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

8/21/15

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.

Elpinia
Elpinia
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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8/20/15

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.

makgeolli
Makgeolli

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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8/7/15

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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8/5/15

I Tried a Sundae the Size of My Head at Bagatelle

I'll admit it. I was a bit of a glutton last week, and this post only reinforces that. Trust me, I'm still full. Now on with it...

I was invited back to Bagatelle (1 Little West 12th Street) in the Meatpacking District a year and a half after my first visit there to check out some of their newer (or new-to-me) dishes as well as sample some old favorites. Truffle was still the predominant flavor among all the courses, yet the summer setting led me to favor lighter, more refreshing dishes compared with some of the richer items.


Jocelyn from Chic & Sweaty and I opted to start with some Bootie Calls ($17) from the bar (get your head out of the gutter!) because watermelon. Elderflower helped that decision also.

Bootie Calls
Bootie Calls
We got started with Bagatelle's famous truffle theme with the Pizza a la Truffe Noire ($26). You might say, who goes to a French place and orders a pizza?, but trust me, you want to order this pizza. The crust has gotten thicker since my last visit, but I like the change. I wish you could at least smell the super-satisfying. earthy truffle scent through this blog. It's heavenly.

Pizza a la Truffe Noire
Pizza a la Truffe Noire 
We tried the Salade Bagatelle ($14) with hearts of lettuce, parmesan cheese, fresh garden herbs, and a mustard vinaigrette. There were also two tartares--Tartare de Thon Bagatelle ($19/$29) with ahi tuna, avocado, and taro chips and Tartare aux Deux Saumons ($19) with fresh and smoked Scottish salmon, shallot, and dill creme fraiche. These were all very similar to the last time we came, however the presentation is different. I loved that the salmon tartare was served in a shell dish.

Salade Bagatelle
Salade Bagatelle
Tartare de Thon Bagatelle
Tartare de Thon Bagatelle 
Tartare aux Deux Saumons
Tartare aux Deux Saumons
Then, lest we forgot about the truffles, we were presented with a giant heaping bowl of Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas ($25/$36), AKA: truffle gnocchi. I tend not to order gnocchi from restaurants unless I know the dish is spectacular because often they can be made so dense that they just fall like giant bricks down your esophagus and land with a thunk in your belly. To make a light and fluffy gnocchi is a skill that I admire, and Bagatelle has it DOWN. These are truffle pillows and you should order them.

Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas
Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne de Nicolas
Now for the main course. (I know, right?) First I have to point out that going to a blogger dinner is unlike any other outing. Tons of food is brought out, it smells delicious, you can see the steam wafting off of each dish, and then we all break out our iPhones, Androids, and for some fancy pants bloggers, giant cameras. If lighting is low, iPhone flashlights come out to create makeshift studio spotlights. You just have to see it.

Dinner with Bloggers
Dinner with bloggers
But I digress. We sampled the catch of the day filleted at the table ($MP) which was served with pea and corn risotto. This was a perfect summer dish as it was light and gently flavored with lemon and salt. The other seafood dish we tried was the Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche ($19) with sauteed calamari, saffron risotto cake, and squid ink vinaigrette. This was an unusual dish, but I enjoyed it.

Catch of the Day
Catch of the Day
Corn and Pea Risotto
Corn and Pea Risotto
Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche
Calamars Snackes a l'Encre de Seiche
For the meat, we fulfilled our iron quotient for the month with the Steak au Poivre ($45), a 12 oz. NY Strip from Thunder Ridge Farm served with pommes frites and cognac peppercorn sauce, and the Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe ($35), roasted chicken with truffles and country style potatoes. Presentation is everything with the chicken as it comes in a sautee pan. I remember this dish because the chicken goes against the "dry restaurant chicken" assumption. Rather, it's juicy, flavorful, and maintains a rustic vibe even in this trendy setting.

Steak au Poivre
Steak au Poivre
Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe
Poulet Fermier Roti et Truffe
Then after we finished all of that, they brought out the Chateaubriand for two ($125)--a 24 oz center cut beef tenderloin, truffle potato puree, and red wine and peppercorn sauce. The waitstaff needed the whole table just to put down this giant plate of meat. I was pretty stuffed by this point, but sampled a piece of it and was very, very satisfied. I know the menu says this dish is for two, but I'm sure glad there were 6 of us to finish it off (I hate wasting food!).

Chateaubriand
Chateaubriand
All of us knew we weren't escaping this marathon dinner without dessert, but the folks at Bagatelle literally made me utter "Oh my God" when they brought out their "Mauboussin Mega Sundae."

Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Just LOOK at that thing!


For perspective, of course, I had to pose with the behemoth.

Me with the Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Me with the Mauboussin Mega Sundae
Normally when ordered, this sundae comes with jewelry to make it worth the $1,000 price tag. It also features countless scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, granola, strawberries, an avalanche of whipped cream, brownies, cookies, and a Jackson Pollock of caramel and fudge sauce. Oh, and a sparkler. I don't know who Mauboussin is (was?), but he must've been a hell of a dude to have a sundae like this named after him. (Editor's Note: Mauboussin is a French jeweler who I'm assuming must make the baubles that go in the sundae).

To round things out, we also tried the Apple Tarte Tatin, Dark Chocolate Mousse, and Creme Brulee (each $12). While the sundae was sensational, the Creme Brulee was probably my favorite taste-wise. You can't beat a candied shell in my book.

Apple Tarte Tatin
Apple Tarte Tatin
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee

Another epic one bites the dust in my gastronomy book. Bagatelle knows how to deliver solid food for all tastes (but especially for those who like truffle). With a DJ spinning beats, sexy art flocking the walls, and a killer mixology program, this is the place to be if you want to impress. As long as the weather stays nice, request a table right by the patio--the doors stay open until the sun falls and you'll get the best of both indoor vibes and outdoor warmth (and people watching!). Just prepare your wallet however, because this is not a meal for the frugal.

Disclosure: Bagatelle provided me with a comp meal in exchange for this review. However, all opinions are my own.


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8/4/15

Dinner and Boat Ride

After 7 years in NYC (it's official today!), I have finally popped my Staten Island cherry--and now have officially visited all 5 of New York City's boroughs. I'm a little ashamed that it took me this long, but I digress.

The Staten Island Ferry Building
The Staten Island Ferry Building

The catalyst behind this visit was, of course, food. The free ferry ride across the bay didn't hurt either.

Boarding the Staten Island Ferry
Boarding the ferry
Pulling away from Manhattan
Pulling away from Manhattan
I waved to Miss Liberty (along with throngs of tourists angling to get a picture)
I waved to Miss Liberty (along with throngs of tourists angling to get a picture)
Ok, so back to the food. I was invited, along with Dave from Barton's Bites to visit the River Dock Cafe located inside the ferry terminal building with a terrace overlooking the bay and downtown Manhattan.



Afshin, one of the restaurant's owners--it's a family business--met our group and gave us the history of how his father came to the US from India years ago and built up a food empire from nothing. They now own 47 restaurant concepts in the tri-state area, including most of the vendors in Penn Station. It was definitely an impressive rags-to-riches story and made me respect their ambition a ton.

We started with drinks, which were much needed given the fact that the sun was shining right in many of our faces and we were all sweating glistening. I would definitely recommend any of the frozen drinks, but I found myself craving more and more of the lemonade. I know it's simple, and there's not even alcohol (though you can ask them to add some vodka if you're feeling that), but it's delicious and refreshing and just screams summer.


As for appetizers, we were bombarded (in the best way possible) with a Thanksgiving table full of food. Favorites included the fried shrimp and calamari from the appetizer assortment ($23), the Caprese salad ($11), and the fresh white ahi tuna salad ($15).

Appetizer Assortment
Appetizer Assortment
Caprese Salad
Caprese Salad
Maryland Crabcakes
Maryland Crabcakes
Afshin told us River Dock's specialty is seafood, even though they do fried food very, very well. So for the main course, the friendly waitstaff brought out another tableful of food: Cajun steamed pot ($33), fresh Maine lobster ($27), Thai mussel pot ($22), Seafood Fra Diavolo pasta ($19), marinated grilled shrimp ($29), Alaskan pan seared salmon ($22), BBQ baby back ribs ($23), and the grilled free range chicken breast ($19). PHEW!


That's a ton of food!
That's a ton of food!

I tell ya, you can take the girl out of Boston (where I went to school), but you can't take the Boston out of the girl. I was super into the shellfish, and was the only one of us adventurous enough to crack into the lobster claws sans plastic bib. It was worth it. Nothing says summer like making a mess eating lobster. The Cajun steamed pot was also a ton of fun, with the crab legs easier to open than the lobster and the peel-and-eat shrimp ready for your dextrous digits to tear into them.

Cajun Steamed Pot
Cajun Steamed Pot
Thai Mussel Pot
Thai Mussel Pot
Fresh Maine Lobster
Fresh Maine Lobster
BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Chicken
BBQ Baby Back Ribs and Grilled Chicken
Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Atlantic Pan Seared Salmon
Atlantic Pan Seared Salmon
Seafood Fra Diavolo Pasta
Seafood Fra Diavolo Pasta
Lastly, we couldn't leave without at least sampling dessert. Each dessert usually comes separately, but Afshin brought out a sampler for us including the red velvet cake, chocolate molten cake, and NY cheesecake (each $8). My favorite was definitely the molten cake because chocolate.

Cake Platter
Cake Platter
One of the best parts of the night was the ride home (again, the Staten Island Ferry is FREE!). We stood at the bow of the boat, digesting as we watched the shimmering lights of the city come closer and closer. I would do it all again just to watch the distant hum of activity turn into the individual buildings and streets that we all know and love. 



River Dock Cafe is the perfect place to take a "staycation" dinner trip, even on a weekend night. Set up shop right after work with a few frozen cocktails and some lemonade, order up some seafood, and watch the sun go down and the Manhattan lights go up. Word has it that a ferris wheel larger than the London Eye will also be rising in the vicinity of the restaurant, so that will only draw more and more traffic to the area. So you might as well check it out now!

Disclosure: River Dock Cafe provided me with a comp meal in exchange for this review. However, all opinions are my own.


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