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Entries in Restaurant reviews (297)


The Best Menu Items At: Hwa Yuan

In my series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Hwa Yuan

  • Cuisine: Chinese (Szechuan)
  • Location: 42 East Broadway - Manhattan 10002  
  • Pricing: $$-$$$
  • Reservations? Yes, via Resy
  • Why go? Chef Tang's famous Cold Sesame Noodles / Clean, opulent and spacious atmosphere perfect for large groups or an event


Comprised of three spacious and plush levels, Hwa Yuan has made quite a splash in its recent return to Chinatown (post closure in the 1980's).  And no trip to the restaurant would be complete without at least one order of its piece de resistance: Chef Tang's famous Cold Sesame Noodles.

Fresh and chewy Chinese egg noodles are lightly tossed with and served atop a shallow pool of a mysteriously delicious sauce that tickles each of the five basic tastes: Sweetness (ginger, sugar, sesame and, perhaps, peanut butter), sourness (tangy, a hint of vinegar), bitterness (subtle heat from chili paste), savoriness (soy sauce, sesame oil, and a mother-load of umami), and saltiness (soy sauce).  

Cold Sesame Noodles 

Oodles of Cold Sesame Noodles! 

While my dining partner, Natallia, and I ordered other dishes, as well (Xiao Long Bao, Dry Sauteed Tangy Crispy Beef, and the Traditional Taiwan Style Rice), none were as outstanding as the Cold Sesame Noodles. 

Chef Tang (Shorty, the original chef's son) enthusiastically made his way around the first floor dining room, swimmingly interacting and engaging with diners.  He even took Natallia and I on a tour of each of the three levels, including the banquet rooms, kitchen, and the walk-in refrigerator!  I wish him/his business partners and fellow employees all of the success in the world.  I, for one, look forward to returning in the near future for my noodle-fix and to sample the prized Beijing Duck.


Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle


The Best Menu Items At: Lucciola

In my series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Lucciola

  • Cuisine: Italian (Bologna region)
  • Location: 621 Amsterdam Avenue - Manhattan 10024  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations? Yes, via phone or email (212-874-7774 or info@lucciolanyc.com)
  • Why go? Best lasagna in NYC / Authentic / Delicious and affordable


Located just about as far north as I'm willing to venture on a "school night," Lucciola is the Upper West Side's newest (less than one-month old) Italian with a full bar and a hip, European vibe.    

While I will refrain from getting too detailed on the slow (albeit friendly) service this early in the game, I will give you a few tips should you wish to visit Lucciola in its infancy:

  • Have at least two hours of time to kill on your calendar.  Think molasses, folks!  Slow. As. Molasses.
  • Patience is a virtue.
  • If you have specific menu questions, sometimes it helps to ask more than one employee.  The correct answer may not be the first one you hear!

Are you freaked out yet?  Don't be. 

Let's not get it twisted: I knew EXACTLY what I was walking in to by dining at Lucciola on its fourth night in business.  And I dragged two of my most sophisticated girlfriends along!  Then why, you ask, would I set myself up for an evening of choppy service so far away from home?  Because the lasagna is, quite literally, to die for.  And every bit destination-worthy.  That's why.  Having attended the restaurant's pre-opening "tasting" event, I fell in love with the homemade pasta and could not return soon enough.

Authentic Bolognese lasagnaY'all know that I have been around the block and back.  A few times.  And this is, hands down and by far the best fricking lasagna on the map (at least the map of the United States).  First of all, the pasta noodles are MUCH more delicate and thin (as compared to the dry, pre-packaged crap you buy at the grocery store); second, you can literally taste the amount of 'simmer-hours' that went in to the Bolognese sauce which seductively envelopes each savory layer; lastly, the cheese is virtually molten in texture, not dry and clumpy like commercial ricotta.  In summary: Lucciola's lasagna is transporting and positively life-altering. 

...and if it's still on the menu (not sure of the seasonality/menu changes since I was last there), do NOT miss the Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Gnocchi.  It's yet another one of Lucciola's 'must order' dishes.

Pumpkin & Gorgonzola Gnocchi~~~

Until we eat again

The Lunch Belle 


The best menu items at: Gazala's Place

In my newest series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Gazala's Place

  • Cuisine: Druse (Middle Eastern)
  • Location: 709 9th Avenue - Manhattan 10019  
  • Pricing: $$
  • Reservations?  Yes, click here
  • Why go?  BYOB / Authentic / Delicious and affordable


There's no liquor license and the dining room definitely leans toward the "intimate size" of the stereotypically small NYC real estate spectrum, but you don't go to Gazala's Place for the atmosphere or the craft cocktails.  Rather, you come here for the incredibly delicious, authentic Druse cuisine, which could best be described as Middle Eastern, save for a few differences.  Here's a great example from the NY Times (upon their visit to the restaurant): "The differences are in the details, like that Druse pita — called sagg pita, after the griddle it is cooked on — which Mrs. Halabi makes daily. It’s thinner than a crepe, as wide as a small pizza and pliable like lavash. A sprinkle of cornmeal gives it texture, but it is mildly flavored: an accompaniment, not an event in itself."    

Photo credit: Grub Street

The best menu items:


You can't go to Gazala's without ordering one of the handmade bourekas, a savory puff-pastry that, from a distance, looks dangerously identical to a New York bagel (golden brown exterior with a dusting of sesame seeds).  The delicate dough is made with olive oil, which results in layer after layer of an incredibly buttery, moist, and delectably-rich finished product.  Prior to baking, the pastry is stuffed with goat cheese and your choice of either sun-dried tomatoes or steamed spinach.  

Each boureka arrives with a steak knife stabbed in its heart (It's not easy cutting through all of those layers!) and is accompanied by hummus and a dish of cabbage slaw.

Our delicious spinach & goat cheese-stuffed boureka

Mix/match appetizer sampler (four items):

I love the option of being able to mix/match four items on an appetizer platter, as I find that it's a great excuse to be able sample smaller portions of dips and bites that I'd never before experienced/at Gazala's Place.  Most of the time, however, I always end up ordering my four tried-and-true favorites: Hummus, labne, baba ghanoush, and falafel.  Each platter arrives with a basket filled with freshly-baked Druse pita.    

Mix/match platter with falafel, hummus, labne, and baba ghanoush


You cannot go wrong with any of the Druse/Middle Eastern desserts on the menu.  The "Osh al Saraia" - a marriage of cream, honey, orange blossom and rose waters that's reduced to a pudding-like consistency and finished with ground pistachios - is particularly delicious and my personal favorite.


Until we eat again, 

The Lunch Belle


The best menu items at: Freds Downtown (at Barney's NY)

In my newest series, "The Best Menu Items At...," I cut the fluff and get straight down to business: Which food/drink items are so stand-out that I'd order them time and time again?

Restaurant: Freds Downtown (at Barney's NY)

  • Cuisine: American
  • Location: 101 7th Avenue, 3rd floor - Manhattan 10036  
  • Pricing: $$-$$$
  • Reservations?  Yes, click here
  • Why go?  To see-and-be seen, especially during weekday lunch service / Mid/post shopping cocktails, bubbles, or a glass of wine / Brunch 


Why do I love Freds?  Let me count the ways.  Aside from the fact that it resides within my - and every other fashionable New Yorker's - favorite department store, it still feels somewhat hidden and undiscovered.  Everyone knows the restaurant's older, genteel Madison Avenue sister, but Freds' newest location positively oozes downtown chic: Clean lines and sophisticated modernity evoke a mysterious serenity amongst bustling 7th Avenue.

Photo credit: Urban DaddyBeyond that, I find the clientele, especially during weekday lunch service, to be outrageously intriguing.  While I couldn't tell you their names, I will say that I'd put money down that many of them are "someone" in the fashion industry (...or some other super cool, hip line of work that has nothing to do with Wall Street).  It truly feels like the ultimate NYC "cool kids" power lunch.  So then where does someone like me fit in to all of this, you ask?  Good question.  I'm a die-hard sucker for Freds brunch, which offers a generous variety of both sweet and savory.  

The best menu items:

Chelsea Breakfast Sandwich:

Unfortunately, this gem is only available on weekends at brunch service.  However, just the thought of sinking my teeth in to its multiple savory layers certainly gives me something to look forward to during the doldrums of 'Monday through Friday.'  I'm serious, I think about this sandwich way more often than the dude I have a crush on...

Picture it (Sorry, I actually don't have a picture of the sandwich, so you're going to have to use your imagination and just trust me.):  Perfectly scrambled eggs, sauteed onions and peppers, Hudson Valley Harvest hot and sweet sausage, and cheese fondue (!!!!) are sandwiched on a sesame seed bun and accompanied by sriracha mayo and a generous portion of crispy home fries.  

Freds Chopped Chicken Salad:

For those days when you want to feel a bit better about yourself and eat something healthy, you cannot beat this mean bowl of greens - unless, of course, the $30 price tag stops you dead in your tracks.  Bibb lettuce, avocado, onions, tomatoes, string beans and pears come tossed with a Dijon mustard and balsamic dressing.  The salad is crowned with roasted, hand-pulled all-natural chicken.

Margherita Pizza:

There are thousands of fabulous pizzerias and by-the-slice joints all over the five boroughs, but not many who serve you your pie atop a crisp white tablecloth.  And make no mistake, folks, Freds makes a damn good pizza.  Whether you opt for the simple Margherita, or the Emilia Romagna (white pizza with mozzarella, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses drizzled with a 12-year-old Aceto Balsamico), you will not be disappointed.  Time and time again, I am consistently pleased by the perfect ratio of chewy crust to sauce and cheese.  


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle