Tuesday, May 24, 2011

ABC Kitchen

Jean-Georges Vongerichten latest restaurant has gained much media attention recently as it won this years James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. The restaurant focuses on local, sustainable, and organic ingredients for a more farm-to-table experience. Many restaurants try to to cultivate a loving relationship between delicious food and safe environmental practices; but Chef Dan Kluger nails it. To some--ABC Kitchen might seem a bit gimmicky to critics such as New York Mag's Adam Platt, but I thought it worked! Located in ABC Carpet, the space could be defined as casually elegant. Sam Sifton (New York Times writer) describes "the notion of the place is haute organic and Hamptons sustainable" as he goes on to compare it to the second homes of the wealthy. The space is brilliantly designed from the tables and chairs to the overall airy flow of the restaurant. The design also keeps to the concept using materials from local artisans to recycled paper.

But enough with the concept and on to the food! Spontaneity brought my friend Nadine and I here for lunch, so we sat at the bar. There might have been tables available, but the bar is the best spot to eat at most restaurants--in my opinion. The bartender was strictly business as he didn't seem to chatty. He gave us his recommendations and continued on. New York has been in a ramp craze for the past week, so it was a great treat when the kitchen sent out the Ramp and Goat cheese toast ($12) as compliments. The ramp toast was followed by raw diver scallops ($16) which were garnished with mint, apple, and lime. Delicious! The apple not only added flavor, but it added a nice texture component to the dish. The mint and lime made the scallops pop without taking away its fresh, delicate flavor. The pretzel dusted calamari ($13) were good, but a little salty. The calamari came with marinara and a mustard aoili that was boring--I was looking for something better. The Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad ($14) was a good way to showcase Union Square's Green Market.

The Akaushi Burger ($22) and Over Roasted Maine Lobster ($37) were a good way to finish our savory courses. I wouldn't have usually gotten a burger, but the bartender swore by it. I'm glad I got it--it was delicious. The burger was topped with pickled jalapenos and herbed mayo. The lobster was lightly seasoned with a chili vinaigrette, oregano, and lemon. I never been to Maine, but I would imagine that this dish could make any "Maine-iac" happy.

So stuffed, we ALMOST passed on dessert; but then the bartender told us that some people come just for the sundae. The sundae ($11) was a combination of salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts/popcorn, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. This dessert was killer. I couldn't stop eating it. They also sent out a complimentary cookie plate, but I was too into the sundae to fully enjoy the cookies. Now I know why ABC Kitchen is the new hot spot. It had a great atmosphere and the food is awesome. Since the restaurant is seasonal, its exciting to see what will come on the menu next!


Probably my favorite sushi spot here in the financial district. The sushi is always top quality and the service is always on tops of its game. A little pricey, but worth it.

The Samurai Roll (Spicy Blue Crab/Cucumber/Avocado/Red Snapper) with The Perfect 10(10 pieces of assorted sushi along with a spicy tuna roll)


Untitled is the name of the new cafe/restaurant inside the Whitney Museum run by the Union Square Hospitality Group. Danny Meyer's (CEO of USHG) love for art and hospitality combine to make this his second museum location--the first being The Modern, Cafe 2, and Terrace 5 located in the MoMa. Untitled is a contemporary take on the classic Manhattan Coffee Shop. The menu offers simple, yet seasonal comfort foods by Chef Chris Bradley (formerly Sous Chef at Gramercy Tavern). The "All Day Menu" offers both breakfast and lunch options. Supposedly dinner service will be happening soon on Saturday and Sundays.

Untitled was packed with people visiting the museum along with some regular neighborhood guest. My sister Kim and I sat next to one at the bar and we chatted about the restaurant scene. She loved Untitled and swore it was the best choice in the neighborhood. I'm not too familiar with the restaurant scene up there in the East 70's, but I'll take her word for it. We all chatted about how comfortable the bar chairs were...just saying!

Soha, a "tabla alumni" and good friend was working behind the bar showcasing her warm personality and knowledge of the menu. Paper menus doubled as place-mats while water glasses doubles as wine glasses. The cafe was pretty busy and they don't accept reservations so waiting a few minutes for a table is almost guaranteed. The chalkboard behind the bar serves as a "shout-out" to all their suppliers (an important aspect of Meyer's englightened hospitality).

The aged Gouda grilled cheese ($11) used thick cut bread and was cooked perfectly. A grilled cheese sandwich might seem simple, but its delicious when done right. The Untitled burger ($14) came with aged cheddar, roasted tomato, and grilled onions. The burger was well cooked and flavorful, but nothing to bring me back. Although we weren't boozing, the cafe offers wine, beer, and 3 cocktail options (bloody mary, mimosa, grapefruit/campari).

Its quite a trek for me, so I don't see myself returning to Untitled, unless its to visit some old Tabla friends.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Vegas (continued)

I forgot to include two dining experiences while in Las Vegas.

Mr. Luckys and Pink Taco, which are both in the Hard Rock. Mr Luckys is a popular spot among casino guests as its always crowded. They have some pretty good deals, but I wasn't impressed. I got wings and Ed got chicken tenders (3 little pieces). I got the wings, but they were less than memorable. I didn't feel too lucky with Mr. Luckys. Pink Taco on the other hand was a good spot. I've been here before for some margaritas and tacos; but this time we went for breakfast. I got a solid breakfast for a $10, so I guess its safe to say that I love the Pink Taco. Damn, I should have got a shirt!


Only a few hours after leaving the palms, we found ourselves getting ready for Wet Republic. Wet Republic is the "ultra pool" at the MGM Grand occupying 53,000 sq ft. Wet Republic boasts two pools, which takes up 6.000 sq ft of the space. The space is pretty remarkable--decorated in hot, clean colors it looked too nice for the madness that would occur. We got to Wet Republic on the early side, but the party was in full swing by noon. We opted to get a poolside Cabana, which is the way to go in my opinion. Sure, the bungalows are equipped with a jacuzzi, TV, Nintendo Wii, refrigerator, and misting system; but the bungalows are away from the pool--where all the action happens. The super VIPs partying in the bungalows probably missed the engaged lady who took off her top or the two cabanas who kept making it "rain"; but then again I'm sure they were having their fun. Granted the bungalows are ridiculous, its just cool to be in the heart of the party. Wet Republic also offers daybeds, dance floor tables, chase lounge chairs, and tables in the lounge (shaded bar area). No matter where you are, you will have a ball. Hopefully you won at the casino the night before because Wet Republic could run you some serious dough, but it might be worth it considering
it could be the "best day of your life".

The service was good, our cocktail server was very attentive and kept the bottles coming. All the servers seemed to be models, but thats not surprising at this point. She kept the alcohol flowing and even found some coconut milk for our hungover friend who will remain nameless. Food came and went, but it was just an afterthought to all the madness that was around. Security tried to enforce such rules as "no jumping into the pool" and "no splashing", but tipping them will make them go away...untill you become totally obnoxious. The DJ was awesome, playing some awesome tunes from start till finish. He got the crowd going, especially when he played the "Bin Laden is Dead" house beat.

I've thrown some bangers down at my LBI house, but none could compare to the beautiful chaos known as Wet Republic. I definitely recommend experiencing this--atleast once in your lifetime.

After the pool, the guys found themselves on a heater, so we missed going out to a nice dinner. Instead we hopped into a party bus and headed over the Cosmopolitan. We had a very casual dinner at The Henry. I got a burger, which was decent and washed in down with a well-made Manhattan! After dinner, we hung out at Bond, where the drinks kept flowing. It was a cool hangout while we talked about what'd we do for the rest of the night. Going to Vegas with a bunch of gamblers is dangerous, because you find yourself gambling ALL THE TIME. Well, take a guess to what we did after a few drinks at Bond. Thats right, we gambled some more. Actually, thats how we spent the rest of the night.

Sunday arrived and we were all hurting. Our bodies couldn't handle this college lifestyle that the weekend brought. After taking awhile to reboot, we headed over to Planet Hollywood to stay for our final night. Dave and I headed to the sports book in PH, but it sucked so we decided to try out the blackjack tables. After a little run, we headed up to the room to get the other guys. Flight complications kept us in the room for a bit until we headed to Hooters. I don't care what anyone says about Hooters--I love it. Whether I'm in NJ, NY, VEGAS, etc--I love hooters. I think there wings are awesome and despite what Chris Rock says--I would go there just for the wings. The service was kind of slacking, but the food was on point and thats why we went. Our bio-chem server chatted us up and even try to embarrass the birthday boy; but he was having it. Hooters had some good beer specials, so it was a good choice for a sunday hangout.

After hooters, Dave and Ed headed to the airport to catch an early flight home while Matt and I headed to the "Pleasure Pit". NO, the "Pleasure Pit" isn't a strip club! Its a section of Planet Hollywood's casino where all beautiful girls are dealers. Every single girl is a dime, so it make its easy when you donate. Not only are the girls smoke-shows, but they make playing fun. We stayed on the tables for awhile then headed to bed--knowing we had an early flight home.

I've been to Vegas 7 times or so and it always seems to surprise me. It had a way of reinventing itself, while keeping its reputation for pure fun and insanity. My advice for anyone planning a trip...

1-Go for a weekend--no more! (Two days might not seem like a long time, but you don't sleep so its plenty of time. In fact, its all your body can handle)
2- Splurge (In the wise words of Morven, "Its only money--you'll make more tomorrow")
3-Budget. This might seem weird coming after my advice to splurge, but you don't want to blow your load in one night.
4-TIP...it'll getcha places!
5-LIVE IT UP! You only live once

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sin City (Day 1)

Oscar Wilde wrote, "I can resist everything except temptation." Well Mr. Wilde would have been in trouble in Las Vegas, because its a city full of temptation--gambling, girls, gluttony, and everything in between.

After working Thursday night, I got home around 1 am and started packing for my flight at 6am. Excited for my trip, I thought it was a good idea to skip sleeping so I stayed up and watched Top Chef reruns till 4, when I decided to start my trip to the airport. After an uncomfortable flight and still no sleep, I landed in Vegas. You feel like a different person as soon as you land and that person doesn't usually return till you're in transit back...when you're hating yourself for being so hungover.

I arrived at the Hard Rock Casino and barely had enough time to change before we hit the Marquee pool party at the Cosmopolitan. Here we got a Grand Cabana, which featured individual infinity pools, TVs, and smoking hot cocktail servers. The servers were not only beautiful, but they provided us with awesome service--never letting our drinks be empty. Not only did they attend to our every need, but they also facilitated our experience by pouring us shots whenever we looked "too sober".

They also brought us pretty good snacks as well, including some delicious guac. The pool party got pretty crowded and soon the dayclub was packed with people dancing to house music. The cabana next to us provided us with entertainment as he sprayed girls with 35 bottles of Dom P. Not a bad way to spend $35 grand.

Beautiful woman, gambling, drinking, pools, and food all came together in one spot to give a one-of-a-kind experience. Awesome time--can't wait to go back.

After the club, I decided to gamble for a little. After several donations, I headed back to the Hard Rock where we got ready for dinner. We headed over to the Palms to their Italian restaurant on the 51st floor called Nove. WOW! This was hands down one of the best dinners of my life. The atmosphere of the restaurant was incredible and the view was breathtaking. We sat on the 2nd floor of the restaurants and had the space to ourselves. Floor to ceiling glass provided us with spectacular views of Vegas. "To add to your sensory experience, there is a fantastic use of color and texture throughout the restaurant. Look up and iridescent mosaic tiles line the inverted tray ceiling. In the middle of each dome is a contemporary chandelier. Shelves lined with pillar candles jet out from the crystal and tile-lined columns. Rococo gold picture frames, gilded furniture and crocodile upholstery all add to the restaurant's appeal. "

The service was just as good as the view. We had 2-3 servers ready to jump at our every need. Although very attentive, they weren't stuffy and overbearing. They had great knowledge of the food/wine while also showing personality and warmth.

We started with a bunch of antipasti that were all so good. We got a salumi and cheese board full of Italian cured meats and cheese. Buffalo Mozzarella and Prosciutto di Parma were just two of the many options. The burrata and crostini were also solid appetizers worth mentioning. Don't overlook the pizza, because Nove does it right whether you want the traditional buffalo mozz, tomato, basil or the sausage, peppers, and oregano. The pizza had beautiful thin crust that melted in your mouth and made you hum that beautiful song "Mmm".

Almost full from all the antipasti, my friend Ed and I split the caesar salad which is simple; but well done. We also split our entree course and we both felt like steak and pasta. We split the 24 oz bone-in Ribeye and the Nove Pasta. The Nove pasta was a mixture of house-made spaghetti and squid-ink pasta with an array of seafood tossed in including scallops, lobster, crab, and calamari. Although the dry-aged ribeye was incredible (topped with 8yr old balsamic) , the pasta just had me going back. I remember having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to pair with my pasta while I had a glass of Red Angel (Pinot Nero) to go with my steak. Yeah, the pinot was probably a little light to pair with the steak, but anything heavier would have been dangerous as I already felt myself in a food coma. We also had some solid side dishes such as polenta. potatoes, and asparagus. The gnocci was so good, I'd be lying If I said I didn't dream about it.

For dessert, they brought out our friend Dave a platter of desserts. After finishing up dessert, taking a few shots, having some espresso and sambuca--we finally left! We took the "secret, VIP" escalator upstairs to the Playboy club where we got a table and continued the party. Although the Playboy club was good, our curiosity brought some of us upstairs to Moon. Before you knew it, we had two different tables at two different clubs; but being only a floor apart--it was do-able. Most of the group stayed at the Playboy Club gambling while I was upstairs with the birthday boy, popping bottles. Moon's DJ reflex played some great tunes and kept us dancing all night. The view from Moon was probably the best view from Palm's fantasy tower and now I know why its such a popular spot.

The Palm's fantasy tower has it all and you would be a fool to not check it out on you're next trip to Vegas.

Hearth Wine Tasting

(coming soon)

Random Spots

Diner (located on Nassau St in the Financial District): Although "Roe" was a lovely lady, her service was a bit flakey and the food at the Diner wasn't good. After two trips there this weekend, I decided I probably won't return although they serve up a good chocolate milk. In a neighborhood with few brunch spots, sometimes its just better to cook some bacon and eggs.

Lillies (17th St Union Square) A good spot to grab a beer after work. Gets pretty crowded on the weekends. Decent beer selection, but really nothing too special.

Tonic (29th and 3rd Ave) Crowded, but a decent spot if you want to "dougie". Bring girls because this spot fills up with more dudes than Brother Jimmys.

Cocktails on 6th St

"In 1919, the Volstead Act brought a swift end to nightlife and the refined craft of the American bartender was outlawed. It was thought that to drink alcohol was to live a life shadowed by death. It was thought by some that these were death and company." This was the idea behind the speakeasy-styled bar Death and Co on East 6th St in the East Village. This is where you go if you want a good cocktail. Its also a place with a strict door policy, so you might have to wait as there is only room at the bar or at a table. No standing room! Its a place where bartenders are mixologist and they taste test drinks before sending them out.

The menu not only features cool quotation about alcohol, but classic and inventive cocktails. Death and Co also offers some good eats. The truffle mac and cheese ($10) was made with aged cheddar and truffle breadcrumbs. The mac and cheese was delicious, but the best part was the presentation--the truffle macaroni was served on little silver spoons for perfect bite-size portions. We also got the Crispy Fries which were made with blue cheese, black truffle, and scallions ($8). I'm not a HUGE blue cheese fan, but these were good! The kitchen sent out two complimentary dishes--the lobster brioche rolls and the crispy pork belly. The lobster roll (16) were served with crunchy jicama, apple, and fennel slaw while the pork belly sat atop a bed of goat cheese polenta next to a fig and port glaze. I was definitely impressed with the food! Definitely not your average bar grub--but then again this isn't your average bar.

After enjoying 3 rounds of drinks, I got to taste a variety of cocktails; but we decided to keep moving. We didn't go very far though as we landed at Death and Co's tequila outpost: Mayahuel. Mayahuel is right down the block and pays homage to tequila and mezcal. Here we sat at the small bar downstairs and chatted up the bartender. We stayed for a round of delicious cocktails, fish tacos, and a shot of tequila to celebrate one of the bartenders last night. The decor of Mayahuel reminds me of a Mexican monastery and the vibe is cool. If you like tequila or mezcal than Mayahuel could be you're go-to spot!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Traditional vs Non-Traditional:Burger and Beer

In the last two week's, I had the pleasure of eating two delicious burgers at two different restaurants within the Union Square Hospitality Group. The first burger was a more traditional burger from Blue Smoke-- Danny Meyer's BBQ joint. Lucky enough to get a seat at the bar, my buddy Andrew and I started with a picture of the Blue Smoke Ale and an order of the Toasted Pork Ravioli with a smokey tomato sauce. The ravioli was filled with "St. Louis Style" pork, breaded, and deep-fried for a tastey appetizer. I really enjoyed the smoked tomato sauce that accompanied the ravioli. Sauces are made to enhance the dish and this smoked tomato sauce did just that! Our entrees came out right after our appetizer plates were cleared. We were given new silverware, which is always a sign of good, attentive service. Andrew enjoyed his pulled pork while I downed my Blue Smoke burger. The burger was very flavorful and filling. Although delicious, it didn't stand out enough to to constitute a craving.

The second burger was at Maialino, USHG's italian venture in the Gramercy Park Hotel. Surprised huh? Me too! A burger is not normally on the menu, but chef Nick Anderer agreed to do a special edition burger for Eater's Burger Week 2011. I told the chefs at Maialino they should put the burger on the menu, because it was awesome. The burger, made of mostly brisket, was topped with Gorgonzola cheese, house-cured bacon, griddled onions, and escarole. It came with a side of house-made pork rinds and a soup--today it was minestrone. I tried to eat the soup, but I was too full from my burger and my prosciutto-mozzarella appetizer. I drank the Re-Ale, an Italian IPA that paired pretty well with the burger. I was a bit skeptical about the gorgonzola cheese, but it worked well. All the components meshed together to make any Italian happy.

I also hear that the burger at Gramercy Tavern is awesome, so I'll have to check it out one of these days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

America's Next Great Restaurant?

Jamawn Wood's won the reality television show America's Next Great Restaurant on NBC with his concept of healthy soul food. The winner of the show was awarded three restaurants across the country to test out the concept. One of the restaurants was located in the South Street Seaport--two minutes from my apartment. I think its a great location for a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) because its an area that flourishes on the lunch crowd.

I was impressed by the concept, but that's not surprising considering restauranteurs like Bobby Flay and Chipotle's Steve Ell's were much involved--not only investing but also helping build the concept. Of course, Soul Daddy needs some work; but that's expected. I'm not usually one to visit a restaurant when it first opens because I believe it takes time to find its rhythm. Its like a bottle of wine that you opened too early--it has great potential but after some time all the components are in complete harmony and that's when it should be enjoyed. Soul Daddy has great promise. People love soul food. I'm a bit skeptical on how people will like healthy soul food, but Wood's seems up for the task.

The wait was long as expected, but that gave me time to check out the place. The line wrapped around the store, but moved along. An employee handed out menus to people on-line which was a smart idea to help distract from the wait time and move the guest along. The space was pretty unique and the design felt loyal to the concept. Although the space felt like it was still being renovated, it felt homey with that Jamawn edginess. I think there was a good mix of people, which is a must for a national concept. Just because something works in NYC, doesn't mean it will work in Minneapolis or LA: the other locations of Soul Daddy.

After twenty minutes or so, we arrive to the counter. It seems modeled after Chipotle in the style of an assembly line. Its a brilliant model that has made Steve Ell's millions. The menu is pretty simple offering 5 "meals and sandwiches" options. "Meals" come with 2 sides and 1 piece of bread. I was originally going to get the Country Style Rib meal ($11.95) but was disappointed when I found out that only three ribs came with the meal. The ribs were small and reminded me of baby backs. I made a game-time decision and got the pulled pork sandwich ($4.95), an order of cheese grits ($2.50), and a corn bread waffle ($1). The pulled pork sandwich was alright. I thought the pork itself was fine, but the big whole wheat bun had to go. I understand that Soul Daddy is about healthy soul food, but that bun killed the sandwich. Put double the meat or get a new bun would be my only criticism. The cheese grits were delicious and the corn bread waffle was also good. One of the best parts about Soul Daddy was the "sauce station", which gave guests the option of Soul Daddy BBQ sauce, Jamawn's Hot Sauce, and Sweet Honey Molasses. I filled up to-go containers of each and I'm a bit sad I'm all out.

Overall, I think Soul Daddy has potential to do very well. My roommate Jon and I decided that its not something we're running back for but it was a decent meal. Are we going to pick Soul Daddy over Chipotle?...noway! Chipotle is something that we could eat once a week while Soul Daddy was something different; something new and exciting.

Go check it out and tell me what you think. Is it America's next great restaurant???