Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rating for Phoenix Gard: PG...Pretty Gross

Last night I met AS and SN for dinner. Usually they rely on a Miss Menu suggestion for where we should meet, but yesterday SN said she got a recommendation from a co-worker and thought we could give it a shot. I've walked passed Phoenix Garden probably 500 times on my way to and from work. It has a big, green awning, and is set down a few steps so it caught my eye. But, since you can't see inside at all, I always thought it seemed sketchy and probably best left for delivery. I heard a few good things and read a few decent reviews, so I tried my best to go in with in an open mind and not rely on my impressions from walking by. FAIL. I should've stuck with my first impression!

Phoenix Garden is one of the few real (and I'm not talking 2 tables in a fast food place) sit-down Chinese restaurants in the area, despite there being dozens upon dozens of take-out/delivery options. I was hoping that this could become my little hidden gem of a restaurant in my neighborhood. Instead, it quickly became a place I will never return to and never recommend! I so rarely have a terrible meal in New York, and always loathe when I do.

When we walked in, it was pretty empty, but the place filled up really quickly. The decor was minimal, and it was dark and dreary inside. We looked over the menu and decided to get soups and split two entrees family style. Usually this would be plenty of food, but the waitress copped an attitude and tried to convince us that the portions are small and we should get another dish. She suggested the most ridiculous (and expensive) things...lobster, fried shrimp paste stuffed vegetables. Finally we put our foot down and added an order of dumplings.

We each got an egg drop soup, and it was fine. We asked for crunchy noodles, they had none. We got an ordered of steamed vegetable dumplings...the order came with three, and they fell apart the second you tried to pick them up out of the bowl. Then came the chicken with mixed was fine, but nothing remarkable. I've had better Chinese from the fast food places where you order from a picture menu behind the counter.
We asked for a side of brown rice, since the menu said rice was served with the entrees. They only had white rice, which isn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but seemed a little strange. We also ordered a chicken lo mein that was bright yellow, had a weird texture, and had no flavor. You know it's bad when you have to douse it in soy sauce for it to be edible.

The service was horrendous...rude and unhelpful. The busboys and servers were constantly reaching over us to clear off unused bowls and plates as if they had a severe shortage. AS finally said, "you can leave it, we are fine" just to get them to leave us in peace. And, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, even the water tasted bad! How do you mess up NYC tap water?!?

I am usually comfortable to admit that maybe I had a fluke of a bad experience, but there is absolutely no way that I could've gotten this wrong last night. The three of us all agreed that it may have been the worst Chinese food we've ever had. The tiny silver lining? Phoenix Garden is BYO. Unfortunately, it would take me many, many bottles of wine to ever consider a return visit!

Phoenix Garden
242 East 40th Street
b/t 2nd & 3rd Ave
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Giving Chada a Chance

I'm always excited to see new restaurants opening in my neighborhood...and had my eye on Chada since it opened in November. The first few reviews that were posted on Menu Pages said that the portions were small and over-priced. Not my ideal Thai dining experience. But, MP and I checked the site again and saw some of the newer reviews, it looks like the owners of Chada may have taken note of the criticism.

The restaurant is small, with about 25 tables, but has an open, modern feel. The decor combined with a decent sized bar gives Chada a lounge feel. More on that later. On the cold Tuesday night we were there, there were maybe 4 other tables filled. But, the delivery guys were in and out quite frequently. I'm hoping they do a big delivery business since the sit down portion didn't seem to be fairing so well.

I looked over the menu to see if they had any interesting dishes, in addition to the usual Thai options. One thing caught my incredibly reasonable prix-fixe menu for $17.95. I was really hungry, and eager to try more than just one item, so I went for it. It included the following:
Choice of salad or one of three soups
Choice of 5 appetizers
Choice of 6 entrees
Choice of 2 desserts

Up first was a Thai Salad, with mixed greens, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, onions, bean sprouts and a peanut sauce dressing. All of the veggies were very fresh and the dressing wasn't too heavy with the taste of peanut.

Next up was veggie spring rolls. There were two small rolls filled with cabbage, carrots, celery, and vermicelli and were served with a sweet plum dipping sauce. There were just fantastic...plain and simple. The flavor was great and they were crispy without being oily.

For my main course, I ordered my Thai go-to dish Pad See Ew with veggies. Pad See Ew usually comes with Chinese broccoli, but this had green beans, carrots, and regular broccoli in it as well.

It wasn't the largest portion of Thai noodles I've ever seen, but given that I was having a 4-course meal, I was very OK with it. The sweet soy sauce was great, and I really enjoyed this dish.

For dessert I decided to go with the Dippin' Donut Holes, which were freshly made and topped with condensed milk. Wow. Granted, it's hard for anything sweet that is fried and topped with a sweeter sauce to be bad. But, these things were fantastic...similar to a zeppole or beignet, but a lot lighter.
MP went with a much lighter dinner and ordered the Thai Salad to start, and the Cashew Nut entree with chicken and steamed vegetables.

I noticed it said on the menu that Chada is available for private parties, and with my birthday approaching, I looked around and thought it could be a great space to have my party. I spoke to one of the owner's daughters and she gave me some of the details. I was sold. Now I just had to convince JS and ME about my idea because I was having a joint party with them! It all worked out so well. We had the entire space to ourselves. We were able to bring our ipod to play music. They offered us an option of a $30 open bar for the first two hours of the party, and also had some drink specials available. Needless to say, it was a fantastic night. Great space and great friends.

If you're looking for a really reasonable Thai restaurant that has a lot more atmosphere than some of the other places in the neighborhood, definitely give Chada a chance. And, if you're looking for a space to host a party or event, keep Chada in mind. Times are tough and restaurant competition is stiff, but I'm rooting for Chada to make it.

637 Second Avenue
b/t 34th & 35th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dos Thumbs Up for Dos Caminos

While I don't have any immediate family close by, I am lucky enough to have three cousins in NYC. JB's sister AB came to visit one weekend, and the five of us decided to meet for brunch on Sunday morning. They wanted to do some shopping in SoHo after we ate, so we opted for a place downtown. KS picked Dos Caminos Soho, and while I had been to the other locations for brunch and dinner, I hadn't been to this one...which I believe is the original.

Dos Caminos has a full brunch menu on the weekends, as well as some additional dishes. When you order an item from the brunch menu, a cocktail (margarita, mimosa, bloody mary, screwdriver, etc.) and coffee/tea are included. A pretty good deal if you ask me.

We all decided we wanted to start with an order of guacamole. While we definitely could have gotten away with ordering a small batch, we ordered the larger one...and it was way too much. By time our meals came, we had gone through 2 baskets of chips and most of the guacamole! Sure, there's a thing called self-control, but I have none around chips and dip! It was delicious as always with the right amount of kick and not too heavy on the cilantro.

For my entree, I decided to go with the Chilaquiles, which is a baked tortilla casserole with sunny side up eggs, chihuahua cheese, and tres chiles salsa. I've had chilaquiles before at other restaurants, but this version was very different. On the bottom was a black bean spread. That was topped with red and blue corn tortilla chips covered in the salsa. Then, the eggs were plated on top of that, with a sprinkle of avocado, cheese, and garnish.
It was absolutely fantastic. The flavors all went really well together. The eggs weren't overcooked. My only complaint was that the tortilla chips became soggy after a few minutes of being covered in sauce and heat. There could be worse things...

...Like the problems with KS's order. She ordered the Dos Caminos Rancheros, which
was a crisp tortillas, fried eggs, black beans, smoked ham, and queso fresco. After seeing that there was turkey bacon on the menu, she asked if she could substitute the turkey bacon for the smoked ham. The waiter said it would be no problem as each dish is made to order. When it came out, it looked a lot more like ham than turkey bacon. She decided to check with the waiter, who confirmed it was turkey...but mentioned casually that there was bacon in the ranchero sauce that covered the entire dish. One would think that if a diner was asking to substitute something for pork, it may be helpful to mention pork being used in the sauce! It was only his 4th day, so we cut him some slack...and he sent the dish back to be remade with no sauce.

My other three cousins really enjoyed their meals...their only complaint was how large the portions are. I can't say I always see that as a negative, but guess they were surprised by it! LS had the breakfast quesadilla with scrambled eggs, bacon, chihuahua cheese, warm handmade tortillas. JB had the quesadilla benedict with ham, cheese and black bean quesadilla, poached eggs, and a roasted poblano hollandaise. And, AB had the wild mushroom and huitlacoche omelette with goat cheese, epazote and salsa verde.

Aside from a few mishaps, I think the meal was great overall. The atmosphere was fun and lively, but luckily it wasn't too crowded. And even on a rainy day, it was nice to have skylights overhead to let some natural light in what would otherwise be a pretty dimly-lit restaurant.

On nice days, the large patio out front is open, and I'm sure it's packed. I have now added it to my "to do" list for after-work, outdoor drinks for this summer!

Dos Caminos
475 West Broadway
@ Houston Street
Menu Pages listing

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Don't Forget to Eat Your Greens...and Pinks, and Blues

Chef Michel Bras has created a dish in his restaurant in Aubrac, France that may change your view on vegetarian food. And, a handful of French restaurants have taken note stateside. Check out the full post at FOOD2.

Click here to see all of Miss Menu's FOOD2 posts!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Restaurant Taking It Above and Beyond

There are a handful of well-known restaurants at pretty high elevations - the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Space Needle in Seattle, etc. - but this new “restaurant” concept reaches new heights! Check out the full post at FOOD2.

Click here to see all of Miss Menu's FOOD2 posts!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Everything But The Kitchen Sink - S'meeps Edition

With Easter quickly approaching, Peeps have been a hot topic around here. I recently came across what I think may be the best use of Peeps ever...S'meeps! Imagine the goodness of s'mores taken to a whole new level by replacing a plain ol' marshmallow with a Peep.
And, you don't even need a campfire to make these - they can very easily be made in the oven. Set the temperature to 350...and get ready to see the cute little Peeps (and the chocolate bars) melt! Just keep an eye on them because while melted Peeps are delish, burnt Peeps aren't so great.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just Like Grandma's

To some, comfort food consists of things like fried chicken, mac & cheese, or ice cream. But to me, nothing is more comforting than homemade matzah ball soup. So many great places in NYC to find a great bowl...2nd Avenue Deli, Katz's, the list goes on and on.

A few years ago, I discovered a hidden gem of a delicatessen named Cafe Edison near my office in Times Square that isn't completely overrun with tourists. Reason being it's in the lobby of the Edison Hotel, and has a very unremarkable storefront. But, once you step foot inside, it's like you are transported back to the 1930s. And, by the looks of the crowd, the patrons may have been dining there since then!

I went with ME one day during our lunch break. We were both starving, so we knew a lot of food was in order. I had forgotten, though, how massive the portions are, so I think it's safe to say we ordered entirely too much food! It was a given that I was ordering the matzah ball soup, and ME wanted to try the mushroom barley, so we went ahead and put that order in right away. When it came out, I was a little scared. This was enough soup to feed at least 2 or 3 people! But, I got to work and did my best!
It was just as delicious as I remembered. The matzah balls were delicate and fluffy, just like my grandma's. The broth was really flavorful, and the noodles were a nice touch. Only complaint I had was that the chicken was sort of odds and ends pieces of dark meat...not my fave.

I had read in NYMag's review of Cafe Edison that the kasha varnishkas was a must have. We thought we'd share a small side of that to go along with our sandwiches, but didn't realize that it would be this much! This kasha was delish, especially the edges that got a little crispy. For those who may not be familiar with this dish, it's essentially buckwheat and bowtie pasta made with chicken stock and some seasoning. So simple, but so good. My grandma would be thrilled to know I enjoyed it so much since I used to make a fuss about eating kasha growing up!

At this point, we were both pretty full, but knew we had a ton of food still in store for us. I couldn't decide what sandwich to order, so I asked the waiter, who has probably been working there since the restaurant opened, what he recommended. He said the fresh-carved turkey was fabulous. So, I asked if I could make that into a turkey reuben. Sure enough, it could be done! It was served open face, which meant a lot more turkey and a lot more cheese. I probably got through 1/4 of the sandwich and called it quits. Luckily, the waiter was happy to box it up for me, Russian dressing and all!
ME knew he had to go with the delicatessen staple of pastrami on rye. He said the meat was very flavorful and cooked really well. Even though it wasn't stacked as high as some other delis, it was still way too much food, and he took half home too!

If you are looking for a classic New York delicatessen and are in Midtown, I would definitely recommended Cafe Edison over those other guys (Carnegie, Stage, etc.) It's not a tourist trap where they rush you the whole time, the prices are much more reasonable, and there are no stupid rules like a minimum order amount or no sharing. Remembering how great the food was and knowing that this spot is only 2 blocks from my office means I will definitely be going back very soon...and very often!

Cafe Edison
228 West 47th Street
b/t Broadway & 8th Avenue
Menu Pages listing

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

J'aime Beacoup Bar Breton

To round out my week-long birthday celebrations (yeah, I'm that girl!), AS wanted to take me out to brunch. Even though it as her idea, she of course left it up to me to pick a place. The forecast had said terrible rain, so I didn't want to trek too far, but also was not in the mood for yet another Murray Hill brunch.

Then, I remembered reading about Bar Breton's opening on NYMag's Grub Street. Bar Breton caught my eye for a few reasons, mainly because I am obsessed with crepes and galettes as you may remember from these posts, and even my Midtown Lunch'er profile. Based on the photos I had seen, the restaurant also looked like it had a really cute, quaint atmosphere.

Since the day turned out to be gorgeous, all of the front windows of the restaurant were open, letting a ton of light into the whole place. Everywhere you looked, there were so many decorative details...from bar stools looking like buttons to a really cool sculpture hanging at the front to some dishes being served on large stone slabs.

I knew without even looking what I wanted to order...but didn't mind perusing the menu to see what else they had available for brunch. I wanted a galette with eggs and cheese, just needed to find the right one! Now a quick culinary lesson - galettes are crepes that come from Brittany, France (Breton is French for Brittany) made from buckwheat flour, so they are the base of savory dishes, versus crepes that are used as dessert.

AS and I both decided to order the Mont St. Michel, which was a galette with 2 sunny-side up eggs, gruyere cheese, & black forest ham. We asked for it with no ham, which the waiter said was no problem since each galette is made to order. Not sure if they did it as a substitution or if it just wasn't mentioned on the menu, but finely chopped mushrooms came in the galette as well. It was served in the typical style with the edges folded over and mixed greens on top.

That first bite with the perfect combo of flavorful galette, slightly runny egg, and rich gruyere was absolute heaven for me. AS really liked it too, but I'm pretty sure she was laughing at my over-the-top reaction to the dish! I can't explain it other than it's like a comfort food for me since I ate this so many times during my semester studying in Paris. C'est magnifique!!

For dessert we decided to split a crepe with Nutella. This was one of the coolest presentations of a crepe (or any dessert for that matter) I've ever seen! I could have easily eaten all 6 pieces, but was glad we didn't go overboard.

I am eager to go back to Bar Breton to try their other entrees, and see how it stacks up against other bistros and cafes I've been to around the city. And in Paris, for that matter. The place wasn't too packed during a weekend brunch, which was a nice change from a lot brunch spots. The waiters were very friendly and the service was very prompt.

One last thing - I usually don't mention dietary-related items on Miss Menu, but thought it may be helpful to point out that galettes are gluten-free...for any of you who may have a gluten-free diet.

Bar Breton
254 Fifth Avenue
b/t 28th & 29th Streets
Menu Pages listing