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**Readers!  I recently moved to the City of Angels.  The good news is that I'm keeping this site alive while simultaneously working on something Los Angeles-centric, as well.**

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.

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Entries in Restaurant reviews (269)

Saturday
May032014

Holey Donuts: One Donut You Won't Want to Glaze Over

Low-cal is not in my vocabulary. Diet ice cream? Portion control potato chips? Sorry, but you have no my place in my life. Let me be clear: I don't judge pastries based on how good they taste relative to their nutritional value. Sure, if I can avoid clogging my arteries, that's great. But when all is said and done, I want my pastries to taste good because that is their sole purpose.

So, you can imagine my skepticism when I was invited to try Holey Donuts!, a brand of low-calorie, low-fat donuts inhabiting their first retail store this week. Would they taste like the fake bread I eat on Passover? Would they be really good donuts that were just incredibly small? Would they be alien donuts with side effects of blue skin?

Well, first thing's first, I was taken aback to discover that the donuts were big. Aha, I thought, so portion control isn't the secret. This is going to taste like the pastries they served in synagogue growing up. Right? Wrong. A Holey Donut tastes like a donut because it is a donut. I kept chewing, waiting for a catch. Zilch. These were definitely donuts: sweet, sticky, chewy, and round. 

A Bay Ridge native and self-declared "Brooklyn boy", Frank Dilullo comes by his donut entrepreneurship honestly. He's no stranger to the world of the fried: Frank's father was one of the original Dunkin' Donuts franchisees back in 1958. Growing up sneaking clandestine bites of freshly-made donut "with the icing on top still wet," Frank owned several Dunkin' Donuts stores before selling them to start Holey Donuts!. "It was an accident, really. I was by the fryer, and I made the donut a different way than we usually did. I tasted it, and I was like, 'holy shit!' That's where Holey Donuts! comes from. 'Holy cow' will also work," he says, his eyes lighting up with that Brooklyn boy mischief. "Well, how do you make them?" I pressed. "That I can't tell you, but it's a twenty-two step process. Half of the work is done at our factory in Brooklyn, the other half here in the store." He wasn't lying. Every donut is customized on the spot, and goes from being dough to art. Already a successful online brand, the Holey Donuts! retail store looks like a day spa for donuts with jars full of fresh filling ready to be pumped into the fritters. It's like reverse liposuction for donuts. 

"I once had a baked donut," I confessed. "It didn't taste very good." "People tell me stuff like that all the time, and I'm like, if a donut is baked, it's a bagel. A lot of the time with low-cal foods, brands try to disguise it. Of course our donuts are going to have carbs and sugar. They're donuts! We just don't prepare them quite the same way."

I'm dying to reveal my donut-making conspiracy theories here, but I digress... In addition to donuts, Holey Donuts! has cinnamon buns, coffee, and juice. The store plans on staying open fairly late; think 10PM on the weekdays, and midnight on the weekends. "Or," Frank says, "until we're out of donuts." The store doesn't accept cash in an effort to keep things as germ-free as possible (my kind of place, hey there Jewish neuroses), and has a good amount of seating. Located in in a pink-splattered, spacious store in the West Village, Holey has a good shot of wracking up success.

Frank and his crew sent me home with several boxes of goodies, making me queen for a day in the office. To be on Holey Donuts! grand opening guest list, email info@holeydonuts.net, with 'guest list' in the subject line. Word on the street is that there will be goodies a' plenty.

 

Until we eat again, 

Aliza Kellerman for The Lunch Belle

Aliza Kellerman is an NYC based booze & food writer, an employed twenty-something, and an avid kvetcher. She sips and noshes her way through misadventures while befriending strangers and discovering new interests. Check out her blog at here, follow her here, and browse her portfolio here.

Friday
Jul262013

Aroma Espresso Bar: Way beyond coffee

Look, if anyone "gets" routine, it's me.  But if you're as sick of the same old deli meat and Swiss sandwich or make-your-own-salad as I am, consider shaking up your lunch rotation. 

On Wednesday night, about ten food bloggers/press and I were invited to a media tasting at Aroma Espresso Bar.  And believe you me, there was much more to be sampled than day-old pastries and pre-packaged sandwiches.  Started in Israel in the late 90's, Aroma quickly spread throughout the small country before opening its first US location in 2006.  Right here in NYC's Soho neighborhood!  And, since then, the small chainlet has launched stores in New Jersey, Miami, and Maryland. 

Aroma Espresso Bar: Getting the party started with homemade lemonadeAroma Espresso Bar: Garbanzo Salad - garbanzo beans, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, homemade garlic croutons, tahini sauce, parsley, and lemon-olive oil dressingAroma Espresso Bar: Bourekas! These delightful savory pastries are Bulgarian in decsent and filled with potato, feta, or spinach. Dynamite!Aroma Espresso Bar: California Chicken Sandwich - chicken breast, avocado, fresh mozzarella cheese, fried egg, Aroma sauce, house-baked breadAroma Espresso Bar: Halumi Sandwich - grilled Halumi cheese, cream cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and house-baked breadAroma Espresso Bar: Rich, decadent, warm, and oh so ooey-gooey chocolate chip/walnut and double chocolate cookiesAroma Espresso Bar: Alfajores - a soft Latin American cookie that sandwiches a thick layer of dulce de lecheAroma Espresso Bar: Traditional brownies - served warm and laced with walnut nibsThe jury is still out on which item I liked best - the bourekas - the halumi sandwich - or the halvah pastries (not pictured).  Luckily, I don't have to choose just one! 

I'm thrilled to know that there is an Aroma Espresso Bar located so close to my office.  Well, it's kind of scary, actually.  My girlish figure!  Anyhoo, I foresee many future lunches - and snack breaks - filled with decadent cups of hot chocolate, frozen mint lemonade, spinach bourekas, halumi sandwiches, halvah pastries, and those warm, gooey chocolate-chocolate chip cookies.  Drool.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Apr162013

Brunching uptown at The District

When it comes to the Upper East Side, especially above 82nd Street, I couldn't tell you much in terms of restaurants (south of Spanish Harlem, of course).  Or bars.  Or anything, for that matter... 

Sure, my friend, Brette, and Cousin Larry live up there, but we typically meet downtown.  That was, until last Sunday, when Larry insisted upon brunch/lunch at his neighborhood's newest gastropub, The District, which hugs the corner of 94th Street/3rd Avenue.  Having met in front of the restaurant promptly at 11am, I was we were disappointed to learn that it didn't actually open until noon.  To kill time, we walked over to Asphalt Green so I that could check out the Olympic-sized indoor pool.   

The Olympic-sized indoor pool at Asphalt GreenWe arrived at The District just before noon and were seated immediately.  

The DistrictIn terms of the aesthetic interior space, The District knocks it out of the park:  High, antique mirrored-ceilings, exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling paned windows, and gothic/cathedral-inspired decor. 

*During brunch service, one Bloody Mary or Mimosa is included with your meal.*  Since Larry instead opted for Diet Coke, I downed both my and his Mimosas.  Coming in to the meal, there wasn't really a question as to what I would order.  Larry had preached and swore up and down that The District was home to the city's *best* burger.  And I wanted to see if he knew what he was talking about... 

The District: le menuThe District: cheeseburger & friesIt's as sexy as a cheeseburger could look - or sound - on a plate:  Shredded romaine lettuce, a thick tomato slice, a ground brisket-patty encased in melted American cheese, caramelized onions, and a schmear of homemade garlic aioli were sandwiched between toasted brioche bun-halves.  

For a moment, I hesitated after telling the waitress that I'd like my burger cooked "medium."  I just assumed that it would be served as I had requested.  Alas...my patty was well-done.  Sigh.

The District: Grey meat = well done.Larry was also surprised to see that his patty was not cooked "medium rare."  However, after one bite turned in to three, I decided that it would be too late to send my burger back to the kitchen.  Plus, I had already eaten about half of my serving of, quite possibly, the best French fries this side of Pommes Frites.  And the garlic aioli?  Dynamite.   

While I was disappointed that both my and Larry's patties were cooked incorrectly, I would definitely return to The District to a) give the burger another chance (it has *major* potential if cooked properly), and b) to check out the after-work scene.  Apparently, it's the place to be uptown!  Even Urban Daddy says so!

The District - 1679 Third Avenue (at 94th Street) - NYC

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Apr102013

When the moon hits your eye...

Poor Larry.  It must have been at least a year of nagging before he finally got me to accompany him to Nunzio's where, he claimed, I would taste "the best pizza in the city.  No, make that the country!"  It's not that I didn't believe him, it was the fact that Nunzio's was located in Staten Island.  And I knew that, door to door, the round trip would be 4+ hours.  So, understandably, a weeknight was out of the question.  And, on many weekends, I'm either out of town - too hungover - or just not in the mood to do much else besides eat takeout and press the buttons on my television's remote control. 

We met at the Staten Island Ferry terminal on Sunday at 10:45am.  "Boats leave on the hour, and I think that noon would be too late," Larry stated.  I agreed.  An 11am departure sounded fine 'n dandy...prior to my epic 4am night.  After a pleasant 20-minute boat ride to the 'Island, we hopped aboard the S51 bus enroute to Nunzio's (from the Staten Island ferry terminal, take the S51 bus towards "GRANT CITY via BAY ST," and get off at Hylan Bl-Midland Av.).  Due to a horrible hangover bout - which led to a near-vomit episode from bus-induced motion sickness - I would have much preferred taking the subway.  Unfortunately, trains were not running on Sunday.  Fortunately, I did not puke...

Hugging the busy corner of Hylan Blvd. and Midland Ave., Nunzio's houses both a takeaway/quick-service area and a full-service restaurant.  After our long-ish journey, we opted for the latter.  

Casual/no-frills and friendly, Nunzio's dining room is an ideal setting for any occasion - unless you're looking for a lil' romance...

Nunzio's: le menuDespite the ample Italian menu, there was no question what we were there to order:  Pizza pie!

Nunzio's house pieOne of the first things I noticed about Nunzio's whole pie was how large each slice was cut.  And I *like* that!  Not only did the crust look like it was homemade, it had that extra flour-y, slightly gummy texture, which mass-production can seamlessly amend.  While I loved the sweet sauce, chock-full of tomato nibs - and the ample amount of it - I found the mozzarella cheese to be a bit rubber-y.  That, I can say, was definitely not homemade.

All in all?  Nunzio's makes a damn good pie.

Nunzio's: note the textural imperfections on the crust - that's a tell-tale sign that it's homemade! And, to me, that's a *good* thing!"So, do you think Nunzio's was worth the trip to Staten Island?"  Larry asked.  For this pizza, alone?  Absolutely not.  I can get a good pie in my own 'hood.  However, for pizza and some time to explore the 'Island?  Without a doubt!  Aside from the fact that one of my favorite 'guilty pleasure' television shows, Mob Wives, takes place on Staten Island, it's a borough that I've regretfully not spent much time on...but would like to!

Nunzio's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Apr052013

A culinary crawl though Moldova, by way of corporate America

Say what you will about the Aramark or Restaurant Associates-run cafeteria in your office building.  And, while I wholeheartedly agree that the monthly soup rotation (that mimics itself, all over again, the following month) and same-thing-everyday salad bar gets tired, those are, for the most part, my only two complaints.  Having recently moved from a building whose cafeteria contract was cancelled in 2009, I cannot tell you what a welcome relief it is to be able to quickly run down to the dining hall and grab something when I'm pinched for time or, worse, when the weather is particularly nasty.  Which is *very* often in NYC.  

Every Tuesday, like clockwork, there's a "Mexican table," where diners can make their own tacos, etc.  And I can always count on my favorite rotisserie chicken at the hot station, as well as the soft-serve frozen yogurt that boasts an impressive array of toppings.  But, best of all, every Wednesday and Thursday, Restaurant Associates hires a local restaurant/food truck to serve their specialties to hungry diners.  At a kiosk-type space within the cafeteria.  Cool, right?  Think:  Chinese Mirch, Mexico Blvd., Food Freaks...and this week's guest, Moldova Restaurant

I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea what the word "Moldova" meant/was in reference to - the name of the chef's mother, perhaps?  Unbeknownst to me, Moldova is a small, landlocked country that located between Romania and the Ukraine.  A bit geographically challenged, it took a quick visual on Google maps for me to understand that, based on Moldova's location, the cuisine is influenced by its Eastern European neighbors, in addition to Turkey and Greece.

For a mere $9.95, I chose the "sampler" option, so that I could taste as many savory dishes as possible:

Moldova Restaurant: "Sampler" lunch plateI will describe my meal in a clockwise fashion, beginning with the magenta-hued beet/potato salad:  Cubed beets and potatoes, along with peas, made up a chilled, vinegar-based salad that proved incredibly compatible with its neighboring, predominately starch-based plate mates. 

Instead of kasha, I chose rice.  I can only assume that its lovely flavor was the result of having been boiled in chicken stock.

Coltunasi "Fat Frumos," a.k.a. dumplings:  I chose to sample both the homemade meat (pork and veal) and potato dumplings, which were topped with melted butter and fried onions (optional).  In a gluttonous effort to consume as many calories as possible, I dipped each bite in sour cream.  :)  

"Ursuleti," a.k.a. fried mamaliga (similar to polenta) balls stuffed with feta cheese, pork belly, and sour cream.

Moldova Restaurant: UrsuletiThe "urselti" balls were firm on the outside, and gave way to a moist, polenta-like, savory interior that was dotted with nibs of fatty pork belly.  Absolutely heavenly.

"Sarmale ca la Mama," a.k.a. pork and rice-stuffed grape leaves.

Moldova Restaurant: Sarmale ca la MamaThe ground pork and rice were enveloped by a briny grape leaf that created a fantastic, salty kick.  I really enjoyed this particular item!

Chicken blintz (similar to a crepe)

Moldova Restaurant: Chicken blintzWhile I grew up eating sweet, cheese-based blintzes, I've never had a savory version.  Normally, I shy away from anything-chicken, but the friendly employee urged me to try this blintz.  And I'm really glad I did.  The crepe, itself, was the slightest bit sweet, and the chicken filling was bound with buttery, fried onions.  Is there anything that fried onions couldn't make delicious? 

And, for dessert...a Russian sour-cherry pastry

Moldova Restaurant: Russian sour-cherry pastryIf I only had a scoop of vanilla or salted-caramel ice cream!  Encased by flaky pastry was the most generous amount of plump, sour cherries.  There wasn't some gloppy, corn syrup-based binder - just a plethora of the sweet, tangy fruit. 

...

I really enjoyed my Moldovan lunch - at my desk - without having to venture to the Coney Island restaurant.  Or Eastern Europe, for that matter!  And, since the food was on the richer side, I'm eating leftovers for lunch today!  It's the gift that keeps giving.  And I can hardly wait...!

I urge you to step out of your personal culinary comfort zone and try something new!  Even if it's as small as ordering a different preparation of your favorite meat.

Moldova Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Mar262013

Lunch at Tortilleria Nixtamal

While I wouldn't return for the cheese enchiladas with mole sauce, per se, I would certainly make the journey back to Tortilleria Nixtamal for a plethora of other menu items.

Being that TN (Tortilleria Nixtamal) supplies NYC's best Mexican restaurants with their handmade tortillas and masa, I was thrilled to learn that they also operate a restaurant onsite.  So, on Saturday, the NY Mexican Food Lovers and I headed over to the Corona section of Queens in our monthly quest for the best comida Mexicana in the five boroughs. 

Expecting a party of approximately 6-8, I wanted to be the first to arrive at the restaurant.  After all, it's not like I had made a prior table reservation - I just assumed that TN wasn't the type of place that took pre-bookings.  Upon arrival, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of wait time for a table, especially after revealing the size of my group.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by how accommodating the staff was - they even sat me at a makeshift eight-top before anyone else in my party arrived!

Daily menu specialsInside Tortilleria Nixtamal's small, onsite restaurantAs I waited a few more minutes for my fellow NY Mexican Food Lovers members to arrive, I ordered a refreshing - and rather legit - glass of red sangria.  TN serves sangria, beer, and pulque cocktails.

Red sangria: Sweet and balanced with the perfect amount of wine, the sangria came topped with a melange of chopped winter fruits.A bowl of freshly-fried tortilla chips encircled a mound of chunky pico-de-gallo.  While the fragrant dip was flavorful, I preferred the red and green salsa duo that was already on our table.  To be honest, I find pico-de-gallo to be a bit high maintenance in terms of keeping its loosely-bound ingredients on a chip. 

Chips & pico de galloSalsas rojo y verdeWhile some of the specials sounded great - ahem, the Adobo de Puerco (pork with chile guahillo and puya sauce, served with rice, beans, and tortillas) - I ultimately chose to go with my Mexican standby, the cheese enchiladas.  With mole sauce, for a change. 

Cheese enchiladas with mole sauce, rice, and beansBeing a total rice and beans snob, I must say that I was very impressed with TN's version of both.  The refritos (refried beans) had a whipped consistency, which pleasantly reminded me of my beloved home.  The rice kernels were ideally small (unlike the long-grained crap that most restaurants use), and the fluffy, moist mound evoked a familiar essence of garlic, saffron, and cumin.  Screeeeeeeeeeeeeech!  The music stops.  Sadly, this is where my love affair ended.  The white cheese inside of each enchilada was barely melted, and the corn tortillas surrounding it were hard/stale.  Meaning that the tortillas, themselves, were either old, which I doubt, or not fried.  The mole sauce was lukewarm and, flavor-wise, mediocre, at best.  The straw that broke the camel's back?  The enchiladas were finished with an offensive amount of sliced white onions.  And that's coming from an onion-lover!  Sigh.

...

Overall?  I really enjoyed my meal and experience at TN, despite the enchilada fail.  Next time - and there will be a next time - I will order tamales, tacos, or one of the daily specials. 

I would definitely recommend checking out TN if you're looking for a unique and off-the-beaten-path dining adventure.  Plus, the neighborhood is ripe with Mexican and other Latin American bodegas stocking hard-to-find ingredients and produce.  I, for one, loaded up on fresh guayabas and De La Rosa candies!

Tortilleria Nixtamal on Urbanspoon

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle