Thursday, November 19, 2009

Almost as Good as Grandma's

Restaurants in NYC open, close, and change name or ownership like clockwork. It definitely must be stressful to be a restaurant owner. But, there are some restaurants that are tried and true, and have been around for years...55 years in fact. When I first moved here, I lived in the East Village, and frequented 2nd Avenue Deli a lot when they were in their original location...on 2nd Avenue. I always noticed another restaurant a block away called Veselka, but when in that area and in the mood for a diner/deli, 2nd Avenue always won out.

When my mom was visiting a few weeks ago, we were heading down to that neighborhood to walk around and wanted to find a diner for lunch. I was racking my brain, and then Veselka finally came to mind. I was excited to finally try it, and new my mom would get a kick out of trying something new...Ukrainian food!

Now, Veselka does have many of the diner staples...omelettes, sandwiches and fries, etc. But, what they are really known for are their Ukrainian specialties. My grandma used to make a huge batch of stuffed cabbage every time she and my grandpa would come visit growing up. As a child who could name the number of vegetables I used to eat on one hand, the thought of eating cabbage was always pretty frightening.

Now that I actually eat (and enjoy) vegetables, I figured this was the perfect change to try this whole stuffed cabbage thing again. I took a look over the menu and thought how it'd be fun to sample a lot of smaller Ukrainian dishes. Low and behold, they had the ideal sampler for me -- the deluxe vegetarian combination plate. This combo came with a cup of soup, side salad, meatless stuffed cabbage, kasha, and three pierogies (potato, cheese, and cabbage). The menu even pointed out that the veggie combination plate was "an excellent 'ease yourself into Ukrainian food' dish." Perfect!

The chicken noodle soup was rich, flavorful, and even sprinkled with fresh dill, just like my Grandma's. The cabbage was stuffed with a rice mixture, and topped with a delicious mushroom sauce. I could have used some extra sauce for the kasha, which was pretty dry the way it was. Each of the
pierogies were unique and very tasty, but the one stuffed with potato was my favorite.

My mom ordered the deluxe meat combination plate, which came with a cup of soup (she had mushroom barley, which was great), a side salad, one meat stuffed cabbage, two meat and two potato pierogies, and a side of beets. The beets seemed a little random, but at least it added some color to our otherwise beige plates!

Needless to say, we were stuffed after this meal! Ukrainian food is definitely the hearty type that sticks to your ribs. I'm not sure this is the kind of food I could eat every day, but it was definitely a nice change of pace...and a fun dining experience for my mom and I to share during her visit.

144 2nd Avenue
@ 9th Street
Menu Pages listing

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Classico Home Cooking

Café Classico truly is a classic café, with a menu so large and varied that there is bound be something for everyone’s tastes. The restaurant is located in the heart of Midtown on the second floor above The Great American Health Bar, so be sure to take the stairway on the left up to the restaurant unless you're craving yogurt for dinner!

Given its location, Café Classico draws a very large lunch crowd, offering quick service and reasonable prices. During the evening, the dining room is much more subdued. If possible, ask for a table along the windows. It was really enjoyable watching the hustle and bustle of 57th Street from up above in a quiet, comfortable space.

I began to peruse the menu, and there were many items that caught my eye. The options covered a variety of cuisines: Israeli dishes like kabobs and falafel, deli sandwiches with pastrami or corned beef, and Italian dishes such as pastas and chicken.

I started with the Mediterranean combo platter, which featured hummus, babaganoush, pita, Israeli salad, and pickled vegetables. The hummus and babaganoush were both very tasty, but the Israeli salad lacked any seasoning whatsoever – rather disappointing.

I ordered the Chicken Scarpariello for my entrée, which consisted of pan sautéed chicken breast with balsamic and white wine. All portions of the entrees are all very large, and each one is served with three side items: wild rice, spring vegetables, and roasted red potatoes.
The pieces of chicken were extremely tender, and the sauce was very unique and flavorful. The potatoes were roasted nicely giving them a great crispy texture. The vegetables were straightforward, but the rice was cold and bland, unfortunately.

The service at Café Classico was minimal at best, which I found to take away from the upscale image the restaurant was trying to portray. And, while the food was definitely enjoyable, I’d describe it as good home cooking at best -- certainly nothing gourmet or fancy.

And finally, a few additional Miss Menu pointers…

• It is rare to find a nicer, sit-down restaurant that does not accept credit cards, but Café Classico is cash-only.
• Private party space is available, as is catering and free delivery with an option to order online.
• The prices on the lunch menu are much lower than the diner menu, but most of the items are available at either time.
• A full sushi bar (featuring a sushi chef from Japan) was recently added to the restaurant.

Cafe Classico
35 West 57th Street
b/t 5th & 6th Avenues
Menu Pages listing