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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 Los Angeles - shop!

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Wednesday
Dec092015

(NYC) Reviewed: I found heaven at Hell's Chicken

*This post was written by The Style Gourmande and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos were captured by The Style Gourmande.**

Restaurant: Hell's Chicken

  • Cuisine: Korean, fried chicken
  • Location: 641 10th Avenue - NYC 10036  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Chicken/wings
  • Perfect for: Gluten free-friendly, beer & wings, neighborhood gem, foodies, 1x1 dining, casual

...

As a self-proclaimed 'fried chicken/wing enthusiast' who's been on her share of fried chicken-centric food crawls across Manhattan - and Korea, for that matter - I can confidently say that the absolute best version is right here in our own backyard: Hell’s Chicken is a Korean restaurant that, while offering a full range of traditional dishes, specializes in gluten-free fried chicken.  Oh, and the name of the place has nothing to do with some wickedly-spicy wing batter or accompanying dipping sauce - Hell's Chicken just so happens to be located in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood!  That's all.  So then what's the story with gluten-free fried chicken, you ask?  Well, initially, owner Sung Jin Min began serving two versions of the battered bird - one made with rice flour and the other with a traditional combo of rice and wheat flour.  Ultimately, he decided to do away with the latter (rice/wheat flour) and solely batter his chicken with rice flour (thus gluten-free fried chicken).  Plus, who isn't gluten-free these days?    

Clean & casually sophisticated digsBrined for twelve hours, Hell's Chicken's namesake item is fried-to-order and served one of two ways: Plain or enveloped with your choice of sauce (sweet, caramelized tomato or the signature "Hell's Rocks").  Obviously, I sampled both preparations!  My favorite of the two?  Sauced'up, of course.   

Fried wings sans sauceFried wings with "Hell's Rocks" sauce - sprinkled with cashews for the extra crunchIn addition to the outstanding chicken, I ordered the Bibimbap, which was presented in a sizzling stone bowl and served alongside traditional accompaniments (kimchi, bean sprouts).  Julienned carrot, aster, radish, bracken, squash, and bean sprouts were beautifully displayed atop warm rice and crowned with a raw egg yolk.  Using my chopsticks, I stirred the ingredients together with a dollop of a spicy/sweet sauce that consisted of hot pepper paste, honey, and sesame oil.  Similar to "tahdig," my favorite part of this dish was the crunchy rice crust that formed at the bottom of the hot stone bowl.

Bibimbap

Next time someone asks me where to find the best fried chicken in town, I will unhesitatingly tell them to run - not walk - to Hell's Chicken.  It's, quite literally, heaven in "Hell!"

...

Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle

Friday
Dec042015

App review: Munch Ado

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.*

 

New Yorkers, for those of you who are indecisive and savvy enough to know about food stuffs, there’s a new new app in town: MUNCH ADO.  With their driving motto, “Search Hangry, Order Happy, Reserve Satisfied,” the goals of the app seem clear and in-tune with today’s parlance.  However, testing it via my trusty iPhone proved to be a little, shall we politely say, trying...

[Disclaimer: I was provided $100 to use on MUNCH ADO for meal reimbursements.]

Restaurant visit 1: White Oak Tavern

While MUNCH ADO aided in reserving an available table, the restaurant did not have the Dine In option enabled (a feature for users to be able to order food in anticipation of their arrival), so we had to order the old fashioned way once we were seated.  Sigh.

Restaurant visit 2: Cheese Grille

After my buddy’s acoustic session at a LES nightclub, I decided to use MUNCH ADO to find something in the area that was hearty and delicious.  The app pointed me to Cheese Grille, a comfort food eatery that is owner-operated and specializes in tantalizing selections made fresh to order (the bread is delivered daily from Balthazer Bakery and the cheese comes from local creameries). 

After placing an order for eat-in via MUNCH ADO, I eagerly awaited my meal.  Unfortunately, I was left waiting a little longer than I had accounted for due to a mix-up with the app.  Apparently, the restaurant and MUNCH ADO had not yet "fine tuned" their relationship.  I thought that my order for a sandwich and nachos was lost/never received until I inquired about the delay with one of the restaurant's employees.  So, it turns out...My order was called in via MUNCH ADO’s Manhattan headquarters.  One of the app's staffers actually recited my order and paid with my credit card (READ: READ my card number to the restaurant staffer over the phone and had it marked for "pick-up").  A number of reasons why this was a concern to me: The middle-man seemed to be a big factor that could contribute to mass confusion (Ahem, calling in an order is an antiquated method, for obvious reasons of orders being misheard.  Thus, placing an order on a written interface via the app assures efficiency.  However, MUNCH ADO seemed to take a step backward here.).  Most importantly, the fact that someone called in my order and provided the restaurant with my credit card information was a real shock and made me incredibly uncomfortable.  Upon speaking with MUNCH ADO reps, I was given more information to assure secure protocols were taken.  But still...!

Visit 3: Javelina

Photo courtesy of JavelinaOn an atypical Friday night, I attended a book signing immediately after work.  During a lull in the presentation, I opened the MUNCH ADO app and allowed my mind to wander to the next item on my evening’s agenda: Dinner!  Craving Mexican, I entered the term "Tex Mex" and MUNCH ADO’s search results provided me with options in nearby Union Square, East Village, and Gramercy Park.

Javelina immediately stood out because it was a restaurant that I’d struggled to get a reservation at earlier in the year (since it’s recent opening).  MUNCH ADO showed availability within an hour, so I jumped on the chance and booked a table for one, hoping that I'd be seated at the bar.  Upon arrival, the hostess walked me past the hungry crowd - as if I was someone famous - and sat me front and center: At a prime table all to myself.  Normally, I’d feel slightly anxious about taking a such a large space (for four), but MUNCH ADO’s reservation confirmation provided me with reassurance and confidence. 

*Especially nice: MUNCH ADO provides status updates on reservation requests.  You’ll know immediately (and with some sort of pun) if your request isn't accepted/if there is an update.

Order-in attempt: Five Napkin Burger

My final use of MUNCH ADO was on a weekday afternoon when I attempted to order from Five Napkin Burger.  After selecting my food/drink items and paying via the app, I received confirmation of my order.  Twenty minutes later, I got a call from the MUNCH ADO headquarters stating that the restaurant was no longer accepting delivery orders.  The staffer offered an apology and the gave me the option to pick up my meal (normally not an issue, albeit inconvenient, but that day I couldn’t leave my desk).  As an alternative - and because I had ordered a turkey burger and a salad - the MUNCH ADO rep began naming alternative restaurants with similar menu items - you know, much like the app's search field would be able to do.  If it worked properly.  While the rep's knowledge of various menus was intact, so was my hunger (quickly becoming "hanger").  Since we weren’t able to find an option that matched my previous order, I surrendered the search - thanked the rep for her help - and took back to the app to order lunch at The Famous Cozy Soup ‘N’ Burger, another tried-and-true mainstay of the neighborhood.

.

In conclusion:

  • Despite their motto (“Search Hangry, Order Happy, Reserve Satisfied”), do NOT order with MUNCH ADO when “hangry.”
  • “Order Happy?”  Hmm, maybe at some point in the future?
  • “Reserve Satisfied?”  Yes!  Then again, you can reserve a table with a lot of app-based options (ahem, OpenTable).
  • There are some latency issues in the search parameters, and auto-detect/auto-complete both hesitate slightly when searching for a known restaurant.
  • MUNCH ADO is ambitious, and if the aforementioned bugs and quirks are resolved, it could be a real contender in today's competitive market.  However, it definitely has its work cut out for it.
  • MUNCH ADO is an adventurous idea, a spirited concept, and likely to be enjoyed by millennials who have time to spare/who are ordering take out or delivery/future meals or for dine-in experiences.  While I wasn't able to find an eatery with an order-in option (to have a meal prepared and awaiting for me upon my arrival), that feature in itself will make MUNCH ADO stand out from its competitors.

 

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Dec012015

(NYC) Reviewed: Craft beers and quality eats at Haymaker Bar & Kitchen

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.**

Restaurant: Haymaker Bar & Kitchen

  • Cuisine: Gastropub
  • Location: 252 W. 29th Street - NYC 10001  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Craft beers, Slow Roasted Pork Ribs, Baked Dry Rub Chicken Wings
  • Perfect for: Pre/post MSG event, neighborhood gem, bros, dates with chicks who dig beer, foodies, food/drink snobs who like to get their drink on

...

Haymaker Bar & Kitchen - the newly-opened craft beer bar and American gastropub - provides a welcome oasis to the otherwise arid landscape of northwest Chelsea. 

Owner David Smith, partner Jeff Anzulewicz, Chief Bartender, Tristan Colegrove, and Executive Chef, Jim Takacs, pour an extensive list of beer with more than 18 selections on-tap, a small, but smart selection of wines by the glass, and a refined list of classic cocktails accompanied by a menu of modern American favorites.

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & Kitchen Urban-cool, yet warm and inviting, Haymaker's interior atmosphere (designed in the spirit of a haymaker’s farmhouse with early 20th century charm and old-world personality) makes for the perfect setting in which to enjoy post-work beverages - pre/post Madison Square Garden eats and libations - craft beers with the boys - a hearty snack or meal - even date night!

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenFood

The Baked Dry Rub Chicken Wings - a lovely departure from the traditional "Buffalo" variety - were liberally massaged with a house spice blend and enveloped in a sticky sauce that was fragrant with notes of citrus, sweet chili, and garlic. 

While an order is definitely sharable, you're not going to want to split them with anyone.  Trust me!

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenThe next small plate to arrive was the highly anticipated Mac and Cheese (parmesan cream sauce, white wine, pancetta, cremini mushrooms, bread crumb crust).  While it was beautifully constructed and very pleasing to the eye, the dish, itself, was too noodle-heavy and desperately lacking in cheese.

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenAs tempting as the small plates menu reads, I’d recommend leaving room for the larger, more hearty entree plates: Slow Roasted Pork Ribs were prepared with a savory/sweet pecan-bacon barbecue sauce that harmonized perfectly with the tender, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs.  A side of bourbon-kissed yams echoed the sweetness of the barbecue sauce and provided a warm, pillowy texture that literally hugged my taste buds. 

Drinks

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the menu is the beverage - namely the beer - selection.  Options come from near and far and are hand picked, sampled and, most importantly, judiciously coupled with the food offerings.  Some stand-outs for me were:

Kent Falls Shower Beer (Kent, CT 6.0%): Had a hint of rind and a muted tone of herbs/mint.  Overall saltiness, but doesn't overpower like a more potent sour.

Easily my favorite among the dozen-plus options that I sampled was the Hill Farmstead Citra (Greensboro, VT, 5.4%), an American pale ale dry-hopped with Citra (hops) from the American Pacific Northwest.

Prairie Bomb! (Tulsa, OK 13.1%): Imperial stout aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chile peppers.  The peppers add just the right amount of heat to complement the intense coffee and chocolate flavors.  Adventurous types and Mexican food lovers, this is your new favorite brew!

Other notables were the Millstone Rhuberry (cider aged with fresh strawberries and rhubarb; extreme tartness that won’t overpower), Crooked Stave Progenitor (dry-hopped sour golden ale - tart, piney, and citrus-y finish), and the Mikkeller Hop On Drink'in (dry-hopped Berliner Weisse - tart with a rush of sour tropical fruit, low ABV of 2.8%).

For those of you who aren't particularly fond of beer (really?), trust me when I say that there are plenty of options in the form of wine and cocktails.  One that particularly caught my eye was the "Siesta" - tequila, Campari, grapefruit, and lime - which proved perfectly-crafted and unmistakably delicious.

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Nov242015

Product review: Sofia Vergara's favorite "Coffee Bar"

When I purchased my last coffee maker during a 'Friends and Family' sale at Bloomingdales (like 5+ years ago), it was pretty top-of-the-line.  I'm not talking about a fancy Nespresso machine, just a solid coffee maker with all the bells and whistles: Bean grinder, clock, and that awesome "program" button you can pre-set to have your coffee brewing the minute you wake up.  It's been a great device and one that even moved across the country with me 1.5 years ago!

A few weeks ago, I decided to clean my coffee maker for the first time ever in ages.  Having never changed the machine's water filter (ever), I removed the cartridge and almost threw up.  Overgrown with silt and muck, I was beyond disgusted and horrified.  As one of those people who always assumed that Brita filters were a conspiracy and serious waste of money - not to mention rolling my eyes at friends who actually had one in their fridge - I quickly realized: Maybe I was the asshole!  Perhaps water filter contraptions weren't a bunch of BS, after all, judging by how much crap mine had collected over the years.  Forgoing an attempt to clean my diseased machine (WTF had I been drinking all this time!?!?!), I decided to go out and purchase something brand new.

I'd be a liar if I said that the brilliant advertising/marketing behind those Ninja Coffee Bar commercials with Sofia Vergara didn't work...Because you're looking at the newest owner of one! 

Always one to shudder away from instruction manuals and intimidating drawings, I was pleased to find a very user-friendly "quick start guide" upon ripping in to the box containing my Ninja.  Aside from the machine, carafe, and filter compartment, the Ninja also came with a travel mug, measuring device, and a milk frother (sold separately).

Depending on the size of your cup or carafe, Ninja's AUTO-IQ Technology draws just the right amount of water needed from the reservoir.  In terms of flavor and strength, you are able to select the graduated level of coffee-to-water concentration.  Options range from lesser to higher intensity: "Classic Brew,"Rich Brew," "Over Ice Brew," or "Specialty Brew."  So far, I'm hooked on the "Rich Brew," but am super curious to try the "Over Ice Brew."  I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to be able to make both hot and cold coffee from the same machine.  At home! 

Forgoing the carafe, I've been making single-cups in the morning before work.  There's this awesome "cup holder" feature that lowers and sits just above the carafe plate warmer.  Once the coffee has finished brewing, there's a "drip stop" switch that you can hit to put the kibosh on those annoying coffee droplets that burn your hand and dirty the warmer.  Brilliant! 

My only complaint is that the Ninja does not have an in-machine bean grinder (...but the company sells those separately.  Go figure!).  Otherwise, I'm one happy customer!

The Ninja Coffee Bar retails for around $150 and has been worth every penny.  Go out and treat yourself!  I promise that you'll adore this machine and love the excellent coffee it produces even more!

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Monday
Nov232015

(NYC) Partying like a co-ed at Senor Frog's

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.**

Recently, a select group of New York’s most fabulous 20 and 30 something's were invited to partake in a “fiesta” at Senor Frog's New York.  Beyond the date, time, and address, details about the event were mum...

Prior to the festivities, I scoured the web to confirm that Senor Frog's was, in fact, a Mexican restaurant.  Well, it's not.  Save for the chips and salsa/guac/queso selections - plus a random scattering of Mexican-inspired salads and entrees - the menu is chock-full of Americanized stuff like chicken wings, sliders, BBQ ribs, and Philly cheesesteak.  So, if you can get over the fact that the word Senor means nothing in terms of the type of cuisine that is actually served, then you’ll be alright.  Alternatively, if you're someone (ahem, like me) who can't leave their expectations at the door, then you'll just have to keep reminding yourself that Senor Frog's is *not* a Mexican restaurant.

The Food:

The centerpiece of the fiesta was a ho-hum chips-and-dips station: The salsa was sweet and marinara sauce-esque - nothing remotely close to savory - and certainly not even close to being spicy enough for this guy.  Likewise, the guacamole was runny and heavy-handed with the lime juice.  Proper guac should be chunky and not drip down your arm as you bring the chip closer to your mouth.  At Senor Frog's, this dip relies too heavily on its lack of additions (tomato, onion, garlic) and, ultimately, fails.  In my opinion, the restaurant also missed a golden opportunity for a nacho bar (cheese fountain, anyone?!).

The passed appetizers included mini quesadillas, popcorn, and flautas.   The chicken flauta was so small that I couldn't even tell if there was even any chicken involved!  The fish flauta, on the other hand, was unexpectedly tasty and delicious!  Who'd have thought?

Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap.  I repeat: Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap!!!  The salt-rimmed glasses in which the beverage was served helped to juxtapose the sweetness; this especially came in handy with the much more cloying - but equally tasty - frozen margarita.

With all of the savories, I was pleased when I saw the mini churros slowly making their way via passed tray.  While the yummy flavor was there ("fried," cinnamon, sugar), they were slightly overcooked.

For dessert part deux, we were treated to an 'ice cream conga line light show,' in which the staff paraded through the restaurant and performed prior to presenting us with individual ice cream stations (in the shape of a “mini truck”).  As wacky and far out as this probably sounds, it was nothing short of fun; very nostalgic and reminiscent of my days at summer camp and childhood friend’s birthday parties. 

The Fiesta:

Upon looking around, I noticed that the dining room was packed with some of the most fun 20-and-30-something's in the city (...So, how’d they get my name?)!  Moreover, the ceiling space was slowly filling up with artisanal helium accessories.  Scattered throughout Senor Frog's were a couple of balloon artists who provided guests with whatever designs their hearts desired!  Naturally, I asked for a sombrero.  Let's just say that my balloon artist delivered in a big way!

The Fat Jew!My guest, Eddie, and I began to discuss how this whole experience felt like a spring break trip during college!  To quote a fellow attendee - and new friend - Elliott, “My favorite part was just how much fun everyone was having.  I don’t think any of us were expecting it.  We entered some sort of time warp, and were transported back to high school/college spring break.  Like anything goes!  Pretty special when you think about it.”  More importantly, Elliott shared our grievances about a missing cheese component at the chips-and-dips station.

 

Ultimately, showmanship eclipsed over the cuisine, which wasn't entirely shocking.  But, damn, did we have a good time!

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Nov182015

(NYC) Reviewed: Angus Club Steakhouse

*This post was written by Vanessa Shoman-Duell and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by Vanessa Shoman-Duell.**

Restaurant: Angus Club Steakhouse

  • Cuisine: Steakhouse
  • Location: 135 E. 55th Street - NYC 10020  
  • Pricing: $$$
  • What's delicious: Steak fries, cocktails
  • Perfect for: Date night, small group dining

...

From NYC to Argentina (and, literally, everywhere in between) I've been to more than my fair share of steakhouses.  As an avid carnivore, you can imagine the anticipation and excitement I felt leading up to my inaugural visit to Angus Club Steakhouse, a beef-centric restaurant located in the Midtown East neighborhood of Manhattan.  

Housed in a bi-level space, Angus Club boasts a dining room and bar on each level: The lower floor is best suited for the evening with its stunning, dimly-lit atmosphere, generous table spacing, and handsome, "classic NY" appointments (sleek hardwood flooring, leather chairs, crisp white tablecloths).  Upstairs evoked more of a "lunch time" vibe, perhaps for the sole fact that it was brighter.

Dining room: Photo courtesy of Angus ClubUpon arrival, my guest and I were greeted by Dino (the owner) who, en-route to our lovely first floor table, told us a bit about his gorgeous restaurant.  "Angus Club separates itself by approaching some steakhouse classics differently.  Our creamed spinach, for example, is prepared with just a touch of cream," he noted.  "We also pride ourselves on seafood." 

Clink!  My guest and I toasted to our evening with perfectly-crafted dirty martinis that were finished with my favorite accoutrement: Blue cheese-stuffed olives!

Dirty martiniFor appetizers, we chose to split the Crab Cake and the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  While the presentation was attractive and colorful, I found the 'cake to be a bit bland and lacking in flavor.  The shrimp, on the other hand, were perfect and delicious.  There was a "snap" with each bite, which confirmed their freshness and quality.  A steakhouse classic!

Pan-seared Crab CakeJumbo Shrimp CocktailFor entrees, my guest and I thought it would be best to split the restaurant's highly-recommended Porterhouse steak.  For those of you unfamiliar with the theatrical presentation of this cut of beef, imagine when you're at a Mexican restaurant and order the fajitas.  Not only can you smell their approach from like 20-feet away, the sizzle wafting from the hot griddle pan causes guests at neighboring tables to pause their conversations and visually follow the fragrant steam train that's quickly approaching your place mat.

Well, very much unlike the fajita service at your local Mexican joint, it is traditional and customary for your waiter to serve each steakhouse guest their first slices of the Porterhouse!  Fancy, eh?

PorterhouseAfter our server placed two slices of the sirloin portion (of the Porterhouse) and one piece of the filet atop our plates, he made a "hold on just a second" hand gesture as we reached for our knives and forks.  "Et voila," he said, as he simultaneously poured some of the rendered drippings over our meat.  To accompany, we ordered a side of Creamed Spinach and Steak Fries.

To my utter shock, I found the sirloin cut - not the filet - to be the better of the two!  Despite the marbling, the filet was lacking in inherent flavor. 

While we found the meat lackluster, the sides were brilliant.  The less-cream Creamed Spinach tasted much cleaner and spinach-y, with a subtle hint of garlic.  Quite the opposite from every other steakhouse's version (a white, wiggly glob with a few green bits)!  And those Steak Fries!  My goodness, they must have been twice - maybe thrice - cooked!  Crispy and hot, with just the right amount of salt, I would return for these, alone!  They were, hands down, the best part of the meal.

With a bit of room left in our bellies, my guest and I split two desserts: Creme Brûlée and the Key Lime Tart.  While neither was exemplary, we preferred the brûlée to the tart.

Creme BrûléeKey Lime Tart

...

Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle