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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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My delicious calendar
  • 8/18-8/20: Maine
  • 8/25: dinner at Quality Eats
  • 8/26: brunch at Nur
  • 10/25-10/28: El Paso
  • 11/1-11/4: Aruba
  • 11/21-11/25: Houston
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Sunday
Oct072007

Baby steps to SoHo & Brunch at The Mercer Kitchen, 10/7/07

There are some neighborhoods in this fantastic city that are "uber chic, uber trendy and uber cool"...so much so, that I feel uberly-awkward and "not uberly cool enough" each and every time I pass through them. The best way I can describe this feeling is something along the lines of walking by the "cool kids" lunch table in junior high, when you're clearly not one of those "cool kids." In my case, I just wanted to pass by as fast as I could, and go about my business. For me, one of these parts of town would be SoHo, which is short for "South of Houston Street." (To learn more about this nabe, check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoHo) SoHo is famous for its abundance of high-end boutiques, numerous celebrity sightings (ahem, Lindsay Lohan pre-rehab!), and artist's lofts. Just the fact that the name "South of Houston Street" was shortened from twenty letters to four (SoHo) intimidates me!

I was flattered when I was asked to join my sister's fiance's mother and sister for brunch. We agreed that Sunday would be best and decided to meet at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's The Mercer Kitchen at noon. Having never eaten at The Mercer Kitchen, I immediately checked it out on menupages.com and learned that it was located in the infamous Mercer Hotel in SoHo (where Russell Crowe threw a telephone at the front desk clerk). I couldn't wait to be in the same space where all of this dramatic A-list excitement had occurred!Sunday came quicker than I'd hoped. It's my least favorite day of the week besides Monday; as I know that the next morning I will be awakened by my screaming alarm clock at 5:15 a.m. Just one more reminder that it's the beginning of yet another (sigh) work week. I arrived at The Mercer Hotel about twenty minutes before noon, and decided to people-watch in the lobby. The atmosphere tries its hardest (and succeeds) to make one feel "at home" with plush sofas, over sized ottomans and chairs, coffee tables and fully stocked floor-to-ceiling book shelves. It's a very urban-chic, yet warm and intimate environment. Finally, about five minutes to noon, I walked down an open-air wooden staircase to The Mercer Kitchen to meet my group. The restaurant was gorgeous. There are no windows, as it's located below street level; but with the use of various mirrors, the space does not seem claustrophobic or dungeon-like in any way and was comfortably bright. The kitchen is open to the dining room, which I always appreciate in two aspects: knowing that the chefs can't as-easily pull any "fast" moves with my food; and for the shear pleasure of watching the cooking theatrics take center stage right before my eyes.

Susan and Elissa arrived downstairs within a minute or two of myself, and we were promptly seated. After some much-needed catching-up, we perused the food menu and made entree decisions rather quickly. Susan ordered the bagel & lox, Elissa chose the Gruyere omelette and I went with the shrimp & avocado salad...with the dressing on the side. My order? Boring, I know. I'd be a liar if I said that shrimp salad was my ideal meal of choice at brunch; God knows I really wanted to order the French toast or pancakes drenched in 100% pure maple syrup, or the Benedict with a bowl of extra hollandaise sauce...but I've been a bad girl for a long time, and now it's time to watch my sugar and grease intake. After ordering, we were each served a roll, which really hit-the-spot (I was famished). It was almost like they could read my mind and know just how damn hungry I was. About twenty minutes later, the entrees arrived. My salad was piled to the edges of my plate with emerald-colored greens, tomato salata, perfectly ripe chunks of avocado, thinly sliced mushrooms and butterflied shrimp. It tasted as gorgeous as it looked. It's hard enough eating a damn salad at brunch when everyone else in the restaurant is chowing down on their hollandaise-laden egg dish, but it's even harder if the salad sucks. Thankfully, this was not the case with my shrimp salad and I did not feel deprived in the least. My dining partners thoroughly enjoyed their meals, as well.

Service at the restaurant was great; not too rushed, but not too slow with absolutely no arrogance or aloofness. Will I return to The Mercer Kitchen? Most definitely and most likely for dinner and drinks. Many of the juices and colas are made from scratch on the premises!I loved the vibe and atmosphere of The Mercer Kitchen and came to the realization that maybe, just maybe I was more "uber cool" than I thought. I'm going to take baby steps and more of an open mind toward discovering SoHo and some of the other nabes that I feel are just too over-the-top-cool. After today's experience, this creature of habit and familiarity has been pleasantly surprised and is ready for her next adventure.

Friday
Oct052007

Non-alcoholic margaritas & dinner at El Cantinero, 10/5/07

If someone were to ask you what your favorite bar drink was after a long day at work, what would you say? My answer would be a stiff margarita, hands down. Call it what you will; "girly," "too sweet," etc., but nothing, with the exception of a good mojito, makes this girl happier.T.G.I.F! After a long and busy week at work, it was finally Friday, and I had plans to meet up with some friends for drinks and dinner. I let the other girls choose the bar/restaurant for the evening, and they decided on "El Cantinero." Immediately, I went to menupages.com to learn more about El Cantinero. The restaurant is located on University, between 11th and 12th Streets...right in the heart of N.Y.U. The reviews on menupages looked good, and the menu and prices sounded legit. The plan was to meet at El Cantinero at 7:00 p.m. I arrived to the general area early, and decided to browse through a couple of shops, then get to the restaurant about twenty-minutes early for a much-needed margarita.Menupages mentioned that El Cantinero had a "roof garden," which I imagined having a bar and seating. As I approached the restaurant, the host greeted me and pointed me to the stairs leading to the roof. As I reached the top of the staircase, there was a makeshift "coat check" booth/room directly in front of me. To my right, there was a bouncer, who looked directly at my bags and said that he needed to "search them." I was a bit put-off, but agreed to let him "check" my bags. He told me that I needed to throw out my water bottle and saw that I had food in my bag. I was told that I needed to give my bags to the coat-check, as food and water bottles were not allowed inside of the bar. Here's the kicker...the coat check CHARGES $2.00/bag! "Am I at an airport?" The bouncer didn't like my smart comment and proceeded to tell me that the reason they won't allow water bottles was because people have been known to fill them up with alcohol. I sighed, rolled my eyes and dramatically stormed back downstairs to wait for my friends. "What the hell kind of place was this?" Then I remembered; I was out of my element...in, gasp, college territory.

Finally, my friends arrived and we were seated upstairs in the rooftop garden. What a pleasant surprise this had turned out to be! The rooftop wasn't large, but big enough to seat about forty people. The greenery, sparkle lights and perfect weather all helped me return to sanity after my previously awkward experience with the coat check and bouncer. After chatting a bit, our table decided to order drinks. Since I had my mind set on a margarita, I ordered a frozen with freshly-crushed strawberries. The rest of the group split a pitcher of sangria. The drinks arrived and after one sip, I realized that I'd received a virgin margarita (that, or the restaurant is really stingy with alcohol). It was so refreshing and fruity that I decided not to fight it out with the waiter. I tried to keep a positive attitude, and to make myself feel better, I kept silently repeating, "Friday nights shouldn't be about getting belligerently drunk, anyways."The complimentary chips and salsa were homemade and insanely addictive. We proceeded to place our food orders and as usual, I chose the cheese enchiladas. Whenever I go to a new Mexican restaurant, this is my testing dish. If a restaurants' enchiladas suck, chances are I won't be back for seconds. When the food arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. It was love at first sight. Before even tasting my enchiladas, I was already in a trance of gluttony. The plate itself was smoldering hot, which means that the enchiladas were baked in the oven (NOT microwaved). The rice was the perfect saffron color of orange/yellow and there was so much cheese, that the beans were not visible. One bite and I knew, these just may be the best enchiladas I've had in New York! The red sauce was mild in taste and thin in substance. The white cheese was authentic to what I'm used to in Texas and the refried beans tasted just like home. After such a horrible first impression of El Cantinero, the food really made up for all of preliminary nonsense. Will I return? Yes, but only after mentally preparing myself for some of El Cantinero's rigid rules. Would I recommend this restaurant to you? Sure, but here are some friendly words of advice, especially if you're over the age of twenty-five:

  • I do not recommend going to "the bar" area of El Cantinero
  • Avoid the bouncer and coat check at all costs
  • Weather permitting, try to snag a table on the roof
  • For God's sake, don't order a margarita unless you don't "drink"
Saturday
Sep292007

Dinner at Keen's Steakhouse, 9/29/07

Since the beginning of this year (2007), I've developed an addiction. At times, it's spiraled out-of-control to the point that I don't know when to stop. But today, my friends, I've decided to come out of my denial "closet" and accept my addiction...to chowhound.com! If you haven't checked out this website, I advise you to stay far, far away; it will suck you in and disrupt your work and home life. You'll start finding yourself wondering "what's being discussed" on the 'chow board when you're away from your computer. It's sick, really.When I first began my love affair with chowhound.com, there was a fellow 'hounder (goes by the name "RGR") who spoke highly and frequently about "Keen's Steakhouse." I became intrigued with Keen's, and put it on my "restaurants that I must-try" list.

Unfortunately, it would be months until I finally experienced Keen's for myself.With my parents' upcoming visit to New York quickly approaching, I decided to make reservations at Keen's for our Saturday night dinner. Putting all of my trust in to what my fellow 'hounders had said about this place, I had high hopes but was worried about what my Texan parents would think (since Texas is the steak capital of the world). Keen's is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. I've never really spent much time in that area, but from the looks of the surroundings, I certainly wasn't expecting a nice steakhouse to be on the block. But as we got closer to 6th Avenue, there it was...Keen's, in all its glory. Upon entering the space, we were immediately whisked upstairs to the "Lamb Room." We were all impressed by the atmosphere and decor of this 100 year-old steakhouse. Our group was seated next to a brick hearth in the most charming, old-fashioned dining room. On the ceiling, there were thousands (90,000 to be exact) of smoking pipes in neatly organized rows from past "members." It was amazing to think about just how many people have passed through Keens' doors; you could almost feel their spiritual presence!

I won't bore you with anymore atmospheric details and will now move on to the most important piece...the meal! Less that a minute after we were seated, a chilled vegetable/relish tray with blue cheese dressing and a bread basket appeared. The tray consisted of carrots, celery, pickles and olives which were all perfectly crisp and fresh. The server took our drink order and gave us a couple of minutes to peruse the dinner menu. Keen's is famous for its mutton (lamb) chop (which none of us ended up ordering, but will consider for next time). Mom and I each ordered the cream of asparagus soup (which was an appetizer special that evening) and split the filet Mignon, cooked medium "charred." My dad ordered the house-cured salmon appetizer, the T-Bone steak and hash brown potatoes for the table to split.

The cream of asparagus soup was very refreshing, delicate, creamy and warm. The asparagus aftertaste was much more subtle than others I've had. Though I didn't taste my dad's house-cured salmon, he certainly seemed very pleased....and then the steaks arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they split mom and I's steak in the kitchen, so we didn't have to do it ourselves and make a huge mess. The filet about 1 1/2 inches thick with a perfectly pink center. The meat was insanely tender with an amazingly charred external crust. The hash brown potatoes were basically one large, thick potato pancake; the best damn potato pancake I've ever had.We were all so content and focused on our meal, that there was absolutely no conversation during dinner. Finally, after the plates were cleared, the conversing began again as we were handed the dessert menus. We agreed that we'd only order one sweet for the table, and decided on the butterscotch sundae. Since I was so full, I barely remember the dessert; therefore, I don't have much to report.I was extremely pleased with Keen's in every aspect, as were my parents. It's great knowing that there are steakhouses here worthy of the Texan palate! I will definitely return to Keen's in the near future and encourage you to do the same. This is the ultimate "NYC" steakhouse experience.

Saturday
Sep292007

Lunch at BG (Bergdorf Goodman), 9/29/07

I'd been anticipating my parents' visit to the city for months and had almost every detail of their itinerary perfectly planned. So two weeks ago, when my mom told me to pick a restaurant for lunch with her best friend from childhood (who now lives in Westchester County), I was stumped. I knew that mom's friend, Bonnie, would be coming from Grand Central and that after lunch, all of us would want to be in the vicinity of the beautiful "window shopping" stores on 5th Avenue. Where does one take her Southern mother and mother's friend for a light "ladies lunch" on a Saturday afternoon? Why, BG at Bergdorf Goodman, of course!

After seeing the picture of BG on the New York Magazine website, I knew that this restaurant would be an instant hit with the ladies. I made a reservation on http://www.opentable.com/ for three diners at noon on Saturday, September 29th.BG is located on the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman and is the first sight as you exit the elevator. The dining room is very bright, with large windows overlooking a perfect Central Park view. The decor is rich and elegant without being stuffy; i.e. mirrored furniture and ornate crown molding. The acoustics of the dining room are perfect; there can be many guests at the restaurant at one time and the noise level remains pleasant.Upon being seated, we were immediately handed menus and served a lovely bread basket. I couldn't resist the assortment and grabbed a slice of fruit and nut bread, a piece of olive bread, and half of a boule. The ramekin of butter was room temperature, which made for sheer spreadable joy! Each of us perused the wine list (conveniently included in the same menu with the food) and chose a glass of white. Once our wines arrived, we ordered our lunch; all having decided on the same entree! I know this is a totally boring and unadventurous thing to do, but who can resist a croque monsieur? (For those of you who don't know, the word "croque monsieur" is French for a "ham and Swiss" sandwich. The difference is that it's prepared grilled with the cheese melted on top of the sandwich instead of inside of the sandwich.)

The croque monsieur was served with a side of mixed field greens lightly tossed in vinaigrette. The sandwich was made with thinly sliced white bread, salty serrano ham and Gruyere cheese. Prior to grilling, the bread was doused with a thick layer of butter and grilled to the most beautiful golden brown, thus creating a perfectly crispy crust and warm interior. The mild and salty ham was a perfect match to the strong Gruyere cheese. We were all very pleased with our meal.I highly recommend BG and hope to return in the near future for afternoon tea. My only complaint about BG would be the outrageous price tag for our lunch; I almost had a coronary when I received our bill, but the steep price certainly comes with the territory.