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I was really looking forward to dining with you last Thursday evening, especially after reading that your chef/owner, Julieta Ballesteros, hails from Monterrey, Mexico. As a native Texan who was raised on menudo and chilaquiles, I constantly find myself on a quest for authentic Mexican restaurants worthy of nostalgic childhood memories here in Yankee territory.
When I arrived at Crema for my 7 p.m. reservation, I was pleasantly surprised to find that your host allowed me to be seated before Megan, my dinner date, arrived (as this is so uncommon in New York).
Not a moment after I placed my napkin in my lap, the server arrived and took my drink order. "Listen, I had a rough night and have been nursing an evil hangover all day. Can you recommend a beverage sans alcohol? Do you have homemade lemonade, perhaps?" I asked. To my delight, the server not only said that your restaurant did have homemade lemonade, but she asked me if I'd like it customized with a blended fruit of my choice!
As my homemade raspberry-lemonade arrived, so did my fellow dining companion, Megan. Before catching up on our adventurous summers, Megan and I discussed how lovely your restaurant's interior space is. Unlike most Mexican spots in the city, Crema felt much softer, warmer and sophisticated.
When our server returned with Megan's glass of red sangria, we proceeded to order our entrees, both choosing the Tacos de Carne Asada Clasica. I also had to ask our server for chips and salsa (which is something that should never have to be questioned at a Mexican restaurant), where she then asked whether we preferred our salsa "medium" or "spicy."
Megan and I loved how your homemade tortilla chips arrived in an oversize wrought-iron "frites" (French fries) cone, and that the "medium" spiced salsa we ordered had clearly just been pureed prior to table service. I don't think I've had a better "chips and salsa" combo in New York! The Tacos de Carne Asada Clasica looked vaguely authentic, arriving on 3" diameter corn tortillas, topped with perfectly cooked (though slightly gristly) steak, sliced avocado and garnished with a lime wedge, a spoonful of pico de gallo and Mexican rice (Megan and I both subbed the "cowboy beans" for rice). Unfortunately, my meal was interrupted when the table next to ours was seated. Every time the robust gentleman to my left opened his mouth to speak, I was nearly overcome by whiffs of a severely buzz-killing case of halitosis (clinical bad breath). Thankfully, I was able to eat half of my dinner prior to his arrival.
Megan and I had a lovely experience at your restaurant until our bill arrived. Was this man's halitosis so heinous that I was beginning to hallucinate, or was there really an $8 charge on our tab for chips and salsa? After I flagged our server down in horror, I was shocked when she confirmed that this was not a mistake. How in the hell can you, a Mexican restaurant, charge your customers for this item...Let alone $8? I'm truly baffled, disappointed, yet sadly, not surprised. I must remember that this is New York City, after all, but that still doesn't stop me from getting pissed off. God knows you'd be the laughing stock if you ever tried to charge folks in Texas for chips and salsa!
Broke and homesick,
The Lunch Belle
July and August were quite the busy and stressful months for The Lunch Belle...So much so, that I wasn't able to keep up with my fellow bloggers on chow.com (regarding what's new in the NYC dining scene), or even get out on the town and try my city's latest and greatest restaurants. Thankfully, all-things-hectic have slowed a bit, and I'm feeling much more grounded and calm.
In a zen-like celebration of less stress, my friend Meghan made reservations for us at Marc Forgione, a new restaurant in Tribeca that, admittedly, I was sadly unfamiliar with. We arrived a couple of minutes early for our 6:30 p.m. table and were seated immediately. As Meghan excused herself to wash her hands, I took note of the lovely atmosphere surrounding me. Approaching Marc Forgione's stoop, I noticed that the restaurant's exterior is floor to ceiling windows that serve as a back drop to a spacious outdoor seating area. Unpolished wood planked floors, exposed brick walls, tall ceilings with tract lighting, wrought iron candelabras and oversize mirrors decorate Marc Forgione's grand interior. Amongst a sea of two and four-top's, I was very pleased to find a communal table that could seat up to twelve, making Marc Forgione a contender for future holiday and birthday dinners.
As soon as Meghan returned to the table, our fabulous server approached us with food and drink menus and two amuse bouche, which we split. Staying true to my Russian roots, I chose to kick off the night with a vodka that was blended with homemade lemonade, muddled raspberries and sparkling wine. After one sip, I was certain that this was the best cocktail I've ever tasted in my adult life. What are my criteria? For one, I prefer NOT to, or very subtly, taste the alcohol in mixed drinks. Secondly, I'm a sucker for anything blended with berries and homemade lemonade. This beverage hit the spot in every way.
With a couple pointers from our server, Meghan and I finally chose our appetizers and entrees. To start, we decided to split: Prosciutto wrapped figs with Marcelli's soft pecorino, a rosemary-ginger reduction and micro salad; and the heirloom tomato salad with Midnight Moon goat cheese and applewood smoked bacon. Simultaneously, two warm homemade potato rolls with garlic butter arrived alongside. Both dishes were unique, artistically presented and prepared with the highest quality ingredients; however, I felt that with a little pinch of salt here and some more cheese there, they could have been much better.
As an entree, Meghan ordered the prime hanger steak with Yukon potato gratin, Pierre poivre sauce and crispy shallots, and I chose the marinated diver sea scallops with sweet corn risotto, baby sorrel and chorizo emulsion. Our waitress helped us pair a wine with our meal, which was an excellent Sancerre rouge (I'm familiar with Sancerre whites, but had never seen a rouge blend). Both of us were equally impressed with our meals and wine. When I return to Marc Forgione, however, I will forgo the scallops and order the steak, which was absolutely magnificent.
As an end to our wonderful evening, Meghan and I each ordered a glass of Moscato d'Asti and split the cocoa crepe with Nutella, caramelized banana and coffee ice cream. Our steep bill arrived with a delicious gratis homemade chocolate that tasted like an Almond Joy candy bar bite.
I look forward to returning to Marc Forgione. Our server advised us that the restaurant will soon be serving brunch, which I suspect will be just as, or even more, excellent! Though a bit overpriced, the service, food, cocktails and atmosphere at Marc Forgione is top notch.
If you’re in the mood to completely derail your summer diet, then look no further than Marc Forgione. In honor of my upcoming birthday, a good friend of mine treated me to dinner at this Tribeca New American. While I’ve been to this restaurant once before (click *here* to see my review from last year), it wasn’t until last night that I truly fell in love…With a non-listed menu item.
As I waited for Susan to arrive, I caught a glimpse of the “happy hour menu,” and zeroed in on one item: “100% Creekstone Ranch Prime Beef Burger, Soft Potato Bun, Aged Cheddar, Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Tater Tots, $15.”
After Susan placed her scallop entrée order, all eyes were on me. “I’d like the burger, please.” Our server advised that “the burger is only available on the happy-hour menu and isn’t served in the main dining room...Unless by special request. So, what can I get you?” I gave her the what-the-hell-do-you-think-I-want-look and said, “I don’t want anything else. I’d like to ‘special request’ the burger, please.” Looking slightly annoyed, she told me that she’d have to go check with the chef. As she walked towards the kitchen, I looked at Susan, rolled my eyes and began bitching, “I’m going through a phase right now where I think that everyone is being passive aggressive and plotting a conspiracy against me. Why is this broad acting like I’m requesting some kind of exotic food? It’s a damn burger, for God’s sake!” So you can imagine my surprise when our server returned and said, “Lucky for you, the chef is in a good mood today. He agreed to make you the burger.” Relief.
You know the slight embarrassment you feel when: While dining at a Mexican restaurant, your waiter presents you with the sizzling, smoking skillet of fajitas you ordered. Neighboring tables grow silent as they observe the waft of steam rising from your plate and you can’t help but wonder: Are they just jealous, or do they think I’m a fat, gluttonous lumberjack? This is pretty much how I felt at Marc Forgione last night. Fellow diners stopped and stared as I was presented with a black cast iron skillet (literally the same size as a 9-inch pie pan). Lining the bottom was a thin sheet of paper (presumably to soak up the grease) that anchored the burger, a side of homemade pickles, and a small bowl filled with tater tots. While I appreciated the effort, I found the pickles much too lip-pursingly, eye-squintingly sour. The tater tots also under whelmed, as they clearly did not spend a second in the deep fryer. The end product tasted more like dried out baked potatoes than the crispy, greasy tots I was longing for. And just when I was about to give up on my meal, I took a bite of my burger: Sandwiched between a *homemade* potato roll was a perfectly cooked ¾” patty of beef. Crispy and salty chopped bacon, a garden-fresh tomato slice, schmear of Russian dressing (or some variation of it), a slice of melted aged cheddar and caramelized onions sat atop the juicy meat. Besides the burger’s delicious flavor and velvety texture, what I especially loved was the fact that this sandwich wasn’t outrageously big. I was able to fit every component, from top bun to bottom bun, in my mouth without looking like a complete slob.
Go and try this burger, even if it means hitting the restaurant between 5-7pm and sitting at the bar. And trust me about the tots; instead, perhaps you can ask to for the delicious “old school home fries” that accompany the Flat Iron Steak.
Recently, there was a blurb in US Weekly that polled celebrities, who had to gain weight for movie roles, about what they ate to pack on the pounds. Jared Leto said that he gained eighty pounds from buying pints of Haagen Daaz ice cream, allowing the frozen product to melt, and drinking the rich, creamy goodness up with a straw...Multiple times per day!
That article made me start thinking about my severe junk food habit, Haagen Daaz addiction, and the 15 pounds that I wanted to lose before my dreaded high school reunion in October. For my lifestyle, it's not logical that I completely cut out sweets or go on a "carbohydrate sabbatical" diet. So with a little help from living where I do, meaning having access to amazing markets and grocery stores, and the recent frozen yogurt craze that has taken America by storm (ahem, Pinkberry), I don't feel as restricted from my favorite unhealthy indulgences, leading me to binge on cupcakes and Haagen Daaz's Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream.
Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to two of my favorite diet lifesavers that have helped satisfy my sweet tooth during this extremely rough time (Wait a minute, who am I kidding? I'm always dieting!):
1) Fage Total 2% Yogurt with Honey: There's just something creamier, richer and thicker about Greek yogurt, especially when paired with honey. You can't beat the flavor combination. Fage's conveniently packaged product comes in a single cup, yet divided in two parts, separating the honey from the yogurt. There's nothing I'd rather eat for breakfast!
2) Red Mango frozen yogurt: On those long, lonely nights when my hands start shaking and I begin going in to "junk food withdrawls," I grab my keys and slip on my flip flops and run out the door. Instead of turning left en route to the deli to grab a pint of Haagen Daaz, I head right and walk straight to my favorite new frozen yogurt spot, Red Mango. The yogurt itself is 100% all-natural, fat-free, gluten-free and certified Kosher. Plus, all of their toppings are semi guilt-free. Think along the lines of fresh fruit, nuts, granola (my personal favorite), mochi and dry cereal.
**Still can't find what you're looking for? EMAIL me: Lindsay@TheLunchBelle.com