our server's English wasn't the best. After a few failed attempts at finding out the differences between some of the noodle and noodle soup dishes, we deferred to another server. Questions answered - we were ready to order!

I'm not usually one to order tofu, but something about the vegetarian noodles appealed to me.
When it's prepared well and in a dish with a ton of flavor, I like it. And when it's fried, it's even better. The vermicelli noodles were stir-fried and served with fried (mmm) tofu, bok choy, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms. The noodles themselves had a ton of flavor (albeit a little too much oil), but there was also a sauce that came on the side. Not sure what kind of sauce it was exactly, but it was somewhere between a sweet soy sauce and a spicy chili sauce...and absolutely delicious.

JH ordered the chicken salad, which came with shredded chicken, cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots, daikon, and herbs in nuoc mam dressing. She also ordered the shrimp soup with garlic, chive, and tofu in a chicken broth. It's in this format that I don't care for tofu...large, plain chunks. JH didn't like it either, so she picked out the tofu, but enjoyed the rest of the soup.

SS ordered the chicken noodle soup with shredded chicken and rice noodles in a chicken broth. She said the chicken was pretty unseasoned, but the broth was very flavorful.

I tried both of their dishes, and have to say, I liked mine the best. It may not have been the healthiest, but it definitely had the greatest depth in flavor. There were a lot of other dishes, especially appetizers, that I am eager to go back and try. One dish actually combines an appetizer with an entree, and really caught my eye: vegetable spring rolls on rice vermicelli. Too bad I noticed it after I ordered! I love spring rolls. I love noodle dishes. The two together? Too good to be true. I had to ask the server just to clarify. And yep, it's exactly as it sounds...spring rolls cut up and served on top of a noodle dish. Don't think I'll even need to see a menu next time I go to Bao!

Bao Noodles
391 Second Avenue
b/t 22nd & 23rd Streets
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Please Put Baby In This Corner

Foodies and food writers can't get enough of "Best Of" lists. Best pizza, best bagel, best margarita, and maybe one of most popular..."Best burger." Everyone will debate what the best is: Burger Joint, Shake Shack, Five Guys to name a few. I'd love to have an opinion, but one slight problem...I don't eat burgers! I have, however, been to Corner Bistro dozens of times. And some might argue that it's the best.

After a comedy show in the West Village, SN, NH, and I wanted to grab a quick dinner. Neither of them had been to Corner Bistro before, so I thought that was the perfect pick. I prefaced it by saying it's a no-frills dive bar, but the food is cheap and delish. They were definitely OK with that. The entire menu consists of 10 items and is posted on the walls of the restaurant.

SN and NH both ordered the specialty Bistro Burger, which is an 8oz burger topped with bacon, cheese, onions, lettuce, and tomato. Anyone who I've ever been there with has always ordered the Bistro Burger (or two). I guess it's hard to turn down deep-fried bacon! They both really liked it, and I'm pretty sure were contemplating ordering a second.

I've always ordered the grilled chicken sandwich, and enjoyed it each time. This was my first visit in a year or two, and I noticed that they had changed it up a bit. In a really good way. The chicken breast wasn't battered, but had a great almost-fried taste to it. Always a good thing. The sandwich itself was bigger. Also a good thing. I definitely enjoyed it more than in the past. We also got two orders of fries, which were a little overdone. Disclaimer to the non-pork eaters or vegetarians (although I'm not sure why you'd be eating at Corner Bistro!): The fries are fried in the same oil as the bacon. Obviously gives the fries a damn good flavor though.

A few additional pointers...
-The Diet Coke always tastes a little off - skip it.
-Go with a McSorley's Ale (from the bar in the East Village) instead.
-Unless you absolutely cannot live without tomatoes on your burger, take it off before you dive in. It makes the sandwiches so much easier to eat!

Don't expect friendly service here, but do expect a long line during the dinner rush. The food comes out quickly, though, so the tables turn over just as fast. If you've been to Corner Bistro or go after reading this post, let me know how their burgers stand up next to the other big names in NYC burgers!

Corner Bistro
331 West 4th Street
@ Jane Street & 8th Avenue
Menu Pages listing

Monday, February 2, 2009

So Much Kefi in the Air

Chef-owner Michael Psilakis and co-owner Donnatella Arpaia recently relocated their Greek restaurant to a new, larger Upper West Side location. I hadn't heard of the restaurant when it lived on West 79th St, but since it moved, it has been receiving a ton of press and reviews. From what I've seen, critics have welcomed the changes that accompanied the move, but diners haven't quite fallen back in love with it yet. And, I have to say, without seeing the greatness of the former location, I can definitely see that there are a few things that need to be worked on.

The decor of Kefi is trying to feel "quaint, Greek kitchen," but most of the space on the main level seems bare...blank white walls with the occasional cluster of blue and white plates or fake blue window shutters. When I went downstairs to use the restroom, I peeked around a little, and noticed how much better the ambiance was. There are three areas for dining. So, when you make your reservation (which they just started accepting, and I highly recommend making), try to specify that you'd like to sit downstairs, or at least in the back. The front area near the bar is insanely cramped between too many tables, people waiting for their table, and people drinking at the bar.

Luckily, ME and I were seated in the back area and had a nice table that wasn't completely on top of the ones next to us. Fresh bread and olive oil were brought out immediately, and the waiter was soon to follow asking for our drink order. We went with a nice bottle of Greek wine. After that, we didn't see the waiter for a while...all the waitstaff and busboys seemed to be running around like crazy. Not sure if that's because they're still trying to work out a new system in a new space, or if that's just how they operate.

When he finally returned, we decided it was probably a good idea to place the entire order, rather than just starting with appetizers. We decided to go start with two meze and ordered the highly recommended (thanks ER!) warm feta and the selection of spreads, both coming with fresh pita. The warm feta was served in a skillet along with tomatoes, capers, anchovy, peppers, and olives. I don't love the flavor of anchovy or olives, but this dish was out of this world. I was trying to remember if I had ever really had melted feta before, and when I tasted this dish, I knew I hadn't! All of the flavors complimented each other so well...savory, acidic, etc.

The foursome of spreads included what I know as tzatziki, hummus, babaganouj, and a "caviar" dip. The caviar is in quotes because the dish was marked as being vegetarian, so ME and I were trying to figure out if it was fake caviar or the real thing! The tzatziki was some of the best I've ever add...not to heavy, and a great, fresh cucumber flavor. The hummus was really good, a classic with a hint of roasted red pepper. Sometimes being too heavy on the mayo/cream, this babganouj was delicious. One of the runners asked if we wanted more pita, so of course we said yes. We later came to find that we were charged for it, but it was well worth it. By time we were done with the meze section of our meal, I think we probably each consumed 4 or 5 pitas. Oops!

For my entree (even though I was pretty full by this point!), I went with the striped bass. It came pan seared with green beans, roasted potatoes, capers, and olives. The fish was well-flavored, but the piece was pretty skimpy and not the best cut. ME ordered the sheep's milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage, tomatoes, and pine nuts. I don't eat lamb, but ME said it was very spicy. I did try the dumplings with the sauce though, and they were absolutely delicious.

Many of the reviews noted the inexpensive prices of Kefi's menu, and they were right. We had all of that food, a nice bottle of wine, tip, and tax for under $100. Most of the entrees come in under $15.

I found out that Kefi is a hard-to-translate word that has been described by various Greeks as meaning passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy. After dining here, I think the name is very fitting. You can sense the passion behind the cooking, and you can feel the frenzy (between the waiters and loud diners) in the dining area.

505 Columbus Avenue
b/t 84th & 85th Streets
Menu Pages listing