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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City dining scene through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

For those of you who enjoy highly thorough and traditional restaurant reviews, you may find them located here.  Pressed for time?  Take a peek at The Weekly Eater, where I condense seven days in to one summarized post.

But that's not all!  Additionally, I...

  • ~ For tourists, I can help you create itineraries and answer any questions you may have/offer advice for your upcoming visit to NYC.
  • ~ I can consult and/or advise on all of your small and large events.
  • ~ I will assist you with restaurant recommendations.

 

Just consider me your one-stop NYC-shop!

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Entries in News you can actually use (75)

Tuesday
Jul022013

Because, aside from eating well, you also like to look hot: Let's talk about Botox/Juviderm/fillers, baby!

So go ahead and admit it, Lil' Miss Perfect:  You've either been injected or have seriously considered going "under the needle."  No way, you say?  Psssh.  You're fcuking lying!

I went "under the needle" for the first time in 2011.  In - where else - Los Angeles.   After receiving Botox in my forehead/brows, Juviderm in my smile lines, and some lip-filler...I felt like a new woman.  Well, it actually took a few days for everything to "set in."  In fact, 4-5 days post injection, I can tell you this:  It sure as hell wouldn't have been my forehead/eyebrows revealing any sign of happiness/surprise had you told me that I'd just won the lottery.  While my lips didn't look all that different, I simply could not get over my "semi-frozen forehead." 

Although treatments wear off after 4-8 months, it took me about a year to finally find a fabulous NYC-based dermatologist who specializes in "injectables."  I don't trust this face to just anybody.  And you shouldn't, either!  Last week, my friend, Victoria, had a "Botox/filler party" at her doctor's office.  Prices-per-syringe were being offered at such a fantastic discount that I would have been an a-hole to say no.  Plus, it had been 5-months since my last round of injections.  I felt a bit guilty "cheating" on my dermatologist but, at the end of the day, I'm all about saving a buck (or a few hundred).  Sorry Doc!

I was up in the air as to whether I should get filler in my top lip.  Why?  Go ahead and give the outermost portion of your pout the tiniest pinch.  Now, tell me about the tears that just rolled down your face and the "ouch" that you belted out, simultaneously.  Imagine that happening multiple times.  It wasn't until I learned that Victoria's doctor numbed the mouth prior to injection that I decided to proceed with lip filler.  "Hell yah," I exclaimed.  "Bring it on!"   So, after receiving approximately six novocaine shots in my gums, my lips were well on their way to looking a bit more like Taylor Armstrong Anjelina Jolie's.  "Wow," the doctor said.  "You're a bleeder!"  After informing her that I had been taking multiple doses of Advil for a back ache, she suggested that, next time around, I refrain from blood-thinning pain relievers for at least two days prior to treatment.  "Oh," I sighed.  "Really?"  She also suggested that I begin taking "Arnica" right away.  "It's over-the-counter and you can buy it at health food stores.  It will help with bruising and swelling," she said.  "I can tell that you're a sweller!"  Great.  Just fcuking great.

Post-party, some friends and I went to grab drinks at Bond St.  I figured that the Arnica could wait.  Mama needed a drink!  I mean, it's not like I got that swollen or bruised the first time I went "under the needle"...

I woke up around 1am to grab some water.  While walking back to my bedroom, I decided to take a peak at my sexy new pout.  Gasp!  My top lip made Taylor Armstrong's look like Garth's (from Wayne's World)!  I had a huge black bruise on the underside of my lip and a couple of bruises on either side of my mouth.  "This is probably just a nightmare," I told myself, while crawling back in to bed. 

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!When I was growing up, my mom always told me and my sister that most people were too focused on themselves to notice anything different/new on, with, or about us.  "It takes a 20 lb. weight loss for anyone to notice.  You may feel different after 5-10 lbs., but no one will be able to tell until 20.  Trust me," she would say.  So, despite the fact that I felt like Taylor Armstrong - I hate to say it but, post-ass whipping - I was trained to believe that no one would notice my upper "duck lip" or surrounding bruises.  "Remember, no one cares about anyone but themselves."  Right, Mom...

My boss was the first to comment.  And point.  "What happened there?"  And then my cubicle mate.  Followed by two of my girlfriends who sit nearby.  "You got all Kim'd up, girl," Reetu exclaimed.  I reasoned that people were either completely obsessed with me, or that my mom could not have been any further from the truth when she told us that no one would ever notice anything.  I'm going to go with the latter on this one.  Sigh.  

So, I decided that after - having to wear more makeup than Michael Jackson to cover-up my bruises - having to cancel all of my post-work social plans - not being able to look people in the eye/keeping my head lowered, that I would turn my personal martyrdom in to some key words of advice for those of you "injectable virgins" out there.  Oh, and one more thing, I'd like to say that my unfortunate turn of "black and blue" events is of NO fault of the doctor.  Now, back to my words of advice:

  • If you are getting lip filler, make sure to find out beforehand if the doctor will numb your mouth area prior to injection.  This is a must!  Otherwise, the pain will be excruciating!
  • Unless you can/want to craft a cool story about winning a street fight/mugging, do NOT snag a mid-week appointment.  It's like a dear friend said to me after-the-fact, "Dude.  Everyone knows that you get Bobo (Botox) done on a Friday after work!  That way you have the weekend to recover."     
  • TMI alert:  Ladies, do NOT schedule your appointment the week prior or during your monthly cycle.  Blood-thinning pain relievers contribute to swelling and bruising.  'Nuff said.
  • And, speaking of bruising, make sure to visit a health food store and pick up some Arnica.  Begin taking the pills on the day of your treatment - prior to your treatment.  Continue as needed.
  • Do not press or squeeze or manipulate the treated area(s).  Leave your damn face alone!!  Not only are your hands filthy, but pressure can actually move the product to an undesired location and make you look droopy and stupid.
  • The verdict is out on ice compresses post-treatment.  I will leave that decision up to you and your doctor.

Do you have any good/funny "Bobo" stories?  I'd love to hear them.  And if you'd like some doctor referrals, I'm happy to send them your way. 

~~~

Until we inject again,

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!

...

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

Friday
Jan252013

Bringing "sexy" back to the salad

Do you hate to eat salads because the sheer act of doing so is messy, awkward, and unattractive?  Have you noticed that, unless you have the luxury of ordering/preparing it "chopped," each forkful is too big for your mouth (see photo of Mike Tyson, below)?  Well, I have the perfect solution:  Chopsticks.  Obviously, you're not going to bring a pair with you to a restaurant, but keep some disposable sets in your desk at work and your kitchen at home.  Doing so will make feasting on your daily greens much easier and incredibly more enjoyable.  And, not to mention, way sexier for the poor fools who, god forbid, have to watch you eat.  

Trust me, put this practice to use and you'll thank me later. 

So. Not. Cute.~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jan252013

Reviewed: Gilbert Gottfried's "The Diet Show"

For someone who has the attention span of a fruit fly, you can only imagine how well I do at theater productions, movies, concerts, etc.  After about 15-minutes, I get bored and antsy.  Restless leg syndrome sets in and I find myself anxiously taking turns glancing between the exit door and my watch... 

Toward the end of 2012, I was invited to view "The Diet Show," Gilbert Gottfried, Sean Pomper, and Karen Katz's comedy production starring past winners, finalists and contestants of the hit TV show, The Biggest Loser.  Now, under any other circumstance, I wouldn't have even opened this email pitch had the word "Diet" not caught my eye.  After reading the press release, however, I did something very out of character:  I RSVP'd with a whole-hearted "YES!"  Because, aside from the fact that I'm obsessed with the digital number on the scale, for much of my life, I've not-so-proudly worn the "diet whore" crown.  So it's without even saying that I have a soft spot for anyone who struggles with their weight and appearance.

On Saturday night, I met my friend, Nicole, at Stage 72 for the 7pm performance of The Diet Show.  The first thing that stood out was the small, intimate theater space - located above a Turkish restaurant - that boasted ornate detail and dark, gothic colors (think red, black, gold). 

Photo by Stage 72As we filed in to the theater, an employee noted that there was a 2-drink minimum per person.  While that "rule" may annoy some, I was thrilled to hear that a) there was alcohol, and b) there was table-service! 

Nicole and I scored a great front-row seat.  Just as we received our cocktails - some chocolate-y martini thing for her, and a margarita for me - the lights began to dim.  Show time!

The production was incredibly entertaining, hysterical, and tear-jerking.  All at the same time.  Imagine, if you will, eleven personal, heartfelt monologues given by former winners and contestants of The Biggest Loser.  Not once did I look down at my watch...or yawn.  Instead, I laughed.  I nodded my head many times, both in agreement and in that sympathetic "I've been there before, too."  And I bawled.  The cast spoke about everything from food addiction, working out, and looking death in the eye to always making it a point to poke fun at themselves before anyone else could have the opportunity.  Pretty heavy stuff.  Especially when you, too, have been there.

I would recommend this show to anyone who appreciates a solid comedy routine and, on the serious side of things, has ever struggled with weight, dieting, poor self esteem, food addiction, etc.  Hey, isn't that almost all of us?  

For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Jan112013

WWJD? Certainly, not this.

Nothing chaps my hide worse than a bigot.  And, for some reason, especially bigots in the "Bible Belt."  Perhaps it's because I've fallen victim to "Bible Belt Bigotry," myself.  In any case, check out this ridiculous letter that a restaurant owner handed to a lesbian couple upon exiting his establishment (click on the photo to read the full article):

Source: WCTI12

Seriously?  Gag me.  Because if Jesus was as awesome of a dude as history shows, he wouldn't hate on gay folk.  Not then.  And, certainly, not now. 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Oct092012

Hong Kong by way of Queens: A journey to Flushing's Chinatown

It happens about every 2-months.  I get this overwhelming urge to escape.  An itch, if you will, to break free from the never-ending crowds in the streets - the nauseating, ear drum-piercing horns and ambulance sirens - that uber-narcissistic, "me, me, me" girlfriend that you just want to punch (Oh, come on, we alllllll have at least one of those!) - dating drama - emails that I need to respond to - and all of my other petty, "white people problems" grievances.  

Question:  How much physical distance do you think it takes to really feel as though you've escaped?  Trust me, it's much less than you think.  Are you ready?  The answer is - wait for it -  just about 11 miles!

On Saturday afternoon, I had lunch plans with one of my most loyal readers and her boyfriend.  After going back and forth over cuisine options and neighborhoods, we unanimously decided to head to Flushing's Chinatown (Queens).  Why leave the borough for Chinese food, you ask?  Well, because a) I had never been to Flushing's famous Chinatown (How fcuking embarrassing is that?), b) it's the second-largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and c) I'm obsessed with Chinese food.

We secured a legit parking spot close to the Queens Botanical Garden and walked up Flushing's Main Street.  The first businesses we passed along the way were Middle Eastern.  From shop windows showcasing brightly colored saris, to markets carrying a bountiful array of fragrant spices and exotic ingredients, it was like Christmas morning for my eyes and nose.  I even picked up a Pakistani newspaper (...so that I could later view its restaurant listings).

As Arabic writing on shops and restaurants slowly morphed in to Mandarin, we found ourselves in the heart of Flushing's Chinatown.  My first observation was how much more civilized, clean, and spacious it felt compared to Manhattan's Chinatown.  More notable, however, was the fact that there was room - and air - to breathe.  People were not packed in the streets - or the shops - or restaurants like sardines.  And, speaking of sardines, the air did not reek of dead fish. 

As we made our way further up Main Street, we found ourselves chatting with a pair of teens who recommended that we dine at "the place with the long line...by the restaurant with the green awning."  So, armed with that information, we hooked a left, followed by a sharp right on to Prince Street, and grabbed three seats at a communal dining table at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao.

We ordered with the mindset that we would be "restaurant hopping."  Obviously, we wanted to taste offerings from as many establishments as our stomachs would allow.  But, you know, it's a funny thing:  Whenever I order dishes at a Chinese restaurant, my eyes always end up being much bigger than my stomach.  Moderation, in any sense of the word, is just not something I have mastered...

Pork & Vegetable Wonton in Casserole  While I'm not quite sure what they mean by "casserole," the wontons were served over a delightfully thick, peanut-based soy sauce.  Perhaps "casserole" is intended to mean "thick" or "abundant?"  Who knows.  I could tell that the wontons had been assembled onsite, as the wrappers were slightly gummy and glutinous, and not pristinely packaged (which is a key observance in trying to decipher whether or not a wonton/dumpling is homemade).

The pork filling was dotted with green flecks, which indicated the presence of either chives or spinach/greens.

Scallion pancakes  Buttery and crisp on the outside - soft and doughy on the inside - these savory, scallion-flecked pancakes really hit the spot.  Especially since just moments prior, in a fit of gluttonous haze/rage, I purchased a scallion pancake from a street vendor that was beyond bland.

Xiao Long Bao (pork soup dumplings)  How could we possibly go to a restaurant - with "Xiao Long Bao" in its lengthy name - and not sample its namesake dish?  Served atop a cabbage leaf were six piping-hot pork soup dumplings.  I was certainly impressed by the thinner dough/skin exterior, as most dumplings I've had in the US are too thick and gummy.  While the interior pork meatball was tasty, I found its surrounding soup to be utterly flavorless. 

My idea of the perfect soup dumpling is one where the accompanying soy/vinegar sauce is not necessary for a flavor transformation - only a flavor accentuation.  To this day, no one does it better than my beloved Din Tai Fung.

First bite!It's what's on the inside that counts -After what we thought was round one of our restaurant-hopping tour, we headed to Jmart in the New World Mall.  Imagine, if you will, 30,000 square feet of pan-Asian grocery-shopping heaven.  I awed beautiful, magenta-colored dragon fruit, sampled even more scallion pancakes, spotted an overly-crowded eel tank (I find eels to be quite fascinating creatures), and watched - in my Western-hemisphere horror - as live frogs got their heads chopped off at the butcher's counter.  It was a feast for every one of my "vanilla" senses! 

Our next stop was at Fay Da Bakery, so that I could get my bubble-tea fix.  The woman behind the counter insisted that I try taro-flavored tea, "smoothie" style.  This just meant that the tea was blended with ice before being combined with tapioca "bubbles."  And, she was right - it was delish!  For those of you who don't know, the black dots in the photo, below, are the tapioca "bubbles!"

Midway through my tea inhalation, I realized that there was no way in hell I could fit another thing in my stomach.  So, in an effort to solely pay our respects, we took a quick stroll through the Golden Shopping Mall, where Xiang Famous Foods, the stall that Anthony Bourdain made famous on his No Reservations episode in NYC, was born.

On the drive back to Manhattan, I couldn't believe how refreshed and renewed - and uncomfortably full - I felt.  If only for a couple of hours, I was able to completely immerse myself in Flushing Chinatown's myriad of deliciously affordable and fascinating sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.  One of my favorite occurrences that happened repeatedly throughout the day were the low-flying, LaGuardia-bound airplanes landing ridiculously close to where I was standing.  Oh, how I wish that I could have just propped myself atop the roof of a car - a-la-Wayne's World - and gawked as the jets touched down at the airport...

If you've not yet been to Flushing's Chinatown, I highly recommend making the 11-mile journey.  I cannot think of a better, more affordable way to feel transported to another hemisphere.  To forget, if only for a few hours, all of the bullshit that weighs you down just across the East River.  To immerse and educate yourself in new cuisines, shopping experiences, and languages.  Flushing has inspired me to seek out more cultural pockets across all five of these fabulous boroughs.  After all, it is this multitude of diversity that attracted me to New York City in the first place.  Shame on me for not having experienced this neighborhood sooner.

...

Places I visited/recommend:

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (restaurant) - 38-12 Prince Street - Flushing, NY 11354 - *cash only*

Jmart (pan-Asian grocery store) - 136-20 Roosevelt Avenue - Flushing, NY 11354

Fay Da Bakery (bubble tea, bakery items) - 41-60 Main Street - Flushing, NY 11354 - *cash only*

Golden Shopping Mall (food stalls, small stores - this is where you will also find the original location of Xiang Famous Foods) - 41-28 Main Street - Flushing, NY 11355

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle