Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dinner. 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.


AWESOME DEAL: Free Dinner Delivered!

It's a tale as old as time: Start the day with Google-worthy ambitions of preparing a 5-step, 3-course meal for dinner. Decide around lunchtime that eating the Lean Cuisine in your freezer would enable you to better spend your evening binge watching House of Cards. Go home from work and realize you ate that Lean Cuisine last week and since you've already changed into your sweats and sheepskin slippers, going to the grocery store is out of the question. So you spend way too much money on delivery, only to regret whatever you chow down on 45 minutes later because it wasn't healthy/tasty/homemade/hot/etc.

Enter Munchery. Munchery is a dinner-delivery service that's been serving chef-created meals for busy food lovers in San Francisco since 2011. Since it's NYC launch earlier this month, Munchery has collaborated with chefs like Eddie Montalvo of Blue Smoke and Rachel Hazen formerly of Pure Food and Wine to create daily menus of wholesome, affordable food.

Today's menu items include: Honey-Tea Braised Chicken Thighs with pineapple mango salad, brown rice, fresh cilantro ($10.50), Grilled Hanger Steak with creamy potato gratin, broccoli rabe, tomato confit ($13.95), and Vegan Tempeh Couscous Primavera with fava and asparagus ($10.50). They even sell desserts, drinks (including AINY favorite Harmless Harvest coconut water!), and kid-friendly items too.

The way it works is similar to any other food delivery service, but you must select your food and order by the daily deadline of 1pm. You then select the time frame that works for you--in hourly slots from 4 to 9pm--and voila! Dinner! All items are delivered cooked, chilled and packaged in microwave and oven-safe packaging for easy reheating. If you are expecting a particularly busy week, you can order meals up to 7 days in advance and never worry about what is going to satiate you when you do finally get home and around to your binge watching.

Munchery gives back as well. For every order placed, they donate a meal to a local food bank. Additionally, all packaging is made from recyclable and/or compostable materials.

Here's where it gets good...Munchery wants to buy you dinner! Sign up through this link and order up to $20 worth of food for free!

Note: Munchery does not currently deliver to certain outerborough locations (like Astoria, sad face). However, the simple solution is to have the delivery come to your office in Manhattan and just take your food home!


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.


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


Bring On the Meat Sweats

I would venture to say that I eat more food in the last month of the year than I do in the entire first three months of it. Just the way of the world I suppose. Gotta roll with it...

Continuing the tradition of feasting, I recently was invited for dinner at the NYC location of Texas de Brazil Churrascaria (1011 Third Avenue). 

If you've never tried a Brazilian Steakhouse (and you aren't a vegetarian), you are missing out on a unequivocally amazing eating experience. The concept is this: You have a chip on your table which you flip to green if you're hungry or red if you've had enough or need a break. When you flip to green, servers called gauchos carrying large swords of meat come to your table and slice you off whatever you like. Rinse, wash, repeat. 

Texas de Brazil takes it to a whole new level. First, their huge space and upscale vibe make you feel like you're someone important as soon as you enter. The service is impeccable--your waiter will check on you constantly and proactively bring you whatever you happen to need. When you first arrive, you are treated to a basket of pão de queijo, or yucca and cheese rolls (gluten free!). They are served hot and steaming and we devoured the whole basket immediately. Usually I don't like to fill up on bread, but these were an exception.

 Pão de queijo

Next we took a trip over to the salad bar. It's really an injustice to call it a salad bar. I'd call it a Gourmet Bar. They had at least 50 different items displayed as they would be at a fancy wedding or buffet event; everything from lobster bisque (yum!) to smoked salmon, fresh mozzarella balls and fried provolone, prosciutto and sauteed mushrooms, bright red tomato slices and pineapple carpaccio.

The "Gourmet" Bar
Cheese and Fish
My plate from the "Gourmet" Bar
Although I wanted to enjoy my salad plate first, my boyfriend was overeager for meat and flipped his chip as soon as we sat. No joke, within 60 seconds, a gaucho was at our table and we had bowls of garlic mashed potatoes and fried plantains brought to us. Honestly, I can't even recall ALL the meats we had. But I'll try...filet mignon, pork belly, Brazilian sausage, bacon-wrapped chicken, top sirloin, flank steak, pork tenderloin, parmesan chicken, beef ribs, garlic flank steak, and leg of lamb (at least!).

Our favorites were definitely the top sirloin and leg of lamb, but those were the more elusive cuts. Know that they will offer you the sausage about 15 times over the course of your meal, with chicken coming in second. YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YES IF YOU DON'T WANT IT. In fact, I would recommend passing on the chicken dishes (semi-dry) and sausage (nothing special) altogether. You'll get more for your money if you stick with the better cuts of meat anyway. Also know that the meats tend to be a little salty so drink water accordingly.

When the meat sweats started to kick in, I flipped my chip. Nao, obrigado gaucho! (But actually, could I have another slice of that leg of lamb?)

But then they bring the dessert tray...

When I was a kid, I used to be enamored with dessert trays. Oh the possibilities! But at this point, I was a bit overwhelmed. Still, a little creme brulee never hurt anyone.

Creme Brulee
Now we were full AND happy :)

Texas de Brazil charges a flat rate for lunch ($38.99) and dinner ($59.99) for all you can eat. If you just want the salad bar, lunch is $23.99 and dinner is $39.99. Children 2 and under are complimentary, while children 3-5 are $5 and those 6-12 are half off the regular dinner price. Price does not include alcohol, featured items, desserts, beverages or applicable taxes.

Disclaimer: I received a free meal at Texas de Brazil in exchange for my review, but all opinions are my own.

Texas de Brazil on Urbanspoon