Thursday, March 31, 2011


After Vandaag, we thought we'd stop by Death and Company for some more cocktails. There was a 20-minute wait, so we kept walking and went to Cienfuegos right around the corner. Brought to you by the same brothers who own Death and Company, Cienfuegos is easily missed as its kind of hidden above Carteles--a Cuban sandwich shop.

I later learned that the city of Cienfuego was the fourth most important city in Cuba by the 19th century. The city was known for its production of sugar cane--which makes this the perfect name for a rum bar. Cienfuegos is a rum bar that takes you back in time. The space felt authentic from the decor to the menu. Part of the Cienfuegos appeal is the exclusive feel; but that wouldn't mean anything without a good product. Cienfuegos delivers because the drinks are awesome. The drinks menu displays a great variety of punches including "Fruit Forward", "Seasonal", "Served Hot", "Light and Fizzy", "Strong and Fizzy", "Takes on Classic", etc. The punches are delicious and sure do pack a punch.

Cienfuegos invites your soul to mambo and it did. It not only offers great cocktails, but an atmosphere that is truly unique. I will be back to Cienfeugos for sure! Next time, I'd love to check out the food at Carteles.

Go get some punch!
(Located on 6th and Avenue A)

Where Do Foodies Eat?

On Wednesday, I got together with some old friends who I went to the Institute of Culinary Education with. All of them work in the industry, so their love for hospitality and food is similar to mine. While planning a get together, we let our friend Dana pick as she is probably the biggest foodie out of all of us. Dana is like a living Zagat guide as she's been to so many places. And if she hasn't been, she's read about it. She listed a bunch of restaurants in the e-mails prior to our outing, but only one restaurant had reservations for the 5 of us. Vandaag, a new-comer to the East Village. Vandaag, meaning "today" in Dutch serves up Dutch/Scandinavian fare in a comfortable atmosphere. I really liked Vandaag's design and decor. I was surprised how open the space seemed--I like the design; but it seems like they had some wasted space. From a dinner's perspective its awesome, but from a business standpoint it seems they could utilize the space more. The again, the restaurant was pretty empty, so maybe getting more tables in is not a priority.

The service was good. Our server was knowledgeable and friendly. The drink and food menu was very inventive and stayed true to its concept. Sam Snifton awarded Vandaag with two stars after describing the menu as "inventive, a version of Northern European cooking refracted through an East Village lens". The chef, Phillip Kirschen, worked at restaurants such as Corton and WD-50; so his experience left us anxious to taste.

We started the night with some cocktails. Genever and Aquavit were at the essence of the cocktail list. Vandaag also had a nice selection of microbrews and wines. Vandaag's wine selection seemed to be centered around Austrian-German varietals. The cocktails were good..different, but good. We ordered a mix of appetizers and entrees, so that we could all share. The combination of ingredients were unique, but im just not sure I am convinced. I like when food brings you outside your boundaries, but I don't think it worked (for me). The crowd had mixed reviews on the various dishes, but there was nothing that we needed to order another one of. The one thing that was memorable was the potatoes and bacon pot. Crispy fingerling potatoes with smokey bacon, apples, and stroop (Dutch caramel syrup) made for a great side dish. The stroop was also served on one of the desserts we got--the stroopwafel. Although the stroopwafel wasn't great, it was better than the beet bread pudding which was topped with a cranberry sorbet.
Overall, Vandaag offers a compelling experience; however, I think it fell short. The atmosphere was good and the service was too; but the food just didn't do it for me. Sure we had something interesting dishes with unusual combination of ingredients; but none of the combo's kept a lasting impression with me. This place might be good if you want to experience something different, but I will not be back.

The menu is seasonal, so it changes pretty often. These are some dishes that were on the website that we tried. There were a few that weren't listed.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Von Bar

I think its safe to say that the city is going through a classic cocktail renaissance. More and more bars are adopting cocktail programs and a speakeasy feel. Although it takes me awhile to find an unmarked bar, I enjoy this new (revisited) style bar. When will this trend get old...who knows? Von Bar, located at 3 Bleecker St, is easily missed if you're not looking for it. Its hard to talk about the crowd as fellow workers packed the downstairs for a birthday party. I heard it attracts the hipster crowd and by the feel I could definitely see it. Von Bar's downstairs hosts dance parties as the DJ plays old music videos. I'm not sure how crowded it gets on weekends, but Von Bar is a sweet spot to take over if with a larger group.

Von Bar had a nice selection of booze and a nice vibe going, so check it out for a good time.

Just Salad?

How could a quick-serve restaurant (QSR) make enough business if all they sell is JUST SALAD!? Salad is not only something that is quick and easy; but cheap--atleast thats what I thought. Just Salad is a QSR with a funky decor and a health conscious menu created by Chef Laura Pensiero.

Intrigued on how they do good business, I stopped in one afternoon and the place was jamming. Wall Streeters and other downtown workers piled in to get their daily fix of greens. I got the Thai Chicken Crunch: a salad made up of romaine, iceberg, grilled chicken, carrots,celery, and Chinese noodles. The salad tossed/chopped and dressed with a spicy Thai peanut dressing.

The salad was pretty good, but I could go next door and get a weeks worth of lettuce for what the salad cost. At $8 a salad, I can see how Just Salad has a few locations around Manhattan and Hong Kong. You could get a sandwich at the deli down the street and you might even get two meals out it. Healthy eating is more expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.

Just Salad also has some wraps, so don't be fooled by the name!

Gallery Bar

My roommates and I actually walked right by it on our first search for the bar. Maybe we were too busy chatting, but Gallery Bar didn't seem to have any signs --just a line of people waiting to get in. Located at 120 Orchard Street (btwn Delancey & Rivington), Gallery Bar is a bi-level lounge with an awesome vibe. The space is also used as an art gallery, so the decor was pretty cool. The top floor seemed more of a hangout and have some drinks vibe while downstairs held the dance party. DJs were spinning good tunes on both levels, so if you're not into sweaty-packed dance scene then upstairs will probably would be the spot for you.

Drink prices seemed average for the area, but what I didn't like was Gallery Bars gratuity policy. An automatic 25% tip was added to your bill. I probably would have given around that much because the service was decent, but let that be my decision. What happens if they don't deserve 25%? I'm a good tipper and I was put off by this credit card policy. This place could get pretty packed and when it does you might be waiting 20 minutes to use the bathroom, so pee before you go or make friends with the bouncer.

Make sure to stop by the photo booth and take some risque photos! Gallery Bar was fun. Definitely a good spot to take a chick...or meet a chick. Check it out!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

West Village

Daddy-Os in the West Village is a cozy restaurant offering good drinks and above-average bar food. The atmosphere was very chill as tunes from Jimi Hendrix and Blind Melon filled the air. An older, but spunky waitress took good care of us throughout the night. She recommended the burger as she claimed it was "one of New York's best burgers." The burger was good--it had good flavor and it was cooked as ordered; but I thought the bun was too big. I think if the bun was a bit smaller, the burger would have been better. The tater tots served on the side of the burger is something worth talking about. Crispy and delicious, the tater tots stole the show.

I was also fortunate to taste the Mexican pizza, which was pretty good. Thin crust pizza with a nice spicy kick--pretty solid. I also got to taste my friend Caitlin's chicken sandwich, which also had a nice deal of spiciness. I thought the sandwich was good, but not for those with a weak stomach!

I ended my meal with one of their signature cocktails, the Daddy-O, which is a mixture of bourbon, honey liqueur, bitters and maybe one other ingredient that I missed. Chilled and served up, the drink prove to be a nice ending to a decent meal. If ever in the West Village, stop in for a cocktail and a side tater tots. I hear the buffalo wings are real good.

While some of us went home, other went across the street to the Village Tavern. The Village Tavern seemed like a pretty sweet sports bar. I liked this bar because you could chill out and watch the game, play some pool, or even play Buck Hunter or Golden Tee. You could even put some money in the jukebox and start a dance party. It wasn't crowded when I went there, but I could see this bar getting pretty rowdy!

Take a date to Daddy-Os for some food and cocktails then end at the Village Tavern for a pint and some pool. And gentlemen--let her win!


One perk about living in the financial district is the easy access to Brooklyn. Normally we'll take the subway, but with the weather getting nice--a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge sounds right. My three roommates and I decided to go to Pedros right across the bridge for happy hour. One of my roommates Greg, had stumbled upon Pedros on a run and thought I'd be a great spot.

Pedros, located on Jay Street is a small Mexican joint serving up traditional Mexican fare. We walked in and sat down, kind of weary about staying; but we decided we'd atleast grab a beer. A few beers and margaritas later, we decided to grab some food. Our waitress seemed confused when we asked for a plate of cheese nachos; but after checking with the kitchen she approved our order. Maybe its just me, but that seems like a normal order in a Mexican restaurant, no? The nachos weren't good at all, but they were better than what I ordered next. I ordered the "fish tacos" which is actually only one taco filled with a stewed cod. I should have known better after seeing the buffet style food case directly behind us. After one bite, I pushed the plate to the other side of the table. The cod itself was so fishy that I chugged my $3 dos equis to rid my mouth of that awful flavor.

Pedros has a cool vibe as a small Mexican cantina, but the food was awful. The service was pretty bad too. She kept mixing up our beer orders, wasn't too knowledgeable on the menu, and didn't care that two people were horrified by the fish taco. Definitely won't be back to Pedros.

On the way home, we stopped at Front Street Pizza for a slice. The pizza here was really good. They had a nice selection of toppings and the place seemed clean. Worth crossing the bridge for? I don't know?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Harlem, Stand Up

Stand up, because Amy Ruth's needs an applause. Located on 116th Street, Amy Ruth's is an instant classic that serves soulful, southern food. Known best for their chicken and waffles, Amy Ruth's names its dishes after famous African Americans. So get the Rev. Al Sharpton with white or dark meat and enjoy!

They start you off with cornbread --AMEN to that. The food came out real fast. The waffles seemed a bit undercooked at first, but they turned out to be the best part of the combination. The softness of the waffle allowed the butter and syrup to soak in like a delicious sponge. The chicken, juicy and cripsy, sat on top of the waffle making me wonder why it took me 25 years to find out this amazing pairing. I mean chicken and waffles is better than peas and carrots!

The Mac and Cheese is a good side item to get as your chicken and waffles will disappear quick. We were in and out of Amy Ruth's in a half hour! I would definitely recommend Amy Ruth's for a delicious, homestyle feast.

Toloache Taqueria

Skip Chipotle and go for some authentic Mexican at Toloache Taqueria in NYC's financial district. I got a burrito with their carnitas (pork) and it was awesome. The pork had a great spicy seasoning, that made my mouth water for more. The staff was extremely friendly and provided great service! They even gave me a free fruit punch after they saw me eyeing it! I will definitely be back, especially because its a stone's throw away from my apartment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


A buddy of mine (Tabla alumni) and I decided to grab some lunch on this rainy, March afternoon. We started at Union Square Cafe and ended at Aldea. I've wanted to go to both restaurants for quite some time and they are right by each other; so we decided to hit up both.

Union Square Cafe was our first stop. Located on 16th street, Union Square Cafe was Danny Meyer's first restaurant. After reading Danny's book, "Setting the Table", I needed to visit this groundbreaking restaurant. Based on the concept of imaginative, local food paired with unparalleled hospitality and comfortable surroundings--Union Square Cafe has earned its spot as one of New York's finest.

USC seemed to have a steady lunch crowd as we were lucky to find two seats at the bar. The service was seamless, but that is expected at all USHG restaurants. In "Setting the Table" Danny Meyer talks about service versus hospitality and you could definitely feel the difference when dining at any of his restaurants.

USC guests are started off with a bread basket, which is always a good start to a meal. While Mosche decided to get a glass of wine, I went with Samuel Smith's Brown Nut Ale which proved to be awesome. I enjoyed it so much, I got a second! We started off by splitting Cara Cara Oranges appetizer. The Cara Cara oranges were topped with fennel, pine nuts, ricotta salata, and extra virgin olive oil. This appetizer was definitely something I've never seen before, so I was definitely interested in tasting it, plus we were looking for something light because this was only our first stop. Mosche and I agreed it was a great way to start off the meal. I am still so surprised how well the components of the dish worked. I would have never paired any of those ingredients--but then again what do I know? The pine nuts atop of the thinly sliced oranges proved to be a great component for both flavor and texture.

They also sent out their Spanish Mackerel Crudo as a complimentary appetizer. The Spanish Mackerel Crudo was made up of a artichoke puree, olive tapenade, and chili oil. I really enjoyed this dish, maybe even more than the appetizer we ordered.

We then split a pasta course. We got the Tagliatelle with bay scallops, pancetta, chanterelles, and butternut squash. I loved the pasta. I thought the pasta was nicely cooked and the bay scallops melted in your mouth. The pancetta, chanterelles, and butternut squashed all played off each other very well and sang in harmony.

After considering dessert, we decided to pass; but the bartender brought us out one to split complimentary. They sent us their Banana Pretzel Cream Pie with Calvados Caramel and Milk Chocolate Ice Cream. I'm not a big fan of bananas, but this dessert was really delicious. They didn't over do it with the banana, so it was very enjoyable even for a person who hates bananas--BRAVO!

Union Square Cafe has been around awhile, but they always seem to reinvent themselves while staying a classic neighborhood destination. I really enjoyed my lunch at USC and will definitely be back!

My second stop was a block away at Aldea, which has garnered much press even before executive chef George Mendes was named a contestant on next season's Top Chef Masters. Mendes has an impressive resume, working with great chefs from all around the world. I was very impressed when I found out he worked at El Bulli, one of the world's most sought after reservations.

Arriving just before the kitchen closed for lunch, we got a seat at the chef's counter --the back bar facing the open kitchen. Our server didn't seem too happy we were there, which kind of pushed the meal in a negative direction and we didn't even order yet. Sitting at the counter was awesome as we got to see George Mendes and his kitchen staff at work.

While Mosche got the $24 pre-fixe, I thought I'd keep it simple with a sandwich. The server didn't really help us navigate the menu, which was another strike against the service. Feeling rushed, I ordered the Bellota Ham "Bikini". This sandwich was an upscale grilled cheese with Bellota Ham, truffle butter,and Casera cheese. The gourmet grilled cheese was served with a small salad of arugula and pear. The sandwich itself was delicious, but didn't show off the any of the flair or technique I was expecting. Maybe the sandwich was a bad choice? Maybe lunch was a bad choice? I feel like I got ripped off. The sandwich was good, but it was something I could have made at home for under $3 when I paid $15. Ok, Bellota Ham might be expensive, but the ham almost went unnoticed as the cheese overshadow it.

I tried the skate that Mosche got (He thought he ordered the steak) and it was alright--nothing to remember.

The cocktail at Aldea was pretty good; but also seemed a bit undersized like my sandwich. The drink was comprised of Black Pepper Bourbon, Cynar, Maplejack, and Peychaud's bitters. It was a well balanced drink that paired pretty well with my sandwich.

Overall, you can say I was a little disappointed with Aldea. I want to give it a second chance, because I've heard some really good things but I probably won't be back. Aldea made Eater's 38 Essential restaurants to visit in NYC; but I think its overrated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Webster Hall

Webster Hall hosted Lupe Fiasco's record release party on March 7th and I was lucky enough to get a ticket with some of my friends. As we shuffled in past security, we headed upstairs where Black Milk was already on stage opening for Lupe. We headed to the bar in the room adjacent to the main room. We probably waited a good 20 minutes for a beer as there was only 1 bartender and he was down-right awful.

He seemed like he was on drugs as he bopped around not really caring about us thirsty guests. Being a bartender, it hurt my head to watch this clown. If only the owners of Webster hall knew how much money this guy was costing them. Having two good bartenders behind that bar could have not only made the guest experience better, but it could have made them much more money.

Besides the shitty bartender, the beers on tap seemed stale and the selection wasn't good at all. Whiskey on the rocks were poured in these plastic bathroom-looking cups, so its safe to say that this wasn't the best bar experience.

That's my little rant on Webster Hall! My advice--drink before!

Grade Pending....

With New York City new letter-grading system in place, I find myself constantly questioning the cleanliness of establishments that I normally wouldn't think twice about going to. "B" is a grade I'd be ok with when it came to quizzes in school, but it suddenly doesn't seem ok for me to eat at a "B" when there is probably an "A" around the corner.

The grading has probably hurt many restaurants, as diners shy away from anything other than an "A". There is also "Grade Pending" which has showed up in place of a letter grade. In many cases, restaurants fight for a better grade than what they were originally gotten. Although these signs have been on some of NYC top restaurants, the "grade pending" sign still brings along a sense of doubt.

Yesterday, I went to Shinji after my friend Kristen had recommended it for good sushi. Located on pearl street right around the corner from my apartment, Shinju would be a great local spot--maybe even my go-to sushi place.

I was a bit turned off by the "grade pending" sign outside Shinju so I looked at the menu and contemplated my next move. Sushi is something I'm very picky about, because the idea of unfresh fish frightens me.

After scrolling through the menu 3 or 4 times, I decided to go in and order the Maki Combo B which was a combination platter of three rolls: Spicy Tuna, Alaska (smoked salmon/cucumber/avocado)/BBQ eel cucumber. I stood by the counter and watched the chef prepare my rolls wondering how fresh the ingredients were.

Turns out the sushi was good! All the ingredients were fresh and delicious. If you don't feel like spending the money on Haru of Suteishi, Shinju is a good alternative.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

1 Tequila, 2 Tequila...10 tequila?

My friend Colette came into the city with one thought on her mind--tequila! We were going to go to Agave in the West Village for some margaritas and some mexican fare, but ended up meeting her friends at Caliente Cab in Murray Hill. Caliente Cab offered traditional Mexican cuisine but we were on an all liquid diet.

The place was packed and people were getting a little rowdy in the bar area. It was a great place to grab some margaritas and rip some additional shots of tequila. The margaritas were served in huge glasses and were really good. A few of those and you'll be set. I would definitely go back for an early friday pregame with some food and margaritas. I feel like this would be a good happy hour spot, although I don't know if they have any deals. Check it out!


My roommate Greg goes to Toasties quite often for their roast beef sandwiches, so one day I joined him for lunch. Located on John Street, right around the corner from our apartment, Toasties is a deli specializing in roast beef.

Unfortunately, I thought it was awful. I only ate half of my sandwich--that's how much I didn't enjoy it. I thought the roast beef was overcooked while the grilled onions weren't cooked enough. No need to kick the horse when its down, so I will just say that Greg will be back, but not me!


Hidden behind frosted glass windows on East 13th Street, Heather's is an unmarked bar that gathers a comfortable crowd. The crowd seemed like a nice mix of the neighborhood, which added to a good vibe of unpretentious. Good tunes filled the air and conversation flowed. Heather's doesn't have the beer selection of Drop Off Service (another East Village spot right around the corner) but it has a good feel. Definitely a decent spot if you live in the neighborhood, but nothing to travel too.