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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City dining scene 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 California shop!

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Tuesday
Dec222015

I quit my job...and I'm going to culinary school!

Dear readers,

Happy holidays!  Can you believe it's already "that time of year" again? 

About a month prior to my move to LA, I decided to "start fresh" and create a brand new, California-centric blog called Beverly Hills Bites (as opposed to writing about my new West Coast adventures on my East Coast-born/raised website, The Lunch Belle).  In hindsight, this wasn't the best idea (leaving The Lunch Belle in limbo), as I had spent 7+ years building the site from scratch.  Literally!  Not to mention the email addresses, business cards, contacts, etc. associated with the name.  It wasn't until a friend of mine asked why I would "just throw all of that hard work away and start something new" that I decided to revert back to solely writing on The Lunch Belle.  Plus, with the exception of a handful of LA event/restaurant pitches, I continued to be contacted by NYC public relations agencies and restaurateurs on a daily basis. 

For the past 1.5 years (time that I've been in LA), I have struggled with content - especially Los Angeles-related content.  Blame it on my homesickness for NYC, or being underwhelmed/unstimulated/uninspired in LA - or a mix of both.  Honestly, it wasn't until very recently that I began working with and showcasing NYC contributors to fill the void and keep my site and content somewhat fresh.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have to be in a very specific mood/mindset to write - even something as simple as a recipe!  And, while I consider myself to be a generally happy person, I have felt completely lost.  So, you can understand why my writing has slowly dwindled; hell, I'm lucky if I can publish even one post/week (that would be a very good week, by the way)! 

In terms of being surrounded by great friends and family, I am blessed with an amazing - and quite large - group of people in my life.  I have a roof over my head and all of the "things" that anyone could ever want/need.  I am fully aware of how lucky I am!  The big issue that I've been struggling with is my career.  While the financial services industry has been very good to me, there just really isn't much any room for growth in my role (Executive Assistant) in terms of moving to a different/higher position within the bank/institution.  I have felt completely trapped and pigeon-holed for such a long time (for the better half of 10-years, to be exact), and I kind of feel like I've overstayed my welcome.  I have slowly become that angry, bitter employee with a fuse about as tiny as a fruit fly. 

Things came to a head last month with an amalgamation of crap.  After having a conversation with my family who, quite literally, talked me off of a ledge, my sister chimed in with, "Dude, why don't you go to culinary school?"  She was right.  Learning how to cook in a professional kitchen was the missing link in my culinary education.  After all, I graduated from college with a BS in Restaurant/Hotel/Institutional Management and spent a year in the NYU Food Studies Program (until I dropped out to move to LA), so I had the "classroom portion" down. 

And so...Beginning on February 10th, I will be a full-time culinary student in the heart of my beloved Manhattan (I am so excited that I can hardly breathe)!  While I don't have an immediate response to "What do you want to do when you graduate?", I do know that this is the best decision I've made in a very long time.  The unknown is both scary and exciting but, this time, it just feels right. 

In the last few weeks, I have enthusiastically shared my news with friends and family - gave notice to my apartment's leasing company - quit my job - secured a sublet from one of my best friends - lined up a few internships - and booked a one way ticket to New York City for me and my pup.  Oh, and that thing I said about having to be in a specific mindset to write?  I have a feeling that you'll be seeing (read: reading) much more of me! 

In closing, I'd like to wish you and yours an incredibly healthy and happy holiday season and New Year!  I, for one, cannot wait to see all that 2016 has in store!

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Dec152015

I was invited to pre-screen "Noma: My Perfect Storm." Check out the trailer - and my review - here!

The perks of being a food blogger go beyond just stuffing delicious morsels in my mouth: Recently, I was contacted by the Director of Publicity at Magnolia Pictures to pre-screen the highly-anticipated, feature-length documentary film, Noma: My Perfect Storm (debuting to the public on Friday, December 18th). 

"Noma" not sound familiar?  Geez, do you live under a rock?  Just kidding.  Here, this may help:

"Noma is a two Michelin star restaurant run by chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The name is a portmanteau of the two Danish words "nordisk" (Nordic) and "mad" (food).  Opened in 2003, the restaurant is known for its reinvention and interpretation of the Nordic Cuisine.  In 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, it has been ranked as the "Best Restaurant in the World" by Restaurant magazine.(Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Click on picture, below, to watch the trailer!

Click on the image above to view the trailer!Film director, Pierre Deschamps, spent more than three years at Noma following chef/co-owner Rene Redzepi on a creative culinary journey that traversed the Danish landscape in his quest for inspiration and the pursuit of perfection in concocting bold, exciting dishes for travelers from around the world.  Noma: My Perfect Storm is set against the backdrop of Chef Redzepi's Copenhagen-based restaurant, which is famous for its reinvention of Danish cuisine.  Chef notably pioneered the approach to “foraging" (sourcing nearly all ingredients from the various environments of Scandinavia), and Noma is at the forefront of experimenting with new techniques in food.

As someone who both enthusiastically and trepidatiously decided to quit her job in finance and apply to culinary school, this film really solidified my life-altering decision.  I'm not, by any stretch, calling myself a prodigy like Chef Redzepi, but the way that he thinks and speaks about food and pairs specific ingredients together is something that makes clear and concise sense.  Perhaps all of us who are kitchen-bent have some sort of creative mental alignment, if you will, when it comes to the art of cooking and culinary?  

Another aspect of the film that I appreciated was outside of Noma's kitchen, when Chef's parents were interviewed and his background/childhood was brought to light.  Hailing from Macedonia, Chef Redzepi was born to working-class parents who fled to Denmark at the start of the Yugoslav wars.  His father, a practicing Muslim, experienced racism in blonde hair/blue eye-dominant Scandinavia.  Now before you question why I'm bringing these points to light and/or glorifying the struggle, let me just say that it just made me appreciate Chef's incredibly hard work and accolades that much more.  After all, it's so easy to put someone of his clout on a pedestal of perfection when, at the end of the day, we are all human.  And what's more beautiful than celebrating the success of someone who's earned every ounce of it, despite silver spoons, roadblocks, and set-backs?

I hope - and expect - that you will enjoy this documentary and appreciate the insane amount of detail, creativity, blood/sweat/tears, stress, and passion that go in to each and every day at Noma, the "Best Restaurant in the World." 

**Make sure to mark December 18th in your calendar, when Noma: My Perfect Storm opens in theaters, on Demand, Amazon Video, and on iTunes!**

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Dec102015

(NYC) Reviewed: Flights - and bites - at Chelsea's World of Beer

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos were captured by Mr. Castillo.**

Restaurant: World of Beer

  • Cuisine: Bar food/gastropub
  • Location: 641 10th Avenue - NYC 10036  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: 550 craft beers(!), Ahi Tuna Tacos, Chimay Burger, German Pretzel (+ beer cheese)
  • Perfect for: Craft beer-aficionados, where to watch the game, bro date, casual - yet elevated - bar food and drink

...

From a solid array of tavern eats and craft beer menus that are printed daily (twenty-plus featured beers with thirty rotating options from all over the world) to 'Trivia Night Tuesday's' and 'Football Sunday's (during the season),' Chelsea's World of Beer is a casual destination for quality and fun.  Quality fun!

Being that I was invited for a food/beer tasting, WOB (World of Beer) provided my guest and I with various offerings that are currently available on both the regular and seasonal menus.

I will review what we tasted and sipped in chronological order of what was served:

The Colorado Chili was intrepid, robust, and savory without being too spicy.  For a Texan who holds this dish in high regard, it did not let me down.  That was until I happened upon the spoonful containing a bean or two (Beans in chili are a cardinal sin in the Lone Star State - luckily, this version was named for Colorado, the Centennial State, so it got a free pass.).

Colorado ChiliTo accompany the chili and the forthcoming appetizers, we were treated to three generous flights of craft beer.  The first of which included:

  1. Lancaster Strawberry Wheat
  2. Dogfish Head Chocolate Lobster: A dark ale brewed with real lobster (allergy alert!) - my instant favorite because of its robust, dark notes and cocoa flavor
  3. Goose Island Sofie
  4. Kelso Nut Brown Lager
  5. Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale: Orange rind, wheat undertones
  6. Evil Twin Sour: Similar to Sorachi Ace, high notes of banana peel and airy herbs
  7. Gun Hill Void of Light
  8. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace: One of my recent favorites featuring a rare, Japanese-developed hop called Sorachi Ace, a varietal noted for its unique lemon zest/lemongrass aroma

Craft beer flight 1 (of 3)The appetizers round continued with a German Pretzel, which was accompanied by a bowl of molten beer cheese (so good, in fact, that I’d order a side of that shit alone if they’d let me)!  The pretzel, bigger than a sports car’s steering wheel, had great texture and made for the perfect treat to share!

German Pretzel + Beer Cheese! Like a hobbit sitting down to a second breakfast, we were presented with yet another appetizer to sample.  No complaints here!  The Ahi Tuna Tacos were so delicious, in fact, that they made me question my hard and fast rule of only ordering tacos at trusted taquerias.  The tuna, light and buttery with a tart-but-bold kick from the sriracha lime aioli, was enveloped by freshly-made roasted tomato and corn salsa and queso fresco. 

Honestly, we could have ended the night with a refill (or two) of these bad boys!

Ahi Tuna TacosThe Black and Blue Flatbread was savory, filling, and the flavors of the blue cheese and juicy steak blended together very nicely.  The balsamic reduction, while heavy-handed in its application, made for the perfect juxtaposition of sweet and savory.

The Chimay Burger was hands down, the most remarkable item of the night.  From the onions caramelized to perfection and the elegantly-sauteed mushrooms, to the Chimay Classique Cheese, this sandwich stands alone in a class by itself!  I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a burger, but it quite literally melted in my mouth!  Here it is, almost a month later and I'm still dreaming about it...

*Order this burger 'medium rare' to capitalize on all of the textures, flavors, and juices.

The Chimay BurgerAfter we enjoyed two more flights of craft beer, it was time for dessert! 

The Kahlua Belgian Waffle S’mores were a fun, modern spin on the campfire classic (albeit super STICKY), and the Caramel Apple Rings were a pseudo twist on a traditional apple turnover, accompanied by a decadent salted caramel sauce.

Dessert!

The tasting menu that we were provided is only a sampling of what the restaurant and beer hall has to offer.  With tantalizing selections such as Chimichurri meatballs, fried pickles, and artisan sausage boards - in addition to the numerous options on tap - there is surely something for everyone at WOB

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle

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