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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a NYC based food and travel website that views various dining scenes and destinations through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated thirty-something.

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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My delicious calendar
  • 3/23-3/28: California
  • 4/5: Judith Leiber: Crafting a New York Story
  • 4/20: Savor the Spring
  • 4/25: Toast to the Children
  • 5/6: Derby Day at the Union League Club
  • 5/26-5/29: Newport, RI
  • 6/23-6/25: Lissa's bachelorette
  • 6/29-7/4: Maine
  • 8/31-9/5: Lissa's wedding in Hawaii
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Need more streamlined advice?  Shoot me an email with your specific requests:  Lindsay@TheLunchBelle.com.

Thursday
Feb022017

The best menu items at: Gazala's Place

In my newest series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Gazala's Place

  • Cuisine: Druse (Middle Eastern)
  • Location: 709 9th Avenue - Manhattan 10019  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations?  Yes, click here
  • Why go?  BYOB / Authentic / Delicious and affordable

...

There's no liquor license and the dining room definitely leans toward the "intimate size" of the stereotypically small NYC real estate spectrum, but you don't go to Gazala's Place for the atmosphere or the craft cocktails.  Rather, you come here for the incredibly delicious, authentic Druse cuisine, which could best be described as Middle Eastern, save for a few differences.  Here's a great example from the NY Times (upon their visit to the restaurant): "The differences are in the details, like that Druse pita — called sagg pita, after the griddle it is cooked on — which Mrs. Halabi makes daily. It’s thinner than a crepe, as wide as a small pizza and pliable like lavash. A sprinkle of cornmeal gives it texture, but it is mildly flavored: an accompaniment, not an event in itself."    

Photo credit: Grub Street

The best menu items:

Bourekas:

You can't go to Gazala's without ordering one of the handmade bourekas, a savory puff-pastry that, from a distance, looks dangerously identical to a New York bagel (golden brown exterior with a dusting of sesame seeds).  The delicate dough is made with olive oil, which results in layer after layer of an incredibly buttery, moist, and delectably-rich finished product.  Prior to baking, the pastry is stuffed with goat cheese and your choice of either sun-dried tomatoes or steamed spinach.  

Each boureka arrives with a steak knife stabbed in its heart (It's not easy cutting through all of those layers!) and is accompanied by hummus and a dish of cabbage slaw.

Our delicious spinach & goat cheese-stuffed boureka

Mix/match appetizer sampler (four items):

I love the option of being able to mix/match four items on an appetizer platter, as I find that it's a great excuse to be able sample smaller portions of dips and bites that I'd never before experienced/at Gazala's Place.  Most of the time, however, I always end up ordering my four tried-and-true favorites: Hummus, labne, baba ghanoush, and falafel.  Each platter arrives with a basket filled with freshly-baked Druse pita.    

Mix/match platter with falafel, hummus, labne, and baba ghanoush

Desserts:

You cannot go wrong with any of the Druse/Middle Eastern desserts on the menu.  The "Osh al Saraia" - a marriage of cream, honey, orange blossom and rose waters that's reduced to a pudding-like consistency and finished with ground pistachios - is particularly delicious and my personal favorite.

...

Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Feb012017

Super Bowl LI: Why cook when someone else can do it for you?

Can y'all believe that Super Bowl is already here again?  By the way, does anyone else automatically think Super Bowl Long Island when you see "Super Bowl LI?"  Certainly, I cannot be the only one...
Now, let's skip over to the most important item on the game day agenda: What to eat?  Honestly, while the idea of spending all day in the kitchen whipping up a variety of both savory and sweet dishes sounds romantic and ideal, it's completely unrealistic!  At least it is for me.  So, in the essence of my precious time plus kitchen catastrophe/culinary disappointment prevention, I'm going to have someone else cook my 'wings and chili; and you should, too!  
Folks, from today through Sunday (game day), take this amazing opportunity to impress your game day guests with awesome food at a great price: Caviar, the absolute best restaurant delivery service (sorry Seamless) is offering $10 off orders $40 or more with code WINNING.  New customer?  You will will also receive free delivery!

Offer: Take $10 off orders $40+
Valid: 2/3 - 2/5
Code: WINNING
...
Until we eat again, 
The Lunch Belle
Tuesday
Jan312017

This just in from Emirates (Airlines)!

Photo credit: Emirates

Flying to/from Dubai on Emirates?  Awesome!  Not seated in Business or First Class?  Me neither.  Don't fret, because I have some super exciting, just-in news: If you're an airport lounge junkie (like myself) and an Emirates Skywards Blue member (you literally just sign up online - no purchase necessary), now you can pay $100 to access Emirates INSANE lounges at Dubai International Airport regardless of your class of travel!

This just in from the Emirates website

If you’re an Emirates Skywards Blue member, you can now pay US$100 to access Emirates lounges at Dubai International airport regardless of your class of travel, and so can your family and friends who are traveling on the same Emirates flight with you, for an additional charge.If you’re a Silver or Gold member who already enjoys complimentary lounge access, you can invite guests traveling on the same flight with you to join you for an additional charge,* even if they’re traveling in Economy Class. And to make your journey extra special, you can purchase an upgrade to the First Class Lounge in Dubai.

Photo credit: Emirates

Now, I don't know about you, but that just may be the best news I've heard since booking my flight to the UAE!

...

Until we eat - and fly - again, 

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jan252017

From Tokyo to Naoshima, a first timer's guide to Japan

It wasn't until Jean mentioned visiting that Japan was on my travel radar.  However, within days of her bringing up a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, we found ourselves booking flights.  Initially, we scored a great deal/sale on Air China for round trip tickets (via Beijing) to Tokyo for $800/person.  All seemed well with the world until four months later (in June) when we received an email from the airline informing us that our outbound flights had changed.  Instead of landing in Beijing at 4:40PM with an hour to spare before our flight to Tokyo, we would now land in Beijing at 6:40PM, almost an hour after our flight to Tokyo would have departed.  Due to their error, we were able to get a full refund on our fully NON-refundable tickets.  Phew!  Ultimately, Jean and I found a similarly priced *non-stop* fare on American Airlines (via JAL).  *Bottom line: Time is money and, in most cases, you get what you pay for.  If at all possible, non-stop flights are your best option.*

Having enticed two more girlfriends to join, the four of us met in Tokyo and commenced our Japanese adventure.  

Our itinerary (November 2016):

11/18-11/21: Tokyo

11/21-11/22: Hakone

11/22-11/25: Kyoto

11/25-11/26: Naoshima

11/26-11/28: Tokyo

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If you're planning a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, have a look at some of my helpful tips and FYI's, in addition to my favorite experiences and restaurants, below.  Or, if you've already been, I'd love to hear what you think about my compilation!    

Japan is a gorgeous, clean, and incredibly efficient (The mass transit system, alone!) country with so much history, mystique, culture, and geographical diversity; I cannot believe that it wasn't on my radar prior to my visit!  I loved and cherished my experience so much, in fact, that I returned home with a new and invigorated outlook on life and travel.  

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Helpful travel tips & FYI's:

  • Depending on the carrier, Premium Economy seating is only a few hundred dollars more than Economy.  What you'll get is more legroom/space - a better cabin - and closer proximity to Upper Class.
  • Flying in or out of Tokyo?  Do yourself a favor: If at all possible, book a flight that departs/arrives via Haneda Airport.  It's much, much, much closer to the heart of the city.
  • DO NOT TAKE A TAXI TO/FROM THE TOKYO AIRPORTS!  Fares can be upwards of $350 if you're flying in/out of Narita.  Upon arrival, look for the Airport Limo kiosk and purchase a ticket for drop-off at/very near your hotel - it's about $30/person.
  • Upon arrival, pull local currency out of an ATM before you leave the airport (located in the baggage claim area).
  • About six weeks (a month is probably fine, too) prior to your departure, make sure to purchase the following:
    • Pocket WIFI: This was a LIFE SAVER to have when we were outside of our hotel room (which was literally 16 hours/day) or in smaller towns.
    • Japan Rail Pass: The transportation gateway/lifeline that will connect you from town to town via rail.  Save money by purchasing your ticket prior to your trip!
  • To navigate your way around the subway/bus/rail systems, make sure to download the HYPERDIA app to your smartphone.
  • Language barrier FYI: I would say that, for the most part, people don't speak English.  Like, at all.  
  • Always have some form of local currency on you; in our experience, the best and most reliable ATM's that will accept international debit cards were found at the airports or 7-Eleven/Circle K convenience stores.
  • Do not insert your chopsticks upright in to a bowl of rice (as a place holder between bites); it is considered bad luck and very rude.Photo credit: Just Hungry

My favorite sites & experiences:

  • Tokyo
    • The magestic gardens at tranquil, non-tourist trap/destination, Happo-En
    • Lunch at tempura shrine, Tenmasa 
    • Lunch at Jiro's son's restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro 
    • Playing with hedgehogs at Harry Hedghog Cafe 
    • Tsukiji Market: While my travel mates attended the 3AM tuna auction, I stayed in bed and met them for a sushi breakfast around 7AM.  Bottom line: The auction lasts for 15-minutes and, at that time in the morning, are you really going to remember seeing it, anyways?  Methinks not.   
    • The basement food hall at Mitsukoshi Department Store 
    • Spying spectacular Mt. Fuji just beyond my window on the bullet train
  • Hakone
    • Yama No Chaya Ryokan and everything that staying at this traditional Japanese "bed and breakfast" encompassed, from bathing in a private tub filled with naturally-sourced hot mineral water on our balcony, to the multi-course kaiseki dinner and traditional Japanese breakfast served in our room
    • Lunch in the clouds (literally at the top of a mountain) at Itoh Dining by Nobu, where we first experienced Kobe beef
  • Kyoto
    • Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion)
    • Walking through thousands of vermilion-hued torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine 
    • Catching a glimpse of a *real* geisha being escorted to an evening appointment 
    • Arashiyama Moneky Park 
    • Fancy cocktails at the stunning Ritz Carlton, where I was introduced to Japanese whiskey
    • Spectacular Kyoto Station (if you're a transporation geek like me, it's a must see)
    • Riding the bullet train from Kyoto to Uno Port and back to Tokyo (ditto on the 'transporation geek' reference, above)

My favorite food experiences:

  • The sushi-counter experience was an education in and of itself; I actually preferred observing the symphonic precision at which pieces of fish were sliced and delicately molded over luke-warm rice to actually eating the sushi (I know I'm going to get railed for this one, but it's true!  I didn't find the sushi in Japan to be all that different from an authentic omakase joint in LA or NYC.  FYI, I hope you know that by "sushi," I'm not talking about the 'dynamite spider roll with eel sauce and avocado,' for god's sake).
  • Kobe beef can be found outside of its namesake city.  And it's fcuking delicious and worth every penny.   
  • KatsudonJapanese curry, and curry pan have forever changed my life.  For the better.   
  • Eating a private 14+ course kaiseki dinner together at our ryokan in Hakone 

My favorite restaurants in Japan:

Hotel experiences worth writing home about:

Observations:

  • There are French-style patisseries everywhere.  
  • There are barely any trash cans.  Anywhere.
  • Sushi at the Tsukiji Market was wildly overrated and I felt like a fool for having stood in line for something so mediocre.

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Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

*Huge shoutout to Adela, Patrick, and Liz for all of your amazing recommendations.  And to Jean, thank you for all of your incredible planning and logistical expertise!  You organized an unbelievable journey for us!*

Monday
Jan232017

The best menu items at: Freds Downtown (at Barney's NY)

In my newest series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Freds Downtown (at Barney's NY)

  • Cuisine: American
  • Location: 101 7th Avenue, 3rd floor - Manhattan 10036  
  • Pricing: $$-$$$
  • Reservations?  Yes, click here
  • Why go?  To see-and-be seen, especially during weekday lunch service / Mid/post shopping cocktails, bubbles, or a glass of wine / Brunch 

...

Why do I love Freds?  Let me count the ways.  Aside from the fact that it resides within my - and every other fashionable New Yorker's - favorite department store, it still feels somewhat hidden and undiscovered.  Everyone knows the restaurant's older, genteel Madison Avenue sister, but Freds' newest location positively oozes downtown chic: Clean lines and sophisticated modernity evoke a mysterious serenity amongst bustling 7th Avenue.

Photo credit: Urban DaddyBeyond that, I find the clientele, especially during weekday lunch service, to be outrageously intriguing.  While I couldn't tell you their names, I will say that I'd put money down that many of them are "someone" in the fashion industry (...or some other super cool, hip line of work that has nothing to do with Wall Street).  It truly feels like the ultimate NYC "cool kids" power lunch.  So then where does someone like me fit in to all of this, you ask?  Good question.  I'm a die-hard sucker for Freds brunch, which offers a generous variety of both sweet and savory.  

The best menu items:

Chelsea Breakfast Sandwich:

Unfortunately, this gem is only available on weekends at brunch service.  However, just the thought of sinking my teeth in to its multiple savory layers certainly gives me something to look forward to during the doldrums of 'Monday through Friday.'  I'm serious, I think about this sandwich way more often than the dude I have a crush on...

Picture it (Sorry, I actually don't have a picture of the sandwich, so you're going to have to use your imagination and just trust me.):  Perfectly scrambled eggs, sauteed onions and peppers, Hudson Valley Harvest hot and sweet sausage, and cheese fondue (!!!!) are sandwiched on a sesame seed bun and accompanied by sriracha mayo and a generous portion of crispy home fries.  

Freds Chopped Chicken Salad:

For those days when you want to feel a bit better about yourself and eat something healthy, you cannot beat this mean bowl of greens - unless, of course, the $30 price tag stops you dead in your tracks.  Bibb lettuce, avocado, onions, tomatoes, string beans and pears come tossed with a Dijon mustard and balsamic dressing.  The salad is crowned with roasted, hand-pulled all-natural chicken.

Margherita Pizza:

There are thousands of fabulous pizzerias and by-the-slice joints all over the five boroughs, but not many who serve you your pie atop a crisp white tablecloth.  And make no mistake, folks, Freds makes a damn good pizza.  Whether you opt for the simple Margherita, or the Emilia Romagna (white pizza with mozzarella, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses drizzled with a 12-year-old Aceto Balsamico), you will not be disappointed.  Time and time again, I am consistently pleased by the perfect ratio of chewy crust to sauce and cheese.  

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Thursday
Jan192017

Reviewed: An authentic Mexican brunch at Citrico

Restaurant: Citrico

  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Location: 681 Washington Avenue - (Prospect Heights) Brooklyn 11238   
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Fresh margaritas (you can't go wrong with the traditional), handmade corn tortillas, authentic Mexican rice, chile de arbol salsa
  • Perfect for: Legit tequila/mezcal-based cocktails, happy hour, brunch, homesick Mexicans and Texans

...

For those of you who have been around here for a while, you're not only aware of my obsession with Mexican food, but are all too familiar with my arduous attempts at finding decent representations of the cuisine here in NYC...  

Last Sunday, my friend, Shelley, and I trotted over to Brooklyn to check out Citrico, a new-ish Mexican joint in Prospect Heights, for brunch.  Upon our 11AM arrival (What? We wanted to beat the crowds.), we had the entire intimate restaurant to ourselves (Come noon, that would soon change.).  Bright and inviting, the small, yet fully functional space was adorned with turquoise and pastel-colored wooden tables, black and white family(?) photos, Mexican tchotchkes, and an energetic open kitchen. 

We plopped down and immediately ordered a round of cocktails.  While Shelley opted for the traditional margarita, I chose the more exotic "Guavazcal," a mezcal concoction married with guava and lime juices, plus ginger beer and served on-the-rocks.  The mason jar in which it was poured was rimmed with spicy Tajin.  While my beverage may have been more appealing to the eye (Maybe it was the ginger beer that threw me off?), I much preferred Shelley's excellently-crafted authentic margarita.  

Citrico: The "Guavazcal" cocktail (mezcal, guava and lime juices, and ginger beer)Citrico: Traditional margarita

Between sips of our cocktails - and prior to placing our meal order - we noshed on a gratis bowl of what one of the owners coined as "chicharrones."  However, these crunchy rings had no trace of meat/poultry.  Addictive, crispy, and sprinkled with a zesty spice powder, Shelley and I managed to inhale our entire bowl within seconds.  

Citrico: Vegetarian chicharrones

Forgoing guacamole, which seems to be the quintessential 'first order' for every Yankee at a Mexican restaurant, we opted for the house-made chips and quartet of salsas, including pico de gallo, tomatillo, guajillo, and chile de arbol.  While I'm not a big tomatillo fan (it always seems to have a weird gelatinous consistency), the other three salsas were dynamite; my favorite being the chile de arbol with it's smooth, creamy texture and garlicky finish.  The chips were still warm from the fryer and seasoned with the perfect amount of salt.

Citrico: Homemade salsa trio + chips 

In a dual effort to sample as much of the menu as we could, Shelley and I chose to split three entrees: Panqueques, Huevos Divorciados, and the Huitlacoche Quesadilla.  Oh, and a bowl of Mexican rice.  God, what fatties!

Panqueques

When this plate of perfectly cooked (a fluffy interior with that crunchy, buttery exterior rim), golden brown pancakes arrived, I was a bit anxious.  Why?  Because, look at all of that fruit (see photo, below)!  There was so much of it, in fact, that we couldn't even see the top of the 'cakes.  "Oh, for crissakes," I exclaimed, "let me go ahead and scoot all of this crap off to the side."  Shelley giggled and watched as I moved the 'healthy bits' off to a lonely corner of the plate before dousing the real stuff in the accompanying tequila-infused cajeta sauce/syrup.  

Having grown up with cajeta in our kitchens, we both appreciated the Mexican influence on this traditionally American dish.  I will warn you, though, the tequila-infusion is NOT for the faint of heart or for the alcohol intolerant!

Citrico: Panqueques

Huevos Divorciados

To be fair to both sides, if you will, I played the role of hungry mediator and sampled both parties of the 'culinary divorce' at play on my plate: Bordered by a helping of black beans were two lightly-fried corn tortillas - arranged side-by-side - each respectively topped with a sunny side-up egg.  Salsa rojo crowned one of the eggs, while salsa verde smothered the other.

The Divorciados reminded me a lot of huevos rancheros, save for the fact that this version was finished with two salsas, not just one.   

Citrico: Huevos Divorciados

Huitlacoche Quesadillas

Homemade corn tortillas were lathered with queso blanco, freshly-shucked corn kernels, and a generous amount of huitlacoche before being griddled to perfection.  Drizzled crema, altocumulus-like clouds of queso fresco, and a nest of bright green shredded iceberg completed the dish.  

Citrico: Huitlacoche Quesadilla

Arroz Mexicano

It's rare to find an authentic version of Mexican rice in NYC.  Most often, I'm either served plain white or some deplorable attempt where the kernels are too long, the color is baby chick-yellow, and the seasoning is either nonexistent or way off.  Citrico, however, nails it: The kernels are short, the broth has notes of tomato, garlic, and chicken stock, the color is spot-on, and there are proper "clumps" dispersed throughout (my favorite).  

Citrico: Arroz Mexicano

Dessert?  Not after all of that comida!  We did, however, save room for one last tequila cocktail.  

*While it's not on the drink menu, if you're craving something that's both sweet and savory with a fiery finish, just ask for the spicy margarita.  It may have been our favorite beverage of the three that we enjoyed!

Citrico: Spicy margarita...

Shelley and I could not have been more pleased with our brunch, notably in terms of its authenticity (from the handmade corn tortillas and salsas to the cajeta, Mexican rice, and legit tequila/mezcal cocktails).  So much so, that I am co-hosting a brunch there in a few weekends for my Mexican Food Lovers' Meetup Group!

 

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle