Grazing on Some Great Greek

Living in Astoria, I've tried some excellent Greek food. So I definitely approach any new Hellenic epicurean event with a keen sense of taste. 

Avaton Estiatorio exterior

I was invited to Avaton Estiatorio (1 East 35th Street) recently and was instantly struck by how clean, chic, and welcoming the space was, especially mere steps away from the hell-hole block that is 34th Street right outside the Empire State Building. It's tucked away from the hubbub and features a small but protected sidewalk cafe and 2 separate dining rooms, plus a private upstairs section. 

On the way to our table, we passed by the fresh local and Mediterranean fish display, which makes for quite the appetizing welcome. We sat in the back dining room under an impressive chandelier and across from a wall-sized replica of an olive tree.

Fresh fish display
Fresh fish display
View from my seat
View from my seat
I'm not sure how much pineapple is a part of classic Greek cuisine, but it was a hot day out and a tropical cocktail sounded great to me. I tried the Elpinia (at least it had a Greek name!) with vodka, fresh pineapple, fresh squeezed lime juice, ginger and a cinnamon stick. My friend was a bit weary about the combination of cinnamon and pineapple initially, but the combination totally works! I also appreciated that the drink wasn't too sweet.

Before our "official" food even arrived, we were smitten with the bread. The bread! I know! It had olives in it and was toasted and drizzled with some high class EVOO. It was all gone fairly soon after it arrived.

Olive bread
Olive bread
Our first appetizer was the tuna tartare served with diced yellow fin filet, avocado, soy ginger vinaigrette, and an oregano tortilla. This was good, but nothing special or unique. In fact I've had this dish at restaurants that define themselves as anything from Italian to Mexican to Japanese. And now it's Greek. Don't let this stop you from ordering it, as if you know you like tuna tartare, this one will satisfy you very well.

Tuna tartare
Tuna tartare
Next up we sampled the platter of Avaton dips: Taramosalata, htipiti, skordalia, melitzanosalata, tzatziki. We pretty much finished this crazy amount of dip. My favorite was the skordalia because garlic. Don't eat too much of this on a date.

Avaton dips
Avaton dips
For the main course, we split the special seafood risotto. The chef explained that his tomato sauce has no sugar in it, which was great because fresh tomatoes have plenty of natural sugar. I liked the wide array of seafood in the dish including scallops, mussels, clams, and prawns--two a piece so perfect for sharing (or boarding Noah's ark). It was all topped with feta cheese.

Seafood risotto
Seafood risotto
Dessert may have been my favorite course of this meal. We were treated to three different sweet offerings and all were completely unlike anything I'd ever had before. My favorite, the textured halva, was made from semolina, raisins, nuts, and cinnamon citrus syrup. The chef told us he borrowed from the Turkish tradition and made the halvah with milk as well, which definitely added richness. My friend's favorite was the Karidopita, a moist and surprisingly gluten-free (no flour!) walnut cake, which was served with caramel fudge. We also tried the chocolate pot which is the dessert to order for all chocoholics. It's very apparent that high quality cocoa when into this treat as it's as rich as it is balanced and creamy.

Dessert trio
Dessert trio
Avaton offers a $33 price fix lunch or $38 pre-theater dinner. I would definitely recommend parking yourself in one of their outside tables if the weather is nice, but a seat in the back room under the chandelier is certainly transportive. The waitstaff was very cordial and friendly and will certainly answer any questions regarding the menu and work with you over any food allergies and restrictions. Whatever you do, save room for dessert!

Disclosure: Avaton provided us with a comp'd meal but all opinions in this review are my own.

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Chicken (and More!) in Hell's Kitchen

I've always loved snarky restaurant names. Hell's Chicken (641 10th Avenue) has to be one of my favorites. Their food was pretty darn good also.

I was invited to visit the Hell's Kitchen Korean eatery last week and sample some traditional dishes as well as their highly-rated fried chicken. I visited South Korea about 2 years ago and love finding menu items that remind me of my trip. Instantly, I saw makgeolli ($14)--an unfiltered rice drink similar to nigori sake--and knew how we had to start our meal. It may look weird, but makgeolli is cold and refreshing with a crispy finish. Perfect for a summer evening.


The friendly owner Sung Jin Min walked us through the menu and advised that we start with the Kimchi Jeon ($10), a Korean-style kimchi fried pancake, and the Mussam Mari ($7), pickled radish wraps with vegetables. The pancake was one of my favorite items of the meal. It reminded me of the scallion pancakes I've ordered from many a Chinese dumpling restaurant, but the kimchi made it a bit heartier. It was served on a sizzling hot platter with a soy-based dipping sauce. The Mussam Mari was cooling yet tart and was a great palate cleanser between the Kimchi Jeon and what was to come.

Kimchi Jeon
Kimchi Jeon
Mussam Mari
Mussam Mari

Then came the chicken from Hell! Just kidding. Well, kind of. We ordered drums (you can order wings or a combination of both) because I find they are easier to eat ($12-$50). Then we had a wide array of sauces to choose from arranged on the menu from mild to spicy. We went with soy ginger (a take on the traditional soy garlic) and spicy Hell's (the house sauce).

I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to spice but the spicy Hell's was totally manageable. If you like ginger, the soy ginger will be your best friend. The chicken itself was cooked to a perfect crisp and each piece beckons you before you even finish the last.

What's interesting about the fried chicken is that it's gluten free. It's made with an all-rice flour batter and fried in canola instead of soybean oil. Celiac's rejoice!

Soy ginger (left) and spicy Hell's (right) fried chicken drumsticks
Soy ginger (left) and spicy Hell's (right) fried chicken drumsticks

Lest we forget the rest of the very authentic Korean menu, we finished up with the Dolsot Bibimbap ($16). A classic hot stone bowl mix of vegetables, rice, beef, hot sauce and an egg, this bibimbap cooks as you mix it up (don't worry, I'm not into eating raw egg!). I apologize for not taking an after pic, but I highly advise you go to Hell's Chicken and get this dish yourself. You'll find the rice puffs and crunches a bit more than it would in a regular bowl and that makes this bibimbap that much more incredible.

Dolsot Bibimbap
Dolsot Bibimbap

You may have to walk a couple blocks further west to get to Hell's Chicken than you would normally, but it's worth the extra steps (your FitBit will thank you). Try the chicken that matches your tastes, share a steaming bowl of bibimbap, and wash it all down with some makgeolli or soju. Oh and tell Sung I said hi!

Disclosure: Hell's Chicken provided a comp'd meal in exchange for this review but all opinions are my own.

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What Book Does Your Neighborhood Say You Should Read?

New York City has been the backdrop of many a famous novel. But from the Upper East Side of The Goldfinch to the Ditmas Park of Sophie's Choice, it's hard to keep track of the street corners from our favorite pages to the ones in real life. That's why I was really intrigued when the New York Public Library posted their "Best NYC Novels By Neighborhood" list.

As an Astorian, I was a bit disappointed in the lack of Queens books, but this is a great start (check out Awesome Reads for some additional suggestions!). What is your favorite NYC book and how many of these have you read?

TEDucate Yourself This September

Lately I've been obsessed with TED talks. You may have heard of the free lecture series before--the organization has been around for 30 years--where famous and not famous thinkers, researchers, business owners, and leaders give short, punchy talks that make you go huh. I listen to NPR's weekly TED Radio Hour show where host Guy Raz brings back several of the organization's most memorable speakers to recap their talks on central themes. These speakers are so inspiring that I have been known to rent their books from the library because I want to hear more.

Now that you have all the background, I'm excited to tell you about the second annual TEDxFultonStreet taking place on Sunday September 20th at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center.


The x in TEDx means the program was independently organized (TED only hosts 2 official conferences a year if you can believe it), but don't let that fool you as they have an incredible lineup of speakers. The current agenda so far includes:

  • Brad Baker (Deep-Sea Treasure Hunter – Chairman of Odyssey Marine Exploration [NASDAQ:OMEX])
  • Brian Cohen (First investor in Pinterest — Chairman of New York Angels)
  • Richard Stratton (Former Drug Smuggler Turned Publisher/Author/TV Executive)
  • Christian Boer (Developed a typeface to aid those challenged by dyslexia)
  • Rishon Blumberg (‎Agent for A-list Technology Talent – Founder of 10x Management)
  • Debi Silber (The Mojo Coach – Leadership Expert)
  • Jen Rozenbaum (Shamelessly Feminine Boudoir Photographer)
  • Bruce Rosenbaum (Steampunk Designer – Co-founder of ModVic)
  • Christie Marchese (Advocate for films that change the world – Founder of Picture Motion)
  • Laura Klahre (Beekeeper and Proponent of the Pollinators)
  • IMPACT Repertory Theatre (Urban non-profit program cultivating youth leaders)

In addition to the extraordinary TED Talks, there will be videos, lobby exhibits, and ample opportunities for attendees to network with presenters throughout the day. Tickets are now available for $100.00 via the TEDxFultonStreet website under “attend.” In the educational spirt of TED, any faculty or full-time student from an accredited public or private university or college is eligible for a special 20% discount.

Here's the 2014 TEDxFultonStreet recap:


  • What: TEDxFultonStreet 2015
  • When: 9 am to 6 pm on Sunday September 20th, 2015
  • Where: BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan
  • Cost: $100 with 20% discount for faculty or full-time students


AWESOME GIVEAWAY: 2 Pairs of Tickets to 9/11 Remembrance Concert at Lincoln Center

Any concert at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center is special, but on Friday, September 11, 2015 at 7:00pm, True Concord Voices and Orchestra will perform a special commemorative concert featuring Mozart’s Requiem along with the New York premiere of Stephen Paulus’ Prayers and Remembrances, originally commissioned for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

True Concord Voices and Orchestra logo

True Concord Voices and Orchestra on stage

True Concord Voices & Orchestra draws upon the first rank of professional choral and instrumental musicians from around the United States in service of its artistic mission: to enrich lives through the transformational power of classical music. True Concord seeks to bring together hearts from Tucson with those from New York and around the world through the power of music by two towering and beloved composers.

Tickets start at just $20, but you can use the code DCINY20 to save 20% online, over the phone (212.721.6500) or in person at Lincoln Center (Box Office: 1941 Broadway at 65th Street).

A portion of all ticket proceeds will benefit the FDNY Foundation, a charity which directly supports the men and women of the Fire Department of New York.

All Awesome in New York readers have a special opportunity to win one of 2 pairs of tickets to this concert event. Simply fill out the Rafflecopter form below and make sure to follow all instructions (only those who comment below telling me about their favorite NYC concert venue will be eligible to win!). The contest runs through Friday 8/21. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Where Does All the Garbage Go?

To any out-of-towner, the way NYC deals with its garbage can be deemed anything from disgusting to stinky to unsanitary. But if you've lived here long enough, you become immune to the sidewalks piled high with plastic trash bags. And if you're anything like me, you make up stories about the people behind the mounds of refuse you pass on your morning commute.

The trash collection process in any sprawling metropolis is a coordinated effort, but in NYC, the current system is built upon decades of learning what has worked, and what hasn't (anyone ever hear about the 1981 sanitation workers strike?). If you want to learn more about why the streets don't fill with garbage or who cleans your streets, join the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Academy of Medicine for the final talk in a series called Garbage and the City this Monday 8/17 at 6:30pm.

NYC Garbage Truck circa 1929; image credit: The New York Academy of Medicine Committee on Public Health archive

Robin Nagle, author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, is the anthropologist-in-residence with New York's Department of Sanitation. She will be giving a talk entitled Life Along the Curb: Inside the Department of Sanitation of New York at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street) covering what it takes for the city to deal with the 40,000 tons of garbage produced here every day.

At 8:00 pm, the 2015 short documentary film, "One Man's Trash" (17 mins), will be screened. NYU student Kelly Adams filmed NYC Department of Sanitation employee Nelson Molina, who develops a unique relationship to the objects that fill the garbage bags lining the streets. He has created a collection of found objects in a sanitation garage in East Harlem, which he refers to as a museum of “Treasures in the Trash.”

  • What: Life Along the Curb: Inside the Department of Sanitation of New York lecture
  • Where: Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
  • When: Monday 8/17 6:30 to 8:30 pm
  • Cost: FREE, but register here


Bringing the Potato Back into the Cool Zone at Burlap Sack

Potatoes have gotten a bad rep' with the rise of the healthy food craze. But the thing is, spuds--while very tasty fried--can very easily be integrated into a well-balanced meal. At least that's what the folks at the new Murray Hill potato eatery Burlap Sack (507 Third Avenue @ 34th Street) hope to prove.

Burlap Sack Outside

I visited Burlap Sack earlier in the week and was wowed by all of the changes in the neighborhood since I moved away almost 3 years ago. Onwards and upwards I suppose!

The fast-casual restaurant is the brainchild of Miguel Franco, former executive chef of Dos Toros (an Awesome in New York go-to!), and a slew of other restaurateurs. He took me through the menu, explaining that the concept is similar to Chipotle (or Eons or Chutney Kitchen), but for your base you can choose from several potato options: baked potato (whole or cut into medallions for easier forking), traditional or sweet potato fries, tater tots, or rice (for the potato noninclined). Because of this setup, all dishes are gluten-free. 

Next you choose your meat (all locally sourced), either grilled chicken, spiced ground turkey, grilled steak, or slow-cooked pork. Then there's an assortment of 4 different cheeses, hot mushrooms and onions and a variety of cold, fresh veggies that remind me of a the baked potato bar I used to visit as a kid in the food court of my mall. The best part of this station was all the house-made sauces to finish your bowl off (Miguel loves the Dad's marinara sauce as it's a family recipe, but I went with the truffle aioli).

All bowls will run you under $10 and, in my opinion, give you more than enough food for a single meal. I used my leftovers as a side dish for lunch the next day. Needless to say, I made everyone in my office super jelly.

My creation: Spiced ground turkey over baked potato medallions with broccoli, mushrooms, cheddar, scallions and truffle aioli
My creation: Spiced ground turkey over baked potato medallions with broccoli, mushrooms, cheddar, scallions and truffle aioli
Burlap Sack is open Mon-Thurs 11:30am-10pm, Fri 11:30am-11pm, and Sat-Sun 12:30pm-8pm. Check them out and let us know what you think!

Note: Burlap Sack gave me a comp'd dinner but all opinions on this review are my own.

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