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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Holy burger, Batman!

I've always wondered how Olive Garden, Red Lobster, T.G.I. Friday's, etc. are able to survive in NYC. With all of the excellent locally owned/operated restaurants, why would anyone want to eat mass produced crap that is available in Everytown, USA? Shockingly, I feel like every time I walk by one of these chains, they're always crowded. What gives?!

On that note, I'd like to mention Heartland Brewery, a local chain serving American cuisine (think salads, soups, pastas, chicken, steak, etc.). While I would never go out of my way to eat at one of their numerous Manhattan locations, I came across a blurb from nymag.com about Heartland Brewery's newest venture, a burger joint called "HB Burger." Prior to reading the menu, I rolled my eyes, chuckled and mumbled, "Are you serious? Another restaurant group jumping on the trendy "burger shop" bandwagon? What's next, Outback Steakhouse opening up an Aussie meat pie shack? Oh please." And then...As I began reading the menu line by line, I noticed my mouth beginning to water and my eyes becoming glazed.
Prepare to be teased:

Favorite Beef
HB beef is supplied by a local, family owned steak purveyor. Our custom
blend from prime angus steers include cuts of flank, chuck, and prime rib.
Served with chopped lettuce and tomato.

Tater Tots
made with smoked
Nueske bacon &
jalapeño jack

Fried Dill Pickle
Everybody loves them
with Cajun Remoulade

Tater tots laced with bacon and cheese? Check. Fried pickles? Check. If this menu doesn't whet your appetite or leave you in a naughty food porn fantasy, you know that you're either a vegetarian or a damn communist! Check it out here: HB Burger menu


From lies to pies (and everything in between)

While I’m not that shocked, this article really pissed me off. For someone who
counts her calories, I depend on nutritional labels to either guide me towards, or hinder me away from, a food product. Prepare to be disappointed by false advertisement from two of America’s most popular quick-service establishments:

 Want to know which NYC pizza joints Mario Batali judged and ranked? Check it out:

 Sign up for classes or a dinner series with Le Bernardin’s famed “Best Sommelier in the World.”

Most indulgent seasonal sweet to hit the deep fryer thus far:

 Whose side are you on? As a self-proclaimed “ice cream connoisseur,” I stand by Haagen-Dazs:


Revisited: Dinner at Bar Americain

(To see Bar Americain, Mesa Grill and Bobby Flay's websites, please reference "links to this post," located at the bottom of the review. Thanks.)

For someone who always feels like she’s the one picking the restaurant, it’s nice when another takes the reigns every now and then. After having fallen in love with Mesa Grill in Las Vegas (and Mesa Grill’s celebu-chef, Bobby Flay), Teddi suggested that we try Bar Americain. Little did she know, I had been to Bar Americain, twice before, in the spring/summer of 2006. My first visit was so positively memorable, that I decided to take my mother there for dinner a couple of months later. Unfortunately, our meal was mediocre; probably the reason that I have not returned in 3 years.

I’ve followed Bar Americain’s passionately mixed reviews over the years (if graphed on paper, the result would resemble the peaks and valleys of a polygraph test). I decided that dinner with Teddi would be a great opportunity to give BA another shot.

I arrived at Bar Americain about twenty-minutes before Teddi, and decided to grab a drink (or 3) at the bar. The restaurant was buzzing with lively “business-attired” happy hour patrons, leaving me grateful to have found a stool at the bar. With an extensive wine list and creative assortment of cocktails, it was tough choosing a beverage, but I settled on a glass of ice wine. Bar service was courteous, prompt and professional.

Upon Teddi’s arrival, we were seated within minutes. She couldn’t help but gasp at the restaurant’s ample size, grand staircase leading to a second story and the visibly glistening raw bar. Even BA’s biggest critics can’t deny the masculine-chic/attractiveness of the space’s casual elegance and dramatic interiors.

We began our meal with a cocktail (I stuck to ice wine) and BA’s gorgeous bread basket. Cloverleaf rolls, a mini baguette and four cornbread “sticks” arrived with a shallow dish of spreadable (not frozen) butter. I abstained from this carb-fest as long as I possibly could, but eventually gave in. The crispy and slightly spicy corn bread was my favorite, followed by the soft cloverleaf roll.

Though our waiter passively tried to rush our order, we successfully stalled him for 15-20 minutes while we caught up on some gossip and perused the menu. I ordered the tasting of three shellfish cocktails: Shrimp Tomatillo, Crab Coconut and Lobster Avocado. A slender tray arrived with three large “shot” glasses (each filled with the shellfish listed above). The presentation was lovely, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the flavor combinations or the quality of the seafood.

Two plump, freshly-grilled shrimp (flavored with olive oil, salt and pepper) were accompanied by a subtly creamy and tangy tomatillo salsa. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and I found the salsa to be a nice flavor enhancement to the delicate flesh. The second cocktail was crab meat and diced mango that were drowning in a milky-white sauce kissed with coconut. This was my least favorite of the three. While I appreciated the effort here, there was too much sauce and not enough of a differentiation of taste and texture between the crab meat, mango and coconut milk. The final shellfish cocktail was the Lobster-Avocado, which was my favorite of the trio. Chunks of fresh lobster meat, avocado and cilantro created the most memorable trinity of ingredients (definitely one that I wouldn’t have paired together). This was so delicious; that I could have eaten at least three more orders (I finished my entrée within 5-10 minutes, because it was that good).

Teddi and I had an incredible experience at Bar Americain and I hope that those of you who’ve not yet been (or have not returned in a while) will reconsider. Wipe those negative reviews out of your head, and go judge for yourself (hey, I’m guilty of this too). On my next visit, I will make an identical meal out of the Shrimp Tomatillo and Lobster Avocado cocktails (minus the Crab Coconut) the bread basket, and one-too-many glasses of ice wine.


Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Because I have a food blog, people always assume that I must cook a lot. With the exception of the parties thrown at my apartment, my kitchen appliances didn't get much use. Through trial and error, I felt lucky to have found a handful of excellent frozen meals, such as: Plats du Chef's French Onion Soup (purchased at Trader Joe's) and Deep Indian Gourmet's entrees (purchased at Kalustyan's). Frozen food is pre-portioned and includes nutritional information on its box, making lunch or dinner seamless and mindless.

In an effort to save money, I've started cooking at home approximately 6-nights/week. Preparing single serving lunches and dinners has been tricky, but I've created some great recipes that taste delicious, are healthy and simple to cook.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts (serves one)

  • 10 pieces of petite Brussels sprouts (I buy mine in the grocer's frozen section. Bags typically have about 5 servings)
  • 2 tablespoons Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette (the balsamic vinegar will caramelize the sprouts upon cooking)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil and 1/8 - 1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a plastic bowl with lid, combine frozen Brussels sprouts, vinaigrette and salt/pepper. Shake closed bowl to evenly distribute ingredients. Place in fridge overnight. Slice sprouts in halves or quarters and return to plastic bowl, toss, and place in fridge for a couple more hours.

Line a baking sheet with foil. With a separate sheet of foil, create a "basket" of sorts, so that the marinade from the sprouts won't leak over the edge of the baking sheet while cooking. Place "basket" atop foil-lined baking sheet and spray with non-stick oil (Pam Olive Oil spray is fine). Evenly distribute sprouts and marinade from plastic bowl on to "basket."

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove sprouts from baking sheet and in to serving dish. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and shredded Parmesan cheese (optional). Should you want your cheese more melted, place dish in microwave for 20 seconds.

*I serve my sprouts as a vegetable side dish (with drizzled olive oil and Parmesan cheese) or as an omelette filling (sans Parmesan cheese) that I combine with Swiss cheese and sliced prosciutto.


Cheap Eats, Calories, Custard & Cookies

Ahhh, spring! It's quickly becoming my favorite time of year in NYC. Birds are chirping, I can open my windows, buds are becoming visible on trees, and the people of the city seem a bit happier (sun and warmer weather tend to do this). This is also the time of year when my favorite issue of New York Magazine is published; the infamous "Best of New York - Food" guide for the five boroughs. In addition, check out some of the other great information I found to get you in the mood for the season ahead!

  • Just how many calories are in a Magnolia Bakery cupcake? For you "calorie counters" out there gearing up for bikini season, I've found the answer! Click here
  • What is Shake Shack's most "mouth-drool-provoking" frozen custard flavor? Check it out here!
  • Girl Scout Cookies available...Even if you don't know a Girl Scout! Save the date: March 17 - May 8. Click here for details!

CLOSED: Dinner at Mia Dona

Tucked away on a relatively quiet, yet restaurant-heavy, block of East Midtown is Donatella Arpaia’s “Mia Dona.”
Mia Dona was chosen because of its proximity to a venue for a fundraiser/gala. Alice, Allie, Emily and I, decked out in our “formals,” arrived a couple of minutes shy for our 8pm reservation and were seated within minutes. As we followed the hostess to our table, I’m still not sure whether guests were gawking at our beauty or our attire, but I think it’s safe to assume the latter. When one of the ladies in my party belted out, “I’m so excited for our senior prom tonight,” we all chuckled. Mia Dona was certainly more casual than we had imagined.

Housed in a “railroad car” space (long and narrow), the interior is kissed with dark blonde wood paneling and furniture, dim lighting and baroque/contemporary design elements. The distance between tables and chairs makes both private conversation and space a reality.

Once the waitress had taken our cocktail orders, a large bread basket arrived that was filled with moist slices of tomato focaccia and crusty country baguette. As I reached for a hunk of focaccia, I noticed a large halved roasted garlic bulb. My heart fluttered with excitement as I lathered the two clove’s worth of creamy goodness (when garlic is roasted, its cloves become soft and spreadable) all over my bread. With a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, I could not have been more content.

To begin my meal, I ordered the appetizer portion of Mia’s Meatballs. Four golf-ball sized balls arrived in a shallow pool of marinara sauce topped with a light snow dusting of parmesan cheese. Each meatball was perfectly seasoned, shaped/sized and cooked. The precise ratio of veal, beef and pork yielded a smooth and silky texture. The tangy warm tomato sauce and spicy cheese allowed, not overpowered, the moist and delicate meat to take center stage. I must admit (though I hate to) that in comparing every meatball I taste to L’Artusi’s, Mia Dona’s version has now taken first place.

Within 15 minutes of finishing the appetizer, my entrée arrived. I was shocked to see a milky-white (instead of a deep burgundy colored) sauce atop my plate of Pappardelle Bolognese (which is typically tomato, not cream, based). Wide ribbons of pasta were kissed with a creamy (though not as heavy as Alfredo sauce) gravy that was delicately laced with ground veal, small cubes of speck and parmesan cheese. While I enjoyed my entrée and appreciated the sauce’s components, I don’t think I would order this dish again. The real star of Mia Dona’s pasta menu is the spaghetti & meatballs.

From the great service we received, to the menu’s delicious stars (halved roasted garlic bulb for the bread basket, perfectly cooked meatballs), I had a wonderful experience at Mia Dona. Though it’s not located in my dining neighborhood of choice, I hope to return in the near future.