Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City + Los Angeles dining scenes through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

Just consider me your one-stop NYC - and, most recently, Los Angeles - shop!



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Product review: Sofia Vergara's favorite "Coffee Bar"

When I purchased my last coffee maker during a 'Friends and Family' sale at Bloomingdales (like 5+ years ago), it was pretty top-of-the-line.  I'm not talking about a fancy Nespresso machine, just a solid coffee maker with all the bells and whistles: Bean grinder, clock, and that awesome "program" button you can pre-set to have your coffee brewing the minute you wake up.  It's been a great device and one that even moved across the country with me 1.5 years ago!

A few weeks ago, I decided to clean my coffee maker for the first time ever in ages.  Having never changed the machine's water filter (ever), I removed the cartridge and almost threw up.  Overgrown with silt and muck, I was beyond disgusted and horrified.  As one of those people who always assumed that Brita filters were a conspiracy and serious waste of money - not to mention rolling my eyes at friends who actually had one in their fridge - I quickly realized: Maybe I was the asshole!  Perhaps water filter contraptions weren't a bunch of BS, after all, judging by how much crap mine had collected over the years.  Forgoing an attempt to clean my diseased machine (WTF had I been drinking all this time!?!?!), I decided to go out and purchase something brand new.

I'd be a liar if I said that the brilliant advertising/marketing behind those Ninja Coffee Bar commercials with Sofia Vergara didn't work...Because you're looking at the newest owner of one! 

Always one to shudder away from instruction manuals and intimidating drawings, I was pleased to find a very user-friendly "quick start guide" upon ripping in to the box containing my Ninja.  Aside from the machine, carafe, and filter compartment, the Ninja also came with a travel mug, measuring device, and a milk frother (sold separately).

Depending on the size of your cup or carafe, Ninja's AUTO-IQ Technology draws just the right amount of water needed from the reservoir.  In terms of flavor and strength, you are able to select the graduated level of coffee-to-water concentration.  Options range from lesser to higher intensity: "Classic Brew,"Rich Brew," "Over Ice Brew," or "Specialty Brew."  So far, I'm hooked on the "Rich Brew," but am super curious to try the "Over Ice Brew."  I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to be able to make both hot and cold coffee from the same machine.  At home! 

Forgoing the carafe, I've been making single-cups in the morning before work.  There's this awesome "cup holder" feature that lowers and sits just above the carafe plate warmer.  Once the coffee has finished brewing, there's a "drip stop" switch that you can hit to put the kibosh on those annoying coffee droplets that burn your hand and dirty the warmer.  Brilliant! 

My only complaint is that the Ninja does not have an in-machine bean grinder (...but the company sells those separately.  Go figure!).  Otherwise, I'm one happy customer!

The Ninja Coffee Bar retails for around $150 and has been worth every penny.  Go out and treat yourself!  I promise that you'll adore this machine and love the excellent coffee it produces even more!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


(NYC) Partying like a co-ed at Senor Frog's

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.**

Recently, a select group of New York’s most fabulous 20 and 30 something's were invited to partake in a “fiesta” at Senor Frog's New York.  Beyond the date, time, and address, details about the event were mum...

Prior to the festivities, I scoured the web to confirm that Senor Frog's was, in fact, a Mexican restaurant.  Well, it's not.  Save for the chips and salsa/guac/queso selections - plus a random scattering of Mexican-inspired salads and entrees - the menu is chock-full of Americanized stuff like chicken wings, sliders, BBQ ribs, and Philly cheesesteak.  So, if you can get over the fact that the word Senor means nothing in terms of the type of cuisine that is actually served, then you’ll be alright.  Alternatively, if you're someone (ahem, like me) who can't leave their expectations at the door, then you'll just have to keep reminding yourself that Senor Frog's is *not* a Mexican restaurant.

The Food:

The centerpiece of the fiesta was a ho-hum chips-and-dips station: The salsa was sweet and marinara sauce-esque - nothing remotely close to savory - and certainly not even close to being spicy enough for this guy.  Likewise, the guacamole was runny and heavy-handed with the lime juice.  Proper guac should be chunky and not drip down your arm as you bring the chip closer to your mouth.  At Senor Frog's, this dip relies too heavily on its lack of additions (tomato, onion, garlic) and, ultimately, fails.  In my opinion, the restaurant also missed a golden opportunity for a nacho bar (cheese fountain, anyone?!).

The passed appetizers included mini quesadillas, popcorn, and flautas.   The chicken flauta was so small that I couldn't even tell if there was even any chicken involved!  The fish flauta, on the other hand, was unexpectedly tasty and delicious!  Who'd have thought?

Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap.  I repeat: Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap!!!  The salt-rimmed glasses in which the beverage was served helped to juxtapose the sweetness; this especially came in handy with the much more cloying - but equally tasty - frozen margarita.

With all of the savories, I was pleased when I saw the mini churros slowly making their way via passed tray.  While the yummy flavor was there ("fried," cinnamon, sugar), they were slightly overcooked.

For dessert part deux, we were treated to an 'ice cream conga line light show,' in which the staff paraded through the restaurant and performed prior to presenting us with individual ice cream stations (in the shape of a “mini truck”).  As wacky and far out as this probably sounds, it was nothing short of fun; very nostalgic and reminiscent of my days at summer camp and childhood friend’s birthday parties. 

The Fiesta:

Upon looking around, I noticed that the dining room was packed with some of the most fun 20-and-30-something's in the city (...So, how’d they get my name?)!  Moreover, the ceiling space was slowly filling up with artisanal helium accessories.  Scattered throughout Senor Frog's were a couple of balloon artists who provided guests with whatever designs their hearts desired!  Naturally, I asked for a sombrero.  Let's just say that my balloon artist delivered in a big way!

The Fat Jew!My guest, Eddie, and I began to discuss how this whole experience felt like a spring break trip during college!  To quote a fellow attendee - and new friend - Elliott, “My favorite part was just how much fun everyone was having.  I don’t think any of us were expecting it.  We entered some sort of time warp, and were transported back to high school/college spring break.  Like anything goes!  Pretty special when you think about it.”  More importantly, Elliott shared our grievances about a missing cheese component at the chips-and-dips station.


Ultimately, showmanship eclipsed over the cuisine, which wasn't entirely shocking.  But, damn, did we have a good time!


Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Reviewed: Angus Club Steakhouse

*This post was written by Vanessa Shoman-Duell and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by Vanessa Shoman-Duell.**

Restaurant: Angus Club Steakhouse

  • Cuisine: Steakhouse
  • Location: 135 E. 55th Street - NYC 10020  
  • Pricing: $$$
  • What's delicious: Steak fries, cocktails
  • Perfect for: Date night, small group dining


From NYC to Argentina (and, literally, everywhere in between) I've been to more than my fair share of steakhouses.  As an avid carnivore, you can imagine the anticipation and excitement I felt leading up to my inaugural visit to Angus Club Steakhouse, a beef-centric restaurant located in the Midtown East neighborhood of Manhattan.  

Housed in a bi-level space, Angus Club boasts a dining room and bar on each level: The lower floor is best suited for the evening with its stunning, dimly-lit atmosphere, generous table spacing, and handsome, "classic NY" appointments (sleek hardwood flooring, leather chairs, crisp white tablecloths).  Upstairs evoked more of a "lunch time" vibe, perhaps for the sole fact that it was brighter.

Dining room: Photo courtesy of Angus ClubUpon arrival, my guest and I were greeted by Dino (the owner) who, en-route to our lovely first floor table, told us a bit about his gorgeous restaurant.  "Angus Club separates itself by approaching some steakhouse classics differently.  Our creamed spinach, for example, is prepared with just a touch of cream," he noted.  "We also pride ourselves on seafood." 

Clink!  My guest and I toasted to our evening with perfectly-crafted dirty martinis that were finished with my favorite accoutrement: Blue cheese-stuffed olives!

Dirty martiniFor appetizers, we chose to split the Crab Cake and the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  While the presentation was attractive and colorful, I found the 'cake to be a bit bland and lacking in flavor.  The shrimp, on the other hand, were perfect and delicious.  There was a "snap" with each bite, which confirmed their freshness and quality.  A steakhouse classic!

Pan-seared Crab CakeJumbo Shrimp CocktailFor entrees, my guest and I thought it would be best to split the restaurant's highly-recommended Porterhouse steak.  For those of you unfamiliar with the theatrical presentation of this cut of beef, imagine when you're at a Mexican restaurant and order the fajitas.  Not only can you smell their approach from like 20-feet away, the sizzle wafting from the hot griddle pan causes guests at neighboring tables to pause their conversations and visually follow the fragrant steam train that's quickly approaching your place mat.

Well, very much unlike the fajita service at your local Mexican joint, it is traditional and customary for your waiter to serve each steakhouse guest their first slices of the Porterhouse!  Fancy, eh?

PorterhouseAfter our server placed two slices of the sirloin portion (of the Porterhouse) and one piece of the filet atop our plates, he made a "hold on just a second" hand gesture as we reached for our knives and forks.  "Et voila," he said, as he simultaneously poured some of the rendered drippings over our meat.  To accompany, we ordered a side of Creamed Spinach and Steak Fries.

To my utter shock, I found the sirloin cut - not the filet - to be the better of the two!  Despite the marbling, the filet was lacking in inherent flavor. 

While we found the meat lackluster, the sides were brilliant.  The less-cream Creamed Spinach tasted much cleaner and spinach-y, with a subtle hint of garlic.  Quite the opposite from every other steakhouse's version (a white, wiggly glob with a few green bits)!  And those Steak Fries!  My goodness, they must have been twice - maybe thrice - cooked!  Crispy and hot, with just the right amount of salt, I would return for these, alone!  They were, hands down, the best part of the meal.

With a bit of room left in our bellies, my guest and I split two desserts: Creme Brûlée and the Key Lime Tart.  While neither was exemplary, we preferred the brûlée to the tart.

Creme BrûléeKey Lime Tart


Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle


Are you a documentary buff like me? If so...

It was a cold, drizzly evening in Williamsburg as I ducked down a flight of brick steps just outside the Wythe Hotel's screening room and bar entrance.  As I entered the space, it hit me: What I was about to experience would be something incredibly special, unique, and (literally) underground.  After all, it was the SundanceNow Doc Club's inaugural screening of Jonathan Nossiter's Natural Resistance.

The SundanceNow Doc Club is a service dedicated solely to streaming documentaries completely ad-free!  They provide tailored collections selected by tastemakers and experts (from the likes of Susan Sarandon, Anthony Bourdain, and Bill Hader, to name a few) for under $10/month ($6.99/month or $4.99/month for an annual subscription).  Natural Resistance is a part of the Club's "Wine and Spirits" Collection (a series that I can get totally down with).

Prior to entering the screening room, I sauntered over to the bar to check out the selection of natural wines being poured for the evening.  The tastings married beautifully to the synopsis of the documentary, as the vineyards and their owners were also featured in the film!  Below are the varietals that I was able to taste, each distinct in flavor and composition:

  • La Distesa Verdicchio 2013
  • La Stoppa Malvasia/Ortugo 2009
  • Stefano Bellotti Dolcetto/Barbera 2013
  • Pacini Sangiovese 2010

While all of the tastings for the evening hailed from Italy, natural wines can now be found all over the world - Austria, France, and even in America.  What is a natural wine, you ask?  Grapes (for natural wines) are farmed organically and made with minimal chemical or technological interference.  Nothing is added and nothing is removed during this process, so you are tasting the PURE byproduct of the fruit and its dominant terroir. 

Natural wine has a noticeable difference in its flavor profile; it's a lot more vinegar-y and, in some cases, cider-like.  The coloring is derived from the innate hue of the grape skins (which can change with each harvest due to weather and farming) and is not modified to conform to a consumer's expectations of how a white or red should appear.  Hence, you might even receive a glass of orange-tinted wine (such as the glass of "La Stoppa," pictured below, that I tried)!

The film was an absolutely lovely portrayal of natural winemakers, their passion for the product, and their stance against conforming to the contrived industry standards enforced by the EU and the DOC.  The most eye-opening scene was when winemaker, Stefano Bellotti, dug up the lush, earthy, living soil of his organic vineyard and compared it to that of his neighbor's (soil) just a few feet away, which was hardened, dead, and grey from the over-usage of pesticides and chemicals.  It really makes you wonder...Am I what I eat and drink?  And, if so, do I want to be hard, dead, and grey!?  Let's just say that I'm sold on natural wine!

I absolutely loved my experience with the SundanceNow Doc Club!  Make sure you check out Natural Resistance and many other amazing expertly-curated documentaries using their service!  Whether you are an avid film buff or just a "movies and chill" type of person - I am certain you will not be disappointed.

Pre-movie selfie!...

Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle


Turf cookies and a book that no foodie will be able to put down

What token of congratulations do you get for the quintessential "girl who has everything" upon being accepted to the NYU Masters program in Food Studies?  Flowers seem too generic, plus they die in like three days.  Cupcakes are fun, but they're so five years ago.  I considered a gift certificate but, if she's anything like me, it'll get buried somewhere and will never be used/will expire by the time she actually remembers to present it at checkout.

After weeks of mulling over failed prospects, I discovered two items (literally, within days of each other) that could not be better suited for this monumentous occasion:

"Food Whore, A Novel of Dining and Deceit" by Jessica Tom

Having attended the NYU Masters program in Food Studies for a year before I moved to Los Angeles (yes, I am technically a drop-out), I was elated when I read that "Food Whore's" star character, Tia, was a student in the program, herself!  And, while I haven't finished the book just yet (though that will likely happen soon - I can't put it down), I cannot wait to snag a copy for my buddy.  So fitting, right?          

Photo credit: Harper Collins.

City Cookies

What could be more perfect for someone who's headed East than something both edible and representative of their future home?

Photo credit: Sisters of Los Angeles


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Reviewed: Dosai is "Curry Row's" newest South Indian gem 

*This post was written by The Style Gourmande and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by The Style Gourmande.**

Restaurant: Dosai

  • Cuisine: Indian (vegetarian and kosher)
  • Location: 104 Lexington Avenue - NYC 10016  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Every. Single. Thing.
  • Perfect for: Neighborhood gem - vegetarians - kosher dining - Indian food lovers who want to explore Southern cuisine (Tamil Nadu region)


Aside from being one of the most hospitable, humble, and kind folks you could ever meet, Hemant Mathur (owner of Dosai, the newest gem to land on NYC's "Curry Row") is an incredibly well known Michelin starred-chef and local restaurateur.  If you're at all familiar with the Indian dining scene in NYC, then I'm willing to bet that at least one of the six establishments he co-owns is in your queue of favorites: Chola, Kokum, Chote Nawab, Dhaba, Malai Marke & Haldi.

Upon my arrival to Dosai, I was positively taken by the space's modern, urban-chic decor.  I found it unique; not for NYC, obviously, but in contrast to the restaurant's neighboring competitors who have a more, shall we say, traditionally Indian aesthetic. 

Within seconds of placing my napkin in my lap, Chef Mathur arrived at the table and went over the attractive and ample menu.  "So...what can I get for you, my dear?"  I instructed him that I was willingly at his mercy and that he could select some of his favorite dishes.

Upon first sip of the Mango Lassi, both my insatiable sweet tooth and hunger pangs were shockingly squashed.  I mean, I knew that I was literally drinking yogurt, but I didn't realize how incredibly filling it was!  The lassi was so delicious, however, that I could not stop sipping.  Full stomach be damned!

Mango LassisThe first nibble to arrive was the Fried Idli.  "Idli" is a small, savory cake that is made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice; it is served as a traditional breakfast in South Indian households.  At Dosai, leftover idli is cut in to bite-sized pieces and fried.  Trust me when I say that these little nuggets are as addicting as potato chips.  "Bet you can't eat just one!"

Fried IdliIf there's any way to make eating your vegetables more pleasant, then it's obviously to consume them fried - laden with cheese - or served alongside a bowl of ranch dressing.  In the case of Dosai's Lasoni Gobi, cauliflower florets are dredged in rice flour before taking a dip in the deep fryer.  The result is an unctuous, crunchy exterior that gives way to an incredibly moist and tender interior.  While I cannot pinpoint the components of the sauce that the florets were tossed within, there was an undeniable sweet and sour tang, plus a mysterious, spicy kick.  

Lasoni GobiBetween the delicious mango lassi and the fried nibbles, I was almost at my stomach's consumption limit!  However, I couldn't come to a restaurant that specializes in "dosas" (a fermented crepe made from rice batter and black lentils) without sampling a damn dosa!  Right?  Right.

I was presented with the Paper Malai Dosai, a long, crispy dosa (a fermented crepe made from rice batter and black lentils) liberally stuffed with warm, coriander-kissed potatoes and served with four unique dipping sauces.

Paper Malai DosaiBy this point in the meal, I assumed that I would be questioned as to whether or not I wanted dessert.  After my "come to Jesus" that I was too stuffed to even take another sip of water, I scanned the room for my server to ask for the check.  Before I could catch his eye, Chef reappeared from the kitchen and presented me with a bowl of Payasam, broken semolina wheat that is boiled in reduced sweetened milk and flavored with cardamom, fried vermicelli noodles, raisins, and cashew nuts.  A truly sweet ending to an incredibly delicious meal!



Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle