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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Entries in Restaurant reviews (289)


(NYC) Partying like a co-ed at Senor Frog's

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.**

Recently, a select group of New York’s most fabulous 20 and 30 something's were invited to partake in a “fiesta” at Senor Frog's New York.  Beyond the date, time, and address, details about the event were mum...

Prior to the festivities, I scoured the web to confirm that Senor Frog's was, in fact, a Mexican restaurant.  Well, it's not.  Save for the chips and salsa/guac/queso selections - plus a random scattering of Mexican-inspired salads and entrees - the menu is chock-full of Americanized stuff like chicken wings, sliders, BBQ ribs, and Philly cheesesteak.  So, if you can get over the fact that the word Senor means nothing in terms of the type of cuisine that is actually served, then you’ll be alright.  Alternatively, if you're someone (ahem, like me) who can't leave their expectations at the door, then you'll just have to keep reminding yourself that Senor Frog's is *not* a Mexican restaurant.

The Food:

The centerpiece of the fiesta was a ho-hum chips-and-dips station: The salsa was sweet and marinara sauce-esque - nothing remotely close to savory - and certainly not even close to being spicy enough for this guy.  Likewise, the guacamole was runny and heavy-handed with the lime juice.  Proper guac should be chunky and not drip down your arm as you bring the chip closer to your mouth.  At Senor Frog's, this dip relies too heavily on its lack of additions (tomato, onion, garlic) and, ultimately, fails.  In my opinion, the restaurant also missed a golden opportunity for a nacho bar (cheese fountain, anyone?!).

The passed appetizers included mini quesadillas, popcorn, and flautas.   The chicken flauta was so small that I couldn't even tell if there was even any chicken involved!  The fish flauta, on the other hand, was unexpectedly tasty and delicious!  Who'd have thought?

Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap.  I repeat: Senor Frog's has margaritas on tap!!!  The salt-rimmed glasses in which the beverage was served helped to juxtapose the sweetness; this especially came in handy with the much more cloying - but equally tasty - frozen margarita.

With all of the savories, I was pleased when I saw the mini churros slowly making their way via passed tray.  While the yummy flavor was there ("fried," cinnamon, sugar), they were slightly overcooked.

For dessert part deux, we were treated to an 'ice cream conga line light show,' in which the staff paraded through the restaurant and performed prior to presenting us with individual ice cream stations (in the shape of a “mini truck”).  As wacky and far out as this probably sounds, it was nothing short of fun; very nostalgic and reminiscent of my days at summer camp and childhood friend’s birthday parties. 

The Fiesta:

Upon looking around, I noticed that the dining room was packed with some of the most fun 20-and-30-something's in the city (...So, how’d they get my name?)!  Moreover, the ceiling space was slowly filling up with artisanal helium accessories.  Scattered throughout Senor Frog's were a couple of balloon artists who provided guests with whatever designs their hearts desired!  Naturally, I asked for a sombrero.  Let's just say that my balloon artist delivered in a big way!

The Fat Jew!My guest, Eddie, and I began to discuss how this whole experience felt like a spring break trip during college!  To quote a fellow attendee - and new friend - Elliott, “My favorite part was just how much fun everyone was having.  I don’t think any of us were expecting it.  We entered some sort of time warp, and were transported back to high school/college spring break.  Like anything goes!  Pretty special when you think about it.”  More importantly, Elliott shared our grievances about a missing cheese component at the chips-and-dips station.


Ultimately, showmanship eclipsed over the cuisine, which wasn't entirely shocking.  But, damn, did we have a good time!


Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Reviewed: Angus Club Steakhouse

*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.**

Restaurant: Angus Club Steakhouse

  • Cuisine: Steakhouse
  • Location: 135 E. 55th Street - NYC 10020  
  • Pricing: $$$
  • What's delicious: Steak fries, cocktails
  • Perfect for: Date night, small group dining


From NYC to Argentina (and, literally, everywhere in between) I've been to more than my fair share of steakhouses.  As an avid carnivore, you can imagine the anticipation and excitement I felt leading up to my inaugural visit to Angus Club Steakhouse, a beef-centric restaurant located in the Midtown East neighborhood of Manhattan.  

Housed in a bi-level space, Angus Club boasts a dining room and bar on each level: The lower floor is best suited for the evening with its stunning, dimly-lit atmosphere, generous table spacing, and handsome, "classic NY" appointments (sleek hardwood flooring, leather chairs, crisp white tablecloths).  Upstairs evoked more of a "lunch time" vibe, perhaps for the sole fact that it was brighter.

Dining room: Photo courtesy of Angus ClubUpon arrival, my guest and I were greeted by Dino (the owner) who, en-route to our lovely first floor table, told us a bit about his gorgeous restaurant.  "Angus Club separates itself by approaching some steakhouse classics differently.  Our creamed spinach, for example, is prepared with just a touch of cream," he noted.  "We also pride ourselves on seafood." 

Clink!  My guest and I toasted to our evening with perfectly-crafted dirty martinis that were finished with my favorite accoutrement: Blue cheese-stuffed olives!

Dirty martiniFor appetizers, we chose to split the Crab Cake and the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  While the presentation was attractive and colorful, I found the 'cake to be a bit bland and lacking in flavor.  The shrimp, on the other hand, were perfect and delicious.  There was a "snap" with each bite, which confirmed their freshness and quality.  A steakhouse classic!

Pan-seared Crab CakeJumbo Shrimp CocktailFor entrees, my guest and I thought it would be best to split the restaurant's highly-recommended Porterhouse steak.  For those of you unfamiliar with the theatrical presentation of this cut of beef, imagine when you're at a Mexican restaurant and order the fajitas.  Not only can you smell their approach from like 20-feet away, the sizzle wafting from the hot griddle pan causes guests at neighboring tables to pause their conversations and visually follow the fragrant steam train that's quickly approaching your place mat.

Well, very much unlike the fajita service at your local Mexican joint, it is traditional and customary for your waiter to serve each steakhouse guest their first slices of the Porterhouse!  Fancy, eh?

PorterhouseAfter our server placed two slices of the sirloin portion (of the Porterhouse) and one piece of the filet atop our plates, he made a "hold on just a second" hand gesture as we reached for our knives and forks.  "Et voila," he said, as he simultaneously poured some of the rendered drippings over our meat.  To accompany, we ordered a side of Creamed Spinach and Steak Fries.

To my utter shock, I found the sirloin cut - not the filet - to be the better of the two!  Despite the marbling, the filet was lacking in inherent flavor. 

While we found the meat lackluster, the sides were brilliant.  The less-cream Creamed Spinach tasted much cleaner and spinach-y, with a subtle hint of garlic.  Quite the opposite from every other steakhouse's version (a white, wiggly glob with a few green bits)!  And those Steak Fries!  My goodness, they must have been twice - maybe thrice - cooked!  Crispy and hot, with just the right amount of salt, I would return for these, alone!  They were, hands down, the best part of the meal.

With a bit of room left in our bellies, my guest and I split two desserts: Creme Brûlée and the Key Lime Tart.  While neither was exemplary, we preferred the brûlée to the tart.

Creme BrûléeKey Lime Tart


Until we eat again,

Vanessa Shoman-Duell for The Lunch Belle


(NYC) Reviewed: Dosai is "Curry Row's" newest South Indian gem 

*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: Dosai

  • Cuisine: Indian (vegetarian and kosher)
  • Location: 104 Lexington Avenue - NYC 10016  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Every. Single. Thing.
  • Perfect for: Neighborhood gem - vegetarians - kosher dining - Indian food lovers who want to explore Southern cuisine (Tamil Nadu region)


Aside from being one of the most hospitable, humble, and kind folks you could ever meet, Hemant Mathur (owner of Dosai, the newest gem to land on NYC's "Curry Row") is an incredibly well known Michelin starred-chef and local restaurateur.  If you're at all familiar with the Indian dining scene in NYC, then I'm willing to bet that at least one of the six establishments he co-owns is in your queue of favorites: Chola, Kokum, Chote Nawab, Dhaba, Malai Marke & Haldi.

Upon my arrival to Dosai, I was positively taken by the space's modern, urban-chic decor.  I found it unique; not for NYC, obviously, but in contrast to the restaurant's neighboring competitors who have a more, shall we say, traditionally Indian aesthetic. 

Within seconds of placing my napkin in my lap, Chef Mathur arrived at the table and went over the attractive and ample menu.  "So...what can I get for you, my dear?"  I instructed him that I was willingly at his mercy and that he could select some of his favorite dishes.

Upon first sip of the Mango Lassi, both my insatiable sweet tooth and hunger pangs were shockingly squashed.  I mean, I knew that I was literally drinking yogurt, but I didn't realize how incredibly filling it was!  The lassi was so delicious, however, that I could not stop sipping.  Full stomach be damned!

Mango LassisThe first nibble to arrive was the Fried Idli.  "Idli" is a small, savory cake that is made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice; it is served as a traditional breakfast in South Indian households.  At Dosai, leftover idli is cut in to bite-sized pieces and fried.  Trust me when I say that these little nuggets are as addicting as potato chips.  "Bet you can't eat just one!"

Fried IdliIf there's any way to make eating your vegetables more pleasant, then it's obviously to consume them fried - laden with cheese - or served alongside a bowl of ranch dressing.  In the case of Dosai's Lasoni Gobi, cauliflower florets are dredged in rice flour before taking a dip in the deep fryer.  The result is an unctuous, crunchy exterior that gives way to an incredibly moist and tender interior.  While I cannot pinpoint the components of the sauce that the florets were tossed within, there was an undeniable sweet and sour tang, plus a mysterious, spicy kick.  

Lasoni GobiBetween the delicious mango lassi and the fried nibbles, I was almost at my stomach's consumption limit!  However, I couldn't come to a restaurant that specializes in "dosas" (a fermented crepe made from rice batter and black lentils) without sampling a damn dosa!  Right?  Right.

I was presented with the Paper Malai Dosai, a long, crispy dosa (a fermented crepe made from rice batter and black lentils) liberally stuffed with warm, coriander-kissed potatoes and served with four unique dipping sauces.

Paper Malai DosaiBy this point in the meal, I assumed that I would be questioned as to whether or not I wanted dessert.  After my "come to Jesus" that I was too stuffed to even take another sip of water, I scanned the room for my server to ask for the check.  Before I could catch his eye, Chef reappeared from the kitchen and presented me with a bowl of Payasam, broken semolina wheat that is boiled in reduced sweetened milk and flavored with cardamom, fried vermicelli noodles, raisins, and cashew nuts.  A truly sweet ending to an incredibly delicious meal!



Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle


(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


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.


Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande 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