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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a NYC based food and travel website that views various dining scenes and destinations through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated thirty-something.

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Wednesday
Dec202017

The Best Menu Items At: Hwa Yuan

In my series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Hwa Yuan

  • Cuisine: Chinese (Szechuan)
  • Location: 42 East Broadway - Manhattan 10002  
  • Pricing: $$-$$$
  • Reservations? Yes, via Resy
  • Why go? Chef Tang's famous Cold Sesame Noodles / Clean, opulent and spacious atmosphere perfect for large groups or an event

...

Comprised of three spacious and plush levels, Hwa Yuan has made quite a splash in its recent return to Chinatown (post closure in the 1980's).  And no trip to the restaurant would be complete without at least one order of its piece de resistance: Chef Tang's famous Cold Sesame Noodles.

Fresh and chewy Chinese egg noodles are lightly tossed with and served atop a shallow pool of a mysteriously delicious sauce that tickles each of the five basic tastes: Sweetness (ginger, sugar, sesame and, perhaps, peanut butter), sourness (tangy, a hint of vinegar), bitterness (subtle heat from chili paste), savoriness (soy sauce, sesame oil, and a mother-load of umami), and saltiness (soy sauce).  

Cold Sesame Noodles 

Oodles of Cold Sesame Noodles! 

While my dining partner, Natallia, and I ordered other dishes, as well (Xiao Long Bao, Dry Sauteed Tangy Crispy Beef, and the Traditional Taiwan Style Rice), none were as outstanding as the Cold Sesame Noodles. 

Chef Tang (Shorty, the original chef's son) enthusiastically made his way around the first floor dining room, swimmingly interacting and engaging with diners.  He even took Natallia and I on a tour of each of the three levels, including the banquet rooms, kitchen, and the walk-in refrigerator!  I wish him/his business partners and fellow employees all of the success in the world.  I, for one, look forward to returning in the near future for my noodle-fix and to sample the prized Beijing Duck.

...

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

Monday
Dec182017

The Best Menu Items At: Lucciola

In my series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Lucciola

  • Cuisine: Italian (Bologna region)
  • Location: 621 Amsterdam Avenue - Manhattan 10024  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations? Yes, via phone or email (212-874-7774 or info@lucciolanyc.com)
  • Why go? Best lasagna in NYC / Authentic / Delicious and affordable

...

Located just about as far north as I'm willing to venture on a "school night," Lucciola is the Upper West Side's newest (less than one-month old) Italian with a full bar and a hip, European vibe.    

While I will refrain from getting too detailed on the slow (albeit friendly) service this early in the game, I will give you a few tips should you wish to visit Lucciola in its infancy:

  • Have at least two hours of time to kill on your calendar.  Think molasses, folks!  Slow. As. Molasses.
  • Patience is a virtue.
  • If you have specific menu questions, sometimes it helps to ask more than one employee.  The correct answer may not be the first one you hear!

Are you freaked out yet?  Don't be. 

Let's not get it twisted: I knew EXACTLY what I was walking in to by dining at Lucciola on its fourth night in business.  And I dragged two of my most sophisticated girlfriends along!  Then why, you ask, would I set myself up for an evening of choppy service so far away from home?  Because the lasagna is, quite literally, to die for.  And every bit destination-worthy.  That's why.  Having attended the restaurant's pre-opening "tasting" event, I fell in love with the homemade pasta and could not return soon enough.

Authentic Bolognese lasagnaY'all know that I have been around the block and back.  A few times.  And this is, hands down and by far the best fricking lasagna on the map (at least the map of the United States).  First of all, the pasta noodles are MUCH more delicate and thin (as compared to the dry, pre-packaged crap you buy at the grocery store); second, you can literally taste the amount of 'simmer-hours' that went in to the Bolognese sauce which seductively envelopes each savory layer; lastly, the cheese is virtually molten in texture, not dry and clumpy like commercial ricotta.  In summary: Lucciola's lasagna is transporting and positively life-altering. 

...and if it's still on the menu (not sure of the seasonality/menu changes since I was last there), do NOT miss the Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Gnocchi.  It's yet another one of Lucciola's 'must order' dishes.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Gnocchi~~~

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle 

Wednesday
Nov292017

Recipe: Pumpkin Cookies with White Chocolate & Butterscotch Chips

While some people ring in the fall/autumn/holiday season with pumpkin-spice lattes, I prefer to inaugurate the cooler temperatures with food.  To be more specific: Rather than sip mine, I take my 'sweet and pumpkin-y' in the form of a cookie.

There are plenty of pumpkin cookie recipes out there that call for chocolate chips, but I find that the flavors (of the chocolate and the pumpkin) tend to compete against one another.  Further, their coupling just never made much sense, at least in my opinion.  So, when I began tweaking this specific recipe, I pondered, What would be a great substitute for milk chocolate chips?  White chocolate and butterscotch (chips) immediately came to mind.  As did a 'sea salt finish,' since the sweetness (of the two) would likely be cloying.  

Beyond substituting the chips and using salted butter instead of unsalted (among other recipe amendments), the secret/je ne sais quoi that makes these cookies so delicious is to make the dough a day ahead of time.  While I couldn't tell you the science or chemistry behind it, there is something utterly magical that happens when you allow the dough to rest for 12-24 hours.  I'll bet you haven't had a more toothsome, moist, and decadent cookie since your last visit to Levain BakeryAnd you're welcome!

Enjoy!

~~~

Recipe:  Pumpkin Cookies with White Chocolate & Butterscotch Chips

Ingredients (yield 3-dozen)

  • 3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie seasoning (substitute nutmeg if you cannot find the seasoning)
  • 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) salted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup 100% pumpkin (the same stuff you buy in the can to make pumpkin pie)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • Course sea salt/flakes, to taste

*Expert tip: Make the dough a day ahead and refrigerate.  This will yield a thicker, more toothsome cookie with a perfectly moist interior.*

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie seasoning.

In a separate bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the egg yolk, vanilla, and pumpkin and mix until just combined.

Gradually add in the flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time until combined (be mindful not to over-mix!).  Stir in the white chocolate chips and the butterscotch chips.  

Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight/12-24 hours.

The next day: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  

Make 1 1/2 inch dough balls and sprinkle the top of each with a very light sprinkling/dusting of course sea salt/flakes (to taste).  Bake for 14 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.

~

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Feb022017

The best menu items at: Gazala's Place

In my newest series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Gazala's Place

  • Cuisine: Druse (Middle Eastern)
  • Location: 709 9th Avenue - Manhattan 10019  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations?  Yes, click here
  • Why go?  BYOB / Authentic / Delicious and affordable

...

There's no liquor license and the dining room definitely leans toward the "intimate size" of the stereotypically small NYC real estate spectrum, but you don't go to Gazala's Place for the atmosphere or the craft cocktails.  Rather, you come here for the incredibly delicious, authentic Druse cuisine, which could best be described as Middle Eastern, save for a few differences.  Here's a great example from the NY Times (upon their visit to the restaurant): "The differences are in the details, like that Druse pita — called sagg pita, after the griddle it is cooked on — which Mrs. Halabi makes daily. It’s thinner than a crepe, as wide as a small pizza and pliable like lavash. A sprinkle of cornmeal gives it texture, but it is mildly flavored: an accompaniment, not an event in itself."    

Photo credit: Grub Street

The best menu items:

Bourekas:

You can't go to Gazala's without ordering one of the handmade bourekas, a savory puff-pastry that, from a distance, looks dangerously identical to a New York bagel (golden brown exterior with a dusting of sesame seeds).  The delicate dough is made with olive oil, which results in layer after layer of an incredibly buttery, moist, and delectably-rich finished product.  Prior to baking, the pastry is stuffed with goat cheese and your choice of either sun-dried tomatoes or steamed spinach.  

Each boureka arrives with a steak knife stabbed in its heart (It's not easy cutting through all of those layers!) and is accompanied by hummus and a dish of cabbage slaw.

Our delicious spinach & goat cheese-stuffed boureka

Mix/match appetizer sampler (four items):

I love the option of being able to mix/match four items on an appetizer platter, as I find that it's a great excuse to be able sample smaller portions of dips and bites that I'd never before experienced/at Gazala's Place.  Most of the time, however, I always end up ordering my four tried-and-true favorites: Hummus, labne, baba ghanoush, and falafel.  Each platter arrives with a basket filled with freshly-baked Druse pita.    

Mix/match platter with falafel, hummus, labne, and baba ghanoush

Desserts:

You cannot go wrong with any of the Druse/Middle Eastern desserts on the menu.  The "Osh al Saraia" - a marriage of cream, honey, orange blossom and rose waters that's reduced to a pudding-like consistency and finished with ground pistachios - is particularly delicious and my personal favorite.

...

Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle