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.

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(NYC) Finding my perfect match with "Wines from Spain"

*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.**


Wines from Spain recently celebrated its 22nd annual "Spain's Great Match" event which was held at the Frank Gehry-designed IAC Building in NYC's tony Chelsea neighborhood. 

With a showcase of over 300 Spanish wines, there was no shortage of both tried-and-true and brand new sips to be had.  Not to mention an array of specialty food distributors and nibbles from some of NYC's top Spanish restaurants! 

As I strolled through the maze of vendor tables, it came as no surprise that the wineries I frequented the most were those who were pouring Rioja.  My favorite glass was the Marques de Riscal Reserva 2009 DOCA.  Produced from the Tempranillo grape (whose vines are at least 15 years old), the wine is matured in American oak casks for 24 months prior to bottling.  I would describe this particular Rioja as a full body red with a lingering, dry fruit finish.  I loved its intensity, melange of notes (vanilla, toasted oak and plum fruit), and hints of spice and licorice.
Photo found on wine-searcher.com: Rioja As I continued my tour of Spanish wines, I sampled some amazing goat cheese-stuffed olives and, one of my absolute favorite items on the planet, ribbons of salty Jamón Iberico (cured ham from the Iberico black pig, which happens to be one of the last grazing species in Europe). 

Cheese-stuffed olivesJamon!Of course, I saved the best for last!  My favorite tasting of the event was the Anna de Codorniu Brut Rose, NV.  Hailing from the Penedes (DO) region of Spain, this rose is composed of 70% Pinot noir and 30% Chardonnay grapes.  With its incredibly fragrant aromas of red fruit (strawberry and cherry) and green apple, I absolutely fell in love with this wine and its elegant, refreshing finish.  And how about that fabulous pink bottle?

Brut roseIf all of that wasn't enough, the event was attended by super famous Wine Bible author, Karen MacNeil!


Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Reviewed: Peace, love, and tofu at Seoul Garden

 *This post was written by Jean Hsu and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by Ms. Hsu.**

Restaurant: Seoul Garden

  • Cuisine: Korean
  • Location: 34 W. 32nd Street - NYC 10001  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Tofu soups
  • Perfect for: Korean comfort food - vegetarian options - late-night bites


Korea Town/K-Town is one of those magical gateways in Manhattan that transports you straight to Asia by way of 32nd Street.  Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the rowdy karaoke-singing, soju-drinking crowds is Seoul Garden, a culinary oasis located on the second level of a non-descript building.  Upon entry, the restaurant welcomes guests with a level of serenity not often found in neighboring establishments.

Seventeen years ago, Myong Ja Koo left her home in Los Angeles to follow her dreams of opening her own restaurant.  For years, she helped her husband with the family's clothing manufacturing business and, finally, in her 50's, she was ready for a career change...To the restaurant industry!  With the help of a cousin who was already a restaurateur in the area (now owner of BCD Tofu House), Ms. Koo began her own legacy: Tofu soup, an item that was not seen prior in Korea Town.  She would also become famous for introducing the concept of "ssam" (items in which to wrap around meat, seafood, vegetables) to the neighborhood.  Granted, while Korean BBQ was already popular, no other restaurants provided lettuce, radish, and rice cake wrappers to accompany the meal!

To begin dinner, we were presented with a selection of ban chan, which are traditional small plates/appetizers that are served as a precursor to the meal/entrees.  Additionally, we ordered the restaurant's famous Hae Mool Pajun (seafood and scallion pancake).

Ban chan!Seafood + scallion pancake (photo courtesy of Seoul Garden)Bibimbap is *the* quintessential dish that I (and, most likely, everyone else) order at a Korean restaurant.  The Hae Mool Dol Sot Bibimbap was one of the best versions that I've had on 32nd Street.  The bottom of the moist, sticky rice was seared to a perfect crisp and topped with a medley of vegetables and seafood.  

Seafood + veggie bibimbapObviously, we had to put in an order for one of Seoul Garden's famous tofu soups!  Forgoing the traditional kimchi-base, we ordered the Curry Soon Tofu sans beef, chock-full of fragrant curry flavor, tofu and vegetables.  I happen to LOVE "soon tofu" dishes because they are served in a piping-hot cauldron filled to the brim with tofu and broth that's just screaming to be ladled over rice!

Curry/tofu stewI can never pass up Daeng Jang Jigae, a spicy kimchi broth-based stew filled with mixed seafood and veggies.  When ladled over rice, this is comfort food at its finest (especially as the weather gets cooler)!

Seafood + veggie stewUnfortunately, the Blue Crab preserved in Soy Sauce (a dish that the restaurant is known for and one we were excited about trying) was not particularly fresh, so we asked Patty (Myong Ja Koo's daughter and co-owner of the restaurant) to bring us a few of her personal favorite seafood dishes:

  • The A-gu Jim (steamed monkfish with bean sprouts in a thick and spicy sauce) is not for the Korean food-newbie, but it was definitely an interesting addition to the table - perfect for the diner who is looking for something with a little more gumption. 
  • Although the Chulpan Tong Ojing Uh (BBQ squid in a special spicy sauce) was impressively prepared table-side, we found the squid to be a bit too chewy and surprisingly cold, despite the fact that it was served on a sizzling hot plate.

Steamed monkfish with bean sproutsBBQ squidIf you are looking for a home-cooked Korean meal served in a serene atmosphere, then I recommend checking out Seoul Garden.


Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Stick With Me: This ain't your mama's chocolate shop!

Chocolatier/dessert shop: Stick With Me Sweets

  • Cuisine: Handmade chocolate, high-end sweets
  • Location: 202-A Mott Street - NYC 10012  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Bonbons, caramels
  • Perfect for: Dessert takeaway (single-serve or for groups/events), foodies, art buffs, gifts for the girl/guy who "has everything"
  • Menu: Click here


En route to meet my cousins for brunch a few Sunday's ago, I happened upon a very curious shop on Mott Street.  I say "curious," because its signage was in the shape of a candy wrapper!  And we all know what a sugar whore I am, no matter if the time of day is early afternoon or, in this case, 10:30AM. 

The wording on the 'candy wrapper sign' read "Stick With Me," so I just assumed it was a shop that sold Venus flytraps or the like.  Just kidding...

You had me at "chocolate."Needless to say, I was shocked to see that a specialty candy shop was already open at 10AM - on a Sunday - until I remembered that "I wasn't in Kansas Los Angeles anymore."  Just another reason why I love NYC so goddamn much.  Upon peering in the window, I was hesitant to enter as there was a live photo-shoot.  However, after having locked eyes with one of the employees, she smiled and mouthed, "Come in!"

Inside the small shop, white-washed exposed brick walls anchored metal shelves that were lined with handmade, decoratively-wrapped delectables in the form of: Flavored marshmallows, chocolate bark, nougat, truffles, and nut butters. 

Row after row of heaven!Just beyond the treat-lined wall was an L-shaped glass case filled with gorgeous bonbons, flavored caramels, and petit-fours.  "We were founded by Susanna Yoon, the former chocolatier at Per Se," employee, Nina, mentioned.  "We've only been open since December 2014, but business has been really great!"  From the moment I stepped foot within the shop, I knew I was going to be in for something special; but it wasn't until Nina mentioned "Per Se" that I was confident this experience would be transcendent.  "Since we're almost done with the photo shoot," she advised, "many of the bonbons are already cut in to halves.  Feel free to sample them and take as many photos as you'd like!"  Wow, was she serious?  Talk about amazing timing on my part!

Of the plethora that I sampled, the "P.B. & Jelly" bonbon was my favorite.  It was so exquisite, in fact, that I purchased a box of 6 as a hostess gift for my upcoming stay with my sister at her new home in Miami.

FYI: Stick With Me carries 24 (bonbon) flavor varieties!

And then there were those gooey, uniquely-flavored caramels!  'Yuzu & Salt,' anybody?  Yes, please!  Actually, make that a 'hell yes!'

Being the world's biggest fan of southern-style petit-fours (in essence, bite-sized cake drowned in a tooth achingly-sweet icing), I simply could not keep my eyes off of the mini "birthday cakes" displayed in the cake/dessert case adjacent to the bonbons.  "Oh my gosh, Nina," I exclaimed, "I simply must have one of the pink cakes to-go!  That is the cutest thing I've ever seen!!"

Although I wouldn't sample the cake until later that evening, I will say that, while the interior "cake" portion was scrumptious, the icing was gummy and a bit flavorless. 

Despite being a bit full when I arrived at brunch, I could not have been happier!  Not only had I crossed a task off of my "to do" list (buy sister a hostess gift), but I found a unique - even by NYC standards - dessert shop that is, truly, one of a kind!  To be honest, I hesitated posting this recap because, selfishly, I don't want to worry about any of you *also* bringing bonbons to the next party we're at together!

For a full list of menu items, click here.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


This self-professed travel snob went glamping...and LOVED it!

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." J. Muir


If there's one thing that my friends know about me, besides the obvious (like how much I love to eat/drink, tell jokes, travel and write), it's the fact that I would rather lick a dirty toilet seat than go camping.  Hell, I can barely bring myself to use a unisex bathroom at a bar!     

About a year ago, I received some intel on Ithaca by Firelight Camps, a "glamp" site located in upstate New York.  Not having a clue what "glamping" was or how it differed from, gasp, traditional "camping," I couldn't get on their website quickly enough.  Here's what I learned:

"For those not familiar, Glamping is a term derived from the two words 'glamorous camping.'  Glamping is also referred to as 'glam camping,' 'lux camping,' 'luxury camping' and many other similar phrases.  Regardless of the specific terminology, the idea is the same; glamping brings the world of luxury into nature in the most seamless way possible.  Glamping has origins in Africa and Thailand, but is relatively new to the U.S. and Europe.  Most people want the feeling of falling asleep under the stars and being in nature without having to sleep on rocks to do it.  Glamping allows for just that.  It lets guests to be one with nature, while still enjoying the luxury of a bed and pre-pitched tent."

The more I read about Ithaca by Firelight Camps and its owners, Emma and Bobby, the further I was intrigued.  Having fallen in love in undergrad, the young couple studied abroad together and learned more about the their respective trades: Business for him and hospitality for her.  During his time in the Peace Corps, Bobby taught micro enterprise and entrepreneurship courses to high school students and women in Nicaragua while Emma honed in on her love for cooking, rock climbing, and eco-friendly tourism.  The two brought their passions together and started their first hotel and café, La Buena Onda, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.  There, they partnered with local coffee cooperatives, a chocolate factory, artisan groups, and outdoor adventure guides to bring eco-tourism activities to their guests.  While they thoroughly enjoyed their time in Latin America, the couple returned to the states with the intention of creating a new hotel that would have an impact closer to home.  After receiving his MBA from the Johnson School of Management at Cornell, Bobby continued to travel overseas to learn more about the eco-tourism industry.  Meanwhile, Emma worked with ConTENTment Camping at the Bonaroo Music Festival (to launch a village of glamping tents for the festival goers) and started a food blog.  She even became a top finalist on the "Food Network Star!"  It was also at this time when the business plan for Firelight Camps was created...

"We thought the Finger Lakes would be the perfect place to launch Firelight Camps," said Emma.  In 2014, Wine Enthusiast voted New York State "Wine Region of the Year," with the Finger Lakes being a major contributor. "Our community is so supportive of young entrepreneurs, and there was a wealth of knowledge and resources here to help us build the camp. The Finger Lakes is one of the oldest and most vibrant food and farming regions in the country, and is quickly becoming known as an agritourism destination.  It's also home to an astonishing number of waterfalls and lakes, which is a huge attraction for outdoor lovers."


In the beginning of this past summer, I booked a single night's stay at Firelight Camps for the second week of October.  I would be in Manhattan the weekend prior for one of my dearest friend's weddings, so it only made sense to make my way upstate thereafter for some R&R.

On Tuesday morning, October 6th, I flew to Syracuse from NYC.  Upon arrival, I rented a car and made the 45-minute drive to Ithaca.  The scenery along the way was absolutely breathtaking; aside from the region's inherent natural beauty, the potpourri of fall colors - in the form of leaves and produce - was everything that I could have hoped for and more.

Dedrick's Farm Market - Dryden, NYThe grounds of La TourelleWhen GPS announced that I had "arrived" at my destination (Firelight Camps), I was both perplexed and a bit relieved to pull up to a full-service hotel/spa and restaurant.  Where the heck was I?  As I made my way further down the drive, I saw a sign for the Camp and continued just beyond the hotel and restaurant, down a little hill, and on to a grassy clearing with a central "tent."

Welcome!I pulled my rental car off to the side of the gravel road and made my way in to the "lobby tent," where I received a warm greeting from the staff and a quick orientation, if you will.  

...I was particularly thrilled to learn that "Happy hour is from 5-6PM when we spark the evening campire and bar remains open until 11PM."  Woohoo! 

Upon making my way over to my tent, I noticed the al-fresco communal hangout area just off the lobby, complete with a fire pit, an assortment of seating options, and liberally strung twinkle-lights.  

Fun to be had by the campfire!The staff told me that I could park my car outside of my tent to unload my suitcases, but that I would then have to parking just up the short hill near the facilities.  Yep, that's right, folks, I said "facilities."  Would they be unisex?  Clean?  Small?  Would there be hot enough waterWould there be hot water at all?  I didn't bring my own towels; would I have to dry myself off with the shirt on my back?  Would there be previous bather's hair and other remnants left behind?  Oh, dear god!!!!!!!!  

Path leading up to my tentMy tent!Beyond the bed, there was a desk and a trunk filled with extra blankets/plus more storage space.My makeshift closet

My amazing back patio overlooking the Buttermilk TrailThis is hard to beat!!After getting settled and unpacking my essentials, I made sure to familiarize myself with the battery-powered lanterns-cum-phone chargers that were located in my tent.  Try walking to the facilities in the pitch dark (There's no electricity in the sleeping tents.) without one of those suckers

From there, I decided to go check out the facilities before stopping over at the lobby for happy hour.  And, I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised by how clean and ample the restrooms and showers were, in addition to being fully-stocked with shampoo/conditioner/soap!

Shower/restroom complexTowels - of multiple sizes - are provided!!Communal sinks5PM couldn't come quickly enough!  I made my way back to the lobby tent for happy hour and enjoyed wines from the local Finger Lakes region, "hard" apple cider (it just so happened to be Cider Week while I was there), and good company.  Amongst a handful of couples (including one with their adorable dogs in tow), there was a fun group of older women on a pseudo college reunion trip. 

Delicious local "hard cider"As the sun slowly set over the glampground, so did the temperatures.  While I was still in the lobby, I made sure to secure a propane heater for my tent to keep me warm overnight, as it was forecasted to dip in to the 40s!

Just after happy hour and a quick shower, I walked over to John Thomas Steakhouse (the restaurant located further up the property) where I enjoyed a fantastic lobster dinner.

Dinner at John Thomas SteakhouseForgoing dessert at the restaurant, I made my way back to camp in anticipation of enjoying a glass of red/nightcap and attempting to roast s'mores by the fire...

Firelight's own homemade s'mores kit!

With a full and happy belly - plus a solid buzz - I made my way back to my tent and prepared for bed: I turned on the propane tank, put on my socks, and crawled under the warm blanket.  Aside from the heater's buzz, the only thing I could hear beyond the mesh of my tent's windows were the leaves lightly dancing and the crickets chirping.  A few hours later, I awoke to the tranquil sound of a rain shower that aided me in to falling in the deepest, most comfortable sleep that I've experienced in...forever.  Wow.   

The following morning, I allowed myself to sleep in before packing up and heading to the continental breakfast in the lobby tent - something I haven't done in quite some time.  Ultimately, however, I was jonezing for a cup of coffee and some sustenance.

Coffee/tea stationAn assortment of local apple ciders Locally sourced bakery items, plus Emma's handmade granolaAlthough I would have loved to stay for another night (or two!), it was time for me to hit the road and explore the region and Ithaca proper, in addition to checking out Cornell's campus. 

With the 2015 glamping season closing at the end of October, I look forward to returning in the summer of 2016 so that I can enjoy more time in the area, plus the bounty of local recreational options (wineries, lakes, hiking trails)!  Plus, I'd love to bring some of my girlfriends; as snobby as some of them are, I am proof-positive that glamping is the prissy girl's - or guy's - answer to conquering the outdoors/nature.  In fact, I loved it.  Alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of it!  Go ahead and quote me on that...I urge you!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


(NYC) Reviewed: Brunch - and a lesson in art history - at The Leopard at des Artistes

Restaurant: The Leopard at des Artistes

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Location: 1 W. 67th St. - NYC 10023  
  • Pricing: $$$
  • What's delicious: Brunch. In its entirety.
  • Perfect for: Ladies who brunch - prix fixe menu/pre-theater - where to take the parents - special occasions


In Manhattan, zip codes are everything...Unless, of course, you're one of the lucky Upper East/West Side residents worthy enough of claiming a "One East/West...Street" home address.  For those of you who aren't familiar, the "One" designates a building's proximity to Central Park (read: a "One" means virtually *ON* the Park).  Case in point: The Hotel des Artistes, a grand apartment building and home to tony Italian restaurant, The Leopard at des Artistes, located at, you guessed it, "ONE W. 67th Street."

Upon entering the restaurant from the picturesque tree-lined sidewalk, I immediately "buttoned up," if you will: I adjusted my shirt collar, ran my hands along the top of my hair to calm any fly-aways, and corrected my posture from slightly slouched to upright.  Not that the restaurant was overly-stuffy or "black tie" fancy, but this has traditionally been my knee-jerk reaction upon finding myself in more, shall we say, high-end locations/venues.  Kind of like when I used to visit my aunt and uncle at their fabulous apartment (filled with museum-worthy art and an incredible amount of "breakables") located just across the Park from the restaurant.  To make a long story short, I wanted to look the part and be on my best "grown up" behavior for my brunch at The Leopard

"Because of the many ateliers and studios built especially for artists and musicians on West 67th Street, this particular block was often referred to as 'Artists Row.'  Designed by the architect, George Mort Pollard, the Hotel des Artistes has been home to many of the famed and illustrious, including Noel Coward, Isadora Duncan, writer Fannie Hurst, New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay, Alexander Woollcott, and Norman Rockwell."  In an ode to its colorful history, the restaurant's walls are adorned with "fanciful murals of frolicking nudes painted by Howard Chandler Christy, an early resident" of the building.

Moments after I was seated and two-sips in to my coffee, my girlfriend, Elena, arrived to join me for brunch.  In an ode to sample as many starters and entrees as possible, we decided to split a handful of dishes.  

To begin (and in a strategic effort to soak up the alcohol from the previous evening's shenanigans), we selected the bakery basket filled with homemade muffins, scones, Danish, and coffee cake.  House-made jam and sweet butter were served alongside as accompaniments.  While each morsel was every bit soft and delicious, the scones were particularly transcendent.  I wonder if they could be ordered on their own?

Bakery basket filled with an assortment of homemade carb-y delights!Because brunch shouldn't be all eggs and waffles, Elena and I chose to delve in to the meal with two salads.  

As if our sweet bread basket didn't contain enough carbs (god help me, I sound so "LA!"), we also received a savory version - accompanied by olive oil - in anticipation of and to pair with our saltier fare.

Savory bread basket accompanied by oilive oilPollo al Limone

The Pollo al Limone (loosely translated to "lemon chicken") salad featured hand-pulled, roasted free-range chicken breast that was served atop a green bouquet of arugula and frisee leaves, thick tendrils of fragrant fennel, celery, Castelvetrano olives, and finished with a tangy lemon dressing.

Salad: Pollo al LimoneCaprese

Taking center stage on the plate, a fluffy white cloud of burrata (mozzarella cheese with a creamy, molten-like center) could have been a doppelganger to the clusters that form just beyond your airplane window at 30k feet.  As if that wasn't righteous enough on its own, the cheese was lightly drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by chunks of tomato and sprigs of fragrant basil.  What a treat! 

Burrata, tomato & basil

For our main course, Elena and I chose one pasta dish plus a familiar breakfast entree.

Spaghetti "all carbonara"

Pungent Pecorino Romano (cheese), egg yolk, and black pepper came together to create a creamy trinity in which al-dente spaghetti noodles were tossed, coated, and then served in an artful tangle.  Salty guanciale (strips of thick-cut Italian bacon) crowned the pasta.

Spaghetti "alla carbonara"Des Artistes Eggs Benedict

Chef Brogioni "Italianized" this traditionally American brunch entree by substituting San Daniele prosciutto for overly-processed Canadian bacon and serving it atop a buttery, toasted slice of country bread.  The salty ham ribbons were crowned with a perfectly-poached egg and topped with a dollop of Hollandaise.  Herbed breakfast potatoes (...Were they twice or thrice fried?) were crunchy and well-oiled/salted, revealing a fluffy-soft interior.

Des Artistes Eggs Benedict

What - you think we'd leave without sampling at least one dessert?  Never...

Nutella Chocolate Mousse

Plated atop a bed of hazelnut "crunch" that acted as a pseudo crust, the nutty Nutella-hinted chocolate mousse revealed a refreshingly-dense texture with a flavor subtly reminiscent of a dark chocolate Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  Finished with a gooey layer of ganache icing and a scoop of banana gelato, this was one of our favorite dishes - and presentations - of the meal. 

Nutella Chocolate Mousse

As if the meal weren't delicious enough, the service was also top-notch; two key components that go hand in hand in making any restaurant experience that much more memorable.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


(NYC) A 'Journey to the Stars' with Michelin

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Jean Hsu and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were captured by Ms. Hsu.**

The Michelin Guide Gala for 2016 - a culinary celebration in which the 2016 Michelin starred-restaurants are announced - was recently held at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan.  And I got to go!

Prior to the uber-famous Michelin Man making his grand appearance in a roaring yellow Corvette, guests were encouraged to mingle whilst enjoying light canapes and seasonally-inspired cocktails from several of the Guide's Starred restaurants. 

Of those that I sampled, the "Valborg" cocktail from Aquavit Restaurant (Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, grapefruit, and lemongrass-infused aquavit) was my favorite.  Snow Leopard Vodka, Cutty Sark Whisky, a plethora of wines from Napa Valley, plus G.H. Mumm Champagne flowed generously throughout the eve.  Additionally, we were treated to a tasting of Macallan's newest rare cask whiskey - served on the rocks (just how I like it).  And how about those ice cubes (below)?

I must admit - I was a little surprised by how small of a focus there was on food, considering all that I had read - and seen - about this event from prior years.  Mini crab and lobster sandwiches, watermelon bites filled with feta, polenta morsels, and crackers topped with smoked salmon/roe were periodically passed by waiters.  Additionally, there was a long table in the back of the space that featured a grandiose spread of artisanal breads and macaroons from Bridor de France.

After the squishy and adorable Michelin Man made his entrance, Michael Ellis - Managing Director of Michelin Guide - took to the stage and began to announce the Star recipients!  Below are  all of the *new* Stars that were awarded to New York City restaurants.  For the full recipient list, click here:

In regards to the cultural diversity and vegetarian-focus in this year's selection, I was really impressed!!  Congratulations to all of the brand new, additional Stars-gained, and annually-recurring recipients!


Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle

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