Showing posts with label Restaurant Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Restaurant Review. Show all posts


This is Where to Eat Your Tacos on Cinco de Mayo

If tacos were a food group, I would have no trouble fulfilling that dietary requirement. I love the versatility of those flour or corn tortilla vessels of yumminess--carne asada with tomatillo salsa, mole chicken with toasted sesame seeds, even fried cactus with crumbled queso fresco and I'm game! 

Cafe El Presidente Mexican restaurant

I was recently invited for dinner at Cafe El Presidente, the year-old outpost of the Tacombi chain's well-known Mexican-inspired creations located in the Flatiron district. Walking in, you almost think you've entered a marketplace instead of a sit-down restaurant, with a juice bar on your right, hanging fluorescent lighting above, and black and white checkered tiles below. But then you realize that this is just a rarity in New York: a restaurant with space enough letting you walk around without needing to bump into anyone else. I couldn't help but wonder what used to be in this space as we settled in and I watched the chefs at work in the large open kitchen near our table.

Cafe El Presidente Mexican restaurant dining room

Cafe El Presidente Mexican restaurant kitchen

First things first, drinks. I decided on a margarita with salt (no frills necessary if it's good; $12) and my boyfriend ordered the Oaxacan Old Fashioned (pronounced Wa-HA-Kan for those of you too shy to order it correctly; $14) with mezcal instead of whisky. Both were solid libations, but I'd love to go back and try the Pina Colada ($13) because nothing screams vacation (even if it's just for a few hours) like a pina colada.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned and Margarita
Oaxacan Old Fashioned and Margarita

The menu came, and we were surprised by its understatement. We almost thought that we had to mark off what we wanted with a pencil and just hand it in, as you would to a street cart vendor or something. But alas, it's all part of the ambiance.

Cafe El Presidente menu

We also took the time to admire the impressive selection of hot sauces available on every table. I'm a bit of a whimp when it comes to spice, so I was not about to even touch the "Oro Negro" (literally: black gold) bottle of habanero concentrate and grapeseed oil, although I did admire the numerous warning signs. The other sauces--morita, cascabel, jalapeno, and habanero--were more recognizable and I made a pact with myself to try at least one over the course of the meal.

Cafe El Presidente hot sauces
Hot sauces

To start, we tried the Esquites ($3.95), which was grilled corn with contija cheese and chipotle mayo, and I would HIGHLY recommend it. Served in a cute paper cup, appropriately feeding on the street food theme, it was so good that I could have gobbled up 2. We also had the Ceviche Guerrero ($14.95) served over guacamole. I could taste the freshness of the fish, and the lime juice truly brought out the sweetness as well. Again, I could have made a meal out of just this dish.


Ceviche Guerrero
Ceviche Guerrero

For our main course, we split the Gringa Madison quesadilla ($7.95) and 6 tacos: al pastor ($2.49), Baja crispy fish ($4.95), Puerco Toluca ($3.49), Nopal de Matehuala ($3.49), Sonoran shrimp ($4.49), and the seared fish de Ixtapaleno ($4.49). Holy my goodness and ay caramba. Note to self: never go here alone.

The quesadilla was served open faced with all sorts of goodies including heritage pork and Chihuahua cheese. It had more of that chipotle mayo which really tied everything together. As for the tacos, my favorite was definitely the Baja crispy fish because it had the perfect ratio of crisp to succulent. I also really loved the Puerco Toluca (chorizo) with the Cascabel hot sauce--see, I tried it! Also, if you've never sampled cactus (nopal), do yourself a favor and try this one. It was paired with swiss chard so I considered it my "vegetable" for the meal.

Gringa Madison Quesadilla
Gringa Madison Quesadilla
nopal, Puerco Toluca, seared fish, Sonoran shrimp tacos
From top left: nopal, Puerco Toluca, seared fish, Sonoran shrimp tacos
Al Pastor and Baja crispy fish tacos
Al Pastor and Baja crispy fish tacos
No meal is ever complete without dessert and at Cafe El Presidente, this means Tres Leches Cake. Literally meaning "three milks," tres leches is your typical sponge cake that sits in a mixture of whole, sweetened condensed, and evaporated milk for a little while to get all moist and creamy. This version is layered with jam and topped with coconut--yum!

Tres Leches Cake
Tres Leches Cake
Taking a look at Cafe El Presidente's brunch menu, it's clear to see why this place is fabulous. Huevos rancheros, empanadas and breakfast tacos? Sign me up! 

For Cinco de Mayo, they are throwing a special France vs Mexico party (with costumes encouraged!). Email for reservations.

Cafe El Presidente Cinco de Mayo celebration

So, will I be back? Most definitely. These are some of the most legit tacos I've had in a long time, and that's coming from a California girl. It also helps that the tortillas are made fresh in the kitchen every day in their on-site tortilleria and that all ingredients are sourced sustainably. Come with a date or celebrate with a group, but either way, you're sure to have a delicious fiesta in your mouth.

Disclosure: Our meal was comp'd, but all opinions are my own.

Cafe El Presidente on Urbanspoon


Meet the Indian "Chipotle" Now Open in the Theater District

I'll be the first to admit that having Indian food for lunch often sounds unappealing simply because it's hard to return to my desk and work after a rich, filling, often spicy meal served from an all-you-can-eat buffet. Ironic because I LOVE Indian food. So when I heard about the new fast casual Indian restaurant Chutney Kitchen, which opened up shop in Hell's Kitchen in February, I couldn't wait to try it.

Chutney Kitchen is the brainchild of former finance 9-5'er Silu Sao and her friend since grade school, Pankaj Amin. One morning Sao's 8-year-old daughter asked her why she was working in finance when all she loved was to cook. That week she quit her hedge fund job and enrolled in culinary school. After 2 years of creating recipes reflecting the fresh, high-quality Indian food she likes to eat at home, Sao opened the restaurant with Amin with the goal of providing a light alternative to this cuisine especially geared toward those with special dietary needs like vegetarians and those who eat gluten-free.

The way it works is very much like Chipotle. You choose a base--roti wrap (like a burrito), naan tacos, salad greens, rice bowl, or chaat bowl (garbanzo beans and potatoes)--and then a fill:
  • Charbroiled chicken marinated in yogurt and spices ($8.95)
  • Pulled pork simmered with tangy spices ($8.95)
  • Shredded steak marinated in ginger, garlic and chilies ($9.95)
  • Pan-seared potatoes seared with tumeric, cumin and onions ($7.95)
  • Farmer's cheese (Paneer) sauteed with a 5-spice blend ($8.95)
  • Lentils (Daal) stewed with onions and spices ($7.95)

You can then choose flavors including warm sauces (coconut cashew, tikka, or vindaloo), cold chutneys (date, yogurt, cilantro, or mirchi), and salad dressings (lemon cumin and spicy mango).

If you can't make up your mind (or are just overwhelmed by choices), Chutney Kitchen has some suggestions including the Viva Las Vegas (naan tacos with pulled pork, vindaloo, carrots & cabbage, pickled onions and yogurt and mirchi chutneys) and the Lucy Goosey (Chaat bowl with cucumber and tomatoes, chickpea crunch, and date, yogurt and cilantro chutneys).

I opted for the shredded steak chaat bowl with tikka sauce, carrots & cabbage, corn, chickpea crunch, and yogurt chutney washed down with an Aranciata San Pellegrino. The bowl was enough food for 2 meals for me, which I really appreciated. It was flavorful, yet slightly spicier than I expected. If you don't like spicy, make sure to let the person preparing your food know and they'll steer you clear of anything you won't like.

Other intriguing items on the menu include masala fries ($2.50), hot street chai ($3.50), and mango smoothies ($3.50). The only thing missing was dessert--I would love to see Sao's take on gulab jamun!

Full disclosure: I received a free meal from Chutney Kitchen but the opinions presented here are 100% my own.


Come for the Calamari, Stay for the Panna Cotta

The name of one of Astoria's newer Italian joints, Via Vai, is quite fitting. Meaning "coming and going" in Italian, the phrase perfectly describes the nature of most of us New Yorkers, but--as we well know--us busy people always have the time to sit down for a nice meal.

Photo credit:

My boyfriend and I were invited for dinner a few weeks ago before laughing out loud to Larry David in his Broadway debut in Fish in the Dark (highly recommend!). The space is great, and conveniently located near the Ditmars N/Q stop. I especially loved the white subway tile, the glamorous Faema espresso machine, and the Italian-designed Pavesi brick pizza oven which sits as the centerpiece of the restaurant.

We started with the fried calamari served with fried artichokes and citrus zest ($13). This was a large portion for an appetizer, and properly served with a half lemon in mesh wrap for drizzling. The fried artichokes were a nice touch since I love artichokes but hardly ever eat them.

Fried calamari

Next up were the polpette, or beef meatballs with tomato sauce ($10). Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. The standout of this dish was the tomato sauce: tangy, not too sweet, and meshed well with the slightly rich classic ricotta-based meatball.


The special pasta for the night was beet gnocchi with parmesan fondue, porcini sauce, and toasted hazelnuts. This was a very interesting dish and the colors made it quite beautiful. A bit rich for my taste, but delicious nonetheless.

Beet gnocchi
For a secondi, we tried the maiale, a pork filet tenderloin with prosciutto and sage saltimbocca, white truffle mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus ($22). The meat in this dish reminded me of breakfast a bit, likely because of the spices used. The asparagus were great (I was craving veggies!), but the mashed potatoes left something to be desired (I think someone forgot the cream or butter or something).

The standout of the meal was dessert, which we unfortunately had to rush through (so no espresso :( ) in order to make it to our show on time. We tried both the panna cotta with caramel sauce and the tiramisu (served in a martini glass!)--both $8. The panna cotta was super creamy and both desserts were as traditional as they come. I felt transported back to Rome. If anything, go to Via Vai just for the dessert!

Overall the meal was good and the ambiance pretty great. If I was to return, as mentioned, it might just be for the dessert and to try something made by that goddess of an espresso machine. The pizzas looked pretty incredible as well. Even though it's Astoria, you can never have too many Italian restaurants!

Via Vai on Urbanspoon

Note: We were comped a meal for two in exchange for this review, but all opinions are our own.


You Deserve More than a Boring Lunch

I don't know about you, but I get in the habit of being too busy at work to grab more than a boring salad or sandwich from the deli downstairs. Now that the weather is starting to get a bit (*fingers crossed*) nicer, I'm more inclined to want to walk more than 15 steps from my office building. So when the trusty lunch chain Pret A Manger contacted me to sample their new hot menu items (all under 500 calories), I was all in!

My go-tos at Pret have always been the egg salad and arugula sandwich and the almond croissants, and I've always loved their "Made today, gone today" motto--donating all their leftovers to City Harvest daily.

But on my last visit, I tried one of the new Hot Pots--Korean BBQ Pulled Pork to be exact, with only 460 calories. I loved it! It is made with antibiotic-free pork simmered in a sweet & savory sauce with red peppers, honey, ginger, garlic, and cilantro on a bed of red rice and quinoa. It comes with a fresh-made roll and I washed it all down with Pret's strawberry lemonade. Refreshing!

On another visit, I went with the new Spinach and Tomato Mac 'n Cheese and brought it back to my desk. Who ever heard of mac 'n cheese for only 420 calories!? And it was super creamy. I didn't feel like I was missing out at all. FYI, this item is fully vegetarian, but they also have a version with crispy bacon with only 470 calories. On this visit, I also tried Pret's blood orange seltzer.

So if you've never been to Pret, or just haven't been in a while (they're especially easy to find around Midtown), it's high time to check them out again and try one of the new menu items. You're right on track to never have a boring lunch again!

Editor's Note: Pret provided me with complimentary food for the purposes of writing this post but all opinions are my own.


Take a Trip Around the World...With Grilled Cheese

There are two kinds of adults in this world--those that think board games are meh and those who could literally spend all day playing them. We think that those in the latter category are, well, awesome and we have found the perfect new bar for all these cool folks to congregate, play games to their hearts' content, and munch on the best damn grilled cheese in Brooklyn.

We recently attended the press preview night for HENRI on Fifth (279 5th Avenue, Park Slope), which recently opened with an eclectic menu (grilled cheeses of the world!), a cupboard of all your favorite board games from Operation! to Hungry Hippos and Cards Against Humanity, and a comprehensive list of bespoke cocktails.

First things first, I sampled the Dirty Henri with gin, cucumber, and moscato. This drink was a little sweet for me, but I loved the freshness of the cukes. Friends who tried the other 4 drinks on the menu (one bourbon, one whisky, and one house-infused rhubarb vodka) agreed with me on the sweetness pattern, but that could all be attributed to the opening night jitters of a heavy-handed bartender. 

The stars of the night were the grilled cheeses. The owner told us that the restaurant was named after his little son, Henri, who inherited German and French heritage from his mother and Pan-Asian genes from himself. Therefore, the menu includes a mix of all these influences. For example, you can order a grilled cheese sandwich in 3 different ways:
  • The Classic (American): Cheddar and fontina on pullman bread
  • Le Classique (French): Gruyere and caramelized shallots on garlic toast with sherry thyme au jus
  • Die Klassische (German): Muenster, sauerkraut and brautwurst on pretzel bread with beer mustard dip
All were amazing, but days after I still find myself craving the American version. Simple, cheesy goodness. The German, however, was definitely the most unique grilled cheese I've ever tried. All sandwiches come cut in fours (easier to share!) and with shooters of tomato bisque or butternut squash soup.

The Classic
Die Klassische

Other standouts of the night included the Sriracha Deviled Eggs and the Korean Bahn Mi Taco. 

Sriracha deviled eggs -- We could eat a tray of these
Bahn Mi Taco
Before heading out, we had to indulge in some board game action. I'd say we broke some sort of Jenga record...37 rows! Props to Dave from Barton's Bites for being an excellent player!

And just to make things even better, we found this on a shop near the bar. So it's a legit neighborhood :)

If we lived in the area, this would be a go-to spot. I can't imagine a better way to end a workday than with a Classic grilled cheese and a rousing game of Pac Man (they have the old school game tables!) followed by a epic round of Jenga.

Henri on Fifth on Urbanspoon


Narrowing Down on Darrow's

If there's one thing we love around here, it's restaurant openings--ESPECIALLY when the kitchen and menu were designed by David Kupperberg of Pure Food & Wine, Taylor Thorne of Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges (who needs no superlatives). Darrow’s Farm Fresh Takeout (115 E. 18th Street) also brought in nutritionist Julie Starr to ensure their food is nutrient-rich and 100% local and organic.

We were invited last week for their public debut and got to sample several of their juice and cocktail offerings as well as some salads and sides.

Darrow's from the street
Main level and menu
Kitchen staff hard at work
Main level and juice bar
Juice Bar-istas
Upstairs - I was a little obsessed with these farm-inspired crate lanterns
Upstairs - And I LOVED this living wall

The simple food all tasted great and you could tell it was meant to highlight the local and organic ingredients. First I tried the Black, Red, and Wild Rice Salad with dried berries, hazelnuts, apples, pomegranate, and spinach with Sheep's yogurt (talk about antioxidants!) and loved it. Other favorites were the Raw Curried Cauliflower with dried fruit and nuts and the Crispy Kale with chipotle tahini sauce.

As for libations, I could drink and drink their beet juice and I loved that they had Fever Tree ginger beer on the menu (a new Awesome favorite!)

Beet juice! (not blood)

This seems like a great lunch spot for those who work in the area. You can dine in (order and pay on iPads on every table!) or order to go. They have several vegetarian-friendly plate options for $11-$15 and you can add a protein to any of them for another few bucks. Juice prices are pretty standard at $9-$11. But I'll definitely keep this in mind as a place to hide away from the bustle of Union Square and go read next to the living wall while sipping a Fever Tree.

Darrow's Farm Fresh Takeout on Urbanspoon