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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.

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Lindsay

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Wednesday
Jul292015

(NYC) Reviewed: Ornella Trattoria Italiana

*This event and article were attended/captured by The Style Gourmande and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos, unless otherwise noted, were snapped by The Style Gourmande.*

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Location: 29-17 23rd Ave. - Astoria, NY 11105
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: House-cured prosciutto, Duck Meatballs, Pasta Di Castagna
  • Perfect for: Something different in Greek Astoria - destination-worthy dining - date night - comfort food cravings

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An Italian trattoria in Astoria?

For the most authentic culinary experiences, it’s often best to leave the isle of Manhattan and venture east.  To Brooklyn or Queens...

Forgoing the obvious (Greek cuisine) during my recent jaunt to Astoria, my friend and I opted instead for Italian.  In the form of a charming trattoria named Ornella.    

Upon arrival, we were greeted by eccentric executive chef and owner, Giuseppe Viterale who, come to find out, named the restaurant after his beloved wife, Ornella.  And if that wasn't cute enough, we also learned that Giuseppe's four sons work by his side.  A true family affair!  Awwwwe. 

Ornella + Guiseppe (photo courtesy of Ornella)"To me," Giuseppe said (in his thick Italian accent) as he sat me and my guest, "the art of food lies more in the ingredients than in the presentation."  Given this prerogative, we were quite excited for our meal. 

In an effort to sample as many dishes on the menu as possible, we decided to share nine plates - under the guidance of Giuseppe, of course!  The stand outs included:

Prosciutto

Unlike this particular version that he aged himself for a mere five months, Giuseppe noted that, typically, the thinly-sliced ham should continue to ripen for three months.  However, I appreciated its smooth, moist, and much less salty flavor (than, perhaps, one aged for the full eight months).

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Duck Meatballs Filled with cheese in a brandy-orange reduction sauce with raisins

Stuffed with three different cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and fontina) - which, aside from aiding to create a moister 'ball also helped cut the duck's traditional "gamey" flavor - these meatballs were nothing short of outstanding.  Trust me when I say that these are an absolute MUST when visiting Ornella

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Pasta Di Castagna Chestnut flour pasta in a cream and pistachio sauce with truffle oil

Made with chestnut flour, this pasta revealed a more "well done" as opposed to "al dente" texture.  Rich and unctuous, there was a mysterious je ne sais quoi that made this dish luxuriously rich.  Hell, I would return to Ornella for this pasta, alone! 

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Pizzoccheri Buckwheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, and fontina cheese

Did you know that this dish is listed in Mimi Sheraton's 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover's Life List?  'Nuff said.

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Stuffed Pork Chop With mushrooms, prosciutto, fontina cheese, and Madeira wine sauce (served with pasta)

With barely any room left in my stomach, I was only able to take two bites of this glorious stuffed chop.  However, those two forkfuls just may have been the best of the entire meal!  Surrendering myself, Giuseppe gladly packed the remainder of the dish in a doggie-bag and, hours later, I devoured it for dinner. 

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Living in NYC and having been to plenty of Italian restaurants - everything from casual to fancy-pants - Ornella has shot to the top of my "favorites" list.  It is, without a doubt, an incredibly special and destination-worthy venue for even the snobbiest of foodies. 

Next time you find yourself in Astoria, do what we did: Forgo Greek and make an Italian detour at Ornella.  You'll be glad you did!

...

Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jul242015

(NYC) Reviewed: Industry Kitchen

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Edgar Alonso Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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Restaurant: Industry Kitchen

  • Cuisine: Modern American
  • Location: 70 South Street, New York, NY 10038
  • Pricing: All menu items under $30
  • What's delicious: Cocktails
  • Perfect for: After-hours drinks, corporate events, scenic dining/waterfront views

...

The entertainment-packed grand opening of Industry Kitchen, South Street Seaport’s newest waterfront restaurant + bar, proved a feast for the eyes.  Albeit a mixed bag for the palate...

Photo courtesy of Industry Kitchen: In terms of seating, the venue’s options were great - al-fresco vs. a generous interior area adjacent to the lively bar/open kitchen.

Veering away from the restaurant's daily menu, this special evening called for a festive assortment of passed hors d'oeuvres.  From sweet and savory - spicy and smoky - tangy and tart, every realm of the senses was provoked.  

An early stand out was the Spanish Artichoke Dip, which was gifted with just the right amount of texture, seasoning, and tang to compliment the delicious artisanal flatbread.

Photo captured by EAC: Spanish Artichoke DipAnother favorite of mine and Alyson's (my guest) was the marinated rock shrimp with creamy polenta.

Photo captured by EAC: Marinated rock shrimp + polentaThe brilliant marriage of savory and sweet was found in the stone fruit topped with salty ham ribbons and burrata.  However, it was the roasted tomatoes crowned with herbed goat cheese that stole our hearts.

Photo captured by EAC: Roasted tomato halves + goat cheeseHaving fantasized about the restaurant's house-made pie since I had initially read the menu, the evening was without pizza due to an issue with the wood-burning oven.  We were so bummed!

Just as we were noshing on our third second helpings of hors d’oeuvres, the entertainment began!  With the sun setting on the horizon, an incredibly-talented fire performer utilized South Street Seaport - the restaurant's virtual "back yard" – as her personal stage.  Did I mention that there was also a juggler on stilts and a live DJ?

Photo captured by EAC: Live fire performance!The staff at Industry Kitchen was just as amazing as the delicious nibbles!  After initially being served by multiple waiters and passed trays, we became friendly with Matt and Pat, a dynamic duo who ended up serving us exclusively for the remainder of the eve.  Informative, accommodating, and personable, the mission of these stand-out employees was to make sure that we sampled the bar's full range (yes, I said full range) of cocktails!

Cocktail report card: Finding a drink that I enjoyed was on par with Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Some were too weak and lacking, others were convoluted and missed the mark, yet a few were just right...

CRIMSON & CLOVER

Grey Goose Vodka, Pomegranate, Lemon, Clover Honey Cordial

Report card grade: (B) A great, lighter summer option that I can picture myself enjoying while jamming to the hit single by Tommy James & The Shondells...

SHOES OPTIONAL

Avua Cachaca, El Bujo Mezcal, Aveze, Fresh Lemon Juice

Report card grade: (D) The only reason this cocktail didn’t get an F is because of the effort that was put in to it.  The earthiness of the mescal is completely convoluted by an ever-present Avèze.  Unfortunately, the minor tones of the lime juice and Cachaça aren’t enough to save the drink. Tip: The mixologist should get rid of the Avèze.  In this writer’s eyes, a good mescal need not be mixed -- and shouldn’t be!

BOURBON BERRY SMASH

Mitcher’s Bourbon Whiskey, St. Germaine Elderflower, Lemon, “Blackberry Stew”

Report card grade: (B+) Aside from missing the obvious alliteration of calling it the “Blast” or “Bash” (because of the smashed fruit), this is the ultimate summer drink!  Refreshing, cool, and lip-smacking good!  

SUNBURNT & SPICE

Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum, Bitter Truth Allspice Pimento Dram, Fresh Lemon & Lime Juice, Soda

Report card grade: (A) This drink breaks the internet bell curve and goes straight to the head of the class! It was my favorite for the complexity, subtle shifts in flavor, and diverse ingredients that don’t overwhelm.

SANGRIA DUO (RED AND WHITE)

Report card grade: (C-) My partner in crime, Alyson, said that sangrias were a miss.  I only sampled the white variety which, while very fruit forward, failed to deliver the necessary “punch” from the wine.  I’m going to chalk this up to a humid evening and a little too much extra melted ice.

 

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Alonso Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jul222015

(NYC) Reviewed: Spaghetti Incident

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Vanessa Shoman-Duell and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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Restaurant: Spaghetti Incident

  • Cuisine: Italian, pasta
  • Location: 231 Eldridge Street - New York, NY 10002
  • Pricing: All menu items under $12!
  • What's delicious: Bucatini in Kale Pesto, arancini
  • Perfect for: Grab'n go, mobile eats, girls' night out, first date

...

Last Wednesday evening, I attended a private tasting and official launch of Spaghetti Incident (Name sound familiar?  It was borrowed from the infamous Guns 'n' Roses album circa the 90's!), Emanuele Attala's latest culinary venture: Serving “mobile spaghetti” to the masses.  Yep, you heard me correctly: Pasta in a cone!  

With such a unique name and concept, I simply had to see what all the fuss was about!  I mean, have you ever heard of eating pasta in a cone?  Me neither...

Photo captured by: Vanessa Shoman-DuellReminiscent of one of my most treasured restaurants in Rome, Spaghetti Incident’s dramatic L-shaped bar wraps around the open kitchen, allowing guests to see the pasta chefs in action.  And speaking of the bar, a small selection of red, white, and rose wines are offered - in addition to beer.  With a glass of Montepulciano in hand, I was ready to sample the restaurant’s namesake pasta dishes!  Nine, to be exact. 

Photo captured by: Vanessa Shoman-DuellThe smell of fresh basil from the Bucatini in Kale Pesto was absolutely intoxicating and, by far, my favorite dish of the evening.  The Spaghetti alla Chitarra – noodles topped with a simple tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil - was precisely as one would find in Italy.  The third pasta I sampled was the Bucatini Trevigiala - a melange of salty pancetta, crunchy pine nuts, tangy radicchio, and a light cream sauce - which was exemplary and proved ideal for the Italian bacon connoisseur! 

Last but not least, the chef introduced his Sicilian-style arancini - also served in a cone - which are available in three different flavor combinations:  Green pea with mozzarella, beef ragu, and crab meat with fontina.

Spaghetti in a cone!Sicilian-style aranciniSpaghetti Incident is a true gem and makes for the ideal venue for a quick grab'n go treat, a girls' night out, or a first date.  Oh, and did I mention that nothing on the menu is over $12?  Whether you're in search of a delicious, mobile meal on-the-go - or are in the mood to sit down, relax, and enjoy one of the restaurant’s nine signature pasta dishes, salads, arancini, or a glass of wine/beer - this intimate trattoria will more than satisfy.

I will definitely return to Spaghetti Incident!  With its delicious and singular in-a-cone pasta, affable staff, and reasonable prices, I give it my highest recommendation!

...

Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jul082015

A behind-the-scenes recap: Wine Enthusiast Magazine's 100 Best Wine Restaurants in America (2015)

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Edgar Alonso Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

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For American wine drinkers who want to take the "bucket list” approach to their favorite vino-laden eateries, behold the Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants...

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloThe Wine Enthusiast 100 Best Restaurants list was celebrated last Tuesday at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Our hosts treated us to an exclusive pre-press panel which highlighted the current and ever-changing world of wine, plus their thoughts on the focus and future of the industry. The once (and future) king of wine restaurants is, of course, according to our panel of distinguished experts -- New York. Sommeliers old and new are flocking (back) to the megapolis to showcase their knowledge and flex their palates. Hand written lists are ever-more present as the conversation continues to widen and allow for a two-way dialogue from those skilled in their tastes, to the newcomer.

Jeff Porter, Beverage Operations Director of Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, gave us a lot to contemplate with his thoughts on wine. At home on a casual weeknight, Jeff is drinking Chablis, though he never turns down a rosé. “My mom, who lives in Dallas and has big hair, gobbles down rosé by the case -- and so do all her friends.” Rosés are favored this season, and the sommeliers have carefully crafted their wine lists with due diligence. The result: a magnificent experience that will favor a conversation between those with a skilled palate and the newcomer bravely seeking something new, fun, and full.

Another hot topic -- Vineyards are mixing red grapes and white grapes to make a less heavy red wine, says Lee Campbell, Wine Director of Reynard (at the Wythe Hotel). She also feels strongly about the new California movement. Campbell, who grew up in the Hudson Valley, wishes she could find more to be excited about in NY state, but she’s not. Other regions hot on her radar -- “Recently, everyone was talking about Georgia (the country).” She also recently went to Moravia, Czech Republic to experience the beginning of a new tradition, a thing of beauty. “Our job in terms of editing, is HUGE," she claims. The wine list that is too heavily populated is like the last lifeboat on the Titanic. It is the job of the sommelier to prevent the inundation that will cause certain failure.

“Show me something delicious…ask the right questions. Increase the flow of information that the consumer is getting, and get them engaged. As the sommelier: be comfortable. We want you to feel confidence, let's tell a story, and let the consumer be a part of it.” Adds Jeff Porter, "Chefs are more in-tune to wine than ever before -- having chefs who are engaged is key.”

From the Lone Star State to Brooklyn and back to the California coast, there is a desire to expand beyond the traditional. The ability for the consumer to learn and join the conversation has allowed for an increase of the number of skilled sommeliers. For chefs, being in the front of house is unique; the synergy between this area and the kitchen is being recognized and respected by all involved. 

~~~

After the presentation by our esteemed panel, we were treated to a reception fit for a king-- If a king likes hand-shaken - and stirred - signature cocktails (courtesy of Meletti and Brinley Gold Shipwreck Rum), lobster sliders, cured meats, and especially carefully-selected cheeses that paired ever so harmoniously with the wines being served. While mingling, guests were also provided with passed hors d'oeuvres - from foie gras to chicken kebabs - all while following the room down to the courtyard that featured the awards.

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso Castillo

Photo courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloPhoto courtesy of: Edgar Alonso CastilloWhile browsing between the tables of awards, I observed the wide array of contenders who have persevered and stand out among their peers nationwide. The up-and-coming cities that Lee Campbell is really interested in: Durham, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Austin, Minneapolis.

The future of wine is fruitful, bountiful, and bold. The American palate is quickly changing, thankfully, in large part, to the ever-expanding social media centered around the industry. By following five to ten sommeliers such as these on the panel, you can quickly pick up the guidelines and structure that will allow you to begin the conversation with the correct and appropriate vocabulary.

Till your next pour, Cheers!

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Alonso Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Jun302015

Calling all oyster fanatics in Boston, NYC, and San Francsico...!

*This event and article were attended/captured/photographed by Jean Hsu and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle*

Picture it: Last Thursday eve, the ultra-exclusive 20th floor of the Hotel on Rivington was abuzz with free-flowing rose wine and freshly-shucked oysters.  What could possibly be more fitting for the launch celebration of Pearl, an oyster app?   

Photo credit: Jean Hsu

What's so cool about the Pearl app is that it can help shape your repertoire and oyster-ordering experience with an alphabetical catalogue of (oyster) names, plus where they're from, and "laymen" keywords to describe the way they taste.  At least for me, oysters are like wine in the fact that they acquire their distinct flavor directly from the environment(s) in which they hail: While I love my West Coast wines (shout out to Napa!), I prefer oysters from the East, due to their brininess and higher salinity content.

Oyster index!With the Pearl app's user-friendly navigation, there are so many fantastic features!  A few, for example: You can like/unlike oysters (a great record-keeper for future reference), and find out which varieties your favorite restaurant is shucking that day!  How f'ing rad is that??

Which oysters is your favorite restaurant serving today?Pearl wasn't the only company launching a new product at last Thursday's soiree: Kevin Joseph, of NY Oyster Week and the founder of Empire Oyster, and Chef Rob McCue introduced Spirited Pearl, which are beautiful liquor-filled (tequila, vodka, whiskey, etc) spheres used as oyster-topping accoutrements.  As you slurp, each "pearl" bursts with the intense flavor of its respective spirit, thus enhancing the mollusk's natural merroir.  My favorite?  The gin Spirited Pearl (as seen in the photo, below)!

(Photo credit: Jean Hsu) A gin Spirited PearlWhat does the future look like for Pearl?  Founder, Sam Asher, sees his company eventually expanding to include a broader range of seafood.  And meat!  He wants to be able to connect people to the specific foods they are seeking - and help lead the consumer/end-user to restaurants that are proud to feature these unique products in their kitchens!  Truly, a symbiotic relationship.

(Photo credit: Jean Hsu) Sam Ash, founder of PearlIn a world with so many processed and unnatural products in our foods, it is nice to know that there is a focus and a future for oysters - nature's true "farm to table" food.  Each mollusk is a precious vessel carrying the flavors of its waters within.  I find it incredible that one can experience the flavors of the New Zealand's Kaipara Harbour at a restaurant located merely blocks from their West Village apartment! 

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Until we eat again,

Jean Hsu for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Mar272013

The Big Cheesy: Contest winner, Danielle's, recap

Please enjoy "The Big Cheesy" contest winner, Danielle's, fabulous recap from, what sounded like, a very delicious weekend event!

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The scene at Openhouse Gallery on Mulberry Street this weekend was, in a word, heaven. From the moment I walked in and a random girl in a leather jacket offered me a Tums “just in case,” I knew that the next hour of my life would certainly be unforgettable.

“The Big Cheesy,” as its called, is a competition among seven of the most notorious cheese-grilling establishments in NYC. The contestants prepare bites of a signature grilled cheese offering (or two), and each guest is set loose to taste the sandwiches for one hour and cast a ballot.

I walked in to the stark white space and was handed a drink ticket and a Ping-Pong ball. I quickly redeemed my ticket for a “Crisp” from Brooklyn’s Sixpoint, and took a seat in the corner to wait for my round to begin.

As soon as it hit 3pm on the dot, my partner-in-hunger, Kathleen, and I quickly ran into the arena to get the lay of the land. Along the sides of the room were 7 small tables, each marked with bold signs hanging on the wall behind them. From left to right: 'wichcraft, Murray's Cheese Bar, Milk Truck, Say Cheese, Sons of Essex, Lucy's Whey and Melt Shop.

As anyone who knows me knows, my favorite grilled cheese in NYC is the Milk Truck Classic with spicy pickles, courtesy of the eponymous. As any true groupie would be, I was worried that Milk Truck’s submission wouldn’t meet my expectations, and that I would be gravely disappointed.

In dealing with this sandwich-induced anxiety, I decided to size up the competition before digging in. We walked around for a bit, until I ultimately decided to pick up the “Truffle Grilled Cheese” from Sons of Essex: Gruyere, goat cheese, parmigiano reggiano, sautéed mushrooms and baby arugula. This was an early favorite for me, though upon further review I decided that the truffle oil was a bit too overwhelming for my taste.

Kathleen opted for the “Bowery Bacon Crusted Melt” from the same table: Bacon crusted brioche, beemster, baby Swiss and white cheddar topped with a deep-red Manischewitz shallot jam. Again, an early favorite, but when we came back we both decided that the Manischewitz was better left on the Seder table.

I then quickly hopped over to Lucy's Whey where I grabbed an apple, cheddar and ham grilled cheese known to be “A sandwich as American as apple pie.” I should probably note here that I am trying to become a vegetarian, but that quickly went out the window. In any case, I did love the sharp cheddar/fromage blanc combo, but I thought that the sandwich as a whole wasn’t quite worthy of such a lofty title. I must say though, that Lucy was absolutely adorable - I would visit her little alcove in Chelsea Market just for a smile!

The line at Say Cheese was getting pretty long, so we pushed our way to the front. We both grabbed the dessert grilled cheese: nutella and mascarpone on graham cracker dusted bread, complete with a pipette of chocolate stuck in between the two pieces of bread. Now as much as I love all things chocolate and all things Nutella, how on earth could someone expect me to, in a crowded room full of people and holding both my bag and my jacket, navigate the “bite and squeeze” motion that I was hearing so much about? No matter, I’m still not sure I’m convinced that a melted Nutella sandwich really counts as a “grilled cheese.”

Say Cheese's savory offering was a French onion grilled cheese with Gruyere, Swiss and Parmesan on sourdough. As I had moved to the back of the pack, when the enthusiastic guy behind the counter shouted, “who wants French onion?” my timid “me!” was not quite enough to be heard. A bold neighbor of mine to the right pointed and shouted “SHE DOES!” at which point I’m sure half of the room turned around. With my head hung down to the ground, I went up to fetch this sandwich which I had gone through so much trouble to acquire, and after only two bites I thought was slightly too overwhelming. If I had a craving for a bowl of French onion soup, I would order it - not a sandwich.

As an aside, it was around this time that I overheard a very tall well-dressed man say, “Milk Truck…good reddens!” and I nearly punched him right then and there!

In order to escape the crowds, we journeyed over to 'wichcraft, which was towards the front of the room, and mob-less. Rightfully so, the aged fontina with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms was certainly not mob-worthy. Great bread though.

As the hour continued we noticed a lot of Ping-Pong balls being given to Melt Shop, so we wanted to see what the fuss was all about. I took one bite of the aged cheddar with bacon and cranberry onion chutney and immediately thought that it was trying too hard. The cranberry onion chutney was much too candied for my taste, but I can see how someone with more of a sweet tooth would have been intrigued.

We traversed the room and arrived at Murray's Cheese Bar where I was told that it would be “one minute for the perfect grilled cheese.” Obviously, I was skeptical. I was then asked about my plans to Instagram and Snapchat said “perfect grilled cheese” and was warned that I might want to stretch while I waited. Theatrics aside, Murray's “Classic Melt” with smoky tomato soup was, if nothing else, a pretty decent embodiment of what a “classic” grilled cheese should be. While I thought that the bread:cheese ratio was a little heavy on the former, I can’t resist Levain Pullman bread. The smoky tomato soup was nearly perfect, and I should admit that I had about six shots of it in my final twenty minutes. Ultimately, Kathleen cast her vote for Murray's, and we plan to stop by the Cheese Bar sometime soon.

Finally, it was time to try Milk Truck. The line was small and there were barely any Ping-Pong balls in the vase, so obviously my heart was beating out of my chest! Now let me tell you, my when I saw the word “blue,” my heart sank right on to the floor. If there is one kind of cheese I hate (well I also can’t stand Goat’s cheese) it is Blue cheese. Milk Truck was serving up the “Bacon Cheddar Blue:” thick sliced bacon, cheddar, blue cheese, caramelized onions and McClure’s Spicy Pickles (<33333) on rosemary Pullman bread. The thing about this sandwich was that I actually…loved it! Anyone than can make me love something that I hate definitely have some kind of magical grilled cheese-making powers.

After some careful deliberation, I quickly reached the conclusion that every sandwich in the room (except Murray's) had way overdone it. I wanted to judge based on which sandwich I could imagine eating in its entirety, but they all had such strong flavors that I was left remiss. I was also looking for consistency. If the taste of a sandwich changes within a span of ten minutes (as I found with Sons of Essex), then how can I honestly say that on any given day I could walk in to find the best grilled cheese in the Big Apple?

Ultimately, the look of despair on the adorable young hipster in the beanie behind the Milk Truck table became too much to bear, and I walked over and cast my ballot. He humored me with some “wooing” and clanging of spatulas, but my having decided on a solid favorite mostly satisfied me.

I later found out that Melt Shop took home the grand prize for the second year in a row, and I can’t say that I’m surprised. While I was in search of a sandwich that was “traditional, original and simple – just like me!” I can imagine that most people in the crowd were looking for something with a little more oomph and innovation. Say Cheese took some second place, likely thanks to the culinary genius of Ferrero, and Sons of Essex was a solid third.

In all, on a day full of excitement, uncertainty, and approximately 2340238 calories, I was more than happy to stand by the crew who has made me countless unforgettable classic sandwiches and one unforgettable Bacon Cheddar Blue.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle...& Danielle

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