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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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Wednesday
Feb042009

Product review: Quaker Oats "True Delights"

After attempting numerous crash diets, meal delivery services, lemonade cleanses and weekly meetings with weigh-ins, I think I’ve finally figured myself out. As a last ditch effort to drop the pounds, I decided that I would no longer restrict myself from any particular food group. Can I eat carbs? Yes. Can I drink alcohol? Damn right. The only catch is that I’m counting every single calorie that I intake (down to the sticks of 5-calorie/piece sugarless gum that I chew). It may sound like a nuisance to have to write down everything consumed, but doing so has really changed my focus and opened my eyes to how much I was eating before.

Since this is now a number’s game, I’ve been able to broaden my horizons beyond snacking on low-fat cottage cheese or veggie sticks. While I’m not a big fan of protein bars (I think they’re a huge waste of money AND calories), I do have a weakness for granola bars. Quaker Oats recently launched “True Delights” granola bars, which are made with premium ingredients (as apposed to peanut butter chips and marshmallows). Think along the lines of dried fruits, honey, 45% cacao dark chocolate and whole nuts. Flavors include: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Almond, Honey Roasted Cashew Mixed Berry and Toasted Coconut Banana Macadamia Nut. Having sampled all three flavors, I must attest that my favorite was the Toasted Coconut Banana Macadamia Nut. For just 140 calories per bar, each sweet and salty bite transported me to Hawaii.

Quaker “True Delights” are now available country-wide. I highly recommend buying a box of this guiltless indulgence!

Tuesday
Feb032009

CLOSED: Dinner at Bellavitae

Because this would be the first dinner I’ve had with my favorite newly-engaged duo, Megan and Hung, I wanted this meal to be extra special. Since opening a couple of years ago, I’ve been eager to dine at Bellavitae, the quiet Italian in the West Village.

When I arrived for our 8:15pm reservation, Megan and Hung were already seated. After hugs and congratulatory greetings were given, I plopped down at our table and made a quick survey of the restaurant’s atmosphere. Dim lighting, warm Tuscan yellow walls, planked hardwood floors, mahogany tables and chairs and a kitchen equipped with a visible brick oven truly made for an intimate setting.
As our drinks arrived, Hung looked at Megan and said, “Should we ask her?” As I looked up from studying the menu, Megan asked me if I would be one of her bridesmaids. “Yes! Of course I will. I’m so honored and flattered. Thank you both so much for including me!” After toasting, the waiter approached to take our meal orders. To begin, we chose to split the Arancini Siciliani and the Sformatino di Melanzane. As entrees, Hung ordered cod, Megan went with pasta and I chose the Pappardelle con Sugo di Agnello.

Freshly baked foccacia bread and olive oil arrived just before our appetizers. Each of us took one of the four Arancini Siciliani (fried risotto balls with tomato, provolone and prosciutto). What looked like a fried golden brown golf ball on the outside gave way to the most flavorful savory interior. Tightly packed tomato risotto was enveloped in gooey melted provolone cheese. Though I didn’t see much proscuitto, the arancini had the perfect balance of flavor, thus confirming the presence of the salty pork. While each bite was slightly lukewarm, I was very pleased with this dish. The Sformatino di Melanzane (layers of baby eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce) arrived in a small terra cotta bowl that had come directly from the brick oven. Bubbling tomato sauce and perfectly melted mozzarella hugged the tender stacked eggplant. Our forks played food hockey as we fought for the last bite.

Shortly after our finishing our appetizers, our entrees arrived. Ribbons of perfectly cooked pappardelle pasta noodles sat beneath a hearty braised lamb ragu. Similar to, but not as sweet as, a traditional Bolognese sauce, I found the tender pieces of meat to be a welcome substitution for what is typically made with beef. The pasta to sauce ratio was perfectly balanced.

Between the great company, food, service, and atmosphere, my experience at Bellavitae was memorable and I would definitely return in the future. Congratulations to the happy couple and many thanks for including me in the biggest day of your lives!

Wednesday
Jan282009

CLOSED: Restaurant Week: Dinner at Country

Country was never on my “top 10 must try restaurants” list, but it was certainly a place that I eventually wanted to check out. Located in The Carlton Hotel, Country has one of the city’s most attractive spaces: Creamy white walls, mahogany wood accents and crystal chandeliers (just to name a few).

To celebrate the end of NYC Restaurant Week, Linda and I decided to meet at Country for a $35 prix-fixe dinner. Though we were seated immediately, our table’s proximity to the bar made for a bit more noise than I would have preferred. After a tumultuous evening the night before, I was too tired to ask to be reseated in a quieter space. Miraculously, what initially seemed like deafening noise subsided the moment Linda and I sat down.

We each traded a glass of wine or fancy cocktail for a non-alcoholic beverage. When Linda’s iced tea arrived, we were fascinated to see that, instead of using normal ice cubes, the frozen spheres were “iced tea ice cubes.” Typically accompanied by an assorted sugar/sweetener tray, a small glass of homemade simple syrup was sent along side the iced tea. We both appreciated the restaurant’s attention to creativity and thinking “outside of the box.” Additionally, my fresh-squeezed lemonade was quickly moving up my “top glasses in the city” ranking after each delicious sip.

For my meal, I chose to begin with the cauliflower panna cotta followed by the crispy buttermilk chicken, and finally the chocolate cake.

The cauliflower panna cotta, served with a petite salad of micro greens, resembled a mini dessert flan/crème de caramel. I found the dish rather tasteless, bland and cold with a consistency similar to under-set Jell-O. The greens, however, added a nice texture.
Two sections of pan fried buttermilk chicken breasts sat atop diced potatoes with Serrano ham in a shallow pool of chicken jus. The bird was perfectly cooked, flavorful and tender. I was under whelmed by what appeared to be pre-packaged breakfast potatoes. Overall, the dish was good, with the exception of the starch.

My dessert plate included a molten chocolate cake and a scoop of coffee ice cream, separated by a perfect line of cherry compote. I would have preferred the homemade vanilla bean ice cream accompaniment I had with my chocolate cake at Nougatine, but the essence of coffee paired nicely with the dark fruit. The cake itself was decent, though lukewarm and not made with, what I assumed was very high quality chocolate. After a similar dessert at Nougatine, I’ve become biased toward imperfect competitors.

The service, ambiance, and beverages at Country were fantastic. I feel that the menu is competitive, modern and looks great on paper. With more attention to detail and taste, and an attempt to move away from the use Sysco products (i.e. the frozen breakfast potatoes), I am confident that Country would find greater longevity in the NY dining scene. I hope to return for brunch in the near future.

Saturday
Jan242009

Dinner at L'Artusi

From a booth at the Corner Bistro, I noticed a bustling café across the street, and asked Susan’s friend, Greg, if he knew what the name was. “That’s dell’ anima,” he said. “It’s the restaurant that former Babbo sommelier, Joe Campanale, started. It’s excellent. He’s actually opening up another place on 10th Street very soon.” I was intrigued and inspired by Joe Campanale, the young twenty-something who became one of the countries youngest sommeliers at 23 years old (not to mention the fact that he took the job at Babbo, which is one of NYC’s best known establishments). Mr. Campanale is now co-owner of the West Village’s dell’ anima and the newer L’Artusi restaurants.

After two rowdy cocktails at nearby Employee’s Only, some friends and I made our way to our 9:30pm reservation at L’Artusi. We were seated at a spacious round table located in the midst of the lively bar and open kitchen. The restaurant’s understated modern atmosphere evokes a warm charm.

As an entrée, I chose the spaghetti and meatballs, and for the table, a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. Arriving in a large bowl, the handmade pasta was laced with a robust marinara sauce, a generous serving of meatballs, and an ample dusting of shredded Parmesan cheese. Not since my last meal at Crispo have I had such an outstanding bowl of this childhood favorite. Only L’Artusi’s take on this comfort food classic far surpassed Crispo’s version. The noodles were perfectly cooked al dente, and the meatballs were firm (cooked all the way through as opposed to Crispo’s), yet magically tender. On a separate small plate, I served myself a large spoonful of Brussels sprouts. Precisely caramelized, seasoned, and ever-so-slightly suffocating under a gooey layer of Parmesan cheese, the sprouts quickly became the most popular shared dish at our table.

Delicious food, great service and reasonable prices make L’Artusi my new favorite Italian. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Friday
Jan232009

Dinner at Morimoto

For her first night in town, the only requirements that Lauren had for dinner on Friday were: Japanese cuisine served in a grand, modern and theatrical space. Having never been to Morimoto before, I assumed that this restaurant would fit all of her specifications (with the added bonus being that Morimoto is the brainchild of the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto).

Lauren and I arrived at Morimoto 30 minutes prior to our 8:45pm reservation. We were told that we could grab a cocktail in the bar downstairs, and a hostess would come find us when our table was ready. The restaurant/bar is a large, bi-level space with an interior that emphasizes how attractive and serene that the use of concrete, Lucite and creamy whimsical shears can be.
As the clock struck 8:45pm, Lauren and I were whisked to our table. We began our meal with Morimoto’s signature drink, the White Lily, made with vodka and a Japanese lemon soda. Instead of ordering entrees or the omakase, we chose to share an assortment of small plates:

  • Kobe beef Carpaccio
  • Spicy king crab broiled on the half shell
  • Hamachi sashimi (yellowtail)
  • Pork gyoza
  • Beef curry bread

I rarely order beef over tuna Carpaccio, but Lauren insisted that we must. The Kobe beef was thinly sliced and arrived in a shallow pool of yuzu soy, hot oil and finely chopped mitsuba leaf. Every ingredient intertwined perfectly together, creating a symphony of flavor in my mouth.

When the spicy king crab arrived, I was surprised by its physically enormous size and Morimoto’s generous portion. I was also pleased to find that the kitchen had, in fact, taken the dirty work out of a potentially disastrous chore: Indeed, the crustacean was served on the half shell, thus making crab meat removal a breeze. The exposed flesh was painted with a spicy mayonnaise, broiled to perfection, and finished with tiny caviar pearls.

While the hamachi (yellowtail) was fresh and of high quality, I found that it served more as a palate cleanser between more flavorful dishes.

When the pork gyoza arrived, I had to ask our server if he had made a mistake and served us the wrong dish. I was mystified by the paper-thin, golden crust that enveloped the top of the entire serving of dumplings. Upon “crust” removal, I was even more shocked to find that the gyozas were floating atop a bed of marinara sauce. Honestly, if this combination is considered haute fusion, I’m not a fan. While the dumplings were OK, I just couldn’t get past the pool of bright red spaghetti sauce.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we ordered the beef curry bread. Perhaps it was a curried meatball inside of a Chinese bun. Or maybe curried beef was served atop sliced baguette. Wrong and wrong. A plate arrived with 2 golden panko-crusted spheres that were the size of mini Nerf footballs. “How in the hell are we supposed to eat this?” Lauren asked. We decided to delicately halve each piece and split the dish in to four manageable servings. The beef curry bread reminded me of an empanada, only with much more filling and a less doughy, crispier exterior.

Upon realization that we had each dropped $100 on our meal, our playful cocktail buzz immediately wore off. The couple seated next to us had chosen the chef’s omakase which, for $120 per person, seemed to be the best deal in the house. All in all, Lauren and I enjoyed a nice meal, excellent cocktails and an outstanding atmosphere.

Wednesday
Jan212009

Restaurant Week: Dinner at Nougatine

For two glorious weeks in the dreadful doldrums of winter (exclusive of Saturday’s), NYC Restaurant Week takes Gotham by storm. Over 250 participating restaurants charge $24.07 for a prix-fixed lunch and $35 for a prix-fixed dinner. Considering the tumultuous economy, Restaurant Week is an affordable excuse to experience that otherwise pricey French spot you’ve been dying to try.

Allie and I had a reservation at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Nougatine, located within the same space as Jean Georges (at the Trump International Hotel and Tower). After being seated immediately by the gracious hostess, I couldn’t help but gaze out the floor to ceiling windows and admire the snowy view. Located on ground/patio level, Nougatine overlooks majestic Central Park. The atmosphere in the restaurant was cozy, bright, spacious and airy. Tabletops were graced with freshly cut white roses and delicate glass stemware.

The menu revealed that, despite Restaurant Week, Nougatine has a nightly $35 prix fixed dinner. Having learned that tidbit, I knew that I would be in for a great experience. Allie and I proceeded to order the $35 menu, which included an amuse bouche, three savory and one sweet course.
Our meal began with the chef’s amuse: A shot of delicate fennel soup paired with a fried wonton skin that was topped with fresh crab meat and carrot “brittle.” I was pleasantly surprised by how perfect the flavors of fennel and crab came together.

The next course was tuna tartare: Atop a bed of smashed avocado was a hearty portion of fresh, ruby-red sushi-grade tuna topped with lightly marinated radish slivers. The richness of the buttery avocado meat was a great accompaniment to the fish. The radish slivers presented a crunchy texture to the otherwise soft dish.
Following the tuna tartare was another fish course: Straddling a mound of spaghetti squash and a shallow pool of soy broth sat a large filet of skate wing. Having never tried this fish before, I was impressed by its subtle, creamy flavor and texture. My only complaint was that I found the smoky aftertaste of the soy broth too powerful for the delicate fish.

The entrée was our final savory course: Two bone-in chicken quarters were placed atop broccoli rabe and a flavorful lemon truffle sauce. Since the bird was cooked with skin and bones in tact, the meat was unbelievably tender. I rarely order chicken as a main course, but this dish has convinced me otherwise.
The dessert tasting included a citrus semifreddo, homemade vanilla bean ice cream and molten chocolate cake. I found the semifreddo too cold and the texture to be overly crunchy, plus it was not sweet enough. The cake, on the other hand, was outrageously decadent, especially when combined with the ice cream. Warm melted chocolate slowly oozed on to the plate with the lightest pierce of my fork.

Our check arrived with a small saucer of homemade pate de fruits (my favorite) and chocolate covered ginger. But perhaps the sweetest part of our meal was seeing Jean Georges, one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, proudly circle through the lively crowd and dining room.