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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!

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Monday
Nov172008

The Weekly Eater: 11/10 - 11/23

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Thursday, 11/13: Dinner at Papatzul

  • No money for a trip to Mexico? Take a mini-vacation from the concrete jungle and escape to Ciudad Juarez via Papatzul. Excellent happy-hour drink specials (think half-price margaritas and sangria), spot-on Mexican cuisine, friendly service and an atmosphere that will truly transport you away from the hustle-bustle. I began my meal with a white-sangria, chock-full of marinated fruit that was just sweet enough not to overpower the delicate balance of alcohol to juice. While I've complained of paying for chips and salsa in previous posts, I did have to fork over $5 (annoying, but still $3 less than what I was charged at Crema). For my entree, I ordered a simple plate of cheese enchiladas with green sauce, which I found to be one of the best versions of the dish I've had in NYC, thus far.

Saturday, 11/15: Dinner at L'Express

  • Prior to catching Reckless Kelly, a "Texas Country" band from Austin, Andrew and I headed to L'Express for some cocktails and French brasserie fare. For a restaurant that's open 24-hours/day and doesn't get taken too seriously by many self-proclaimed "foodies," I find L'Express to be one of the city's dining jewels. The atmosphere is romantic, lively and charming all at the same time. My meal began with a glass of pinot noir, followed by NYC's best croque monsieur (France's version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich) served with a side of perfectly cooked fries.

Sunday, 11/16: Brunch at The Odeon

  • Hugging a picturesque corner of Tribeca stands The Odeon, where art-deco diner-chic meets French brasserie. Phillip and I only had to wait twenty-minutes for a brunch table, and chose to watch the time pass at the large and boisterous bar. After gulping two bellini's, we were seated. A basket arrived with two pieces of homemade bread and an ample portion of butter. As an entree, I ordered the Beef Shortrib Hash, which was one of the daily specials. Two poached eggs topped with a lemony Hollandaise sauce sat atop a mound of hashed potatoes and short rib. While I found the beef gristly and nearly inedible, the other components of my meal (eggs, Hollandaise sauce and potatoes) were fresh and delicious.

Sunday, 11/16: Dinner at El Rio Grande

  • I'd be a liar if I told you that I wasn't hesitant about dining at El Rio Grande. First of all, the restaurant is a chain, and secondly, nine times out of ten, the Mexican food in NYC leaves much to be desired. Allow me to tell you how pleasantly surprised I was: El Rio Grande is located at the base of an apartment building in Murray Hill. The dining room is illuminated by floor to ceiling windows and tastefully decorated with Southwestern flair. My meal began with a frozen margarita, FREE handmade chips and salsa and an order of velvety smooth chile con queso (a true delicacy to Texas ex-pats). As an entree, I chose the cheese enchiladas that were accompanied by rice and beans. I found the Tex-Mex grub to be quite tasty, the service to be fantastic and the bill to be very affordable.

Monday
Nov102008

The Weekly Eater: 11/03 - 11/16

Each Monday going forward, I'm going to give you, my dear readers, a recap of where I ate during the prior week, and a list of where I have plans to dine this week.

Saturday, 11/08: Dinner at Malatesta Trattoria

  • You can't beat this trattoria's charming West Village locale, hugging the corner of Washington and Christopher Streets. Once inside, enjoy the dimly-lit romantic atmosphere and friendly Italian waitstaff. A fantastic meal begins with a gratis plate of homemade focaccia, followed by menu standouts such as the Tagliatelle Al Ragu (handmade fettuccine-like noodles topped with a velvety tomato sauce and ground beef). Decent Italian wine list. Cash only. 649 Washington St., 212-741-1207

Sunday, 11/09: Dinner at Momofuku Ssam

  • What adjectives come to mind when you hear the words, "East Village?" I immediately think, "Hipster, rock, cool, mish-mash, New York." And what better neighborhood for the uber-hip Momofuku chain to to reside in? The last time I visited Ssam, I was with my ex nibbling off of his plate, kicking myself that I didn't order something of my own. When I was dining at Ssam this Sunday evening, I made sure to make up for lost times. Momofuku's modern space is a bit small and packs up quickly after opening. The background music is one or two decibels away from being deafening and the only soft drink on the menu is root beer, but the food is so good that all of these minute details can definitely be overlooked. Momofuku Ssam's concept is the use of locally, farm raised food to create an American/Korean fusion menu. Sounds complicated, but the finished product is simply outstanding. Menu highlights included: Seasonal pickles, Steamed pork buns (pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallions), Satur Farm's fried Brussels sprouts (mint, scallions, fish sauce vinaigrette), Blondie pie and the PB&J dessert with concord grapes and Saltine panna cotta.
Tuesday
Nov042008

Dinner at Lugo Caffe

"Lugo Caffe is located at 1 Penn Plaza? Interesting address. Isn't that right across the street from Madison Square Garden?" I wondered. Sure enough, after doing a quick restaurant search for "Lugo Caffe" on menupages.com, my greatest fear was confirmed: 1 Penn Plaza sat on 33rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues...Directly across the street from Madison Square Garden. Lugo Caffe, Midtown South/Chelsea's newest Italian, was conceived in one of the most random and challenging neighborhoods for a restaurant of its caliber. T.G.I.Friday's, locally-owned deli's, and fast food joints lined the streets and took center stage...Until now.

After my mother and I exited our taxi on 33rd Street, it took me a couple of moments to locate 1 Penn Plaza. As we approached the large office building, I saw Lugo Caffe situated on the ground floor. What stood out like a desert oasis was a space that had me at "hello." Upon entering the restaurant, I found the interior divided in to three rooms; a bar, main dining area, and a semi secluded private dining space. Artfully displayed just above the boisterous open bar were the words "La Dolce Vita," which means "the sweet life" in Italian. The space felt so large for a New York City restaurant; perhaps it was because of the grand twenty-foot-tall ceilings and walls of windows that overlooked Lugo's very own vast outdoor patio. Rooms were divided by fully-stocked wine racks appearing to be suspended mid-air. The usage of butcher block tables, subway tiles and art deco-style lamps, fans and a splash of Vespa turquoise-blue was the perfect combination of "brasserie" meets "modern Italian chic."

Although my mother and I arrived at 6:30p.m. (which is considered quite early), Lugo was already hopping with both happy hour and dinner patrons. Impressive, especially for a restaurant that had not even been open yet for a month! We were seated promptly and given a basket filled with two large pieces of bread, a bowl of infused olive oil and food and drink menus. Mom and I each ordered a martini, and began perusing what to choose for our appetizers and entrees.

To begin, we chose to split three appetizers. Brussels sprouts are my new obsession, so when I placed this particular order, I suppose I wasn't expecting these emerald green morsels to arrive chilled. The Classic "Caesar" dressed with romaine, parmigiana, a bitter-creamy lemon dressing and homemade croutons was one of the best versions of the salad that I've tasted. Our third appetizer was the Mozzarella Carozza, which was sliced cheese lightly fried and served with stewed baby tomatoes. I enjoyed this dish, however, I thought that the batter surrounding the mozzarella tasted more like tempura than traditional "carozza" (an exterior so lightly crisp, one may not know that it's fried). My mother even mentioned that this dish reminded her of the mozzarella "sticks" one can order at sports bars. I was horrified!

In keeping the spirit of sharing, we decided to split two entrees. The homemade ravioli filled with velvety ricotta cheese, spinach and topped with a simple dollop of stewed fresh tomatoes and chopped basil was divine. Besides the light dusting of freshly grated parmigiana cheese added table side, I, the self-professed salt/pepper addict, had one of my very first "douse free" experiences. Conveniently, we ordered a Margherita pizza to sop up all of the extra pasta sauce. Think authentic Italian pizza: Thin, lightly charred crust; chunky, bright red tomato sauce; homemade mozzarella cheese and finished with fresh basil leaves. Delicioso!

To end our meal on a sweet note, Mom and I split the profiteroles and an order of ricotta cheesecake. I was surprised to find that the profiteroles were filled with custard instead of (what I thought was traditional) gelato. The cheesecake was nice, but it would have been much tastier had the crust been thicker.

Lugo Caffe is the most welcome addition to the neighborhood surrounding Madison Square Garden! For a restaurant that has just been open for a month now, I found that it has very few "kinks" to work out. The food, service and space were lovely and I look forward to returning.

Sunday
Nov022008

Drinks at The Rose Club


For those of you that are familiar with New York's famed Plaza hotel, you are well aware that this legendary landmark has been closed for a number of years due to renovations. Recently (make that very recently), she has reopened her grand doors. Now, should you fall in love with your boudoir while vacationing, The Plaza will not only extend your stay, but you also have the option to buy your very own piece of luxury Manhattan real estate. Yes folks, the famous hotel now shares its space with condos.

With such a lengthy hiatus, I decided that my mother's visit would be the perfect excuse to sample The Plaza's newly opened Rose Club for a post-work cocktail. We arrived at the hotel around 6 p.m. and made our way past the lobby's dainty Champagne Bar and up the grand staircase to the second floor. The atmosphere changed drastically from tranquil and bright European Renaissance to dark, subtly Gothic modern "club chic."

The bar and seating areas were almost occupied to capacity by the time my mom and I arrived. We did spot a table that had just been vacated, though not yet cleaned, and decided to grab it anyways. The location was perfect and we figured that someone would approach us shortly.

Ten minutes later, a waiter finally arrived and took our drink orders. Since beers were a staggering $12 and wines reached in to the early $20's, Mom and I were able to justify the $26 mojito (I suppose it was the "When in Rome" theory?). We also asked for glasses of water and for our table to be wiped clean of crumbs and that the previous guest's glasses be removed. While studying the room, I noticed that other patrons were receiving lovely bowls of nuts to nibble on as they patiently waited for their beverages. Mom and I just sighed, looked at each other and our dirty, empty table, and laughed out loud. Was it the fact that I was wearing Uggs or that Mom preferred wearing sneakers instead of stilettos (that we were so obviously being ignored)? Should my shopping bag have said "Chanel" instead of "Bloomingdales?"

When our drinks arrived, sans our requested waters, bowl of gratis snack nuts and without a hand-rag in sight to clean the table, I got angry. "Sir, our table has been dirty since we arrived. Please wipe it off. We also asked for waters and snack mix." The waiter glared at me and stormed off. When he finally returned with our items, he did not make eye contact with me and literally slammed the waters and nuts down on the table. Mom and I attempted to enjoy our mojitos, but sipped them as quickly as we could. Not ten minutes in to our cocktails, our waiter returned with our bill, which we had clearly not asked for. Interesting. What if we had wanted another round?

Will I return to The Rose Club? No thanks. I could think of plenty of things I'd rather spend $26 on. Furthermore, I'd rather not pay to be treated like total crap.

Thursday
Oct232008

Recipe: Cheesy "Big Corn" Casserole

If you've grown tired of traditional macaroni-n-cheese, I suggest trying this recipe that substitutes hominy (maize/corn kernels) for pasta. This dish is loosely based on a recipe from my dear cooking mentor, Ofelia.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, chopped
  • Two 15.5 ounce cans of hominy (drained and rinsed with water to remove extra starch)
  • One 4 ounce can of chopped green chile (drained and rinsed with water to remove "canned" taste)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup of cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of shredded Colby cheese
  • 1/2 cup of crushed Fritos

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent. Add hominy, tomatoes and green chiles and saute for five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese and sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour ingredients from the saucepan in to the bowl containing the sour cream and cream cheese. Stir components together to blend evenly. Fold mixture in to a lightly greased, 8x8 glass casserole/Pyrex/Le Creuset dish. Evenly top with crushed Fritos.

Bake uncovered in a 300 degree oven for twenty-minutes. Serves four.

Wednesday
Oct222008

An early dinner at The Spotted Pig

Was I the only New Yorker who hadn't been to The Spotted Pig? Apparently so, because when I divulged this to my girlfriends over dinner, I got a couple of chuckles. In order to best avoid the dinner rush, my friends and I arrived at The Spotted Pig around 5:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Foreseeing a two-hour wait from some of the horror stories that I'd heard, I was pleasantly surprised when our table was ready for us by 6:15 p.m.

Situated on a picturesque, tree-lined West Village street, The Spotted Pig is adorned with unfinished hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, an old-fashioned mahogany bar, menu specials written on a large brasserie mirror and decor consisting of shabby chotchkies and mismatched plants.

To start, I ordered the deviled eggs followed by the infamous Spotted Pig burger (that I'd read so many raves about). The "eggs" (note the pluralization) were just one whole egg sliced in half. The cooked yolks were mixed with a zesty mustard blend, crunchy green chives and sprinkled with sea salt. Though I've had better versions, these devils were tasty and just "enough" substance to whet my appetite. The moment of truth came as my medium-cooked burger arrived. Enveloped between a grilled brioche bun was a generous portion of beef topped with an ample lathering of pungent and salty Roquefort cheese. Accompanying the sandwich was a mound of homemade shoestring fries, lightly dusted with sea salt and rosemary. Was the burger all it was cracked up to be? Indeed, it was. Though I felt that the amount of Roquefort used was slightly overpowering, the beef patty itself consisted of the highest quality ground meat, producing a juicy, velvety, melt-in-your-mouth masterpiece.

My experience at The Spotted Pig was virtually liberated of anything negative that I'd heard. I found the service to be excellent and our wait-time minimal. The food was pretty impressive and I will absolutely return.