Cafe Altro Paradiso

August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

There are lots of wonderful restaurants and bars in my neighborhood, but Cafe Altro Paradiso is my latest obsession and I think I’ve been 4 or 5 times in the last month or so.  Its location is a bit odd as it’s set back from 6th Avenue on Spring Street behind a small square that’s almost always under some kind of construction but once you walk inside, you’re welcomed into a beautiful, airy and light-filled space with a decently sized brass bar. Also, as someone who is constantly craving Italian food, I love that the menu features a lighter touch on pastas and main dishes, which is better for the summer, as opposed to the classic Roman-style food at Lupa (which I will always love despite the fact that it doesn’t do my waistline any favors).

I typically like to go by myself on the weekends for a late lunch and sit at the bar and love that they stay open between lunch and dinner service with a smaller menu. My favorite cocktail there is the Skinned Knee (tequila, mezcal, Cynar, grapefruit, lemon and orange) and I start with the arancini, addictive crispy rice fritters filled with piping hot and gooey fontina that comes with a spicy Calabrian chili sauce, with the perfect hit of vinegar. They also have a refreshing fennel salad with Castelvetrano olives and provolone. It comes out looking like a giant heap of white sliced vegetables but once you begin to dig in, there’s lovely snaps of sharp cheese and buttery olives and you actually get to feel quite virtuous eating it.

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On another visit, I ordered the prawn crudo with cherries and capers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s still on the menu, but I really, really loved this dish. Not only was it beautifully presented but I liked that the crudo was sliced razor thin and the sweet cherries and briny capers balanced each other out nicely. Perfect summer dish.

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One other visit, I had the burrata with roasted peppers, raisins and capers. Again, wonderful for the summer and even though I usually don’t like fruit in savory dishes, the plump raisins were a nice touch against creamy, fresh burrata and the smoky-flavored peppers. Also, I need to figure out what olive oil they use because it may be some of the best I’ve had.

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My most recent visit, I ordered the malfatti, these cloud-light ricotta dumplings with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and pecorino. I couldn’t believe how quickly these melted in my mouth and really appreciated the meatiness and savoriness of the pancetta. I definitely need to go back and have it one more time before the tomato season ends (by the way, it’s a bit insane that it’s already mid-August…where has the summer gone??).

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I’m not usually a dessert person, but during my last visit, I ended up at the bar for a good three hours or so, when Jackie could finally join me after work. She’s a big ice cream fanatic and so we ordered the blood-orange Campari sorbet and fig-vin santo gelato, both of which were interesting flavors and delicious. The sorbet was my favorite for its slight bitterness and citrusy bite.

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Ever since my first meal here, I’ve been raving about Altro Paradiso to anyone who’d listen. It’s a perfect neighborhood spot where you can come in with a bigger group, order everything and have a fun, rowdy dinner or you can go in solo and just hang out at the bar and have too many cocktails with an antipasti platter. The service is always so friendly and chill and though it can get packed during dinner on the weekends, for lunch it’s one of my favorite places to go. In fact, I’ll probably find myself back there this coming weekend.

Solo Dining at the Bar

March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of solo bar dining when I get a lazy and quiet Saturday or Sunday. Some people are tentative about dining alone but it can be really enjoyable to take some time to oneself with a good book or even your phone. Usually, I try to go to a restaurant during off hours, around 3pm (assuming the restaurant remains open between lunch and dinner service), so I can take up my little slice of the bar and chat with the bartender or other patrons without having to yell. Below are some places I’ve gone to recently where I really enjoyed my experience:

Via Carota: Spicy shrimp pomodoro atop a super flavorful, slightly cheesy polenta. I also always start with the fried olives wrapped in pork sausage…the perfect bar food.

Aquagrill: Oysters and littlenecks with house cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette. This place has been open for 20+ years and tends to get pretty packed during prime lunch, brunch and dinner hours but around 3pm, you can usually snag a seat. My usual approach is ordering 6 west coast and 6 east oysters – I leave the particular details to the awesome shuckers – and then some sparkling white wine and maybe french fries on the side.

Union Square Cafe 2.0: The new space is gorgeous and definitely evocative of the original. Service was, as expected, incredibly friendly, and I really enjoyed my spontaneous lunch here when I took a day off. There’s a small bar on one of the upper levels as well so will definitely want to go back and get a seat there next time.

Fried calamari with peppers and anchovy mayonnaise

Rainbow trout with roe, rye, leafy greens, buttermilk and fingerling potatoes

Babbo: I came here for an early dinner after skipping lunch. Vibe at the bar is super casual and low-key even though the food is a bit more high end than Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s more casual places in the neighborhood like Lupa and OTTO. Here, a fantastic roasted butternut squash with goat cheese and black truffle honey that was the right balance of sweet and savory.

Chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Excellent for the early cold evening.

Augustine: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this place (it’s Keith McNally’s most recent restaurant) but have to say the food and the ambiance lived up to expectations. It really does feel like you’re in an old school Parisian bistro (also…the way to the bathroom takes you through the incredibly beautiful Beekman Hotel lobby that’s perfect Instagram fodder) and my cheese souffle with cave-aged gruyere and parmesan and horseradish fondue was absolutely insane. Rich and cloud light at the same time.

I also ordered the sea urchin spaghettini with king crab and pickled jalapenos with my main and they did not skimp on the ingredients. So damned good, and at 3:30p on a Wednesday, so quiet compared to what I’m sure is a madhouse on a Friday night!

The lobby inside the Beekman Hotel

Finally, the NoMad Hotel: Excellent cocktails and a sandwich version of their famous roasted chicken dish, with black truffle and foie gras on brioche and a side salad (because I guess you need some green every once in a while). The cocktail was called the Start Me Up, a super tasty concoction of bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon bitters. A great Saturday afternoon.

So even if you’re tentative about dining alone at the bar, I really do think it’s one of the most relaxing and stress-releasing things you can do for yourself. It’s probably easiest to go to a restaurant you’re already familiar with so you feel comfortable and just remember to bring a good book (or your iPad) and open yourself up to conversation with the bartenders or other customers. Sometimes you meeting really fascinating people!

Rebelle and Bowery Meat Company

September 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at  the lovely Rebelle, on the Bowery, with Vanessa way back. We’d tried to eat at another restaurant in the East Village but the wait was too long and we were famished for some good food and wine. Upon arriving, we were seated immediately and dug right into some crusty miche with ramp butter, raw oysters with a punchy mignonette and a glass of nice, crisp champagne. Bread, butter and oysters…a great meal in itself.

But, per usual, we didn’t stop there and ended up ordering a slew of other dishes, including the beef tartare; white asparagus and seared scallops. The beef tartare was a wonderful mix of textures – chewy, high-quality beef with a smooth sunchoke cream, spicy, pungent kick from the horseradish and garlic combination and salty crunch from sliced fried sunchokes. The seasonal white asparagus with beurre blanc and summer truffle appeared rather simple but was a highly finessed, earthy dish and the scallops with uni, turnip and squid ink balanced marine briny-ness with a pop of sweet apple.

Finally, even after all that, we were still hungry and decided to share a main course of roast duck with frisee, pistachio and pickled pearl onions. It was cooked to pink perfection with crispy skin (and just the right amount of fat left) with a delicious glaze and crunch from the nuts. The service and ambience were also all-around good, so will definitely try to come back some time, especially during the winter when the menu has changed and I’m craving a fat glass of red wine and even richer, heartier dishes.

 

Same neighborhood, different restaurant – Bowery Meat Company for an impromptu dinner as a break from work. Given how giant and rich portions were during my first visit, we decided to stick with oysters (raw and broiled) to start as opposed to any of the other appetizers and then our separate mains. Our beau soleil oysters came with pineapple cucumber salsa and the kumamotos with wasabi leaf and lemon. Refreshing and perfect for the summer. The broiled oysters with garlic, romano cheese, bread crumbs and parsley were a totally different take and though I usually prefer my oysters raw, these were so cheesy and indulgent that I kind of forgot about the beau soleils and kumamotos.


For our mains, I ordered the Bowery steak with salsa verde and whipped potato – a nice medium-rare with crusty char and a offset by the herbaceous salsa and Chris got the bone-in filet mignon au poivre. Sides were the memorable sour cream and onion hash brown we got during our first visit and then spring peas because, you know, green. A nice, quiet meal right before my summer got insanely busy, at a restaurant that’s normally quite packed, noisy and to be honest, too scene-y for my taste.

Paris, Part 2

April 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

Second half my Paris re-cap: Vanessa and I ate lots and lots of raw, super fresh oysters throughout our trip. It was crazy how ubiquitous they were and always so delicious (didn’t get a stinker the entire time we were there). Here is a starter before a much heavier meal at seafood-oriented Marius et Janette, right before Dita’s show at Crazy Horse.

We visited the Musee d’Orsay, one of my favorite museums in the world, and got lost in some Impressionist art one afternoon.

Browsed beautiful Astier de Villatte ceramics while shopping on the super luxurious Rue Saint Honore.

Stopped by Cafe de Flore for champagne and potato chips. This is what we loved most about Paris…falling into the leisurely habit of sitting at a sidewalk cafe, people watching and not worrying about where to hurry to next. By the end of the trip, we were total pros.

A crazy good meal at Le Servan, run by sisters Tatiana and Katia Levha, where they’re cooking up some seriously creative and slightly Asian-inflected food in an airy and almost Williamsburg-esque bistro. This was the first time Vanessa had ever had veal sweetbreads (this version was roasted and perfectly tender) and I don’t think she was disappointed.

After Le Servan, we stopped by Prescription for some really great cocktails…I think I had about 10 different kinds of booze this night (something gin + citrus based, their version of a Negroni, their version of a Penicillin, shots of rum and on and on and on) while Vanessa fell in love with their gin + tonics and kept throwing them back. By the time they were closing up shop, we were so hammered that we asked the bartenders for their late night food recommendations and at their suggestion, ended up at a place called Chez Denis in the middle of nowhere that was literally just a bistro open late. Groups of inebriated people were eating full meals with bottles of wine at 5 in the morning and neither of us could comprehend how the French could eat so much but there you have it.

Some more culture…this time at the Musee de l’Orangerie right on the edge of the Jardins des Tuileries, which I’d never visited before. We started with the two stunning circular rooms of Claude Monet’s water lilies, where we just sat there for a long while to take everything in, and then progressed through the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection.

I also really love works by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, so when I found out there was a standalone exhibit of his works and studio near the Centre Pompidou (admission is free, by the way), we popped by for a quick visit (the atelier is only four rooms). I mean…just look at that! I really liked that he was so particular and personally tied to his pieces that he planned exactly which sculpture went where and even refused to sell pieces that were especially dear to him.

Tasting menu at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the Saint Germain neighborhood. While not as thrilling as I thought it would be (there were also a lot of Americans there, which made it feel more like a tourist destination than anything else), the service was impeccable and some of the dishes were truly standout, such as this chestnut soup with seared foie gras hidden beneath.

A flower vendor on a romantic rainy day…

The awe-inspiring stained glass windows at Sainte-Chappelle on the Ile de la Cite in the heart of Paris.

My crazy-good braised veal cheeks and buttery potatoes at the homey, modest-looking Chez L’Ami Jean. This meal, even though relatively low-key compared to some others we had, was among my favorites. We started with a comforting Parmesan soup that was perfect for the rainy weather, this as a main dish (goddamn, those potatoes) and then the biggest and richest bowl of rice pudding (with candied nuts and salted caramel sauce) that anyone had ever seen. It was also very cool to see the chef Stephane Jego and his cooks plating each dish in the open kitchen.

More art, this time at the relatively new Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation, which was currently featuring contemporary Chinese artists. Below is a photo of the gorgeous grotto on the lower level.

Our last dinner at David Toutain was another highlight. Everything about the restaurant – the interiors, the ceramics and flatware, the service (our hip-looking server actually lived and worked in Brooklyn for a while) and of course, the food, was incredible. There was a smoked eel dish in black sesame that absolutely blew our minds and the below, perfectly cooked lamb with asparagus and spring vegetables. Amazing. We were so sad our trip was coming to an end.

After dinner, we went to a bar called Le Calbar, where all the friendly bartenders were serving well-made cocktails in their boxers. Yet again, we met some friendly locals and ended up closing down the bar. A great last night out.

Our last day in Paris consisted of a lot of shopping and running errands before our flight. I stopped in Deyrolle, mainly to ogle the gorgeous displays of insects and butterflies, and considering picking up something but couldn’t figure out how to fit a fragile glass frame in my already-stuffed suitcase. So sad.

Sigh…last lunch at our good ol’ Cafe Varenne. It’d become our place for morning coffee and breaks in the middle of the day and now, we were having our last meal of charcuterie, cheese and frites. It was a beautiful sunny day and we got to sit outside and enjoy our last bit of freedom before heading home to New York. It was, all in all, a dream trip where we got to eat and drink extremely well, meet some warm and friendly locals, experience art and culture and most importantly, just relax and soak up the beauty of Paris as much as we possibly could. It was so hard to leave (I was thinking about my next trip on the flight back) and settle back into reality upon our return (though I did pick up some good butter and a jar of cornichons at Murray’s Cheese the morning after I got back) but I know that I will be back soon.

 

Paris, Part 1

April 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Vanessa and I recently went on a dream trip to Paris and by the end, neither of us wanted to come back. Both of us had visited before so our main objectives this time around were simply eating and drinking as much great food and wine as possible, wandering aimlessly a la flaneur, meeting cute French guys and getting in some serious shopping, all of which we handily accomplished and then some.

We stayed in a seriously gorgeous AirBnb 2 bedroom apartment on the left bank in the St. Germain area, a neighborhood I fell in love with the last time I visited, full of charming boutiques and bistros and of course…the department store, Le Bon Marche. Assuming that I get to visit Paris more regularly in the future, I would stay here again and again.

We had our first lunch at Cafe Varenne, just down the street from our apartment and a sentimental favorite from my last time in Paris. A bottle of red wine (by the way, we couldn’t get over how inexpensive great red wine was in Paris…it made NYC prices look like absolute gouging), steak and frites and we were super happy campers, despite the lack of sleep.

Dinner at the super hip, draped-in-velvet Hotel Costes…where you could smoke on the terrace and all the servers were beautiful. We shared a bottle of champagne and then I had a lighter dinner of sweet, freshly grilled langoustines with some greens.

Another epic meal of the trip at L’Avant Comptoir, the standing-only bar next to the famous bistro, Le Comptoir. We had SO much fun here just drinking and eating small bites and shocking the bartender, Baptiste, at how much we could stuff down our gullets over the course of about six (yes, that’s right, six) hours. I really loved the communal Bordier butter (Vanessa became obsessed) and bread as well as the giant jar of cornichons (NYC DOH would have fainted). Also…there were a lot of cute, friendly French men here which may have contributed to why we stayed so long…

Menu items hanging from the ceiling

Some of the 16 dishes (again…it was an epic meal) that we ordered over the course of several hours – duck sausage hot dog, blood sausage with brandied apples, shishito peppers, giant slab of Bordier butter, gratineed scallop and oh…just our third bottle of wine…

One of the most special meals we had was a lunch at L’Arpege, a 3-Michelin starred restaurant with a focus on vegetables (which we were actually thankful for after our meat-heavy binge at L’Avant Comptoir). We started with more champagne (a habit we eagerly adopted during the rest of our trip) and the lightest black pepper and onion pastry.

Some other highlights of the tasting menu were the perfectly cooked Dover sole with charred cabbage and their version of bouillabaisse. Such bright and clean flavors and again, surprisingly light. Just look at those pops of color!

Some non-food related activities: a visit to Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre neighborhood and then seeing Dita von Teese (one of my ultimate girl crushes) perform a seriously amazing show at the famous club, Crazy Horse.

Stayed tuned for more in the next post!

Eats around town

January 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

A delicious brunch with Bohee at Claudette, right by Washington Square Park, consisting of their chicken liver mousse with soft, squishy pain Tunisien and a super juicy lamb burger

Another solo visit to Via Carota in the middle of a day of errands. The bartender highly recommended the lemon grilled chicken and though it didn’t sound particularly thrilling on the menu, I was impressed (and it’s so cute!)

Craftbar with co-workers – delicious burrata, kale (meh) and winter squash salad, duck hearts and dumplings and of course, the oozy pecorino fonduta, my favorite item on the menu

Lunch at old reliable, Charlie Bird – diver scallops with brown butter and Sicilian lemon and mezze paccherie with suckling pig and saffron ragu (and their addictive house-made chili oil). I should probably start trying more new places but am a huge creature of habit.

Toro

January 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

Lately, one of my favorite restaurants in the city has been Toro, the giant Spanish restaurant owned by Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette in the Meatpacking District, right next to the West Side Highway. They manage to do everything right here (which is impressive considering their extensive and varied menu) and the service is absolutely awesome. There have been many instances where I’ll go with a few friends after a late night at work, grab seats at the bar and order a bunch of tapas along with whatever wine/cider/cocktail the bartenders recommend that evening. Sometimes we end it after a couple bites but most nights (especially if it’s during the weekend or a special occasion), we’ll order multiple rounds and even partake in trying the porron, a traditional Catalan drinking vessel, or bone marrow luge. I even decided to have my birthday dinner here. Below are some of my favorite dishes after multiple visits and menu changes. If you ever have a chance to go, I seriously recommend it for a fun, casual night out.

Classic jamon serrano – rosier and less salty than its Italian counterpart, prosciutto

Grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette seasoning and aged cheese – super rich in the best possible way

Fideos with clams and peppers (I actually like this broken-noodle dish more than the paella below)

Grilled razor clams with piquillo pepper, garlic and lemon – briny with a touch of acidity and a good amount of meatiness

Caviar, sea urchin and quail egg with jamon iberico – ultimate indulgence in a single spoon and understandably, my friend Vanessa’s favorite dish of them all

Bacalao (salt cod) fritters with tempura lemon rings and aioli – a classic and exemplar of anything fried

A sea urchin crudo special with shiso strongly recommended by our favorite bartender, Ken

Seared foie gras with seckle pear and marcona almonds

Paella with shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo and chicken, complete with the required crispy and slightly burnt soccarat on the bottom

Mushrooms, cooked on the plancha (a sort of super-hot flattop), with a beautiful farm egg

Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad, beef cheek marmalade and grilled bread. This is probably my favorite (and one of the most gluttonous) dishes at Toro. It’s well-balanced between the fatty marrow and the tart and peppery salad AND it enables you to do the bone marrow luge (where you pour some dry sherry down the scooped out bone and take it like a shot).

 

Via Carota in Late Summer

September 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

From an impromptu dinner at the Via Carota bar sometime in late summer:

Juicy, fresh heirloom tomatoes with bottarga and scallions; thinly sliced beef carpaccio with porcini mushrooms, sharp parmesan and black truffles

Garlic scapes with grilled polenta and pancetta, something that would be equally great for breakfast (maybe with the addition of a fried egg)

Two classics – the fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic and the pappardelle with wild boar ragu, a killer pasta dish

Beautifully set panna cotta with olive oil, sea salt and macerated sour cherries – a perfect dessert with great texture and not too much sugar

Our view from the beautiful bar

 

Maialino and some bar favorites

June 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite bars in NYC is Booker and Dax, right next to Momofuku Ssam Bar in the East Village. They have really well made cocktails (I’ve never ordered something there that I didn’t like but the bee sneeze and the tropical thunder are my favorites) and there’s no standing so customers aren’t on top of each other and you can hear what your fellow guests are saying. One night after attending an opening reception for the new Whitney Museum, we were looking to get drinks and dropped by right before closing. Started with two rounds of cocktails and then escalated to the seriously awesome 13 year old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. It was my first time trying any of the Van Winkle offerings and one could only describe it as a warm, velvet strangulation. By the time we left the bar, we were tired and struggling and in a moment of weakness, walked over to Crif Dogs on St. Mark’s to get something to soak up all of the booze we’d consumed. Ordered the jon-jon deragon (everything bagel spices, scallions and cream cheese), the chihuahua (a bacon-wrapped dog with avocado and sour cream) and the loaded tater tots – a total (but amazing) gut bomb that saved us from terrible hangovers the next day.

 

Some time late in April, Artemis and I had dinner at Danny Meyer’s Maialino right near Gramercy Park and it was such a treat. We started with the fritto misto (super crispy and surprisingly light mussels, octopus and soft shell crab) with a mayonnaise-y dip and then split two different pastas – the bucatini all’amatriciana with spicy tomato and guanciale and the tonnarelli a cacio e pepe with pecorino and black pepper. Really well executed and super flavorful despite being some of the simpler primi options on the menu.

For our main course, we split the duck arista, served with morels, spring peas and charred scallions and roasted sunchokes with maple and anchovy. Both dishes were incredibly savory. It was probably only my second time trying sunchokes and this version got me absolutely addicted. They were slightly sweet and creamy on the inside with so much umami from the anchovy. They’re no longer on the menu which makes me sad but I’ll just have to go back the next time they’re in season. We also got the opportunity to try some really amazing wines thanks to our sommelier, Paula, who was very in tune to what we were looking for and even poured a couple extra tastings for us to try. The attention to detail in the food and wine and warmth from the staff throughout made this a really enjoyable experience and Maialino remains one of my favorite restaurants in the city. There’s a reason that Danny Meyer and his team have earned so many accolades over the years.

Another bar option down in the Financial District: the relatively new Cedar Local, which is conveniently located right by the office. FiDi isn’t really known for its dining and drinking options but Cedar Local has some pretty nice cocktails (my go-to is the East Side with gin, fresh cucumber, lime and mint) and slightly fancier versions of bar food, like their plantain and potato chips nachos, sliders with dijon mustard dipping sauce and fried macaroni and cheese balls. It’s a great place to unwind after a busy day at work.

 

Here and there

June 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

Scotch eggs and steak tartare with Christine at Dead Rabbit, where she first told me she was going back to California 😦

A relaxing night in with Spunto

My first time at i Sodi with Artemis – an enormous steak with arugula and rabbit prepared porchetta-style with spinach

Enjoying a beautiful plateau and more oysters at John Dory with Christine and Laura

Trying a new dish of scallop and ham crudo at Momofuku Ssam Bar to celebrate Laura’s decision to attend Yale’s architecture grad program

An old reliable while dining solo – steak tartare and red wine at Blue Ribbon Bakery Kitchen

El Luchador – a new lunch option near the office with outdoor seating

Hot pot during a brief trip back to Edison, NJ

More solo dining while on staycation – the omakase meal at Blue Ribbon Sushi and lunch at the Lupa bar

Shots from the beautiful China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (GO)

Pork belly appetizer from Han Dynasty

Christine’s good-bye, hosted by Artemis and one of my favorite wines of the night

Excited about the next few posts coming up…whenever I manage to get to them.

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