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Lindsay

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Entries in RIP: NYC restaurant cemetary (79)

Friday
May062011

"Spreading the Druze" to Manhattan's UWS: dinner at Gazala's

*NOTE: This location has closed.*

  • Restaurant  Gazala's
  • Cuisine  Middle Eastern, Druze
  • Location  380 Columbus Avenue (at 78th Street), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-873-8880  
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  casual, exposed brick walls, no-frills
  • Attire  casual
  • Ideal for  small groups, 1x1, BYOB
  • Price  affordable to moderate

I arrived at Gazala's, located across the street from the American Museum of Natural History, and was promptly seated at a corner banquette overlooking a cherry blossom tree-lined 78th Street.  After I got settled, I couldn't help but smile; for this location was so much larger than that of Gazala Place (complete with private event space, as well).  I had to assume that business was going very well for Israeli-born owner, Gazala Halabi.  The dining room, though simple and understated, oozed with character from features like exposed brick walls, mile-high ceilings, rounded-top windows, and unique color hues.  The space evoked an unexplainable warmth, and it was at this moment that I knew that both Tara and I were in for a treat.

Prior to Tara's arrival, I handed the bottle of Brunello wine that I purchased for our BYOB meal to our server.  After our glasses were promptly topped with the Italian red, the two of us toasted to our long overdue dinner date and to Tara's upcoming bachelorette party and late-summer nuptials.  

We began our meal with two shared appetizers: an order of falafel and a spinach boureka.

Falafel  You wouldn't think that these fried chickpea/fava bean morsels would be easy to mess up but, trust me, I've had plenty of horrendous versions here in NYC.  Luckily, Gazala's was not one of them.  Actually, hers weren't even close.  Crispy, warm, garlicky, nutty, and dense - I barely even missed the fact of not having pita bread as an accompaniment!  This falafel was perfectly divine on its own, especially with a schmear of house-made tahini.

Spinach Boureka  I was first introduced to Gazala's famous spinach boureka during a Hell's Kitchen tasting tour in the fall of 2009.  Since that first bite, I've been hooked.  And how could I not be?  Layer upon ultra-thin layer of *handmade* olive oil-based "phyllo" dough envelopes homemade goat's cheese and wilted, brined spinach greens that, quite honestly, taste more like grape leaves than spinach.  A small bowl of sliced pickles and bright green olives accompany.

Although we had originally intended to share, Tara and I ended up ordering separate entrees. 

In an effort to sample as much as possible, I chose the "Moshokal Plate," which included the following: skewered and flame-broiled lamb, chicken, and kafta (ground meat with spices), rice, house-made tahini sauce, and two cabbage-based side salads. 

As if all of the above weren't enough, Tara and I had a difficult time saying "no" to dessert.  So difficult, in fact, that we ordered three: date cookies, baklava, and Osh Al-Saraia.  While the cookies and baklava were nothing short of fantastic, it was the Osh Al-Saraia that completely stole the show/spotlight.  A dense, creamy yogurt "pudding" oozed from a delicate crust that was constructed from honeyed oranges, rosewater, and chopped pistachios.  There are, truly, no words to describe just how incredibly delicious - simple - and, yet complicated, that this dessert was. 

Date cookies & baklava

Osh Al-Saraia

After our fabulous meal, I had the pleasure of speaking with Miss Gazala, herself.  Here are some interesting tidbits that I took away from our conversation: 

  • I learned that the correct way to pronounce both her name and namesake restaurants is "Jeh-zah-lah."  Not "Guh-zah-lah."  Whoops.  
  • Goat's cheese, not cow's cheese, is more prevalent in the area of Israel where Gazala is from.
  • Because the kitchen space at Gazala Place, her original restaurant, is so small, she prepares many of the menu's items at her apartment - located just around the corner.
  • Not only are Gazala's restaurants the only two Druze in NYC, but they are, currently, the only Druze restaurants in this country!  Hello, market share

In conclusion  I was beyond pleased to learn that Tara enjoyed her meal at Gazala's just as much as I did.  There's always this indescribable sense of relief that accompanies a restaurant's approval, especially when coming from that of a close friend. 

Alas, it looks as if I've turned yet another pal of mine on to the magic of Gazala Halabi's growing Druze cuisine empire.

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Friday
Apr152011

CLOSED: Dinner at Baotique (at Covet Lounge): unBAOlievable opulence

  • Restaurant  Baotique at Covet Lounge
  • Cuisine  Pan-Asian
  • Location  137 E. 55th Street (between Lexington & 3rd Avenues), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-223-2829  
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  opulent, dark, sexy
  • Attire  chic/business casual, dress to impress
  • Ideal for  small groups, 1x1, romance
  • Price  moderate

What the hell used to be here?  That was the running question, leading me up the exterior staircase, as I entered Baotique at Covet Lounge this past Tuesday.  Jean and I had a 6:45pm dinner reservation and, in true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived 15-minutes early.  As I approached the hostess stand to announce my arrival, it hit me: this was the former Azza space, which I had been to for a couple of birthday celebrations and after-parties.  A-ha!

In its entirety, the space is divided: Baotique (restaurant) is located on street-level, while Covet Lounge occupies the floor beneath.  One identical trait that these "fraternal twins" do share?  A captivating physical attraction - displayed via brilliant restoration and interior decor located, literally, in every nook and cranny of their mutual space.  Think modern-day opulence meets beaux-arts.  Brilliant.    

In anticipation of our upcoming jaunt to Belize next week, Jean and I had some serious debriefing to partake in, such as: packing lists, excursion agendas, and who would bring which books/magazines, etc.  Luckily, I didn't have to wait too much longer for her to join me for our 6:45pm reservation.  

"Hi doll," Jean exclaimed from across the room as she made her grand entrance.  "I need a drink."  Unfortunately for both of us, our waitress informed Jean and I that, in some sort of beverage-ingredient delivery fluke, the cocktail list was unavailable that evening.  Or something along those lines.  This was particularly odd, especially for a venue that, first and foremost, coins itself as a lounge - so much so, that the "Baotique" piece of "Baotique at Covet Lounge," does not even have signage from the street (the only giveaway is knowing the building number or recognizing the "Covet" sign)!  We settled for a glass of wine.    

With Baotique's seafood-heavy menu, chock-full of unique ingredients, I let Jean do the "driving."  We chose to split an array of dishes:

Black Cod Dumpling Soup

Docked atop a fragrant pool of lemongrass-scented seafood broth were homemade wontons filled with black cod.  Delicate, fried fish skin "barges" and wilted greens served as flavorful flotation devices. 

Chao Tom Roll

Each roll - tightly bound together by a moist rice-paper wrapper- was filled with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, a grilled shrimp cake, and topped with finely-chopped peanuts.  A sweet 'n sour carrot-based slaw and lime-scented fish sauce accompanied the rolls.  

Wild Mushroom Crepe

This was, without question, my favorite of the dishes that Jean and I shared.  What's not to love about a savory pancake filled with chanterelle mushrooms?  Nothing...except for the fact that the 'shrooms were fighting for interior "crepe territory" with chunks of tofu.  Minor buzz kill, especially for someone who loathes the mushy, white stuff.  Luckily, all it took was some creative rearranging.  I politely pushed the tofu aside and proceeded to eat my portion of the crepe. 

Jean and I were confused, however, by the garnishment of the daikon and mint greens, sweet 'n sour slaw, and the soy dipping sauce.

Pan Seared Wild Bass

Seared skin-on, I found this wild bass entree nothing short of brilliant.  The delicate fish sat atop an earthy heart-of-palm puree that was coupled with a fragrant, exotic green curry emulsion.  I appreciated the use of heavier ingredients - i.e. cream - against the light, flaky bass.

Foie Gras Duck Fried Rice

Can you say "overindulgence?"  Duck confit, duck bacon, foie gras, shards of scrambled egg, and scallions were gently folded into a mound of buttery, perfectly-clumped and sticky white rice.  Three forkfuls were more than enough.  

Melted Asian Eggplant

Jean, the self-professed "eggplant-oholic," suggested that we order the above as our side dish.  And I'm not going to lie, the name "Melted Asian Eggplant" sounded rather catchy and intriguing, albeit slightly frightening.  Kind of how I like my men.  Unfortunately though, it was nothing more than a greasy pile of the vegetable's innards, drizzled with, what the menu read to be, "scallion oil and yuzu soy cham."  Whatever that is.

In conclusion

For the duration of our meal on Tuesday evening - 6:45pm-9pm - our table was one of only four that was occupied.  Perhaps, this was due to the fact that it was a dreary, rainy Tuesday evening - or because:

  • Baotique has no signage from the street, creating a lack of potential "walk in" customers. 
  • Unless you're familiar with Covet Lounge, then you may be unaware of Baotique's existence.

I just have to wonder how a restaurant not in Anytown, USA but here, in NYC - that's virtually hidden and empty, at least on this particular evening - can stay afloat in such an expensive space and in such a competitive market.  Perhaps I'm being dramatic and this just warrants a return on a weekend evening. 

On to the food: there were parts of the meal that I really enjoyed - Wild Mushroom Crepe and Pan Seared Wild Bass - and other aspects that I did not.  I hate to sound uneducated - and hey, maybe I am - but I found the overuse of complicated ingredients to be slightly intimidating and unappetizing.  I think that many of these dishes would be much more delicious and user-friendly if they were tweaked/prepared with fewer components.  Because, honestly: if hungry club/lounge goer's from Covet are in need of a food-fix, I'm not sure how appealing the "Spicy Beef Belly" or the "Salt & Pepper Sweet Breads" will be.

Jus' sayin'. 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Apr052011

Lunch at goodburger (location now closed)

For some reason, rainy days just scream "burger and fries!"  And when those days happen to fall during the workweek, I find it fitting - and, why not - to also include "milkshake." 

Take, for example, this past Friday: not only was it raining heavily, but the air temperature was frigid and the wind was unforgivable.  The thought of leaving my desk to brave the conditions in search of lunch was almost too daunting.  So in an effort to stay put, I rummaged through my desk drawers and found enough quarters to potentially buy a couple of packaged items from the vending machine.  Luckily, I became distracted by another task before the hunger pangs could get the best of me and my change.  After all, I thought, what good would a bag of Sun Chips and a package of Peanut Butter M&M's do in terms of my progression towards becoming a more civilized, mature, "grown-up" eater?  As you may recall, I'm currently taking a nutrition course.  It was then that I reasoned with myself: a burger, fries, and a 'shake was much more of a realistic and, dare I say, nutritious lunch than the latter. 

Now I don't know about you, but I feel awful about ordering food when the weather is less than ideal out of concern and guilt for the delivery-men/women.  Yes, I am that girl.  This got me thinking: since I would be the one going out to fetch my lunch, where could I find a decent burger in close proximity to my office?  I did a quick search on menupages and, bam!  Goodburger, a popular local chain, was merely minutes away.

Although it's a quick serve - order at the counter - casual-type burger joint, I have to say that, visually, I was impressed with Goodburger's attractive, well-designed space: a multi-purpose white-marble bar/counter top, desserts displayed in old-fashioned glass cake stands, menus posted in highly visible areas-in addition to accessible paper menus, beer served...on tap!

While Goodburger was becoming more and more crowded, the line to order food was bearable and moved relatively quickly.  Upon placing my to-go order, I was asked how I wanted my burger cooked, medium or medium-well.  "Really?"  I asked, "You guys do that here?"  After receiving a friendly nod from the employee (taking my order), I requested that mine be prepared medium

Roughly $15 and 10-minutes later, my name was called.  With brown-bag in hand, I made my way back to my desk through the dark, rainy streets of Midtown Manhattan.

You can imagine the stares I received as I walked through 'cubicle-land' with my brown-bag wafting of French fry and hamburger fumes!  As insanely sexy as it smelled, the real question was just how good would Goodburger deliver, taste-wise?  I was about to find out:

Goodburger's Classic Burger: bun, 6.5 ounce beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, mustard, ketchup

Goodburger recently increased the size of their meat patties from 5.5 ounces to 6.5 ounces - at no additional charge to the customer.  Why?  I have not a clue.  How?  I can't answer that one, either, except to tell you that it makes me extremely antsy and anxious when I think about what kind of ground beef I consumed.  Obviously this wasn't enough to make me not eat the burger.  Hell, I consumed the whole damn thing! 

Even though the size only differed by one ounce, I did not find the burger to be too big or overwhelming for one person to finish in its entirety.  The hamburger bun, although grilled to provide more stabilization to the bulky patty and moist ingredients, still yielded a fresh and fluffy texture, as if baked that morning. 

Unfortunately, the hamburger patty was overcooked.  While this wasn't detrimental to my overall enjoyment of the sandwich, it certainly made me question the restaurant's interpretation of medium vs. medium well.  Next time, I will know to order my burger medium rare

All in all, I have to say that, in terms of a quick-service restaurant, Goodburger makes a really good burger.  I appreciate the thick patties and the fact that you *can* order your beef cooked to your liking - even if it doesn't always come out that way.

French fries

'Fries are pretty hard to screw up, and Goodburger's were no exception.  That being said, I don't find any reason to go on, at an arm's length, about how delicious they were.  End of story.

Vanilla milkshake

Since I snapped all of the photos for this post with my Blackberry, I couldn't seem to get a great close-up of my vanilla milkshake.  But take it from me, it was worth every last calorie.  Perhaps it was the fact that I had not had dessert all week, but the intense vanilla flavor in Goodburger's shake was both enlightening and sobering to my taste buds - in the most positive sense of each word.  "So this is how vanilla ice cream is supposed to taste!" I exclaimed to one of my coworkers.  The consistency of the milkshake was creamy and thick and the flavor, rich and sweet enough to where I only needed a few sips to cure my Texas-sized sugar addiction.

~

Verdict? Goodburger serves hungry NY'ers an affordable, customizable, local, fast, fresh, and delicious menu with an ample variety of options. 

Kosher?  Vegetarian?  Don't let the word "goodburger" fool or intimidate you - there's something on the menu for everyone.  Come and see for yourself! 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Wednesday
Mar302011

CLOSED: Dinner at Nuela

  • Restaurant  Nuela
  • Cuisine  South American fusion 
  • Location  43 W. 24th St. (between Broadway & 6th Avenue), Manhattan 
  • Phone  212-929-1200  
  • Website  click *here*  
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  modern, spacious
  • Attire  smart/business casual
  • Ideal for  groups of various sizes, 1x1 diners, foodies, private events
  • Price  moderate to expensive
  •  

    Is it Chelsea or is it Flatiron?  Others call this particular area of Manhattan, located North of 23rd Street - South of 34th Street - East of 8th Avenue, and West of 5th Avenue, the "flower district."  But as far as I'm concerned, the verdict is still out.  I can say this with confidence because I am a resident of the no-borhood in question.  A "no-borhood" is a part of town that, for some reason or another, has not yet received its proper nickname.  Perhaps my 'hood is still trying to find its own identity among Chelsea and Flatiron, its iconic neighbors...

    Nuela, one of the no-borhood's newest restaurants, is located on a relatively quiet side street just off of bustling 6th Avenue.  While that may sound unfortunate, think again: it happens to be a stone's throw away from Mario Batali's Italian gourmet megaplex, Eataly.  I can only imagine the ample amount of foot traffic that Nuela attracts by the number of guests who pass by on their way to/from Eataly.

    Having beaten Ceci to our 6:30pm dinner reservation by about 15-minutes, I decided to have a glass of wine at the bar.  Forgoing my usual pinot noir, I chose a medium-bodied tempranillo, instead.  Unfortunately, I found both the wine and the goblet to be on the warm side (was the glass just taken out of the dishwasher?).  Meh.  What did lift my spirits, however, was the heavenly gratis bar snack that was given to each patron(s): a small bowl filled with salty, crunchy corn kernels - each the size of a horse's tooth - and fried leek "strings."  This homemade "snack mix" just may be worth the trip to Nuela, alone.  

    Salty corn kernels and fried leek "strings" make for one hell of a delicious, unique, and highly addictive bar snack. Moments after I had nearly consumed the entire bowl of kernels and publicly licked the salt off of my fingers, Ceci arrived.  We were promptly escorted to a cozy two-top overlooking 24th Street.  

    I quickly snapped this photo before taking my seat, so that you could get a vision of Nuela's modern space: ceilings reaching heavenly heights - bold, bright splashes of color set amidst stark white walls and contrasting deep, walnut-brown wooden beams.  I particularly love the wall art on the top right portion of this picture.

    As we perused the menu, it became clear to Ceci and me that the best way to experience Nuela would be to split multiple plates.   And just as our minds were almost made up, a young lady approached and graced each of our bread plates with a single pao de queijo and a small communal dish of - don't quote me on this - what tasted like a mixture of honey, black pepper, butter, and maybe even a touch of yogurt.  As if the doughy, cheese bread was not enough, I could have drank the accompanying "spreadable crack" with a straw.   

    Le menuPao de queijo (bread) and spread As intended, Ceci and I went along with our original game plan of sharing multiple plates.  In chronological order...

    "Spicy Tuna" with crispy rice and creamy pancaHave you ever dined at Momoya?  If so, are you familiar with their "Crispy Rice" signature (sushi) roll?  Anyway, it's one of my favorite plays on tuna - probably because it involves fried rice - and I suppose that this is what I had in mind prior to receiving Nuela's "Spicy Tuna."  Basically, the dish pictured above tasted similar to many 'o sushi restaurant's spicy-tuna mixture, however, this particular blend had that lingering "How long has this stuff been around?" taste.  You know, like when you start to wonder how long ago it was made.  I also found the crispy, puffed rice to have almost too much texture for the creamy-ish tuna. 

    Shaved hearts of palm salad with smoked dates, farofa, and coconut vinaigretteThis bed of greens was almost as delightful to eat as it was to visually admire.  Prior to this occasion, I had never had, much less even seen, shaved heart of palm!  Ceci and I particularly enjoyed how the farofa (the grain-like topping which replaces traditional croutons) added a flirty, savory crunch.

    Smoked-brisket arepas with sweet plantains, black beans, and queso blancoNow if there was one item on the entire menu that I could have ordered multiples of  - excluding the pao de queijo and the bar snack, because those weren't really on the menu -  then it would be the Smoked Brisket Arepas, hands down.  Delicate pink ribbons of smoked beef brisket were perfectly perched atop crispy, golden corn cakes, or "arepas," that had been liberally smeared with black bean puree, queso blanco, and ripe plantain.

    Short Rib "Lomo Saltado"While all of the other dishes above were "appetizer" sized, the Short Rib "Lomo Saltado" was the entree that Ceci and I chose to split.  And before I make a fool of myself or the restaurant, I need to be honest with you: I forgot when it was that I fell IN LOVE with short ribs and when I fell OUT OF LOVE with short ribs.  The "out of love" thing happened pretty recently, at least within the past year or so, because I keep making the mistake of ordering them.  Only to realize that, at the end of each said meal, that I f-ing hate short ribs!  They're gristly, virtually meatless, and never cooked properly!  Unfortunately, this version brought me no closer to my days of short-rib-bliss.  I felt like a 9-year old school boy/girl sitting at the dinner table pouting - using my utensils to push my meatloaf and green peas around my plate. 

    I tried really hard to get some decent shreds of beef off of the "rib," but I had more luck with the accompanying white rice and soy-soaked, overly-salted vegetables and French fries that sat below the meat.  This made me appreciate and long for the authentic version of the "lomo saltado" that I was so fortunate to experience in Peru and Ecuador in 2009.  Sigh.

    And just like the no-borhood in which it resides, perhaps Nuela is still looking for its place amongst its iconic neighbors.  Only time will tell...

    ~~~

    Until we eat again,

    The Lunch Belle

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