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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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Saturday
Jan172009

UPDATE: The Lunch Belle's Love Spell, 5/05/08

"Love Spell" update: I'm pleased to announce that on Saturday, January 11th, this lovely couple took their relationship to the next level. Hung and Megan are engaged!

Oh, what a small world it truly is...!
Some folks say that bringing two people together is the ultimate mitzvah, and you know what? I agree! Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that my website was grounds to unite a real love connection, but low and behold, it did!

In early January 2008, I began paying Google for their "Ad Space" services for thelunchbelle.com. I came up with a snazzy, eye-catching slogan, and in turn, Google placed my ad on various food-related websites. After I chose a specific dollar amount per month, Google would deduct cents for every virtual "hit" that I received via my advertisement. Within a couple of days, January 10th to be exact, I received an email from one of my first observers...A young 30-something fellow named Hung. He left a comment on my website inquiring about where to take a special woman on their first date. Days later, I was glad to hear that the new couple enjoyed their experience at N, and in the weeks that followed, Hung continued to ask me for restaurant advice. From our numerous emails, Hung and I built a nice friendship, to the point that I would write him and ask about his rendez-vous with his special lady.

Making plans with Megan was always trying, as her busy schedule was constantly slammed with work (hello, she's a lawyer for crying out loud!) and volunteering. Finally, we were able to solidify a brunch date after months of not seeing each other. I was very much looking forward to catching up with the girl I'd met roughly two years ago in a provisional fundraising class. During brunch, Megan gushed about her new boyfriend...How he was so different from all of the others, how amazing he was, etc. She also mentioned that I may know him, as he'd been on "The Lunch Belle's" website for dining advice. "He asked me who I was going to brunch with, and I said I was going with The Lunch Belle," Megan said. We put two and two together, and realized that Megan, was in fact, speaking of her boyfriend, Hung!

I've saved every email that Hung and I have exchanged, pertaining to my dear friend, Megan. Recently, I had the pleasure of dining with the lovely couple for a delicious Thai dinner at Peep, and can honestly say that this is one of the loveliest two-some on the planet. I feel blessed to have contributed a small, yet very important aspect to their relationship...Food!

Monday
Jan122009

Dinner at Dirt Candy

Allowing the other person to choose a restaurant can be as bad as sending an email to the wrong recipient. There is no going back. So when Allie suggested that we meet for dinner at the East Village’s newest vegetarian restaurant, “Dirt Candy,” I was slightly frightened. What would a tofu-hater order from small, meatless menu?

I decided to check out Dirt Candy’s website to view menus and figure out what was behind such an odd name. 10 minutes on the site turned in to 30 as I read through Chef Amanda Cohen’s captivating blog. I was pleasantly surprised by the menu, as well. What’s not to love about jalapeno hush puppies or grits topped with a tempura poached egg? And finally, my question was answered: “What is dirt candy? Vegetables, of course. When you eat a vegetable you’re eating nothing more than dirt that’s been transformed by plenty of sunshine and rain into something that’s full of flavor – candy from the dirt. Dirt Candy.”

Located in a chic shoebox-sized space on 9th Street between 1st and Avenue A, the restaurant brilliantly utilizes every nook and cranny (I actually think that my apartment is bigger!). Dirt Candy seems special and intimate, in that it creates an atmosphere similar to dining at home among close friends and family.

Staff graciously allowed me to wait for Allie at our reserved table. Once she arrived, we wasted no time and began ordering. To whet our appetites, Allie and I chose to split an order of Jalapeno Hush Puppies (served with maple butter) and Portobello Mousse (with fennel/pear compote). Both appetizers proved outstanding examples of successful modern twists on comfort food. For an entree, Allie chose the Crispy Tofu with Green Ragout and a kaffir lime beurre blanc and I ordered the Stone Ground Grits with pickled shitakes and a tempura poached egg. While I can’t speak of Allie’s tofu, my meal exploded with a medley of different flavors and textures. The highlight of my dish was cutting in to the tempura-battered poached egg, which released a gorgeous yolk-y interior that draped the grits. My only complaint would be the pickled mushrooms, which left a sour/briny aftertaste on my tongue.

To end our meal on an even sweeter note, Allie and I split pastry chef Debbie Lee’s Popcorn Pudding with hazelnut caramel corn. Accompanying a mason jar filled with pale-yellow pudding was a small bowl of popcorn dredged in caramel. Our waitress insisted that we dip the popcorn kernels in to the pudding, a-la chips and dip. I had a lovely evening at Dirt Candy and would recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for an excellent vegetarian meal. Staff could not have been more kind, gracious or knowledgeable about Dirt Candy’s food and wine.

Sunday
Jan112009

Momofuku Milk Bar: A quick bite

With all the buzz I've been hearing about Momofuku Milk Bar, Chef David Chang's newest concept, I was eager to make my very own New Year's resolution-breaking pilgrimage. Located behind Momofuku Ssam Bar, Milk resembles a spitting image of its sibling, just on a smaller scale.

While Milk Bar offers a decent amount of savory items (Chorizo Challah and their famous pork buns, for example), my quest was to sample some of their unique desserts. For instance, if you love slurping the milk after eating Lucky Charms cereal, you're in good hands. Milk Bar offers "Cereal Milk." It's nice to know that there is enough demand for this sweet (ingenious and "Why didn't I think of that?") beverage. Indeed, there's a kid in all of us.

I grabbed a slice of Candy Bar Pie (an ode to the "Take 5" candy bar) and a Cornflake-Marshmallow-Chocolate Chip Cookie, to go. Both cookie and pie looked irresistible, handmade and of ample size. Mid-way through savoring each dessert, my eyes began to twitch and tears began to form; these morsels of decadence were much too sweet for me (a self-proclaimed sugar addict who finds the icing at Magnolia and Buttercup not sweet enough)!

Next time I'm in the mood for a Milk Bar fix, I'll attempt to control my addiction by grabbing only one, not two desserts. Until then, I don't want to see another cookie, cake or pie. Perhaps this is a good thing?

*Should you decide to eat a slice of the signature "Crack Pie" in house, note that there's standing room only.*

Saturday
Jan102009

Je suis parti mon coeur en France

~I left my heart in France~

I wouldn’t consider myself an avid traveler, but I do feel as though I’ve done my fare share of traveling. Despite having ventured to faraway lands, I consistently returned home convinced that NYC was the center of the universe.

Instead of accompanying my fellow high school seniors on a trip to Europe or studying abroad during my college years, I opted to stay stateside. There was always some ridiculous reason (or person) that I never took advantage of seeing the world (chasing the guy I worshiped in college would be a perfect example).

While I’m still convinced that NYC is the greatest city in the world, after my recent trip to France, I realized that NYC isn’t the only wonderful city in the world; or the only place I’d consider moving to for a brief stint of time.

France was everything I didn’t expect it would be, yet so much more than I had hoped for. Though the air was chilly, the people were warm, helpful, sophisticated and polite. From the hotels we stayed in, restaurants we dined in and shops we browsed in, the service we received was consistently impeccable. Stereotypes be damned!

Our adventure began in Nice (located in the South on the famous Cote d’Azure), followed by Lyon (located in the Rhone-Alps) and finally, Paris.

The coastal city of Nice and its sister towns, Eze Village and Monaco, truly bore the most attractive scenery that I've laid my eyes on. The mysterious turquoise and navy blue water, flora, emerald green mountains and colorful 400+ year-old buildings truly made me gasp. It was during this time that I finally comprehended the literal meaning of the word “breathtaking.” The regional cuisine of Nice is driven by fresh seafood and local Mediterranean ingredients and produce. Two of my favorite savory dishes included a creamy risotto with fresh scallops and prawns and a pizza topped with black olives and French ham. While crepe stands, artisanal chocolate shops and ice cream vendors seemed to grace nearly every corner, I simply could not get enough of my favorite French sweet, pate de fruits. Since the Italian border town of San Remo is located an hour’s drive from Nice, I had the pleasure of sampling a local specialty, focaccia stuffed with egg and legumes.

Lyon was our next stop, and I wasn’t sure what to expect besides a colder climate and highly anticipated Lyonnais cuisine. With wonderful advice from two of my fellow coworkers who were born and raised there (thanks for all of your tips, Fabien and Pierre), my sister and I put together a great itinerary and stayed in an incredible villa perched on a mountaintop. Lyon instantly captivated me with its narrow cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 1600’s. In “Old Lyon,” where we spent most of our time, many of the buildings had traboules, which are tunnels that are accessible via nondescript (and unlocked) wooden doors. They aren’t labeled, so one would need a map to locate each traboule. Simply push the door open and travel from one side of a building to the other. Our last day in Lyon began with a private cooking lesson from the chef of Villa Florentine’s restaurant, “Terrasses de Lyon.” Chef Davy Tissot took my sister and me on a tour of Les Halles, the local indoor food market. No regional delicacy or ingredient was left out of this massive space. Each vendor specialized in one or two products: cheese vendors only sold cheese and butchers only sold meat. It was a delight to know that local business thrived here and the evil Super Walmart-esque empire did not. Upon return to the kitchen, Chef prepared fresh scallops (shucked directly from the shell) with sliced black truffle, a medley of assorted sautéed mushrooms and a shot of creamed potatoes. As a parting gift, we were given a box of handmade French macaroons filled with lemon curd. After our outstanding lunch, we walked to the city center and went ice skating.

Our final French destination was Paris. We arrived on New Year’s Eve and celebrated the beginning of 2009 at Bobin’O, a cabaret. In the days that followed, we visited the Picasso and Pompidou museums, took one too many pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, made a pilgrimage to the flagship Chanel boutique located at 31 Rue Cambon, walked through nearly every arrondissement, drank our share of vin chaud and ate our way through the city. My favorite meal was had at La Petite Chaise, which claims to be the first restaurant in Paris. I started with a bowl of French onion soup, followed by filet of beef that was laden with a creamed mushroom sauce. Haricot verts neatly held together by a slice of prosciutto sat next to a twice-baked potato that accompanied my entrée. Paris was truly inspirational, beautiful and addictive. Our trip ended with a flight on Air France back to JFK. I’ve never been treated so well by a cabin crew or had such a *decent* meal on board a plane. What a pleasant way to end a perfect vacation.

During our travels, I can’t count the number of times I told my sister, “I hate myself for never studying abroad during college!” This trip changed my outlook on life and leaves me questioning whether or not NYC is the only place I’ll live. I’ve never experienced genuine beauty, hospitality and history until France; not to mention exposure to preservative-free wine and homemade, farm-fresh food (from animals who roamed freely on green pastures and not cooped in cages or stalls). Though I missed having access to NYC's infamous 24-hour bodegas on every street corner, I realized that the French actually take time for themselves and follow a more laid back lifestyle. Isn’t this is ideally the way in which life is supposed to be lived?

Monday
Jan052009

Eating my way through France

Scallops intertwined with fresh black truffle, paired with a shot of creamed potatoes and a medley of sauteed mushrooms - cooking lesson in Lyon

A plethora of my favorite French treat, pate de fruits, Nice

Focaccia stuffed with egg and legumes - San Remo, Italy

Crepe stands abound, Paris

Risotto with scallops and prawns, Nice
Monday
Jan052009

Les ingredients de France

Seafood vendor at Les Halles market, Lyon
A rainbow of assorted macaroons at the Les Halles market, Lyon

 

Ocean-fresh oysters for sale at an epicerie, Nice

Colossal escargot, Lyon

A plate of ingredients used to make a scallop dish (note the large black truffle), Lyon