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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a NYC based food and travel website that views various dining scenes and destinations through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated thirty-something.

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Lindsay

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Entries in Restaurant reviews (295)

Thursday
Feb022017

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:

Bourekas:

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

Desserts:

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

Monday
Jan232017

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 

Thursday
Jan192017

Reviewed: An authentic Mexican brunch at Citrico

Restaurant: Citrico

  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Location: 681 Washington Avenue - (Prospect Heights) Brooklyn 11238   
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Fresh margaritas (you can't go wrong with the traditional), handmade corn tortillas, authentic Mexican rice, chile de arbol salsa
  • Perfect for: Legit tequila/mezcal-based cocktails, happy hour, brunch, homesick Mexicans and Texans

...

For those of you who have been around here for a while, you're not only aware of my obsession with Mexican food, but are all too familiar with my arduous attempts at finding decent representations of the cuisine here in NYC...  

Last Sunday, my friend, Shelley, and I trotted over to Brooklyn to check out Citrico, a new-ish Mexican joint in Prospect Heights, for brunch.  Upon our 11AM arrival (What? We wanted to beat the crowds.), we had the entire intimate restaurant to ourselves (Come noon, that would soon change.).  Bright and inviting, the small, yet fully functional space was adorned with turquoise and pastel-colored wooden tables, black and white family(?) photos, Mexican tchotchkes, and an energetic open kitchen. 

We plopped down and immediately ordered a round of cocktails.  While Shelley opted for the traditional margarita, I chose the more exotic "Guavazcal," a mezcal concoction married with guava and lime juices, plus ginger beer and served on-the-rocks.  The mason jar in which it was poured was rimmed with spicy Tajin.  While my beverage may have been more appealing to the eye (Maybe it was the ginger beer that threw me off?), I much preferred Shelley's excellently-crafted authentic margarita.  

Citrico: The "Guavazcal" cocktail (mezcal, guava and lime juices, and ginger beer)Citrico: Traditional margarita

Between sips of our cocktails - and prior to placing our meal order - we noshed on a gratis bowl of what one of the owners coined as "chicharrones."  However, these crunchy rings had no trace of meat/poultry.  Addictive, crispy, and sprinkled with a zesty spice powder, Shelley and I managed to inhale our entire bowl within seconds.  

Citrico: Vegetarian chicharrones

Forgoing guacamole, which seems to be the quintessential 'first order' for every Yankee at a Mexican restaurant, we opted for the house-made chips and quartet of salsas, including pico de gallo, tomatillo, guajillo, and chile de arbol.  While I'm not a big tomatillo fan (it always seems to have a weird gelatinous consistency), the other three salsas were dynamite; my favorite being the chile de arbol with it's smooth, creamy texture and garlicky finish.  The chips were still warm from the fryer and seasoned with the perfect amount of salt.

Citrico: Homemade salsa trio + chips 

In a dual effort to sample as much of the menu as we could, Shelley and I chose to split three entrees: Panqueques, Huevos Divorciados, and the Huitlacoche Quesadilla.  Oh, and a bowl of Mexican rice.  God, what fatties!

Panqueques

When this plate of perfectly cooked (a fluffy interior with that crunchy, buttery exterior rim), golden brown pancakes arrived, I was a bit anxious.  Why?  Because, look at all of that fruit (see photo, below)!  There was so much of it, in fact, that we couldn't even see the top of the 'cakes.  "Oh, for crissakes," I exclaimed, "let me go ahead and scoot all of this crap off to the side."  Shelley giggled and watched as I moved the 'healthy bits' off to a lonely corner of the plate before dousing the real stuff in the accompanying tequila-infused cajeta sauce/syrup.  

Having grown up with cajeta in our kitchens, we both appreciated the Mexican influence on this traditionally American dish.  I will warn you, though, the tequila-infusion is NOT for the faint of heart or for the alcohol intolerant!

Citrico: Panqueques

Huevos Divorciados

To be fair to both sides, if you will, I played the role of hungry mediator and sampled both parties of the 'culinary divorce' at play on my plate: Bordered by a helping of black beans were two lightly-fried corn tortillas - arranged side-by-side - each respectively topped with a sunny side-up egg.  Salsa rojo crowned one of the eggs, while salsa verde smothered the other.

The Divorciados reminded me a lot of huevos rancheros, save for the fact that this version was finished with two salsas, not just one.   

Citrico: Huevos Divorciados

Huitlacoche Quesadillas

Homemade corn tortillas were lathered with queso blanco, freshly-shucked corn kernels, and a generous amount of huitlacoche before being griddled to perfection.  Drizzled crema, altocumulus-like clouds of queso fresco, and a nest of bright green shredded iceberg completed the dish.  

Citrico: Huitlacoche Quesadilla

Arroz Mexicano

It's rare to find an authentic version of Mexican rice in NYC.  Most often, I'm either served plain white or some deplorable attempt where the kernels are too long, the color is baby chick-yellow, and the seasoning is either nonexistent or way off.  Citrico, however, nails it: The kernels are short, the broth has notes of tomato, garlic, and chicken stock, the color is spot-on, and there are proper "clumps" dispersed throughout (my favorite).  

Citrico: Arroz Mexicano

Dessert?  Not after all of that comida!  We did, however, save room for one last tequila cocktail.  

*While it's not on the drink menu, if you're craving something that's both sweet and savory with a fiery finish, just ask for the spicy margarita.  It may have been our favorite beverage of the three that we enjoyed!

Citrico: Spicy margarita...

Shelley and I could not have been more pleased with our brunch, notably in terms of its authenticity (from the handmade corn tortillas and salsas to the cajeta, Mexican rice, and legit tequila/mezcal cocktails).  So much so, that I am co-hosting a brunch there in a few weekends for my Mexican Food Lovers' Meetup Group!

 

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Thursday
Dec102015

(NYC) Reviewed: Flights - and bites - at Chelsea's World of Beer

*This post was written by Edgar Castillo and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos were captured by Mr. Castillo.**

Restaurant: World of Beer

  • Cuisine: Bar food/gastropub
  • Location: 641 10th Avenue - NYC 10036  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: 550 craft beers(!), Ahi Tuna Tacos, Chimay Burger, German Pretzel (+ beer cheese)
  • Perfect for: Craft beer-aficionados, where to watch the game, bro date, casual - yet elevated - bar food and drink

...

From a solid array of tavern eats and craft beer menus that are printed daily (twenty-plus featured beers with thirty rotating options from all over the world) to 'Trivia Night Tuesday's' and 'Football Sunday's (during the season),' Chelsea's World of Beer is a casual destination for quality and fun.  Quality fun!

Being that I was invited for a food/beer tasting, WOB (World of Beer) provided my guest and I with various offerings that are currently available on both the regular and seasonal menus.

I will review what we tasted and sipped in chronological order of what was served:

The Colorado Chili was intrepid, robust, and savory without being too spicy.  For a Texan who holds this dish in high regard, it did not let me down.  That was until I happened upon the spoonful containing a bean or two (Beans in chili are a cardinal sin in the Lone Star State - luckily, this version was named for Colorado, the Centennial State, so it got a free pass.).

Colorado ChiliTo accompany the chili and the forthcoming appetizers, we were treated to three generous flights of craft beer.  The first of which included:

  1. Lancaster Strawberry Wheat
  2. Dogfish Head Chocolate Lobster: A dark ale brewed with real lobster (allergy alert!) - my instant favorite because of its robust, dark notes and cocoa flavor
  3. Goose Island Sofie
  4. Kelso Nut Brown Lager
  5. Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale: Orange rind, wheat undertones
  6. Evil Twin Sour: Similar to Sorachi Ace, high notes of banana peel and airy herbs
  7. Gun Hill Void of Light
  8. Brooklyn Sorachi Ace: One of my recent favorites featuring a rare, Japanese-developed hop called Sorachi Ace, a varietal noted for its unique lemon zest/lemongrass aroma

Craft beer flight 1 (of 3)The appetizers round continued with a German Pretzel, which was accompanied by a bowl of molten beer cheese (so good, in fact, that I’d order a side of that shit alone if they’d let me)!  The pretzel, bigger than a sports car’s steering wheel, had great texture and made for the perfect treat to share!

German Pretzel + Beer Cheese! Like a hobbit sitting down to a second breakfast, we were presented with yet another appetizer to sample.  No complaints here!  The Ahi Tuna Tacos were so delicious, in fact, that they made me question my hard and fast rule of only ordering tacos at trusted taquerias.  The tuna, light and buttery with a tart-but-bold kick from the sriracha lime aioli, was enveloped by freshly-made roasted tomato and corn salsa and queso fresco. 

Honestly, we could have ended the night with a refill (or two) of these bad boys!

Ahi Tuna TacosThe Black and Blue Flatbread was savory, filling, and the flavors of the blue cheese and juicy steak blended together very nicely.  The balsamic reduction, while heavy-handed in its application, made for the perfect juxtaposition of sweet and savory.

The Chimay Burger was hands down, the most remarkable item of the night.  From the onions caramelized to perfection and the elegantly-sauteed mushrooms, to the Chimay Classique Cheese, this sandwich stands alone in a class by itself!  I don’t think I’ve ever said this about a burger, but it quite literally melted in my mouth!  Here it is, almost a month later and I'm still dreaming about it...

*Order this burger 'medium rare' to capitalize on all of the textures, flavors, and juices.

The Chimay BurgerAfter we enjoyed two more flights of craft beer, it was time for dessert! 

The Kahlua Belgian Waffle S’mores were a fun, modern spin on the campfire classic (albeit super STICKY), and the Caramel Apple Rings were a pseudo twist on a traditional apple turnover, accompanied by a decadent salted caramel sauce.

Dessert!

The tasting menu that we were provided is only a sampling of what the restaurant and beer hall has to offer.  With tantalizing selections such as Chimichurri meatballs, fried pickles, and artisan sausage boards - in addition to the numerous options on tap - there is surely something for everyone at WOB

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Dec092015

(NYC) Reviewed: I found heaven at Hell's Chicken

*This post was written by The Style Gourmande and edited/formatted by The Lunch Belle.  All photos were captured by The Style Gourmande.**

Restaurant: Hell's Chicken

  • Cuisine: Korean, fried chicken
  • Location: 641 10th Avenue - NYC 10036  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Chicken/wings
  • Perfect for: Gluten free-friendly, beer & wings, neighborhood gem, foodies, 1x1 dining, casual

...

As a self-proclaimed 'fried chicken/wing enthusiast' who's been on her share of fried chicken-centric food crawls across Manhattan - and Korea, for that matter - I can confidently say that the absolute best version is right here in our own backyard: Hell’s Chicken is a Korean restaurant that, while offering a full range of traditional dishes, specializes in gluten-free fried chicken.  Oh, and the name of the place has nothing to do with some wickedly-spicy wing batter or accompanying dipping sauce - Hell's Chicken just so happens to be located in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood!  That's all.  So then what's the story with gluten-free fried chicken, you ask?  Well, initially, owner Sung Jin Min began serving two versions of the battered bird - one made with rice flour and the other with a traditional combo of rice and wheat flour.  Ultimately, he decided to do away with the latter (rice/wheat flour) and solely batter his chicken with rice flour (thus gluten-free fried chicken).  Plus, who isn't gluten-free these days?    

Clean & casually sophisticated digsBrined for twelve hours, Hell's Chicken's namesake item is fried-to-order and served one of two ways: Plain or enveloped with your choice of sauce (sweet, caramelized tomato or the signature "Hell's Rocks").  Obviously, I sampled both preparations!  My favorite of the two?  Sauced'up, of course.   

Fried wings sans sauceFried wings with "Hell's Rocks" sauce - sprinkled with cashews for the extra crunchIn addition to the outstanding chicken, I ordered the Bibimbap, which was presented in a sizzling stone bowl and served alongside traditional accompaniments (kimchi, bean sprouts).  Julienned carrot, aster, radish, bracken, squash, and bean sprouts were beautifully displayed atop warm rice and crowned with a raw egg yolk.  Using my chopsticks, I stirred the ingredients together with a dollop of a spicy/sweet sauce that consisted of hot pepper paste, honey, and sesame oil.  Similar to "tahdig," my favorite part of this dish was the crunchy rice crust that formed at the bottom of the hot stone bowl.

Bibimbap

Next time someone asks me where to find the best fried chicken in town, I will unhesitatingly tell them to run - not walk - to Hell's Chicken.  It's, quite literally, heaven in "Hell!"

...

Until we eat again,

The Style Gourmande for The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Dec012015

(NYC) Reviewed: Craft beers and quality eats at Haymaker Bar & Kitchen

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

Restaurant: Haymaker Bar & Kitchen

  • Cuisine: Gastropub
  • Location: 252 W. 29th Street - NYC 10001  
  • Pricing: $$
  • What's delicious: Craft beers, Slow Roasted Pork Ribs, Baked Dry Rub Chicken Wings
  • Perfect for: Pre/post MSG event, neighborhood gem, bros, dates with chicks who dig beer, foodies, food/drink snobs who like to get their drink on

...

Haymaker Bar & Kitchen - the newly-opened craft beer bar and American gastropub - provides a welcome oasis to the otherwise arid landscape of northwest Chelsea. 

Owner David Smith, partner Jeff Anzulewicz, Chief Bartender, Tristan Colegrove, and Executive Chef, Jim Takacs, pour an extensive list of beer with more than 18 selections on-tap, a small, but smart selection of wines by the glass, and a refined list of classic cocktails accompanied by a menu of modern American favorites.

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & Kitchen Urban-cool, yet warm and inviting, Haymaker's interior atmosphere (designed in the spirit of a haymaker’s farmhouse with early 20th century charm and old-world personality) makes for the perfect setting in which to enjoy post-work beverages - pre/post Madison Square Garden eats and libations - craft beers with the boys - a hearty snack or meal - even date night!

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenFood

The Baked Dry Rub Chicken Wings - a lovely departure from the traditional "Buffalo" variety - were liberally massaged with a house spice blend and enveloped in a sticky sauce that was fragrant with notes of citrus, sweet chili, and garlic. 

While an order is definitely sharable, you're not going to want to split them with anyone.  Trust me!

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenThe next small plate to arrive was the highly anticipated Mac and Cheese (parmesan cream sauce, white wine, pancetta, cremini mushrooms, bread crumb crust).  While it was beautifully constructed and very pleasing to the eye, the dish, itself, was too noodle-heavy and desperately lacking in cheese.

Photo courtesy of Haymaker Bar & KitchenAs tempting as the small plates menu reads, I’d recommend leaving room for the larger, more hearty entree plates: Slow Roasted Pork Ribs were prepared with a savory/sweet pecan-bacon barbecue sauce that harmonized perfectly with the tender, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs.  A side of bourbon-kissed yams echoed the sweetness of the barbecue sauce and provided a warm, pillowy texture that literally hugged my taste buds. 

Drinks

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the menu is the beverage - namely the beer - selection.  Options come from near and far and are hand picked, sampled and, most importantly, judiciously coupled with the food offerings.  Some stand-outs for me were:

Kent Falls Shower Beer (Kent, CT 6.0%): Had a hint of rind and a muted tone of herbs/mint.  Overall saltiness, but doesn't overpower like a more potent sour.

Easily my favorite among the dozen-plus options that I sampled was the Hill Farmstead Citra (Greensboro, VT, 5.4%), an American pale ale dry-hopped with Citra (hops) from the American Pacific Northwest.

Prairie Bomb! (Tulsa, OK 13.1%): Imperial stout aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chile peppers.  The peppers add just the right amount of heat to complement the intense coffee and chocolate flavors.  Adventurous types and Mexican food lovers, this is your new favorite brew!

Other notables were the Millstone Rhuberry (cider aged with fresh strawberries and rhubarb; extreme tartness that won’t overpower), Crooked Stave Progenitor (dry-hopped sour golden ale - tart, piney, and citrus-y finish), and the Mikkeller Hop On Drink'in (dry-hopped Berliner Weisse - tart with a rush of sour tropical fruit, low ABV of 2.8%).

For those of you who aren't particularly fond of beer (really?), trust me when I say that there are plenty of options in the form of wine and cocktails.  One that particularly caught my eye was the "Siesta" - tequila, Campari, grapefruit, and lime - which proved perfectly-crafted and unmistakably delicious.

...

Until we eat again,

Edgar Castillo for The Lunch Belle