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Entries in RIP: NYC restaurant cemetary (79)


CLOSED: Dinner at Chinatown Brasserie, 1/28/08

For those of you who aren't aware of/don't live in the NYC area, twice a year, there's a glorious little event called "Restaurant Week." Per gonyc.about.com, here's their quick description: "Twice a year, in January and June/July, there is a unique opportunity to experience some of New York City's finest restaurants for a fraction of the usual price. Throughout the city, restaurants participate in "Restaurant Week" where they offer a three-course lunch for $24.07 (& some even offer dinner for $35). Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to try out a restaurant that may usually be out of your budget, or test some new restaurants with a little less financial risk." I've done various "Restaurant Week" meals in the past, and honestly, most of them have been subpar, even those served in Gotham's most fabulous establishments. But for $24.07 (at lunch time) and $35 (at dinner time), who can complain extensively when you get a 3-course all-inclusive meal?

Who more perfect to introduce Winter Restaurant Week to than a brand new New York City resident? A darling life-long friend of mine from home had just moved to the city, and we decided to meet for dinner on Monday night. After going back and forth regarding which cuisine to choose, Whitney and I finally decided on either Thai or Chinese and ultimately made reservations at Chinatown Brasserie for Monday, January 28th at 6:45 p.m.

I was the first to arrive at Chinatown Brasserie, which I always like, because it gives me just the perfect amount of "alone time" to study the restaurant's atmosphere and vibe (typically while sipping my first cocktail at the bar). As you can see in the picture above, the restaurant is housed in a very old bi-level space, but modernized and updated with Chinese lighting and decor. I loved how the plank wood flooring, tall ceilings and pillars synchronized so seamlessly and beautifully with the bright red chairs, splashes of black lacquer and Chinese lanterns.

After giving my name to the host, I made my way over to the bar. For 6:30 p.m. on a Monday night, there were definitely a good number of patrons both enjoying dinner and drinks. I ordered a Pear Batida, made with: Cachaca, fresh pear and prosecco. While my drink was being made, I couldn't help but notice that I was being stared down. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't help glancing out of the corner of my eye to see if I was still being "assaulted." Finally, I gave in...That damn bowl of fried wonton skins would not stop looking at me! After greasy handful number one and one half, my drink arrived. I couldn't quite taste the prosecco, but the outrageously-strong cachaca definitely took a couple of years off of my life! Luckily, the fragrant and mealy fresh pear nectar assisted in numbing some of the throat sting. My only option was to chase my cocktail with fried wonton skins after every three sips!
Whitney arrived shortly thereafter and we were seated. The waitress handed us both a regular dinner menu and a Restaurant Week menu. After perusing, each of us decided that the Restaurant Week menu looked like the best value for our money, as the offerings were quite generous and sounded delicious. For my meal, I went with: St. Louis-Cut Ribs, a dim-sum assortment (shrimp and Chinese chive dumpling, barbequed duck spring roll, beef/onion/mushroom triangle, and a pork potsticker), filet mignon with white asparagus, and a mini lychee/chocolate molten cake. After placing our order with the waitress, I inquired if she could bring us one of those heavenly bowls of fried wontons. "Sorry, but I can't do that. The fried wontons are only for the bar." Um...ok?

It was great catching up with Whitney, but not ten-minutes in to our debriefing session, we were interrupted by our first appetizer. When those St. Louis ribs were placed in front of me, birds started chirping in the background and all I could see were rainbows and waterfalls, for these two meaty morsels of shear rib pleasure were the best damn ones I've ever had. Not more than 3 1/2 inches in length, the ribs were thick with flavorful, slightly spicy, fall-off-the-bone meat. After practically licking all of my fingers and the plate, our dim sum appetizers arrived. I definitely favored the dumplings over the duck spring roll, as I still have a hard time eating the meat of such an adorable animal. However, all of the dim sum was wonderful and clearly homemade with the freshest and highest quality ingredients.
Within ten-minutes of our appetizer plates being cleared, our entrees arrived. Plate presentation was both artistic and attractive, accompanied by a small bowl of white sticky-rice. My filet mignon swam in shallow chocolate-brown gravy and was dotted with chopped white asparagus spears. It was certainly a good thing that I was able to cut my steak solely with a fork, because there was not a knife in sight. The sliced filet was cooked medium-rare, making each bite more tender and delicate than the one before. The asparagus added just the right amount of subtle crunch, while the perfectly salty and buttery brown gravy brought out the rich flavor of the steak.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect (atleast 99% of the time), and my dessert under whelmed. Imagine a mini sized molten chocolate cake, but instead of the molten center, it's replaced by a lychee. In my opinion, the combination of flavors was awkward. To make matters worse, the cake itself was very dry.
From beginning to almost-end, my meal at Chinatown Brasserie
was outstanding. What made it more phenomenal was the fact that I was so impressed by a prix fixed Restaurant Week meal, as most of them rarely are associated with such complimentary adjectives. For $35 per person, my dear Whitney and I made out like bandits in a successful bank robbery!


CLOSED: Dinner at Pamplona, 1/24/08

For all of you Lunch Belle regulars, hearing me mention my favorite website, chow.com, is nothing new. This online foodie community has literally changed my life! One of the best things that have come from chow.com is a new friendship that I've cultivated with a fellow blogger named Dana. As fate would have it, Dana and I found out that her mother and my aunt are best friends! What a small world it is, indeed! After discovering this fact, we decided to meet face to face for dinner on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. Dana picked a restaurant that neither of us had tried, but one that is frequently discussed on the Manhattan board of chow.com. Pamplona is chef Alex Urena's revamped version of his original, Urena. Coincidentally, Pamplona is housed where Urena once was.

So here's a typical problem I run in to when making plans to meet friends out on weeknights: On a normal day, I'm off of work around 5:30 p.m. If dinner isn't until 7:30 or 8 p.m., what am I going to do with myself 'til then? Depending upon the area and the weather, I can: window shop, plop down on a park bench and read, return phone calls and texts, etc. But what if both the neighborhood and weather suck? Then what? This was the predicament that I faced last night. The air was bitter and the wind was fierce and I was surrounded by industrial buildings and corporations. I'm not saying that the Gramercy/Flatiron neighborhood is a dump, but I am saying that there wasn't much to do within a five block radius in every direction from where I was standing. Out of desperation, I grabbed my mobile and phoned home, "Hi mom, will I look like a total loser/alcoholic if I go have a drink or three by myself? I'm not meeting my friend at the restaurant until 7:30 p.m., and it's only 6:15 p.m." After getting my much-needed validation, I marched myself over to Dos Caminos Park and downed two delicious prickly-pear/passion fruit margaritas. Nearly forty-five minutes and $30.00 later, I headed towards Pamplona.
I arrived at Pamplona about fifteen minutes shy of 7:30, and Dana was about ten to fifteen behind me. I was greeted by two friendly hosts and relayed to them that I was the first of my party to arrive. My watch said 7:11 p.m., and my mind said "mojito!" I grabbed a stool at the bar, and was promptly given a drink menu. The first cocktail that struck my fancy was the passion-fruit mojito, and the bartender confirmed that I had in fact made a great choice. While waiting for my beverage, I was able to take in Pamplona's atmosphere and interior design. When Pamplona was formerly called Urena, Frank Bruni, the famous NY Times food critic was quoted as saying, "Ureña fills me with apprehension — and, obviously, decorating tips — because it's the ugliest restaurant with great food that I know, a toad-faced prince..." I wasn't fortunate enough to have eaten at the late Urena, but I think it's safe to say that some interior sprucing-up had to have been done during the Urena to Pamplona transition. The space was long and narrow, similar to a railroad car. However, the atmosphere was warm and intimate and decorated in a very minimalist fashion. The Spanish background music was soft and festive and the lighting was the perfect balance of just enough to clearly view the menu, but dim enough to relax and unwind.

Simultaneously, I received my passion-fruit mojito and a small bowl of bar popcorn dusted with chorizo seasoning. Had I'd been just a bit more coherent, I would have asked the bar tender to explain the chorizo-seasoning to me in more detail, but nonetheless, it was delicious. Imagine your everyday bowl of buttered popcorn...now try to envision the kernels dusted with a generous paprika-colored powder that evoked a smoky, somewhat spicy, and slightly gamey essence. Sounds interesting, right?
Not a couple of sips in to my strong and tart passion-fruit mojito, Dana arrived. We excitedly greeted eachother and were led to our table. Dana and I had so much to talk about and catch up on, not to mention gossip about some of our favorite fellow chow.com bloggers! But, first things first, and after we received our menus, we had to decide on which plates to order. After perusing and going back and forth for a while, we decided on the following dishes: Buneulos de Queso, Montado de Garbanzo y Gindillas, Albondigas, Hamburguesa and the special rabbit preparation.
The Bunuelos and Montado arrived first, followed by the Albondigas. Each plate was creatively presented and very artistically pleasing to the eye. Dana and I took samples from each of the three dishes and added them to our small "tapas" plates. For those of you familiar with Indian cuisine, the Bunuelo looked identical to a piece of gulab jamun (a famous Indian dessert that looks like a golden ping-pong ball). The exterior fried crust was light and slightly crisp, giving way to a pungent liquidy cheese interior. Personally, I thought that the Iberico and Manchego cheese combination was a bit too strong, but overall, the execution was good.
I was excited to try our next dish, the Montado de Garbanzo y Gindillas, because this loosely translated to "chickpea French fries." The plate arrived with three perfectly aligned Montado de Garbanzo's which looked like mini golden rubix cubes. The exterior crust of the fries was similar to that 0f the Bunuelo, however the interior o f this dish was much more subtle, dense and creamy (because chickpeas don't have a very intense flavor) instead of being overpoweringly pungent . Dana and I loved this dish so much, we ordered another!
Next, we tried the Albondigas, which means "meatball" in English. Three golf-ball sized meatballs came swimming in a shallow tomato sauce and were finished with a dollop of cream. These protein-packed morsels were tender and perfectly cooked, but the dish reminded me more of something to be ordered at an Italian restaurant, maybe not at a Spanish one. Perhaps it was the marinara-like tomato sauce and what tasted like ricotta cheese?
Fifteen minutes later, our entrees arrived. Before this evening, I'd never had rabbit in my life, and from what I'd heard, it was an easy meat to mess up if not cooked by someone who knew what they were doing. I was hesitant prior to taking my first bite, but was pleasantly surprised at how rich and tender the meat was. I couldn't tell you all of the ingredients incorporated in the entree, but I do remember shredded rabbit meat with vegetables that almost looked like a chicken salad mold. (Please note that by this point, I was nearly three-sheets-to-the-wind) The dish was served slightly chilled.
Another favorite of this meal was the Hamburguesa (hamburger). The patty was made with three different meats: beef, chorizo and suckling pig. The burger was sandwiched on a dense, buttery brioche bun and served with homemade French fries and mayonnaise. The trinity of the meats created an incredibly tender, rich and spicy flavor combination unlike anything I've ever tasted.
After our dinner plates had been cleared, Dana and I each ordered a coffee and two desserts: churros with hot dipping chocolate and an apple tart. Both sweets were fantastic, but the churros are what really stood out. The long and skinny fried pieces of dough were rolled in cinnamon and sugar and served with an espresso-sized cup filled with warm molten chocolate. Truly, one of the best desserts I've had in New York.
What a special night it was; finally getting to meet my foodie soulmate, Dana, in person and getting to share our love of all things edible over dinner at a wonderful restaurant! Once again, thank you, chow.com!


CLOSED: Dinner...And brunch at The Nolita House, 9/07

I feel like it's always so hard to make plans for an after-work drink or dinner with friends in this city. Everyone is so busy and has so many things going on in their lives. So when one of my most busy and successful fashionista friends, Megan, was able to grab dinner with me last night, I was elated.

In honor of Megan's birthday (which was actually over the past weekend), we decided to have dinner at The Nolita House. Neither of us had been before, but we were both excited about what we'd seen on the menu via the website. Upon arriving at The Nolita House, we were seated immediately. After Megan and I caught up a bit and perused the menu, we decided to order: Hefeweizen beer (two-for-one Happy Hour special!), corn fritters, macaroni and cheese, and the wild mushroom papparedelle pasta. The corn fritters were fantastic, and honestly, I cannot stop thinking about them. An order of fritters comes with about five one-and-one-half-inch long treats that look similar to mini footballs. Crispy and golden on the outside, the fritters ooze with creamy, corny, cheesy goodness on the inside. We could not have been happier with this appetite teaser...until our main dishes arrived. The macaroni and cheese is served in a skillet with a salad on the side. The noodles weren't your everyday elbow macaroni noodles, but more of a rotini noodle swimming in the most rich, delectable cheese sauce I've had in a long time. Every creamy bite had a nice crunch from the golden brown bread-crumb crust/topping. The wild mushroom pappardelle was one of the best pasta dishes I've had in Manhattan. The pasta was HOMEMADE (which I appreciate so much), with chunks of wild mushroom, artichoke, red peppers and pine nuts throughout, and finished with a light cream sauce. The Nolita House is a wonderful restaurant and bar that really shines in every department. I can't say enough about the service, happy hour specials and food. Two thumbs up!!


I'd be a liar if I said that going to the same restaurant twice in one week is normal behavior for me. So on Sunday, September 23rd, I found myself at The Nolita House, once again. My favorite dining companion, Emily, and I arrived for brunch around 12:30. The restaurant was packed, but we were able to find two stools to sit at while we waited for a table (which I found to be a welcome relief; nine times out of ten, I end up standing during my thirty-minute table wait). About twenty-minutes later, Emily and I were seated. The brunch menu at The Nolita House is quite extensive; from omelettes, French toast and pancakes, to croque monsieur's and everything in between.

To our pleasant surprise, there was a live jazz band playing at the restaurant. The music was fantastic, and most importantly, not too loud. After perusing the menu and debriefing Emily on The Nolita House's famous mac n' cheese, we each ordered an omelette and split a side order of the mac.

For my omelette, I requested egg whites with: avocado, locally made sausage, caramelized onions and Brie cheese. My order also came with mixed greens, homemade herbed fries and a fresh-squeezed orange juice. I must say that this is one of the best omelettes I've had. The ingredients were impeccably fresh and I was particularly impressed that the buttery avocado chunks and brie cheese didn't overpower the omelette with a greasy aftertaste. Each bite was made more delicious when paired with the delicately seasoned (I'm guessing it was rosemary) herbed fries.

Emily enjoyed her breakfast, as well. She seemed to be very impressed by the mac n' cheese, as we devoured the entire dish and fork-fought for the last bite. The Nolita House wins again!

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