Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Somethin's Missin' in This Kitchen

As always, when AS and I have plans for dinner, we start throwing around a few ideas over email that afternoon. Last Thursday, I emailed her with a few ideas of neighborhood places we haven't been to before. The night before on my walk home from 'inoteca, I noticed Turkish Kitchen and thought how I really needed to try this place. So, Turkish Kitchen was my top pick, and she was excited to try it too.

I never really hear people talking about this restaurant, and I think as soon as we walked in, I realized why. The crowd was older...and not just middle-aged, but senior citizens. Not sure how that came to be, but this crowd seemed like repeat customers, which is a good sign in my book.

The server came over to greet us and give us our menus, and seemed less than thrilled that we weren't ordering cocktails. But, we moved on and took a look at the menu. We definitely wanted to share a few things, so we decided to get an appetizer, a salad, and an entree.

First up was the Shepherd salad, which consisted of fresh tomato, cucumber, parsley, green pepper, and onion. It was similar to what I know as an Israeli salad, except the vegetables were in larger pieces rather than being finely chopped. The presentation was beautiful, but the flavor was just a little strange. Not sure if that's the difference between Turkish and Israeli salads, but it seemed to have a little too much acidity...guessing from lemon juice.

We ordered the Cacik (like a tzatziki), made with homemade yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber, garlic, mint, and dill. It was so tasty...really light and refreshing, and had a great flavor with all of those ingredients coming together nicely.
It was served with fresh bread that was similar to a very thick, fluffy pita. The bread basket kept refilling without us asking, and we were worried if we'd still have room for dinner!

For the entree, we got the Martarli Tavuk Sis...chargrilled of chicken breast, fresh mushrooms, green peppers on a skewer, served with rice and roasted potatoes. AS and I were joking how sometimes chicken kebabs can be sort of bland, and we asked to keep the cacik on the table in case we wanted to dip the chicken in it. But, we were both pleasantly surprised at how moist and flavorful the chicken was. The mushrooms and green peppers had the perfect grill flavor, without getting too charred the way peppers can sometimes. The rice even had a great taste too it, and the roasted potatoes weren't listed on the menu, but were a welcomed addition (and were dipped in the cacik!).

The food itself was fantastic, but the service wasn't the best. Turkish Kitchen seemed to think it is a much fancier dining establishment than it actually is. Yes, there were white tablecloths, but it was hardly that type of place. The server again gave us a little attitude when we only ordered just those three items, but as AS pointed out to me, two appetizers were the same price as ordering an entree, so it wasn't like we were only spending $20.

When we were ready for the check, it took another server, a bus boy, and finally the maitre d' to get our server's attention. There were so many employees running around, but something seemed to be missing. Service wasn't so bad that I wouldn't return, but in a time when people are cutting back on dining out, I'd be grateful for any and all customers to walk through that restaurant door, regardless of how little or how much they're spending.

Turkish Kitchen
386 Third Avenue
b/t 27th & 28th
Menu Pages listing

'inoteca? Check.

My restaurant "to do" list is never-ending. This is by no means a bad thing, but there just aren't enough meals in a day and days in a week to get to every spot on there. My wallet and waistline would also be less than thrilled if I ate every single meal out just to cross restaurants off my list.

There has been one on there for a few months now...'inoteca. Well, it really was on there as Bar Milano. But, the Denton brothers decided to close Bar Milano, and re-open it as an 'inoteca like their other two locations downtown. When I was put in charge of planning a dinner with some friends, 'inoteca popped in my mind immediately!

AM, LR, CD, and I went last Wednesday night...and despite the host on the phone making it seem like reservations were hard to come by, there were a handful of tables open the entire time we were there. (Just a quick tip - I originally tried to make a reservation through OpenTable, but they had nothing available between 5:45 and 10:15. When that happens, always call the restaurant and double-check.)

When we looked over the menu, we quickly realized that it was all in Italian (how authentic!)...and tried to figure out what was what. We asked our server to help us decipher everything, and she began to answer each of our questions, and also pointed out that on the back of the wine list was a glossary with definitions/descriptions of only some of the menu items. What?! Some of you may disagree with me on this one...but seems like the restaurant could find better ways to have the servers spend their time than translating most of the menu to the customers over and over again, night after night. I personally don't think it would take away from the authenticity or the Italian vibe if they had descriptions next to the less obvious menu items. But alas, we figured it all out and placed our order. We decided to order a lot of different dishes to get a taste of as many dishes as possible.

We started with the insalata di verdure di primavera. This was a small salad made up of fresh, Spring vegetables including ramps (finally got to try them!), peas, asparagus, pearl onions, carrots, and mint. The light dressing complimented the light flavor of all of the vegetables really well. I would definitely recommend avoiding eating a whole leaf of mint, though...not very pleasant.

In addition to the salad, we also started off with five bruschette: fagioli, tapenade, fig marscapone, pepperonata, caponata - also known as cannellini beans, olive spread, fig and marscapone cheese (ok that was straightforward!), stewed red peppers, and marinated eggplant. Each one was absolutely delicious and so full of flavor, but I definitely liked the pepperonata the best.

For the second round, we started with a panini, with fontina, truffle oil, spinach, mushroom. This thing was absolutely outrageous. The fontina was delicious, but what really took this thing over the top was of course the truffle oil. The bread was perfectly crunchy and provided a nice contrast to the cooked spinach and mushroom inside.

Next up was the lasagnette di melanzane, which our server described as a lasgana with thin slices of eggplant instead of noodles. The tomato sauce was so flavorful, and the fresh riccota on top was a nice touch.

To round out the entrees, we had the baked maccheroncini, which we thought was maybe a fancy version of mac & cheese. Wrong! Only thing similar about it was that it was small pasta and that there was cheese in it. But, in this dish, the pasta was served with zucchini, squash, tomatoes, a tomato sauce, and mozzarella. The garlicky flavor was so good and the tomato sauce had a lighter, tangy flavor to it, rather than a classic red sauce.

We couldn't resist trying some of the desserts, so we ordered an affogato and a Nutella panino. The affogato was a glass with two scoops of vanilla ice cream that were "drowned" in espresso at the table. I'm not a big coffee fan, but this was so delicious. The only disappointing part of the entire meal was the Nutella panino...and that is coming from someone who loves all things Nutella. There were two TINY triangles of panini with an even TINIER amount of Nutella spread in between the slices of bread. The two triangles side by side were probably the size of a credit card. After having a big panini during the main course, I expected this dessert portion to be a decent size too. Not so much.

In many recent meals, I've started to notice one thing that is quickly becoming a huge dining pet peeve of mine...the servers and busboys constantly coming by asking to clear your plates even when there are a few bites left, or clearing a tiny piece of the straw wrapper off the table. I just want to eat in peace and not to have to shift around so people can reach around me to grab things. I'm pretty sure that 'inoteca and all other restaurants do not have a shortage of plates and silverware that they need to be cleared and taken back to be washed immediately. And, I'd rather have a straw wrapper on my table than have a server's arm reach around my head to reach for it. Ok, just had to get that off my chest!!!

I guess it's tough to expect everything to be perfect when we ordered seven different dishes and when the waitstaff is still somewhat new. But, despite these small missteps, the meal and overall dining experience were fantastic. I may have finally been able to cross 'inoteca off my "to do" list, but would have no problem adding it back on to try some of the other dishes, or try 'inoteca's other locations.

323 Third Avenue
@ 24th Street
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Everything But The Kitchen Sink - NoLa Edition

Just got back from a fantastic weekend in New Orleans for my brother's graduation (Magna Cum Laude!) from Tulane University.All of the graduation festivities were great, but a huge highlight of the trip for me was the food! My brother is even more of a foodie than I am. And, after 4 years in New Orleans, he was eager to show my family some of his favorites, and also explore a few food spots he hadn't made it to yet.

Soon after landing, we headed towards a tiny BBQ joint called creatively named...The Joint! Damn good BBQ. And very cool to be able to see the smoker in action!

After graudation, we went to Willie Mae's Restaurant for some fried chicken. Willie Mae and her employees consider this to be the best friend chicken in the country. We begged to differ, but it was still very tasty...and a fun experience.
Graduation dinner was at Upperline Restaurant. The owner has an insane collection of art that decorates every inch of the restaurant and gives it a really awesome ambiance. It's almost equal parts art gallery and restaurant! And, the food was out of this world. I was a more adventurous eater than I've been in probably 15 years on this trip. A few things I had solely because of the "when in Rome..." philosophy: turtle soup, fried oysters, duck, gumbo, shrimp. Glad I tried all of this to get the full NoLa experience, but don't think I'll be eating any of that again any time soon!

And, here are a few food-related odds and ends from the rest of the weekend:

Pralines (yum) cooling in the French Quarter

Crazy assortment of Cajun spices - Voodoo seasoning, anyone?
(click to enlarge)

A lot of cities feature sculptures that are painted by local artists and places throughout the city. Cows in Chicago, apples in New York City, turtles in Charleston. In New Orleans, it's streetcars. And, this one happened to be painted like a shrimp po' boy!

Such a great weekend. As the song goes, I now "know what it means to miss New Orleans!" Congrats, Z...I am so proud of you!!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cinema Cafe - Take 2

There are some restaurants that I really want to like for various reasons, but just can't. Whether they have a great atmosphere, great location, outdoor seating, etc. Cinema Cafe is one of those. It has such potential...it's 2 blocks from my apartment, has great outdoor seating with very amusing people watching (at the prime intersection of Murray Hill), and a menu with a wide variety of food. Problem is, every time I've gone there, I've found the portions to be on the smaller size and very overpriced, and the service to be subpar.

When SS and I decided to meet there for brunch one Sunday morning, a few things went through my mind. 1) I hadn't been there for brunch in years. 2) I hadn't written about Cinema Cafe on Miss Menu. 3) I saw signs in the windows showing recession specials and prix fixe options. 4) It was pouring down rain and it was so close to both of our apartments.

Ok, maybe it was time to give Cinema a "Take 2." Even at the peak brunch hour, we were able to get a table with no wait. Things were looking up! I noticed that the prices were more in line with a normal brunch menu, so that was encouraging too. The brunch menu features an entree, a cocktail, and coffee/tea for $13.95. The same entrees are available on the regular menu for $10.95 and $11.95.

Not really in the mood to drink, I decided to order off the regular menu. I went with the wild mushroom & gruyére omelette, with shiitake, portobello, crimini, and button mushrooms. I am a huge fan of gruyere and pretty much order any dish I see that features this great cheese. The mushroom variety was a nice change from the standard button-only mushrooms. All the brunch items are served with home fries and seven-grain toast. The home fries were delicious...had a nice crunchy texture on the outside, and had onions and red peppers mixed in for a little extra flavor.

SS ordered the brunch menu and started with a screwdriver and coffee. She got the four seasons egg white omelette, with spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and tomatoes. Pretty straightforward dish, but she enjoyed it a lot.

The service was a little spotty...my water glass remained empty for most of the meal. But, I think they may have been short a server or two. Our server was friendly and very apologetic for running around so much. The ambiance is just so-so. The cinema theme gets sort of lost in the shuffle unless you're there at night, when the large projection screen showing black and white silent films is more apparent. If you have the choice, opt for a table to the right of the bar in the "lounge" area...very comfortable arm chairs!

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by my most recent experience at Cinema Cafe. Guess it helps to go in with lowered expectations, but I will definitely keep it in mind for future meals.

505 Third Avenue
@ 34th Street
Menu Pages listing

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Miss Menu Mentions - SeamlessWebber

SeamlessWeb is the "simple, fast, and fun way for you to order food online from over 2,000 of the best delivery and takeout restaurants in New York and other major cities across the US and London." I've used the site a handful of times, and must say...it is pretty darn convenient. Not to mention, it's gotta be one of the better business ideas I've come across!

SeamlessWeb has its own food and restaurant blog called Insider's Network. Here's my profile as a SeamlessWebber!

"Every Thursday, a different SeamlessWeb customer tells us all about how he or she uses the site. If you pay close attention here you just might learn something. This week we have Shayna, who is known to her friends as Miss Menu, and would be really happy if she could find a Mexican BBQ joint."


Age: 28

Occupation: Marketing Manager

SeamlessWeb User Since: December 2008

Where Do You Use SW? Home and friends' apartments

Favorite Kind of Food: Tie between BBQ and Mexican. Growing up in Atlanta, I was alway surrounded by a lot of great BBQ and Mexican places. So I love trying them in NYC to see how they compare. Some can hold their own, but others seems to be missing a little of that Southern charm!

Least Favorite Kind of Food: Indian. Try as I might, I just can't get into curries. And even when I order a "curry-less" dish like Chicken Tikka Masala, I still don't love it.

Favorite Place(s) to Order From on SW: Baby Bo's Cantina (My favorite dish is the Vegetable Enchiladas Suizas, which comes with beans and rice. The different sauces they use are incredible!), Libretto's Pizzeria (I go for the plain pizza every time. Why ruin perfection by adding toppings?), Ethos Greek Cuisine (My roommate and I have it down to a science. We order Tzatziki with pita to start. Then we share Elliniki, a classic Greek salad, and Kotopoulo Giouvetsi, which is boneless chicken breast baked in a pot with orzo, tomato sauce, and feta cheese.)

Least Favorite Thing About Calling Restaurants? Busy signals.

Closest Previous Brush with Internet Fame? I started a blog called Miss Menu as a way of sharing my great NYC dining experiences with my friends and family. A year and a half later, I still can't believe that people besides my mom and dad are reading it!

Favorite Celebrity Chef? Anthony Bourdain. He really sees an importance in learning about other countries and cultures, mostly through their cuisine. That's what I love about New York City...when you're not able to travel to those far off places, you can easily take a culinary trip around the world without leaving the five boroughs!

Favorite Cartoon Growing Up? The Simpsons. (Ed: Need we say more?)

Plans for Tonight? Going to The Australian with co-workers for Happy Hour, then heading down to the East Village for dinner and drinks with some friends at Mercadito.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Can't Judge A Menu By Its Cover

It's never safe to judge a sushi/Japanese restaurant by the looks of its delivery menu. Sometimes the sketchiest "restaurants" have really well-designed menus. And sometimes the good restaurants have really crappy menus. So, I was a little skeptical when AS suggested we go to Nomado 33 for dinner one night because I had only seen a cool looking menu slid under my door.

Nomado 33 is located directly across the street from 2nd Ave Deli, which would explain why I couldn't picture its location. I always walk on the south side of 33rd St so I can catch a whiff of the deli goodness that permeates the sidewalk! It also doesn't help that the storefront is very unremarkable. When we got there, we were both pleasantly surprised by the interior though. The space was light and modern, with windows that look out onto a "courtyard." We got there at 6:30, and it was pretty deserted...but by time we were paying the bill an hour later, about half of the tables had been filled.

Nomado 33 calls itself a sushi fushion restaurant since they incorporate food into the rolls that are anything but traditional. I glanced over the menu and a few of these caught my eye...mango, banana tempura, rolls with names like "Pizza" and "Snow White."

I started with a miso soup. It was pretty standard. I decided to order a couple rolls...the vegetable tempura roll and the bec roll. The vegetable tempura was so good. The tempura wasn't too greasy and the veggies still had a nice crunch to them. The bec roll was one of the fusion rolls, and was fantastic. It had spicy tuna, avocado, jalapeno, crunch with a soy wrap. It had all the right components...heat, texture and great fresh fish.

AS ordered the chicken teriyaki. It came with the choice of a salad or miso soup, and she opted for the miso soup as well. When the dish came out, we were both laughing at the amount of chicken that was on the plate. It was easily enough for 2, maybe 3 people. Even with me trying a few bites, there was still so much left over. The sauce had a great flavor, and the steamed broccoli that came with it was a nice addition to the side of brown rice.

Nomado 33 is a welcomed addition to the neighborhood in my book. I'm definitely looking forward to a return visit. And, I will now be adding its fancy menu to my menu box!

Nomado 33
165 East 33rd Street
b/t 3rd & Lexington Avenue
Menu Pages listing

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chef Marcela's "Fresh Mexico" Tasting Event

I was fortunate to be invited to a fantastic foodie event last night. It was a tasting and pairing to celebrate the release of Chef Marcela Valladolid's first cookbook Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor.
Growing up in Tiajuana, Mexico, attending school in San Diego, and then cooking school in Paris, Chef Marcela takes classic Mexican cooking from her childhood and adds her own twist, successfully creating simple, fresh Mexican dishes that incorporate ingredients from different cultures and cuisines.

The event was held in the penthouse suite at the Hudson Hotel. It was a gorgeous setting with great city views from the terrace.

We were greeted with Marcela's Fresh Mex Margarita, a light and refreshing cocktail. Chef Marcela spoke about the five tastings of recipes straight from the pages of her book. The owner of L.A. Cetto Vineyards also discussed the fantastic Mexican wines that he selected to pair with each course.

Rosemary-skewered shrimp

Butternut squash and chipotle soup

Easy chicken mole

Also served was a rack of lamb with ancho crust. And, to round out a delicious tasting, Marcela's mom's strawberry tartlets were brought out.

Check out Chef Marcela's website for more information about her cookbook Fresh Mexico and her show "Relatos con Sabor," which airs on Discovery en Espanol.

Food2 Freebie Friday

Today marks the first official Food2 Freebie Friday! My friends over at Food2 are giving away Food2 swag and other goodies to celebrate the launch of the site.

Check out the Freebie Friday info here...there are a few different ways to get your name in the running to win some fun/goofy stuff. Happy Freebie Friday!