Restaurant Week, Month…no, no…Summer! UPDATED

So one of my favorite things in New York is when they have Restaurant Week.  Great restaurants throughout the city offer a fixed price menu for both lunch and dinner with and appetizer, entrée and dessert.   It’s a great chance to try out new places, go to a place you normally wouldn’t splurge for, or just go back to an old favorite to try new dishes.   This summer the original Restaurant Week actually ran three weeks and then many of the restaurants participating extended their run until Labor Day.

As you may or may not know, I’ve been watching what eat, so that means that Fridays and Saturdays are my only non-restricted eating days—which meant that for Restaurant Week, which typically does not include Saturdays, that Fridays were my only option.  So suffice it to say we’ve had a great fun of Friday meals.  So here’s the run down on where we’ve been:

Week 1

Mr. Chow.  A high-end Asian fusion restaurant, Mr. Chow has several locations including one right down the block from us.  We’ve walked by it many times, and seen the limos and town cars waiting outside for diners enjoying the food.   So when I saw that it was available for Restaurant Week, I knew we had to give it a try.  The wait for our reservation was short, the restaurant beautifully appointed, and the wait staff friendly and helpful (which sadly isn’t always the case on Restaurant Week).  The first course—a spicy noodle dish was my definitely favorite.  It was followed by a green shrimp dish (so named for the herbs the shrimp was coated in).  Although the dish was tasty, the shrimp were very small and not as tender as I would have liked.  My husband’s dish was quite spicy, which was perfect for him, but not for me—so I didn’t have a taste.  Dessert was a medley of ice cream.  Nice, but again underwhelming.  All in all while I would consider going there again, I wouldn’t put it in the list of my favs.

Week 2

21 Club.  Okay, honestly, I’ve been here before and love it.  So wasn’t thinking much about going other than knowing I’d enjoy the food.  But have to say that the restaurant week menu was fabulous.  I started with an heirloom tomato salad that was delicious.  And then moved on to a grilled flat iron steak that was cooked to perfection.  And I’m picky about my steak.  The night was finished off with an excellent crème brulee with blueberries and a lemon shortbread cookie.  We ate downstairs, and the service was tremendous, the atmosphere, as always, fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Week 3

The Post House.  I’d heard a lot about the Post House.  Old NY and clubby steak house (which I happen to love), so figured I was in for a treat.  However, of all the places we’ve been over the course of this extended Restaurant week, it was my least favorite.  Which isn’t to say that it was bad, just neither interesting nor memorable.   I started with a goat cheese tart, which was essentially a hunk of goat cheese on top a small round of puff pastry.  Basically it was like eating cold cheese right from the refrigerator.  Uninspired and disappointing.   The steak was delicious, but compared to the week before at 21, lacking—although my husband loved his.  But my key lime pie was delightful.  A nice ending to what was a lovely if not particularly memorable evening.

Week 4

Megu.  This was the week we’d planned on going to Bobby Flay’s Mesa for our anniversary.  But when I realized that Restaurant Week had been extended, I changed our reservations from Saturday to Friday, and then when we decided to celebrate with our daughter instead of just the two of us (we went to the Village Vanguard on our own on that Saturday and had a fabulous time) I knew that Southwestern food wasn’t her favorite.  So I shifted gears, and made reservations at Megu (in the Trump Tower on First Avenue).  And I wasn’t disappointed.  This was definitely in my top two meals.   I started with a crispy kanzuri shrimp.  Coated with some kind of peanut sauce, these were so good, I could easily have had them in a larger portion for dinner.  AMAZING.  Next up, Premium Kobe Washugyu Sirloin Steak.  Marinated, it was tender, perfectly cooked and served on a block.  Again absolutely wonderful.   And for dessert, a delightful green tea crepe.  Service was excellent, and the appointments were lovely.  Definitely a restaurant I will go to again.

Week 5

Le Cirque.  This one started on a bad note I have to say because my husband lost his wallet.  And so we lost our reservation, but when I realized I could still get us in later that night, we rebooked and returned after all the hassle of dealing with the mess of losing the wallet.   I have to say the restaurant is definitely an island of calm.  And after the beginning of the night, it was a lovely way to end.  That said, compared to some of the other places we ate, the wow factor just wasn’t there.  Still the staff was lovely, and the food was excellent.  I started with an heirloom tomato salad with sucrine, cucumber, capers, marjoram.  It was excellent.  And every bit as delightful as the one I had at 21.  Next up roasted chicken with fricassée of fingerling potatoes, corn, scallions, bacon, jus basquaise. The chicken was well cooked, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the purple potatoes were delightful.  And for dessert, I had the crème brulee.  I am a HUGE crème brulee fan, and I do have to say that this was one of the best I’ve ever had.  So kudos on dessert at Le Cirque.

Week 6

Tom Colicchio and Sons (Tap Room).   I’m a huge fan of Craft, so was eager to try this restaurant across from the Chelsea Street Market and under the Highline.   And I was not disappointed.  This restaurant, like Megu comes in as one of my top two for this summer’s Restaurant Week.  More relaxed than some of the other places we ate, it was still elegant and the staff was attentive and well-informed.  My husband enjoyed a flight of beer and I had a lovely Bordeaux.  I started with a cold corn soup with truffle oil and grilled corn kernels.  It was fabulous!  My husband had a beef tartare with a smoked egg vinaigrette and homemade potato chips.  Equally fabulous, although I preferred mine just slightly to his.  After much debate, because it all looked so fabulous, for my entrée, I had the roasted hanger steak with potato puree and bone marrow butter.  Melt in your mouth meat.  It was served with spigarello, greens of some kind, slightly resembling spinach but not as bitter.  Very lovely.   My husband had the roasted pork belly with succotash and okra.  He enjoyed every bite.  And then for dessert—I had beignets with fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream.  Perfection.  Seriously great meal.  I’m definitely going back.  A lot.

Week 7

DGBG.  We haven’t actually been yet… this one is on tap as our last Restaurant Week restaurant, this weekend.  But I am a fan of Daniel Boulud and looking forward to trying his East Village restaurant.  It’s Lyonnais-inspired bistro cooking.  So I’m expecting great things. Okay–so went to DGBG and must report it wasn’t the experience I’d hoped for.  While the food was good the service was not.  Maybe because it was  Friday night and it was really busy?  But still… And although I enjoyed the meal, nothing really stood out as exceptional.  Maybe I had just been to too many other wonderful places.  Still it was a great month of eating high on the hog as we say in Texas.  So well worth the effort!


So last weekend, I met friends at Balthazar in SoHo. After exiting a taxi on Spring Street, we literally had to fight our way inside.  There were people milling everywhere.  Clearly a popular Sunday venue.  Once inside we discovered that our friends hadn’t arrived yet, so we fought our way back outside and settled on one of the benches lining the wall that fronts the restaurant.  I have to admit, it was a spectacular fall morning and it was great fun to sit and watch the people go by.  And once our friends arrived we were gratified to find that even though the place was still overly packed, our reservation was promptly honored and we were shown to a lovely table.

Like all New York restaurants the tables were squeezed together and we were a little too close to our neighbors for comfort, but
we quickly forgot as we began to peruse the menu and catch up.  My first thought on entering the cavernous American bistro was that it looked a lot like Artisanal, the Terrance Brennan’s cheesery in Murray Hill.   Which isn’t a bad thing.  Airy and, squashed tables aside, comfortable, the place is all marble, velvet and brass.  With the soaring ceilings of a building converted from a leather wholesaler’s warehouse.

Opened in 1997 by Keith McNally (of Patis fame), Balthazar’s co-chefs are Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr.  Both men have resumes that include some of New York’s finest dining establishments.   And the restaurant is both a tourist draw and a neighborhood favorite.

The brunch menu, with a definite Parisian slant, offered entrees for both breakfast and lunch.  I chose the Brioche French toast with smoked bacon.  And although the French toast had a lovely touch of cinnamon in the batter, I found it dry and slightly overcooked.  My friend however, had the
scrambled eggs in puff pastry with wild mushrooms and asparagus, and it not only looked wonderful, it apparently tasted fabulous as well.  The other egg dishes ordered were tasty as well.

While I’m not sure that I’d make the effort to travel downtown again just to go to Balthazar’s, I’d definitely recommend it as a fun way to spend a fabulous fall morning with good friends.  And I am interested in trying out the bakery next door.  The pastries are supposed to be fabulous!

Balthazar, 80 Spring Street, 212.965.1414,

A Cool Little Summer Treat

Okay, summer is all about ice cream.  Everyone knows that.  But this year,  I’ve fallen in love with frozen yogurt.  Specifically, Pinkberry.   I know it’s a chain and I have friends who’d probably call it designer yogurt.  And I also admit that I’m supposed to be talking about things uniquely NYC, but I’m telling you it’s awesome stuff.

Basically, it’s all about putting every conceivable kind of goodness on a mound of frozen yogurt.  Yogurt-wise, there are seasonal flavors, including pomegranate, mango, chocolate and coconut (a fav of mine but they haven’t had it this summer for some reason).   And then there is original, which has a sweet-tart taste that is amazingly refreshing.

Original is my favorite because it makes a perfect backdrop of the toppings you add.  First up are the fresh fruits.   Strawberry, banana, raspberry, blackberry and pineapple just to name a few.  My husband particularly loves the kiwi.  And then there are the usual
suspects, cookies, candies, brownies, all kinds of chopped deliciousness.  But me—I’m a simple girl.  And since I can’t eat fruit—here’s my fav.

A serving of original yogurt with coconut, toasted almonds and crushed up wafers like the stuff they make waffle cones from.  It’s the perfect mix of chewy, creamy and crunchy.  My idea of a little bit of heaven in the city.  So when it’s hot, and these days that seems to be a lot, Pinkberry is my vote for an easy, delicious way to cool off.  And hey, the yogurt is fat-free.

For the more adventurous types, there are also smoothies, fruit bowls and parfaits.  And if you like things more traditional—you can have it all in a waffle cone.  But anyway you serve it up, I promise you’re going to like it.

Pinkberry has locations all over the city.  So to find the one nearest you check out the following link:

Not all Cannoli are Equal

Okay, so we’ve already established that I like to eat.  But unlike a lot of Americans—I’m really not that big on sweets.   Give me pasta or a good crusty bread and I’m a happy camper, probably going for seconds and thirds.  Bake me a cake, and while I’ll love it, I’ll probably not sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night for a second piece.  And most importantly, and weirdly, I’ll admit, I’m not that big of a chocolate fan.  Which means that when I do go for dessert it tends to be something not quite as sweet and definitely no chocolate.  Which brings me to cannoli.  My idea of a perfect dessert.  I absolutely love them.   And since finding cannoli in Texas is sort of like finding a good chimichanga in Manhattan, I hadn’t really had all that much experience with them until I moved up here.

And in my opinion, nobody makes cannoli like the Fortunato Brothers.  The first time I experienced their phenomenal cannoli was during the Feast of San Gennaro held every fall in Little Italy.  The restaurants along Mulberry Street spill out onto the road, with tented tables offering everything Italian.  And along with the restaurants are booths offering more amazing goodies.  And this is where I ran into the small booth holding a table full of cannoli.  Oh my gosh, pure heaven. But having only just arrived in Manhattan, I just assumed that all cannoli were this magnificent, and so I really didn’t pay that much attention to where I’d bought mine.

Later, a new craving having been created, I went to a local neighborhood place with cannoli, prepared to relive the heavenly experience I’d had on Mulberry Street.  I bought the cannoli, and impatient for the creamy flakey goodness that is cannoli, ate it on the spot.  And had a heart sinking moment when I realized, a) that all cannoli are not created equal and b) that I didn’t know the name of the place where I’d bought the fabulous cannoli.  Only that I thought it started with an ‘F’.  In short, I was screwed.

Then at a different street fair a year or so later, I saw them.  The little booth, the table of cannoli, the name beginning with an ‘F’—Fortunato Brothers, from Brooklyn.   I bought four cannoli and ate one on the spot.   They were exactly as I remembered.  So these days, it’s become a game with me, go to a street fair, and hope that they’ll be there.   Yesterday at the 2nd Ave street fair, I hit gold.  The world’s best cannoli—waiting for me.

For those of you who are into instant gratification, the Fortunato Brothers have a café in Williamsburg, where they’ve been perfecting their cannoli for over 35 years. And besides selling cannoli, they have homemade gelato and all kinds of cakes and pastries.  One of these days I’ll have to give it a try, but in the meantime, I’ll be checking out the next street fair, and keeping my fingers crossed that Fortunato cannoli will be there.

Fortunato Brothers Café and Pasticceria- 289 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.387.2281

Some Things Just Aren’t Meant to Be

So I just got back from a flying visit to DC.  Among other things we had really good Mexican food (twice, but that’s a story I’ve already told over at The Whine Sisters)  And that somehow lead to a conversation about finding Tex-Mex in the city.  And at the time we smugly answered that although initially we dispaired of finding anything even remotely authentic, we wound up stumbling across a great little place on 53rd that was owned by a fellow Texan.  A divey little place it was our go to  for a greasy Tex-Mex fix.   So this weekend, we headed out, mouths watering-dreaming of queso and margaritas.  But what we found was a completely new menu.  All of it fat-free and lo carb.  Seriously, in a Mexican restaurant.

Now I’m all for eating healthy. And I’m the first to admit that I should do better.  But when I go out to eat I do not need the “Carb” police.   And especially not at a Tex-Mex restaurant where flour and corn tortillas are the staple of the menu.  So needless to say, hearts broken, we left our once wonderful hole in the wall, and desperate, headed for another place nearby that we often passed but had never tried.

Turns out for good reason.

This restaurant is located in the basement of a building in a row of three restuarants that it turns out are all hooked together.  But by the time that we realized that the Mexican restuarant was actually also a Mediterranean and Chinese restaurant, it was too late.  Really, really too late.  The food was not even remotely Mexican.  Seriously, except for the, thankfully, full carb chips, it was pretty much like eating frozen food straight from the grocery.  The salsa was tomato soup with a few peppers.  And the enchaladas were lost underneath the grated lettuce and drizzled sour cream.   While everything was edible, it was nothing even remotely like anything I’d ever eaten in either Texas or New Mexico.  And frankly I suspect nothing like anything southwestern on either side of the border.

There was also no liquor license–so the dream of a margarita vanished along with my desire for yummy greasy lick the plate Tex-Mex.

Lesson learned–no more experimenting.  We’ll just make do with the lovely interior Mexican places and save the good stuff for when we next head home.

If you know of a great place to get Tex-Mex in Manhattan–please let me know–we’re desperate!

Perfect Saturday Morning

Being in Manhattan there are loads of things to do on a Saturday morning. Not the least of them being to grab a bagel and a schmear and nosh while reading the Sunday Times (half of which is delivered on Saturday—go figure).  Which means that many New Yorkers  (especially those on the West Side) are going to be crying into their lattes with the announcement that the West Side location of H&H Bagels is closing.  It’s the end of an era.

Started in 1972 by brothers-in-law Helmer Toro and Hector Hernandez when they bought an existing bagel shop on Broadway, H&H has come to represent the quintessential bagel.  Warm and chewy on the outside.  Airy, moist and soft on the inside.  In the early 1990’s the bakery moved to 45th and 12th Ave, but the main store remained the on the Upper West Side near Zabars.

When I first came to Manhattan I was told that I absolutely had to try H&H bagels.  So we dutifully took the subway over to the West Side to partake of the magic.  And I have to say they were some fabulous bagels (although you have to take them home if you want them toasted with toppings.).   But being somewhat allergic to long subway commutes , I looked them up online and lo and behold there was an east side outlet.

Off I went to 2nd Ave and 80th, and blissfully bought bagels for the entire time I lived on the Upper East Side.  It was only much later that I was informed that while that location of H&H bagels had originally been owned by the two H’s.  They’d been bought by someone else in the eighties when the original filed for bankruptcy.  (Later indicted for tax evasion, one can’t be all that surprised).  Anyway, my H&H wasn’t actually the H&H.  However, Manhattanites live in their neighborhoods, so I ignored the lack of legitimacy—as far as I was concerned my H&H had great bagels.

But when we moved to Midtown it was no longer worth the commute.  So these days I get my bagels from a shop on the block.  And even though the place next door purports to sell H&H bagels (the bakery at 45th is still open)—I find I like my bagels local—really local (like I can smell them baking late at night when my kitchen window is open).  So while the Upper West Side may have indeed suffered a blow.  Life goes on here in Midtown.  And I’ll take my bagels—toasted with butter—just round the corner, for a perfect Saturday morning.

A Touch of Spain

One of the things I like best about New York City is the wealth of different cultures.  And nowhere is that more evident than in the food offered by the myriad of restaurants throughout the city.  Saturday night we decided to try a neighborhood restaurant specializing in Spanish food.  And we were not disappointed.

Alcala is a small intimate place located near the United Nations serving food from the Basque region of Spain.  With warm paintings and plates on brick and plaster walls you immediately feel the Mediterranean influence.   Seated at a table for two in the front room, I had a view of passersby as well as the comfortable setting of the restaurant itself.  There is also a garden in the back. The two spaces separated by a lovely old wood bar.

But of course the star of any restaurant is the food.  And our meal was absolutely perfect.  To start we ordered pork tenderloin from the tapas menu.   Two portions of perfectly marinated meat topped with peppers on a rustic toasted bread.   The meat was fork tender and the flavors melded together for a perfect bite.   A great starter, and just the right size.

Next up, we split a salad with white asparagus on piquillo peppers with a scallion and olive vinaigrette.  The dressing was light and refreshing and the white asparagus melt in your mouth good.   And again the portion was perfect for splitting.  And a lovely follow-up to the pork.

Along with both our starter and our salad we had an excellent wine.  A tempranillo/merlot blend from 2003.  Montevannos.   I most definitely would order it again.

For the main course, I chose sautéed monkfish in a parsley and garlic sauce with clams and shrimp.  The fish was perfectly cooked, and the shrimp were mouthwateringly sweet.  The sauce was good enough that I wished for a bit of bread to sop it up, though thankfully, for my waistline, I didn’t.   The presentation was also delightful. And the portion size was generous but not overwhelming.

My husband had a paella with chunks of chicken ,beef and chorizo sauce. It too was delicious, the smoky flavor of the chorizo making the dish.  Besides meat and rice, the casserole was full of zucchini, peas, string beans and other vegetables.  Every bite delicious.

And because I am a complete and total fan of anything resembling egg custard, we ordered the flan  for dessert.  And I have to say that it was fabulous.  With a hint of cinnamon in the caramelized sugar it had an almost exotic flavor.   Definitely a nice touch and the perfect ending for a delightful meal.

We’ll definitely be coming back.

Alcala,  342 East 46th St., New York, NY 1001

(212) 370-1866