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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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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

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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.

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'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.

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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

Friday
Mar232018

Reviewed: Emirates Airlines Business Class from JFK to Muscat (via Dubai)

On December 1, 2017, I booked a multi-leg journey to the Middle East. 

My itinerary:

  • February 16/17: Fly from JFK to Muscat (Oman) via Dubai, Emirates Airlines
  • February 17-20: Muscat, Oman
  • February 20th: Fly from Muscat to Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., Oman Air
  • February 20-22: Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.  
  • Feburay 22-23: Desert resort (Industry City, U.A.E.)
  • February 23-26: Dubai
  • February 26th: Fly from Dubai back to JFK, Emirates Airlines

I scored a great deal on a round trip business class fare through Emirates Airlines.  My purchase included: Chauffer-drive service (to/from the respective airport) before AND after each Emirates flight, and multi-city airport lounge access (Note: Because the Emirates Lounge at JFK was closed for renovations during my outbound flight on 2/16/18, I was given a voucher at check-in to use at a restaurant of my choice in JFK's Terminal 4.  Pretty nice, right?).  

Emirates chauffer-drive: What a fancy way to kick off my trip! 

Post flight check-in and security screening, I met my friend, Meg, who had flown in from Boston for our flight to Oman, at our favorite wine bar in JFK's Terminal 4, Le Grand Comptoir, where I spent my $40 Emirates voucher on two glasses of champagne (Again, because the Emirates Lounge was closed for renovations, I was given a voucher at check-in to use at a restaurant of my choice).  Cheers!

Clinking glasses at Le Grand Comptoir

When it was nearing time to board, Meg and I settled our bar tabs and made our way to the departure gate.  As we approached, I was shocked by the abundance of passengers waiting for their respective boarding groups to be called...until I looked out the window and saw how incredibly gigantic our A-380 aircraft was (a vessel which comfortably seats 500+ people)!!   

I had quite high hopes for my inaugural 12+ hour flight to Dubai with Emirates...

Business and First Class cabins are located on the aircraft's upper/second level.  The seating configuration in my section was 1 - 2 - 1, with my seat located in the middle row/next to another passenger (the "2" of the 1 -2 - 1).  Each individual seat area was outfitted with a stocked mini bar (non-alcoholic beverages), a Bulgari toiletry bag, electrical outlets galooooore, a personal/hand-held entertainment tablet and Bose-esque headphones engraved with the Emirates name and logo (in gold, of course), an in-seat television, and a pillow/blanket/flat bed mattress cover.  

Upon boarding, I was asked if I'd like something to sip while I got settled.  I chose to start my journey with a glass of Veuve Clicquot, the "house" Champagne for Emirates Business Class. 

Emirates Airlines: Business class seating, champagne service

While the menus were gorgeous and everything depicted was described as decadent and mouth-watering, I did not find the food aboard Emirates to be as excellent as I had assumed and hoped.  In fact, I was kind of bummed that this was my "break the fast" from the boring low-carb diet that I had been following for the 6-weeks leading up to my trip.     

Emirates Business Class: Dinner menu

Emirates Business Class: Pre-dinner appetizer (chilled shrimp that was advertised as being 'pan-fried,' mixed greens salad, stale bread roll)While the food was nothing to write home about, the wine and cocktail lists were excellent.  I also appreciated the fact that there was on-board bar located at the back of the Business Class section, where passengers could socialize, imbibe, stretch their legs, and nosh on cured olives, mixed nuts, assorted sandwiches, and Arabic desserts.  

Emirates Business & First Class on-board lounge 

Emirates Business & First Class on-board lounge: SeatingAfter one too many glasses of French red and countless random 30-minute television programs, I decided that it was time to call it a night.  I pushed the button to transform my seat in to a flat bed and topped it with the mattress cover, blanket, and pillow.  Believe it or not, I actually got about four hours of shut-eye, heavy wine consumption and all!  Because of the mattress pad, this was the most comfortable flat bed that I've slept in on a plane (tied with Virgin Atlantic). 

I awoke to breakfast service and the dramatically loud, tractor-like snores being emitted from the dude sitting behind me (I could even hear him through the engine noise AND my silicone ear plugs!!). 

Emirates Business Class: Breakfast is served!

When we landed in Dubai for our connecting flight to Muscat, we had about two hours to enjoy the airport and the lounge.  Similar to those in Asia, DXB was modern, bright and airy, and outfitted with fabulous shops. 

It was so cool to look around and see so many different people/cultures from all over the world.  I felt so far away and, in fact, I was!  That honeymoon ended abruptly when I spied one of the most Western/American establishments of all time, save for KFC/Pizza Hut/Mickey D's/Burger King.  Are you ready for it?

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Shake Shack at DXB

Once I stared Shake Shack straight in the eye, I decided that it was time to move the party over to the Emirates Business Class Lounge (if you're wondering, there's also an Emirates First Class Lounge). 

Emirates Business Class Lounge @ DXBWhen I arrived at the Lounge, I was amazed at how expansive it was (spanning the length of the entire terminal/concourse and a twelve-minute walk from one end to the other)!  Once inside, there was a plethora of seating options and configurations, workstations, designated quiet areas, magazine/newspaper racks, restrooms, both casual and fine-dining options, a Moët and Chandon champagne lounge, and the ability to board (your flight) directly from the Lounge level.  It was truly a feast for every sense!

Emirates Business Class Lounge @ DXB: So many food options!I had about ten of these delicious "pistachio burma" desserts!

One of my favorite features of all was the ability to board your flight without so much as leaving the LoungeEmirates truly makes this process so much less stressful, thus allowing for optimal Lounge enjoyment time (as opposed to having to physically exit the lounge to board your flight via a gate located god knows how far away).

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Upon boarding my next flight (Dubai to Muscat, Oman), I was a bit shocked when I stepped on to a Boeing 777 (one of the largest aircraft on the market) for our short 1-hour journey.  However, being the travel nerd that I am, I was hardly complaining; after all, this would just be another great opportunity to check out the interior/layout/decor and experience the service aboard another Emirates flight.     

With a Business Class seating configuration of 2 - 4 - 2, I had a great window view and was able to snap a pretty clear picture of the Palm Jumeirah (island) and Burj al Arab upon takeoff!

Emirates Airlines: Flight to Muscat from Dubai

Dubai's famous Palm Jumeriah plus the Burj al Arab Hotel!For snack, I chose the Arabic mezze platter, which contained an assortment of dips/spreads and bread.  Again, it was just mediocre in terms of taste.

I had mentioned earlier that most of the television programming on Emirates is just "meh," and I stand by that notion.  However, one redeeming factor (of the programming/lineup) is the fact that there is a channel where you can learn a language.  I chose Arabic and was able to memorize a few key terms prior to landing: 

  • Thank you ---> Shukraan 
  • No ---> La 
  • Hello ---> Marhabaan      

Emirates Airlines Business Class: Arabic mezze platterMoments later, we landed in Muscat and were greeted on the runway by a queue of busses waiting to transport us to the entrance of the gangway-less airport.  Just a couple hundred yards away in the background, we spied Muscat's brand new airport nearing completion...gate gangways and all!  I believe that it officially opens this month, March 2018! 

Landed in Muscat

Overall, I found the Emirates experience to be damn near perfect, save for the in-flight food and entertainment options.  Both flights (Dubai and Muscat) were luxurious, comfortable, fun and enjoyable.  I appreciated the car service that accompanied my ticket purchase, and the extra touches that stood out during my journey in the sky: Fresh orchids and other lovely flower arrangements prominently displayed throughout the cabins - Bulgari products in the restrooms, including both men's and women's perfume - on-board bar/lounge with grab-and-go snacks (flight to Dubai) - an in-seat mini bar stocked with flat and sparkling water, soda, and juice - a tablet in addition to the in-seat television - and a mattress pad for the flat bed (flight to Dubai).  The Emirates Business Class Lounge in Dubai was fantastic and uber-plentiful, and the food was much tastier than the airline's in-flight service (both come from the same catering facility).  

Stay tuned for the rest of my Middle Eastern journey, where I will revisit each city throughout my journey in words and pictures. 

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle