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Entries in RIP: NYC restaurant cemetary (79)

Tuesday
Sep202011

Dinner at Zio: 'If it's good enough for Anthony Bourdain...'

*NOTE: This restaurant has since closed.*

  • Restaurant  Zio
  • Cuisine  Italian
  • Location  17 W. 19th St. Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-352-1700
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  spacious, modern, sleek - clean - sophisticated
  • Attire  business casual
  • Ideal for  small and large groups, 1x1, bar, private events
  • Price  moderate to expensive

"If it's good enough for Anthony Bourdain and his wife, then it's good enough for us," I exclaimed, after greeting Megan and Hung for our Saturday evening dinner date at Zio.  After all, it was this particular factoid that this 'new Flatiron Italian' was even in the running (along with about three other restaurants that we had also considered).

For 8:30pm on a Saturday eve, Zio was approximately between 1/4-1/3 of the way full.  I was able to chalk this up to the restaurant's very young life on the Flatiron neighborhood's dining landscape.  Slower evening aside, I was instantly warmed by the genuine care and service we received from the hostess upon our arrival, in addition to a couple of the other employees that we had first encountered. 

I had a good feeling about this place...

Photo (John Lei): Zio's dining roomWe were seated in the far back corner of the grand dining room, which granted us unobstructed views of the entire space.  Overall, think: clean, sophisticated lines and an understated elegance - honey, oat, and walnut color hues - leather banquette and table/chair seating - 20+ feet ceiling heights - dimmed modern lighting.

The meal was kicked off with a basket of sliced, freshly baked Italian Bread - crunchy, hand-rolled, herb-specked breadsticks - and a shallow dish filled with 'red pesto (pesto rosso),' for dipping and dunking.

The three of perused the dinner menu, all the while nursing our glasses of wine.  Finally, we came to a decision: split three appetizers amongst the table and order individual entrees.

Appetizers

Melanzane  Floating atop a shallow moat of warm marinara sauce was a castle, if you will, constructed of interchanging layers of lightly breaded strips of eggplant and gooey, smoked mozzarella cheese.   Spicy arugula greens crowned the top of the dish.

Riso Al Salto Con L'osso  Arborio rice, cooked to a precise 'al dente' - cooled - and then hand-formed in to the shape of a hockey puck, was encased by a Rolex-gold crust and served atop a tangy (lemon), herbaceous (parsley), and salty (beef stock, capers(?)) gremolata sauce.  Visually, what stole the show was the centerpiece of the dish: approximately 4-inches of beef bone that was sliced across the top, exposing a bountiful pool of gelatinous marrow.

Personally, I found the bone overwhelming, in terms of its size.

Lamb Meatballs (one of the appetizer 'specials' of the evening)  Meatballs.  The word, alone, makes my stomach growl...in a good way. 

Visually, this order of four perfectly plump, golf ball-sized balls was the picture of meatball perfection: enveloped in the house marinara sauce - finished with cheese - and topped with a sprig of something green, just enough of a burst of color to bring about a contrast.  Unfortunately, however, the balls were overcooked.  Like, to the point that, what should have been delicate, pink lamb meat, was 'McDonald's hamburger patty' grey.  Bummer. 

Entree

Pappardelle  Ribbons of saffron pappardelle noodles were gently tossed with brisket-like shreds and chunks of the most tender, gristle-free lamb.  The meat was braised in a tomato-based sauce which, while still pleasant and flavorful, did not compete or overpower its star component.

~

Conclusion

Aside from the overcooked lamb meatballs, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my meal at Zio.  From the sexy and sophisticated atmosphere, mature cocktail and wine lists, excellent service and, most importantly, the meal, I hope that others will also find that Zio has all of the ingredients necessary to make a long-standing home for itself in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Aug162011

Comida corrida! Dinner at La Camelia

*NOTE: This restaurant has since closed.*

  • Restaurant  La Camelia
  • Cuisine  Mexican
  • Location  64 Downing Street (between Bedford Street & 7th Avenue), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-675-7060
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  warm, lively
  • Attire  smart casual
  • Ideal for  small groups, 1x1, foodies, expansive bar menu
  • Price  affordable to moderate

Authentic.  Attractive.  Affordable.

If there's a new Mexican restaurant on the NYC dining landscape, then you can bet it's already on my radar.  And the birth of West Village newcomer, La Camelia, was no different.  Only, instead of some celebu-chef at the helm, it was her food menu that really seduced me.  

Fellow food-blogger and friend, Judith, The Fooditka, and I decided to meet for dinner at LC (La Camelia) at 6pm.  And, as always, I managed to arrive at the restaurant with 5-minutes to spare.  Fortunately, I was seated immediately at my table of choice - incomplete party and all, sans reservation.  Shock.

The peppy, orange-hued interior space comfortably holds a sizeable bar and dining area.  A vast skylight, hovering over the center of the restaurant, illuminates the entire room. 

Photo: La Camelia NYC dot comNotice the monogrammed tablecloths! Details, folks. Details! Judith arrived shortly after I was seated and, within moments, we were handed food/drink menus and a basket of warm, salty, homemade tostados and a salsa duo.  Our server could not have approached at a more perfect time, as the two of us had literally just exchanged "I need a margarita right now, or else..." glances. 

Which salsa, do you think, is hotter? If you said "green," you're wrong. The orange salsa is HABANERO-based. Ay yay yay!!!Passion-fruit "up" margarita rimmed with spicy saltLC's menu is lengthy which, in terms of Mexican restaurants, I like.  I mean, what if I want to be adventurous and not order cheese enchiladas?  I need options.  On the flip side, too many choices can pose a problem, especially when you're as indecisive as I am.  Luckily, on this particular evening, Judith and I made up our minds relatively quickly: we would split an appetizer and each order our own entree.

Shortly before we received our appetizer, Judith and I were presented with the evening's amuse bouche (pretty fancy-shmancy for a casual Mexican restaurant, no?): chunks of Manchego cheese surrounded by thinly-sliced, toasted garlic chips and roasted zucchini, drizzled with olive oil. 

While we couldn't stop raving about this dish, we weren't entirely sure how to eat it.  Ultimately, Judith politely utilized her fork and knife and, being the animal that I am, I used my fork - fingers - and tostados. 

Now, if only they had some fresh bolillo bread to sop-up all of the yummy oil...!

Just as they removed our nearly spit-clean amuse bouche plates, Judith and I received our shared order of "queso fundido."  A piping hot cast-iron skillet was liberally filled with gooey, melted Oaxaca, Manchego, and Chihuahua cheeses that were intertwined by a spicy and chunky pico de gallo.  Served alongside, and perfect for taco/burrito making, were handmade, buttery corn tortillas. 

As perfectly paced as the previous courses of our meal had come and went, our entrees arrived shortly after we had scooped-up our last few bites of queso fundido

While I could have taken a more adventurous route, I ended up ordering my "Mexican restaurant default plate of choice," the cheese enchiladas.  For $12, which I find to be a good deal in the heart of NYC, I received a large plate topped with three plump, green chile-sauce bathed cheese enchiladas.  A bowl of each, rice and beans, accompanied. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how spicy the green sauce was.  In an effort to cool down my mouth after each bite, I dipped my fork in to the soothing sour cream dollop that sat atop the enchiladas.  This was followed by yet another bite of my sauce-laden entree.  Then, another dip in to the sour cream.  Repeat.  Before I knew it, I had cleaned my entire plate! 

While the rice was mediocre at best, the black beans were fantastic.  Next time I visit LC, I will ask for a double-order, instead of rice altogether.  

To conclude: both Judith and I found LC to be a breath of fresh air amidst the neighborhood's other more tightly wound, pricier venues.  I thought that the restaurant did an excellent job on both the food and cocktail menus in terms of quality, variety, and price.  I would recommend LC to any of my friends, family, or colleagues. 

Get here now, before Sam Sifton does!    

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Jul072011

Dinner - and a job offer - at BLT Fish

*THIS RESTAURANT HAS SINCE CLOSED*
  • Restaurant  BLT Fish
  • Cuisine  seafood
  • Location  21 W. 17th St. (between 5th & 6th Avenues), 2nd level, Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-691-8888
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  casual elegance, bright (entire ceiling is a skylight), natural colors, beach-y
  • Attire  business casual
  • Ideal for  small groups, 1x1, romantic dates, foodies
  • Price  expensive, however, there is a less pricey "fish shack" concept located downstairs

To call any one of the BLT restaurants a "hidden gem" is kind of like describing Manhattan as "tranquil."  However, in the case of BLT Fish - quietly positioned over the less inhibited, raucous BLT Fish Shack - the term "hidden gem" fits like a glove. 

Diners who have plans and/or reservations for BLT Fish must first check-in at a centralized hostess stand that is located on ground level, in BLT Fish Shack.  From there, they are escorted via glass elevator to the second floor, which houses BLT Fish.  

Photo: BLT FishHaving arrived a couple of minutes shy of my aunt and cousin, I had the opportunity to admire BLTF's (BLTF = BLT Fish) interior space.  My eyes - and mood - lit up when I noticed that the entire circumference of the ceiling was a skylight, which allowed for natural interior illumination and an undeniably cool urban view, dotted with brick building tops and fire escapes.  Floral arrangements were few, but aired on the side of grand, in terms of size.  The color palette of the room was neutral, evoking subtle coastal and beach hues.  I felt transported, if only for a couple of hours.

"Gonna b cpl mins late," read Eric's text.  The poor kid was coming from his prep course for the NY State (law) bar exam, after all.  It was no bother, really, as I kept myself happily occupied studying both BLTF's dinner and evening specials menus.  And nursing the $14 glass of Chianti that I had quickly purchased at the bar, downstairs.

Phyllis, Eric, his full-grown beard, and one of the largest "study guides" that I have ever seen in my life arrived promptly after I had received his text.  Our server approached with additional menus and inquired as to whether they wanted a cocktail/glass of wine.  Having given us an ample amount of time to peruse both menus (nightly and specials), the three of us decided to split an appetizer and each order our own entrees. 

Moments after placing our order, we were presented with an amuse bouche which, on this particular evening, consisted of: tempura-shrimp lollipops, celery slaw, and a buttermilk ranch/celery-seed dipping sauce.

The shrimp were perfectly cooked - not too chewy - and the buttery, crunchy, tempura batter which encrusted them was still warm.  The use of celery, both in the slaw and the dressing/dip, added elements of cool, crisp, and balance to an otherwise heavy dish. 

I'll put it like this: if I had the option to order this as an entree, I would have done so without question.

Just when I thought that, for the time being, things could not possibly get much better, the "bread basket" arrived.  Three plump, fresh-from-the-oven Cheddar & Chive Biscuits, a small dish of sea-salted maple butter, and a mini recipe card for each were neatly arranged on a wooden slab of butcher block.

P.S. Their little "mini recipe card" marketing ploy worked!  BLTF's biscuits were so delicious, in fact, that I posted the recipe last week!

The next dish to arrive from the kitchen was our appetizer, the Big Eye Tuna Carpaccio.  Thinly-sliced sushi-grade tuna was liberally topped with nicoise olive tapenade, house-made crouton bits, and artichoke confit.  The constructed plate, alone, was a work of art and almost too gorgeous to bring myself - or my fork - to disassemble and eat.  Luckily, I'm not that in to art.  

I appreciated the thought behind BLTF's version of tuna carpaccio because it was so cleverly deconstructed.  While some may have balked at the sight of croutons atop the raw fish, I found it to be a brilliant method of incorporating the crostini/toast point that often accompanies this dish.

Before I brag about mine, I want to share some fantastic photos of the entree that my aunt and cousin split.  Having completed a work/study program in Hong Kong recently, the "Crispy Red Snapper 'Cantonese Style' Whole Fish" is the BLTF menu item that captured Eric's eye.  "I've been craving this dish since my return," he exclaimed.  "I wonder if they'll let me eat the eyeballs?!?"  Ew.  He was serious. 

Just as our server was almost finished de-boning the snapper, a startled Eric jumped from the table.  "I have to take this," he whispered towards his mom, "it's Singapore!"  As he stepped away to take the phone call, Phyllis explained that Eric had been interviewing with a British law firm for a position at their Singapore office. 

Moments later, a stoic Eric returned to the table.  He sat down - placed his napkin back in to his lap - and glanced at each one of us.  "I got the job!"  Eric said, as his face melted in to the most adorable smile.

With Eric's announcement came the arrival of our entrees.  I ordered the perfectly-seared Diver Scallops, which were served over creamy dollups of sweet corn polenta and crowned with shaved black "summer" truffles.   

After our meal, we were presented with a gratis serving of homemade green-apple cotton candy and a plate of petit-fours.  What a sweet way to end such a memorable evening!

~

Conclusion: my experience at BLTF - food, ambience, service, company - was perfect.  There was not one aspect of my dinner that was missing, subpar or, even, mediocre.  I was more than pleased on all accounts.  And to further add to my delicious meal, Eric received an incredible job offer - in Asia - while awaiting the arrival of his favorite Asian dish - alongside me, his cousin and friend, who came all the way to Hong Kong to visit him during his first go-round.

Here's to round-two, Eric!  I love you. 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Jun082011

CLOSED: Press preview: Milk Street Cafe 

**Opening to the public on Thursday, June 23rd**

Originally hailing from Boston, Milk Street Cafe's second and newest concept is an "upscale Food Hall" located smack-dab in the heart of NYC's world-famous financial district: in the Trump Building, on Wall Street, of course!  You can imagine how thrilled I was to be included at their "private press preview," which was held this past Monday evening. 

Within the last handful of years, the restaurant scene in NYC's financial district has dramatically improved.  As a 2001 summer intern at the World Trade Center, I can remember how bleak my meal options were: pizza, hot dog, the food court in the mall beneath the towers, or Burger King.  That. Was. It.  Luckily, things have changed.  And rightfully so, because I've always wondered how so many downtown employees were able to eat relatively healthy - and semi-tasty - breakfasts and lunches.  Not to mention the folks who actually reside in this up-and-coming neighborhood!   

Going back to the topic: aside from my obvious curiosity about the Milk Street's concept, food, decor, etc., my fascination was especially piqued when I began to compile a mental list of potential Midtown "food halls" that I could compare to Milk Street.  Why Midtown?  Because that's where I work.  Both Dishes and The Plaza Food Hall came to mind; the latter, for the sheer fact that its name actually *contains* the words, "food hall."  But I decided to nix The Plaza Food Hall, as I've only eaten there once, and that was on a weekend.  So how would Milk Street stack up against Dishes?  Read on to find out...

Exterior signage - I like the touch of "adding flavor and jobs to Wall Street."Marble entry way with customized signageFor Milk Street's preview, a red carpet was rolled out from the front doors to the street which, at least I thought, made guests feel extra special.

Step & repeat: The Luscious Lifestyle Diva and me, yours trulyA look inside the 23,000 sq. ft. spaceVarious food stations, grab 'n go setupThe first thing I noticed about Milk Street, aside from its "Hollywood Regency" cum beaux-arts decor, was how large its interior space was!  23,000 square feet, to be exact.  And don't think that all of it is dedicated to food stations and beverage kiosks - there is seating for approximately 100!

Decor splendorYummy passed plates and hors d'oeuvresAfter sampling numerous hors d'oeuvres, gulping down two chocolate chip mocha frappes, and taking a guided tour throughout Milk Street's interior space, here is what really stuck out:

  • As I said above, the sheer size of the venue: 23,000 square feet!
  • Amount of food stations: barista, made-to-order breakfasts, made-from-scratch breads/desserts/pastries, pasta bar, Asian specialties, sushi bar, two create-your-own salad bars (one vegetarian, one non), homemade soups, a grill, rotisserie, carving station, AND grab 'n go stands
  • "Line Busters," which is a hand-held checkout system to speed up the payment process for those paying with plastic
  • Produce Soak sinks, which are sophisticated whirlpool systems used for cleaning produce
  • Website: so user friendly, in fact, that it will allow customers to sort foods/meals by their personal dietary needs (ie: if a customer is vegan, it will automatically eliminate all non-vegan items from the menu)
  • 80 permanent jobs will be brought back to Wall Street!

So, how does Milk Street stack up against Dishes, thus far? 

  • Food: I only sampled a couple of Milk Street's offerings, but from what I did have, Dishes still reigns supreme
  • Space:  Milk Street is much bigger and offers more seating than Dishes, plus its aesthetic isn't as sterile
  • Options: Milk Street offers more grab n' go options, whereas Dishes only offers a few - good for those on-the-go
  • Service: Dishes is not known for having the friendliest of service.  The staff at Milk Street, on the other hand, was knowledgeable and kind
  • Hours: Milk Street stays open until 9pm (M-Th) and until 3pm on Friday's - Dishes closes at 5pm (M-F)

Bottom line: Wall Street doesn't know what it's in for!  I think that Milk Street's success will be monumental and I cannot believe that it's taken any company this long to bring the "food hall" concept downtown.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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