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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
Jul292015

(NYC) Reviewed: Ornella Trattoria Italiana

*This event and article were attended/captured by The Style Gourmande and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos, unless otherwise noted, were snapped by The Style Gourmande.*

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Location: 29-17 23rd Ave. - Astoria, NY 11105
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: House-cured prosciutto, Duck Meatballs, Pasta Di Castagna
  • Perfect for: Something different in Greek Astoria - destination-worthy dining - date night - comfort food cravings

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An Italian trattoria in Astoria?

For the most authentic culinary experiences, it’s often best to leave the isle of Manhattan and venture east.  To Brooklyn or Queens...

Forgoing the obvious (Greek cuisine) during my recent jaunt to Astoria, my friend and I opted instead for Italian.  In the form of a charming trattoria named Ornella.    

Upon arrival, we were greeted by eccentric executive chef and owner, Giuseppe Viterale who, come to find out, named the restaurant after his beloved wife, Ornella.  And if that wasn't cute enough, we also learned that Giuseppe's four sons work by his side.  A true family affair!  Awwwwe. 

Ornella + Guiseppe (photo courtesy of Ornella)"To me," Giuseppe said (in his thick Italian accent) as he sat me and my guest, "the art of food lies more in the ingredients than in the presentation."  Given this prerogative, we were quite excited for our meal. 

In an effort to sample as many dishes on the menu as possible, we decided to share nine plates - under the guidance of Giuseppe, of course!  The stand outs included:

Prosciutto

Unlike this particular version that he aged himself for a mere five months, Giuseppe noted that, typically, the thinly-sliced ham should continue to ripen for three months.  However, I appreciated its smooth, moist, and much less salty flavor (than, perhaps, one aged for the full eight months).

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Duck Meatballs Filled with cheese in a brandy-orange reduction sauce with raisins

Stuffed with three different cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and fontina) - which, aside from aiding to create a moister 'ball also helped cut the duck's traditional "gamey" flavor - these meatballs were nothing short of outstanding.  Trust me when I say that these are an absolute MUST when visiting Ornella

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Pasta Di Castagna Chestnut flour pasta in a cream and pistachio sauce with truffle oil

Made with chestnut flour, this pasta revealed a more "well done" as opposed to "al dente" texture.  Rich and unctuous, there was a mysterious je ne sais quoi that made this dish luxuriously rich.  Hell, I would return to Ornella for this pasta, alone! 

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Pizzoccheri Buckwheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, and fontina cheese

Did you know that this dish is listed in Mimi Sheraton's 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover's Life List?  'Nuff said.

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Stuffed Pork Chop With mushrooms, prosciutto, fontina cheese, and Madeira wine sauce (served with pasta)

With barely any room left in my stomach, I was only able to take two bites of this glorious stuffed chop.  However, those two forkfuls just may have been the best of the entire meal!  Surrendering myself, Giuseppe gladly packed the remainder of the dish in a doggie-bag and, hours later, I devoured it for dinner. 

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Living in NYC and having been to plenty of Italian restaurants - everything from casual to fancy-pants - Ornella has shot to the top of my "favorites" list.  It is, without a doubt, an incredibly special and destination-worthy venue for even the snobbiest of foodies. 

Next time you find yourself in Astoria, do what we did: Forgo Greek and make an Italian detour at Ornella.  You'll be glad you did!

...

Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jul242015

(NYC) Reviewed: Industry Kitchen

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Edgar Alonso Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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Restaurant: Industry Kitchen

  • Cuisine: Modern American
  • Location: 70 South Street, New York, NY 10038
  • Pricing: All menu items under $30
  • What's delicious: Cocktails
  • Perfect for: After-hours drinks, corporate events, scenic dining/waterfront views

...

The entertainment-packed grand opening of Industry Kitchen, South Street Seaport’s newest waterfront restaurant + bar, proved a feast for the eyes.  Albeit a mixed bag for the palate...

Photo courtesy of Industry Kitchen: In terms of seating, the venue’s options were great - al-fresco vs. a generous interior area adjacent to the lively bar/open kitchen.

Veering away from the restaurant's daily menu, this special evening called for a festive assortment of passed hors d'oeuvres.  From sweet and savory - spicy and smoky - tangy and tart, every realm of the senses was provoked.  

An early stand out was the Spanish Artichoke Dip, which was gifted with just the right amount of texture, seasoning, and tang to compliment the delicious artisanal flatbread.

Photo captured by EAC: Spanish Artichoke DipAnother favorite of mine and Alyson's (my guest) was the marinated rock shrimp with creamy polenta.

Photo captured by EAC: Marinated rock shrimp + polentaThe brilliant marriage of savory and sweet was found in the stone fruit topped with salty ham ribbons and burrata.  However, it was the roasted tomatoes crowned with herbed goat cheese that stole our hearts.

Photo captured by EAC: Roasted tomato halves + goat cheeseHaving fantasized about the restaurant's house-made pie since I had initially read the menu, the evening was without pizza due to an issue with the wood-burning oven.  We were so bummed!

Just as we were noshing on our third second helpings of hors d’oeuvres, the entertainment began!  With the sun setting on the horizon, an incredibly-talented fire performer utilized South Street Seaport - the restaurant's virtual "back yard" – as her personal stage.  Did I mention that there was also a juggler on stilts and a live DJ?

Photo captured by EAC: Live fire performance!The staff at Industry Kitchen was just as amazing as the delicious nibbles!  After initially being served by multiple waiters and passed trays, we became friendly with Matt and Pat, a dynamic duo who ended up serving us exclusively for the remainder of the eve.  Informative, accommodating, and personable, the mission of these stand-out employees was to make sure that we sampled the bar's full range (yes, I said full range) of cocktails!

Cocktail report card: Finding a drink that I enjoyed was on par with Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Some were too weak and lacking, others were convoluted and missed the mark, yet a few were just right...

CRIMSON & CLOVER

Grey Goose Vodka, Pomegranate, Lemon, Clover Honey Cordial

Report card grade: (B) A great, lighter summer option that I can picture myself enjoying while jamming to the hit single by Tommy James & The Shondells...

SHOES OPTIONAL

Avua Cachaca, El Bujo Mezcal, Aveze, Fresh Lemon Juice

Report card grade: (D) The only reason this cocktail didn’t get an F is because of the effort that was put in to it.  The earthiness of the mescal is completely convoluted by an ever-present Avèze.  Unfortunately, the minor tones of the lime juice and Cachaça aren’t enough to save the drink. Tip: The mixologist should get rid of the Avèze.  In this writer’s eyes, a good mescal need not be mixed -- and shouldn’t be!

BOURBON BERRY SMASH

Mitcher’s Bourbon Whiskey, St. Germaine Elderflower, Lemon, “Blackberry Stew”

Report card grade: (B+) Aside from missing the obvious alliteration of calling it the “Blast” or “Bash” (because of the smashed fruit), this is the ultimate summer drink!  Refreshing, cool, and lip-smacking good!  

SUNBURNT & SPICE

Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum, Bitter Truth Allspice Pimento Dram, Fresh Lemon & Lime Juice, Soda

Report card grade: (A) This drink breaks the internet bell curve and goes straight to the head of the class! It was my favorite for the complexity, subtle shifts in flavor, and diverse ingredients that don’t overwhelm.

SANGRIA DUO (RED AND WHITE)

Report card grade: (C-) My partner in crime, Alyson, said that sangrias were a miss.  I only sampled the white variety which, while very fruit forward, failed to deliver the necessary “punch” from the wine.  I’m going to chalk this up to a humid evening and a little too much extra melted ice.

 

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Until we eat again,

Edgar Alonso Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jul222015

(NYC) Reviewed: Spaghetti Incident

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Vanessa Shoman-Duell and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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Restaurant: Spaghetti Incident

  • Cuisine: Italian, pasta
  • Location: 231 Eldridge Street - New York, NY 10002
  • Pricing: All menu items under $12!
  • What's delicious: Bucatini in Kale Pesto, arancini
  • Perfect for: Grab'n go, mobile eats, girls' night out, first date

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Last Wednesday evening, I attended a private tasting and official launch of Spaghetti Incident (Name sound familiar?  It was borrowed from the infamous Guns 'n' Roses album circa the 90's!), Emanuele Attala's latest culinary venture: Serving “mobile spaghetti” to the masses.  Yep, you heard me correctly: Pasta in a cone!  

With such a unique name and concept, I simply had to see what all the fuss was about!  I mean, have you ever heard of eating pasta in a cone?  Me neither...

Photo captured by: Vanessa Shoman-DuellReminiscent of one of my most treasured restaurants in Rome, Spaghetti Incident’s dramatic L-shaped bar wraps around the open kitchen, allowing guests to see the pasta chefs in action.  And speaking of the bar, a small selection of red, white, and rose wines are offered - in addition to beer.  With a glass of Montepulciano in hand, I was ready to sample the restaurant’s namesake pasta dishes!  Nine, to be exact. 

Photo captured by: Vanessa Shoman-DuellThe smell of fresh basil from the Bucatini in Kale Pesto was absolutely intoxicating and, by far, my favorite dish of the evening.  The Spaghetti alla Chitarra – noodles topped with a simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil - was precisely as one would find in Italy.  The third pasta I sampled was the Bucatini Trevigiala - a melange of salty pancetta, crunchy pine nuts, tangy radicchio, and a light cream sauce - which was exemplary and proved ideal for the Italian bacon connoisseur! 

Last but not least, the chef introduced his Sicilian-style arancini - also served in a cone - which are available in three different flavor combinations:  Green pea with mozzarella, beef ragu, and crab meat with fontina.

Spaghetti in a cone!Sicilian-style aranciniSpaghetti Incident is a true gem and makes for the ideal venue for a quick grab'n go treat, a girls' night out, or a first date.  Oh, and did I mention that nothing on the menu is over $12?  Whether you're in search of a delicious, mobile meal on-the-go - or are in the mood to sit down, relax, and enjoy one of the restaurant’s nine signature pasta dishes, salads, arancini, or a glass of wine/beer - this intimate trattoria will more than satisfy.

I will definitely return to Spaghetti Incident!  With its delicious and singular in-a-cone pasta, affable staff, and reasonable prices, I give it my highest recommendation!

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Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jul172015

Reviewed: Dinner al fresco at Mare

Restaurant: Mare

  • Cuisine: Californian, Mediterranean
  • Location: 7465 Melrose Avenue - Los Angeles, CA 90046
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Muddled-fruit cocktails, Mussels with Romesco and Sausage Broth
  • Perfect for: Al-fresco dining - date night - group dining - cocktails

...

Situated within a sexy, hidden patio/garden behind Melrose Umbrella Co. and Greenspan's Grilled Cheese is Chef Greenspan's newest concept: Mare.  And, speaking of concepts...While I do love a good trend/gimmick (i.e. a restaurant with a jewelry store and/or hardware shop facade), the logistics must be fairly user-friendly.  Getting *IN* to Mare is tricky; guests have to meander through the grilled cheese shop - up a short flight of stairs - through the tiny kitchen - and beyond a heavy door to reach Mare's hostess stand.  I can only imagine how annoyed the employees at the grilled cheese joint get every time someone asks to be pointed to "the new restaurant."  All that aside, when we finally reached our destination, Ayano and I were greeted by an incredibly friendly hostess who led us to a two-top under a gorgeous canopy of trees and twinkling strewn lights.

Mare's outdoor dining "room"While I loved the outdoor atmosphere (there is no interior seating, FYI), I found the menu to be a bit random and oddly organized.  The first half listed appetizers and sides under the heading of "Plates," followed by two entrees - skirt steak or the whole fish - and "Shellfish."  Finishing the menu, "Desserts" preceded "Drinks."

Le menuTo whet our appetites, we were presented with a gratis, picturesque potpourri of pickled peppers, olives + pistachios + kumquats, a halved lemon, garlic olive oil, and two generous hunks of "everything" baguettes.  While I found the halved lemon to be a bit of an odd addition, I really enjoyed the peppers, olives, kumquats, olive oil, and bread...although it wasn't as moist as I would have liked.  

Shortly thereafter, our cocktails arrived.  The menu offers a selection of wines and beer, plus a number of spirits muddled with a variety of fresh fruit and herbs.  I opted for the tequila beverage which contained kumquats - among other citrus fruit - and, what appeared to be, basil leaves.  I could not dreamt of a more refreshing, sweet'n sour, delightful summer cocktail!  A++!

Tequila + muddled citrus and kumquatsThe first "Plates" to arrive were the Roasted Broccolini and one of the evening's specials: Scallop Crudo. 

If you're a fan of the fragrant garlic bulb, the greens are a must order!  Served atop a thick schmear of garlic paste, the roasted broccolini was crowned with fried garlic chips. 

Roasted BroccoliniThick slices of raw scallop were topped with green plums and briny sea greens, which perfectly accentuated the delicate oceanic flavor of the mollusk. 

Scallop CrudoForgoing entrees, Ayano and I each chose to order one of the customizable shellfish dishes.  She opted for the shrimp with Vadouvan curry and I chose the mussels with a sausage/romesco broth.  Our shellfish bowls were paired with a mound of naked spaghetti noodles and two shelled poached eggs.  Random.  I would have much preferred a crusty baguette to soak up the remaining broth (Right? I mean, traditionally, that's how I've eaten mussels.  And you, too, no doubt.), but I decided to put my snobbery aside and give the egg and noodles a whirl.  The mussels were plump and the sausage/romesco sauce was outstanding.  When all that remained was broth, I added the spaghetti noodles and topped them with the freshly-cracked poached egg.  I tossed the ingredients to combine and took a bite.  "Aha," I exclaimed to Ayayno.  "Now I get the whole noodle and egg thing!  It's really yummy!"  She smiled and nodded.  My only complaint was that both the noodles and the egg were chilly, as they had a while to cool during the time that we ate our respective shellfish (Mare should present these items once the guest has *almost* finished their shellfish.).

Shrimp in a Vadouvan curry brothMussels in a sausage + romesco brothFor dessert, Ayano and I split the Blood Orange "Trifolo" - layers of semolina cake, fruit, and blood orange-curd - served in a mason jar.  Cute, kitschy and, most importantly, delicious.  A plate of rosemary shortbread accompanied. 

Rosemary shortbreadLike many new successful restaurants, I suspect that the minor food hiccups at Mare will lessen with time, especially with uber-talented Chef Eric Greenspan at the helm. 

Ayano and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I look forward to returning in the future!

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Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jul082015

A behind-the-scenes recap: Wine Enthusiast Magazine's 100 Best Wine Restaurants in America (2015)

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Edgar Alonso Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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For American wine drinkers who want to take the "bucket list” approach to their favorite vino-laden eateries, behold the Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants...

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloThe Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants list was celebrated last Tuesday at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Our hosts treated us to an exclusive pre-press panel which highlighted the current and ever-changing world of wine, plus their thoughts on the focus and future of the industry. The once (and future) king of wine restaurants is, of course, according to our panel of distinguished experts -- New York. Sommeliers old and new are flocking (back) to the megapolis to showcase their knowledge and flex their palates. Hand written lists are ever-more present as the conversation continues to widen and allow for a two-way dialogue from those skilled in their tastes, to the newcomer.

Jeff Porter, Beverage Operations Director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, gave us a lot to contemplate with his thoughts on wine. At home on a casual weeknight, Jeff is drinking Chablis, though he never turns down a rosé. “My mom, who lives in Dallas and has big hair, gobbles down rosé by the case -- and so do all her friends.” Rosés are favored this season, and the sommeliers have carefully crafted their wine lists with due diligence. The result: a magnificent experience that will favor a conversation between those with a skilled palate and the newcomer bravely seeking something new, fun, and full.

Another hot topic -- Vineyards are mixing red grapes and white grapes to make a less heavy red wine, says Lee Campbell, Wine Director of Reynard (at the Wythe Hotel). She also feels strongly about the new California movement. Campbell, who grew up in the Hudson Valley, wishes she could find more to be excited about in NY state, but she’s not. Other regions hot on her radar -- “Recently, everyone was talking about Georgia (the country).” She also recently went to Moravia, Czech Republic to experience the beginning of a new tradition, a thing of beauty. “Our job in terms of editing, is HUGE," she claims. The wine list that is too heavily populated is like the last lifeboat on the Titanic. It is the job of the sommelier to prevent the inundation that will cause certain failure.

“Show me something delicious…ask the right questions. Increase the flow of information that the consumer is getting, and get them engaged. As the sommelier: be comfortable. We want you to feel confidence, let's tell a story, and let the consumer be a part of it.” Adds Jeff Porter, "Chefs are more in-tune to wine than ever before -- having chefs who are engaged is key.”

From the Lone Star State to Brooklyn and back to the California coast, there is a desire to expand beyond the traditional. The ability for the consumer to learn and join the conversation has allowed for an increase of the number of skilled sommeliers. For chefs, being in the front of house is unique; the synergy between this area and the kitchen is being recognized and respected by all involved. 

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After the presentation by our esteemed panel, we were treated to a reception fit for a king-- If a king likes hand-shaken - and stirred - signature cocktails (courtesy of Meletti and Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum), lobster sliders, cured meats, and especially carefully-selected cheeses that paired ever so harmoniously with the wines being served. While mingling, guests were also provided with passed hors d'oeuvres - from foie gras to chicken kebabs - all while following the room down to the courtyard that featured the awards.

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso Castillo

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloPhoto courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloWhile browsing between the tables of awards, I observed the wide array of contenders who have persevered and stand out among their peers nationwide. The up-and-coming cities that Lee Campbell is really interested in: Durham, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Austin, Minneapolis.

The future of wine is fruitful, bountiful, and bold. The American palate is quickly changing, thankfully, in large part, to the ever-expanding social media centered around the industry. By following five to ten sommeliers such as these on the panel, you can quickly pick up the guidelines and structure that will allow you to begin the conversation with the correct and appropriate vocabulary.

Till your next pour, Cheers!

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Alonso Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Jun302015

Calling all oyster fanatics in Boston, NYC, and San Francsico...!

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Jean Hsu and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

Picture it: Last Thursday eve, the ultra-exclusive 20th floor of the Hotel on Rivington was abuzz with free-flowing rose wine and freshly-shucked oysters.  What could possibly be more fitting for the launch celebration of Pearl, an oyster app?   

Photo credit: Jean Hsu

What's so cool about the Pearl app is that it can help shape your repertoire and oyster-ordering experience with an alphabetical catalogue of (oyster) names, plus where they're from, and "laymen" keywords to describe the way they taste.  At least for me, oysters are like wine in the fact that they acquire their distinct flavor directly from the environment(s) in which they hail: While I love my West Coast wines (shout out to Napa!), I prefer oysters from the East, due to their brininess and higher salinity content.

Oyster index!With the Pearl app's user-friendly navigation, there are so many fantastic features!  A few, for example: You can like/unlike oysters (a great record-keeper for future reference), and find out which varieties your favorite restaurant is shucking that day!  How f'ing rad is that??

Which oysters is your favorite restaurant serving today?Pearl wasn't the only company launching a new product at last Thursday's soiree: Kevin Joseph, of NY Oyster Week and the founder of Empire Oyster, and Chef Rob McCue introduced Spirited Pearl, which are beautiful liquor-filled (tequila, vodka, whiskey, etc) spheres used as oyster-topping accoutrements.  As you slurp, each "pearl" bursts with the intense flavor of its respective spirit, thus enhancing the mollusk's natural merroir.  My favorite?  The gin Spirited Pearl (as seen in the photo, below)!

(Photo credit: Jean Hsu) A gin Spirited PearlWhat does the future look like for Pearl?  Founder, Sam Asher, sees his company eventually expanding to include a broader range of seafood.  And meat!  He wants to be able to connect people to the specific foods they are seeking - and help lead the consumer/end-user to restaurants that are proud to feature these unique products in their kitchens!  Truly, a symbiotic relationship.

(Photo credit: Jean Hsu) Sam Ash, founder of PearlIn a world with so many processed and unnatural products in our foods, it is nice to know that there is a focus and a future for oysters - nature's true "farm to table" food.  Each mollusk is a precious vessel carrying the flavors of its waters within.  I find it incredible that one can experience the flavors of the New Zealand's Kaipara Harbour at a restaurant located merely blocks from their West Village apartment! 

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Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle