Monday, August 16, 2010

Perfect for 'Noi Due' (the Two of Us)...or the Whole Family

The Italian café Noi Due is on the lower level of an Upper West Side building, so it may be easy to walk right passed it if you’re not paying attention. But once you descend the stairs to the restaurant, it feels nothing like the basement space it’s in. It has a warm atmosphere and manages to feel like both an Italian café and an Italian restaurant.
We were greeted immediately by one of the servers, and were seated in a seat right next to the window. I glanced over the menu and was impressed with how many dozens of options there were. I thought it would be fun to share a few smaller things. We started with the funghi ripieni - stuffed mushrooms with feta cheese, baked in marinara sauce and parmigiano. They were served with a few slices of toasted bread. The marinara sauce was incredible.
It had so much flavor, and complimented the earthiness of the mushrooms and the saltiness of the feta cheese.

Next we had the Mediterranea salad, which had romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, olives, feta, za’atar, and a lemon vinaigrette. 

The salad was was really good, but there was entirely too much dressing.

A lot of the pizzas on the menu looked great, and it was definitely hard to narrow it down. We finally decided on the Melanzane E Formaggi Di Capra pizza, with marinara, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, eggplant, spinach, and oregano. 
The pizza was my favorite part of the meal. It had the fantastic marinara that was served on the mushrooms, but also had a great mix of toppings.

Noi Due means “the two of us” in Italian, and it is a great location for a date, whether it’s a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or a great Italian meal. But it is also a great spot for a group dinner, as long as you get there early enough to beat the crowd. I was there on the early side during the week and by time I left, the entire restaurant had filled up.

Noi Due
143 West 69th Street, basement level
b/t Columbus Avenue & Broadway
Menu Pages listing

Monday, August 2, 2010

Talia Should Be Proud

Talia’s Steakhouse has become not only a staple restaurant for Upper West Siders, but has become very popular as a destination spot for those all around the Tri-State area. The draw is very apparent from the moment you arrive.
The numerous sidewalk tables provide great seating on a nice summer evening. And the interior was dim and comfortable, albeit a bit plain.

My friend JK and I met the owner Ephraim Nagar, a lawyer turned restaurateur, who named the restaurant after his late daughter Talia. He explained how her spirit lives on in through the satisfaction and enjoyment the patrons feel during their experiences there.

We started to look over the menu, and when Ephraim walked by, I asked him what he recommended. He took the menus out of our hands and said he’d take care of ordering so we could sample a lot of the popular/best dishes. First came the Middle-Eastern platter featuring homemade hummus, Israeli salad, eggplant salad, babaganoush, coleslaw, and carrots, and each were very delicious. 

Next up was the Thai steak salad with grilled hangar steak marinated in soy sauce and lemongrass, with mixed greens, chili and red peppers, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, and hearts of palm. 

The flavor of the salad was very unique and tasty, but JK said the pieces of steak were very fatty and rubbery.

As soon as we were a few bites into the platter and salad, they were cleared away to make room for Moroccan-spiced meatballs. 

JK’s family is Moroccan and he assured me that these were so authentic they tasted just like his mother’s. They were moist and exploding with flavor in every bite.

Following the meatballs was a platter of fried appetizers including Moroccan cigars, chicken fingers, small hot dogs, and mini-borekas. These were pretty standard, and while tasty, weren’t worth filling up on. 

That plate was quickly cleared to make room for the entrees. The chicken dish had been slow-cooked in a clay pot and was some of most tender, moist chicken I’ve ever eaten. The flavor was so distinctive, and it was served with basmati rice. 

Then came the mother of all entrees: a 30oz on-the-bone prime rib for two. This was almost impressive enough to make me want to eat red meat for the first time in 15 years! 

JK said it was hands down the highest quality, leanest, most properly-cooked piece of steak he'd ever tasted. It was presented on a carving board, only adding to its appeal.

For dessert, we were served a chocolate soufflé with Tofutti vanilla ice cream and a Tofutti cheesecake. Unfortunately, the soufflé was not cooked nearly enough, and although incredibly rich and chocolately, it had the consistency of raw cake batter. 

The “cheesecake” was good, but didn’t taste anything like real cheesecake. I think true Pareve desserts would be better, rather than trying to imitate dairy desserts.

All in all this was a fantastic dining experience. Talia’s has a lot to offer everyone. There is live music played Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. There is a big screen TV showing major sporting events. Children are very welcomed at the restaurant, and a special kids menu is available. And for those who are a bit more budget-conscious, Ephraim has created a very complete Recession-Proof Menu, featuring prix-fixe meals at various price points ($13, $22, $28, and $39).

Talia's Steakhouse
668 Amsterdam Avenue
b/t 92nd & 93rd Streets
Menu Pages listing