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 (277)


(Los Angeles) Reviewed: Rustic Canyon

Restaurant: Rustic Canyon

  • Cuisine: Seasonal American (menu changes frequently depending on what's fresh/in season)
  • Location: 1119 Wilshire Blvd. - Santa Monica, CA 90401  
  • Pricing: $$-$$$
  • What's delicious: Brined & Roasted Chicken
  • Perfect for: Foodies - date night - small groups - food origin/status/organic-conscious diners


Rustic Canyon, the crown jewel and namesake of its small umbrella of sister restaurants and culinary concepts, has long been on my queue of places to try in LA.  And I'm proud to report that, as of last weekend, I was finally able to cross this seasonal American stunner off of my list.  It only took me 14-months!

Situated within a bright and airy modern space (think floor-to-ceiling windows and a room height that soars upwards of 20 feet), the restaurant's aesthetic is as natural - yet visually attractive/tantalizing - as its food and drink offerings.

Photo found on www.lamag.comUpon arrival, Elaina and I were promptly seated at a cozy two-top that hugged the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking bustling Wilshire Blvd.  To whet our appetites, we were rather quick in ordering a round of cocktails: A cosmo for her and the "Dirty Gibson" (Aviation Gin, Dolin dry vermouth, house-made cocktail onion, and onion brine) for me.  While the "house-made cocktail onion and onion brine" sounded sexy on the menu, I found the flavor to be a bit off-putting.  Don't get me wrong, I love onions - whether fried in rings or freshly-chopped and scattered atop my Mexican food - just not in the 'sippable' form.  In the future, I'll stick with my go-to: A "filthy" Hendrick's Gin martini on the rocks.  Served with as many olives that will fit on a toothpick.  And a "double shot" of olive juice on the side.

In an effort to sample more menu items, Elaina and I split everything we ordered.



Summer Bean Salad

Blue Lake and Romano beans (both similar in shape and texture to the green bean) were dressed with salted, chopped almonds and sweet pluot segments (of the plum family) before being tossed in a tangy blue cheese dressing.

Elaina and I loved the texture that came courtesy of the crunchy beans and almonds, plus the sweet/salty flavor contrast that resulted when the pluots kissed the blue cheese.

Summer Bean Salad.

Grilled 'Le Grand' Nectarine

When I hear the word "summer," I automatically think of nectarines.  So when I spotted this salad on the menu, I demanded that it be included in our appetizer order.

Perched atop a fluffy "cloud" of homemade ricotta cheese were loose leaves of fragrant basil and arugula, fried polenta "croutons," and slices of perfectly-ripened nectarines that had spent just enough time atop the grill to gain their coveted "marks."  Drizzled olive oil, freshly-ground black pepper, and sea salt completed the dish. 

Although the flavors were bold and exciting, it was the texture of the nectarine's warm, melt-in-your-mouth flesh against the cool ricotta cheese that was truly transcendent. 

Grilled 'Le Grand' Nectarine.

Pappa al Pomodoro

As if the sound of "...a rich Tuscan tomato stew" wasn't seductive enough, add "...thickened with pieces of day-old bread."  And, for $3 extra, an ice cream-scoop of burrata cheese!

"This stew is so thick that you could eat it with a fork," our waitress chuckled.  So, you can imagine her surprise when Elaina and I asked her for a few slices of grilled bread for dipping purposes...

Pappa al Pomodoro.


Brined & Roasted Chicken

Plated atop a bed of creamed corn kernels and Vadouvan curry jus was the juiciest, moistest chicken that I've had to date.  The bird was oddly crowned with warm romaine lettuce leaves (Sorry, I just don't understand the "cooked lettuce" trend.  It's off-putting!). 

Never one to order chicken at a restaurant (What?  It's fcuking boring.  You may as well order tofu, for god's sake!), I was completely blown away by this dish's unique preparation (brining prior to roasting).  Like I said in the paragraph above this one, I've never had a more moist piece of poultry, save for a fried turkey at Thanksgiving.  While breading and deep-frying is typically favorable, the brining method is much more heart - and waistline - healthy.

Brined & Roasted Chicken

Aside from the fact that Rustic Canyon's food/drink is exemplary, it's dishes are composed of ingredients sourced from farmers and ranchers who practice sustainable agriculture.  And that, to me, is a beautiful thing. 

In my 14-months of living in LA, this is one of my most favorite meals and, certainly, a restaurant in which I plan to return.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


(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


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:


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).


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


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! 


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.


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. 


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


(NYC) Reviewed: Industry Kitchen

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


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...


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...


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!


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!  


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.


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


(NYC) Reviewed: Spaghetti Incident

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


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


Reviewed: Dinner al fresco at Mare

Restaurant: Mare

  • Cuisine: Californian, Mediterranean
  • Location: 7465 Melrose Avenue - Los Angeles, CA 90046
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Muddled-fruit cocktails, Mussels with Romesco and Sausage Broth
  • Perfect for: Al-fresco dining - date night - group dining - cocktails


Situated within a sexy, hidden patio/garden behind Melrose Umbrella Co. and Greenspan's Grilled Cheese is Chef Greenspan's newest concept: Mare.  And, speaking of concepts...While I do love a good trend/gimmick (i.e. a restaurant with a jewelry store and/or hardware shop facade), the logistics must be fairly user-friendly.  Getting *IN* to Mare is tricky; guests have to meander through the grilled cheese shop - up a short flight of stairs - through the tiny kitchen - and beyond a heavy door to reach Mare's hostess stand.  I can only imagine how annoyed the employees at the grilled cheese joint get every time someone asks to be pointed to "the new restaurant."  All that aside, when we finally reached our destination, Ayano and I were greeted by an incredibly friendly hostess who led us to a two-top under a gorgeous canopy of trees and twinkling strewn lights.

Mare's outdoor dining "room"While I loved the outdoor atmosphere (there is no interior seating, FYI), I found the menu to be a bit random and oddly organized.  The first half listed appetizers and sides under the heading of "Plates," followed by two entrees - skirt steak or the whole fish - and "Shellfish."  Finishing the menu, "Desserts" preceded "Drinks."

Le menuTo whet our appetites, we were presented with a gratis, picturesque potpourri of pickled peppers, olives + pistachios + kumquats, a halved lemon, garlic olive oil, and two generous hunks of "everything" baguettes.  While I found the halved lemon to be a bit of an odd addition, I really enjoyed the peppers, olives, kumquats, olive oil, and bread...although it wasn't as moist as I would have liked.  

Shortly thereafter, our cocktails arrived.  The menu offers a selection of wines and beer, plus a number of spirits muddled with a variety of fresh fruit and herbs.  I opted for the tequila beverage which contained kumquats - among other citrus fruit - and, what appeared to be, basil leaves.  I could not dreamt of a more refreshing, sweet'n sour, delightful summer cocktail!  A++!

Tequila + muddled citrus and kumquatsThe first "Plates" to arrive were the Roasted Broccolini and one of the evening's specials: Scallop Crudo. 

If you're a fan of the fragrant garlic bulb, the greens are a must order!  Served atop a thick schmear of garlic paste, the roasted broccolini was crowned with fried garlic chips. 

Roasted BroccoliniThick slices of raw scallop were topped with green plums and briny sea greens, which perfectly accentuated the delicate oceanic flavor of the mollusk. 

Scallop CrudoForgoing entrees, Ayano and I each chose to order one of the customizable shellfish dishes.  She opted for the shrimp with Vadouvan curry and I chose the mussels with a sausage/romesco broth.  Our shellfish bowls were paired with a mound of naked spaghetti noodles and two shelled poached eggs.  Random.  I would have much preferred a crusty baguette to soak up the remaining broth (Right? I mean, traditionally, that's how I've eaten mussels.  And you, too, no doubt.), but I decided to put my snobbery aside and give the egg and noodles a whirl.  The mussels were plump and the sausage/romesco sauce was outstanding.  When all that remained was broth, I added the spaghetti noodles and topped them with the freshly-cracked poached egg.  I tossed the ingredients to combine and took a bite.  "Aha," I exclaimed to Ayayno.  "Now I get the whole noodle and egg thing!  It's really yummy!"  She smiled and nodded.  My only complaint was that both the noodles and the egg were chilly, as they had a while to cool during the time that we ate our respective shellfish (Mare should present these items once the guest has *almost* finished their shellfish.).

Shrimp in a Vadouvan curry brothMussels in a sausage + romesco brothFor dessert, Ayano and I split the Blood Orange "Trifolo" - layers of semolina cake, fruit, and blood orange-curd - served in a mason jar.  Cute, kitschy and, most importantly, delicious.  A plate of rosemary shortbread accompanied. 

Rosemary shortbreadLike many new successful restaurants, I suspect that the minor food hiccups at Mare will lessen with time, especially with uber-talented Chef Eric Greenspan at the helm. 

Ayano and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I look forward to returning in the future!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Reviewed: Date night at Project Taco

Restaurant: Project Taco

  • Cuisine: "Industry" friendly quick-Mex that won't make you fat
  • Location: 6325 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles 90048
  • Pricing: $
  • What's delicious: Edamame, Wilshire Pot Roast (taco), Green Chili Pork (taco)
  • Perfect for: Al-fresco dining - food/drink specials - healthy, vegetarian friendly - quick bites - craft beer aficionados

Come for the tacos.  Stay for the craft beers.  And "Jenga night" every Wednesday.  And the *life changing* Chilli Garlic Aioli that, no joke, could be spread atop pavement and I'd still eat it!


Last Wednesday, K and I made a quick pit-stop at Project Taco's Wilshire location to deliciously coat our stomachs before heading to an event.  After ordering nearly everything on the menu, we snagged a highly coveted outdoor table, clinked our glasses (his filled with beer, mine with wine), and watched on as our neighbors engaged in a pretty serious game of Jenga.   

The first items to arrive at the table were the tortilla chips and salsa sampler, which included: Cilantro Lime Crema, Chili Garlic Aioli, Blueberry Sriracha BBQ sauce, Habanero Pineapple, and Pico De Gallo.  As I mentioned further above, the clear winner was the Chili Garlic Aioli.  Followed very closely by the Cilantro Lime Crema.  K, on the other hand, favored the Blueberry Sriracha BBQ sauce.

Chips and a salsa/dip samplerOf the tacos that I ordered, the Blueberry BBQ (pork) and the Wilshire Pot Roast (beef), I preferred the latter.  Although both meats were tender, juicy, and perfectly smoked, I found the Blueberry BBQ sauce to be slightly overpowering and sweet.  Plus, the apple-kale slaw was too crunchy and dry.  The Pot Roast, on the other hand, was married with some of my most favorite ingredients: Cilantro, onions, cheese, and that outrageously mouth-watering Chili Garlic Aioli. 

Tacos: Wilshire Pot Roast (beef), Blueberry BBQ (pork)First bite in: Blueberry BBQ tacoJust as we were finishing our tacos, K and I were presented with a gorgeous bowl of edamame.  Topped with a curiously delicious sauce/gravy.

EdamameAnd, for dessert...a duo of Strawberry Buttermilk Fonuts!

The aftermath of a yummy dinner?  I think so...


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle