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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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Thursday
May172018

Oman & the Emirates: My Travels to the Middle East

Travel Means Dreaming Of What Is Next.

I'm kind of strange around spontaneity (like making last-minute plans after work), but when it comes to travel, I'll book a flight or plan a vacation on a whim without telling a soul, knowing full well that I could end up rolling solo...

On December 1, 2017, I decided to book a multi-leg journey to the Middle East after having seen some fantastic Business Class fares on Emirates.  After looking at the calendar, I chose the date range of Friday, 2/16 through Monday, 2/26.  I knew that, besides Dubai, I wanted to stay the night at a fancy Bedouin desert resort and visit a friend in Abu Dhabi.  Upon realizing how close these cities were to one another (a 1.5 hour drive), I felt like I could squeeze one more excursion in to my itinerary.  Why not Oman?  After seeing an incredible episode of Top Secret Swimming Holes (Travel Channel) about the country's famous Wadi Shab, I decided to begin my holiday in Muscat.   

My itinerary:

First, I want to make some points/FYI's about visiting Oman and the U.A.E.:

  • As a US passport holder: If you are arriving in Oman via air, you do not need to procure a visa prior to your trip; you will obtain one upon arrival. 
  • As a US passport holder: You do not need a visa to visit the U.A.E.  
  • English is prominently displayed after Arabic and getting around is relatively simple; most people speak pretty good English.  Bonus: Cars drive on the same side of the road there as they do in the U.S.
  • If you are a woman:
    • Don't be an idiot and pack a bunch of slutty clothes.  Have some respect for the local culture and customs; keep your shoulders covered, your cleavage hidden, and anything too far above your knees invisible.  Because, let's be honest, unless you look like Emily Ratajkowski, no one wants to see the junk-in-your-trunk.  
    • When visiting a mosque, don't fret about what to wear; you can rent an abaya onsite, which is what I did every single time.  My friends, however, brought scarves from home and wore pants on the days that we knew we'd be visiting, as ankles must be covered in the house of worship.
    • If you plan to visit a public beach, play it safe and sport a one-piece bathing suit.  Bikinis don't really fly around here unless you're on private hotel grounds. 
    • Drinking alcohol is prohibited outside of licensed hotels and clubs.  While you can certainly enjoy yourself, don't be a stumbling drunk, as you may be arrested.  There is zero tolerance for public intoxication.
  • I'm going to say it again: Drinking alcohol is prohibited outside of licensed hotels and clubs.  While you can certainly enjoy yourself, don't be a stumbling drunk, as you may be arrested.  There is zero tolerance for public intoxication.
  • If you have prescription meds that you plan to take on your trip (especially super intense pain pills), make absolute sure that the RX is in your name and, if necessary, the prescribing doctor can confirm this on your behalf.  Don't believe me?  Read this tidbit!
  • Carry local cash for shopping at markets and smaller stores.
  • There is virtually no crime because the punishments are so harsh.  That being said, local people are hard working, trustworthy, and actually do what they say they're going to do (like keeping an eye on your luggage while you use the loo, or arriving on-time to pick you up at your hotel for your departing flight).  
  • Smile and be friendly!  Folks are incredibly polite and hospitable - I promise that you will leave with new friends.  
  • Learn a couple of Arabic words prior to your arrival - for example, "shukran" means "thank you" - it is very much appreciated, even if your accent sucks.  

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Muscat, Oman: Must see/do 

  • Prior to your arrival, contact your hotel and have them coordinate to have a driver/shuttle greet you at the airport.  
  • And, while you're at the airport, get some local currency.
  • Visit the palatial Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque 
  • Shop for local goods and spices at the Mutrah Souq and stroll along the Corniche - the people watching is prime!
  • Take a day trip to Wadi Shab: If you need an excellent tour guide, please contact me and I will send you details (lindsay@thelunchbelle.com)
      

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.: Must see/do

  • Spend a few hours at the incredibly majestic Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which will take your breath away!
  • Sip on a latte dusted with 14-karat gold at the opulent and fabulous Emirates Palace hotel.  
  • Have lunch on the water at Al Dhafra, one of my two favorite dining experiences in the Emirates!
  • Smoke shisha and sip on cocktails al-fresco at the Eclipse Terrace Lounge at the Four Seasons
  • Peruse, taste, and shop at the Date Market (located within the Al Mina Vegetable Market)
  • Spend an hour or two at the Louvre Abu Dhabi 
  • Go window shopping (or buying!) at one of the high end malls.  Fendi, anyone?
  • Get a custom-made charm with your name written in Arabic!  

Dubai, U.A.E.: Must see/do

  • On the front or back end of your stay in Dubai, book a night in the desert.  We chose to stay at Bab Al Shams, located just about 30-minutes outside of town.  We spent our 24-hours here riding camels, relaxing pool-side, and reveling in one of the best meal/entertainment experiences *ever* at the Al Hadheerah Desert Restaurant.
  • Want to get a great view of the Palm Jumeriah without paying for a helicopter tour?  Grab a cocktail at the Observatory Bar & Grill at the Marriott Dubai Harbour.
  • Shop for local goods at Souk Madinat, a slightly upscale version of a traditional Arabic market. 
  • Spend a day/half day at the beach sunbathing, swimming, and searching for starfish (I found a few!)
  • Sip afternoon tea 27-floors above the city complete with 360-degree views at the world-famous Burj Al Arab hotel.  *Make reservations in advance, as you are not allowed on property unless you're a hotel guest or a restaurant diner with a valid booking.
  • Curious to see what Dubai was like pre-glitz and glam?  Head over to the Old Dubai Souk and peruse the spice and gold markets (among others).
  • If you want a front row seat to view the water/fountains show at the base of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building- grab a glass of wine on the terrace at the Armani Hotel.  You will not be disappointed!

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To conclude: Because I'm sure that you were curious...no, I did not end up traveling solo.  Two of my girlfriends hopped on board the minute they heard about my holiday plans.  And, let me tell you, our first taste of the Middle East was everything - and nothing - that we had expected.  In the best ways possible! 

If you are thinking about planning a visit, I have one piece of advice: Leave your pre-conceived notions, assumptions, and stereotypes at the proverbial door.  Because if you come to this fascinating and culturally-rich part of the world with an open mind and an open heart, you will be rewarded, humbled, and enlightened beyond.  Everyone that we encountered could not have been more friendly, hospitable, helpful, courteous, humble, or genuine.  Not once did I ever feel unsafe or was scared that I'd be met with danger (a question that I was asked repeatedly by many of my friends/acquaintances).   

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle  

Wednesday
Apr182018

Reviewed: Sabor A Mexico II

Restaurant: Sabor A Mexico II

  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Location: 233 E. 77th Street - Manhattan 10021  
  • Pricing: $-$$ 
  • Reservations? Yes, via phone: 212-439-8301
  • Why go? Authentic, delicious Mexican food with waiter service - affordable - best chile rellenos in town
  • Note/FYI: Cash only

...

If you're looking for a swanky, spacious south-of-the-border restaurant with bougie frozen cocktails and $20 bowls of "guacamole made table-side," then Sabor A Mexico II is not your jam.  However, if its authentic, homemade Mexican food that you crave, then look no further.

Upon moving uptown, I wasn't too familiar with the Mexican restaurant-landscape, save for Toloache, which isn't very affordable.  I wanted to find my go-to spot; somewhere I could order delivery or casually swing by to dine-in without hesitation.  Or a fully made-up face.  Nothing too fancy, but also somewhere with waiter service.  A tequila and mezcal selection wouldn't hurt, either.  

After scouring my local options and cross referencing them on numerous websites, I came upon "Sabor A Mexico II."  Having seen a picture on Yelp of what appeared to be a house-made hard-shelled taco stuffed with meat and all the fixins (lettuce, shredded yellow cheese, pico de gallo) - coupled with the restaurant's crappy 3.5 star rating (What the hell do these pinche UES gringo's know, anyways?) - I knew that I needed to take an even closer look.  The menu read like that of any authentic restaurante's playbook: Chilaquiles - Aguas Frescas - Tamales - Chile Rellenos, etc.  It was even sprinkled with a few random items that weren't (authentic), such as Calamari and Chicken Wings.

My first experience with Sabor A Mexico II was a delivery order, which arrived on time and was comprised of: Cheese enchiladas with red guajillo chile sauce - perfectly cooked and seasoned Mexican rice and refried pinto beans that weren't completely pulverized - a hard-shelled taco (the shell was definitely homemade, by the way) generously filled with stewed, shredded chicken breast and topped with all the fixins - and tortilla chips.  Everything was warm, intact, delicious, and as authentic of a meal as something I'd find in Texas or California.  The only thing that I found odd was the addition of rice in the bottom of my taco; since it was placed at the base, perhaps its purpose was to serve as a buffer between the chicken and the shell to avoid becoming a soggy mess?  Pretty brilliant, if you ask me.    

Still high on momentum from my deliciously successful delivery order, I asked my cousin if he'd like to grab lunch with me at the restaurant.   
Located just a few steps below street level, Sabor A Mexico II is easy to miss!  Blink once, and you'll walk right on by.  
To the right of the front door is a teeny tiny patio housing a single table for one very luck party; once inside, the intimate dining room is festively decorated in bright colors and adorned with Mexican relics.  Based on my observation, the space can comfortably seat approximately twenty guests (give or take). 

Larry and I were seated immediately (12:30PM on a Sunday).  There were three other patrons in the restaurant and we were all being waited upon by a friendly male server.  We promptly ordered sodas and a basket of chips and salsa before placing our entree requests.    
While Larry opted for the hard-shell chicken tacos, I chose the chile relleno platter (a "chile relleno" is a poblano or Anaheim chile pepper stuffed with cheese, in this particular case, dipped in an egg batter and deep fried), which was accompanied by rice, beans, and warm corn tortillas.  
"Wow," he exclaimed with a full mouth, "these tacos are fantastic!"  Larry later gushed that Sabor A Mexico II's were the best (tacos) he's had in NYC.   
And speaking of, my chile relleno was not only the most authentic and delectable that I've had in the tri-state region, it was one of the best that I've tasted, period.  Texas and California included!  Instead of being filled with congealed yellow cheddar, the poblano was stuffed with a stringy white cheese that was akin to Chihuahua (cheese).  Unlike Tex-Mex renditions that I've had in Dallas and Houston, the egg batter that encrusted the pepper was incredibly thin and light, not thick and fluffy or cakey.  Crowned with a ladle of warm, garlicky tomato salsa, I finished every last bite - and rice kernel - on my plate.  
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Chile relleno platter: The BEST in town!Returning to Sabor A Mexico II is all I've been able to think about for the past few days.  With plans to visit again on Sunday with a girl friend, I look forward to sampling the restaurant's margaritas.
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Until we eat again
The Lunch Belle
Friday
Apr062018

Reviewed: Neary's

Restaurant: Neary's

  • Cuisine: Irish American
  • Location: 358 E. 57th Street - Manhattan 10022  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations? Nope, sorry folks.
  • Why go? Strong drinks - Irish pride - bygone service - comfort food
  • Photo credits: Because of the restaurant's dim lighting, I wasn't able to snap photos of my own. Everything on this post is from Neary's website.

...

'Twas the night before St. Patrick's Day...

Having lived in the area for more than ten years, Nicole suggested that, instead of competing with other revelers on the actual holiday, we go to Neary's on St. Patrick's Day eve.  "If we get to Neary's around 6:15PM, I doubt we'd have to wait longer than thirty-minutes."  Longer than thirty-minutes??  Considering that the restaurant is located in *east* Midtown East, I was a bit surprised that there would even be a wait time at all (sorry guys, it's not Soho)!

It wasn't until I approached Neary's that I realized I was in for something special, unique, and *not* your typical Irish pub.  "Proper Attire Required" was posted prominently - yet tastefully - on the front door.  I had high hopes that what this really meant was no residual smells of months-old spilled beer, vomit, and the pungent cleaning supplies used as a mask/band-aid...

Indeed, Neary's was like nothing I've ever experienced in New York.  From the moment I entered the space, I was whisked away to a bygone time when the owners still acted as hosts (in this case, Mr. Neary and his lovely daughter) - the loyal staff were treated as family - guests were greeted by name - and the voluptuous mahogany bar was so pristinely polished, I'll bet you could see your reflection between sips of that perfectly-crafted martini.  
 Photo source: Nearys dot comAfter giving our name and party size to Mr. Neary, himself, we waited about twenty-minutes to be seated for dinner.  "It's going to be an early night for me, fella's," I overheard one bar patron remark after taking the last slug of his cocktail.  "I have to be at church tomorrow for the 8:30AM St. Patrick's Day Mass."

The dining room, a space that could easily pass for that of an old-fashioned steakhouse (dim lighting, red table cloths, walls lined with framed photographs, brass adornments), was fully occupied when we were seated.  After placing our drink orders, our attentive waitress returned with a basket of gratis, run-of-the-mill bread and took note of our entree requests.
 Photo source: Nearys dot comWhile most of our table ordered the outstanding Corned Beef & Cabbage (the best representation I've had, to date), I chose one of the evening's specials: Beef Pot Roast.  I found Neary's food to be positively heart warming and comforting; nothing on our plates was fancy or fussy - but everything was delicious and perfectly cooked and executed.
 Photo credit: Nearys dot comFor dessert, we enjoyed a round of Irish coffees while tapping our feet to some live music, courtesy of one of the Neary's relatives.  A true family affair!

Neary's is an incredibly special place, and my evening here proved to be one of my most favorite and cherished experiences in all of my twelve years in Manhattan.  I cannot wait to return here with my mother who has very thick Irish roots!  Until next time...

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle
Tuesday
Mar272018

Reviewed: The Harrow

Restaurant: The Harrow

  • Cuisine: American
  • Location: 720 10th Avenue - Manhattan 10019  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations? Yes, RESY
  • Why go? ...I'm not the one to ask.

...

While The Harrow is located slightly off the beaten track and farther west than I'd normally travel in midtown - as a former resident, I have a soft spot in my heart for Hell's Kitchen.  

I had recently read a small brunch feature about The Harrow which showcased their 'Lobster Pierogis,' and my interest was piqued.  So in planning for an upcoming girl's dinner, it was among the first places that came to mind.

Upon arrival, I admired the restaurant's respectably-sized bar area and cozy, intimate dining room space.  My two friends and I were seated immediately.    
I was pleased to see a California Syrah on the wine list, only to be told that "it was a typo and that the wine is actually from France."  I found a suitable Cabernet and enjoyed a few glasses throughout the evening.  

I was a bit surprised that we weren't served some sort of bread post drink and food order, but we were looking forward to sharing some appetizers, nonetheless.
E and I split the 'Cider Braised Bacon & Spiced Medjool Dates,' which was presented in an awkwardly deconstructed fashion; the plate was topped with a thick slab of bacon, a slice of blue cheese, and three dates.  Normally, the fruit is stuffed with cheese and bacon is wrapped around the (date's) exterior.  All of this being said, each component was tasty and paired well together.

Cider Braised Bacon & Spiced Medjool DatesFor my entree, I chose the 'House Made Lobster Pierogi with Tarragon Sour Cream & Truffle Butter.'  The dish presented beautifully and looked delicious, however I was extremely disappointed to find that there was no lobster in/on/around the dumplings whatsoever - just a filling of fish-flavored mashed potatoes.  For $24, I felt completely ripped off and fooled.  
Our server totally forgot to put in our side order for roasted carrots and, when reminded, he brought them to the table just as we took our last bites of our entrees.  The poor kid was too busy servicing the table to our left which, I believe, was the owner/manager and his buddies.  Sigh.  

House Made Lobster Pierogi with Tarragon Sour Cream & Truffle ButterGranted, The Harrow has only been open for a few months, but I was not impressed by the gimmicky fare - the bait-and-switch with expensive ingredients - the wine list typo - or the service.  I do not plan on returning.  Ever.

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle