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!

Misc. Eats

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

Remembering when I still had it easy at work and weekends were free…just need to make it through June 30. Here – a lazy Sunday lunch at the Via Carota bar, starting with fried green olives with pork sausage and a superb negroni

A huge, hands-only kamayan feast featuring banana ketchup ribs, longanisa sausage, whole head-on shrimp, braised lamb, etc. at Filipino gastropub, Jeepney, in East Village with Cahill friends. Total gut bomb.

The Macho Man sandwich from a new favorite, Court Street Grocers – heritage pork shoulder, cabot cheddar, coleslaw, pickled jalapenos and duck sauce on garlic bread. Between this, the Delight and the Cubano, I can order from here about 4 times a week. So dangerous.

Dinner with Artemis at Mario Batali’s new restaurant, La Sirena, in the Meatpacking District. Bucatini with braised octopus in spicy pomodoro sauce and then ravioli all’amatriciana with spring onion butter…quite tasty but wasn’t crazy about the atmosphere, the service or the scene

Lunch at Legend near Washington Square Park with the family. We ordered our usual dishes – spicy lamb with cumin, spicy beef tendon with chili vinaigrette and a seriously delicious whole braised fish with spicy bean sauce – and went for a really long walk afterwards to recover

Sunday night shellfish bake at North End Grill – half a Maine lobster, head-on prawns, clams, new potatoes and corn in an addictive garlic butter and then sweet gem lettuce and blue cheese dressing on the side. Not pictured: duck fat fries and a lot of white wine.

The famous, substantial duck carnitas at Cosme…’nuff said.

Late night eats at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken…my ultimate weakness.

Momofuku Nishi

June 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at Momofuku Nishi, David Chang’s newest NYC restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood, featuring a kind of mash-up of Korean and Italian food.  The interior is typical for Chang’s restaurants (spare, not particularly comfortable furniture and a cramped, loud space with mostly communal seating) and service would sometimes disappear and pop up again randomly, but there were a number of interesting dishes that conveyed the concept particularly well and made the visit worthwhile…

To start: whole fried shrimp with salt and pepper…a perfect bar snack to pop into your mouth, head, legs and all, while drinking a refreshing beer or cocktail. Crunchy and heavily seasoned, brightened with a squeeze of lime.

Instead of getting any protein-heavy dishes (the brisket had run out by the time we arrived), we ordered a number of pastas, including the much-hyped ceci e pepe with chickpea hozon and black pepper, a funky take on the classic Roman pasta. Here, the usual pecorino cheese is swapped for a chickpea miso-esque substance that doesn’t skimp on the umami and maintains that velvety texture.  It looks super simple on the plate but don’t expect it to be bland.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening, Nishi’s Asian take on chicken and dumplings. It was a lighter version of the Southern comfort dish, with strong hits of toasted sesame oil, wide flat noodles and meaty, smoky shiitake mushrooms. It reminded me of the minimalist, medicinal soups that my mom and dad would prepare when my sisters and I were young, consisting mainly of a milky bone broth made pork back bones, sesame oil and other Asian ingredients like goji berries and ginseng.

Here, clams grand lisboa, a potentially great dish that was unfortunately way over-salted on our visit (and I tend to like a lot of seasoning). Topped with tender clams, the noodles were cooked like Spanish fideos or Cantonese pan-fried noodles, with crunchy, almost charred noodles around the perimeter and heavily sauced, softer noodles in the middle. At some point, I’d like to try a better executed version of this dish because it has everything that I like – briny seafood, lots of different textures and an interesting sauce.

Our final pasta dish, spicy beef Sichuan noodles, a decent dish but not particularly memorable. It evoked a hybrid of pappardelle bolognese (and looks a lot like it too) and the addictive sauce in the spicy pork sausage and Chinese broccoli dish at Ssam Bar but didn’t have as much of a kick as I would’ve expected from a dish labeled “Sichuan”.

We also tried the fried fingerlings with smoked yolk and tarragon and while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t really care for the large, thick chunks of potato, which were missing that crispy exterior and creamy interior that I look for in any fried potato dish.

Dessert, however, was delicious and wonderfully simple. We ordered the pistachio bundt cake with ricotta because everyone had been raving about it and it was a lovely, not-too-sweet slice offset by the tangy cream. So many carbs in one meal…in the end, while I was happy to have tried this cross-cultural restaurant, it will be a while before I feel the need to go back.

Eats Downtown

May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

Still catching up on posting…these are from a few months back when I knew I was leaving Cahill and started scaling back on work to take some off-campus lunches and catch up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Dinner at Untitled at the Whitney. We started off with Carolina rice fritters that came smeared with chicken liver and pickled carrots and lamb meatballs with peanuts and guajillo pepper. A super fancy, farm-to-table version of bar snacks.

Instead of ordering heavier main dishes, we shared the beef tartare with chestnuts and winter squash; cauliflower, cardamom custard and lemon; and sunchokes with bacon and cloumage cheese, which was my favorite of the three.

And because we’d decided not to drink any booze, we justified ordering two desserts – the hot fudge truffle cake with creme fraiche which I could only handle two bites of, it was so rich, and the ridiculous, giant banana hazelnut praline cake with concord grape sauce. Not bad for a weeknight meal.

 I also got lunch with Bert and Artemis at Tribeca favorite, Little Park, conveniently located right outside the Chambers Street subway stop. Here are the charred broccoli with radish, blood orange and pancetta with the roasted carrots with sesame, dukkah and honey. I normally don’t really care for carrots but this was an interesting sweet and savory take thanks to the dukkah, which I’d never really tasted, and honey.

A favorite dish from a previous visit – the crispy brussels sprouts with parsnip and apple cider. These taste a lot like the sprouts from Rouge et Blanc…mainly in that they’re both hella fried and have a nice acidic bite to them. I could eat bowls and bowls of these no problem.

My main of rainbow trout, fingerling potato, dill and celery. A nice, light take on the fish salad combination. Which was good considering I was meeting up with old high school friends at Khe-Yo later that evening.

Aforementioned dinner with Lucy and Steph at Khe-Yo, also in Tribeca, although a totally different cuisine. It was one of the few times I’d ever had Laotian and man, is it addictive (and spicy). Here is the smashed green papaya salad with fried pork rinds on top and their two famous sauces (one of which basically just singes all your tastebuds off if you’re not careful).

A gout-tastic dish of steak tartare hidden underneath just-fried shrimp chips served with bone marrow and a bunch of uni heaped on top (no big deal).

Super succulent, tender and slightly sweet Berkshire pork spare ribs with a smashed long bean salad that I didn’t really care for.

And the day’s special and indisputable show-stopper, half a roasted pig’s head served with accoutrements like herbs, noodle salad and peanuts, all of which you wrap with sauce in rice paper that’s soaked and softened at the table. Unsurprisingly, I was really struggling by the end of this meal and took a painful hour long walk to feel somewhat back to normal.

 

Nopa

January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

My last dinner in San Francisco took place at industry favorite and late night spot, Nopa. Multiple people had recommended it to me (both recent visitors and locals) and after a super fun but tiring day at a 49-ers game (my first NFL game ever!) in the brand new Levi’s Stadium and a nice long nap, I was ready to eat a ton of delicious food.  We managed to get some seats at the bar after a half hour wait around 10 p.m. I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shirdoo got one of their whisky cocktails and we started with their fusilli with lamb sugo, scallions and toasted fennel. Comfort on a plate…so warm and flavorful and perfect for a chilly evening. 

We also got the wood oven-roasted mackerel with pickled beets, egg salad, radishes and rye toast, which was my favorite dish of the night. Again, I am a sucker for mackerel and this was a really nice version that reminded me of traditional offerings at your classic New York Jewish delis. The skin was slightly charred and crispy and the meat lightly cooked and complemented by the pickles and rye. Being a total potato-whore, I also really enjoyed the french fries with ketchup and red pepper feta aioli but didn’t really pay much attention given how good our other dishes were.

Last dish of the night was also a show-stopper: grilled squab with marinated potatoes and Mediterranean salad. Seriously beautiful to look at and served with all the nasty, innard-y (and yummy) bits of the bird. The flavors from the accompanying salad were also really bright and fresh, with a slight sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. We finished our meal with a couple glasses of dry sherry that the bartender recommended (service, by the way, was outstanding throughout the night) and left around midnight super full and sleepy (will also note that the restaurant was still buzzing when we were leaving). A wonderful ending to my first time in California and I will definitely be back soon.

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.

Eats around town

November 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Phi and Vikki visited a while back during the summer (don’t think I’d seen them in 3 or 4 years, maybe even longer) and one of the stops on our eating tour was Eataly, where we got the mixed salumi and cheese platter. So good to see them, even though I ended up totally stuffed when we finally called it a day.

A favorite in the Financial District: Harry’s Italian square pies – 1/2 pepperoni and eggplant, 1/2 sausage and broccoli rabe (gotta get some veg), half of which usually gets eaten by Bert.

The beautiful charred lamb breast with giant roti at Rouge et Blanc

Another solid restaurant from Andrew Carmellini in The Dutch. This wagyu steak tartare had sunflower seeds and pickled ramps.

Mini high school reunion featuring Momofuku’s fried chicken dinner at Noodle Bar. Amazing.

Months later, we had another reunion at Pig and Khao and got this crazy sizzling sisig with pork head, chili and fried egg

Finally, a weekend trip to Charlottesville for another high school friend’s wedding yielded some super tasty tagliatelle with braised lamb, eggplant and feta and an enormous pork belly gyro

A second time at Marea

October 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dinner with Bert, Cindy and Artemis at Marea a few months back (so behind on posting) included some seriously tasty food. Dainty amuse bouches, compliments of the chef, and some cocktails to start (Bert’s is the girliest looking of the three).

Starters of lobster with burrata (my favorite despite the weird combo of seafood and dairy), crab cakes with artichokes and seasonal soft-shelled crab.

For our pasta course, we all opted for the justifiably famous fusilli with bone marrow and baby octopus in red wine sauce. Always so satisfying and perfectly balanced.

Main courses included the giant seared scallops with potatoes and morels (again, one of my favorites from the last time I visited), roasted halibut with nettles and the most enormous portion of rack of lamb I’ve ever seen.

We were so stuffed by the time dessert came around that I didn’t even take photos but that didn’t stop us from first going to the bar at the NoMad Hotel and helping ourselves to some Manhattans and then even more wine at Lelabar. Such a fun evening with a great group of people.

Truffle tasting menu at Babbo

April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nothing like a black truffle tasting menu lunch at Babbo in the Greenwich Village to start off a relaxing weekend:

Beef carpaccio with shiitake and parmigiano, showered with black truffles – paper thin beef paired with sharp, nutty cheese made for a flavorful but surprisingly light start

Agnolotti filled with braised beef, covered in black truffles – probably my favorite course of the four because I am a pasta slut…especially when it comes to any version that comes dressed in a buttery sauce

Porcini-rubbed hanger steak with new potatoes and shaved black truffles – a pretty small portion but super generous with the truffles (as were all our courses, actually). Cooked perfectly.

Tartufo of vanilla gelato with cherries, Sicilian pistachios and black truffle shell – simple and straightforward dessert use of black truffles that I wouldn’t have considered

Mignardises

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