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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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Entries in Guest bloggers (24)

Wednesday
Oct282015

(NYC) Reviewed: Italy by way of Queens at "Via Vai"

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

Restaurant: Via Vai

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Location: 31-09 23rd Avenue - Queens 11105  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Savory flan, pasta, daily fish (branzino) special, desserts
  • Perfect for: Neighborhood gem - prix-fixe lunch - live music (call ahead) - al-fresco dining

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Located just one block away from where his wife, Cynthia, grew up is Chef Antonio Morichini's Italian gem, Via Vai.  Loosely translated to "coming and going" from his native tongue, Chef envisioned a warm and inviting gathering place where folks could come together and enjoy some the most authentic Italian cuisine this side of the Atlantic.

Having received his formal culinary training in Italy, Chef went on to work in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Rome and Chiavari, in addition to serving as Executive Chef at establishments in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  "I remember becoming inspired to be a chef at age 25 when I first dined at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Rome.  I loved the entire experience - the dinner, the service, and the people being happy and loving their food."

Chef Antonio MorichiniAs charming and romantic as his culinary story may be, the aesthetics of Chef Morichini's Via Vai come in at a very close second.  From the outside, folks who enjoy eating their pizza al-fresco will get a kick out of the outdoor seating located just off of the restaurant's entrance.  Floor to ceiling glass doors, with the ability to open up to the elements (NYC weather pending, of course), invite guests indoors to enjoy four beers on tap (one local, one seasonal, at least one Italian, and one domestic) or an authentic espresso at the sleek, marble-top bar. 

Restaurant exteriorAn Italian-made brick pizza oven overlooks the dining room which is outfitted with leather banquettes and tables made from 100+year old wood tops and refurbished bottoms.

Brick pizza ovenDining roomTo begin the meal, we started with the seasonal Pumpkin Flan.  Served atop a creamy parmigiano fondue with a streak of reduced balsamic sat the savory custard crowned with a delicately-breaded egg yolk.  I have to say, my favorite part of this dish was upon cutting in to the breaded yolk and watching it spill atop and along the sides of the flan.  Truly, a heavenly culinary experience!

Pumpkin FlanAfter having learned that Via Vai makes their pasta on the premises daily, we couldn't not order one!  Although the Lasagnetta ("mini lasagna") was meatless, the porcini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, and beschamel made-up for any lack of the dish's traditional "masculinity," if you will, and richness.  It was appropriately warm and gooey, creamy, and unctuous. 

LasagnettaFor my entree, I chose the daily preparation of branzino, a Mediterranean seabass.  Aside from the fact that the dish was *almost* too beautiful to eat, the fish was incredibly tender and artfully paired with mashed potatoes that were colored pink with beet juice, and sauteed spinach.

BranzinoBecause the dessert menu listed so many drool-worthy offerings, we had to order two!  Both the chocolate soufflé and the tiramisu were perfect - creamy, astonishingly light, and not cloyingly sweet.

Chocolate souffle (bottom right corner) and tiramisu (top left corner)

Whether you're coming from the neighborhood, another borough, or beyond, Via Vai is that unique kind of NYC Italian restaurant that excels every category, from appetizer and pizza to pasta and entree.  And dessert!  I am so happy to have been acquainted with this heavenly slice of Italy right in my Queens backyard.

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Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Oct272015

(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.**

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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!

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Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle

Monday
Oct262015

(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

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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.

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Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Oct142015

(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!

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Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle